27 May, 2022

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The NPP’s Proposed Way Out

By Uditha Devapriya

Uditha Devapriya

Promisingly titled “Rapid Response”, the NPP’s policy manifesto pits the party against the status quo and depicts itself as the clearly superior alternative. It advocates a politics free of corruption, a politics of the people. Written simply and striking an idealistic chord, it indicts every government since independence for the crisis we are in. This is to be expected with an outfit that views itself as better than the rest, and it is in line with the present mood, where people no longer care to distinguish between the regime and the opposition.

In such a scenario it is easy to claim, as the NPP does, that there’s no difference between the SLPP and the SJB. This explains Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s recent outbursts at Sajith Premadasa, the party’s rejection of the SLFP’s offer to get together, and its cold response to the prospect of an alliance with the Frontline Socialist Party. As far as sectarianism goes, the parliamentary avatar of the JVP is no different to the JVP.

The NPP is targeting something of a common denominator, what I have elsewhere called the golden mean of disgruntled voters. It reduces nearly everything to the corruption of the political class and comes close to condemning the idea of politics itself. That its policies are coloured by a jaundiced view of political representatives and that it considers other issues as peripheral can be gleaned from the opening lines of the manifesto: “We do not need a sophisticated grasp of statistics or politics,” it bluntly informs us, “to understand the socio-political catastrophe that has befallen our country.” In other words we don’t need to know: the facts speak for themselves and the writing is on the wall.

To indict all politicians apart from the NPP as equally responsible for the mess we are in is of course a convenient way out of figuring out what needs to be done to resolve that mess. It is for that reason, perhaps, that the NPP document does not offer substantive solutions, but veers with despairing frequency to vague suggestions and broad generalisations.

More pertinently, the authors of the manifesto draw a line between two kinds of people: those suffering and those responsible for the suffering. Laudable, but in trying to maintain that division everywhere, the NPP fails to come up with clear solutions; to give perhaps the best example, in its section on “Government Debt”, the authors admit to the severity of the crisis, but then offer to “develop a formal plan for the next five years.”

To be sure, the document is not without its merits. It is very clear about what it considers to the root of all our problems: the Open Economy. Whether or not you agree with its take, the NPP is specific on the point that the Open Economy has entrenched corruption and greed, as well as the “unnecessary expansion of financialisation, austerity measures, subsidy cuts, market monopolies, inefficient borrowing, and sale of public property and state-owned enterprises.” To the best of my knowledge, the FSP is the only other party in the opposition which traces the problems of our time to the post-1977 liberalisation of the economy. As far as its diagnosis goes, then, the NPP-JVP touts a distinctly socialist line.

Yet the NPP-JVP has evolved from what it used to be. Tactics and strategies are no longer what they once were. This, of course, has always been the JVP’s hallmark. As the late Hector Abhayavardhana used to say, it veered to the left of its leftwing opponents in the United Front government and to the right of its rightwing opponents in the Jayewardene regime. It opposed whoever was in power without formulating a programme that went beyond the goal of bringing down elected governments.

Today the JVP retains its critique of the Open Economy, but it has enmeshed it within an obscurantist anti-corruption discourse. That has made it eminently marketable to those who think the problems of the country are reducible to the excesses of its politicians, but at the exorbitant cost of ideological coherence. Indeed, the JVP’s shift from its supposedly Marxist roots to a parliamentary avatar housed by liberal and left-liberal intellectuals, activists, and artists, many of them allied with the yahapalana regime and not a few of them beneficiaries of yahapalanist largesse, points to a pivotal ideological turnaround.

The reforms these intellectuals urge are no different to those urged by the JVP’s liberal critics. They want to abolish the Executive Presidency and replace it with a parliamentary system. They want greater oversight over parliament. They want independent commissions and “completely independent” security services. They want asset declarations for MPs to be made compulsory. They want more of what yahapalanist ideologues wanted, which was to reduce the powers of the government and transfer them to unelected professionals.

What is ironic here is that even MPs once allied with the spirit and letter of the yahapalanist project have swerved from these principles. Champika Ranawaka, for instance, no longer views the Executive Presidency as an evil to be abolished; replying to Victor Ivan, his proxies, including Anuruddha Pradeep Karnasuriya, now suggest that calls for abolition are based on exaggerated notions of the Presidency conceived by, of all people, Marxists.

