2 June, 2023


Needed: A Politico-Economic Roadmap

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered.” – Paine (The American Crisis)

The Floating Market is one of a kind. A brainchild of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, it was built by the UDA at a cost of Rs.100 million. Its row of shops-on-boats looks rather quaint from afar. Closer encounters, reportedly, are not so pleasing. The shops have no proper walls or doors. Instead they have loosely woven coir-covers which provide no impediment to inclement elements or robbers. Every night the shop-owners face a Hobson’s choice: do they carry their merchandise home with them or do they sleep in the shops to protect their merchandise?[i]

Most Lankans and most Sinhalese know, instinctively, that they do not benefit from Rajapaksa rule. The opposition needs to come up with a politico-economic roadmap which can bring this discontent into political-life.

Most Lankans and most Sinhalese know, instinctively, that they do not benefit from Rajapaksa rule. The opposition needs to come up with a politico-economic roadmap which can bring this discontent into political-life.

Shops in this part of Pettah are patronised almost totally by bus-passengers. Time is of essence and the passengers rushing from one bus to another will stop at a shop because it is literally by the roadside. The Floating Market is picturesque, but it is not located by the road side. This inconvenient setting is affecting sales; most shop-owners reportedly find it hard to make ends meet[ii].

A market which is pleasing to the eye, but is neither convenient for buyers nor profitable for the sellers is the infrastructural twin of an international airport with no international flights and a port which has created zero-employment opportunities.

Attractive, but impractical, unproductive and wasteful – that is Rajapaksa development.

Ordinary Lankans may not know that the cumulative losses of the UDA (that fief of Gotabaya Rajapaksa) from 2006-2011 amounted to a colossal Rs.1.23 billion[iii]. But they would know from their day-to-day experiences that Rajapaksa development is of scant benefit to them.

The Rajapaksas are destroying Lankan democracy from within. But the Siblings have been able to disembowel basic rights and freedoms without resorting to generalised repression. This, together with their Orwellian media policies, has enabled them to dismantle democracy behind a democratic façade.

The latest CPA survey reveals the success of this strategy: 58.7% of Lankans think that the country has become more democratic, post-war while only 10.6% of Lankans think it has become less democratic.

Popular perceptions are not necessarily a measure of democratic health. The gentile and politically inactive German majority did not regard Nazi Germany as a land of unfreedom. Public faith in Rajapaksa democracy does not make Rajapaksa rule democratic; but it does demonstrate the limits of ‘restoring democracy’ as an electoral slogan.

Dismantling familial rule and turning Sri Lanka into an ordinary democracy (with the usual warts) is imperative. But campaigning on that basis, solely or even primarily, will not help the opposition to defeat Rajapaksa rule. Democracy must be restored; but it can be restored only via an electoral platform which accords primacy to economic issues.

There are no factual reasons to believe that a majority of Lankans either support or oppose the presidential system. Most Lankans probably do not care one way or the other. This does not mean that the current executive presidency should not be replaced, ideally with some sort of hybrid system. This means the opposition should pay at least equal attention to rice-and-curry issues.

What will replace the executive presidency? What will be the new electoral system? What about devolution? How will the new constitutional provisions be enacted? (If Mahinda Rajapaksa is defeated, it is almost certain that a majority of parliamentarians will consent to abolish the executive-presidency.) These are important issues. But to resolve them, the opposition must win the presidential election. That requires a roadmap which is political and economic.

The opposition roadmap should not only explain how democracy will be restored in 100 days. It must also explain how prices of certain consumer essentials will be reduced in 100 days. A roadmap which focuses solely on political issues and ignores/marginalises ordinary economic concerns of ordinary voters will be as effective as a one-limbed runner in the upcoming presidential race.

The Socio-economics of Familial Rule

In September this year, an eight year old girl was raped in Akmeemana. The mother was a tea-plucker; she had to go out to work everyday leaving her two daughters alone in an inadequately built house[iv].

This story symbolises the connection between poverty, insecurity and such horrendous crimes as child rape.

As the UNDP pointed out, Sri Lanka has an abnormally heavy reliance on indirect taxes, “which account for over 80 percent of total tax revenue. This shifts the burden of taxation onto the poor.”[v] Rajapaksa rule neglects the concerns of poor people while imposing ever higher burdens on them via indirect taxes. In the past, governments subsidized the poor; now the poor are subsidizing the government. In Sri Lanka, the President and his political and personal cohorts are the real welfare kings and queens.

