Government growing weaker but Mahinda still a formidable force in Sri Lanka

Vishnuguptha | Published on October 14, 2012 at 10:46 pm

“For every failure, there’s an alternative course of action. You just have to find it. When you come to a roadblock, take a detour” – Mary Kay Ash

It’s hardly possible that President Rajapaksa is happy with what is going on in the country in

Mahinda Rajapaksa at a Hindu religious ceremony prays for sustenance

general and within his Government in particular. Even though the recent Provincial Council Elections in Sabaragamuwa, North Central and Eastern Provinces gave him a convincing election victory, only the Sabaragamuwa Province left behind a pleasant aftermath.

In the North Central Province (NCP), the appointment of the Chief Minister was a mess. The outgoing Chief Minister Berty Premalal Dissanayake tried to hold the Chief Executive to ransom but had to ultimately cave in for whatever reason. Perhaps clarity will come when the allocation of new ministries is made.

Chandrasena, Berty Premalal and their antics

Former Chief Minister (CM) Berty Premalal Dissanayake’s nemesis is S.M.Ranjith. As it happens he is the brother of cabinet minister S.M.Chandrasena. During the campaign Berty Premalal insisted he would return as Chief Minister even though he was vigorously challenged by others within his party. President Rajapakse in order to quell the storm stated that whoever received a higher number of preferential votes would be appointed CM. Ranjith won. Faced with a dilemma and a virulent Berty Premalal the government came up with another excuse.  The conflict of interest based regulation. One cannot be appointed a CM if your relative is a minister in government. As it so happens S.M.Ranjith’s brother S.M.Chandrasena was the Minister of Wildlife Development. Ironically this is even as President Rajapakse’s nephew Shasheendra Rajapakse who also happens to be the speaker’s son was appointed CM of the Uva province. But the S.M. brothers had another card up their sleeve. S.M.Chandrasena resigned his post as minister of Wildlife development and his brother was appointed Chief Minister. If you worry for S.M.Chadrasena don’t. His post as Minister of Wildlife Development was never filled and just last week he was appointed as a Deputy Minister to the same Ministry and for all intents and purposes he rules the roost as of course there is effectively no Minister. The minister being President Rajapakse himself by default.  The Governing Party is apparently playing marbles with statecraft. And the people too don’t seem to care.

The Eastern dilemma for Rajapaksa

In the Eastern Province, the President had to engage in a lot of wheeler-dealing, before the selection of the Chief Minister was made after persuading the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) to join the Government Party. He will have to re-engage in further negotiations with the stakeholders of the Eastern Provincial Council after the appointment of the Chief Minister, in order to keep  Pillayan & Company satisfied. What salivating bait he would have to offer these merchants of votes, we would know only after the offer is made and subsequently accepted.

No cake for Ranil

Whatever the problems the Government and Rajapaksa had to confront in the wake of the recently-concluded Provincial Council Elections, unlike the Opposition, were ‘good’ problems to have, since their fundamental premise is one of strength and solidarity. They have won an election and any disagreements or squabbling however intense, would be limited only to the size of the pieces of the cake that they have to cut. In case of the Opposition, there is no cake, period.

No bread for the people

The obstacles that the Government had to overcome, especially in the NCP where a severe drought had engulfed the entire region and driven the farmer community to the brink of bankruptcy, were numerous and formidable. On top of such distressing objective conditions, the unruly conduct on the part of the outgoing Chief Minister and his henchmen, coupled with a seemingly dwindling popularity of the unofficial “King of Polonnaruwa”, Maithripala Sirisena would have appeared as sure signs of a losing scenario for the Government.

Serving up large slices

Yet they secured 60% and 55% respectively in the Districts of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. Nepotism and corruption was rampant in both these districts; the neglect of elementary needs of the farmer community was more than obvious and corrupt practices ranging from indiscriminate felling of illicit timber, jobs being offered on promise of money, abuse of public property and callous disregard for law and order were there for anyone to see but none of them had played any decisive role in the people’s decision-making process. The electioneering culture has changed so radically and what was considered as noble and sacred in the sixties, seventies and even in the eighties has apparently been discarded and the voter response now seems to be founded on a politically-laced quid pro quo basis.

Complacent and careless

The districts of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa were led by two loyalists of Chandrika Bandaranaike but they were able to mend their ways with Mahinda Rajapaksa and managed to survive the initial suspicions and displeasure of the Rajapaksas. Yet being in power for an unbroken period of almost eighteen years would ultimately take its toll. The natural process that sets in around those who wield power and authority could contribute to them becoming complacent. With complacency comes carelessness and rashness. When indiscretion creeps into this rash but all-powerful mindset, the resultant actions and dealings of the subject leave open the area that really reveals the true nature and character of them. It has not happened as yet but the signs are that it’s getting there sooner than later.

