Choosing poison



Thursday 31st August, 2023

Neither the government nor the Opposition seems keen to knuckle down and help rebuild the economy. Both of them are wallowing in divisive politics and devising ways and means of shoring up their stock. This, they are doing while feigning willingness to cooperate for the sake of the public. They have already embarked on their presidential election campaigns for all practical purposes.

Not all countries are blessed with statespersons. Politicians, across the globe, turn crises into opportunities and capitalise on anything. They even gain political mileage from posing for mugshots in jails or being handcuffed and bussed to courts and prisons.

Former US President Donald Trump has monetised his infamous Georgia prison mugshot. Currently on bail, he has reportedly raised about eight million dollars so far by way of proceeds from the sale of T-shirts, caps, etc., carrying his prison mugshot. He is doing so with an eye to the next presidential election; he is trying to secure a non-consecutive second term like President Grover Cleveland. Whether he will succeed in his endeavour remains to be seen.

Not to be outdone, the ruling party leaders in Sri Lanka, some of whom in fact deserve to be made to pose for prisoner mugshots for their economic crimes and other such offences, are making the most of the country’s bankruptcy. They are trying to consolidate their hold on power not by rebuilding the economy and securing a fresh popular mandate but by leveraging the current economic crisis to postpone elections. While wasting public resources, they have the chutzpah to claim that no money can be allocated for the Election Commission as state expenditure on meeting the people’s basic needs has to be prioritised over funds for elections. The Opposition has abandoned its campaign to crank up pressure on the government to hold the much-delayed local government polls; instead, it is now talking about the next presidential election, which is about one year away, according to the Constitution!

The SLPP-UNP combine has succeeded in shifting its opponents’ focus from the local government polls to the next presidential election. The SJB has said its leader Sajith Premadasa will be its presidential candidate; the JVP has declared that its leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake will run for president again. There will be some more self-proclaimed messiahs in the presidential fray. The SLPP is in a dilemma with a section of its parliamentary group rooting for President Ranil Wickremesinghe and others insisting that a member of the Rajapaksa family be made the party’s next presidential candidate. The SLPP dissidents are all at sea; they are trying to hitch their wagon to others in the Opposition, and are having talks with the SJB and the JVP for that purpose. They are likely to end up being a group of political hitchhikers.

JVP leader Dissanayake has claimed that there are only two political camps in the country—those who support his presidential candidacy and others who don’t. Only the JVP and its allies are clean, honest, and capable, he has said, condemning the others as an alliance of the corrupt responsible for ruining the country. But the JVP has earned notoriety for its political promiscuity, so to speak. It has honeymooned with all the parties it blames for the current economic mess. It has backed the SLFP. It even contested the 2004 general election as a constituent of the SLFP-led UPFA coalition and had representation in President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s Cabinet. It backed Mahinda Rajapaksa to the hilt in the 2005 presidential race, and ensured his election. It threw its weight behind the Yahapalana government, and propped up the UNP administration after the UPFA’s pull-out in 2018.

One may agree that there are two dominant political camps in this country at present, but they are like Tweedledum and Tweedledee and full of showboaters. The people will have to choose their poison, come the next election. There’s the rub. One can only hope for the emergence of a new political force that will live up to the people’s expectations. Hope is said to spring eternal.


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