Urgently Needed: A Patriotic Opposition
By Shivanthi Ranasinghe
If President Gotabaya became an autocrat overnight, few would oppose. In fact, many would be happy. The President himself recently recounted that even some of the venerable Sangha are advocating an iron fist rule. If such a transformation did take place, then the West may feign faint but it was with autocracy or even brutal dictatorship that the countries forcibly occupied by Europeans were ruled. Countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea rose from ashes if it was not for decades long, one-ruler autocracy. However, autocracy is not sustainable if the country is not under one rule for at least two decades. Therefore, democracy is the governing structure for Sri Lanka.
For democracy to exist, two vital components are necessary - an informed society and a patriotic opposition. However, the term ‘opposition’ in the context of democracy is perhaps the most misunderstood in Sri Lanka. Especially the incumbent Opposition Party has taken the word literally. Even though the venerable Sangha had advised the Opposition Leader a number of times, Sajith Premadasa is unable to desist from opposing everything simply for the sake of opposing.
To support democracy, it is important to understand the role the Opposition Party must play. Political parties in a democracy may lean towards socialism or capitalism and may have its own pet concerns. Either way, both the Government and the Opposition must have a common anchoring base. Ideally, in a democratic Government both parties (Government and Opposition) must be able to take important decisions together such as that related to national debt. It is important that the successive Government should be able to meet the financial commitments.
Unfortunately, during the thick of war against terrorism, the UNP then as the main Opposition party, tried to dissuade international financial institutions from giving loans to the Mahinda Rajapaksa Administration. Without this financial support the Government would not have been able to proceed with the military intervention to eradicate terrorism. Defeating terrorism should have been the anchoring base but it was not. Therefore, after terrorism was defeated against all odds, the victory over terrorism became UNP-led Opposition’s liability.
This precipitated in the effort to condemn the war victory as a war crime when UNP came to power on Yahapalana President Maithripala Sirisena’s coattails. The self-inflicted wound by this camp was exploited by the Tamil Diaspora and the West.
The LTTE ideologist Tamil Diaspora wants revenge for their defeat, but also the dismantling of the country’s security apparatus for its own survival. Their existence depends on the violence in Sri Lanka. Marketing this violence as “fight for freedom”, this group persuades/pressurises the Tamil expatriates into making monetary donations. From the thousands of dollars they thus collect, they may send about Rs 10,000-15,000 to the perpetrators in Sri Lanka.
With China and India both rising as super powers, the West is fighting for its hold in Asia. Into this geopolitical struggle Sri Lanka is also getting unwittingly dragged. As can be deduced by the ACSA-SOFA-MCCC, the West is not eyeing a military base in Sri Lanka but the whole Island as a military base.
Thus for very different objectives, the Opposition to the Mahinda Rajapaksa Administration, the Tamil Diaspora and the West began its attack on the Sri Lankan military. Citing war crimes, they handpicked officers and teams that played a pivotal role in the war. This has paved the way to extremism, terrorism and black market racketeering in Sri Lanka. Thus, it is the country that got adversely affected.
Objective to ensnare the country
Contentiously, the vindictiveness continued even when the Yahapalana Government realised that their ‘policies’ were leading them to defeat. After the Local Government Elections in 2018, it was obvious that the Yahapalana Government days were numbered. In response, the Yahapalana Government began to take foreign loans with the despicable objective to enmesh the country with so much debt so as to put the successive Government in trouble.
It is noteworthy that it is not only the Opposition that tried to exploit the Administration’s difficulties but also the West. Without taking into consideration the unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the credit rating agencies downgraded Sri Lanka. The ambassadors representing the European Union too protested about tight controls over imports claiming that it violates free trade. The country’s debt burden worsened by the cancellation of export orders without any compensation which were studiously ignored in this argument
Full kudus to the Gotabaya Administration for taking the economy forward amidst all these obstacles. Today Bloomberg reports the Colombo Stock Exchange is the second best performing equity market in the world. The rating agencies too had to backtrack since downgrading Sri Lanka. As a result it is their clients who suffered.
