Daily News Editorial
State Minister of Finance Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena boldly declared the other day that they of the SLFP will not allow the UNP to have its own way in the government and that SLFP policies too would be implemented through the Unity Government. Pray, what are these SLFP policies the State Minister is talking about, a section of the public who have lived under SLFP governments of the past will be inclined to ask? Is the State Minister talking about the SLFP policies adopted between 1970 and 77?
Is Abeywardena in favour of nationalisation of every business venture that caught the eye of the government on the scale that was seen under the 60-65 SLFP administration led by Madam Bandaranaike? Or does he want to go back to those dark days when people were forced to stand in long queues for a loaf bread and where even dress fabric reeking of kerosene oil was rationed? Can he recall the days when a prospective bridegroom was compelled to obtain a letter from the grama sevaka in his area in order to purchase material for his wedding kit. (This blogger did go through this episode in 1974; yet, he supported SLFP for the only reason that the then government of Mrs B gave pride of place for local industries. It was the period hand-loom industry was thriving in the Eastern Province, especially Maruthamunai and the blogger’s home town Kattankudy). Or is he in favour of once again making it mandatory for people to eat rice only two days a week and for the placing of barriers to detect rice, above the stipulated quota, being transported? Is Abeywardena still yearning for the policies of the SLFP which placed restrictions on foreign travel, the import of essential goods (The import of Mysoor dhal had been completely banned until UNP came to power in 1997 -TW) and the creation of scarcity of almost all consumer items?
Cartoon from Daily Mirror
Abeywardena who was a former UNP MP and a deputy minister in the 2001-2004 UNF government under Ranil Wickremesinghe cannot be unaware of the reason for the humiliating defeat suffered by the SLFP led United Front government in 1977, because he too as a young Turk of the UNP no doubt would have waxed eloquent on party election platforms about the rack and ruin the country was subjected to during that era marked by poverty, scarcity and want.
This is why former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga attempted the bold step of unshackling the SLFP from its traditional moorings and take the party away from its inward looking nature and convert it into a modern, forward looking entity. It was CBK who famously said at the time: “I was a good socialist and now I will become a good capitalist” a viewpoint that provoked the remark from Parliamentarian Dullas Alahapperuma that pakshaya vamata signal daala den dakunata harawanawa (the party that signaled to the left is now turning to the right).
CBK, to her credit, not only changed the outlook and policies of the party with respect to the economy and style of governance but also gave it a new face vis a vis ethic relations. The SLFP which was until then branded as a hardline nationalist party catering to the interests of only the majority Sinhala Buddhists, and thus was shunned by the minorities, was virtually given a new bapitism, so to speak, dispelling the notion hitherto attached to it as a racist, bigoted entity.
Mahinda Rajapaksa who succeeded her chose not to change course with regard to economic policies, sticking firmly to the open economy which he criticised strongly at one time, but failed to consolidate on gains achieved by CBK on the ethnic front with his strident nationlalist rhetoric for which he paid a heavy price on January 8.
Abeywardena would do well to do some soul searching on the consequences of the SLFP policies of the past, if indeed these are the policies he wants to implement in the Unity Government, and come to terms with reality. Simply put, the retrograde policies of the traditional SLFP is poles apart from that adopted by the UNP which is given to modern, innovative thinking and an internationalist outlook. Not for nothing has the UNP governments earned the honour of being the best administrators. Its policies are certainly not compatible with the inward looking, populist policies of the SLFP. Hence the SLFP policies of old is not going to take the country forward in this day and age. On the contrary, it could stifle progress and retard growth though certain sections of the population will be kept happy by sops thrown at them, and of course the rhetoric.
State Minister Abeywardena should also come to terms with the fact that the SLFP and UNP today are more or less on the same wavelength on economic policy and the need for external capital to develop the country. True, the state minister has to appease his party supporters, particularly drawn from the traditional SLFP, who still cherish the core principles of the party and will want to stay the course. But being a member of the Unity Government he should desist from placing obstacles in the implementation of prudent and sound economic policies, even though these may at times impose hardships on the public. After all, he was a member of the Grand Old Party and knows how things are done by the Greens.