Thursday, 2 January 2014 00:00
A NEW Year has dawned, bringing with it all the weighty expectations of a developing nation. President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his message drew out the agenda of the Government in continuing the “development decade” and also dropped some significant hints of a possible presidential election.
Noting that political changes will be in the offing in the next 12 months, Rajapaksa endeavoured to build confidence with the public by emphasising on the development projects undertaken by the Government. This will be the political platform that the Government will stand on for the upcoming elections, starting with the Western and Southern Provincial Councils that will be rolled out in the next few months.
Speculation is rife that a presidential election where Rajapaksa will seek a third term will be held in 2014. This expectation is underscored by the Government gearing up to fast-track its development agenda and increase its voter base in the rural areas. Dipping its toes, as it were, into the tide of public sentiment through provincial council elections that have given the Government an indication that it can triumph, though perhaps not has emphatically as before.
Given that the Government has traditionally disregarded or vehemently downplayed human rights and good governance concerns, the overtures of the ruling party will likely be accepted by large portions of the population, especially since the Government is adapt at fermenting an “us against the world” mindset.
Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in his New Year message endeavoured to draw attention away from the glistening new roads and move the discourse towards the complex challenges of equitable development and financial accountability.
Wickremesinghe in his turn insisted that the development the Government is so proud of is limited to the Rajapaksa relatives and hangers-on that constitute “1% of the population”. He believes “people are entering 2014 with hope of better living standards, democracy and human rights, law and order and a just society.” The United National Party (UNP) Leader emphasised that people will have to face tough challenges for a larger share of equitable development and good governance.
However, given the almost complex nature of what Wickremesinghe wants and the “results now” attitude of the public, it is improbable that the voter will find such issues effective deterrents from approving another term for the ruling party. If the UNP can translate Government corruption, nepotism and mismanagement effectively into its messages to the voter, it might get more traction but the lustre of shiny highways and railways will be hard to dim.
Nonetheless, the UNP has effectively identified the aspects the Government needs to concentrate on if it is genuine in its pursuit of development. The much-touted decade of development will not bring “prosperity and peace” as the New Year message notes, unless it brings benefit to all. The infrastructure development moreover comes at a cost, with increasing debt being heaped on the economy. Despite the impressive development and poverty reduction numbers shown by the Government, average people still bemoan the increasing cost of living.
Better management, cutting down on corruption as well as improving governance, reconciliation and human rights remain major challenges for the Government – goals that will not disappear with election wins.