Ranawaka has almost always been frank in his demonization of the Left, which is why these critiques should come as no surprise. What is surprising, however, is that those who batted for the overhaul of political systems, Ranawaka included, have turned the other way. The SJB is no different: it houses some of the most vociferous critics of the presidential system, but they are no longer as open about their criticism as they once were.

The point I am trying to make here is that the crisis we are undergoing today has swamped issues that we once thought mattered. Abolishing the presidency may have been the grand call of yahapalanist idealists, but now we have other things to worry about. What solutions do parties have vis-à-vis these issues? Do those solutions hold up? Are they clear or definite enough? Have they been conceived with the interests of the suffering many at heart? Can they be implemented, and if they can, how? If recent political turnarounds in Latin America and Central America are anything to go by, parties have a whole range of strategies open to them. Is the NPP availing itself of such strategies? Is it aware of them?

The NPP does not seem to be aware of them. Even if it is, it is not taking stock of them. Instead the NPP, and even the JVP, has caved into an abstract anti-political, anti-corruption discourse that has won it many fans, but not too many supporters. Like its liberal critics, it has embraced a notion of politics free of politicians, a Radical Centrist view which reduces the problems we are facing to politicians and identifies the ruling class exclusively with their kind. It does offer criticisms of proposals like the privatisation of health and education, but then traces all these problems to the same source: the much derided 225.

In aiming at a Centrist position, moreover, the NPP appears to be privileging compromises to hard-hitting reforms of the sort that progressive outfits in Latin America have opted for. This much is clear from a recent Daily Mirror interview with the party leader: while highlighting the need for a better vision and arguing that they have that vision, Anura Kumara Dissanayake outlines a plan to “acquire at least USD 15 billion” by restructuring investment procedures. The NPP plans to do this, Dissanayake informs us, through “a long-term plan” that accounts for, inter alia, the “geographic setting”, “human resources”, and “civilisation” of the country. He does not specify what these are, where they can be found, and what should be done about them, but exudes a confidence in his party’s ability to tap into them.

This much should be obvious enough. The NPP wants to bring together a coalition of anti-regimists. The clearer its policies are, the more specific its audience will be, and the more exclusivist it will appear to be. Hence, by limiting proposals like the implementation of import substitution to mere words, it can leave the task of specifying them to the future, no doubt after it wins elections. The NPP’s plan, in other words, is to keep as many as possible happy, targeting that golden mean of disgruntled voters I mentioned earlier.

Three decades of Third Way Centrism should make us realise that such tactics can only lead to electoral suicide. An obsession with reaching a compromise may win votes in the short term, but in the longer term it can only deprive parties of the radical potential they require to propose a way out. Why the NPP, of all parties, should opt for such a path, when recent developments in Latin America point to other strategies, boggles me.

Already influential think-tanks in the country are recalling and critiquing the JVP’s policies under the Chandrika Kumaratunga government. Already the middle-classes who professed admiration for the likes of Anura Kumara Dissanayake and Sunil Handunheththi are expressing disappointment with their proposals. What is the NPP’s response to them? We badly need to know, but they are not giving us answers. This utterly regrettable.

*The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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Latest comments

  • 5
    0

    “Like its liberal critics, it has embraced a notion of politics free of politicians, a Radical Centrist view which reduces the problems we are facing to politicians and identifies the ruling class exclusively with their kind”. Does the author ascribe any responsibility of the current mess to the policies and programs of the ruling class? Does he want to white wash the past actions of the ruling class?

    he wants better policies from the JVP. Didn’t they release a series of policies involving various sectors before the last election? The rapid responhse is only a draft pogram for the short term they say. it is an evolving document. If the author has any ideas to add to it and improve Im sure the JVP and NPP will appreciate them. Here again, I reiterte the point I made elsewhere in CT. Criticism alone is not sufficient at this critical juncture. Please Provide constructive suggestions instead. We dont need more masters of analysis anymore! Come up please with practical suggestions.

