Yahapalanaya 2017 –A Dismal Anniversary
Posted on January 14th, 2017

By Anura Gunasekera Courtesy The Island

The MP for Kurunegala, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has announced a wish, intent and threat, a three-in-one package for the New Year. Perhaps it is also a resolution; that is to topple the existing Sirisena/Wickramasinghe coalition and to establish a new government . Its composition and contours have not been defined but it is a certainty, that the new regime he is contemplating will be totally controlled by him, even if he does not have an official position in it.

Mahinda Rajapaksa , by nature, inclination and habit is given to making vainglorious statements. Purple rhetoric has been his political stock-in-trade, whether talking about confronting real and imaginary enemies, improving the economy, ushering in a golden era for the nation, offering a fair deal and equitability in the treatment of the minorities and combating corruption ( the noise in the background is the derisive bray of equine laughter ) or any other question of national importance. However, to give the man the credit that is his due, he presided over the conclusion of 30 years of war, making good on his assurances. As for the rest, it was mostly insincerity and actorish posturing.

Leaving aside the customary Rajapaksa mendacity and his yet unrealized dream, let us focus on the ugliness of current political realities, especially the unraveling of the ” Yahapalanaya ” covenant.

“Yahapalanaya” was a concept, a vision, a promise for a better tomorrow, an assurance extended to a despairing public, a last straw that disillusioned millions collectively clutched at. But the painful truth is that a concept and a vision and an assurance do not become a reality unless there is content, action and delivery of stated objectives. Of the last there were many noble statements but they still occupy the limbo of unachieved goals.

On the Yahapalanaya agenda were the restoration of genuine democracy, re-engineering of the economy and the curtailment of wasteful expenditure, total freedom of expression for the press and other dissenters, without fear of official reprisal as a response to the exposure of unpalatable truths, restitution of denied rights to the minorities and the implementation of measures for genuine reconciliation, the impartial investigation of allegations of mega –corruption of the previous regime and the re-investigation of serious crimes, especially politically motivated murder, shelved or otherwise sanitized by the Rajapaksa regime.

Before the “Yahapalanaya” could even gird its loins, the waste from the Central Bank Bond scandal hit the proverbial fan; the inept and transparently biased damage control operation only served to smear the odour on every surface, incriminating all actors in the drama and their patrons beyond the possibility of sanitization. Whilst CB Governor Mahendran was eventually removed no credit accrues to Yahapalanaya , as this action came as a reluctant and belated response to overwhelming external pressure, and not as an immediate and spontaneous internal acknowledgement of a massive financial impropriety.

Despite this early fiasco, in the first year there was reason for hope. The Right to Information Bill was passed and despite its detractors, it is still a commendable achievement. Major financial improprieties were under official scrutiny and other crime investigations , shelved during the Rajapaksa years, were being speedily revisited. Questioning of alleged wrongdoers became a daily drama, paraded ostentatiously before an expectant public. The Baratha Premachandra murder case was concluded, with former MP Duminda Silva being among those convicted; in the Rajapakse regime Silva’s exoneration would have been a certainty, even if the case had been concluded.

Then came the bombshell of the President’s castigation of the investigative bodies, resulting in the Bribery Commissioner herself becoming the most high profile casualty in the criminal investigation process; in this writer’s view, the biggest body blow to Yahapalanaya, delivered by its chief architect.

On another side, the inefficiencies in the management of the economy and the implementation of political strategy have been nothing short of comical. There was the farce of the first Yahapalanaya budget, with Minister Ravi Karunanayake blustering before the public, his face covered in egg, defending a budget document which was systematically dismantled from the very moment of its presentation. Official statements on major issues made by high-profile government spokesmen, particularly by Minister Rajitha Senaratne, would be contradicted or amended almost immediately thereafter, by another high-profile representative. The lack of cohesive policy and the cracks within an uneasy alliance were being exposed with a cruel clarity.

Amongst the most contentious issues the government now needs to resolve are the accords with regional powers. The CEPA agreement, now presented to the public as ETCA with, supposedly, the harmful elements of the former excised, is yet to be clarified to the satisfaction of its critics. The government assures that Indians will only be employed in IT and skilled occupations in the Dockyard. The immediate and logical question is: why cannot locals be trained to do those jobs? When the state is unable to resolve the daily unlawful intrusion of Indian fishermen in to national waters, how will they manage an Indian entrenchment on land, underwritten by a bi-lateral agreement?

