By Ameer Ali –
That the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) swept the local councils polls on February 10th should not come as surprise to anyone who closely watched the political developments in the country after the demise of the Rajapaksa regime in 2015. The yahapalanaya regime of MS-RW was given the mandate by the people to, clean up corruption, speed up the process of reconciliation with the minorities, control the escalating cost of living, reduce national debt, restore rule of law, and bring before justice the corruptors in the former regime. None of these was accomplished but instead the situation worsened, and hence, the peoples’ disgust with the rulers. They demonstrated their anger peacefully at the polls by voting massively against the so-called yahapalanaya facade. Therefore, the landslide victory of SLPP was more a vote against the MS-RW mismarriage rather than an endorsement of MR led opposition.
During the election campaign, the Joint Opposition’s focus was to keep the voters concentrate entirely on the pitfalls of the government without having the need to tell the voters how the alternative government will tackle the economic and ethnic issues facing the country. Curiously, even the intelligentia was silent on this matter. The only redeeming feature about the results is that it is not the national polls but local.
There is no point now for the MS and RW factions to confess to the public that they have mismanaged the mandate given to them and will mend their ways during the little time left for them to rule. There is too much to clean up and needs nothing short of a wholesale dismissal of the entire team. This is certainly not going to happen, and with some window dressing, the mess will continue until a polling day announced in terms of the constitution. Politics is a strange game and all sorts of alignments and coalitions are possible. One can imagine that some parliamentarians now sitting with the government, and having noticed the wind’s direction, will be contemplating on their next move to jump ship.
Whichever the party that comes to power at the next general elections it will be difficult to find speedy solutions to the nation’s economic malaise within the existing neoliberal paradigm. The country’s debt to foreigners and the IMF’s conditionality would limit the space for any government to shift its economic priorities. This is the legacy of JR’s open economic policy. The civil war aggravated the economic difficulties. The previous MR regime had no choice but to borrow to finance a war, which it inherited. It relied heavily on the Indian and Chinese governments for funds and weapons, which they were willing to lend but with their own ulterior motive of using Sri Lanka as a pawn in the Indian Ocean geostrategic game. The current MS regime made little change in the strategy but made it worse by going to the IMF and surrendering to its conditionality to borrow even more. Will a new MR regime change this direction? Has the SLPP any blueprint for its solution to the economic issues? Without convincing answers to these questions changing regimes will only mean changing pillows to cure headache. It will not work.
The landslide to the SLPP is therefore not an endorsement of its economic policies but a wholesale rejection of the current coalition.
*Dr. Ameer Ali, School of Business and Governance, Murdoch University, Western Australia