Colombo Telegraph

MR’s New Year Resolution & Course Correction For Yahapālanaya

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

People make new year resolutions on good things but not on bad ones. But there are exceptions like Mahinda Rajapaksa. He has very clearly told the foreign correspondents that he will definitely bring down this government in the year 2017(Asian Mirror, 29 December). A split within the SLFP is no concern for him and, according to the report, he does not believe that a split would help the UNP. This must be what his Astrologer has told him!

His new year resolution is not about the country or the people (or even about the party) but about himself and perhaps his family and political coterie. It is understandable that he is bitter about losing power in 2015 and that he has to become just a menial MP from the position of all powerful Executive President. That is not good enough reason to topple a government elected by the people. His new dream would be like his last dream to become the Prime Minister in August 2015.

It is his own fault, and not any others, that he lost power even two years before his term supposed to have ended. If he were not so greedy of power, he could have been in office until the end of 2017. Is that the reason that he believes that he can come back to power in 2017? Perhaps he must be getting some memory loss.

International Context

Rajapaksa must undoubtedly be taking some excitement from what happened in Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory in America so much so he is even going against his former benefactors in China. That is what is clear from his new policies on the Hambantota port after noosing a debt-trap over Sri Lanka by taking colossal loans from the China Exim Bank during his tenure. That must be his new way of Helping Hambantota.

If he comes to power in 2017, he of course would fit very well with Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad or even with Kim Jong-un. By some coincidence, they all have similar face cuts. However, coming to power in 2017 is quite unlikely except he contests a Pradeshiya Sabha and becomes a Chairman of one. That is also power.

For that Astrological prediction to happen, our Yahapalana captains should hold democratic elections to local government institutions without delaying them any further on ludicrous pretexts. Otherwise, it is unreasonable to Mahinda Rajapaksa, not to speak of the poor voters of this country who are waiting to elect their local representatives.

However, by any imagination, if Rajapaksa thinks about pushing the government for dissolving parliament quite prematurely, it is not going to happen this year or any sooner. 2020 might be the best for the Yahapalana captains. They would try their best to hold on to power until then, by hook or by crook. That is the nature of Sri Lankan politics. By that time or even before, the world stage may be different.

If the Globalist captains learn the correct lessons from Brexit and Trump victory, it would not be difficult to tame Trump or his allies in the international scene including Putin. China and India might like to see it, as emerging powers benefitting from globalizing trends. Therefore, the excitement that Mahinda Rajapaksa has from ‘Trump victory’ might be short term. Barack Obama made an important comment in this direction by talking about ‘course correction for globalization.’ However, whether the Democratic Party and others would take and implement this course correction seriously is yet to be seen.

Most dangerous in the Sri Lankan context is whether the Sirisena faction in the SLFP would take this ‘Trump trend’ more seriously than even Mahinda Rajapaksa. There are indications that the President is bending over this trend, while the UNP under Ranil Wickremesinghe seems to be quite oblivious to all what is happening. The UNP seems to have a time lag on international changes. They are quite orthodox than what they on and off preacher from pulpits. The UNP captains are more globalist than their Western counterparts. So, it seems.

Local Trends

Of course, Mahinda Rajapaksa is not so dumb like many of the Yahapalana captains. He is just desperate and reckless. His best bet would be to conspire for a major split within the SLFP and try to erode the existing 2/3 majority for the government. Many of the SLFP stalwarts know that it would be suicidal for them to go back to Rajapaksa camp although they are maestros in shifting political affiliation. Rajapaksa would slowly take revenge.

Creating a political majority in Parliament to become the Prime Minister is just wishful thinking for Mahinda. The UNF has 106 members and the overwhelming majority are solid UNPs. Of course, he has experience in splitting even the UNP. He is a master splitter. But that was when he had all the executive powers and within a context of UNP blundering on the war issue against the LTTE. Even the current Speaker, Karu Jayasuriya, was a defector. That era is now gone, unless the UNP would commit a similar blunder.

Then, what could he do? Of course, he can destabilize the country. Even he can join with (‘This Man’) Galaboda Aththe Gnanasara directly or indirectly against the minorities and the new constitution. Mara Sena can storm the streets, have Pada Yathra (foot marches), stage some strikes here and there, cripple the economy as much as possible and can get some Kalakanni Sathuta (vindictive pleasure). That is the meaning of his new year message. Nothing else. The Yahapalana captains have given Mahinda Rajapaksa and his ‘40 Thieves’ enough ammunition by omission and commission to muster some opposition.

