It is election time once again… the ears of the voters will be overloaded with promises and promises. This is not an unusual feature in the South Asian political culture. Sri Lanka having had the luxury of receiving the universal adult franchise long before its independence in 1931 - the very first nation in South Asia - has shown a remarkable progress in upholding the democratic norms and institutions.
Both the SLFP and the UNP have played pivotal roles in governing this country ever since independence in 1948. UNP which was founded in 1946 has evolved as Sri Lanka’s strongest multi-ethnic and multi-cultural party despite a few hiccups but managed to maintain its identity as the single strongest party still. However the SLFP though started slightly later faced debacles, even failing to sustain its original symbol the ‘HAND’. The party had to take various stances to face numerous elections. For its sustainability the party had to enter into coalitions with smaller left centric parties and anti UNP forces such as MEP, LSSP, JNP. At times it contested under the symbol chair in 1994 provincial, presidential and general elections. Again the party had a new name United People’s Freedom alliance (UPFA) under the symbol betel leaf to contest other elections till its fall in 2015 January.
- SLFP, UNP played pivotal roles in governing this country since independence
- Despite calamities, UNP still remains the single largest political party
- Colombo Port city became a politically controversial issue in the country
Comes the 2018 local government polls the betel leaf has now converted to pohottuwa (lotus bud) that includes a fraction of the SLFP and Mahinda Rajapaksa loyalists MEP LSSP and JNP. Meanwhile SLFP led by President Maithripala Sirisena has been left with the Symbol hand once again to contest as SLFP. UPFA is now divided into two camps Sirisena and Rajapaksa.
However the UNP with its setbacks in 1994 and 2005 general and presidential elections has maintained its identity of being the single largest political party in Sri Lanka similar to the Congress party in India.
The UNP has arguably become the only single political party in this country and has delivered for the well-being of the nation in a more sustainable manner.
Historically, be it the massive scale irrigation schemes or multi-purpose Mahaweli development scheme, the Udagam project, free education, Janasaviya, distribution of free books to schoolchildren, Yovunpura, National Youth Service Council, export processing zones, free trade zones and later BOI, 200 garment factories, have all transformed this nation to what it is now. Moreover all these development schemes were introduced to the present and future of this country and still continue. Therefore these schemes were not targeted merely to win an election or to finish in 5 years. These were targeted at transforming the socio-economic, political, cultural landscape of the country that eventually improved the human development indices of the country.
A glance at some of the socio-economic indicators before and after independence:
Refer to Table 1
Economic liberalization took place in post-1977 era. The country got wider access to the world in numerous ways. Still Sri Lanka’s number one foreign income earner is remittances from foreign employment.
Therefore one should realize and understand the difference between the tangibles and intangibles and free education liberalizing the economy and thereby opening access to export our labour to the Middle East and international markets which were the key intangible products that led to gain a massive jump in the development indicators.
Through intangibles an influx of opportunities especially creation of employment opportunities via industrial trade and services sector thus by demanding more and more infrastructure to establish educational, health service and industrial institutions which demanded highways, schools, hospitals, factories, recreational, sports and sanitation facilities. This in turn created a high demand for electricity production to energize the new factories, schools, hospitals and so on. The acceleration of the Mahaweli multi purpose development scheme in to six years from its original plan of 30 years was purely a result of this massive demand for water for irrigation and electricity. However the socio economic civilization that erupted following the Mahaweli project cannot be measured in numbers.
One may argue that the UNP was able to deliver goods at an alarming speed from 1977 to 1983 as they were not confronted with a war that began in the mid eighties. However one must not forget that the UNP is the party that had to confront with a war more than any other party though it could not end it and has sacrificed very many leaders than any other party during the 30 odd years long war with the LTTE.
Nonetheless the UNP also had to face the worst insurrection in the south led by the JVP in the late nineties.
John M Richardson in his book “Paradise Poisoned” has calculated primary secondary and tertiary costs of the violent conflict in Sri Lanka during the period from 1983 through 1988. The total was Rupees 145.3 billion (around US $ 4.4 billion according to the exchange rates in 2004). It amounted to 70% of Sri Lanka’s 1988 GDP and also equivalent to the cost of three accelerated Mahaweli Development projects.
He also estimates the economic impact per militant accordingly during 1983-1988 each Tamil militant imposed economic costs on Lankan society of about Rs. 750,000 (US $ 23,000) per year for an overall total of Rs. 4,500,000 (US$13,6000)
Similarly during the same period Sinhalese militants imposed costs of Rs 405,000 per year (US $12,000) per year for an overall total of $ 74,000.