Meanwhile, these self serving actions that hurt the country have only resulted in people losing trust in democracy. The first wave of COVID-19 and the dissolution of the Parliament coincided. For nearly five months the country was without a Parliament as the Election Commissioner refused to hold Elections.
However, only Sajith Premadasa’s camp and the West were demanding the reconvening of the Parliament without Elections. People on the other hand were thinking the country is better run without a Parliament. People knew that if Parliament was reconvened, then the Opposition would not have allowed the Government to control the pandemic for their objective would be to see the Government fail.
The current tourism travel bubble experiment is a case in point. While airports were closed for tourists, the Opposition was very worried about the tourism industry. Yet, they do not support the ongoing experiment to open up this sector.
Experiments figure what goes wrong
In an experiment many things can go wrong. However, the Government had anticipated this and was prepared for it. Equally important the Government was correcting the shortfalls. The travel bubble is not the most ideal concept – especially closing places like Sigiriya or the Sacred Temple of the Tooth for locals when foreign tourists come is hair bristling. However, the reality is such that we all have to give way to reason than emotion.
Nearly half a million were affected when the tourism industry crashed in the aftermath of the Easter Attack. The pandemic hit them again just as they were raising their heads. Thus for nearly three years the industry had been tottering. It is to save the industry that the Government is making the difficult choice between bringing in Sri Lankan expatriates and foreign tourists.
The anchoring base should be to get the country in working order as soon as possible. However, this is not the objective of the Opposition. Instead, their goal is to portray the Government has failed.
Once President’s Counsel Ali Sabri noted there are two ways to win a race. One would be to prepare for the race and the other would be to break the opponent’s legs. He wryly noted that the Yahapalana Government had chosen the second option.
Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa too is hoping to gain ground by discrediting the incumbent Administration. He fails to realise that people no longer appreciate petty politics or empty promises. Yet, still embroiled in the number game, he is clutching at any straw hoping that in time he will have enough to float him into presidency.
Therefore, he welcomes anyone who wishes to join him, not worrying too much how they will support him during his presidency. Even though Ranjan Ramanayaka through his own recordings has been exposed in influencing judgement against political opponents Sajith Premadasa claims him as his lifelong friend. In the same manner he stands with Harin Fernando who constantly insults the venerable and the respectable. Rajitha Senaratna‘s elaborate scheme to fabricate falsehood at a press conference has got him trouble with the law and into Sajith Premadasa’s embrace. Azath Salley’s belligerent behaviour does not deter him from Sajith Premadasa’s company.
His camp is repeatedly raising the issue of Hijaz Hisbulla. There is more evidence against Hijaz Hisbulla than any of the military officers who were incarcerated for months on end. With such evidence that connect him to the Easter Attack, to claim that he will be made the scapegoat as he is a Muslim is very poor politics.
Even though presidency is Sajith Premadasa’s cherished dream, he was so ill prepared during the 2019 presidential Elections that he could not even produce his manifesto on time. When he did, it drew a sharp parallel with the LTTE ideologist TNA. He promises to revive his father’s policies that have long expired. Despite the massive handouts he promised, he was defeated by a large percentage.
He is currently touring the country now to pick up points to bash the Government. In the process he rubs people’s noses for failing to elect him, insinuating that current problems would not have existed had he been elected. This is a far fetched claim at best when it is the same failed lot from the Yahapalana Government that has made his core team.
Sajith Premadasa has the unique opportunity to chisel a new chapter in Sri Lankan politics by transforming the Opposition from its mere literal sense into a force that works for the country and stands for national interests. To do so, he must form his own policies instead of borrowing from his father, the TNA or any other. He must take care not to repeat his erstwhile leader’s mistakes by turning his party into a political proxy of West funded NGOs for Election gains. If he fails then in time he too will become a political orphan.