By Abdul Samad
As we approach the half-way point of the term with unity government, it is clear beyond any doubt that the administration has failed in all aspects including the foremost touted political and ethnic reconciliation process. A rotten capital market, uncontrollable inflation, and absolutely pathetic fiscal/economic policy, corrupt politicians and legislators, inefficient bloated ministries, civil/union unrests have been the highlights of this period.
Considering such a scenario, it is an ideal time to reflect who could lead our motherland out of this disastrous situation to say the least.
Presidency and premiership
After 2.5 years of the unity government, it has to be a foregone conclusion that the marriage of two mainstream political ideologies is not working.
President Maithripala Sirisena’s ascendancy to the presidency was touted as a victory against corruption, minority suppression, and nepotism. Two and a half years down the line none of these make absolutely any sense.
Corruption remains at the heart of every political move. The perpetrators of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) Bond scam are still roaming free with the blessings of leading political figures. Ghost buildings have been leased out for astonishing amounts of public funds without any responsibility. Sri Lanka was ranked 95th out of 176 countries in corruption rankings according to Transparency International. Interestingly, the country has dropped 12 places when compared with 2015 measuring a lowly score of 35.
President’s son seems to be at the heart of all diplomatic State visits time and again without a clearly defined role or necessary qualifications. On the president’s recent visit to Russia his son was at the forefront of the delegation. As citizens of this country do we have the right to know his role on the visit? Was it State sponsored? And what were the objectives of his visit? It should be noteworthy that none of Vladimir Putin’s children were to be seen on any of the photographs. Further, he was also a part of the delegation to the UN that negotiates the reconciliation process. The question is, what formal qualifications does he possess to be a part of a delegation that represents the country on such a sensitive issue? Has he received any formal education or training on international relations, human rights, and public policy?
This is possibly the most significant pillar on which the unity government’s election campaign was built. Without the majority of the minority votes the possibility of defeat for the former President was highly unlikely. The breakdown of election results was highly evident of that. Recent events suggest that the situation has barely changed. Assault on Muslims and business establishments has been on the increase. In fact, some media reports suggest that the guardians of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) are within the government holding key ministerial positions.
It is very clear that the President has all but lost total control of his Cabinet and his position. He clearly seems to be unaware of his responsibilities and authorities. Ministers and ministries seem to have their own agendas while the President himself lives in a state of illusion without confronting reality.
He has become so vulnerable that quite often a question arises as to who runs the country. Is it the President or Premier? Or is the country running on auto-pilot mode? By the end of his term he is most likely to go down as the worst President in the post-independence history of Sri Lanka together with Chandrika Bandaranaike. Both these politicians will share this prestigious accolade.
After losing multiple elections, there seemed to be no way in for Ranil Wickremesinghe or the UNP to regain power. It is increasingly becoming evident that the Premier resorted to camouflaged ethnic/racial and corruption issues to find his way back to the top through the back door.
His stance on extremists religious organizations prior to and post-elections have been drastic to say the least. What surprises more is his stance on corruption. The perpetrators of the CBSL Bond scam have avoided prosecution under his disguised blessing.
The Finance Ministry figures submitted to the Auditor General have been rejected. Action is yet to be taken on those who furnished these misleading figures.
Ranil Wickremesinghe in his latest stint as the Premier has been somewhat an illusionist. What he perceives as good for Sri Lanka seems to be the opposite for the citizens. The Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA), larger role for India in Sri Lanka’s domestic politics, allegiance to the West, exclusion of Chinese projects and economic policy at large. The list is endless.
His foreign trips seem to be never ending, costing the tax payer a fortune. What is all the more appalling is the objective of these trips. Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) are at a record low level, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth has contacted substantially.
All these indicators suggest nothing much has been achieved mid-way through his term. False promises, irresponsible decision-making, and inefficient administration has been the highlights of his term. Apart from accusing the previous regime nothing much has changed in his course of action.
