After triumph in the war and resounding victory in the electoral cycle of 2010 it appeared that the government would be popular and stable for all if not the greater part of its term of office. However things are turning sour sooner than expected. Pressure is building on all fronts; angry students-parents-teachers and university staff, restless trade unions, Tamils who have lost confidence in the regime, a breakdown of law and order for which the ruling party and the state are to blame, a down turn in the economy, and severe crises within the ruling party.
This issue of Anik Pituwa carries separate articles on education and trade union matters, and we cannot afford space to talk about the SLFP’s internal dung heaps, so we will confine our comments in this piece to the other three matters – national question, law and order, and economy.
The national question
The TNA’s criticism that the LLRC Report is a whitewash of the civilian casualties during the last stages of the war is shared by the large majority of Tamils. The Tamil community is fed-up with the regime for playing insincere games about 13A plus, minus etc. If the government wants to improve relations with the Tamils, it knows what it has to do. End the military occupation of Tamil areas and close down the High Security Zones, implement full devolution of power, and release Tamil youth held in illegal detention. For starters, these three steps will do more than a hundred commissions of inquiry. Tamils are convinced that the regime has no intention of granting real devolution of powers to any Tamil majority regional administration.
Law and order
People know that political goons and thugs populate the environs of the UPFA; they are seen as vehicles of terror and economic vultures. Worse, the spread of ‘thugocracy’ is now habituated and socially pernicious. There is no protection to be had from the police who grovel before political patrons and the chief goon of each region. Unfortunately, citizens’ confidence in the judiciary is on the wane.
The Tangalle murder of a tourist and the sexual harassment of a foreign female, where political entanglement and high protective connections are rumoured, is bad. One or two more Tangalle like incidents and tourism will dry up. The frightening thought, however, is this: How can the government stop recurrence when it is in debt to these very goons who are the managers its support base?
The security establishment claims that Tamil and Sinhala youth are getting together and planning terrorism and violence. This is an old trick; everybody knows that such spin is sent around when a regime feels the heat of public anger and wants to crack down on dissent. Instead of supporting conspiracy theories, the Left must secure its base by addressing the burning issues.
There was modest economic improvement during the last two year. The reason is the peace dividend; reintegration of the north and east and inflow of produce. Foreign investment though not in the hard economy (industry) but in the seeni bola sector – tourism – also helped. Now there are signs of change.
A slow down in the advanced economies may reduce demand for oil and bring oil prices down, and investor risk aversion in those countries may encourage capital to look for opportunities elsewhere.
However, these even if they materialise, will be small mercies. If there is a big slow down or recession in Europe or America, our exports will take a more severe hit than 2008-09 since austerity measures these countries will adopt this time will be stricter.
Economists now agree that Lanka’s GDP growth cannot be sustained at 8%, fiscal deficit will not be brought below 6%, trade deficit will exceed $10 billion, and sovereign debt will remain above 80%, despite Cabraal swearing two years ago that none of this would happen. FDI too will fall short of expectations and the rupee cannot be defended any longer at Rs113 to the dollar.
The greatest economic uncertainty is all round political risk on many fronts as highlighted on this page. In the face of all round opposition the government is being forced to climb down on some issues. In doing so it is breaching promises it gave to the IMF. Its rightwing, pro-business, anti-people policies are running aground. The task of the Left is to press this forward and force a turnaround on these policy matters.
Team Anik Pituwa