Swim together or sink separately

Sunday Times Editorial

A New Year in the Gregorian calendar has dawned. For the Chinese it is the Year of the Rooster. 2016 was the Year of the Monkey; the monkey being regarded as a clever animal. There is also an old Chinese saying; “May you live in interesting times”, the origin of which however has negative connotations – of turbulent times. How 2017 will unfold is anyone’s guess.

In our first editorial of last year, we referred to the cacophony of voices in the then new Government. “Earlier, we had authoritarian rule, a Master Chef, so to say; now we have too many cooks”, we said. The carry forward from 2016 does not bode good tidings. We asked for decisive decision-making after the 2015 ‘trial run’. A look at the horizon (not astrologically, but politically) predicts a shaky coalition in the name of the Government of National Unity with sharp differences on how to manage the country; a new Constitution in the making that has already created waves, not just ripples; a third political force waiting for what it sees is rising mass disaffection with the Government and a possible break-up of the marriage of convenience; a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council hanging perilously; the Indian poaching issue unresolved; a shortage of the staple diet of Sri Lankans, rice; and if all that is not bad enough, the possibility of an impending drought that will hit farmer and country alike.

The Government was only too happy to announce that the 2017 Budget was passed last month by a majority of two-thirds in Parliament. That is a mirage of the ground reality. This Government is walking on quicksand and the outside world can see the political instability that prevails.

A three-cornered battle is taking place in the ring. The SLFP is split down the middle and the incumbent President continues his uphill task of securing the party membership to accept his leadership. The National Unity coalition is clearly divided on important issues and one need not be a seer to foretell that these divisions will intensify in 2017. Only the instinct of self-preservation will keep this Government together and afloat. They know they must swim together, or sink separately.

The Local Government and Provincial Council elections cannot be postponed much longer without the Government turning representative democracy on its head. The results are the worrying factor for the ruling parties, especially the President-led SLFP. In a recent interview with a foreign newspaper, the Prime Minister said he believed 2017 would see a turn-around of the economy and fortunes, for both the country and the Government. His proposals are, however, getting regularly shot down by his coalition partner, the latest being the Development (Special Provisions) Bill.

The Cartoon is from ST’s Political Column

Political maneouvering between the divided SLFP and within the divided Government will be the order of the day in 2017. The UNP has begun to hit back at the SLFP which carried out a not-so-subtle campaign criticising the UNP initiatives in Government. Now, UNP MPs are being selectively unleashed in a tit-for-tat initiative to counter the SLFP ministers lashing out at the UNP. This week two of them hammered the President’s own brother for heading a ‘rice mafia’ and accused some of working hand-in-glove with the SLFP Opposition to defeat the Government and install an SLFP Administration. All this disunity will be at the expense of national development. Foreign investors will look askance at Sri Lanka. As a substitute, Hambantota port has been earmarked for China and Trincomalee harbour and Palali airport for India. How all this pans out for the ordinary people – who will have to sit tight in the meantime, hoping for the best will be testing times for the nation.

The 2017 challenges facing the world

While Sri Lanka welcomes 2017 with a degree of uncertainty, the world seems to do so with even greater trepidation.

The advent of a maverick business tycoon to the Presidency of the United States of America is being watched with bated breath throughout the world. European and Chinese leaders have already voiced concern and made adverse comments about the assumption of Donald Trump to the post of President of USA later this month, while Russia has welcomed him with cautious optimism.

This week’s US Government decision to expel Russian diplomats on allegations that Moscow interfered with the US electoral process, and last week’s US Government decision not to vote for a non-binding UN resolution condemning Israel on its controversial settlements policy have boxed the incoming President into a compromising position.

Many expect that some of the outrageous things Trump said on the campaign trail will be left behind as platform rhetoric – none more dangerous than his comment that the issue of global warming and climate change is a “hoax”.

The Paris Climate Agreement of 2015 which came into force last year where 195 countries promised to limit global warming is now at risk if one of the world’s biggest contributors to climate change pulls out of the Agreement, or does not abide by it. Among the most vulnerable are small island-nations. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has launched a campaign to ‘Help Save the Fridge’; a reference to the melting ice in the Arctic that is swelling sea levels and asking Governments, companies and citizens around the world to make the right choices about energy conservation and use.

Sri Lankans would have also experienced a warmer December than before with warm afternoons and cooling off only at night. According to the Met Department, the average Colombo mean temperature in December 2011 was 27.0 degrees Celsius and just four years later, i.e. in December 2015 it was 27.9 degrees Celsius – almost one full degree Celsius higher in such a short span. Last month’s (December 2016) average temperature will only be available today from the Met Dept.

While this thrust towards doing something to arrest global warming is gathering momentum, now comes a new US President who pooh-poohs the entire exercise seeing things perhaps purely from a profit-oriented businessman’s perspective.

If climate change is a threat to the planet as a whole in the not-too-distant future, the immediate dangers to world peace, and peoples living on the edge comes from the wars, a refugee crisis on par with what happened during World War II, human trafficking, xenophobia, nuclear fallouts and what not — the 2016 issues that will be entered into the 2017 ledger.

All is not gloom and doom though. Despite the news that grabs the headlines more often than not, vast progress has also been made, outside of the politics of the day, especially in the alleviation of poverty. So much so, private philanthropists like Bill Gates are optimistic that poverty as is known today can be abolished in his lifetime. Recent statistics on the eradication of disease, hunger and ignorance are positive.

Ordinary people – and not the politicians, are dictating terms nowadays around the world and setting the agendas for themselves. Whether the world flourishes or flounders remains to be seen.

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