Presidential Election 2020 Gotabaya Rajapaksa versus Sajith Premadasa
Posted on August 15th, 2019

By Sumanasiri Liyanage Courtesy Ceylon Today

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) held its first national convention at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium on 11 August 2019. Undoubtedly, it was a colourful and splendid event. At the convention, two decisions of importance were announced. These decisions are Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR) would be the Leader of the SLPP and Gotabaya Rajapaksa (GR) will be the Presidential Candidate for 2020. Whatever I write below, there are two things to be praised.

The convention started on time and ended on time. In a country where none of us work on time, and all of us assume that a 10:00 meeting, would in fact begin at 10:30, this should be praised. The second thing was ‘no-frills’ talks both by Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Nonetheless, none of these led us to conclude the political direction of the SLPP or its presidential candidate, GR. We have seen these two characteristics in the past, mainly amongst the extreme Right and the extreme Left politicians.

Since the SLPP has not yet disclosed its policy statement, it may be presumptuous to make a critique of the policy framework roughly outlined by GR in his talk. First, he defined himself, quoting General Cyril Ranatunga, as “a person who takes initiative over and above the normal call of duty.” Hence, he painted a portrait of himself as a ‘performer’ and promised that he would perform as the President, above and beyond the given limits and boundaries. 

This reminded me of what Dr. Chris Edwards said in my presence, in response to a person who praised the then Chief Minister of the Wayamba Province, as an efficient performer. Chris said, “Yes he may be an efficient performer, so did Hitler.” Such a portrayal of an efficient performer might have been thought necessary today, as a large number of people in Sri Lanka call for a strong government that could respond to serious security lapses, as shown in the April Easter Sunday Attacks, killing around 300. Hence the SLPP may have prioritised stability and security in their policy agenda.

 The importance of stability and security in today’s politics was also raised by one of aspirants to the presidential post, Sajith Premadasa, at the UNP rally in Badulla, almost repeating the words of GR. The high emphasis on security and stability by both candidates may raise eyebrows of the people, who stood for democracy and human rights in the 2015 Presidential Election.

Besides national sovereignty, security, stability and the maintenance of law and order, presidential candidates should focus on the economy that is in constant decline since 2015, the Prime Minister’s rhetoric on the economy notwithstanding. So, it is interesting and relevant to look at even briefly the SLPP’s economic programme for the next 10 years.

Economy 2020-2030

Introducing GR, MR said the SLPP presidential candidate and the Cabinet had a long-term perspective, so they were thinking of a 10-year plan. If we assume the UNF will field Sajith Premadasa (SP) as its candidate, the interesting thing to note is that both the SLPP and the UNF of SP see it would be necessary to deviate from the current economic policies of the Ranil Wickremesinghe-Mangala Samaraweera-led Government. As I have mentioned many a time, the economic policy package that was put into practice since 2015 has been a crude version of neoliberalism. It is true that since 1977 whatever the party/front was in the Government, the economic policies that were designed and implemented has had close affinity with the 20 points of the so-called Washington Consensus.

 The Wickremesinghe-Samaraweera duo want to keep it that way, in spite of the fact that their economic fundamentalism has brought the first generalised crisis in Sri Lanka, since its independence. GR proposes to go back to the policies of 2005-2015, that depend heavily on State-sponsored and debt-based infrastructure development. During the MR regime, the reasonable high rate of growth was achieved by heavy public investment in infrastructure projects. Hence, highways, ports, multiple cities that go with beautification plan would be the main features of GR’s economic programme. If it is the case, there is a major lacuna as to how this infrastructure can be linked with industrial and agricultural development. Infrastructure is in itself not producing value.

It is not only in GR’s programme, but also in SP’s programme, these lacunae can be found. The writer of this column is not completely denying the possibility of capitalistic development in a country like Sri Lanka. A few countries have already shown it is possible. Economic development entails social, as well as technical dimensions. It needs surplus generated in production to be reinvested in the process of accumulation to make valorisation of the capital. In other words, surplus should be invested in order to make more and more surplus, as a constant and continuous process. Neoliberal pundits believe that by reinvigorating capital, labour and land markets throughout the country, everything would be hunky-dory. Since, 1977, every government tried hard to develop markets in all three spheres. The experience in East Asian Tigers, as well as now in China and Vietnam have shown development and growth do not follow this marketisation logic.

In spite of addressing some nationalistic issues, both the SLPP and the UNP of SP have not shown a clear path of economic development to the voters in 2020. It is pertinent to note that even after 40 years of dismal record under neoliberal policies, the two main parties have refused to learn lessons and to develop an alternative economic programme, leaving poor masses and working people completely disgruntled. The question posed to people in Sri Lanka in the 2020 Presidential Election is who can make ‘the failed policies’ workable, leaving no alternative or solution for the problems of the working people, and the marginalised section of the population, that is, numerically small Nations, women, LGBTIQ+.

About the writer:
The writer is a retired teacher of Political Economy at the University of Peradeniya.

 CT Web 02:00 AM Aug 16 2019

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