By Faraz Shauketaly
The election to Sri Lanka’s presidency of Nandasena Gothabya Rajapaksa back in November 2019 seemingly proffered many a gilded prospect. Sri Lanka had grown weary of a national crisis spanning over 30 years in the shape and form of a near civil war – with the epi centre in the country’s northern areas. By 2009 when the war was brought to a close there was a spontaneous and collective joy across the island. There began a peace in terms of personal safety and also of economic revival. The movement of people restarted and the huge state spending on infrastructure development facilitated the private sector growth too.
Aided in part by unscrupulous elements who partook in pumping and dumping of shares in the Colombo bourse, the economic revival was truly underway. The entrepreneurs in the hospitality and leisure sector invested heavily and provided opportunities by the tens of thousands to an eager workforce – and made-in-heaven memories to the hundreds of thousands of tourists keen to visit an island ravaged by a war of over 30 years and now very much open for exploring, fun sun and sea apart from history.
We it appeared were Fab. Conde Nast agreed.
Unfortunately, politically the war winning President and his team back in 2010 embarked on a series of strategically ill-advised schemes and believed that whatever they did the people would be forever forgiving and grateful.
Fortunately for the republic its people were not easily brought over with their mantra of ‘we won the war’.
The world itself had come of age and Sri Lanka and her people were no different. Equity and fair play are basic tenements of Sri Lankan culture. The people had seen for over three decades what a divided and lopsided disunity could and did do to life in the country. Some estimates put the loss of life at way over 60,000. The damage to the economy was significant. The damage to the future of its youth was more than immense with future-opportunity severely curtailed. A better educated and distinctly better informed youth – thanks to the available technology – grew steadily frustrated at the apparent inequity and worse, growing corruption, the near wonton wastage and the level of impunity for those close to the corridors of power.
Despite record levels of economic growth, despite a media that was largely muzzled with at least a couple of noteworthy exceptions, a staid forex regime and plenty of employment, an indulgent China easy with its money but with then hidden political designs, discontent was growing at a politically undiscovered rate that energised the then opposition into action.
The dawn of 2015 saw that frustration and despair provide grist to the mill and the most charismatic politician of contemporary times in Sri Lanka was sent home in a state of visible shock after nine years of one hell of a ride.
A politician lacking in charisma but aided by also easily the most manipulative and effusive of politicians and the undisputed leader of neo liberal policies in Sri Lanka took over the reins of executive and legislative power with promises of equity, accountability and a far liberal outlook towards the media. Sadly for Sri Lanka they failed miserably in terms of accountability drowning four years later in the rivers of their own corruption and in-fighting which ultimately resulted in the Yahapalanistas being booted out of office. The President was returned to parliament but the Prime Minister after 40 years in parliament failed to be re-elected. The government of the day were decimated.
The fact that all their corruption and infighting led to the gambling with the hard fought security and losing that battle to the Easter Bombings was the final straw. The people saw a glimmer of hope in the return of the Rajapaksa family and specifically a silver cloud perhaps in the form of Nandasena Gothabya Rajapaksa.
The election of “Gotha” was a result of a legitimate expectation of a return to security and ‘getting things done’. The people had almost elected a virtual non-politician but it was a known secret that the popularity of the war-winning President helped no end to ensure a convincing victory. It was also a reassuring victory for the majority Sinhala population long-fed up with having seen their politicians at the mercenary antics of minority politicians disinterested in democracy and keen on their own narrow non-nationalistic agendas. Gotha’s election was a reassurance to the majority that if they voted in record numbers they would not face the prospect of demands for division and sugar daddy facilitation to the minority politicians.
There was a realisation that strongman government was here but perhaps sweetened by expectation of ‘getting it done’.
Enter Covid 19. The mother of all contemporary pandemics.
At a time when the need is for truly inclusive governance encompassing all parties and all of the people, the country can but feel a growing disappointment. A return to political victimisation, further tinkering of the judiciary and a lethargy in applying the law equitably and reasonably and at least once, downright disgraceful is leading to a growing public confidence that ‘getting it done’ is somehow being compromised.
On the one hand this government is keen to showcase Sri Lanka’s independent judiciary to suspicious western powers and then engages in acts not entirely appreciated by a liberal populace yearning for security opportunity and a truly island life – again.
The case of the Hyatt Project is most recently in point. An arbiter has ruled against the government. A court in Sri Lanka has upheld the award. Yet, we now see the government trying to squirm out of respecting the law they are fond of highlighting as being independent and robust too. For the monies involved and the time expended and at least to further support their claim of respecting and honouring their judicial processes it is time this government called an immediate halt to what are obvious political gamesmanship and simply gets on with dealing with the current perilous situation we find ourselves in.
Trying to settle scores stinks to high heaven of a bankrupt plan and policy to overcome the present days of gloom and eroding opportunity.