The nation in peril

Rarely has the Sri Lankan nation sunk to such levels of despondency as the present times. The only comparable instances are during the communal riots of 1983 and the Indian intervention in 1987.

The nation is in torpor and the people are not certain where we are heading. Even among the top business leaders of the country the question that is constantly being asked is: Where are we heading? And no one can provide a definite answer.

The success of the terrorists in blasting the military and international airport at Katunayake was not the result of their tactical brilliance. It was because of a leadership blundering on from disaster to disaster and a somnolent nation going along with the leadership. The two disasters have done nothing to shake the nation out of its somnambulism. Instead, our political leaders have been having hectic debates on constitutional changes and a referendum rather than attempt to recover from the economic double whammy delivered by the terrorists.

The airport attacks quite apart from the physical damage caused to aircraft have not only severely strained the backbone of the tourist industry but also brought in its wake astronomical hikes in insurance premia of landing aircraft and ships coming into our harbours. It will threaten both our exports and imports. Exports such as garments, will be threatened, the garment industry being one of our mainstays of foreign exchange. The export prices of all other exports will have to be hiked up to prices, which may end in the collapse of markets. Prices of other exports as well as imports are bound to increase. All this may result in another round of devaluation and increased taxes.

The Katunayake disasters have brought the economy and the people some more pegs closer to the hell fires but what have our leaders being doing? In the context of loss of international confidence President Kumaratunga should attempt to bring about at least a show of political stability and that the security has been revamped to ensure that such disasters are unlikely to happen. President Kumaratunga attacking UNP leader, Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe and heaping all the blame on the UNP and the constitution of J.R. Jayewardene is not going to restore the confidence of foreign airlines and shipping lines. Nor will the ‘New constitution’ that is still to be spelt out be of any avail.

At the time of writing the UNP is reported to be discussing a memorandum of understanding to form a government of national reconciliation for a limited period. Discussions are already on in this direction with the UNP and some PA leaders, informed sources say. There are reports that President Kumaratunga yesterday had second thoughts about a referendum and was making moves to postpone it.

President Kumaratunga holds the key to the crisis. Unless she makes pragmatic decisions in the interests of the nation—-not only in her interests and that of her party—- this crisis will worsen in the coming months. If she goes ahead with a referendum and attempts to enact a constitution according to her desires, she is taking the nation into unknown, which may have severe consequences to the nation already in peril. Meanwhile, it has to be appreciated that she has lost the majority in parliament and is severely handicapped despite being vested with powers of the executive president. However, no president under whatever constitution, will be able to govern a country without the backing of parliament. Thus, President Kumaratunga should understand her limitations and make pragmatic decisions. She should heed to advice of religious and community leaders who have come out strongly against the referendum.

What is quite clear is that this political crisis cannot drag on for some more months because of the state of the economy. As the political crisis worsens so will the economic crisis. The nation is in peril.

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