Minister of Technology and Research Patali Champika Ranawaka, the Secretary General of the Jathika Hela Urumaya, during a discussion with the Dailymirror provided reasoning behind the recent meeting with Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, who is widely considered to come forward as the common opposition candidate opposing the incumbent President.
The past political sphere
The national movement of this country has over the years never looked for gaining power in this country; instead the focus was to guide the country in a certain direction. If we are to take an example we have witnessed especially the Post 1988 Presidential Election, parties that do not represent the Sinhala majority through a vote base they had gained, have dictated terms to each successive government.
There was a history to this sort of behaviour, for instance Chelvanayagam’s party. However following the 88/89 Presidential Election, the situation worsened irrespective of those who ruled, be it the SLFP or the UNP. Both parties fell into a situation where they had to concede to any demand made by the minorities without paying heed to the consequences of the demands that have been made. Many of these minority parties therefore had a major stake much beyond their real prowess. At times prior to the Presidential Elections of 2005, the tag lines would be “who will win the number of Tamil votes, or “who will win this number of Muslim” votes, or “who will win the Upcountry Tamil votes”. Accordingly there was a very unfortunate situation where the majority votes were split in half and the real king maker were these minority parties.
This was one of the biggest fallacies of the time that this country faced. The truth is that these minority political parties created a sense of emotional blackmail for the enhancement of their power and therefore these leaders (national) association and the environment they thought within. Now if we are to take an example of the SLMC, we saw Ashroff putting in a lot of pressure on President Premadasa and although he did not directly support him he ensured the victory of the President. Thereafter he used that might to manipulate certain policies. Thereafter that very government which took that path was forced to provide weapons to the LTTE. That was a very unfortunate situation due to many reasons, but that’s what happened. Minister Thondaman did the same thing giving a very bad precedent.
This was one of the biggest fallacies of the time that this country faced. The truth is that these minority political parties created a sense of emotional blackmail for the enhancement of their power and therefore these leaders (national) association and the environment they thought within. Now if we are to take an example of the SLMC, we saw Ashroff putting in a lot of pressure on President Premadasa and although he did not directly support him he ensured the victory of the President. Thereafter he used that might to manipulate certain policies. Thereafter that very government which took that path was forced to provide weapons to the LTTE. That was a very unfortunate situation due to many reasons, but that’s what happened
The National movement of this country saw a resurgence in 1995 after Chandrika Kumarathunga and Ranil Wickremesinghe both were focused on making this country a federal country paying heed to the agreement entered into with Liam Fox. The TULF and the SLMC both gave their blessings to this. So at that time the aim of the National movement was not to gain power but instead to stop this federal solution that was being proposed. Then again in 1999 an entirely different situation arose when the Army was pushed back after suffering debacles. At that time CBK urged the Indian Navy to bring back 40,000 of our soldiers from the front and that was in order to pave the way for Prabakharan to march to Jaffna through Elephant Pass, and this decision was also to stay in power. We witnessed this history, and that also propelled us to come forward as a political force.
However, all of this history gained clarity once Ranil Wickremesinghe acceded to power. All racist political forces worked towards ensuring that this country was to become a colony under Prabhakaran. The then UNP government was focused on a neo-liberal economic policy which was focused towards creating a clear distinction and barrier between the state and the economy. That era saw the country going on the verge of being sold to corporations. The entire policy was to liquidate the state. On one hand there was the LTTE and its offshoots, and on the other hand there were Islamic extremists who had gained prominence following the Oluwil declaration. All of this was tolerated. On the other hand the entire economy was given to the corporate world who sought to swallow the entire economy of the country. The two tax free Casinos were first proposed in the Regaining Sri Lanka manifesto and policy of the then UNP government. There were a lot of contradictions in the rule of Ranil Wickremesinghe, the fact that his international allegiances were towards the likes of Republicans in USA, the Conservatives in Britain and others such as Angela Merkel who were although economically neoliberal were politically very concerned about the unitary nature of the state and the threats of terrorism. None of these parties gave any headway to terrorism. That was Ranil Wickremesinghe’s contradiction, the fact that on one hand he was economically neo- liberal and on the political aspect he was completely Marxist. The Philosphy was to dissolve or liquidate the state.