With the assessment of the main participants of the previous and current administrations the people need to make a choice and a strong statement at the next elections. While acknowledging the flaws of key participants on both sides of the coin, one figure brilliantly stands out, despite his shortcomings and flaws.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the former Defence Secretary stands out as a true visionary, and an unconventional politician who can guide the country out of this misery. Realistically, no other candidate offers what he brings to the table. The vision, courage, administrative talent, and sheer ability were on show in his stint as Defence Secretary. The only comparison in Sri Lankan political history is the former President Ranasinghe Premadasa.
It was his vision to see Colombo as the most beautiful city in South Asia that brought a radical modernization and infrastructure development in Colombo. It was clearly evident under his stewardship Colombo was becoming a benchmark for the rest of South Asia. Cleanliness, orderly traffic movement, world-class road network were all part of the comprehensive plan to promote Sri Lanka as a modern, hospitable and entertainment filled destination for business and tourism.
A fast transforming, modern, and vibrant city has become a colossal garbage dump yard under the present administration. Some may still argue that the former Defence Secretary used power and authority in a different way to achieve his objectives. I want readers to understand that we live in a primitive society guided by illusionist religious / political ideologies. Although literate most citizens lack the wisdom in thinking to derive the true benefits of a democratic system.
A combination of a democratic/authoritarian regime can bring in the much needed discipline that is most required for Sri Lanka as of now. The strikes and protests were unheard of during his reign which has become a source of public hindrance today. The use of democracy for personal advantage has become common.
This also sends a wrong message to the international community in terms of stability and domestic volatility. As a result FDIs have dried up remarkably and Colombo has become a notorious city with sheer unpredictability. What readers must understand is that it is not the politicians but the ordinary citizens who stand to lose.
Sri Lanka suffered a brutal war for a period of three decades. During this period the country lost its potential on social and economic fronts. Considering the social perspective, a wealth of human talents has either migrated or lost their lives during the war.
It was the talent that could have contributed immensely to the GDP and social progress of the country. Prestigious institutions in line with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Ivy league universities employ world class Sri Lankan talent that migrated from the country due to lack of opportunities and stability.
From an economic perspective the tourism industry was the biggest loser. What could have been a $10 billion industry today was suppressed and alienated due to political instability and threat to human life. Sri Lanka had an annual tourist arrivals of 300,000 in 2009. The figure today stands at 2 million plus. Tourism is the fastest growing industry as of now and is poised to overtake apparel manufacturing as the biggest industry in Sri Lanka. With the right marketing and infrastructure development the industry has the potential to grow to $10 billion in the next decade.
All this has been possible as a result of the end of war. It was clearly evident for 30 years that the country suffered because no politician had the courage or will to end it. The courage and commitment of the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa together with the former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa was instrumental in wiping terrorism off Sri Lanka.
For varying unfortunate reasons Sri Lankans today have forgotten the memories of the dark days of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s (LTTE) dominance. The destruction, loss of life, and everything else seem to be a distant memory. The freedom of life, and flourishing tourism business is all part of the peace dividend.
I once again stress, if not for the courage shown by the former Defence Secretary who survived a suicide bomb attack and constant threats to his life was determined to wipe off the LTTE, Sri Lankans would not have lived to experience and embrace this freedom.
With the UNP and Ranil we would have lived to see yet another false dawn in the name of a peace process and ethnic reconciliation.
Considering the Asian region, and most developed economies, there is a striking common factor. None of the developed economies practise or preach democratic governance in totality.
China, Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong are all examples of economies that have been built on the sheer will and determination of their respective leaders. The wellbeing of the citizens must be put first. It is far more important than protecting non-serving democratic values.
However, for the above system to succeed, it is mandatory to have a visionary leader with courage and determination to succeed at all costs. In my living memory I have seen two politicians in Sri Lanka who had this trait. The first person was former President Ranasinghe Premadasa and the other was the former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
As patriotic citizens of the country we must assume full responsibility at the next elections to ensure that Sri Lanka gets leader who can maximize the country’s potential and work in the best interest of citizens.