  • 2
    4

    I think the writer has hit the nail on the head with this article about the JVP/NPP. He is absolutely right in saying some of the Party’s main points are too vague to dispel doubts. I personally feel there’s too much looking inward for solutions and not enough of the broader view. It doesn’t feel like they are planning on rapid growth, which we badly need, but rather on bringing everyone to the same level. This Party does feel too ‘cliquish’ and not really open to those who might disagree with some of their policies. Does not foster much confidence in me as a voter.

    • 4
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      Other parties expel those who disagree. See what happened to Susil? JVP has at least opened the door for others through the NPP. Rapid response is an initial document in evolution -they say. Dont take it as the bible of the JVP. We will hear more as we go on. But if anyone likes to criticise the JVP it is their right but they have to be fair.

      • 5
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        Siri,
        You are right, much of the criticism of the JVP is based on what they did in the past. But murder and pillage were committed by the parties in government at the time too. But only the JVP gets a permanent label. Didn’t Premadasa give a container load of weapons to the LTTE?
        The JVP’s current economics is certainly not extreme Marxism. They say that they won’t target the rich or run a closed economy. The big problem, if and when the JVP is voted in, is what external players will think of it.

        • 1
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          JVP and the NPP ae both closely linked to a network of Sri Lankans living abroad as well. ijn what we call the diaspora. As the world has moved with globalisation,migration, international education etc. so is the JVP and the NPP. So to assume it can run a government with a closed economy is non sensical. When I read the criticisms it reminds me how the people in the village I was born in the far south used to look at Thapasa monks(heratic) when a few of them camped near a bodhi tree. Monks from established temples and nikayas didn’t like the ideas or the practices of such travelling monks preeching a different version of Dhamma. JVP and the NPP are basically providing the public with a different way of looking at the country and the world compared to the established political rhetoric and ideologies. e.g. nationalism, internationalism/globalism,sectarianism,developmentalism,racism.

        • 1
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          OC
          JVP’s Marxism has not transcended the “Famous Five” (I mean lessons).
          There is no trace of Marxist analysis in any of their publications.
          The JVP killed not only its oppressor but also others whom it saw as a threat to its political monopoly (a trait that they shared with the LTTE).
          The SLFP and UNP acted in the name of a state. Some of the bad decisions were taken by army and police officers.
          The JVP has a lot to answer for that cannot be dismissed by comparison with the UNP and SLFP.
          Their reluctance to take a critical view of their past is cause for concern,

    • 1
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      It will never be possible to satisfy a guy like Fernando20.
      .
      Some guys love to go round and round in circles; they imagine themselves to be clever doing so.
      .
      Contrast with “old codger”. All points made by him are valid. Fernando20 has to be ignored.
      .
      Dr Siri Gamage’s tireless work, like Kumar David’s, must be highly appreciated.

      • 0
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        Not looking for ‘satisfaction’ here Sinhala_Man, pointing out facts just like everyone else, just because you don’t concur doesn’t make the facts wrong. Some Sri Lankans never seem to learn from the past even though they like to live in it. They voted gung-ho for the 2nd Rajapakshe having experienced the corruption, white vans, disappearances, killings of the first 10 years, and expected a different outcome. Now you think the JVP are the answer even though their past says otherwise. Any Party can write a fancy manifest, and the one thing all politicians do well is talk, does that mean everything is true, absolutely NOT.

  • 2
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    I mean….they did have very concrete plans for the last elections, but nobody listened. People want quick money, and the other parties are very good at conjuring up vistas of its ease of getting. JVP-NPPs plans are too complex, and yet substantive. Their condemnation of the status quo is the only way they can convince the Masses of the huge bluff.

    • 2
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      Average folk do not usually dig deep into elaborate plans. Preparing plans is a good thing but comunicating their essence in an easily understandable way is another.

      Opposing parties often misinterpret and misrepresent the plans and ideas too. This is why we need an independent media. When this is lacking, the JVP-NPP will need an extensive network of supporters at the district and village levels so that they can get their message across at critical times.

