At the outset of the campaign, momentum was significantly favouring the former Defence Secretary with the emergence of national security as the primary issue in the country, after the Easter Sunday attacks. However, the momentum seems to be slowly changing in favour of SP with his campaign policies taking root among the masses – Pix by Shehan Gunasekara
In a few days Sri Lanka will have a new leader. After a disappointing term with the “Yahapalanaya” policies, many of whom would look for new hope from the two most likely contenders, namely Gotabaya Rajapaksa (GR) and Sajith Premadasa (SP).
At the onset of the campaign, momentum was significantly favouring the former Defence Secretary with the emergence of national security as the primary issue in the country, after the Easter Sunday attacks. However, the momentum seems to be slowly changing in favour of SP with his campaign policies taking root among the masses.
The campaign of GR has failed to grow its base among the minorities and also among the hard core Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) loyalists. Despite consolidating among the Sinhalese nationalistic voter base, the union among the grassroots has remained a challenge, given the service rendered by SP to such communities. Further, the endorsement of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga have helped SP to gain ground in what was supposedly a one horse race until a few weeks back.
Despite the recent endorsements and signs of change in momentum in favour of SP, GR seems to have his nose ahead slightly in the battle for the presidency. However the thought of it being unlikely for any candidate to challenge GR in this race has been dispelled as SP has proven that anything is possible given the will and determination to succeed.
Manifesto gimmicks again
Both candidates have made many promises in their manifestos, most which contribute to unfavourable short-term cost increments to the Government, while proposing numerous long term revenue enhancements. The manifestos provide ample evidence on how candidates exploit the seemingly politically illiterate average voter of our country that rely solely on emotions and lack of information in arriving at their choice of candidate for the presidency.
Both SP and GR have resorted to measures seen in the past that encompasses tax reductions, salary increments, free services and numerous other benefits that lure voters in one’s favour. The notion that one could not have understood is the manner in which Sri Lanka as a country is going to fund such incremental benefits. The obvious answers come by way of more borrowings and other indirect taxations, as neither revenue increment measures proposed have short-term return potential.
Based on the above statements, the writer believes that the comparative analysis of the manifestos would serve no purpose as neither manifesto can be termed credible based on the outcomes witnessed in the past. However, analysis of the two candidates on other factors that constitute to building a formidable nation would be a worthwhile proposition. A clear take away from such manifestos is that for the people not to be fooled by short-sighted policies aiming to brainwash the intellect of individuals to drive a positive perception in one’s favour.
Deciding factors National security at the forefront of the voter
People of this country have had to live in the fear of terrorism up until the cessation of the war. The horrors of terrorism were rekindled this year with the Easter Sunday attacks. Despite the quick action taken to apprehend the suspects, there remains a clear cloud over the realistic picture on the threat to national security via terrorism. GR’s campaign constantly exaggerates the importance of security, taking refuge in the fear of the people on a possible upsurge of terrorism in the country.
GR’s nomination was tightly linked and secured with the re-emergence of security as the primary most important issue in the country. Not to the surprise of many, his campaign has been constantly exploiting the security concerns by instilling fear among the people.
Despite the heroics with the war, the former army chief was made to face imprisonment during the tenure of President Rajapaksa. In contrast, SP made a bold move to announce the appointment of this victorious commander, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka (SF) to the top most position in the countries security. This is simply a very bold move, given that SF was a hardliner against the candidacy of SP at the commencement of his nomination efforts. Despite the appointments many of the wartime commanders remain in the realm of GR and his campaign.
One should understand that safety and security embodies freedom of speech, where those raising their voice against the rulers or Government would not end up being abducted. A secure nation includes safety from hatred, racism, abuse, theft and the list goes on. Singling out one element of security such as terrorism, is certainly a mere ploy to fool the masses. Giving undue exaggerated emphasis for the war and terrorism may come to backfire in the backdrop that many understand that national security embodies many other aspects such as those mentioned above.
