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Coming out of the crisis – Geopolitics and IMF – Part I

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Politics of #GotaGoHome protests and arrival of IMF

Present economic chaos is neither “pandemic” made nor “Gota” made crisis per se. It was in the making with the free market economy for decades, was accelerated on top gear during the second presidential tenure of Mahinda Rajapaksa and continued with less noise through “yahapalanaya” of PM Wickramasinghe. The heavily corrupt and looted economy by then got stuck with the Covid-19 pandemic and was shattered into smithereens under President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, handled by a set of loony amateurs.

Initial collapse of the economy was spoken of in the agricultural sector with the total ban on chemical fertiliser and agri-inputs in end April 2021. By December 2021 there was growing resentment in the urban middleclass over quality of LP gas and its shortage with power cuts and fuel shortages bringing the forex crisis into the open in early January 2022. Towards mid-February, with urban middleclass life going haywire, Gota government was challenged by them at popular city locations. That led to the new middleclass protest culture at Galle face as the #GotaGoHome youth protest in first week of April with heavy campaigning on social media.   

Youth groups that originally flagged the #GotaGoHome protest have now basically settled with unforeseen, unexpected double entry of Wickramasinghe as Executive President, heading a seemingly non-Rajapaksa government. #GotaGoHome campaigners have also gone silent on their initial public calls to reject the 225 Member parliament as corrupt. Recent appointments of 37 State Ministers have also left out 03 of the 04 Rajapaksas in parliament. With a few days pause on “power cuts” followed by a 01 hour plus tolerable cut with fuel queues out of sight, the urban middleclass has gradually gone back to their usual lifestyle, though with some uncertainty.

Political groups in the fringe who picked up on the protests from Galle face green took them out onto the streets as violent street fights inviting heavy repression from Wickramasinghe rule. Their call against arrests of “peaceful protesters” are being isolated from society, with the urban middleclass focussed more on “social stability necessary” and the would-be outcome of the “IMF bailout”. The repression meanwhile continues using the dreadful Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) with President Wickramasinghe least concerned about UNHRC Sessions, their Reports and Resolutions over 12 years old and with nothing conclusive. They don’t play adversely anymore on Wickramasinghe in Sri Lankan politics.

Geo-politics of “regime change”

Wickramasinghe first brought in as PM on 12 May with the ouster of PM Rajapaksa, immediately lifted the submerged economic crisis out from its political pit, in very concrete terms. He was obviously expected to lift the economic crisis into the major platform of social concern to revive the shattered open market economy. With a very bleak picture painted on the immediate future of the country he assured, “our friendly nations will come to assist us, but that would take a few months”. The implied message was his presence is what brings in aid from “friendly nations” and he is indispensable. 

This novel “regime change” now firmly established with Wickramasinghe as Executive President. leaves covert geo-political manoeuvrings more conspicuous for political beavers to tunnel through. It’s seriously unthinkable how Sinhala-Buddhist South with its very backward culture, would have coined a slogan in English as #GotaGoHome. History of protests in Sinhala South have never known any slogan or demand coined in English. The slogan “Go Home” is quite common in English-speaking Western bloc, that Wickramasinghe calls “our friendly nations”. Obviously, it was planted in social media through few FB savvy youth. The campaign was being planned elsewhere with youth given a new “peaceful” flavour in protests calling for a “regime change” they did not know. They were not even aware despite their #GotaGoHome campaign, President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was not the real target. The regime change planned was a “personality change” with PM Mahinda Rajapaksa sent home to install Wickramasinghe as PM.

Wickramasinghe’s ascend was seen by the urban middleclass as positive. Their distancing from Galle face thereafter led to leadership conflicts with numerous youth groups claiming sole ownership for the franchise of #GotaGoHome campaign and protest that was fast declining.

When parliament met on 17 May after a long adjournment the TNA Jaffna District MP Sumanthiran presenting his No Confidence Motion (NCM) against President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in parliament, divulged a totally unknown connection between Wickramasinghe and the #GotaGoHome protest. He said Wickramasinghe vetted the NCM draft on 26 April and sent it to Galle face campaign organisers to obtain their approval before giving his consent to support the NCM. Sumanthiran for sure would not have let that cat out of the bag, had Wickramasinghe stayed with his previous promise to support the NCM in parliament.

