Power politics and elections before people
Ajith Parakum Jayasinghe
In political terms, 2023 can be either an election year or a year of ‘Aragala’ agitations. Whatever it is, the outcome will not be positive for the crisis-hit Sri Lanka. The elections in Lebanon, which is facing a similar crisis showed that elections would not bring any good. The two main forces calling for elections are the National People’s Power led by Anura Kumara Dissanayake and the Samagi Jana Balavegaya led by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa. One of their acceptable argument is that the current rulers do not have the mandate to bring solutions to the economic crisis.
Mandate is not a legal concept. However, according to the concept in use, it is measured by elections as per the existing system in Sri Lanka. The Yahapalana government which came to power in 2015, suffered a severe defeat in the local government elections held in 2018, and the argument of the Rajapaksa opposition from then onwards was that the government had lost a mandate.
According to the current concept of mandate, the government has no mandate due to the public uprising in 2022 and the resignation of the cabinet including the President elected in 2019 and the Prime Minister elected in 2020. However, the opposition does not have the ability to express this concretely like in 2018. The reason is the lack of clear evidence on which to base the claim of lack of mandate. That is why there is so much greed for elections.
The government expenditure for the local government election is Rs. 10-15 billlion as the Election Department estimates. As around 8,000 representatives will be elected, there can be more than 100,000 candidates. If one candidate spends at least Rs. 10,000, election propaganda may cost at least one billion rupees. But, as the average expenditure incurred by a candidate can be much higher than this, another few billions of rupees will be lost. Probably, candidates and political parties may spend about ten billion rupees for the election. A small portion of the government’s election expenditure will be reimbursed as the security deposits of most of the candidates will be forfeited.
Even if it is estimated that one candidate will use an average amount of one A-4 paper bundle for the election, the number of A-4 paper bundles wasted for the election is 100,000. This is Rs. around 200 million, as per the market value. But, the amount of paper wasted can be many times this amount. That is the paper available for school students’ textbooks and exercise books. Imagine that one candidate uses at least a kilo of wheat flour to paste posters, the amount of wheat flour wasted on the walls will be ten tons. Actual amounts may be much higher and this is food for the people.
According to UN OCHA estimates, 5.7 million people in Sri Lanka (about 25% of the population) are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, and that number is expected to rise in the coming months. The World Bank estimates that 11.7% of the population will fall below the poverty line in 2022 and if the situation is very bad, the poverty rate will be 22% in 2023. Desperation is mounting as 73 percent of families experience a loss of income or a reduction in their income.
We need to find solutions to these problems. Anyone knows that appointing thousands of local government representatives will not solve the economic problem. But that is not the purpose of power politics. It seems that there is more chance of Samagi Jana Balawega winning the local government elections. National People’s Power says that they will win. Whichever of these two parties wins, they will then agitate for a general election and a presidential election to sweep into power. These elections will also require enormous wealth. According to Udaya Gammanpila, elections should be held by minting money. Is it possible to hold elections only with money that is printed in Sri Lanka? Is it possible to import the necessary paper and fuel etc. with Sri Lankan rupees?
Also, many other things will slow down because of the elections. One of the major hits will be against the process of restructuring the foreign debt, due to the uncertainty created in the country. At this point, such matters are more important than the question of who is in power. That is why all parties should unite and form a government by sharing power. When we say all parties, no party should be excluded. The main reason for the failure of the previous all-party proposals was that they tried to exclude the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, which won the 2019 and 2020 elections. Even now, it is not too late to consider all-party power-sharing instead of elections until the economic crisis is alleviated. But, no party should be excluded in an all-party government.
No matter who takes power, there are limited solutions to be implemented. One way is restructuring debt with the assistance of the International Monetary Fund. For that, a balance should be created between government income and expenditure. For that, government revenue should be increased while expenditure is reduced. Imports can be made only to the extent of export earnings. Also, the country must have stability. The old system which depended on credit should undergo a complete transformation.
Otherwise, the existing system should be preserved by continuing to default on external debt. For that too, a balance should be created between government income and expenditure. For that, government revenue should be increased while expenditure is reduced. Imports can be made only to the extent of export earnings. Also, the country must have stability. The old system which depended on credit should undergo a complete transformation.
Unfortunately, no other option has been cited so far. Politicians and political parties are greedy for power. It is the job of people close to politicians to satisfy those lusts for power. But, as Sinhala saying ‘Tala Nam Telata Vele – Meebeti Kumata Vele’ which means sesame dries in sun but what is the purpose of rat stool in them to dry says why do the people dry up for power politics? The dangerous situation is that the politicians are digging deeper pits under the feet of the people who are barely rising from a dangerous fall, for narrow political gains.