By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
The long-awaited local government elections are finally over. There were those who expected the JO to be the winner with UNP a close second and SLFP Maithri wing a distant third. Then there were those who thought the UNP to be the winner with JO a close second and SLFP Maithri wing a distant third. Few if any expected last Saturday’s outcome.
For comparison purposes, this writer has used 2015 Parliamentary results and latest 2018 LG results. A visit to the Election Commission office to obtain final figures came to naught which is not yet finalized. Only Registered Electors was available. Votes polled by SLMC, EPDP, ACMC, ACTC, and CWC was obtained by calculating results extracted from leading newspapers and hence may not be entirely accurate but will suffice for this opinion piece.
A currently prevailing school of thought is, 44.7% (4,941,952) polled by Mahinda Rajapaksa’s (MR) SLPP amounts to less than 47.6% (5,768,090) he polled in the Presidential election in January 2015. That theory has no merit as the Presidential contest was a two-horse race. Minorities voted en mass for his opponent Maithripala Sirisena (MR). In the same token, 13.4% (1,481,846) polled by President Sirisena (MS) amounts to less than 51.2% (6,217,162) he polled in January 2015. A more meaningful comparison is the results of the Parliamentary election in August 2015 which was not a two-horse race. Minorities voted for their minority parties, as was the case in the just concluded LG elections.
That said, LG elections are not comparable with Presidential or Parliamentary elections. It can only serve as a yardstick to measure the current level of acceptance of the government in place.
Minister Mangala Samaraweera termed the UNP electoral defeat as a “Timely wakeup call.” That, however, is far from the truth. MS, SLFP (M wing), RW, UNP, Minister Samaraweera and the entire lot kept postponing LG elections for over two years as they considered their chances of a victory as poor. The result on February 10 was only a confirmation of that suspicion.
It is not this writer’s intention to waste valuable space on (MS). Since his entry into parliament in 1989, he has been a nondescript party faithful, contented being a shadow to successive party leaders. He is no visionary leader. However, he possessed characteristics the likes of RW and former President CBK (excluding Sobitha Thero) besides our foreign masters considered necessary for the common candidate. He was sufficiently malleable to be made to give up his Presidential powers substantially (19th amendment) and then take a back seat and leave the serious business of governance to the RW. MS was supposed to fade away at the end of his term.
Over 6.2 million voters voted for MS and five million for Mahinda Rajapakse (MR) in January 2015 giving MS a majority of just under 450,000 votes. Five million voters voted for UNGFF and 4.7 million for UPFA in August 2015 giving UNGFF a majority of 366,250 votes, thanks chiefly to some bizarre acts by UPFA leader MS who in fact worked against his party. That said, those who voted for MS in January 2015 and MS+RW Yahapalana group in August 2015 did so due to their desire to be rid of Mahinda Rajapaksa, his clan, and cronies for a plethora of reasons. Corruption and absence of the rule of law were high on the list of reasons. They placed their trust in MS, hitherto relatively untainted of bribery and dishonesty and RW, previously known as ‘Mr. Clean’.
Not since 1960 has a political party, leader or a coalition government managed to squander its mandate and political capital within 30 months or mid-point of its term of office. Prime Ministers Dudley Senanayake and Mrs. Bandaranaike, Presidents JR Jayawardena, CBK, and MR all took longer than half their terms of office to make voters feel the way they thought of the Yahapalana government on February 10.
Most if not all-important decisions in the Yahapalana administration are made by RW with MS asserting his authority but occasionally. Over the last thirty months, the government has repeatedly proved its inability to govern as well as manage the economy. Its dismal failure to deliver on some critical electoral promises is another factor.
The all-important promise of weeding out corruption was derailed due to the Bond scam and compounded by attempts of covering up, i.e., RW’s Pitipana Committee, Foot Note group. RW recommended an extension of service for the Governor of Central Bank, who with his son in law was at the bottom of the Bond scam. Ministers found guilty of inappropriate conduct either resigned and returned to cabinet after a few months or else given positions within the administration. The National Audit Bill, expected to rectify financial corruption in the state sector, is yet to see the light of day even after three years.
Another electoral promise was to prosecute wrongdoers of the Rajapaksa administration. Once again, the government’s failure to deliver is hard to ignore. Other than the ‘Sil Redi’ case, little or no progress has been made in a string of corruption and murder cases. Supposedly uncomplicated cases against some Parliamentarians, stalwarts of the previous administration continue to be to remain in abeyance as with the murder case of Lasantha Wickramatunge and disappearance case of Pradeep Eknaligoda. The accusations against Rajapaksas of stashing away billions of dollars in foreign bank accounts has begun to lose merit, mainly due to the government’s No Action Talk Only policy.
The politically motivated Rs 10,000 pay increase to all government servants besides reduction in the price of fuel and a range of essential commodities during the Hundred Days Program lost its shine a long time ago. What bothers people now is the high cost of living, i.e., a coconut at Rs 100. The shortage of rice some time ago and the more recent shortages of fuel, fertilizer, etc., considered vital items is an indication of the government’s lackluster performance. It has also failed to hold accountable, those responsible for shortages.
Sri Lankan politicians prefer nepotism to best practices. MS favored his brother shortly after winning the presidential election. RW rammed through the appointment of his nominee for the post of Governor of Central Bank, disregarding objections even of some ministers. Yahapalana champions do not believe in advertising such vacancies and selecting the most suited candidate. They prefer friends and family. Despite RW’s panache for Singapore styled governance, he thinks nothing of micromanaging the national carrier by interfering in senior appointments and overturning Board decisions. Notwithstanding promises of good governance, the Police Commission functions as an appendage of the government. The IGP was issued instructions by a Minister, an RW protégé, to refrain from arresting a wrongdoer. The IGP responded with a servile “Yes Sir, yes Sir,” did not make the arrest and the matter closed while the Police Commission did nothing.
Education continues its slide and is significantly lacking in the delivery of quality, especially in the periphery. 90% of the time is spent in administering national schools instead of focusing on policy and monitoring which should be the primary functions of the center. Parents and children suffer due to the lack of high-quality schools, teachers and an overloaded curriculum unsuitable for the country’s needs.
The GMOA continues its charade against a weak and ineffective government at the expense of the sick, especially the poor. It would not be incorrect to wonder; how many such inconvenienced patients and family members would have voted with the SLPP last Saturday.
During the last three years, RW has surrounded himself with a group of octogenarian former administrators besides a few corrupt party members and clueless old schoolmates, as his principal advisors, disregarding competent and capable persons found in the country.
The Hambantota Economic Zone project, a progressive initiative for which RW deserves credit is moving at snail’s pace.
The narrative briefly encapsulates the state of the nation under RW’s watch.
From a political standpoint, RW’s performance has been abysmal. Having taken over the party leadership in 1994, he has been Prime Minister for approximately six years. The remaining eighteen years has been as Leader of Opposition, possibly a world record. The UNP has suffered many electoral defeats under his leadership. In any self-respecting democracy, no party leaders would/would be permitted to remain party leader after one or at the most, two electoral defeats. Despite airs of a liberal democrat, RW presides over the UNP with an iron fist, supported by a working committee packed with loyalists and ex-Royalists, with little or no tolerance for dissent.
The need of the hour is not the future of the Yahapalana government.
What is critical is not if Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva or Speaker Karu Jayasuriya should be Prime Minister.
A new leader to take the UNP forward is the need of the hour. And let him not be a septuagenarian either.
Failure to act now is bound to culminate in bringing back the horrors of pre-January 09, 2015 era in the not too distant future.