That revealed links between Galle face protest, a politically scheming Wickramasinghe and the regime change the US had always wanted with them counting shots in a free market economy. US Ambassadress in Colombo Ms. Julie Chung was seen hurrying to protest against oppressive security intervention at Galle face on 09 May afternoon but had no interest in condemning attacks on public and private property and private residences of government politicians the following day. It took Ambassadress Chung hardly one hour to wish PM Wickramasinghe in a tweet after he was sworn in as PM promising the US would support Sri Lanka with IMF negotiations. PM Wickramasinghe’s decision to work along with IMF, was decided in Washington DC, before Colombo.

Next morning, first to meet PM Wickramasinghe were the Indian High Commissioner and the Ambassador for Japan in Colombo, two of the 04 “Quadrilateral Security Dialogue” (QSD) partners, others being the US and the Aussies. The US and India have always been overly concerned about China in Bay of Bengal and in Indo Pacific region that leave Sri Lanka as everyone’s pet pawn.

Then came the historic event of US Ambassadress Chung meeting with JVP leaders Anura Kumara and Vijitha Herath on 14 May at their party headquarters. While the JVP still pretends indifferent to that crucially timed surprising meet, Ambassadress Chung tweeted the same evening, “I continue to meet with a wide range of political representatives to encourage the Sri Lankan government’s efforts to move toward sustainable, inclusive solutions to the economic crisis,”. She had begun her campaign with no loss of time to ensure Wickramasinghe will not be adversely pressured by Opposition political parties.

Meanwhile new protests began with the Sinhala generic “aragalaya” by the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) with ferocious outbursts using their politically monopolised Inter University Student Federation (IUSF), their party cadres and affiliates in semi-rural society brought to the streets against President Gotabhaya. This compelled the JVP to keep abreast of the vociferous FSP protests to satisfy their now mellowed party fans. Thus, forcing President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to vacate his official residence and subsequently the presidency. That in turn gave Wickramasinghe the executive presidential power he was always denied through elections.

US has always been an important political ally for all who wanted the Rajapaksa regime ousted. One should also keep in mind it was the US and its Western lobby that created and funded the anti-Rajapaksa campaign on HR violations with elite Colombo based non-governmental organisations till 2015 January ouster of Rajapaksa government. These HR campaigners were shuttling between Geneva and Colombo twice every year till 2015, though not seen or heard now

Can Wickramasinghe sustain himself?

There is in Colombo middleclass society, more within the traditional and especially the globally exposed bi-lingual urbans, a subconscious feeling Wickramasinghe would be the leader who could muster international support to get Sri Lanka on its feet once again. For most Sri Lankans “International Community” is nothing but the Western power bloc. Within the traditional business community too there are corporate heads who prefer Wickramasinghe to most others. Their need to have a Western looking liberal leader, make them ignore the fact he miserably failed twice before. His reputation as an efficient and an effective political manager was proved a “tailored image” with faulty measurements that went beyond his capabilities. During his second tenure from 2015 January, he also failed to prove he is “Mr. Clean” as projected in urban middleclass circles.

Brought to replace the two top Rajapaksas in power and to work in tandem with the IMF, he is deep in a political crisis, while being tasked with the major responsibility of getting the dismantled economy put together. Interlocked, the two crises also provide him space though uncomfortable, for a political move or two. He has to ensure the SLPP parliamentary group stays with him, loyal or not. He also has to show the world he is in control of State agencies, including police and the defence forces. And then develop trust in urban society and in the private business community, he can negotiate an IMF bailout to revive the local economy. In short, he has to show the local and the international community, he is “not Gotabhaya”.

