he presidential election is done and dusted. A new Cabinet of Ministers is in place and the new regime has hit the ground running, with a raft of measures aimed at kick-starting the stagnant economy. An economy that was in doldrums for a long period due to in-fighting between the executive and the legislature.
With the new administration scarcely three weeks old, it is still too soon to predict whether the measures taken would in fact be successful or not, in reviving the chronically ill economy. The new President has shown himself to be a man in a hurry to achieve his goals. His visit to India in the immediate aftermath of his electoral victory to mend fences with our giant neighbour and maintain a non-aligned foreign policy is indicative of this. While the President and governing parties have shown themselves to be working with a plan in mind, unfortunately the largest political party in opposition seems to be still continuing the shadow boxing contest which preceded the presidential election itself.
If it was first a struggle to be confirmed presidential candidate of the party, in the aftermath of a massive electoral defeat, it has turned into a clash for the post of Leader of the Opposition. Sadly for the country, the intra-party struggle within the GOP (Grand Old Party) is not about policies, principles or strategies to fight the next general elections, which seems imminent. Unfortunately it appears to be a power struggle among personalities!
For democracy to flourish, the country needs a strong united opposition. With alternative plans to those of the government and fresh ideas on how to tackle problems which have only worsened over the past four years. The UNP has now finally selected its nominee for the post of Leader of the Opposition.
Yet, despite the party’s leader nominating young Premadasa to the post of Leader of the Opposition, the party does not seem to have jelled behind the leader-in-waiting. MP Mano Ganeshan’s charge that senior party members claiming the UNP will go it alone at the next general election, without an internal party discussion, does not augur well for the new leadership of the party or its coalition partners. Serious problems beset the country.
A large section of our country lives below the poverty line, as mirrored by the fact that around 22% or more of our people live on ‘Samurdhi’ benefits provided to families receiving an income below Rs. 2,000/- per month.
The basic wage of workers in the non-state sector remains at Rs. 12,500/- per month. Estate workers, who bring in a large slice of our foreign exchange, still receive a maximum of Rs. 750/- per day or less if they are unable to meet plucking norm. These workers, who bring in a large share of foreign exchange into the country, receive a lower wage than domestics in the city!
The farmers in our country are still captive to middlemen who pay them a pittance for their produce. At a particular point of time, the state through its Marketing Department purchased farmers produce at fair prices. But the so-called 1977 revolution did away with these and many other people-friendly schemes.
We have previously noted in these columns the cost of two basic meals for a family of four costs over Rs. 19,000/- per month. Yet the average monthly wage of over a quarter of our population is around Rs. 12,500/- or less. These people have no money for savings, health care, education or recreation... Does the GOP have a plan to tackle these problems?
Sri Lanka has a female population of 51.89%. Yet women’s representation in parliament is minimal and even less in local assemblies. Again, a UNFPA (United Nations Family Planning Association) study on sexual harassment in the country reveals 90% of women in our country are subject to sexual harassment while using public transport.
Media reports indicate incidents of organised crime, shootings, murders, drug related crimes have increased over the past three years. What role does the opposition see for itself in tackling these growing problems? According to ILO estimates in 2018, the estimated youth unemployment rate in the country stood at 23.17%.
These are but a few of the problems facing our country.
It’s time the GOP cast aside personal agendas and prepare plans to tackle the day-to-day problems of the masses. Else the party in opposition will be doomed to sit in opposition both at national and local level for a decade or more until the governing party falls on its own sword.