Narrative Revisited

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Sri Lankan economist  N. Balakrishnan in a book titled ‘Asian Survey’ published in February 1975 had this to say about Sri Lanka under a heading ‘Sri Lanka in 1974: Battle for Economic Survival’.

 “Sri Lanka has been faced with a worsening economic situation in 1974. It became virtually a battle for economic survival and one that is far from over.

“World food shortages, the oil crisis and global inflation have had such a severe impact on the economy that Sri Lanka came to be listed by the IMF among the ‘most seriously affected’ countries.  The increasing severity of economic problems dominated the country’s socio-political situation throughout the period.” 

Continuing, Balakrishnan, in a subheading titled ‘Political Scene’, said, “The political scene during the year was increasingly marked by intense political rivalry and antagonisms that led to direct confrontations between the ruling United Front (UF) and the Opposition, mainly the UNP.

Both sides were bitterly divided over the issue relating to the duration of the Government’s term of office. The Opposition maintained that the five-year term of office of the Government should end in May 1975, counting from the date of the last Parliamentary Election (May 1975).

The official position on this was that in accordance with the new Republican Constitution (adopted in May 1972), the UF Government, with full legal and constitutional validity, had the ‘right to rule till 1977.’ All indications are the UF Government will go until 1977, possibly deciding to call a Parliamentary Poll earlier, but probably not in 1975.

The opposition stepped up its campaign of ‘mass protest,’ using extra parliamentary agitation, from the early part of the year with satyagraha demonstrations and threats of ‘civil disobedience’, the declared objective was the mobilisation of public support to force the Government to hold elections in 1975.”

Fast forward to the present, the political-economic landscape is similar to 1974, with a worsening economic situation, complemented by world food shortages, oil crisis and global inflation.

In fact, countrywide inflation hit a record 45.30 per cent last month, beating its previous record of 33.80 per cent established in only the previous month (April 2022) aided by food inflation hitting a record 58 per cent, Census and Statistics Department  data released yesterday showed.

There was just one inaccuracy in Balakrishnan’s narrative, in that the UNP’s agitation, led by its new leader, J.R. Jayewardene, subsequent to the death of its previous leader Dudley Senanayake in April 1973, against the UF Coalition Government led by SLFP leader Sirima Bandaranaike, began soon after the takeover of the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd (ANCL) in July 1973, with no compensation paid.

Jayewardene, after he won the subsequent Parliamentary Poll in July 1977 with a yet to be broken record majority, saw to it that his cousin was fully compensated for Bandaranaike’s acquisition of Lake House, whilst at the same time refusing to hand it over to him on the grounds that he may be accused of nepotism.

Meanwhile, currently, Jayewardene’s nephew, UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is the Premier, serving under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s SLPP Government.

Currently, the main Opposition, SJB, led by Sajith Premadasa is calling for fresh Parliamentary Polls due to the SLPP Government’s inability to solve the present economic crisis, despite the fact that Parliamentary Polls being three years away to 2025 and Presidential Polls two years away to 2024.

In the interim, the SLPP Government is banking on IMF support to bail it out, by obtaining an IMF loan in another 2-3 months (August/September) time once current negotiations are over. In the intervening 2-3 months period from now, they are hoping for a USD 500 million Indian credit line to keep its head above the water.

Elections being held prior to 2024/2025 will however, not take place because the Government knows that it will be soundly trounced, similar to what happened to the then Government 45 years ago at the July 1977 Parliamentary Poll.

That is Sri Lanka’s current political narrative, similar to the narrative that took place from 1974 and leading up to the July 1977 Parliamentary Poll, and, even, immediately beyond.