More serious than the Indian involvement is the extent of the Chinese incursion. Undeniably, those two sterile projects, the Hambantota harbour and the Airport, have been foisted on this government as a result of Rajapaksa megalomania and major measures have to be implemented to ease the consequent debt burden on the nation. The question is: has the government’s anxiety to throw the deformed baby out with the bath water totally clouded their view of the ground realities? Or have they decided to ignore public opinion?

How will the government alienate 15,000 acres from Hambantota for Chinese occupation, without causing massive disruption to local life? Hambantota is largely rural, with fishing, agriculture and related occupations being the main sources of income generation for its inhabitants. This contemplated land area will carry forest reservations, villages, schools, farmland, paddy land, grazing for cattle, water ways, inland water bodies and places of religious worship. What is the state strategy to compensate local citizens for the loss of all these facilities and resources? What will China do in this land area? What are the new industries they propose to set up? What impact will that have on the environment and local society? If new employment is created, what proportion of locals will they employ?

Sri Lanka is a small nation, surrounded by much larger countries, all with economic and military power, greater than its own by an order of magnitude. Whilst maintaining mutually beneficial economic and political ties with them is an imperative, Sri Lanka has to take the utmost care to ensure that it does not enter in to asymmetrical agreements of long duration with a super power as, eventually, the damage to national interests will be irreparable. Once entrenched, the super power will not relinquish its hold unless staying on is detrimental to its own interests. It will only ask for more. National interest will not even be a consideration in their calculations. We have to bear in mind at all times that we do not have the wherewithal, to exert economic, political or military force to evict an undesirable occupant from our soil.

The government is yet to provide a workable solution to the demands in the North, a highly emotive national issue, without alienating the Sinhala south. It is yet to address the issue of the disruption caused to locals by the Uma Oya project. The SAITM question is yet unresolved, with the GMOA arraigned solidly behind the IUSF in their demand to nationalize the private medical college. The protests at Hambantota are taking an ugly turn and whilst we can be fairly confident that there will be no repetition of the Rajapaksa suppression of dissent with the killing of unarmed protestors, as in Rathupaswela, continued dissent by citizens against major state initiatives can eventually crystallize in to a concerted move against the state itself.

Over time, all governments lose allure, credibility and, in the course of democratic process, are unseated. Mahinda Rajapaksa lost despite having as a lifelong credit balance, the victory over the LTTE. This regime, and its principal actors, have no such fall back resource and will either survive or perish, entirely on the merits of achievements during its tenure. What is deeply worrisome to its supporters is that the present regime seems to be fast losing touch with its base and the realities of the conditions which brought it in to power. One has to remove Ranil Wickremesinghe from this equation as, combined with his highly privileged background and a congenital inability for empathy, he has never understood or listened to the voice of the ordinary man. But inexplicably, President Sirisena, very much a man of the people, appears to have distanced himself from both the forces and the assurances which catapulted him in to power.

The only other alternative to this regime is a return to Rajapaksa rule. Mahinda Rajapaksa does not have any solutions to the problems the present regime is grappling with, many of them the results of his own misrule. He has demonstrated beyond doubt that he has no understanding of macro-economic concepts and protocols of governance, and that he has no regard for constitutional restraints on unethical rule. However, he understands political ground realities and is an expert at exploiting discord and intra-party fissures. What is in power is an unnatural cohabitation and all Rajapaksa has to do is to keep public attention focused on its inadequacies and glaring inability to read popular opinion, whilst selling to the masses his evangelical brand of patriotism. The result will be, even before the fullness of time, the disintegration of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe alliance and the opening of the door for the re-creation of the sordid Rajapaksa past.

2 Responses to “Yahapalanaya 2017 –A Dismal Anniversary”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    This article starts by bashing the government but ends by bashing MR!!

    The next president is RAJITHA.

    A VERY CUNNING man. He has the support of UNP, SLFP, TNA, CWC, SLMC, etc.

  2. Lorenzo Says:

    Rajitha also has the support of Endian RAW.

    In 1987 Endia used Rajitha’s YELLOW CATS group to kill all those who opposed IPKF and 13 amendment.

    Endia does NOT trust RUN-NIL because he is pro-US. Rajitha is the go between.

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