A few ways forward for failed ‘sir, state, system, and society’

Friday, 8 July 2022 02:57 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

ONCE MORE INTO THE BREACH? But exercising extreme caution on 9 July... and beyond if necessary – It remains vital that the infrastructure of state stands to host a critical ‘early election’ that’s imperative to revive democracy; restore the people’s will through a fresh mandate; and reassure internal and external stakeholders of political, as well as social, stability in Sri Lanka’s economic recovery  


On one side, we hear: ‘Gota, go home!’ ‘Ranil, go home!’ ‘All 225, go home!’ ‘Enough is enough!’ On the other, it is asked: ‘What next?’ ‘Who will take over, then?’ ‘Would we go from the frying-pan into the fire?’

So many questions. Few answers. None that will satisfy everyone. So is Sri Lanka doomed to be a failed state forever? Is that our destiny after so many bright shining moments amidst all the tears and terrors of all our yesteryears? 

I hope not. I think there are ways out, ways ahead. I suspect that on the way forward, our better instincts as a people and a polity will triumph – inch by painful yard by gruelling mile – over the baser nature of the failure and fallenness all around us. I yearn for the relief of that victory to come sooner than later. It will take some doing after much consideration and honest evaluation and tough decisions.

Maintain the status quo.

Why? For the sake of form – in the name of political stability – pending an IMF bailout. 

Qui bono? No more than the usual suspects now, and perhaps the people at large... IF the International Monetary Fund deems our gargantuan external debt sustainable and/or our creditors play ball, sensing that a short haircut is better by far than stringent foreclosure.

Will it satisfy the people? 

In the very short term... NO – by no means will the anger at our enforced destiny dissipate short of quelling a bloody anarchy, if it comes to that. 

In the medium term, the outrage may start to simmer beneath the hardened exteriors of the suffering masses as the benefits of a debt restructuring programme slowly begin to percolate out or down. 

In the longer run, not even an IMF programme/bailout – being designed to patch the financial wounds, not build fiscal muscle – will help an isle that has had poor fiduciary discipline in all its independent years. 

In the long run, then, we are all dead if we opt to be satisfied with the status quo in order to gain a sense of temporary lifesaving benefits.

STRENGTHS: Hardly any worth talking about – expect that some elements among the present powers that be get to walk away scot-free... in the short term, at least.

WEAKNESSES: A poor showing of a pathetic/apathetic understanding of how ‘democracy’ works – or a cynical/callous one, if you subscribe to realpolitik and its reprehensible disregard for moral/ethical imperatives.

OPPORTUNITIES: To try and test the IMF model for the seventeenth time, for what it is worth (that there have been 16 before it suggests it is not much more than a quick and superficial fix). Else, there’s a cardinal opportunity to bite the bullet; opt for a radical system change; cleanse the Augean stables by refusing to bow to pressure to yield ground ‘struggled’ over by the Aragalaya and won or lost; and ditch the cynical practitioners of the ‘business of politics as usual’.

THREATS: Any appeal to the Aragalaya and average citizens to tighten their austerity belts any further sans promises to deliver the goods (literally and metaphorically) may result in anarchy and violent repression of a rebellious state by military means.  

Interim administration of sorts?

Two ways to set about this; and it’s important to distinguish between the two.

First there’s the faux-democratic mode in which the incumbent executive remains in situ and appoints a caretaker prime minister pending the resignation of his predecessor. This has already happened – in the name of ‘political stability’ ahead of putative ‘economic recovery’. But neither has eventuated, nor is it likely to as the ‘board of directors’ are engaged in in-fighting. 

Given the shifting sands of realpolitik – as seen in the newly appointed Investment Promotion Minister’s recent call for the present Prime Minister’s resignation – it is cynical politics at its worst. That worthy opened the door to this himself, by taunting a socialist MP in the House to assume the mantle... IF only he could/would. It is the ruin of democratic norms, to the chagrin of an already aggravated electorate.

STRENGTHS: Strengthens the executive, undermines the legislature, compromises the people’s sovereign will.

WEAKNESSES: Strengthens the executive, undermines the legislature, compromises the people’s sovereign will.

OPPORTUNITIES: To strengthen the executive and undermine the legislature while compromising the people’s sovereign will in order to maintain the status quo/power balance.

THREATS: Strengthens the executive, undermines the legislature, compromises the people’s sovereign will.

Then there’s the ‘all-party government’ in theory, which would most probably be a ‘multi-party administration’ in reality. Here there would be more representative agency for the people. Plus a much better balanced legislature would be more empowered to offer checks to the excesses of the executive’s impulses. That has brought us to wrack and ruin. This would also set the stage for an early, constitutionally valid dissolution of parliament ahead of a much-needed fresh mandate from the people.