It was in this backdrop that the Maha Sangha decided to contest the elections in 2004. The Presidential election of 2005 brought in a new dawn for the country. It changed the course of thinking and was a crucial turning point. The country pivoted at this point. The main fact that was highlighted during that election was the defeating of the notion that a Presidential Election could not be won without the votes of the minorities. That entire fallacy was defeated after that Presidential election. This fallacy could not be defeated even in 2004 with the JVP-SLFP coalition. I am saying that because after the Foreign Minister of the country, Lakshman Kadirgamar was murdered all that was thought of was how to save the peace accord with the LTTE.
Therefore in 2005 the main platform was the rejection of the concept of federalism and the insistence on the unitary nature of the State. Accordingly the main aim was to strengthen the State. What was happening was while the State was being liquidated there were owners of this country which included extremist forces, the NGOs, the Foreign Corporate world etc who directly intervened to strengthen the State and what resulted was a complete paradigm shift. The shift was from the fallacy of the minority power to the belief that we didn’t need such manipulation to rule the country. The paradigm shift also connoted that the country should be unitary, the state should be strengthened and that the country would not permit minority gangs to dictate terms to the State. It was not about discarding the grievances of the minorities but it was about ensuring that these parties not exceeding their mandate into manipulation.
This is what we are witnessing now in India where the message is that none of these minority gangs which earlier decided what happened in the Central Government not being given space. This Indian election was very critical in to the effect of rejection of these minority gangs. In Sri Lanka we also got a mandate exceeding that of what Modi received.
Also, in Sri Lanka we have a secondary mandate which was in fact to reverse this Neo- Liberal trend that had gripped the country. In order to do that we had to uplift the agricultural sector of this country, the other industries of this country among many others. What happened following 2005 was unique to the effect that everyone except the TNA was on mindset of a unitary state and had abolished their federal ideologies. There was also a major shift within the Muslim community to the effect that they had rejected the monolithic nature that the SLMC possessed at the time. Although the SLMC supported the LTTE many of the Muslim groups helped the state in achieving victory over the LTTE as a result of this. Also there was a good unification among the Catholics and the Sinhalese who were at odds at certain times prior to this period. Even the Tamil community, especially the Upcountry Tamils by joining the government strengthened its hand.
The rule of law has broken down and we are currently sliding down in the corruption perception index. We have seen the law being biased towards those who are powerful. There is a problem in this system of governance. We have time and again seen small incident with regard to co-existence
Now with all this on the political front we needed to focus on the economy in 2010 and as a result we saw the 5 Hub theory being proposed. Aviation, Navigation, Knowledge, Energy, Commercial and other hubs were proposed for the first time based on national strategies. The country moved towards a victorious journey in the economic sphere but there have also been many setbacks.
The positives of the paradigm shift
Today there are new political challenges that have arisen and new economic obstacles and new social challenges too. If we are to look at the victories we have achieved, we have to first focus on the literacy rate. If we are to compare this with our peers the literacy rate of this country is on par with that of the first world. Secondly, our women are empowered. If you take peers in our region, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or any other country, the females of this country are empowered by leaps and bounds. In every professional sphere and otherwise we see the women in this country have been on par with the men.
Then if one is to take the infrastructure development of the country, the road network has seen a revolution of sorts enabling and empowering a closer market within the country. Today we have witnessed a electricity being provided and people enjoying electricity almost in all parts of the country. In 1970 the level of possessing electricity was only 4% within the country. This has in itself paved the way for a major change in the masses. Today we have also seen the penetration of the internet all over the country. If you take unemployment which stood at 28% today is around 4 or 5%. Then the facet of absolute poverty has gone to single digits which was 34 % at one time during the recent past. Even inflation is controlled within single digits. These are what the economic and social indicators show as victories.
