How stable is ‘stable’? | Sunday Observer

How stable is ‘stable’?

30 July, 2022

Political stability has many colourations. As a country we need political stability to get the IMF bailout and so on. but this stability seems to elude us.

Who or what is responsible for this state of affairs? The insecurity is due to the insecurity endangered by pressure groups and insurgents we are told. But there are others that could contribute to the cycle of destabilisation.

There is a moral dimension to the issue and we are constantly asked to forget that moral dimension and look at practicalities. But the practical approach is to look at the moral dimension — because sans the moral dimension there is very little hope for stable Government.

What’s disturbing is that there is hardly any parallel to this situation anywhere in the world. There were calls for stability in Thailand or Myanmar for instance, and Hong Kong but none of these countries were hoping for an IMF bailout at the time the unrest was happening.

If absolute calm is called for before the IMF grants a bailout that would be precedent setting. Is this practical? There would always be the possibility of peripheral political unrest, but the fact is that there has always been an administration in place in this country.

Democracy though flawed is still alive and kicking here. If that is the case there should be no hesitation on the part of the International lending agencies to make sure that the bailout happens. But it seems that it has almost become ritualistic now.


Absolute calm is being sought before the people of this country get a bailout? There should be the realisation that the economic meltdown went naturally together with political tumult. It is bound to happen anywhere there is this level of economic disturbance. There can be no sudden descent into economic chaos and no expectation that democracies would come out of that experience absolutely unscathed.

But it’s the core democratic credentials that should matter. Sri Lanka has maintained its core democratic structure and so there should not be the added caveat that there should be a total resolution of the political conflicts before the country is afforded a bailout.

At least in technical terms there has never been a hiccup between administrations. The Central Bank Governor is unchanged even though there was one replacement since the meltdown began. There have been transitions of Finance Ministers but the bureaucracy has been in place, and between administrations no regime has given the indication that the IMF program would be discontinued.

Sri Lanka cannot, however, be condemned to a no-win situation. The new administration is also being tested by certain sections of society that are not happy with the outcome of the appointment of the President by Parliament. This situation has led to a different type of contestation between State and various dissenting forces. But that situation is also a manifestation of democracy and democratic praxis at work.

People may say the Government is or isn’t democratic. They may be right and they may be wrong in that assessment. But the core democratic apparatus is in place and isn’t that enough for the lending agencies to consider giving Sri Lanka the bailout that is necessary to come out of the debilitating economic crisis?

If observers of events in Sri Lanka would suspect that there is something that’s wrong with what is happening with regard to the country — they would think that there are some actors that are working to a plan. If the fuel crisis never gets solved for instance in this country, does it mean that such a situation is engineered with the expectation of bringing about some collateral political change?


People cannot be blamed for thinking in terms of such ‘conspiracies.’ On the other hand there could be unrest within the country and that’s a democratic right, the right to peaceful dissent. Violence is another matter and the State apparatus would naturally respond to violence in the same coin. The military would be deployed to combat violence.

However, if the dissent is peaceful, it cannot be forgotten that the international community encourages that. Peaceful dissent is always seen in the civilised world as a right. If that is so can this peaceful dissent be made a reason for withholding a bailout for the country?

Naturally that would be seen as something that’s odd, to put it mildly. It is another matter that internally there may be forces, that are engaged in violent or maybe peaceful protests, that see an IMF bailout as disruptive. They would hope that there is no such bailout because that would bring things to a head and ‘expose’ those in power, they hope.

That may not be right, this surmise, but it is their political right to espouse such a nihilistic line if you will. Such dissent could lead to heated disagreement and the political climate may look anything but stable in such circumstances.

But there cannot be any reasonable explanation that the political climate in a country that has experienced an economic meltdown of the sort we are going through, would settle in a hurry. So if the international community is going about the task of setting benchmarks, it is important that all the various actors realise that political instability in various forms would be manifest in this country when the economy has not recovered without a bailout.

Any regime for its part would try to bring the situation under control and most leaders would think that their political legitimacy would depend on how much they can maintain ‘law and order’ in its basic sense. But if a State is crushing dissent that would also raise cries of ‘instability’ but the regime that wants to get things under control would claim that military control is necessary just so that the necessary stability is made a reality.

On the flip side, this is what happens when there is so much insistence on stability. A regime can lay so much of a premium on stability that at the end of the day things worse than an economic calamity can happen to its citizens. Dissenters may face more State unleashed force, and the State would be able to say we are doing exactly what the lending agencies want, creating the ‘stability’ that they want as a precondition for a bailout.

Such a situation would be bizarre, needless to say. In this context, it should be underlined that both national and international players are working towards the welfare of the people of this country. Such welfare cannot obvious be dependent on conditions of so called absolute ‘stability’ because that may never materialise as economic malaise and civil unrest go hand in hand.


Who knows what the ultimate denouement of the Sri Lankan political crisis may be in 2022-23? Nobody can say with any degree of certainty that there may be further upheaval or not. The Government promises that stability would be ensured and would vouch for the fact that any means justify the establishment of political continuity and general good governance.

There may be many dissenting parties that would contest that position with a vehemence. Even as this is being written, there are several dissenting parties that are threatening to disrupt the social fabric, but barring violence it is the international community that always asserts their right to do so.

Therefore, it would be odd to penalise a country if stability — or some State of play leading from an ideal notion of it — is not forthcoming. Certain minimum conditions should suffice. There is a Central Bank bureaucratic apparatus in place, though there has been a great deal of upheaval in governance i.e. the fundamental democratic character of the State has not changed.

That should suffice, because if Sri Lanka is a test case, it’s assured things are not going to be any better in any other country that is going through the levels of economic tumult that we are going through. Let the politics of this country be whatever they may be — but in terms of their basic needs, the Sri Lankan people deserve a breather.