Strikes

On other spheres too, the Government is even in more trouble. The strike organized by the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) does not seem to have an ending. The Minister of Higher Education, S B Dissanayake is missing in action while the Minister of Economic Development, Basil Rajapaksa seems to have wrested the issue from the former and to be initiating his own agenda for a resolution of the crisis. Even without a political leadership, the FUTA and the Inter University Students Federation (IUSF) organized a mammoth March and Rally last week, showing their strength and commitment to a worthy cause. The Government looks really weak in the area of Education and that fact is shown in a much amplified manner in the current crisis. A debacle after a laughable debacle in the Ministry of Education, especially in the sphere of examinations, has broken the confidence not only of those who sit for the examinations after burning a lot of midnight oil but also of the parent generation who pin their ultimate hopes on a solid education for their children.

Power corrupts

The power sector is also experiencing the same crisis situation. Although Minister Champika Ranawaka assures that there won’t be any power cuts, the continuing drought conditions in the catchment areas is not offering him or for that matter the country, any solace. If the drought continues, Sri Lanka would certainly have to go through power outages for periods longer than what is usually termed as temporary and short. And there does not seem to be any preparation or planning for a long-term solution to this nagging power issue. The Government is not engaged in any talks with any outside economic power to seek a solution to this power problem on a long-term basis. Of course it is the responsibility of the Government and the Government’s alone to find a solution. No Government Minister or Official has spelt out the long-term power needs of the country and any practical plan of action to meet such future demands. Thus a visionary statement on our power requirements is conspicuously absent and none is forthcoming from the private sector either.

Agriculture not growing

On the agricultural front, there is hardly anything to write home about. The stupendous development program undertaken and delivered so successfully by the Accelerated Mahaweli Development Scheme-the construction of massive reservoirs and dams such as Victoria in Teldeniya, Gamini Dissanayake reservoir in Kotmale, Randenigala and Rantambe reservoirs in the Kandy/Nuwara Eliya border and Ulhitya and Maduru Oya reservoirs respectively in Mahiyangana and Polonnaruwa – is a living monument to the wisdom and vision of those leaders who once ruled our country, not so long ago. Such far-sightedness is totally absent today. When the Accelerated Mahaweli Development Program was launched, Minister Gamini Dissanayake stated that he was paving the way for Sri Lanka to enter the Twenty First Century. Without the power production of the Mahaweli Program, we could not envisage adequately lit-up streets in Sri Lanka, he stated. Today, such vision and wisdom has become a location without an address.

Housing

The massive housing program undertaken by the same government under the stewardship of Prime Minister R Premadasa was another monument to the far-sightedness of the leaders of yesteryear. And many people laughed at the 300 garment factory program of the regime of Premadasa. Today almost every household in these remote villages has someone earning a livelihood thanks to this program. The Mahapola Scholarship Program initiated by that Giant of a politician, Lalith Athulathmudali is providing funds even today to almost all needy university entrants.

Such programs are not planned for at present nor are they the subject of our planners, it seems. Yet, at the polling booth, the Government that has undertaken no long-term development schemes is voted into power, again and again.

Collective incompetence

The seemingly apathetic approach to creative development programs by the present Government has its roots more in its collective incompetence than in attitude. For instance, the present Secretary to the Treasury, barring just two years in which he was legally not allowed to hold any public post by court order, has been at the helm of the country’s coffers for almost two full decades. What innovative monetary or fiscal policy has he introduced into the affairs of the nation’s economy? How much direct foreign investments have come into the country solely due to the practices and policies that he introduced and implemented? As the custodian of the nation’s coffers, Treasury Secretary has a direct responsibility to advise the Cabinet and the Government on creative ways of raising capital other than through heavy borrowings from international private banks at commercial rates. Has he initiated any bi-lateral negotiations with any country to raise much needed foreign capital on the basis of total Grants, the way the Accelerated Mahaweli Development Program raised money for the construction of five Dams and reservoirs and the settlement of more than one hundred thousand families in the downstream zones?

Rajapaksa carries on regardless

The answer to all these questions is one emphatic no. Yet the man carries on and enjoys a reputation as one great go-getter. Construction of highways and bridges is an essential component of a country’s economic expansion. But how many new townships have developed along these highways? How many new income and/or employment-generating activities have been added to the general flow of the economy? Has the unregulated importation of motorcycles and three-wheelers contributed to the growth of the economy or has it merely been instrumental in the increase in the incidence of road accidents at an alarming rate and congesting the main and tertiary roads to a point of literally choking major city-centers?

