In search of an alternative
Almost seven decades have passed since independence. Socio-economic problems inherited at the time of independence still remain unresolved. In fact, some have worsened. Though there is improvement in absolute terms the relative impoverishment of the bulk of the population cannot be ignored. For example, the gap between the haves and the have not’s has widened. The National Question did aggravate continuously. It resulted in a three-decade fratricidal war.
Even seven years since the end of the war a stable peace and national unity remain distant dreams. The economy is in a constant state of crisis. The country is in the tight grip of a death trap which has led to the mortgaging of the future generations too.
Throughout the post-independence era the UNP and the SLFP had ruled the country in turns. It is not an exaggeration to say that both of them had failed to fulfill popular aspirations. Whatever development that resulted from their rule, its benefits have not permeated to the grass-roots level. The rich have become richer and the poor poorer.
The situation had deteriorated to such an extent that democratic freedoms and human rights of the people got eroded to such an extent by the end of the first decade of the 21st Century that only people’s intervention in the 2015 Presidential election prevented the institution of a Constitutional dictatorship whereby crony capitalism would hold sway.
Power, which had hitherto been held by the SLFP or the UNP separately, is now shared by them both unitedly. This is the new situation. Whether this new combination would constitute an alternative to the failed system that existed prior to it depends on whether it could pursue an alternative policy of development which is basically people-friendly and fulfills the aspirations of the masses.
The performance of the Government during its first two years in office does not give the masses any confidence that it is ready to pursue an alternative path of development that is fundamentally different from what was pursued hitherto. Despite the rhetoric and loud proclamations of good intentions by the leaders the Government has displayed not only reluctance and hesitation in implementing some vital promises it made at elections but also disowned them.
For example, it is intransigently adhering to certain provisions in the new Constitution as non-negotiable and non-changeable even without considering whether there are any viable alternatives that would satisfy all communities. In the case of devolution of power, a powerful segment of the Government comprising members of both the SLFP and the UNP openly declare their intention not only refrain from going beyond the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. In fact, they also intend to truncate it.
As regards eliminating fraud and corruption the Treasury Bond scam as well as the snail’s pace at which investigations and legal proceedings against certain bigwigs of the former regime are being conducted has given rise to a justifiable suspicion in the mind of the public whether there is collusion in the higher echelons of the political and administrative hierarchy to shield the culprits. The discriminatory nature of the investigations where sprats and small fish are netted leaving out sharks and whales adds to this suspicion.
This has given rise to the now popular saying “Unuth horu, Munuth horu” (Those are rogues, these are rogues). What’s to be done?
Cartoon from internet
Obviously an alternative has to be found. The present regime finds it incapable of cutting the umbilical cord which binds it to the former regime. That is why practices and traditions of yesteryear are followed by the present regime without question.
It is necessary to be selective in the choice of foreign investments keeping the interests of the local industries as well as the welfare of the masses at heart instead of allowing the robber barons full freedom to exploit our resources.
Policies such as PPP or private public participation needs to be considered objectively in each case instead of giving blanket approval or taking it as the last resort of an economy in distress.
It is also necessary to discard dogmatic adherence to worn out theories that say market forces decide everything and the best is small government which washes its hands off business of economic enterprises.
Not only government regulation but also government ownership in certain strategic industrial and service sectors is essential for an independent development of developing countries such as ours.
It is necessary to be cautious against the imposition of the Western model of economic development recommended and often imposed by the triumvirate of global capitalism – the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation.
The inability of the present government is not due to any personal weaknesses of the leaders but due to the social nature of the class forces it represents.
What is necessary is a new alignment of social forces, one that would be more representative of the vast down-trodden masses that could take the country along an independent path of development.
The sad fact, however, is that such a force strong enough to take over power is not yet on the scene. It is only a historic necessity and a goal to be achieved.
Experience throughout the developing countries as historical experience elsewhere shows that the alternative should be Leftist in character. Unfortunately the Sri Lankan Left is only a shadow of its former strength. It is fragmented and divided on numerous grounds.
Its inability to appear as a cohesive and reliable force is rank opportunism among its traditional and even not so traditional segments in their desire to catch hold of the reins of government in haste.
Differences on the National Question contribute to this division with a considerable section flirting with communal minded forces or pleasing their sentiments.
It also prevents the unity of the urban, rural and estate workers. The fragmentation of trade unions on political party lines is also major factor for the weakness of the Left.
In order to move towards a United Left it would be necessary to forge unity first in the struggle for concrete demands to secure democracy and win people’s rights. The struggle for an alternative path of development would be unthinkable without a clear vision and programme of action which also has to be evolved in the struggle for reforms for all that pushes men into action has to pass through their minds first.