What is politics? Why is it dominating, and shutting out the focus on economic development?
The definition of politics helps to explain it all: politics is the exercise of power and the exercise of acquiring power.
The first part of politics is about acquiring power. That is what now occupies the minds of politicians and political groups in the current turbulent political climate. Without acquiring power, one cannot indulge in the pleasures of exercising power. When one tastes power, it becomes addictive like ganja. People who have exercised power crave power, and will go to any lengths to get their drug of power. This explains what is going on now in Sri Lanka. We do not have any debate on political economy, which is about how to create GDP and how to distribute the wealth created. The political turmoil is solely about acquiring power. Do people seek power just for the drug-like euphoria it creates, or is there more to it? Is power sought as it is the best short cut route to wealth?
To us citizens, it does not matter whether the politician is good-natured, or good-looking, or whether he is a good orator, or has been to Royal College. All that is irrelevant. What matters are their views on what should be done to develop the country.
We have the power
It is we the people who have the ultimate power. It is we who decide to whom we give the power to govern the country. Our judgment of who to support, be it a person or party, should depend on what we think about their plans for developing the country. Sadly, we are denied this opportunity, as alternate plans are not placed before us by the main parties. In the recent Local Government Election, did the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna provide a clear manifesto of what they will do to develop the economy? No, they did not. Did Mahinda Rajapaksa set out his economic policies for the country? No, he did not. Did Dinesh Gunawardene, the Joint Opposition Head, set out its economic policies for developing the country? No, he did not. Did Prof. G. L. Pieris, who comments on everything, set out his economic policies for developing the country? No, he did not. Why is the question hanging in the air? Is it because they are quite incapable of developing and articulating economic policies? Whatever their personal skills in economics, they could put together a team who can translate their political leanings into plans for developing the country. Why are they not doing so?
Is it because they need not go through this difficult process of developing credible policies when there is a simpler route to power? That route being, of course, to vigorously condemn and criticize everything that those currently in power are said to have done. Sadly, the skill base required to acquire power has changed. The skill base required to acquire power has now moved to the ability to denigrate opponents.
The Bond scam
This Bond scam that featured in the NCM is a simple story. Perpetual Holdings is a bond trading company. It bought bonds at the Central Bank auction, and then sold them at a vast profit to the Employees Provident Fund, the repository of the savings of the workers in this country. That is a crime that should be punished. No one can dispute it.
The simple method is for Parliament to include in the Inland Revenue Act a tax of 95 % on profits made from the EPF.
Mahinda Rajapaksa and the JO have been silent and have never proposed taxing the vast profits made by Perpetual Holdings. What is the reason? We will never know unless they tell us why they want to leave the vast profits with Perpetual Holdings. By this, they have completely forfeited the right to criticize or accuse anyone else of protecting or helping Perpetual Holdings.
Another feature of our political turmoil is political jousting. Jousting was a famous medieval sport: two men mounted on horses, with a long pole in their hand, would ride at full speed towards each other from either end of a field, and with the pole endeavour to knock the opponent off his horse. The recent No-Confidence Motion was a jousting match, between Mahinda Rajapaksa on his horse called SLPP, and Ranil Wickremesinghe on his horse called UNP. With his long pole, Ranil knocked Mahinda Rajapaksa off his horse and won the jousting contest.
Jousting is not a war of armies. It is a one-on-one contest, with one man trying to knock a single opponent out. We now have a number of jousting matches going on for cabinet posts, party secretary posts, politburo posts, and anything else that is a route to power.
The theme of all the current political games is seeking to acquire power in various microscenarios.
In a recent column in an English daily, it was said the 16 MPs who defected from the Government are now engaged in another struggle to secure the party secretary’s post, instead of lifting the debate to a difference of opinion between the current secretary and the dissidents on how best to develop the country. The focus is on getting power. The new UNP politburo should be working long nights developing new policies for the country, but not a single squeak has been made about the matter as their current focus is on who gets power in key posts. We now have a season of jousting matches by rival contenders for posts in the SLFP, the UNP and the SLPP!
A shining light in this gloom
Dr. Sarath Amunugama has made a cheering statement. He is mature, intelligent, and experienced, and a sensible statement is something we expect from him. He said that a committee of SLFP ministers have drawn up a plan with specific proposals to bring down the cost of living and contain prices of essential commodities, and have set out the required Government subsidies, concessions and facilities to achieve accelerated productivity and development in agriculture and industry, etc. No airy fairy policies which are just aspirations, with no coherent methodology for achieving these aspirations. No mention of bashing opposition leaders about corruption as the core strategy to seek power from the people.
We hope that this is a new beginning. We must hope that all the political groups who come before us, the people, who have the sole right to bestow power, will follow this example, setting out in simple words their specific plans, strategies and implementation timelines, and give us the opportunity to select what we believe is best for the country and give them the power.
A glimmer of hope
There is a glimmer of hope that this may happen. Banging the drum about corruption has run its course. This drum will no longer make a booming sound, as the vellum is in tatters. People no longer believe that politicians can put opponents in jail for corruption. That was always a tough trick to perform, as three difficult things were required: the police to collect convincing evidence, the Attorney General’s staff to believe there was a credible case and be prepared to prosecute, and a Judiciary that will convict and give a jail sentence. So far, the success rate is zero.
The fairy tales of FTAs, financial hotspots in the Port City, and endless queues of ships jostling their way into Hambantota port, bringing in foreign investment like monsoon rain, floundered on the rhetorical question of ‘what good will this do us’ in the minds of 75% of our rural population. If the route to power through denigrating opponents is wearing thin, and putting opponents in jail has failed totally, and fairy stories are seen as fairy stories, maybe politicians seeking power can now contemplate putting forward meaningful plans for development as the best route to acquire power. Let us live in hope.