7 December, 2019

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The Coming Duumvirate & Economic Challenge

By Ameer Ali

Dr. Ameer Ali

Four personalities – Gtabaya Rajapaksa, Sajith Premadasa, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickeremesinghe, two offices – Presidency and Prime Ministership and two elections – Presidential and General, can produce five different configurations of a President- Prime Minister duumvirate, based on the assumption that victory for the party or coalition of parties in the first election does not automatically guarantee victory in the second.

Following are those possibilities:

President-Prime Minister Duumvirates

                    GR-MR

                    GR-RW

                    GR-SP

                    SP-RW

                    SP-MR

Supposing that the same party or coalition of parties wins both elections, then the first and fourth alternatives command very high probabilities of becoming reality. How will these two duumvirates function, what sort of economic challenges they will face and what programs do they have to meet those challenges deserve close scrutiny. 

In all probability, a GR-MR duumvirate will be authoritarian if not dictatorial – somewhat similar to the one existed before 1915, but can be expected to be tumultuous because of the different roles, positions and character of the two personalities. Blood is said to be thicker than water. However, history of world politics is replete with instances of patricides, matricides, fratricides and tyrannicides in desperate attempts to capture and maintain political power.  In our own country’s history, didn’t King Kassapa kill his father Datusena in 5th century to enthrone himself? In recent times, and outside Sri Lanka, there was fratricidal massacre in the Royal household in Nepal. Barring such bloody turn of events, GR-MR regime will be marred by personality clashes. This explains why MR was reported to have been very reluctant to nominate GR and preferred another of his siblings as the SLPP nominee for the presidential race.

GR is has a military background and a disciplinarian, and says that he would form a cabinet of technocrats to produce clean governance, whereas MR is a populist, politically sagacious and a proud patriarch of an overly extended and ambitious family, in which almost every grown up wants to have a stake in the patriarch’s government. Didn’t MR build a Rajapakse family forest during his regime? Contrary to GR’s wish for a technocratic cabinet, the actual composition and size of that cabinet would depend on the calibre of members elected to the parliament on the one hand, and on the generosity of MR’s payback for services rendered by his henchmen.  Unless GR brings his technocrats through back door, there is no chance of his ambition translates into reality.  Moreover, thanks to the outgoing President Sirisena, who after allowing the 19th amendment to become law and then started crying that it was all a mistake, GR will find it extremely hard to reverse his constitutional position, in spite of his authoritarian personality. Cabinet positions will be demanded by and offered to those who contributed most to the victory of SLPP. In that case, how far would President GR resist the creation and expansion of an omnibus cabinet dominated by mediocrity? Also, how would GR deliver his promise of clean governance given the corrupt buddies surrounding his populist brother Prime Minister?  

There was one instance, reported to have been related by GR himself, that when he was the Defence Secretary during, President MR dumped without any notice, hundreds of newly appointed employees into the defence department for whom there was no meaningful work. Obviously, GR could not object, because it was an executive president’s decision.  Now, with their respective positions reversed, will a disciplinary President GR tolerate such outlandish appointments by populist PM, MR? In short, will the GR-MR duumvirate suffer from the same instability that bedevilled MS-RW coalition? A modern democracy can easily be turned into medieval tyranny, because of personality clashes at the top.                 

What would be the state of a SP-RW duumvirate? The first battle that a President SP has to confront would be in choosing a prime minister with whom he could work smoothly.  RW insists that he would not give up his party presidency. If SP becomes the President, in spite of RW’s persistent unwillingness and last minute acceptance of SP’s nomination, will SP forget and forgive RW and accept him as PM? Or, will there be an internal upheaval inside the UNP to elect a new president to work with SP, and will that lead to a party split? True, in politics, there are no permanent friends and enemies. Yet, in this case, there are, in addition, certain unspoken and socially stratified factors that can continue to bedevil RW-SP relationship. Democracy, in spite of its roominess to accommodate differences and fissiparous tendencies is the best form of government that humanity has invented. However, as Sri Lanka so agonisingly witnessed the paralysis in governing due to the MS-RW split, a renewal of such bitterness between the Prime Minister and President would be far more injurious this time to the ailing economy and struggling masses. With SP as the president, the country may have to endure a virtually acephalous democracy for some time at least.   