The real head of State after 16 November
This is one of the most important questions most voters tend to ponder. Based on the rhetoric, it is evident that former President Rajapaksa (MR) would be appointed as prime minister upon the election of GR. At which point it can be assumed that elected President GR will serve in the shadow of MR, given the supreme authority MR has within the SLPP. A vote for GR is essentially a path to bring MR back to power.
SLPP is a party led by the Rajapaksa family and understandingly the eternal leadership of the party will comprise of any related family member that is deemed suitable. This is equivalent to serving a monarchy. SLPP will become a party where the brightest scholars, professionals and others would always end up being backbenchers. The repercussion to the party is secondary, as to what damage that could unveil to the country upon the election of a SLPP-led alliance by innocent uninformed voters. The members of such party must understand that politics is beyond one ruling elite and diversity of individuals in the leadership is paramount for the country to prosper.
In that respect, majority of the UNP members have understood the need for change, even after a lengthy 25-year period. The forceful accession of SP to the candidacy for president from the UNP is a clear sign that change is coming to the Grand Old Party. Given SP keeps to his word and appoints a new prime minister, which the people voting for him want, then it is evident that he will lay the first foundation to take the country forward.
Sri Lanka needs a new set of leaders at this juncture as our senior leaders have failed and continue to fail. This election in that way is critical and the fate of our country hangs in the hands of a young, politically experienced candidate and a new team to lead every aspect of the nation’s governance. However, Premier Wickremesinghe (RW) is a monumental figure within the party and would not be easy to dislodge, given he is also the leader of the UNP. RW can end up calling the shots if he manages to take hold of majority MPs in Parliament. This would be much to the despair of the patriotic voters.
Facing the media and nation
SP has completely excelled in this front and constantly shown that he is presidential material. In contrast, GR has failed to even appear at any forum that has created a platform with other candidates. Further, GR doesn’t seem to be able to face even the media without the presence of his brother, former President Rajapaksa, and his fellow henchman.
In the event GR fails to cross the line to the presidency, the inability to defend his policies by attending and confronting other candidates in such forums would come to haunt him. It is quite surprising to see an astute individual such as GR taking a backward step despite his decorated military record. It would be his campaign team that might know better in this aspect and would have insisted in this decision, maybe intending not to expose a flaw in GR. Such acts have rippling negative outcomes as the people of a country such as Sri Lanka have positive perceptions towards great orations during debates and press briefings. Certainly, the people would not want to witness a president showcasing such fearful and incompetent attributes.
Championing the youth vote
SP is the youngest politician to run for the top post since 1999. It could be implied that SP would command the preference of a large share of the one million plus new voters and youth below the age of 40. However, GR has gained seemingly good traction among the youth with his flamboyant flare and dynamism. In addition, most of the youth have been engulfed by the patriotism slogan repeatedly proclaimed by the GR campaign.
At the age of 52, SP would be a good leader poised to understand the needs of the youth better than what GR would do at his current age of 70. It must be well noted by the youth to favour young politicians as it the future of the youth that the next president would build during the next five to 10 years.
Dictatorship vs. democracy
People would certainly select democracy ahead of another dictatorship. The re-emergence of a family rule should be prohibited at any cost as it would pave the wave for a dictatorship. One could question, under which circumstances a dictatorship would arise within the democratic framework. This would happen in a situation where the decision making would be centred on a handful of select individuals. In addition, nation’s resources and their utility would be vested among the same individuals to utilise according to their will by merely appointing their henchman to handle the delegated work. Further, the law enforcement and judiciary would be influenced unfavourably.
Given the mannerism in which the current Government went about their proceedings, it could be made certain that a dictatorship would not be even close to being possible under SP, as he would not command such authority from the Military or Police.
The last thing Sri Lanka would need moving forward would be another political coup as to what was witnessed last year. It is essential that both the Executive and Parliament work together and have a clear understanding in terms of decision making. The demise of the much promised “Yahapalanaya” era was a result of the mistrust created among President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe.