This is in addition to the loss of human life which goes without measuring.
The LTTE was responsible in assassinating the most valuable leaders that UNP and Sri Lanka has created needless to say the brutal assassinations of Gamini Dissanayake at the hand of the LTTE suicide mission together with many stalwarts in the party - G. M. Premachandra, Weerasinghe Mallimarachchi, together with SLMP leader Ossie Abeygoonasekara and UNP General Secretary Dr. Gamini Wijeysekera, were an irreparable loss to the party as well as to the nation.
Moreover the assassination of former State Defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratne too was an immense loss to the country.
Then the assassinations of President of Sri Lanka R. Premadasa at a May Day rally in Colombo in 1993 and of Lalith Athulathmudali, the father of Mahapola was an irreparable loss to the country as well as for the UNP.
Refer to Table 2
Despite such calamities the UNP still remains the single largest political party in Sri Lanka under the leadership of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the daunting task before the current leader of the UNP is to deliver goods to its citizens.
It is true that Rajapaksa did projects that were essential to people especially expressways that were completed under Rajapaksas were pivotal in terms of productivity and connectivity. Thus the common man benefits from it. Adding to that there were hundreds of roads all over the country built, repaired and carpeted, undoubtedly the public benefited. Then the Mattala airport and the Magampura seaport were constructed with Chinese loans. Commencing of construction work of the port city in Colombo became a political controversial issue in the country.
The Norochcholi coal powered plant built with the assistance of China however added 900 MW of power to the national grid.
They were tangible but built with the assistance of massive loans.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe charged the Rajapaksa regime with enforcing the country in a debt trap of almost Rs.10 trillion.
Some statistics reveal the Sri Lankan debt as at 2005 was Rs 2.5 trillion and by 2015 it rose up to Rs 9.5 trillion, an almost 200 percent increase from the figure shown in 2005. The irony is that in a span of 10 years the country’s debt has been raised from 2.5 to 9.5 trillion by Rs.7 trillion.
Hasn’t the national government delivered? It has delivered for the well-being of the nation not only for today but for tomorrow and the future though the majority of the key delivery vehicles were intangible they would certainly do good to the country in the long run.
Looking at the education and health sectors the present government after assuming office in 2015 had made a revolution.
Suraksha insurance scheme for school children is another advancement. Every school going child from age 5 to 19 has already been insured which amounts to 4.5 million children in this nation and includes all students in state, state assisted private and international schools and pirivenas. Thus the insurance cover provides Rs. 200,000 per annum for indoor treatment and almost another Rs. 300,000 for other services covering a package of Rs. 500,000 per student.
Can anyone touch this? The socio economic impact the country will have from this gives strength to every mother and father to send their children to school and give an immense security to the child.
Moreover every child is kept on an equal basis when an ailment irrespective whether rich or poor. More than that inequality in the education service, pride added to the child and the parent etc. No other country in the Asian region or the world has done this… but this country has done it. This empowers all parents and students in this nation and covers almost 15 million of the population in the country since parents too get the benefits from this scheme. It does not stop there and will continue for next generations too.
Educationists say “Suraksha” is perhaps the only insurance scheme for children in the world and will be the biggest investment ever for children by a nation.
Education ministry statistics disclose that over Rs 10 million have been paid so far for over 1000 claim applicants.
Looking at the revolutionary reforms in the education sector, the Education Ministry says the 13 years of school project guarantees 13 years of school- going years for every child in this country from 2019.
There won’t be any dropouts after O/L even if any student fails in Maths. He/she now has the option of following different circular under 26 disciplines directly targeting professional subjects which includes fashion designing, landscaping etc. Moreover reduction of prices of essential medicines which includes 400 brands has been a dream for the common man. Not forgetting the reduction in oil and gas prices and essential commodities.
The biggest incentive that was granted by the new regime was to restore the freedom of expression. The fear psyche of the journalists during the previous regime is no more... The fear of white vans, no threats to journalists and their families, no forceful interdictions of journalists by the politicians. The enactment of Right to Information act was a milestone for democracy in Sri Lanka.
The depoliticisation of the public institutions by establishing commissions - haven’t they given any benefits to the well-being of the public?
This comes together with very many development activities carried out regionally and locally. However the biggest failure the UNP has and had was not making a mountain out of a mole hill.
Lastly, however the biggest test on the national government headed by the UNP will be on February 10 and the report card they will receive on February 11 will tell us whether the voter has acknowledged the intangibles or has got carried away by the myth of slogans.