    • 1
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      Thanks, Ramona, for this unqualified praise for this group of people who must, as you say, be listened to.
      .
      “leellagemalli” and Champa, mainly, have swelled the number of comments here to 27; a record, I guess, for the Sinhala Section.
      .
      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/uvindu-kurukulasuriya-7-january-2022/
      .
      Have you got the facilities necessary to make comments in Sinhalese? LM is hoping for something from you, and from Nathan, in Tamil.

  • 4
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    I know this comment will attract so many daggers towards my head but I cannot help as this is a very genuine question I had in my mind for a long while – why does AKD dye his hair and beard? He is not in his 20s or 30s! I guess he is in his 50s at least and how come he does not have a single grey hair? Why not let it go natural? For a political leader who is said to be the most genuine politician in the country, why not show the ‘genuine’ colour of his hair? I hope no one will ask that naive question ‘why hair colour matters – it is the policy that matters’ etc, because, to me, one who tries to cover up the self portrait is more on the dodgy side than the genuine side.

    • 5
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      Jit,
      “one who tries to cover up the self portrait is more on the dodgy side than the genuine side”
      You have a point there. I used to think that way . Mangala S never tried to conceal his age, nor did Ranil. Then there are the practically embalmed Mahinda and GLP with jet- black hair.
      But the problem is Gota. Is he dodgy or genuine?

      • 5
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        old codger

        “But the problem is Gota. Is he dodgy or genuine?”

        He is the real thing, genuine, honestly brutal, or brutally honest, he will hang you, ..
        He is a genuine racist, he didn’t campaign for votes of other people, instead 6.9 million voted for him, all are authentic 6.9 Sinhala/Buddhists votes, for Sinhala/Buddhist president, who is proud of being Sinhala/Buddhists, which he confirms and reconfirms periodically.

        He is seen visiting Vihares everyday, seeking blessings from a variety of saffrons, …. Then when does he find time to govern the country?

        Any chance we are being ruled by Karaka Maha Sangha Sabha in conjunction with Kamala Gunaratne’s goons?

      • 2
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        OC, I agree – that is a rare exception for my theory :). Needless to elaborate, we all know how corrupt and dodgy GR is. Probably he got sick of seeing the mismatch of MR’s thick black hair over millions of wrinkles…ha..ha.. Jokes apart, I think he has his own way of egoism and wants to show his uniqueness among his brothers – it shows in his dress as well. He never wears the ‘kapati satakaya’ or the national dress.

    • 1
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      Jit

      AKD is 53 in November this year.
      Is it too young for an MP?

      • 2
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        Jit

        I am sorry
        AKD is 53 in November last year.
        Is it too young for an MP?

        • 0
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          NV, your humour is appreciated :)

    • 2
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      Jit: I am surprised that you did not see his broad shoulders, fat belly, and that “Dimple” in the face. In terms of your “Analysis”, aren’t those features matter to be the “Genuine” side of a politician?

    • 1
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      Late Mr. Premadasa used to die his hair? I wonder if people will react differently if the hair is not died. Presentation to the public i.e. the image is important. Talking about politicians, the car they come is also important. When I was growing up in the SOuth at one time there was a candidate called Mr. Welivitigoda for the Mulkirigals electorate from the Communist party. He used to travel on bike and migle with village folk at tea shops etc. But the candidate from the UNP came in a Jeep. At election time, to support him reputed Atapattus came from Beliatte/Tangalle. As we live in a ‘status society’,naturally the villagers were impressed with the presence of these figures. I think Mr.Welivitigoda received about 5000 votes from the die hard radicals but did not win. One of the Rajapaksas won the seat.

      • 0
        1

        Yes, Premadasa dyed his hair. Why do you compare JVP leader AKD with UNP Premadasa? We are talking about the foremost political party to claim themselves the most honest political party in the country. Why not its leader be honest to show the true colour of his hair and beard? Why does he cover it with dye? Why should a dyed hair/beard ‘image’ is important to people, do they vote for the colour of hair? How come Ranil with white hair once got half a million votes, the highest at that time?

        • 0
          1

          Is it a crime to dye one’s hair? Morover, do you know for sure that AKD is dying his hair?

          In a democratic society one should have the freedom to do anything except gloing on the street naked.

          Focusing on the colour of AKD’s hair is the most absurd thing one can do while discussing serious policy issues and challenges facing the country.