His initial effort was to keep the SLPP group pacified with a “Rajapaksa loyalist” (a Royalist too) appointed as Prime Minister with a small group of 18 more as cabinet ministers, to also impress People he is not wasting public funds on a jumbo cabinet. His attempt to please the People had to be abandoned to please SLPP and SLFP MPs in government. He has to make sure of a stable majority in parliament to push through bills and enactments as required by IMF conditions. He was thus compelled to compromise with the SLPP majority and some in the SLFP to provide 37 more positions as State Ministers.      

Rest is now history with numerous interpretations about the #GotaGoHome Galle face protest, Wickramasinghe’s entry and the “aragalaya” thereafter. Now its IMF and Wickramasinghe who are in control of reviving the SL economy on their own terms. But what of the IMF bailout package itself with conditions not clearly spelt out? Will they lead to a new round of social protests outside everything that was mapped for Galle face? With just 01 vote in parliament and compelled to depend on SLPP vote bloc can Wickramasinghe hang on to the next 02 remaining years in power? IMF bailout package in a way would be the deciding factor of his stay.

– Kusal Perera

21 September 2022

(kusalperera.blogspot.com)

Part II is to follow…

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Why elections for Presidency all political parties have promised to abolish?

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President Ranil Wickremesinghe is reported to have told the cabinet of ministers, priority has to be given to the IMF program to ensure economic stability and elections will have to be postponed till the IMF program is concluded. One newspaper report had it, the President had in fact informed the Election Commission too about postponing elections.

Postponing elections being a far cry, there is now a new debate mainly in Colombo circles, whether Basil’s request for a parliamentary election should precede the constitutionally scheduled Presidential election, or not. President Wickremesinghe is said to have told Basil then, it would be the Presidential election that would be held according to Constitutional provisions, but, if MPs need a parliamentary election sooner, they should have a resolution adopted in Parliament to that effect. This only needs a simple majority. With Mahinda Rajapaksa also endorsing the proposal for a parliamentary election first, Basil no doubt has the political clout to get the SLPP to move a motion in Parliament for a parliamentary election and have it passed. Yet they know, with no presidential candidate of their own, their future electoral politics will be a compromise with Wickremesinghe and they have to maintain space for a consensual path.

The main Opposition in Parliament, the SJB, has no intention in supporting Basil’s proposal for a parliamentary election before the presidential election, they have said. They are clear they want the Presidential election first. The JVP/NPP leadership is seriously in for a Presidential election. They are campaigning for the Presidential election with Anura Kumara as the candidate whom they believe has already won the election. All in all, Colombo seem to want a Presidential election for a “complete change” carrying the same rhetoric the “aragalaya” left as political chaos.

Sri Lanka does need a “change”
Fact remains, Sri Lanka does need a “change”. Not just a “complete change” but a huge change with a wholly new Constitution including the overhaul of the entire State apparatus and politics of governance right down to Local Government bodies. That change is not possible with an election for the Executive Presidency. That needs a new parliament, the legislative body for legislating the total change the people need. A change that begins with the abolition of the “Executive” Presidency, and transferring “executive power” back to Parliament.

Abolition of the “Executive” Presidency is a promise, a pledge given to people by all political parties at different elections during the past 30 years. It was the JVP that first demanded the abolition of the executive presidency at the October Presidential elections in 1994. After a bloody ruthless insurgency that was wiped out with equal brutality by State forces in late 1989, scattered remnants of the JVP regrouped and came to open politics at the 1994 August parliamentary elections contesting all districts except Jaffna, Vanni and Batticaloa in collaboration with Ariya Bulegoda’s Sri Lanka People’s Front (SLPF). They polled a mere 01.1 percent though the new leadership it was said, expected a total poll of 5% plus in few districts to be above the cut-off mark. JVP had only Nihal Galappaththi elected as their MP from Hambantota district, who was nominated as their presidential candidate at the 1994 October Presidential election.

After the parliamentary elections they realised, they would not poll even the 01.1% at a presidential election and thus made a compromise with the People’s Alliance (PA) presidential candidate Chandrika Kumaratunge (CBK) who was tipped to win the Presidential election. Negotiated through Minister Mangala Samaraweera, a very close personal ally of CBK, the JVP request of abolishing the Executive Presidency within six months from swearing in as president was conceded in writing and the JVP withdrew their candidate in support of CBK.  