The Rajapaksas are building eye-catching but wasteful First World infrastructure projects by imposing crippling indirect taxes on poor/middle class Lankans. Absolute and relative poverty in Sri Lanka can be dented not by giving more handouts, but by reducing the crippling tax-burden on the poor.

Take that mother in Akmeemana. She has to pay more for basic consumer essentials, because of the exorbitant taxes imposed on them. The Rajapaksas take a large component of her meager earnings and squander it on unproductive and wasteful projects. The money she could have used to build a safer house for her two young daughters is spent on airports and expressways. Millions of ordinary Lankans get cheated out of their earnings in a similar manner.

This is Rajapaksa development.

The people feel the economic pain. But they must be shown, again and again, the connection between their personal economic problems and Rajapaksa rule.

The economic component of the roadmap must not be the pie-in-the-sky, rice-from-the-moon variety. The roadmap must contain clear and concise information about how prices of selected items can be reduced in the first 100 days. The people can also be told that the consequent reduction in governmental revenue can be covered by making cuts in wasteful and unproductive ventures – such as Mihin Air or Mattala airport or the astronomical sums allocated for the misuse of the executive president.

Eric Hobsbawm argued that the purpose of government is not to look after the gifted minority but to care for the ‘ordinary run of people’: “Any society worth living in is one designed for them, not for the rich, the clever, the exceptional, although any society worth living in must provide room and scope for such minorities.”[vi] In other words, a meritocracy which does not ignore popular concerns; a meritocracy committed to the alleviation of the problems of the less-merited majority.

Rajapaksa Sri Lanka is the antithesis of this – it is not a meritocracy; nor is it concerned about the ordinary problems of ordinary people. The Rajapaksas ignore both the ordinary and the exceptional in favour of familial. Rajapaksa governance exacerbates both brain-drain and popular discontent. The brain-drain gives the Rajapaksas a freer hand politically and socio-economically while popular discontent provides them with a flexible weapon which can be used against political opponents and ethno-religious minorities, depending on the need.

Most Lankans and most Sinhalese know, instinctively, that they do not benefit from Rajapaksa rule. The opposition needs to come up with a politico-economic roadmap which can bring this discontent into political-life.

[ii] Ibid

[iv] Struggling Mother Earner Families Vulnerable to Predators – The Sunday times – 21.9.2014

[v] Sri Lanka Human Development Report – 2012

[vi] On History

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Latest comments

  • 4

    “There are no factual reasons to believe that a majority of Lankans either support or oppose the presidential system.”

    Such erudite statements, Titsaranee!
    Are you contesting for the world oxymoron champioship?

    • 5

      Simply Brilliant Thisaranee! Keep up your excellent work and please Translate this into Sinhala to educate the voters on the need for regime change!

    • 4

      Tisaranee Gunasekara –

      “A market which is pleasing to the eye, but is neither convenient for buyers nor profitable for the sellers is the infrastructural twin of an international airport with no international flights and a port which has created zero-employment opportunities.”

      “Attractive, but impractical, unproductive and wasteful – that is Rajapaksa development.”

      Thank you. spread the word. Needed: The common sense pamphlet. Can Somebody, Just Do It. Write, Publish and Distribute in Sinhala, Tamil and English.

      Use ALL Communication channels.

      Fortunately, there are still many Sri Lankans with common sense. They need to be informed.

      So, I am asking the Question Again from You. Are you going to produce the Common sense pamphlet in Sinhala, Tamil and English?


      Anura Dissanayake’s Speech on 18th Amendment in Parliament on 08.09.2010


      Anura’s prediction that beat astrologers

      On 8th September, 2010 Anura Dissanayaka of the JVP said in Parliament that even Mr. Basil Rajapaksa would be ill-treated due to the 18th amendment adopted to get more power for the executive President.

      He said serious crises would develop in the government in 2014 and it would politically harm not only Ministers such as John Seneviratna, Maithripala Sirisena, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Rajitha Senaratna but also their children.

      Mr. Dissanayaka’s speech: VIDEO


    • 2

      Please Do not believe This Writer Thisaranee.

      And The commenter EMAIL ; please open your eyes or What ever YOU Have?.

      Did not you see that, those Shop keepers are doing brisky Businesses????.
      She Says;
      “A market which is pleasing to the eye, but is neither convenient for buyers nor profitable for the sellers”.

      Please Visit to that market area, and opposite hawkers market also.

