The System Change Myth-II
Posted on February 16th, 2024

By Shivanthi Ranasinghe Courtesy The Island

The general takeaway from the disastrous and premature ending of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa Administration is very simple. Non-politicians do not make good Presidents. Those with financial literacy blame that Administration’s economic management that saw the country into an almost economic collapse. However, the general consensus is that the cause was not ill-founded policy decisions. It is more because of the corruption led by key politicians in the Government. 

Voters are gravitating into two camps

As both presidential and parliamentary elections loom close ahead, the public is divided into two camps. Unfortunately, unlike previous times, these two camps are not political parties. It is rather two streams of thought. 

One thought by the disenchanted public is complete disinterest in the upcoming elections. As such, this group is not keen to cast their vote at any of these elections. They do not care who is in power at the moment nor who should take power thereafter. It is their conclusion that no matter who comes to power, the situation in the country will remain unresolved. 

The other group is not as pessimistic. They believe a system change is possible. However, there is scepticism whether it is possible for such a pivotal change from the same faces that has dominated politics for the past few decades. Notwithstanding this doubt, political parties are engineering crossovers as they near for the battle for power. 

Why SJB is losing confidence

As such, the SJB had warmly welcomed SLPP big names such as Professor G.L. Pieris and Dr. Nalaka Godahewa. This move had not been perceived as a positive one by those watching from the sidelines. 

Professor Pieris, in particular, has been President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s shadow. During the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government, he guided and directed the entire foreign policy. Sadly, the erudite scholar was unable to understand that the war against terrorism was far from over. 

After we defeated the LTTE and annihilated the group, the battle ground simply shifted to the august halls of the UNHRC in Geneva. We were thus unable to understand the basis of the unsubstantiated allegations that began to pile up against us. Therefore, the last years of the Mahinda Rajapaksa Administration was marked with increasing tensed relations with certain geopolitical powers. Relations especially between the US and Sri Lanka were definitely confrontational. 

There was a stark absence of true diplomacy. We did not keep a cool head to initiate or continue a dialogue to establish our stance. Apart from a couple of wild theories as to the objective of levelling  accusations of war crimes, we did not engage in a serious effort to understand the reasons that ostracised us from these powers. 

This failure directly contributed to the ousting of President Mahinda from power. During the next four years, when the Yahapalana Government was in power, Professor Pieris continued to be an ineffective advisor to Mahinda Rajapaksa. He did not see the value of countering the war crime allegations or defending our forces. This period is marked with a dark cloud as our military intelligence networks were being dismantled and senior officers were being investigated by the CID. 

The Easter Sunday Attacks in 2019 was a direct consequence of dismantling our intelligence units. At the subsequent Presidential Commission of Inquiry, the defence offered, for not acting on the foreign intelligence of an imminent attack received, that it could not be verified by our local intelligence agencies. While the Yahapalana Government is directly responsible for weakening our intelligence, the Mahinda Rajapaksa led opposition is also responsible for the political apathy when our officers were being persecuted. 

During the rise of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the presidential candidate, Dr. Godahewa too became a star. His pleasant personality and the unique ability to explain complex issues in simple language, that is comprehensive to the ordinary people, made him a popular orator. Yet, during his time as a State Minister he became increasingly unapproachable. 

Thus, the SJB opening doors to these SLPP personalities may not translate into the political strength SJB is hoping to garner from such an admission. However, SJB is not interested only in the political faces. Recently they welcomed into their fold both former Army Commander General Daya Ratnayaka and former Navy Commander Admiral Daya Sandagiri. 

General Ratnayaka’s presence had annoyed Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, who as the Commander of the Army led to the victory against terrorism. As he points out, General Ratnayaka held powerful positions in the Gotabaya Administration. However, his real contention might be due to more personal or professional reasons. 

General Ratnayaka joining SJB might make SJB’s other partners also uncomfortable. SJB’s political strategy has been to include minority parties. Whether the self-preservation agendas of these minority parties and General Ratnayaka’s strong nationalism will be able to reconcile with each other remains to be seen. 

Is AKD a political mirage? 

It is amidst this scepticism that NPP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake is rising as a political star. His recent visit to India, hosted by the Indian Government, shows that even foreign forces are beginning to take him seriously. 

His most ardent fans are the bourgeois class. It is their view that the prevailing political culture of today will never change with present political faces. The NPP – a seed born from the JVP – has never held power. However, as first the JVP and then as NPP, those representing have been in politics as long as most other incumbent politicians. Therefore, the premise that only a politician should become the president is satisfied. 

Traditionally, the bourgeois class and the JVP/NPP saw each other as the enemy. During both the 1971 and 1988-89 uprising, the JVP’s target was the middle class. As far as the JVP was concerned, it was the private sector that sucked the blood of the innocent working class. 

Those who remember those violent insurgencies can list the number of paddy stores, transformers, buses and other infrastructure that the JVP incinerated. They will also recount the horrors inflicted on the JVP victims. However, none had yet undertaken a study of  the damage caused to the entrepreneurship of this country. Many of the middle class, who had business interests and capabilities, simply migrated from the country. The lack of investments is one of the number one reasons for our economy to languishes. 

The JVP ideology would have died a long time ago had it not been for their hold on the university unions. The presence of these unions has not helped the progress of our tertiary education. In fact, it intimidates many who qualify for a tertiary education from entering the local universities. 

Yet, the NPP is gaining confidence as they are seen by their new found fan club as the answer to corruption. Whether that would indeed be the case remains to be seen – especially as we seem to be having an oversimplified understanding of what corruption is. 

In the minds of most, only the politicians are corrupt in this country. Yet, is this really the case is the question. Yahapalana Government too tried to address corruption by persecuting politicians and senior officials of the Mahinda Rajapaksa Administration. While this destroyed certain political careers and aspirations, it did nothing to redress corruption. 

Pilfering of national resources is however not a crime committed by a few. The unpalatable truth is that corruption in Sri Lanka is more deep rooted and we all are more or less part of the problem. That means, whatever solution introduced to eliminate corruption will hurt all of us. Will NPP have the sensibility to address corruption in a manner that we are all willing to take the bitter medicine is the question. 

This is a serious question that needs a serious answer. Without the corporation of the nation, in which every one of us is willing to have our comfort zones encroached, a system change would not be possible. 


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