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When they can’t govern, they must Go Home

4 July 2022 12:01 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Frustrations crept in among people who have been waiting for days and nights in queues for fuel and gas, often turn violent, which even led to brawls and stabbing to death



Protests come in waves and July will be a month of struggle. The great mass of people are all talking politics. They are questioning the rulers for hours while waiting on petrol queues. Farmers and fisher folk are cursing the rulers as they stay idle without fuel for days and weeks, watching their fields go dry without irrigation and staring at the sea as they cannot go fishing. When the cooking gas goes out, the kerosene supplies runs out, food is unaffordable and their children go hungry, what do people do?
Our rulers are busy taking photos with diplomats and officials of international agencies, and perhaps believe that the people can be fed with statements and pictures. The reality is that there is no government now, and there is no leadership in the country. The President and Prime Minister have no legitimacy to lead, and the empty shell of the ruling regime is cracking.

Political contradictions and timing

Politics is about contradictions and timing. We have a President whom the people want to send home, a parliament stacked with members whose fortunes depend on the President, and a Prime Minister of a one-man party appointed by the President and propped up by powerful international actors. The term of this parliament can drag on for another three years, even as every day that we wait is gruelling for the people. The contradiction of the constitutional legitimacy of the parliament and the political de-legitimacy of the regime can only be solved by the will of the people. Many more months of suffocating with a regime and hangers-on interested merely in prolonging their stint in power can only be struck down by the people’s timely action.
The Federation of University Teachers’ Association’s (FUTA) ‘Proposals for Economic and Political Stability in Sri Lanka’ launched on June 11, 2022 are poignant:
“The government must acknowledge its loss of legitimacy. A credible interim government should be established. The President should immediately resign. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe working on the basis of support from the SLPP is not a viable option. Abolish the Executive Presidency and revert to a parliamentary system of government.”
If the President and Prime Minister shamelessly hold on to their seats, the people’s democratic voices and struggles are bound to emerge louder and stronger to unseat them.


"The reality is that there is no government now, and there is no leadership in the country. The President and Prime Minister have no legitimacy to lead, and the empty shell of the ruling regime is cracking"


Interim and future priorities

What comes after such regime change? Eventually, we should have elections having learned lessons about our political representatives. But for now, we need an interim government that is likely to be a minority government, and a people’s council as called for by FUTA: “Given that the government has lost legitimacy, it is important that a mechanism is formulated to enable a people’s council with which the elected officials will be able to consult in planning, policy formulation and implementation.” 
Even as we push for such political change, we must be clear about our interim and longer-term priorities. We have to prioritise our food system as well as essential goods and services, and rethink the way the state works.

During great times of crisis, drastic measures are necessary, not just politically but also economically. The state is asleep unresponsive to the everyday needs of its citizenry. The market has failed with hoarding, price hikes and shortages. The economy could contract by a tenth or more this year, livelihoods are in disarray, and starvation and famine are staring at our people. 

This is a time when we need leadership to immediately address the needs of the people. A leadership that can mobilise the people and all the resources of the state. This is the worst time to push for austerity, economic reforms and the market mechanism. During times of an economic depression, when people cannot even provision food for the next day, we cannot consider any policies that take away food, livelihoods, incomes and essential services from working people. The current moment is a time for cooperation, redistribution, deficit spending and all that is possible to keep our communities afloat from suffering and dispossession.


"If the President and Prime Minister shamelessly hold on to their seats, the people’s democratic voices and struggles are bound to emerge louder and stronger to unseat them"


Importing international solutions

While Sri Lanka is caught in the worst economic crisis, the global political economic order is not doing all that better. Global markets including in food and inputs for agriculture are facing tremendous disorder and price hikes due to the fallout of the long capitalist crisis, the pandemic and now the war in Ukraine. The world as a whole is also headed towards a recession and food crisis. Sri Lanka’s historic default on its foreign debt is likely to be followed by many other countries. 

Amidst these developments the Sri Lankan economic establishment was dreaming that the country is an isolated island, whose problems can be fixed with an IMF agreement and the same old economic reform package. It is such stupidity that led them to implement austerity measures and further aggravate the working people’s hardship by following the IMF’s past recommendations during the last three months. But even the most optimist of these market-oriented economists are now slowly waking to the political economic realities that this is going to be a long drawn crisis. With or without an IMF agreement, Sri Lanka is going to find it difficult to draw in external finances as central banks in the West continue to raise their interest rates. Furthermore, importing not just oil, but everything from fertilizers and wheat flour are going to be difficult to access not just because of higher prices but also global shortages.

The Government has defaulted on its external debt and effectively surrendered to the IMF. But the question remains whether the IMF would risk an agreement however much in tune with its regressive ideology, for the simple reason that the regime may not be in power a few weeks or months later. The ideology of our ruling class for decades has been one of solving all our problems from food security to people’s livelihoods by importing; whether it was liberalising agricultural trade or expanding tourism. The culmination of that irresponsible thinking of our comprador elite is that they believe we can import a solution for all our economic problems from the IMF. 

As the month of July heats up with democratic struggle to send the regime home, we also need to start taking responsibility for not just our political crisis but also our overwhelming economic woes. We have to ground our economic future in our people’s power rather than place our faith on the market. We need to chart a path forward of cooperation and self-sufficiency.

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