Whichever the shape of the next duumvirate, the foremost problem confronting the country is its economy. If there is one common theme in SP’s campaign, it is his commitment to enhance peoples’ welfare. On this subject, his promises have been recklessly lavish to say the least, and he has not elaborated how he would fund those promises.  Similarly, the most outstanding aspect of GR’s campaign is understandably his commitment to enhance internal security to prevent the rise of domestic terrorism. For some time in the past, he had been raising, without any credible evidence, the bogey of a re-born LTTE threat, and since the Bloody Easter Sunday, he is targeting Islamic terrorism. Being a man from the army he is obviously qualified to raise the security issue. However, one should understand that security cannot be achieved solely through by military means. It is enormously expensive and can be counter-productive. Instead, or, in addition, the underlying issues that create insecurity in the first place should be studied, analysed and understood, and appropriate measures should be taken to solve those issues. So far GR has been silent on this dual approach. Also, the resolve to safeguard the sovereignty of the country by both candidates can be treated as no more than empty rhetoric, given the complexity of Indian Ocean geo-politics and the way Sri Lanka has been drawn into its vortex. 

But, how will the two rivalling leaders going to promote steady economic growth without impoverishing the people is not at all clear in their respective campaigns. SP, as noted earlier, has been quite outlandish in his welfare promises. Is he going to rob Peter to pay Paul? Or, is he bestowed with a magic wand to create economic opulence from nowhere? How will he finance his welfare measures? GR on the other hand, has been proposing uncoordinated reforms like tax reduction, simplification of taxes and incentives for local producers. His manifesto is also full of generalities without specifics. Ad hoc measures and uncoordinated reforms are not going to uplift the economy.

Without at least balancing the budgets and achieving trade surplus at the same time, the country cannot service, let alone settle, its escalating foreign debt and accumulate enough funds to develop the country. Balance budgets require fiscal discipline by reducing wasteful expenditures and increasing revenue. However, there are certain expenditures such as investing in infrastructure development, and spending on welfare measures like health, education, income subsidies to the poor and environmental improvement that cannot be compromised.  On the other side of the balance sheet, revenue has to be raised. This requires a progressive tax structure with an efficient tax collecting machinery. Indirect taxes like VAT that are currently implemented in the name of broadening the tax base, are essentially regressive and their incidence falls disproportionately heavy on low income groups.  Yet, that is what advocated by neo-liberal economic pundits, advisers and managers. Sri Lanka’s tax structure needs systemic change. 

At least in food production and fisheries the country must achieve self-sufficiency. Employment generating and technologically oriented industries should be promoted and their output must become competitive, at least in regional markets. In this regard, our ambassadors abroad must be encouraged to become, in addition to their diplomatic duties, marketing agents to our exports. Unemployment must be solved not by increasing file-pushing jobs in government departments, but by making education skill oriented. This needs a thorough overhaul of the country’s educational structure, from schools to universities. There is also a need for a renewed emphasis on English language. By neglecting English education successive governments have locked our talented men and women from competing for jobs in the world market.  All this and more need a well thought out and comprehensive economic plan with attainable objectives. Unfortunately, the idea of economic plan and planning, has fallen into disrepute among free market thinkers. 

Free market needs a human face. This is the missing component in modern theories of economic growth and economic models. These models have made economies more market-centric than people-centric, and they expect a prospering market to trickle down its riches to the masses at the bottom.  As Galbraith once remarked about this doctrine in his usual and unique satire, “if you feed the horse with oats something will drop from its hind for sparrows to pick”.  This was his apt judgement on the trickle down approach. The widening wealth and income gaps that are unmistakeably noticeable in neoliberal economies is open testimony to the glaring injustices of market-centric economic experiments. This was why even China when it adopted the market model, caged it within a five year plan and added a Chinese face to it. Some economists described it a bird-cage economy. 

Given the current state of play, Sri Lanka’s economy needs more than fiscal discipline and strong macroeconomic fundamentals. The new rulers need to rethink about the open market structure. This is not to argue that they should sacrifice the market in favour of dirigisme, but to redesign the market to make it more people friendly and more welfare focused.  That demands systemic changes. It also calls for the re-energisation of people-centred production activities. People are a country’s most valuable asset. Without their energetic participation no economy can grow.  Yet, how and why should they participate when sections of them feel that they are discriminatively treated in the distribution of benefits resulting from their participation? This is why, as prerequisite for this re-energisation, the vexing ethnic issue must be settled without any more delay and with a genuine commitment to peace and tranquillity in the country.  It demands a bold leadership from all communities. Having arrived at a settlement, elements that continue to rekindle the ethnic fire should be brought under control. In essence, what the nation facing now is a multifaceted challenge that needs a multi-prong response. Neither a GR-MR nor a SP-RW duumvirate seems to promise this.

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Latest comments

  • 4
    2

    There is another possibility GR-GR. ‘Dr’ Balasingham translating for another dictator once said “Mr Prabhakaran is both the President and the Prime Minister of Tamil Eelam”

    • 1
      1

      Dr. Ameer Ali,

      The advantage of a duumvirate is that when one goes crazy, the other may balance the other, like what happened with the Oct 26th coup with the MS-RW duumvirate, replacement with the MS-MR duumvirate unconstitutionally.

