Amidst the cacophony of voices on TV, radio and punditry in the print media on the national crisis last week, we witnessed physical jerks —Yoga exercises — of politicians, presumably related to the crisis. It was World Yoga Day and Yoga is projected by a faction of the Indian media supporting Prime Minister Narendra Modi [...]

Sunday Times 2

Cut the cackle and hold an election


Amidst the cacophony of voices on TV, radio and punditry in the print media on the national crisis last week, we witnessed physical jerks —Yoga exercises — of politicians, presumably related to the crisis. It was World Yoga Day and Yoga is projected by a faction of the Indian media supporting Prime Minister Narendra Modi as his gift to the world.

Our politicians going through Yoga contortions, we saw, as an effort to strengthen Indo-Lankan ties at this time of Indian munificence in terms of billions of dollars as loans to help the country come out of the financial crisis, we are in. Yoga contortions such as bending over backwards and touching toes, we saw, depict the state of relations with our neighbours. However, the most difficult and symbolic exercise: standing on one’s head, we did not see.

A team of officials from New Delhi’s Foreign Ministry visited Sri Lanka this week to probe the impact of Indian assistance on the Lankan people. Regrettably, these loans far from being appreciated are viewed with much circumspection by vast numbers because they have had no impact in alleviating the suffering caused by the virtual absence of essential commodities: the shortage of fuel (cooking gas, kerosene, diesel, petrol) has brought the country to a standstill.

Ships loaded with fuel, some sent by India, are reported to be lying in our territorial waters but there are no US dollars for the government to purchase them, it is reported. Whatever the causes may be, Indian assistance which is expected to ease the agony caused by the shortage of fuel has failed to bring any significant relief. Petrol and diesel queues are winding down streets for days and motorists have waited in vehicles to get a limited quantity of fuel. So is it with cooking gas but India is not dispatching cooking gas and Sri Lanka’s attempts on gas importation have been miserable.

The slow flow of Indian fuel into the country is not being appreciated because of the resulting agony in purchasing limited amounts. Relations with India is still being viewed with much caution in certain regions of the country and it is alleged by some that the slow flow of assistance
is being fine-tuned to geopolitical deals on the table.

The success of the Indian financial rescue operation is being likened to a stupid Surgeon’s claim: Operation successful but patient died. Some others say that Sri Lanka is on fire and what’s needed at the moment is a fire brigade not futuristic architects or interior decorators.

On the other hand, it is said that beggars can’t be choosers and India is the only country helping us and there is no ‘free cup of tea in any part of the world’.

While the flow of massive Indian financial loans will obviously end soon, expectations are that the IMF will be able to bring the economy to some form of normalcy with an immediate loan to tide the crisis and sort out procedures to tackle the foreign debt burden while recommending tough measures to place Lanka’s economy on a stable footing.

The crisis is however not only financial but political as well — stupid political decisions have resulted in precipitating the entire national crisis. There is a countrywide call for Gotabaya Rajapaksa to quit the presidency and the elimination of the Rajapaksa family from the political scene. The President earlier having expressed willingness to consider the abolition of the executive presidency has later spoken of completing his presidential electoral mandate which is scheduled end in two years’ time.

Meanwhile, the Interim government’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is proceeding with amendments to the constitution such as the 21st Amendment. There is political cacophony calling for various solutions to the existing crisis, particularly from parliamentarians and this would confuse the issues even further.

Whatever the resolutions that are adopted, constitutional amendments approved by the current parliament or constitutional amendments drafted by legal experts commissioned by leading politicians, they will be grist to the mill of the new government that will be elected at the next parliamentary election.  A new government will obviously draft a new constitution, hopefully not only with the next elected parliament but include experienced jurists, judges lawyers, writers and professionals from many other branches including outstanding public citizens.

Thus, to resolve the political crisis, utmost priority should be given to holding a parliamentary election, as suggested in this commentary, many weeks ago. There has been no significant resistance to political changes brought about through the ballot in our entire post-Independence history.

Last week Harsha de Silva MP and former Cabinet Minister too called for an election in an attempt to resolve the crisis.

The excuse given against holding an election is the lack of funds to hold a countrywide election which will cost millions of rupees. Does it imply that the present set-up of Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is to continue for years till there is enough funds in the Treasury to hold elections?

Why not appeal to friendly democratic nations so eager to protect Sri Lankan democracy for loans to fund an election?

Internal security today is by no means stable. People are on the streets defying police orders and saying they are demonstrating to express their right to live.

Daily confrontations are being reported in queues for fuel between members of the public and at times with the police. Open corrupt practices are alleged to take place at fuel pumping stations guarded by the police and even armed service personnel.

According to social media reports, Criminal gangs are said to be breaking into homes in the suburbs, threatening occupants with knives and sharp cutting weapons and cleaning out valuables. Street lights are off to save power.

The people of Lanka had no hand in precipitating this crisis save to vote this government into office.

Can that ‘mandate’ be used to justify continuing in office?

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