Govt must perform or its stability can dissipate
Posted on January 4th, 2016

Courtesy Ceylon Today

The Yahapalana Government elected after the landmark Presidential Election has accomplished a number of achievements when it comes to constitutional and electoral reforms. The government has passed a number of Bills ensuring greater power to Parliament, limiting the powers of the Executive President and ending the preferential voting system. All these are promises President Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and other leaders promised.

President Maithripala Sirisena is scheduled to make a speech in Parliament on 9 January. The President will make this statement on the first anniversary of his tenure in office as President and this will be the true beginning of the political change that the President and the United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) promised.
“We promised a number of social, economic and political changes. Although we have made some progress in changing the political culture, I see the establishment of a Constituent Assembly as the beginning of true political change,” Minister of Public Enterprise Development Kabir Hashim said.
In addition, the government is to prepare a new draft of a Constitution which abolishes the Executive Presidency by June and to hold the Local Government elections after the Delimitation Committee completes its work.
In addition, we have also seen great advances made regarding ensuring human rights and other fundamental freedoms. There is a visible improvement with regard to freedom of expression and the plight of political prisoners. Sirisena and Wickremesinghe are openly criticized not only by Opposition MPs but also members of their own parties. Despite lingering endemic issues the Police and the judicial system now seem to be working independently and there has been a noticeable decrease in custodial deaths, shooting suspects ‘while attempting to escape’ and the unacceptable use of force in dispersing protesters.
On the other hand the progress made on punishing those who have committed mass financial fraud during the tenure of the Rajapaksa administration, which was one of the main election promises of Sirisena, has been painfully slow. While a number of former ministers and MPs have been questioned by investigative bodies, no one has been prosecuted, this has enforced the belief of still hardcore pro-Rajapaksa voters that all the allegations made by Sirisena and Wickremesinghe are false and disillusioned those who voted for Sirisena on 8 January 2015.
Progress made on the economic front has also been negligible and this has already dented the belief that the UNP is much better at managing the economy than the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). This was a belief that survived the decade of Rajapaksa rule which, at a point in time seemed, would last for another decade. Just like when the people believed that the American economy will bounce back immediately after the election of Obama, a significant number of people believed that the Sri Lankan economy will bounce back soon after Sirisena was elected. However, the economy has not bounced back and it is also absurd to expect the government to magically erase the colossal damage done by the Rajapaksa administration to the Sri Lankan economy. However, the government has failed to come up with a framework that can improve the Sri Lankan economy. Even the 2016 Budget seems completely geared to attract foreign investment. Apart from a number of pro-business liberalizations, which include the facilitation of foreign transfer of funds and procurement of local assets by foreigners, the 2016 Budget makes little effort to stimulate agriculture or manufacturing. This is a risky manoeuvre considering that there was a net capital outflow last year from emerging markets, the first time since 1988.
However, there also does not seem any existential threat to the government, for the time being. Those who voted for Sirisena on 8 January 2015 will keep supporting him until Mahinda Rajapaksa continues in politics and the pragmatists who voted for Rajapaksa on 8 January and 17 August 2015 have moved towards the government en masse in the last few months. But what the dramatic eviction of Rajapaksa from power showed us was that if the government does not keep its promises, the apparent stability and strength can dissipate in a few months.

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