      Of course, this is some insurance against a madman.

  • 5
    2

    today; many Sri Lankan diplomatic are former army or police officers they do not know about diplomacy and how can you expect them to become agents for exports.?
    we have failed to update all our small.and medium scale industries .
    technology take all industries but we do mot update them…
    Sajith got some good ideas for this.

    • 1
      1

      When SP self-appointed himself as presidential candidate disregarding all norms, people found it wrong & immature, but I am sure UNPers will one day see it as a best decision SP took to release the party from the clutches of Ranil to move forward. If he wins the election, deliver his promises, the entire country will hail his decision.

    • 1
      1

      Dr. Ameer Ali,

      Thanks for the essay .

      “Neither GR-MR nor a SP-RW the duumvirate seems to promise this”

      However, the populace, mean IQ 79, will continue to elect one set or the other repeatedly. Stupidity is when the same error, mistake is made repeatedly by the voters.

      http://www.dailymirror.lk/top_story/Remove-face-cover-when-entering-polling-centres-EC/155-177322

      Now, the election officers need to confirm the identity of the voters, by comparing their faces to the picture in their identity cards. They are not bothered about their beauty , ugliness, intelligence or stupidity.

      Do the religious leaders promise Nirvana, Nibbana, Heaven, Hell etc.? Any conclusive proof? Is it only for suckers, so that they can maintain their hegemony, just like GR-.MR and SP-RW in Politics?

  • 5
    0

    politicians promises are meant to be broken once they come to power and face realities

  • 2
    1

    The writer has raised some questions. It would be best to get the answers from the horse’s mouth. The two candidates should present themselves at a public forum and / or debate to elicit answers and further expound their respective policy statements.

    I predict NGR will be reluctant to expose himself at such events as his true nature will be evident then (he may not be able to satisfactorily explain even his policies!). He is totally and utterly unsuitable and unqualified to lead the Nation.If he is elected, there are bound to be challenges in courts of law as he appears to be ineligible to be a candidate under the current Constitution of Sri Lanka (19th amendment). But as for NGR, violating the constitution is not an issue as it is reported he also violated the rules and regulations by casting a vote in 2015 while not being a citizen of Sri Lanka at the time (wonder why journalists don’t question him?).

    Voters, please use your franchise judiciously, wisely and aptly!

  • 2
    2

    My buddy, no dought, no second word, and no any hesitations, the absolute and sure winner – by any standard – is going to be Sajith. Look at his enthusiasm and his crowds’ enthusiasms in all his rallies. Young and old, men and women, huge crowds pouring into open fields whereas Gota conducts it in close quarters to show the crowds. The body languages of Gota, MR & Co show well and clearly that they are on the uphill and doing a miserable fight against huge and massive tide.

    • 2
      1

      Nisan,

      Reminds me of the massive crowds that showed up with Dudley Senanayake’s funeral, and the resulting debacle faced by the SLFP-LSDP dummvirate a few years later.

      Will history repeat itself? CBK and Kumara Welagama are asking the SLFP voters to vote for Sajith, as well.

  • 0
    0

    Sorry, error correction:

    the above comment should read “……….. he also violated the rules by voting in 2005 …………”. The typo is regretted.

  • 2
    2

    Mr. Ameer Ali,
    Whatever the combination, it is difficult to make changes to the constitution before the general election. General election is more important than presidential election. Unless one party gets two third majority, the president cannot do anything without the support of the government. This is what happened to Sirisena and Sirisena made a mockery and now the people have learnt a lot about the executive presidency. All of them misused their power to the personal and family benefits and the country was almost went to a dictatorship and the brave people saved the country and people.
    MR made several attempts after 2009 to make use of that power but people continued to reject his attempts. 18th amendment, Early election, Military coup, and recent October plot and possibly the very recent Bomb Blast. This is his final weapon to use the race card and anti western card to induce Sinhala masses and I am sure Sinhala people teach a lesson again to Family dictatorship.

  • 1
    1

    SP Should look into industrial hemp production, which is coming in a big way. 100000 jobs with high salary potential, and with its industrys can go upto a million jobs.

  • 0
    0

    Dr. Ameer Ali,

    You’re wrong to think the duumvirate of 2 mismatched personalities would/should continue as MY3/RW in future cases as well. RW could have impeached Sirisena for violating constitution more than once with a simple majority. But now UNP guys say MY3 was a hindrance to their development plans

  • 1
    1

    My Deer Ameer Ali,

    Did you forget H.E. Basil Rajapaksa ?
    GR will dump MR after winning the elections , and bring Basil as the PM.