No plans

Have the country’s planners paid any heed to the needs of the second and third generation issues of the settlement communities scattered in the agriculture and land development sectors? With the expansion of consumerism, the people are getting used to spending heavily, not only more than they earn but much more than they can afford. The credit card system operating under most elastic conditions with credit being offered without a pre-check on credit- worthiness of the cardholder and indiscriminate spending that has resulted from this practice, have made today’s average urban wage earner a heavily debt-ridden creature. The private sector that stands to gain lucrative profits out of this misery is simply not interested in educating the consumer or the trader. So the onus is on the Government or its agencies to highlight the pros and cons of the credit card system, not as a pontificating grandfather but as a concerned, realistic facilitator. Almost every middle-class household, leave alone the poor class, is in debt to the pawnbroker; such borrowings have been the source of funding for television sets, sometimes several for a single household, hi-fi telephones and such similar items of mundane temptation. This simple slip along the consumerism highway will continue until some serious austerity measures are introduced, not as Government-enforced sanctions, but as a measure of self-control by consumers themselves.

This time at least I’m sure, the recent pre-Budget increase in liquor and cigarette prices would have an effect on the consumption of these items to a considerable degree. And if there is no sizeable wage hike in the forthcoming Budget, the tightening of belts would be the next logical sequence of this fast and downward spiraling of personal economies of consumers. One place where the effects of this process would be reflected are the social clubs scattered around the city centers in Sri Lanka.

Central bank

However much the Central Bank tries to cushion the fall, the real condition of the economy is felt by the people who are part and parcel of that economy. Juicy statistics interpreted (or misinterpreted) to suit Government’s propaganda cannot conceal the real hard conditions that the average man experiences, day in and day out. The hearth knows what the household eats, and its stark truth would reveal itself long before the Government could forecast its coming.

Patriotism card

While the Government has to grapple with these irritating economic problems, the people would not just stand idly by, unless they see some meaningful steps being taken by those in power to contain the deterioration. Major portion of the economic deterioration is being felt by the urban wage-earner/consumer whose income is fixed while the changing prices of everyday household items that he has to purchase, just to keep afloat, are tightening a grip around his throat. In such a situation, the Government has decided to resort to a tactic tried and tested in the past: play the patriotism card, over and over again. It has produced the desired results so far; at every election campaign this patriotism card has worked to the advantage of the Government, but it has worked in the context of the image that the people perceive of the Opposition, especially the UNP and its present leadership.

The present UNP leadership created such a negative image of itself by utterances of certain phrases; it was quite easy for the Government to attach the “traitor” badge to the Leader and his close supporters and it was made even easier when the average voter looks at the social, ethnic and religious backgrounds of those who uttered such words.

Organisation

In order to unseat a party in power, the most critical component is ‘organization’. Although the United National Party possessed the most practically workable structure that any political party could boast of, what seems to be left now is only the skeleton, though still sturdy without any meat and flesh. The President is quite aware of this scenario; he is well briefed on the inner conflicts that have caused almost irreparable damage to the image of the party, he is also being consistently apprised of the adverse effects that are rippling among the UNP parliamentarians. One serious illusion that some segments of the UNP seem to harbor at present, is that many Government MPs are willing to cross over if there is a change in the leadership of the Party.

Weak man’s dream

But that is just wishful thinking. The governing coalition will not burst asunder in the middle of their term, for they all stand united, whatever the ill-feeling they might have towards the three-brother-domination of the State. They stand united on the face one objective: remaining in power. That basic instinct that has driven man right throughout his long journey since the dawn of civilization, would eventually tilt the minds of all those who are disgruntled today towards strengthening the Government in a situation of crisis, should that arrive. Waiting for the governing party to collapse is a weak man’s dream and a wise man’s nightmare.

Making it happen

J R Jayewardene in the early seventies did not wait for things to happen. He made things happen. You can’t make things happen unless you have an organization that follows one leader, one idea and one objective. The United National Party at present does not have one leader and neither one idea nor one objective. In such a quagmire, how can the Party offer itself as a viable alternative to Mahinda Rajapaksa and his broad coalition? It can’t, unless and until it put its own house together. Make whatever compromises, whatever bargains but put your party together and then the people will follow you, for they too are in search of an alternative.

 


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Mahinda Rajapaksa2012

Government growing weaker but Mahinda still a formidable force in Sri Lanka

“For every failure, there’s an alternative course of action. You just have to find it. When you come to a roadblock, take a detour” – Mary ...