GR has more or less confirmed the appointment of former President Rajapaksa to the post of Prime Minister, given his election. Although SP has announced that he would resort to the appointment of a new prime minister with the majority confidence of Parliament, the only certain pick fulfilling that criteria is Premier Wickremesinghe.
In crafting a better future for our children, it is essential that the political leadership of our country also have its changes and replacements periodically. Both Premier Wickremesinghe and former President Rajapaksa have been in the political domain for a long period of time and it would be fitting for them to pave the way for the next generation of leaders. In particularly a non-related person to either of their families.
Both candidates have pledged to curb corruption yet again. Curbing corruption relates to enacting legislation and processes to mitigate or eliminate such acts. In addition, providing independence to law enforcement and the judiciary is paramount to the smooth functioning of the system. Also would mean not to install any accused henchman within the confines of governance.
It can be concluded that neither ruling party nor alliances have done enough to bridge the gap to create a corruption-free society. Any ruling government has continued with the wave of preserving corruption. Despite the presence of allegations, many large scale corruption allegations have never been proven much to the frustration of the people. The major disappointment among the people rests with the “Yahapalanaya” Government as the regime that was installed to punish the crooks of the Rajapaksa regime as proclaimed by them, but have not been done so nor even convicted.
Based on the above, GR has many accusations, from which he has been proven innocent in some cases, but certain cases still remain to be proceeded. SP has not been reported under the radar of any corruptive acts or allegations on such serious misappropriations. Based on the past fact sheet, one could conclude that SP is perceived to be the best of the two candidates to mitigate corruption in the country. However, as it was the case in the past many good people entered the political fray, only to leave with corruption allegations.
Economic growth and business prosperity
The economy for the past four-and-a-half years has been sluggish. Many corporates have suffered from the dull economic sentiments and depletion of the purchasing power of the consumer. In spite of the impoverish sentiments, the Government continued to sustain its tax policy. Immediately after the heavy defeat at the Local Government elections, a concessionary loan scheme was proposed through the Enterprise Sri Lanka initiative. Many entrepreneurs and businessman were recipients of the initiative. However, the economy does not seem to have rebounded from such initiatives.
GR has proposed the reduction in VAT and PAYE taxes to drive up the money circulation. This may drive short term bullish sentiments in the economy. As it stands, most of the enterprises do not generate bottom-line profits for the Government to charge an income tax, and the hence heavy reliance on VAT and NBT. The numerous other monetary benefits targeted at different segments of the population would also serve to boost up the economy. However, the material effects of a lower Government revenue and rise in expenses would begin to reflect in after around two to three years.
Further, despite the rhetoric to remove PAYE tax by GR, it is yet unclear if such people would be subject to one off tax at the end of the year. If such is imposed then we would witness a dampening effect on the purchasing power. We certainly hope that Sri Lanka would not end up with the same challenges faced by Greece at some point in the years ahead.
As mentioned in a prior article of the writer, ‘Sri Lanka’s next president: Let’s get it right,’ the time has come to transfer the political leadership to a new generation of leaders and for the old folks to handover that baton. The next battle will be a technological war and not a conventional war and we do not need old generals to lead that effort.
Our country has youthful smart officers in our defence forces and they should be the ones leading the security measures in the years ahead. It is only the Constitution and law that must hold us together and not a dictatorship.
Sri Lanka needs a youthful, politically experienced leader with a new team of professionals to define the path ahead for the next 10 years. We should use the vote for such a person and not discard our vote based on emotions or lack of information.
[The writer is the Managing Director at Elon Venture Catalysts Ltd., a financial and investment banking services firm operating in Sri Lanka. He is also the founder of Accounting & CFO services firm Cotlersys and Retinue. He has a BEng (Hons) in Chemical Engineering degree from the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom and a MBA (Marketing) from the University of Colombo. He is also a Chartered Financial Analyst. Vidushan holds a Certified Management Accountant (Australia) and Certified Global Business Analyst (Australia). He is currently reading for his Doctorate in Business Administration from the University of Colombo. He can be reached via email on firstname.lastname@example.org or www.elonventure.com]