- A majority of the voters are now helpless and do not have anybody to turn to
- No political party in the country seems to have solutions to these problems
Excessive hype would result in excessive hope. Excessive and idealistic hopes would end up in disappointment. This is not something new to Sri Lankans. They experience it in two or three years after every regime change in the country.
Chandrika Kumaratunga assumed office as President with great hopes among the masses following a 17 year long United National Party (UNP) rule.
She obtained a hitherto unbroken record 62 per cent of votes at the 1994 Presidential Election. Yet, she would sometimes have lost the subsequent election in 1999 hadn’t the LTTE blown up a suicide bomber targeting her at the final election meeting at the Colombo Town Hall grounds.
Mahinda Rajapaksa’s charisma was at such a peak in 2010 with the victory in the war against the LTTE in the previous year that he won both the Presidential and Parliamentary elections.
The UPFA that he led bagged almost two-thirds of seats in the Parliament. However, the euphoria over the war victory did not last at least for four years – until the Uva Provincial Council election was held in 2014.
That election became a trendsetter to Rajapaksa’s defeat at the Presidential election held on January 8, 2015.
By then, Rajapaksa was seen by many as a person invincible. The astonishment over the victory by Maithripala Sirisena at that election was such that he received even acclaim from the leaders of the world powers. Alas, it lasted only three years until the newly formed Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna swept the electorate at the 2018 February local government elections.
It seems to have happened again. Even the Ministers of the current regime are openly claiming that their popularity was on the decline.
State Minister Dr. Nalaka Godahewa speaking at a meeting organised by the ruling party in Gampaha on March 28 lamented thus.
“We have to embrace the reality. Do we have the popularity we had as a government with a two-thirds majority? We are in a crisis. There are problems among the people, so is dissatisfaction. If we are unable to understand it, we may further be driven to downfall.”
Dr Godahewa is a person close to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and a member of the latter’s Viyath Maga Organization.
"Despite the Opposition parties having brought the environmental issues to the forefront, mainly focusing on deforestation in many parts of the country, especially in areas in and around the Sinharaja rainforest, it is the issues on the economic front that are greatly affecting the ordinary people:
The government is engulfed with economic, political, administrative, environmental and human rights issues.
While some issues are entrenched in the socio-economic system that has been maintained by successive governments for the past several decades, some issues such as the human rights imbroglio could have been averted to some extent.
The reactions to these issues by some leaders of the government are amusing. The very statement by Dr Godahewa indicates that the government does not have any viable solutions - short term or long term - to these issues.
Despite the Opposition parties having brought the environmental issues to the forefront, mainly focusing on deforestation in many parts of the country, especially in areas in and around the Sinharaja rainforest, it is the issues on the economic front that are greatly affecting the ordinary people.
The past year may be the shortest period in history that has seen the highest price hike of essential items.
However, government ministers do not seem to have understood on-the-ground reality. When the people in an area in Modara which had been locked down due to the outbreak of the COVID 19 pandemic launched a demonstration demanding food in November, last year, Industries Minister Wimal Weerawansa said in Parliament that each family had been given Rs 5000 for a month and they are not expected to spend it within a week. Another Minister, Bandula Gunawardena while explaining the SATHOSA relief package for this year’s New Year period has said that one family would get three kilos of rice and one kilo of sugar.
“We believe it would suffice for two weeks for a family” he had stated.
The price of rice, the staple food of the people of the country has doubled during the period. Though the government Ministers rightly identified the large-scale rice mill mafia as the culprit, issues are not moving in the right direction.
The inability in reducing the drastic swell in the price of sugar is mainly an administrative blunder on the part of the government.
Sugar importers swallowed more than half of the duty reduction (From Rs.50 to 25 cents) made to bring down the sugar prices, making the two gazette notifications on a controlled price issued by the government ridiculous.
The government’s administrative weakness in this regard has cost the public coffers well over Rs. 15 billion, a major part of which was plundered by the sugar importers. Interestingly, when this was questioned once by the Opposition members of the Parliament, State Minister for Money and Capital Market and State enterprises reforms, Ajith Nivard Cabraal asked whether the Opposition wants to jack up the import duty again.
Although it was a clever reply, it wouldn’t prevent the importers from continuing the plunder of public funds.
The SLPP leaders made a huge fuss when the Sri Lankan rupee in its continuous fall depreciated to Rs. 180 against the US dollar during the last days of the so-called Yahapalana regime, are now struggling to explain the current depreciation where the exchang rate of the dollar has exceeded Rs. 200.
And Sri Lanka’s official reserves were 4.5 billion US dollars (4,555.7mn) by the end of February, down from 4.8 billion US dollars in January, the latest Central Bank data showed.
In the run-up to the Sinhala and Hindu New Year when the Sinhalese people use coconut oil for various sweet items, it was revealed that a huge amount of coconut oil laced with carcinogenic chemicals had been imported to the country and the tests have proven the claims.
President Rajapaksa had stated that it is wrong to blame the government for this as it was the State officials who had detected the carcinogenic elements in coconut oil.
Although he was correct, it is not clear whether any action would be taken against those who imported the toxic oil and if any permanent safeguards have been implemented, at least after the incident.
These questions on the administrative machinery of the government are extremely relevant in light of two statements made by a Minister and a State official.
Director General (DG) of the Sri Lanka Standards Institute (SLSI), Dr Siddika Senaratne had said, in a televised interview, that there were more toxic food items in the market but refused to name them lest the companies concerned might collapse.
Although Cabinet Spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said that the government will not endorse the comments made by the Director-General of SLSI, she is an authority on the subject.
Meanwhile, State Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna told Parliament this week that nearly 5,800 out of 7,200 items released into the local market by the Sri Lanka Customs have been released without being subject to inspection. Are we swallowing poison?
The government has not successfully countered allegations of environmental destruction either. The Opposition and the media have created hype over it, despite it being a long drawn out issue. However, the government’s denial would not help it, as the destruction is a reality on the ground.
Meanwhile, cracks within the ruling party are gradually emerging. Minister Wimal Weerawansa has been talking about Felix Dias Bandaranaike within the government and Minister Udaya Gammanpila confirming this has said that there was an internal struggle within the government.
In light of all this, the people are helpless. The majority of them had voted for the President and the government. Even if they completely lose hope in the government they do not have anybody to turn to.
No political party in the country seems to have solutions to these problems. They have proven it in the past. The only thing that can be expected is the customary political seesaw.