      • 2
        0

        S&S
        The verbs die and dye: die is to stop living; to become dead dye is to colour with dye.

        • 0
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          I dye my hair! So many do it today, that it is of little importance. If he were to shave his head, or have it like the hair of a Sikh, whilst living in Lanka, it could be made the topic of conversation.
          .
          AKD has just reached the age of 53. It may be that he hasn’t dyed his hair at all. The age at which hair begins to turn grey varies with individuals.
          .
          Jit, it is not offensive that you asked the question, but now let’s forget it as an issue.

          • 1
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            I agree SM! Despite the genuine reasons or facts that bothered me to ask that question, I do agree it is NOT the biggest issue in Sri Lanka today. Thank you!

  • 1
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    Jit: I am surprised that you did not see his broad shoulders, fat belly, and that “Dimple” in the face. In terms of your “Analysis”, aren’t those features matter to be the “Genuine” side of a politician?

    • 0
      1

      Simon, I am not as closer as you to AKD to see his belly and shoulders so perhaps you can describe more about those in detail??

      • 1
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        Jit: I don’t engage in “Linda Langa Talk” and “Kussi Amma Talk”. For your information, I have never seen or talked to AKD physically. I see him in pictures only.I request you to see the latest film by Somarathna Dissanayake named “JANGI HORA” now screened in cinema halls. It would give you a “Mirror” effect of you.

        • 0
          0

          “….I don’t engage in “Linda Langa Talk” and “Kussi Amma Talk”…..

          Really? Do you walk the talk, Simon?

          What is “…. I am surprised that you did not see his broad shoulders, fat belly, and that “Dimple” in the face….” Or, “…..I request you to see the latest film by Somarathna Dissanayake named “JANGI HORA”……” ???

          Are those more of high table talks? Or Corporate board room talks?

          Anyway, I don’t have heck of an idea what “JANHI HORA” is about, but glad you watched it and seems to have thoroughly enjoyed and taking lots of mentoring clues from it as well.

        • 1
          1

          OMG, why you guys behave like kids ?
          .
          As if we dont have anything better to do ?
          :
          Simon please come back to us after talking to your KADAMANDIYA community.
          :
          We could not hear anything new from them. I wonder what they would utter today about the upcoming sudden death of mafia boss (MR). THere are speculations, that MR s health problems are dangerous than appeared to be.
          :
          It will be NO different to that of Muagage in Zimbabwe for sure.

  • 2
    0

    Uditha Devapriya: In concluding your article you say: ” Already the middle class who professed admiration for the likes of Anura Kumara Dissanayake and Sunil Handunneththi are expressing disappointment over their proposals”

    Could you please state or simply enumerate what those “Disappointments” so far expressed by the “Middle Class” are relating to the proposals? I await your response. Thank you.

    • 1
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      No disappointment as far as I’m concerned.

  • 4
    0

    The JVP or NPP as they are variously called now, seem to be the only viable alternative to the culture of parasitic exploitation that has infested Sri Lanka for several decades now. It is unfortunate that many people now view corruption as unavoidable and natural whereas developed countries view corruption as being unethical and wholly unacceptable where justice and fairness also become victims as a result of normalizing thievery and deceit. People in Sri Lanka must become aware that the system has failed them decade after decade under different slogans, banners, masks, colours, faces and personalities with new gimmicks each time. The only viable option is to dismantle the system of parasitic exploitation.

  • 0
    0

    Though probably too late I feel like contributing my opinion to the most vital point raised here — should men dye their hair or not?
    No!
    For a number of reasons.
    And, similarly, for a number of other reasons, I am inclined to be more sympathetic to women.
    As far as I remember, most of my close male friends didnt or dont dye their hair. And most of those I see who do, mostly public figures, are generally not enhanced by doing so. Some look positively pathetic…especially when the dye is wearing off.
    I myself dont do it & I am interested to discover how several women friends who were dyeing but have ‘come out’ under the pressure of C have decided not to bother again anymore. Liberated!

    But I must say, I had no idea AKD dyed. I’d have thought he had no need to yet. Hmm….surprised he bothers.

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