Wise Move

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On Monday, the Ceylon Today website carried a story under the heading ‘President calls for all-party conference.’

It said, to quote excerpts, “President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of the SLPP has called for an all-party conference (APC) on Wednesday (today, 23 March).

The meeting, scheduled to be held at Temple Trees with all party leaders and relevant representatives present, is expected to focus on the current economic and foreign exchange crisis in Sri Lanka.”

However, the main opposition party SJB announced they are boycotting the APC (see yesterday’s FT), with the other major opposition Sinhala party, Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB), popularly known as Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), having earlier announced that they too, will be boycotting it.

Politically discarded UNP and SLFP, much like the previously discarded ‘Old Left,’ Communist Party (CP) and LSSP, after their rout at the 1977 Parliamentary Poll, are however, participating in today’s APC. So, are the CP and the LSSP, constituent parties of the ruling SLPP. SLFP too, is a constituent party of the SLPP, but not the UNP. 

Yesterday the TNA, a provincial based political party which mainly draws its support from the North, more often than not in an overwhelming manner, announced that they also will be participating in the APC.

The currently two mainly Sinhala-based opposition parties, SJB and JJB/JVP, though not extremist, in a prudent political move, decided to boycott the APC. The Sinhalese constitute 74 per cent of the island’s population.

Politically prudent, because in the short space of two years and four months the SLPP of Rajapaksa’s has been in power, the price of a litre of kerosene was increased by 24.29 per cent (Rs 17) to Rs 87 a litre, the price of petrol 92 octane, the type of petrol used by three-wheelers, by 84.06 per cent (Rs 116) to Rs 254 a litre, petrol 95 octane by 73.62 per cent (Rs 120) to Rs 283 a litre, Lanka auto diesel, the diesel used by buses by 69.23 per cent (Rs 72) to Rs 176 a litre and Lanka super diesel by 89.55 per cent (Rs 120) to Rs 254 a litre. Commensurately, the basic bus fare unit for an adult was increased by 66.67 per cent (Rs 8) to Rs 20, with a cascading effect on other bus fare rates as well.  

Among some of the other price increases effected during this period are the price of a 400 gram pack of milk powder increased by 100 per cent (Rs 395) to Rs 790 and a kilo pack by 97.46 per cent (Rs 960) to Rs 1,945, price of a loaf of bread by 83.33 per cent (Rs 50) to Rs 110, Samba rice by 89.47 per cent (Rs 85) to Rs 180 a kg, Kekulu rice by 94.44 per cent (Rs 85) to Rs 175 a kg, sugar by 69.01 per cent (Rs 73.50) to Rs 180 a kg, eggs by 51.28 per cent (Rs 10) to Rs 29.50 an egg, Mysore dhal by 207.27 per cent (Rs 228) to Rs 338 a kg, coconuts by 31.82 per cent (Rs 17.50) to Rs 72.50 a nut, potatoes by 31.88 per cent (Rs 63.75) to Rs 263.75 a kg, dried chillies by 98.75 per cent (Rs 474) to Rs 954 a kg, with more price increases, such as for electricity, last upped in 2013 and domestic gas, already increased by 79.17 per cent (Rs 1,182) to Rs 2,675 for  a cylinder of 12.5 kgs during the present Rajapaksa regime, also to follow.

Despite such increases, a number of these items are in short supply, with long queues in fuel stations and at cooking gas dealers being formed to get such supplies and even after standing for hours and being exposed to the elements, numbers of them returning home empty-handed. At least three deaths and one murder have been reported from these queues, making the regime, by such acts of commission and omission, unpopular, underlined by protests and blockades engineered by the frustrated masses.

Therefore, if the SJB and JJB/JVP had participated at today’s APC, they would have lost whatever political clout they have gained, by being identified with the present regime.