Colombo Telegraph

No Better Option Is Currently Visible: Should We Give The Sirisena-Ranil Combo Another Term?

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

It’s a bit of a pain to be the first person to publicly propose an idea later, especially if it woks, have multitudes climbing on the bandwagon yelling “No me said it first, no me said it first!” It happened with my Single-Issue Common-Candidate or SI-CC strategy where every two-penny commentator claims precedence and now its happening to my months’ long insistence that economic strategy give priority to the leading role of the state and to the production of material goods. Till recently government strategy has been passive, flaccid, simply INVITING private capital and foreign investment and focusing on the service sector (apartments and malls, shippers, tourism and finance).

At long last half the penny has dropped; not because of my nagging of which no bigwig takes any notICE but because the government was making to progress. Indeed no progress will occur even in a capitalist growth strategy unless the state takes an interventionist approach commonly called the Deng Xio Ping, Lee Kwan Yew, 1990s South Korea model. Now at last the wheels are creaking in that direction; and initiatives are in motion with India, China and Singapore; the name in the news in this context is Manik Samarawickrama. Though an appreciation has dawned of the state’s key in facilitating and connecting together ventures what is still missing is an appreciation that it is not the service sector but the productive sector that should be prioritised; output of agricultural and industrial goods must be given priority (not road and apartment construction). Oddly a government that caterwauls about exports is slow to cotton. No worry when debts deepen and trade deficit widens the other half of the penny will drop. There are a few irons in the fire but nothing tangible has been delivered yet.

A second term for the S&R amalgam

The previous two paragraphs are by way of introduction to something else. What I am getting at in a round about way is that the economy may pick up in three to five years but forget it, it will not improve in a short span and therefore the local government elections are a write off for the governing alliance. The Joint Opposition (JO) will gain; the government had better resign itself to that and endeavour to regain ground in the medium term. And of course that will depend on the economy and livelihood issues more than any other factor. Ranil will have to learn black-magic to create a million jobs, but if he can conjure up half that number in three to five years his government will be back in business. There is no denying that this government is much less kleptocratic than the Rajapaksa swindle-kingdom but caveats are also in order.; Yes, corruption is not as endemic at the top (though nobody seems to know what the devil the Mahendran game was about) but there is plenty of buckshee floating at lower levels. SLFP Ministers are the main culprits. There is a phalanx of Ministers (Harsha, Eran etc) who obviously are above board but conversely there are moves afoot in the power sector for example that make the bond scam look like pennies. (It could be crass stupidity not pecuniary cupidity but it’s a gigantic mess I must take up some other time). Though part of the government is at work on capitalist development goals there are also head winds which counter these gains and could blow them out of the window.

This essay therefore limits itself to the hypothesis, not certainty, that the economic strategy of the Sirisena-Ranil team will be moderately successful in delivering economic growth by the end of the terms of president and parliament which are but a few months apart. It is a Ranil led strategy with Sirisena contributing by maintaining political stability through his popular image in the petty-bourgeoisie and by keeping the jackals of the Joint Opposition (JO) at bay. En passant; a point I have been making for months that run of the mill commentators have recently woken up to, is that the stability of the Sirisena-Ranil bond is the sine qua non for the survival of this government for its full term. Disrupt it, or allow the jackals of the Joint Opposition to disrupt it, and it will be political anarchy.

The speculative question is, if not a second term for the S&R amalgam what alternative? It is not too early to ask because Sirisena has declared his intention NOT to run for a second term. If this is to be reversed the powers that be must strategise early and set the scene early rather than late; history cannot be repeated again so soon and a surprise candidate poped out of the box like in 2015. That was exceptional because of circumstances connected with the Rajapaksa monstrosity. Next time the anti-JO movement will need not a sudden jack-in-the-box strategy but a carefully groomed and stable one. The government side will within the next twelve months wake up to this way of looking at things and if it is to craft its strategy intelligently it will need to mull the following questions.

  1. Will Srirsena run again in any capacity? It is better to answer this question once and for all in advance and work out the deal with Ranil avoiding last minute surprises and heartburn.
  2. If the powers that be answer (a) in the affirmative – which is certainly the smarter thing to do in their self-interest – what will the format be? Will it be another round of S&R or will Ranil lust for an exchange of roles, that is an R&S format? The twitch in my nose says that retaining the current format will be far more popular with the electorate.
  3. If you can see the sense in (a) and (b) you will see why the decision must be made early. The answer to these two questions will have a bearing on the crafting of division of power in the new constitution. In textbook theory it is the other way round, you write constitutions in the purity of theoretical space and individuals fit in their roles later. In the real world theory and practice are inverted. How power is shared between president and prime minister in the new constitution will be settled by who intends to be what after 2020.

The Joint Opposition (JO)

The March from Kandy was a moderate success if measured by crowd pulling power, especially on the last day from Kiribathgoda to Colombo. I used aerial photographs in the newspapers and estimated the gathering at Lipton Circus as about 50,000 to 60,000 strong which is politically significant. The point however is that the JO has no short-term forward strategy except hoping to capitalise on the local government elections which it can do. The March from Kandy set itself an unachievable objective, toppling the government and JO supporters now find themselves at a loose end and no next step to take. This sense of suspended animation derives from the simple fact that the government will not fall due to JO manipulations, only internal dissension can make that happen.

But then six years is far too long for the JO to wait, it will fall apart. DEW pulled the CP out of the Kandy March because it was racist he said. Many old leaders in or near their eighties will be gone by 2021, and finally the candidate choice for presidency and prime ministership is the devil of a complication. Is Gota going to be the presidential candidate, then will brother Mahinda be PM; if not what other choices. Amending the constitution again to allow Mahinda a third term is folly that the JO does not even dare mention. The government could complicate the JO’s discomfiture by announcing a second-term plan for the S&R amalgam but it would have to sort out its internal arrangements first.

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