‘WHY PRABHAKARAN WILL LOSE’ was the title of an article by me that was published in newspapers and websites (e.g. The Island, Asian Tribune) on October 17, 2004.
That was over a year before Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was appointed Secretary/Defence and Gen. Sarath Fonseka made Army commander.
Note that the title did not read ‘Why Prabhakaran can be defeated.’ It was more inflexibly definite: ‘Why Prabhakaran will lose.’ I cannot think of anyone, local or foreign, who made that prediction and that early.
That was a tough one to call. The prediction I am making now is far easier: “Why this government will lose the next election”.
A more specific title would be “Why the UNP will lose the next election.”
What makes this an infinitely easier prediction than the one I got right about Prabhakaran? It is the following headline in the Daily FT of Wednesday, March 21, 2018(which was echoed by News in Asia):
‘2017 SINKS TO SLOWEST ECONOMIC GROWTH IN 16 YEARS’.
The story went on to explain: “The country’s economy in 2017 had grown by only 3.1%, the slowest rate in 16 years and lower than the 4.4% achieved in 2016, as per data released yesterday by the Department of Census and Statistics (DCS).”
Can anyone show me a government that won an election when the economic growth rate plummeted on its watch? Certainly governments have won while an economy was not doing well, but NOT when the economy did much worse than under its immediate predecessor.
Can anyone tell me a government anywhere on the planet under which the economy performed worse than it has done for over 15 years, and yet was re-elected?
If the answer to either question is NO, then what rational analysis can project anything other than a crushing electoral demise of this government?
The cherry on the cake is the magic figure ‘16’. This is the lowest economic growth we have experienced in 16 years. So, what happened 16 years ago? Was there anything in common between the situations today and back then? Was there a common factor, a shared variable? Yes, there was. 16 years ago takes us back to 2002.
If Ranil remains the PM and the SLFP remains with the UNP, then there’s not even a basement floor above which the SLFP vote will stabilize at upcoming elections. Its 13% will vanish into the Mahinda vortex. April 4 is the SLFP’s last exit ramp to survival and sustainability
The single common factor was that back then too we had the same Prime Minister: Ranil Wickremesinghe! So, much for the man’s economic punditry and ‘wizardry’!
What we are seeing here is not a cyclical downturn in a specific quarter which will change for the better in the next quarter. No annual economic growth rate which has plunged to its lowest in 16 years can be restored to health -- at least to the economic growth level of the previous administration with which the electorate will instinctively compare it-- in the 20 months left of this government’s term of office. That kind of turnaround is unknown anywhere in the world. Why has Ranil kept the UNP away from the nation’s helm for almost quarter century?
Firstly, unlike his predecessors in the UNP and his counterparts in both wings of the SLFP, Ranil is not an ‘organic’ leader but an accidental one; even an artificial implant. When I define him as ‘disorganic’ or ‘inorganic’, my criticism isn’t that he is not a nativist.
My point is that he did not rise to the leadership through a political process of ‘natural selection’ of political struggle and winning over the base. Nor did mass emotion play a part as in Mrs. Bandaranaike’s succession.
He became leader because Velupillai Prabhakaran serially decapitated the UNP, assassinating all other existing and possible leaders—Premadasa, Ranjan, Lalith, Gamini and Ossie—until leadership came to rest on Ranil. Curiously, Prabhakaran never once tried to have Ranil assassinated.
Secondly, in a country in which contemporary history has been dominated by a thirty years of war which will structure our exceptionally long historical chronicle and shape consciousness for generations (especially of the vast majority, the Sinhalese) the UNP boss and PM, Ranil Wickremesinghe, played no heroic leadership role whatsoever.
Indeed his role --the CFA, the calling off of the LRRP ‘decapitation strike’ on Prabhakaran, the Millennium City affair, allowing the LTTE to return to Jaffna which had been liberated by the SLA, while the Sri Lankan State was banned from Tiger held areas-- is seen as that of a Chamberlain, Petain or Quisling, in contradistinction to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Churchill. Ranil’s track record would make any opponent appear Churchillian!
Thirdly, Mr. Wickremesinghe consistently fails to win for himself and his party the support of a majority of the overwhelmingly preponderant majority community (74% Sinhala, 70% Sinhala Buddhist) of the island.
Fourthly, he has deleted the three economic models which have sustained the UNP’s economic success since its inception: the agrarian-based welfarist model of the Senanayakes, the State-led and driven economic modernization model of JR Jayewardene and Ronnie de Mel, and the ‘growth with equity’ populist model of Premadasa. Ranil’s economic model (to which Mangala Samaraweera has converted) of neoliberal globalism, comprising de-nationalisation, de-statisation and free-market fundamentalism, has ravaged economic growth and
electoral popularity. A particularly insidious myth is that Ranil is needed for ethnic/ethno-religious reconciliation. The exact opposite is true. Sinhala extremism thrives on the profile and policies of the Prime Minister (and his allies Chandrika and Mangala). Without Ranil, and with a liberal-nationalist as PM instead, President Sirisena would be far better positioned to neutralize Sinhala-Buddhist extremism-- but with Ranil as hate symbol and target, militant majoritarianism grows exponentially.
Those who decry the triumphalism of Sinhala nationalist discourse are guilty of unconscious hypocrisy of the most irresponsible sort, because such triumphalism thrives on the presence of its antipode, the personification of appeasement of terrorism, Western interference and domination.
Without Ranil Wickremesinghe as opponent there will be no visible, provocative reminder of appeasement. Without a liberal globalist and anti-nationalist elitist as Establishment leader and opponent, the militant passions of majoritarian nationalism will not be fed.
Without Ranil as party leader, and with a pragmatic populist at the helm, the UNP would re-brand, be a viable alternative for the Sinhala-Buddhist voter and a counterweight to Sinhala militancy -- which it is not and can never be under Ranil.
Where does all this leave the moderate-centrist SLFP? It was savagely mauled by its voters for its collaboration with Ranil and is down to its lowest percentage vote ever, at the same election at which Mahinda’s breakaway SLPP-JO beat SWRD’s winning percentage (36%) of 1956!
If Ranil remains the PM and the SLFP remains with the UNP, then there’s not even a basement floor above which the SLFP vote will stabilize at upcoming elections. Its 13% will vanish into the Mahinda vortex. April 4 is the SLFP’s last exit ramp to survival and sustainability.
All that said, the main questions we face on April 4 aren’t political, but moral and ethical ones.
If we allow a Prime Minister to remain after so disgraceful a scandal as the Central Bank bond swindle, what kind of society and polity would we be? What kind of ethos would this society be revealed to have? What example of decency and accountability would be set across the board and down the generations? What kind of persons would each of us be if we didn’t wish him to be removed, whosoever and from whichever party his successor as PM may turn out to be?
From a moral and ethical point of view, what could be a worse practice and example than his continuation as PM?
Due to the bond scam the government and state are enveloped in a crisis of legitimacy while the economy suffers a crisis of confidence.