Interestingly, then “The Hindu” correspondent in Colombo met former President Jayewardene, the architect of the Executive Presidency and asked him “Sir, you said this executive presidency is so powerful, it cannot only change the gender. PA candidate Chandrika has promised to abolish it. What have you to say on that?” After his usual haughty laugh, Jayewardene had told him “Meet me after it is abolished. I will then tell you”.

No political leader would abolish such power

Jayewardene was certain no political leader would abolish such power in presidency with legal immunity, they are eager to sit with. Since 1994 October, in almost all elections political leaders tried to outmanoeuvre each other by promising total abolition, immediate abolition and even using the election to have the mandate to abolish the executive presidency calling it the sole reason for all evils in the country including mega corruption. We thus had all political parties that usually gain representation in Parliament agreeing to abolish the dangerously authoritative presidency, but none serious about it once elected. The JVP backed presidential candidates from Mahinda Rajapaksa in November 2005 to Maithripala Sirisena in January 2015, guaranteed the presidency would be abolished as the first most important task when elected. It was in fact the JVP who were vociferous about abolishing the presidency in those election campaigns.

What is politically a clear fraud now with JVP is, driving a heavily funded campaign to have their JVP/NPP candidate Anura Kumara Dissanayake (AKD) elected to that same ruthlessly dictatorial executive presidency they condemned and wanted abolished over the past 30 years as the sole reason for mega corruption. They now remain stony silent on abolishing of the presidency. What is more disgracefully hollow is the political narrative they ride on, claiming they would “use the power the People would vest with them in electing AKD as president to create a society with dignity and equality to all”.

Sri Lanka is certainly at crossroads

Sri Lanka is certainly at crossroads and helplessly so. None in mainstream politics would lead this country on a right path to freedom, democracy and an inclusive society with socio-economic and cultural development. These political leaderships simply have no valid “development program” to back their criticism of the past and the present and their request for political power at the next “presidential” election. A larger crisis therefore is the timidity of the educated urban polity that has access to new information, new knowledge and new social discourses beyond geographical boundaries. They need to accept they have a social responsibility in intervening to create a realistic valid social dialogue and to pressure Governments to stay course. Almost a total lack of their independent intervention in social dialogue has allowed political parties with their own sectarian agendas, possibly with laundered black money to manipulate media, especially social media to dominate social thinking in urban circles. What this country immediately needs therefore is an alternative, realistic intervention in deciding how a new and an effective change could be achieved. First it is about creating a social lobby that would independently engage and address the people. Next is about establishing a Government that would be held responsible for the change needed. Thereafter it is about holding that Government responsible for the change and in implementing reforms necessary at every step of the way, without going into the usual selfish life and waking up yet again when elections are called for.

It is therefore not about electing a president once again to the post that had been condemned, had been socially accepted as dictatorial and therefore promised to be abolished, transferring executive power back to Parliament. It is not the president who could abolish the presidency. It is not the president who could legislate reforms necessary. It is not the president who could allocate public funds for social necessities. All that needs a government in parliament with an active social lobby to hold the elected government responsible to the people. Thus, we at crossroads need a new political phenomenon with people deciding on elections, the next Government and most importantly holding that Government responsible in delivery, with the more advantaged urban polity leading the way. Well, they have to accept their social responsibility is far heavier than what they would like to accept. 

– Kusal Perera

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2024 Boao Forum: Accelerating net-zero transition in Asia

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The Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference is held in Qionghai, China's Hainan Province, March 26, 2024. /CFP

The Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) Annual Conference is being held in Boao, China’s southern province of Hainan from March 26 to 29. Its focus will be “Asia and the World: Common Challenges, Shared Responsibilities.” BFA Secretary General Li Baodong said this year’s BFA Annual Forum will focus on how the international community can work together to address challenges in the areas of four major topics: the global economy, social development, international cooperation and scientific and technological innovation.

National leaders, governmental officials, heads of international organizations, businesspeople, experts in various fields and the press will be invited from at least the 29 member countries of the BFA, which consists of most Asian countries.  

