Four choices for Ranil

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Two matters of political and socioeconomic interest to the country took place on Thursday. The first was UNP leader and President Ranil Wickremesinghe proroguing Parliament and the other, the World Bank (WB) announcing a few hours later, either by chance or design, that they will be suspending aid to Sri Lanka.

Wickremesinghe has prorogued Parliament till next Wednesday (3 August), on which date Parliament will start its new sessions, beginning with the President’s policy statement. There is no debate or vote on the President’s policy speech under the current, Second Republican Constitution of 1978. But in the past, there were.

And, in two of such instances, the Governments of the day were defeated on their policy speeches; then known as Throne Speeche, delivered by the Governor General, as Sri Lanka then had a Westminster style of Government before becoming a republic on 22 May 1972.

 Meanwhile, the first such occasion was when the then newly elected Dudley Senanayake Government of March 1960 was defeated on the debate on the Throne Speech and the second was on 3 December 1964 that led to the defeat of the SLFPs Sirima Bandaranaike Government over the Lake House press takeover bill after 17 of the ruling SLFP Government MPs, led by the Leader of the House C.P. de Silva, crossed over to the Opposition UNP, leading to the defeat of that Government by one vote.

Regarding the WB, the WB in their Thursday’s statement said that until an adequate macroeconomic policy framework is in place the WB does not plan to offer new financing to Sri Lanka. This requires deep structural reforms that focus on economic stabilisation and also on addressing the root structural causes that created this crisis to ensure that Sri Lanka’s future recovery and development is resilient and inclusive.

That means that there will be no ‘new’ WB loans to purchase cooking gas as is prevailing now. This is because Sri Lanka’s US Dollar assets have been robbed by the preceding two Rajapaksa regimes of 17 November 2005 to 8 November 2015 and 16 November 2019 to 14 July 2022 respectively.  Wickremesinghe, as President, has constitutionally, though against the spirit of the law, has come in to fill the two year gap of the current Rajapaksa regime which ends in 2024, with the support of Rajapaksa’s SLPP, which party has 145 MPs in the 225-member House, after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa prematurely resigned on 14 July 2022 over public anger against record high inflation and shortages of essentials due to the country’s dollar scarcity.

Now that the WB has stopped aid, Wickremesinghe, in his coming Wednesday’s policy speech should enumerate how his SLPP Government plans to solve the island’s cooking gas shortage problem, one of several of socioeconomic problems besetting the country.

 He may place four possible answers.  One is; does he hope to promote environmentally pollutive firewood as an alternative, which, was the beginnings of many a leader and policymakers of this country, leading up to the island’s independence in 1948 and beyond?.

 Or, does he hope to approach, Russia, the world’s second largest processor of cooking gas or otherwise obtain a new loan from China to import cooking gas?

His third alternative is, does he plan to fall in line with WB demands for future aid which is, “addressing the root structural causes that created this crisis?”

The root cause is corruption at the highest, beginning with the Executive President as said above. Does Wickremesinghe therefore hope to bring in again the planned Nineteenth Amendment (19A) post haste as promised earlier which clipped the President’s powers and restored such powers back to Parliament, before 19A was checkmated by the 20A, introduced and passed by the Rajapaksas current SLPP Government in 2020?

Or the fourth alternative is whether Wickremesinghe would ask the masses to tighten their belts like what then SLFP Leader and Premier Sirima Bandaranaike used to say, year in, year out in her new year messages beginning with 1971 and ending in 1977, before she was unceremoniously booted out of office by the masses at the 21 July 1977 Parliamentary Poll?