Sri Lanka needs sensible and sound leadership

- by Dinesh Weerakkody

The Asia section of the print edition of the Economist, under the headline ‘Beasts and Monsters’, said: “To critics of Mahinda Rajapaksa, local council elections that were held in Sri Lanka on February 10th felt like a horror film, as the controversial ex-president rose from his silk-lined political coffin to declare victory.”

The outcome of the Local Government election to the ordinary people of this country was certainly not a shocker. It was certainly a shock for the ruling elite because they never had their ears to the ground. Even two weeks since the election defeat, the leaders so far have not taken any tangible and immediate measures to restore confidence in the Government and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party to rein in their ministers. The governance of the country needs to take a new direction in 2018 for all its citizens to witness real social, political and economic advancement. And for inspiration and to stay together as a government, the Government only needs to refer to what they promised in their manifesto in 2015 and work hard to deliver these promises. 

Responsibility to the public

The President and Prime Minister would find it very hard to abandon the promises they made because the next presidential election is only 18 months away and parliamentary polls are not due for two and a half years. 

Moreover, 6.2 million people voted for the National Unity Government with so much of hope. Therefore, President Sirisena must ensure his ministers do not act in a manner detrimental to the Government’s interests. Thankfully, it is reported the President had spoken to those who contributed to the current problems and alerted them to the threat posed by the former president. Because, as civil society activists point out, the Joint Opposition/Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna strategy is aimed at causing a permanent rift between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe, isolating the UNP and then bringing the entire SLFP parliamentary group under the SLPP. 

The SLFP ministers screaming at the UNP leader must realise the UNP got 44.6% of the vote at the last parliamentary elections and Wickremesinghe polled 502,000 preferential votes. Whereas, some of the ministers currently creating chaos and havoc had lost their parliamentary seats very badly. They were nominated to Parliament by the President and once again lost their electorates in the 2018 LG elections.

Interestingly, 15.7 million voters were eligible to vote at the 2018 LG elections according to 2017 listings. Out of that only 11.2 million have cast their votes. Around 4.5 million boycotted the Local Government elections to either show their disgust or their frustration with the current administration. 

4.5 million silent and dissenting voices is massive in any democracy. It is time our politicians understand the public is getting fed up with the current political parties and have shown their dissent very silently.

Practical solutions

No doubt at the recent election the strength of the UNP was reduced to 32.5% while the President’s SLFP was reduced to 13%. Political analysts say the decision to cut farmer subsidies to the bone was a disaster for the Government. 

The price of essential items like coconut, rice and sprats have skyrocketed. The Sri Lankan people sadly have short memories. In 2015, petrol, which was priced at Rs. 162 was reduced to Rs. 117, Kerosene from Rs. 110 to Rs. 44 and a 410-gram milk packet was reduced from Rs. 465 to Rs. 325 while electricity bills reduced by 25%. 

But the fact that VAT increased in general from 12% to 15% and interest rates went up, along with the depreciation of the rupee, has had an overwhelming impact on the cost of living. Therefore, going forward the Government should focus on issues that can help alleviate the suffering of the people. 

The people want the price of food (onions, potatoes, lentils, sprats, milk powder, coconut and dry fish) reduced. 

The Government needs to ensure there is enough rice in stock for the New Year season. Then farmers’ issues need addressing. Will they be given fertiliser at an affordable price? Today there is a drinking water shortage in five provinces. All this clearly needs to be addressed by the Government.

Regaining confidence

The recent political events more or less will go down in our political history as one of the worst and most pathetic displays of political manoeuvring in this country by a few politicians rejected by the people attempting to form a government of their own, even misleading the President and pushing him against the wall. To regain the confidence of the public the Cabinet of Ministers also needs to focus only on nationally beneficial projects. 

For example, the high cost of the Central Expressway, the one proposed by Kiriella costing Rs. 120 billion and Ranawaka costing Rs. 20 billion, needs to be thoroughly examined by the President. Ranawaka, with his training in engineering, must surely have a better sense of matters than Kiriella, a lawyer by training. For the Unity Government to once again become a beacon of hope and win the trust of the people, the President and Prime Minister both need to act with responsibility and maturity and maintain discipline among their ranks by getting rid of the people around them directly accused of bribery and corruption. 

If nothing really changes in the next two weeks in the Government and the same tainted people continue, the decision to continue with the National Government by the two parties could be hugely beneficial for the SLPP and Mahinda Rajapaksa.

(The writer is a thought leader)

- Daily FT


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