    After all, Basil played the same role (as unofficial Premier) during MR’s tenure .

  • 3
    2

    It doesn’t look like Amir Ali is interested in understanding Gotabaya manifesto. He is just repeating newspaper headlines. There is a series of seminars currently being conducted by Dr Nalaka Godaheva, Dr Nivard Kabral, Dr Priyath Bandu, Dr Kotagama and others with the theme “Decoding Gota Manifesto”. It explains economic, social, environmental, national security strategies that would be executed on parallel tracks in an integrated manner. One need to just Google and find.

  • 3
    2

    “For some time in the past, he had been raising, without any credible evidence, the bogey of a re-born LTTE threat,”

    Amir Ali conveniently ignores the most recent arrests in Malaysia. No one knows whether that is just the tip of a iceberg. 12,000 LTTE detainees were released to the society by previous Rajapaksa govt. Again no one knows how many of them still harbours the desire to re-start another violent campaign. These are credible threats requiring close monitoring.

  • 3
    1

    MR & GR combination & the understanding they had with each other is credited with the successful military victory over LTTE by military analysts world over. They appear to be the most workable combination out of all the possibilities listed given the peculiarities of 19A.

  • 0
    1

    AA,
    First of all let me point out that, out of five possible sets (= duumvirates), the third is invalid b’cos it is highly unlikely that Gora will run for PM position if lose the PE.. Also, since PM position is decided by majority vote, MaRa becoming the PM, even if GoRa become the Prez is doubtful unless. Therefore, unless SP become the Prez, I expect Ranil to hold on to the PM post. In other words, in practical terms, I expect only only two possibilities after next parliamentary election: RW as PM + GoRa or New PM + SP. In first scenario, another coalition Gvt is very likely; in the second, a more stable UNP headed Gvt has to be expected.

    However, success of a Gvt will depend on three main factors : 1. Strength of the opposition; 2. Quality of the cabinet &* the supporting bureaucracy; and 3. Global economic & political conditions. I suspect RW + GoRa Gvt will have the advantage of having a somewhat neutral opposition. Therefore, if RW can have a good supporting bureaucracy and a proactive cabinet along with the approval of the Prez, RW will be able to build on the already laid economic foundation. However, there is a caviar: What will GoRa be!

    On the contrary, SP with a new PM will certainly encounter a much stronger opposition at least initially until SP can win the public support by his strong work ethics to nullify it. Hoping that the new Gvt somehow can establish a stable Gvt, the critical factor then will be the global environment conducive to Gvt’s plans. They include sustainable fuel prices, relative stable politics, less uncertainty in the market, etc. These conditions are essential to (a) growth in tourism and (b) to attract investments – rapid increase of both which are the key SL economy.

    continues…..

    • 0
      1

      …………continued.
      One of the very common observation in the modern economy is the uneven distribution of wealth. This is an expected outcome from an ongoing industrial revolution (IR), not a product of the so-called “neo-liberalism” as AA and the likes (perennial pessimistic Marxists) argues. Some say that the world is now passed the initial stage of the fourth stage of IR dubbed as 4IR which dominated by information technology (IT) – the stage after the revolution in electronics. The negative effect of highly advanced technology is the lack of opportunities for less-technology savvy portion of the population. This has become a an acute problem even in developed countries. But, unlike in developed countries where education & the taxing systems are available to combat the crisis, developing poor countries SL still with mostly subsistence economies & outdated education systems are facing huge challenges in front of the rapidly advancing winds of 4IR.

      That is b’cos they faces the challenge of: 1. Lack of capital; 2. lack of know-how; 3. lack of political will for implementing unpopular structural changes; and 4. public resistance to environmental & cultural changes associated with embracing 4IR. It is these last two Marxists are wrongly calling “neo-liberal”. They do so by failing to understand cultural changes ongoing underneath their own feet! This actually the story of human civilization from the beginning. Marxists have a contradicting understanding for this change. On one hand, they see it as inevitable development of class dichotomy and on the other, as a necessary development in technological “base”.

      Unfortunately for them, the technological advancements seems to have no end while the so-called class struggle is nowhere to be seen! Good luck to NPPM!

      • 0
        0

        Today is Oct 7. I made the above comment exactly a day ago without knowing whether Sajith would make a statement about his future cabinet in case he win. it is ironic that Sajith’s statement doomed all possible duumvirates predicted by AA. Who is closer to the reality -me or AA?

  • 0
    1

    Best for the Motherland : ADK-Gota duumvirate. ADK to Spread the Wealth; Gota to ensure Island Sovereignty,

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