STRENGTHS: More agency for lawmakers to curb presidential impulsiveness/ignorance. And greater instrumentality to implement what remains of the people’s will. Also sends a signal to the watching world that putative ‘unity’ could more readily translate into political ‘stability’. 

WEAKNESSES: Would require presidential cooperation (Which seems unlikely – short of a lightning bolt from the blue and/or augmented public and political pressure that effects the desired putsch). Might necessitate unsavoury horse-trading (Who will be prime minister?) to achieve a more salutary objective (‘This House resolves to stand dissolved!’).

OPPORTUNITIES: To pass the 21st Amendment to the Constitution (21A). Which would reject the untrammelled authoritarianism of the 20th and restore the accountability of 19A. While stymieing the faux-republican Trojan horse that is the pernicious 22A that’s proposed and pending.

THREATS: Sinister ploys by the executive arm or deep state to pre-empt such a swing of the pendulum back to equilibrium. Suspicion that a so-empowered parliament may play politics to the detriment of the national interest and continue to the end of its (and the president’s) term/s.   

All-or-nothing visit to the poll...

The logic is rock solid. There was a resounding mandate given. That was squandered in a stupefyingly short time. There was a spectrum of policy mistakes made (food security, forex, foreign debt servicing in the face of dwindling US$ reserves, fiscal short-sightedness in tax regimes that favoured the rich and stripped state coffers) and a plethora of personal faux-pas (indefensible presidential pardons, tone-deaf to popular sentiment, one-man-show ethos) taken to be the upshot of ego, ignorance and arrogance. It is clear to all but the morally stone-deaf and politically purblind that Gota must go.

This legitimate claim has been further validated by the unconscionable approach to disaster management since Sri Lanka ruefully declared bankruptcy. From food and energy security to unsustainable commodity price hikes following skyrocketing inflation, these actions and attitudes have spanned the gamut from lack of transparency and equality, to blatant favouritism towards friends and party hacks, and privileges for the political elite in the face of widespread suffering among people.

There is little or no compelling reason not to dissolve parliament forthwith and seek a fresh mandate from the people now, not later, given all of the above. Only saving face! And that reeks of nothing but egoism and deserves only the electoral smack across the political kisser, which will come later (regrettably) than sooner.

STRENGTHS: Restores democratic equilibrium. Revitalises the people’s mandate. Reassures internal and external stakeholders of more than a simulacrum of sociopolitical stability. 

WEAKNESSES: Contingent on a cynical legislature, the likes of whom have voted for a series of antithetical bills before (i.e. a body of those who passed 18A and 20A also gave the green light to 17A and 19A, and are likely to equally give the thumbs up to either/both 21A and 22A!). 

OPPORTUNITIES: To strike while the iron is hot, and rake the ranks of the House with a cleansing hose at the poll. Also, for a fresh batch of would-be legislators to step away from the barricades and other flashpoints of protest, and step up to the plate of civil administration. A much-needed new start and makeover for a badly burnt Sri Lanka – beyond cosmetic patches such as caretaker governments or interim administrations, and especially to repeal 22A if it has been already passed by then. Plus, a renewed chance to rid our nation-state of the malignant executive presidency and introduce a clean new political culture. 

THREATS: From the not-so-enlightened self-interest of champions of the executive incumbent/presidency/system. Also, the baser survival instincts of common or garden legislators who have little education and less ethics to see the larger picture. And if the Aragalaya over the next few days turns egregiously violent, the Damocles’ sword of the iron fist of military might being deployed to help police in so-called ‘crowd control’. The jackboot is already treating public places as its new stomping grounds and madly threatening to make civil society’s old nightmares of draconian militarisation become a dire reality today.

It is clear Sri Lanka needs a new hope, fresh start and fighting chance of survival. The edge of the abyss is today. Hope tomorrow that our governors, their advisors, any agents provocateurs with vested interests, hidden hands pulling the strings behind the scenes, and especially everyone spearheading the ‘struggle’ or seeking to push through to breaking point on the frontlines of the Aragalaya would exercise extreme caution tempered by a passion for justice amid hunger and fire... 

It’s a flame no water-cannon or tear-gas can douse; only suppress, to serve the will of those who would deny the people peace with justice and fresh prospects on a long rocky venture ahead of us all.

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: The socio-political stability that’s so elusive for Sri Lanka at large is the need of the hour ahead of an IMF-endorsed debt restructuring programme.

DEVIL’S ADVOCATE: Any globally brokered bailout that’s made possible by denying the legitimacy of a government over the national need for stability will serve only temporary ends. And it will be only for diminishing returns as the quick fixes to plaster over the cracks crumble over the short term.

BEST HOPE: For the nation to go to the polls, and cleanse and refresh the parliamentary ethos, in the face of an intransigent executive who not only won’t go home but is so ensconced in realpolitik that it is deluding itself into thinking there is no other way out.  

 Editor-at-large of LMD | Early #election: ‘last best hope’ | 


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