By Kumar David –
Some three or four of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s recent pronouncements do not align with the tenor of his previous actions after assuming office. I will come to that anon but first let’s ask whether this is because events in Sudan and Burma have put coup prospects in hot water all over the world. The very survival of these two regimes is in doubt. Mass uprisings in Khartoum are intensifying; Al Jazeera commentators say “the military will have a hard time retaining power”. The junta has been condemned by the UN Security Council, the organisation of African States and human rights organisations. Nowhere in the world will civilian wrath tolerate military power grabs anymore. In Burma it is civil war; nearly everyone including the ethnic minorities are fired up (Suu Ki is a dispensable spent force). Gorilla regimes are all isolated internationally; even China is a little less enthusiastic about cheering human rights violators. The replacement of Trump by Biden has been helpful.
In Sudan the economy has collapsed; feminine is staved off by international feeding programmes. The economy contracted by 11% in the two years 2019 and 2020 taken together and will shrink again in 2021. Inflation has risen to an annualised-130% rate so far in 2021 (before the coup). It will worsen because of economic disruption and international opprobrium. Are the President’s Vijathmaga morons and chest-thumping military brass (current and ex) flustered by these examples? Is the President smarter than his goofy hangers on? Or is this wishful thinking deluded by an imagined silver lining? What I ask is whether the gloom which many of us saw in Lanka’s horoscope is now tipping over into a funk; are the grim plotters of autocracy backing off? Too early to tell, but in political strategy making one must be sensitive to visible nuances in tone and shifts in power balance.
Here are a few items that caught my attention of late:-
a) Daily News: 11 November 2021
“Gotabaya Rajapaksa questioned the public why they re-elect politicians who they had chased away and urged them to look for new people without re-electing the same set. If myself or my ministers don’t meet your expectations, don’t re-elect them (sic! ‘us’?). Look for new people. This system has to change”. He admitted “government is not delivering, shortages of food, medicines and other essentials persist because of a dire foreign exchange squeeze”. It does sound like a swansong, does it not?
b) Firstpost: Reporting from Agence France-Presse; October 11, 2021
“The people may have a sense of displeasure towards me and the government for not delivering as they expected. I accept that. Not only me but all ministers and MPs should accept it” President Gotabaya Rajapaksa told troops in a speech marking the 72nd anniversary of the military’s founding.
c) The HINDU: SEPTEMBER 22, 2021
In the U.S., Gotabaya promises to engage Tamil diaspora. The announcement is significant, coming from a President whose government proscribed several Tamil diaspora organisations six months ago, branding them “terrorists”. The Rajapaksa administration has repeatedly called diaspora groups “pro-LTTE” outfits, accusing them of attempting to revive the separatist struggle.
d) Daily News: 11 November 2021
New members Ramalingam Chakrawarthy Karunakaran, Yogeswari Patgunarajah and Iyyampillai Dayanandaraja were appointed to the Task Force after taking into consideration representations by various parties and the relinquishment of membership by two members. The President also amended the terms of reference: “Presenting proposals for formulating a conceptual framework ideally suited for Sri Lanka after making a study of the said concept taking into account the views and opinions held by various parties with regard to the implementation of the concept One Country, One Law”.
The guy is simply at sixes and sevens; isn’t it clear that in his own mind he doesn’t know what he is doing? Do muddled people make power-grabs, or is it lost-in-the-woods souls that need to rescind people’s freedom of criticism and publication? Could be either. The worst of it is escalating prices. If food prices inflate at several 100% per year it is curtains for any government. There is nothing an internationally debt-bankrupt, misdirected by a dissembling and deluded Cabral government, can do to rectify it.
I asked a well-to-do relative to confirm vegetable price trends reported by the Sunday Times. He went shopping on 14 November and found prices were higher! Mind you this guy enjoys his creature comforts, imbibes whisky by the quart, relishes appetizing food, indulges in delicious sucks and is a reliable reviewer of prices.
There is a shortage of gas and kerosene. In view of above any foreign aid for ‘Sadukin pelena unta’ will be much appreciated; thanks. Sincerely, F. Marshal”
Look, this scenario is unsustainable. A financial crisis has become an economic crisis and is on its way to turning into social unrest. Does any jester imagine that an authoritarian solution or a military power-grab can be imposed on an enraged population? In Burma 1200 have been killed by the army so far but civil war continues. Sudan’s fate beckons would-be militarists elsewhere. The uprising has spread across the country; hundreds of thousands have taken over the streets and refuse to back down in the face of gunfire (about two dozen killed by military-police gunfire to date) and tens of thousands more seem willing to fight to the finish. When a people are well informed, when the misdemeanours of a regime stand exposed on all sides and when people are organised, a coup is not a walk-over, it’s a call to mass revolt.
In Sri Lanka the first two conditions have already been met, but unity of the opposition is absent and organisation is still weak. Nevertheless potential plotters must surely be tuning into Al Jazeera and the BBC and seen the fate that awaits take-over bids. Hopefully their ardour has cooled. I must grant that there are people who call me a Dr Pangloss; they warn that true to form, reaction will first unleash anti-Muslim and anti-Catholic violence to divert attention and after that slaughter Sinhala-Buddhist protesters. Well, maybe; but if a regime stands exposed on every issue and the opposition includes every social and ethnic sector, then what?
In closing, two paragraphs about the international dimension. The purpose of the QUAD group of four countries led by the US and India in China containment. This is at odds with Lanka’s status as a de facto Chinese economic colony. The country’s debt burden and shortages are so serious that it cannot avoid sinking ever deeper into some Beijing ditch – due to no fault of Beijing, just our sustained economic folly. Coincidentally or by design this Indo-American strategic thrust is mirrored by a recent development. The Sunday Times reported on the 14 Nov that a Tamil National Alliance (TNA) delegation left for the United States yesterday morning “at the invitation of the State Department”(!) to drum up support for its stand on Tamil issues. It is reasonable to presume that Tamil diaspora groups are also in the picture and that Muslims and Catholics who have been at the receiving end of the regime’s repression and subterfuge, respectively, are watching developments. Neither Lanka’s minorities, nor the Sinhalese who are aghast at the fertiliser-cum-faeces fiasco or watching His Excellency bum Gnanasara, have much respect for the President. The minorities will play the ‘Sri Lanka is becoming a Chinese colony’ card to the hilt if it helps them get Indian and American protection. A government in the dog-box on local issues, broke down to its last kopek and in international human rights abuse crosshairs, can do without India and America staring down its repression-militarisation-authoritarianism curriculum.
It is this confluence that makes me Plangossian that the regime is on its last legs. Of course it would of be wrong to transmit a “repression is not coming” message since the big challenge remains to stay alert and organise to overcome threats. However, intellectual honesty compels me to share with my readers changes that I discern on the political horizon. Are President Gotabaya, his brain-dead advisors and his pushy junta showing symptoms of a collective yellow liver?