The first BFA meeting was held in Boao in February 2001. Now, it is a unique opportunity for Asian countries to review and discuss common problems and develop common action plans and policies.

On March 18, a launching ceremony was held in Boao for the “Boao Nearly Zero Carbon Demonstration Zone” by the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development and the Hainan provincial government. 

The project aims to showcase China’s green and low-carbon technologies and practices to the world in a demonstration zone focusing on “almost zero” emissions technologies, such as photovoltaics, wind energy collectors, energy storage systems, and an organic waste treatment project.

Located within this demonstration zone are the renovated BFA International Conference Center, a press center and a hotel all of which showcase low-carbon energy technologies. These renovations and demonstrations at the BFA conference facilities should establish the context for many of the sessions in this year’s BFA Forum. They should also set a shining example of the potential innovative technologies for a low-carbon world.

This year’s preliminary conference agenda for the four days of meetings includes numerous general discussions concerning the common issues and current trends facing the BFA member countries. In terms of the net-zero transformation of Asia’s energy systems towards zero-carbon power, there are also a number of sessions.  

According to the International Energy Agency’s forecast, Asia will consume half of the world’s electricity by 2025, and as early as 2021, Asia’s carbon emissions accounted for half of the global emissions. Thus, Asia plays a key role in the transition to a low-carbon world. These BFA sessions will examine these potential transformations in Asia to grow the economy while at the same time reducing carbon emissions.

The transformation of low-carbon technologies will be highlighted in a number of  technology innovation sessions, including “Accelerating Transition towards Zero-Carbon Power” on March 26, “Sustainability Disclosure, the New Normal” on March 27, “Green Development: Inspiring a Shared Future for Urban and Rural Communities” on March 28, and so on.

Clearly, the innovative energy transformation will be a significant part of the BFA final press conference, any resulting recommendations and actions, and any resulting reports. Accelerating the net-zero transformation of Asia’s power system is of great significance to the global response to climate change and the realization of green development worldwide.

BFA will help lead national governments, intergovernmental organizations as well as the private sector in Asia as they work together to promote the energy revolution and strengthen cooperation in all aspects of this very important transformation.  

  • – Robert B. Weisenmiller
  • (news.cgtn.com)
  • Robert B. Weisenmiller, a special commentator on current affairs for CGTN, is a research affiliate at the California-China Climate Institute, University of California, Berkeley, and a former chair of the California Energy Commission. The article reflects the author’s opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN

(This story, originally published by CGTN has not been edited by SLM staff)

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Backlash builds against Sri Lanka’s $3 Billion clean energy push 

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Utility scale wind, solar and battery projects draw CEB’s ire as they march to take away their vested interests.

The government has ignited a green energy investment spree that’s expected to reach as high as $ 3 billion over the next 3 years. The road to bringing this money in the economy, though, is increasingly hitting speed bumps from the likes of the so called ‘mafia’ CEB officials. 

Country’s ambitious vision aims to make the nation’s electric grid greener with 70% of the electricity demand to be met through renewable energy by 2030. 

Companies have already announced plans for committing $25 billion investment up to 2030 in the renewable energy sector in the Country, according to the Board of Investment. 

With potential Private investments over the next 3-4 years through FDI could include $3 billion in utility scale wind, solar and battery storage projects – Sun Power leading with $1.5 billion, followed by Adani Green with $900 million, by Orbital energy with $200 million, by WindForce PLC with $150 million and balance by a consortium of private developers. However, the opposition to projects has mounted for myriad reasons. 

Increasingly, the few so called ‘mafia’ CEB officials, who have strangled the Country’s power sector by delaying the approval process, seems to be more concerned that the rapidly expanding utility scale size of wind, solar and battery projects will irreparably alter their powers and thus their vested interests in earning a share out of the pie. 

Despite this backlash, many projects will eventually get built, say developers and analysts, but they could take longer and cost more than expected. 

At the government level, there is ample support for speeding up the implementation of the projects, but its only CEB who is pushing back on their own self-motivated agenda, not know at large.

– Harendra Kuruppu

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