      Sellers are Hiding under the Racks and Buyers are looking over the their shoulders and entering to the sellers hiding ground.
      Mostly buyers are Three FORCES soldiers and off duty Police men.
      Some give inside accommodation selling facilities with Empty refrigerator’s carton boxes.

      , Making us a another unofficial Red light district!!!!!!!!!.

      Another NVQ certificates for Middle east Female workers????????.
      More Jobs Pimps??????/.
      { no offence to our all Female workers who are working in overseas.]

      AASIYAWE AAAAAAAAAAAASCHARYA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.

      • 0

        JULAMPITIYE AMARAYA You have the hallmarks of a Rajapakse Boot Licker. The source of Tissaranee’s comment was the Sunday Times article that I’ve read. I don’t think you have read that paper as it probably is too sophisticated for morons. I believe the report as the Sunday Times is seldom unfavourable to the Rajapakses.

  • 4

    Great article Tisaranee. You have once again, put things into perspective, and basically given us a dose of reality. You have described perfectly the flaws in this Rajapaksa government, and how they deceive the Sri Lankan people. All that glitters is certainly not gold in Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka.

    The opposition MUST indeed come up with realistic road map, and convince the country, that they are going to give it that badly needed change. Whether it is a port, airport, or floating market, the regime has always done what benefits THEM, and the people must face the consequences of bad judgement.

  • 3

    Another brilliant piece Madam! Hats off to you.
    Hope the joint opposition candidate stops wasting time talking to the totally disfunctional UNP and starts talking to the voters and EDUCATING the VOTERS on the need for PEOPLE-CENTERED ECONOMIC development rather than Rajapakse centered development and tells voters to vote for DECENCY and clean i.e. non-corrupt politicians in future..

  • 10

    It is highly unlikely the present Hodgepodge of politicians and parties will come up with a Politico-Economic Roadmap for the salvation of the masses.

    The opposing politicians use the path of least resistance to come to power, and the well proven path is to bash Tamils (alias LTTE, terrorists, etc.) to sway the Majority Sinhalese people to vote for them. Remember J R jeyawardne’s words: If I stave the Tamils the Sinhalese people will be happy – 1983 quote. This has been the practice starting with Bandaranayake’s Sinhalese only in 24 hours.

    Already in the presidential campaign this Tamils bashing is very much alive and kicking. Until such time as the Tamil issue cannot be be used this practice will continue.

    To add fuel to this practice the racist mahanayakes and the bhikkus put conditions on the candidates.

    In the event Tamil Eelam is established, then these same Sinhalese politicians will use a slogan to attack and dismantle them!

    Today I read a news item where one mahanayake racist said the present government has done several wrong things including the setting up of the Northern provincial council. Will the common candidate disobey the ‘venerable’ one?

    In such a politico-religious scenario it s wishful thinking to expect any breakthrough in Sri Lankan politics or salvation for the people.

    People will get what they want – Sinhala Buddhist Supremacy.

    • 2

      ‘In the event Tamil Eelam is established…..’

      ROLF! ROLF!!

  • 3

    Great work Tissaranee. We need a Sinhala website to educate our masses.

  • 2

    The educating of Voters can be made simpler by putting all the material in the form
    of digital graphics into a CD or DVD of 120 minutes in common format – this will have a better reach – a picture is worth a thousand words goes the saying. Will some patriotic journalist prepare just a few master copies abroad and put it into the web for downloading free via “Sendspace”, You tube etc etc. This is better than the Common Sense
    pamphlet and in keeping with the days technologies. We have a short period but the
    information is available – the pictures of the Airport, Falling overhead passes, harbours etc etc followed by comedy & sketches of the costs, the people involved etc etc.

    • 0

      Good to see back on the comment board Punchinilame AKA Antany. Punchinilame is he oa Sinhala modaya or Tamil LTTE sympathizer?

  • 0

    Tisaranee – I am sure this is well researched. I do trust that you went to the floating market and observed over a period of time what’s going on there.
    You and I quote “The Rajapaksas are building eye-catching but wasteful First World infrastructure projects by imposing crippling indirect taxes on poor/middle class Lankans. Absolute and relative poverty in Sri Lanka can be dented not by giving more handouts, but by reducing the crippling tax-burden on the poor.”

    Can you please do an article on why despite crippling tax burden the poor and the middle clas are not revolting on the streets of Sri Lanka.

