Between change and continuity, a choice was already made | Sunday Observer

Between change and continuity, a choice was already made

2 August, 2020

The campaign season now having drawn to a close, the people have to march to the ballot box and await a result — but by all accounts the battle lines are clear.

The SLPP is running on a record, and the opposing parties seem to be vying for recognition on a string of sensational stories, trumped up, such as the alleged destruction of an archaeological site in Kurunegala.

If the site was accommodating a hotel, obviously nobody including the previous government knows of its archaeological value, if there was one. Ven. Rekawa Jinarathana Chief Prelate of the Wayamba Province, states that the building was constructed by the British, and that it has no relevance to King Buvanekabahu.

The SJB in taking up a non-existent cause, is on a mission to undercut the Sinhala Buddhist vote base of the SLPP, but its latching on to various bogeys and chimerical ‘issues’ seems instead to have cast the party as a location for gallery theatre and light entertainment, and not a semblance of anything resembling a record.

This is the basic equation in this electoral battle — a set of achievements, versus an effort at launching disorientating verbal salvoes.

Take this one, for instance:

‘Some problems you can solve by shooting, but problems concerning health and economy you can’t solve by shooting.’ So said Eran Wickremaretne who seems to have got his telephone wires crossed. (The gentleman is from the rotary-phone era.)


Wickremeratne was broaching the idea that the President and the Prime Minister ended terrorism, but cannot handle Covid-19 and the economic crisis. He had said something to the effect that the international community does not trust the Sri Lankan Government’s Covid data saying that the European Union has Singapore among its list of countries whose citizens would be allowed into EU territory, but has omitted Sri Lanka, which has less deaths from the pandemic than the city state.

Eran is right. You can’t solve any problems shooting — shooting your mouth off. Eran and the blunderbuss brigade in the telephone party and the UNP have been shooting their mouths in the five years they were in power, and then some. They got nothing done shooting.

Wickremaratne’s implication is that Presidents Mahinda and Gotabaya won the battle against terrorism by shooting i.e by indiscriminate butchery. Wickremaratne is one track by contrast — only good at shooting his mouth off. He assumes the Mahinda-Gotabaya combination steered the winning campaign similarly — by shooting, shooting and shouting.


For someone who cannot seem to organise a booze-up in a brewery, such as Eran, it must be difficult to envision a multi-faceted and complex task such as defeating an armed enemy.

There is planning, there is logistics, there is the keeping of the international interlopers at bay, and when the economy is disrupted, there is the near impossible task of handling a budget that’s strained to breaking point by the impact of the battle against terrorism, and the cost of arms purchases.

You can’t shoot or shout at those problems, Eran, so don’t even think about it — you couldn’t have ended the battle against terrorism with your incredible carping skills.

Former Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe during a recent public interview said that the Covid related economic crisis is the issue of this election. He said Covid has had a devastating impact on leadership, and cited the faltering economies of the US and the UK to imply that President Trump and Boris Johnson, UK’s Prime Minister, have had their political fortunes affected negatively by the pandemic. Covid decides on leadership viability these days, he said.

He’s right. Where the pandemic has caterwauled out of control, leaderships are threatened and Johnson’s premiership fortunes — never mind Trump’s — is a classic example of that.

It appears that Johnson may never recover from the havoc wreaked by the virus and the impact that has had on his job at the top. Trump is feeling the brunt of it too, with the presidential election just months away.

The mistake Ranil Wickremesinghe made was in some way trying to tie up this Government’s fate with that lot. Covid destroys, and Covid builds, and while Johnson is seen as hapless, Jacinda Arden is seen as a super-heroine, and that’s due to the Covid response as well.

The Opposition’s Covid relief promises don’t seem to be a match for the real relief given by the SLPP Government. People were given relief and not half measures such as compensation withheld in the cases of the Salawa incident and the Easter Sunday massacres during the previous regime. The Government’s debt relief was also backed up with the real extension of facilities such as essentially free water and electricity during the lockdown.

Will the sums incurred for free utilities be recovered fully? Probably not, which means that the people are cognizant of some real steps that were taken to grant relief.

Direct cash infusions are being offered by the UNP and the Samagi Jana Balawegaya.

But these look disingenuous when compared to what has already been granted as a raft of relief by the Covid fighting regime : debt relief for three wheel owners, small business debt relief, relief on payment of utilities, etc, as mentioned above.

Getting the wrong end of the stick about stepping up local production has cast the UNP and SJB as comprador capitalist through and through, and whining against import substitution at this time is nothing short of a joke. They have been talking of Sirimavo era style restrictions and raising various shortage-bogeys, but the import substitution is for local produce that needs to be given a shot in the arm.

What’s wrong with spurring growth of local onion production for instance? The only answer that can be given is that Premadasa never understood the economy.

These people are not profree-market, they are so much in troth to the ‘international community’ that they think import substitution has something to do with isolationism, and cloistering ourselves from the rest of the world.

Delusional, to say the least. Eran Wickremaratne’s take on the exclusion from the EU travel list is in the same vein. His conclusion panders to the EU stating that it’s somehow our government’s fault and the government is not being believed. But the EU works on its own preferences and prejudices and that has nothing to do with us.

So the EU prefers the richer countries with kindred white dominated governments such as New Zealand, and is not naturally prone to extending various facilities to a South Asian country such as ours. Ranil Wickremesinghe or Navin Dissanayake themselves couldn’t have done anything about that.

Besides, why the abject attitude? He should have asked when we should allow tourists from the EU to travel to Sri Lanka, considering that most of the EU countries have a much worse Covid record than us. But he has to assume always that we Asian countries are wretched, and exist at the mercy of the EU’s decisions, etc.

All of these positions taken by the opposition parties’ aspirants has the net effect of not changing anything from the last outing.

The parties are seen as they were during the November Presidential election — the SJB the then UNP was seen as the party that had no anchor, whose policies were ad hoc, and whose leadership was rudderless. It’s still the same force, and not a jot seems to have changed.


Those being the basic contours for this election, the opposition parties can only hope for an upset. But that’s not likely, because they have essentially precluded one by framing the battle as being between them and their former masters in the UNP.

They deny that, but even their positions against the SLPP are being calibrated on that basis. In this way they have not emerged from Ranil’s shadow. Ditto the UNP which is shadow-boxing with its self doubting dissident opponent. It’s not the likely scenario from which any heroics will emerge.