Let me list some of these blunders and role of the two key leaders in them, Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Maithripala Sirisena taking up the leadership of the SLFP is controversial after getting elected as the President. Of course, one advantage was the smooth passage of the 19th Amendment and subsequent formation of the ‘national unity’ government. He also must have felt isolated, if he is divorced from the party, as his socio-economic policies are different to the UNP. That is understandable. However, if he has done so by promising to protect Rajapaksas, then that has been a betrayal of his mandate. Unfortunately, he seems to be protecting some others as well.
While Maithripala Sirisena is one of the finest leaders that Sri Lanka has ever picked, his role at the beginning was feeble, particularly facing the general elections in August 2015. Otherwise, many of the Rajapaksa clowns could have been avoided entering Parliament. He has also not yet taken firm action in reforming the SLFP. That is one reason for the Rajapaksa resurrection in the party.

He is also required to give leadership to the country. After all he is the President. While at present he is by and large quite articulate in expressing his views, it is not clear whether his practical actions or administrative measures are quite matching with what he says. Given the possibilities of Rajapaksa trying his best to destabilize the country beginning 2017, there is a clear need to maintain ‘rule of law,’ ‘law and order,’ ‘public order’ and avoid chaos in the country which could be quite harmful to the economy. He along with the Prime Minister should have a firm grip of the armed forces, the police and more importantly the bureaucracy.

There is no question about the knowledge, experience and even personal integrity of Ranil Wickremesinghe. But he appears weak as a popular leader. Personal integrity is also not a guarantee for complicity in others’ deviations especially when they border on his economic ideology. This is particularly the case in the Central Bank bond issue. Although it might not be an outright fraud, like during the Rajapaksa period, the amounts involved apparently through inside trading are extremely high.

Although he has declared a social-market economy in theory, the recent policies and initiatives show quite the opposite and an orientation towards an extreme form of neo-liberal economic ideology. This goes against the economic interests of the ordinary masses and the country. That is why the people are turbulent. This also creates a friction within the national unity government of the UNP and the SLFP. The SLFP policies are apparently different and the President talks about ‘social democracy.’ Unless they find a middle ground and work on an agreed basis, the economic policies of the government would be in jeopardy.

The same goes for his Lichchavi policies. It is not by giving perks and positions that a ‘national unity’ government could be preserved. This is a mistaken or rather an abusive orientation on the part of both Sirisena and Wickremesinghe. The jumbo cabinet and ministries without clear demarcations have become the greatest liability to this government and to the country. Most glaring has been the weaknesses and even blunders in economic management. Wickremesinghe seems to have weak points when it comes to friends and party loyalists. Within the government, there are genuine complains from SLFP ministers that they are side lined through UNP loyalists within their own ministries.

Course Correction?

Mahinda Rajapaksa’s new year resolution is about creating chaos in the country in 2017. Any appeasement with his destructive forces would be suicidal for the government and for the people. It would be extremely dangerous for Sirisena. What Rajapaksa has done during the first term can be appreciated including the defeating of the LTTE. However, his authoritarianism, suppression of democratic rights, indulgence/approval of corruption and continuous subjugation of minorities cannot be condoned.

A course correction is necessary for Yahapalanaya, like what Obama advocated for globalization. However, this might not come automatically. A major brunt of the matter would be left for democratic forces that brought the change in 2015. These forces include the civil society, professionals, the left, liberals, the minorities and progressives in general. All ideals might not be achieved, but the need of the hour is to prevent the ‘old regime’ resurrecting in different forms. Among many organizations involved in the democratic change, Puravesi Balaya (People’s Power) seems to be going in the right direction by constructively criticising the government and trying to prevent a Rajapaksa come back.

One positive aspect of the present government or the two leaders is its/their flexibility and openness. However, the government seems to be quite poor in communication. The media is important including the social media and innovative initiatives. Their poor communication became categorically clear on the issue of the Development (Special Provisions) Bill.

A course correction for Yahapalanaya should include at the minimum: (1) Strong pro-poor policies; not Western Megapolis, but regional development and happy villages. (2) Immediate holding of local government elections under the prevailing system, whatever the outcome (3) Implementing efficiently the existing international trade agreements without rushing for new ones (4) Strengthening of local enterprises with international assistance (5) Closer understanding between the UNP, the SLFP, the TNA and the JVP as much as possible (6) A smaller Cabinet of 30 and cohesive ministries and (7) Moral high ground on the part of the leaders and drastic reduction of perks and privileges of the politicians and officials.

If the leaders are ready to sacrifice, the people would be ready to undergo hardships. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s new year resolution will be a dream, if a proper course correction is implemented for Yahapalanaya.

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