  • 0

    UNPyers opened up their mind. There is nothing to hide from them. Lankan Tamils are cleaned by SLFP by a very efficient use of Kathirgamar by Chandrika. The left over job is taking care of the diaspora. King could not do anything of them. UNP has promised as soon they come to power, they will finish it off, a job, under the opinion of UNPyers, King failed to do. The reason UNPyers giving to the failure is SLFPyers foreign policy has antagonized the west. UNPyers believe that with their (crony) capitalistic policies, they can embrace the west but the SLFPyers, with the China bent policies, repelling the west.

    So far what the UNP politicians has spilled is only before filing the nomination papers. Further SLFPyers has not effectively replied too, for their superior offering of wiping the Diaspora. After the election heats up, when the SLFP replies to that, then their full face will come out. JR said only “if you want I give you war”. Sajit is saying, “The diaspora those who don’t wanted the war, during the SLFPers 20 years ruling, has left Lanka to escaped from us. Even if they don’t want war, we will catch them and give them war”. This is how the Sinhala intellectuals’ representative politicians step up on their offer. “One time Tamils disenfranchising, two time Tamils disenfranchising, three time Tamils disenfranchising… Taken over.” Then “One time Sinhala only Two time Sinhala Only, Three time Sinhala only….. Taken over”. This is how the Sinhala intellectual conduct their election auction. DS disenfranchised only, SWRD Sinhala only, Sirimavo Standardization only, JR war only, King war crime on the Vanni people only, but is anybody ask if there is anything left over that, Ranil’s UNP says, “YES, the diaspora living in the democratic western countries”. So Ranil’s UNP has started with “one time Diaspora wipe out………”

    Deceptive intellectual started with the CC talk to remove EP (executive president). In reality, it is not that don’t want the Land’s highest prize EP, but it has been a sour grape for Ranil the Foxy. The main trick was by this fake talk, they wanted to take the minorities for horse ride on their back. But removing the EP is not an EP will be willing to do; especial if he/she comes from the Sinhala Intellectual denomination. So they asked CPA to do polling. CPA has now found the people really like the EP. So they don’t have that much opposition to EP. In fact, they just want to change the name EP to EP(executive president to executive Prime Minister), nothing more than that. The CPA’s polling is showing that “the Sinhala Buddhist have taken happily the Royal family’s dictatorial beating. So we are not going to go for EP removal”. (I really don’t know what is for that SLFP outcaste, named Maiththiripala Sirisena is standing for in the election. I yet have to understand that). The Eelam living Tamils have not been opening their mouth against the Lankan Holistic Sharia constitution, because of the 6th amendment. But the diaspora has been writing and taking that they never saw a difference between SWRD Bandaranayake, the PM, Srimavo Banadaranayake the EP(executive prime minister) and the Chandrika Bandaranake, the EP ( executive President). The position of the diaspora Tamils is UNP = SLFP. They will not buy the deceptive writing of the Sinhala Intellectuals who can do election campaign only on LTTE or the diaspora Tamils.

  • 2

    Excellent advice to the opposition and the common candidate. I hope they will take her advice and act accordingly.
    The average Sri Lankan is not familiar or concerned as to the type of Govt they have and what is important for them is the cost of consumer items. As pointed out by Tisaramnee the opposition should tell the voters how they intend to bring down the sky rocketing cost of mainly food items within 100 days and how they intend to fund the revised prices. This way they can point out the colossal waste in maintaining Sri Lanka Airlines, Mihin airlines, the Hambantota port and all the unnecessary infrastructure funded from loans procured from China at exorbitant interest rates.
    Please don’t bash the Tamils living in Sri Lanka and outside, that is a dead animal.
    For god sake concentrate on the economy and that is how you can defeat then Rajapakse clan.

  • 0

    Hitler too was held in high esteem and treated almost God like. He promised the German people he would annexe the Sudetenland for Germany where German speaking immigrants lived and he did it without shedding a drop of German blood. What he did not tell the Geman people was the plethora of pledges and promises he gave to the Allies that he had no intention of honouring. But he soon reneged by invading Austria and Czechoslovakia and he pledged again and was again accepted as the Allies were much too tired after the horrors of the first World War that had ended in 1918. He created employment by building the multi-laned Autobahn for the volume of traffic that was miniscule in 1937. He tried pledging and invading again by going into Poland but by now the Allies had enough of his pledges and declared war. The rest is history.

  • 0

    Gota would have eaten 50 million of that money.

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