Hoping for the best
In a beautiful pea green boat Edward Lear
Given the violence and sheer bitterness of the ongoing election campaign, it may seem foolish to wonder what would be best for Sri Lanka. If one has learnt anything in recent years, it is that the best does not happen in this country. If by some chance it does, someone will pervert it. Still, given that the campaign has in effect been ongoing now for over two years, so that no advances have been possible as to policy or implementation, there can be no harm in speculation.
The worst case scenario I would have thought would be a majority for the PA on its own. Chandrika claims, with the sublime indifference to evidence that has become her hallmark, that she can do the job properly if only she had a majority. But she did in fact have a majority for over six years, in that there was no question whatsoever of her losing it. Yet her sheer incompetence, as to both planning and man management, has been so amply proved that it can only be the gullible who think a PA government will achieve anything.
I am reminded in this context of the response of an old friend of hers, a close adviser in former times, when I asked him whether he still saw her. No, he said, there was no use in talking to anyone who was convinced she knew all the answers, and who was incapable of seeing other points of view. Then he added that she was similar to Lalith Athulathmudali in this respect, but Lalith at least knew in many cases what he was talking about, and used to get up at dawn and put in a full days work. Chandrika, it was said sadly, only managed to get to work around noon. And even though she claimed that she worked late into the night, the very claim made clear her incapacity to build up a team. The administrators she should have been inspiring were all in bed. It was only her social mates, the brandy brigade, who were awake to talk things over with her so late at night. No wonder then that rash decisions are taken and implemented without any awareness of what the consequences might be.
Chandrika without controls then would be like the Madwoman of Chaillot, that wonderfully romantic French figure who perhaps inspires her. Should she then be controlled by the JVP? Would another probationary government be the answer to our dreams?
Time was when, from an idealistic point of view, one might have thought that outcome an acceptable one. However, what the last few months have shown is that the JVP are either unwilling or incapable of influencing her with regard to probity and efficiency. Policies perhaps they can push, since policy was never the PAs strong suit. It was abundantly clear from 1994 on that the more serious members of her party never took seriously the more modern ideas that Chandrika had convinced herself of just before the election. But leaving aside the disastrous economic consequences of JVP populism, what recent events have suggested is that even the integrity of some at least of the JVP members is no longer unquestionable. Their defence of their acquiescence in the expansion of Uncle Anuruddhas portfolios and powers made clear how little they can really achieve.
So there remains the UNP. I find it hard to accept that they are the only hope, since there is no doubt that much of what we suffer is their fault. And not only the political blunders. JRs appalling constitution, the violence employed against democratic opposition that spawned two violent terrorist groups, the government sponsored attacks on Tamils, are all unforgivable. But there is more. Had JR in 1977, instead of just liberalizing trade and allowing more private sector activity, also privatised the businesses that had been nationalized and encouraged private enterprise to move into social as well as economic activity, we might have taken off the way Malaysia and Thailand did. Given the talent he had in his cabinet, it is equally unforgivable that 12 years were wasted, and we had to wait for Premadasas brief period in power to actually have a culture of entrepreneurship developing.
But all that is water under the bridge. Ranil has come a long way since then, and his stint as Minister of Industries under Premadasa indicates that the economy would be in safe hands under his guidance. And though one regrets the hangovers from the past, people like Karu and Karunanayake and Cabraal and Kodituwakku are a new breed of technocrats who can surely be relied upon more than the proven incompetents Chandrika has in her party. Indeed, the fact that, apart from Mangala and Mahinda, it is on UNP renegades that she has to rely for any substantial contribution, makes clear that we really have no choice.
A few months ago I would have said that a UNP government on its own was a less attractive proposition than a National Government. I still think it regrettable that Chandrika spurned Ranils very generous offer in early August of a National Government in which she had substantial powers. She lost her chance then, and she also lost her chance when his amended offer would still have allowed her a large number of PA Ministers. But though unbridled UNP power too would be possibly dangerous, the fact is that the present Constitution does allow for checks and balances inasmuch as she continues as President.
My hope then is that the UNP will win sufficient seats to form a government on its own. That will save us from horsedealing and endless suspense. At the same time I hope that the UNP, if it is allowed to govern, will treat the President with respect and even affection. Constitutionally she remains part of the Executive, and learning to co-exist will be good for both sides. Indeed, if the UNP and the PA manage to live together amicably, there should be no difficulty about solving the ethnic problem.
I hope then that Chandrika and Ranil will take Edward Lear with the seriousness he deserves, and try to see the good in each other. If the owl and the pussy cat could co-exist, surely these two can. Which is which I will not try to guess, since obviously both would like to think they dominate the other. But both can call themselves captain, so long as they dont try to throw the other one overboard. The important thing is that the boat should be green.
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