By Daham Wimalasena
Today’s politics in Sri Lanka is dominated by MR led SLFP and RW led UNP. The JVP, despite a few dedicated and eloquent leaders, has lost its mass appeal. Other left parties are terminally sick. Tamil speaking parties will follow either the SLFP or UNP depending on who is in power and their stand on the national question. So the choice before Sri Lanka is who is better, MR or RW?
Politically, MR is in a better position to solve outstanding national issues as he has a good relationship with other political parties and leaders, whether they are extremists or moderates. On the other hand RW has no such advantage and in fact he has lost even the confidence of over 50% of his own party.
MR’s good image built on making Sri Lanka a country free of terrorism should be encashed to solve the grievances of the Tamil speaking minority. As people have short memories, these national issues should be settled now rather than later. MR’s present image as a national and patriotic leader should be utilised for the long term good of the country. RW on the other hand has done nothing to change his image of a serial loser who has also lost touch with his own people and his own party.
The main criticism of MR is the alleged human rights violations, restricting the freedom of speech and the high cost of living. Can RW do better in any of these areas? His devious manipulations to stay in power in his own party, after losing several elections is more than adequate proof as to what he would do with presidential powers. For RW, public opinion matters little and constitutions are there to be manipulated to suite his personal objectives. MR on the other hand has acted after many electoral wins and with concurrence of the parliament.
Economically, many are of the view that the country will develop faster and the economy will boom under RW rather than under MR. This is not so today. The open economy and deregulation was introduced by JRJ at a time of economic prosperity worldwide. Grants and aid were welcomed and received with open arms. Most of the funds for the Mahaweli development were outright grants or very soft loans. Is that possible now?
Even in 2001, when RW became PM, he had only one policy – sell state owned enterprises irrespective of whether they were profit making or loss making enterprises. At the time of privatisation, SLIC and CPC were making huge profits! That is his solution to balance the government budget. He did not appreciate that SLIC was not a financial burden to the government and that the parts of CPC that were sold were profitable and went a long way to meet the losses incurred on the kerosene and diesel subsidy. In fact sale of profitable state enterprises has been followed by both UNP and SLFP governments, until MR arrived on the scene as President. What is unfortunate is that these state enterprises have not escaped from political interference in day to day management. State enterprises should be owned by government, but managed independently and professionally. This is more likely under MR than RW.
There is also a view that RW has closer and better relations with donor countries and that foreign aid will flow into Sri Lanka. This is no longer valid. Western powers are all struggling to overcome their own financial and economic problems, while Japan is suffering from massive natural disasters. This leaves only China and MR is closer to them than RW.
There is no doubt in my mind therefore, politically and economically, MR is the better option to develop the country according to the wishes of all races and religions that constitute Sri Lanka. We should criticise when it is necessary to do so, but not oppose him for the sake of opposing. On the other hand, if voted to power RW will be a disaster to the country as he has been to the UNP.