The Political Challenges
However, in the meantime while all this was happening there is a crisis that has emerged. The first issue is for how long more could we continue to sustain this political stability. We have created a strong state but for how long more could we sustain this. The crisis has emerged because of the foreign containment which poses the biggest threat to the political stability of this country. Then on the other hand we have seen the attempt to revive the LTTE, there have been four attempts to revive the LTTE in the recent past. The fruits of democracy are yet to be felt by many people although majorities of the Tamil Community have. The ITAK is yet to giveup its separatist cause, and we have to bear in mind that the Federal solution was given to India only after the DMK gaveup its separatist cause in 1962. We are witnessing the rejuvenation of this Eelam movement. Then there are other destabilizing factors like the Muslim Congress. The biggest harm that was caused to the Muslim community was from the LTTE but the SLMC supported its cause and also at one time joined its cause in attempting to harm the Sinhala community. We are also witnessing a revival of the NGO sector which have begun creating political slogans. The main aim of all this seems to liquidate the state that we have strengthened since 2005. This happened in Nepal, Maldives, Thailand and other countries around the world.
We believe that we have to have a strong political force to counter this diplomatic offensive and we as of now are not even prepared in the slightest sense of the word. We are not geared to it.
The Economic Challenges
Then if we are to take the economy. Although there are many positive economic indicators, there are many indicators that have to make us worry. If one is to take the GDP of this country in 2005 it was 2455 Billion USD, by 2010 it was 5602 USD. So figuratively the GDP has increased by 128% giving us the perception that the economy has doubled when in actual fact the measuring is done on current prices. That is to say that the calculation is made with inflation. What is the GDP growth without inflation? It translates into only 36%, and it’s clear that the 128% growth is misleading. Then our country is considered to be a low level middle income country which is defined from the bandwidth of 1035 USD income per capita to 12616USD. We entered into this category in 1998 and now it’s fifteen years since and today we have achieved a 4000 USD mark. But fact is that many countries all over the world have fallen and stayed within the trap of the middle income band. Countries such as Brazil, South Afirca, Thailand and Malaysia have been trapped within this. The only countries to have gone above the trap are Korea, Thaiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong. How did they do that? We have stated that our per capita income on current prices in 2012 was 2923 USD, but if you take the constant prices as a factor our income really is 1462 USD in comparison to price levels in 2005. So we are currently fighting a big fight to ensure that our head is above water in considering the “real” income. We have now lost the advantages this country has as a result of liberalization of the economy and other countries have now taken over. At that time we had a vibrant workforce.
What is our strategy now in order to curb this and face this. Like in the time of Ranil Wickremesinghe the economy is moving towards the direction of Jayewardene. Its getting more and more service oriented when in fact it should be moving towards strengthening industries., of course we could achieve short term gains but in the long term we would suffer. Today the government can’t service the public debt and that is a grave concern. As a country we still do not know what our asset base is. We still don’t have a clear policy on the remittances, and instead balance it through our migrant workers. Our agriculture is in ruins because of the use of unsustainable methods being used. We can see that there is no clear plan on anything. Even in the agriculture resulting in many grave issues.
Another grave concern is the influence the west has over our economy, 60% of our exports are to the West, 80% of our stock market has been invested in by the West, 6 Billion worth of treasury bills are owned by the US and these are the very countries that have continuously threatened us with sanctions. We have still not been able to diversify anything and they have now become vulnerable points. These are unplanned facets. Like I have said before this is an issue of Builders V Balancers. We want to be the Balancers. We as a country do not have any plan regarding the climate change that we are experiencing, we don’t need to go further we have not even had a plan to overcome the erratic weather patterns that we are faced with. The Time Magazine reported this El-nino wave we are witnessing now in January this year and we weren’t prepared. So how can we expect to be prepared to something that will happen in 20 years from now. The rule of law has broken down and we are currently sliding down in the corruption perception index. We have seen the law being biased towards those who are powerful. There is a problem in this system of governance. We have time and again seen small incident with regard to co-existence and for all these reasons and many more and therefore we need a need a new political package to re assert the system.