Regime tailspin, Ranil’s final budget and election bypass: Opposition’s opportunity

Thursday, 9 November 2023 01:43 –      – 126

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Hypocritically attacking the UN Human Rights Council in 2023 for double-standards while having co-sponsored a Resolution with the West in 2015 agreeing to special courts with foreign judges, foreign prosecutors and foreign investigators, won’t save Ranil’s presidency.

Here’s the ground-reality:

 “The approval rating of the government fell from 21% in June 2023 to 9% in October 2023, according to the latest round of the Gallup style ‘Mood of the Nation’ poll of Verité Research.

 The survey also highlighted a substantial decline in overall satisfaction with the state of the nation, which dropped to 6% in October, down from 12% in June 2023. 

 Furthermore, the economic confidence score saw a significant dip from negative (-) 44 in June to negative (-) 62 in October…” (Approval of government falls to 9% in October: Verité Research survey – Top Story | Daily Mirror)

No Government, no incumbent whose administration it is, and no ruling party can come back from this level of unpopularity and rate of increase of unpopularity. The Ranil regime is in free-fall.


Last budget or election scuttled?
Which economic platform?
Lanka’s first Leftist President?
Dullas’ FPC: Crucial variable
SJB economist reinforcing Ranilnomics

Election bypass and Ranil’s allies 

Would an unelected President selected by Parliament to complete his predecessor’s term, facing a Presidential election in 10-11 months, in the midst of severe economic austerity, heading a regime of abysmal popularity, appoint a Presidential Commission with a 6-month deadline for sweeping electoral reforms?

The answer is “not unless he’s planning to sabotage scheduled elections using much the same method that put Provincial Council elections in a coma since 2017”.

Our sister-paper ran the story:

“President Ranil Wickremesinghe issued a gazette notification, appointing a 10-member commission of inquiry, with retired Chief Justice Priyasath Dep leading the commission. 

The commission’s primary task is to thoroughly review all current election laws and regulations, conduct investigations, inquiries and assessments and subsequently make recommendations for essential amendments to align these laws with contemporary requirements.

The commission has been entrusted with completing this comprehensive process within a 6-month timeframe. 

The commission has been tasked with examining all existing election laws and regulations and providing recommendations for necessary amendments. 

These recommendations will give special consideration to various factors, including increasing the representation of women and youth, introducing electronic voting using modern technology instead of traditional printed ballot papers, and facilitating voting by Sri Lankans residing overseas.

Furthermore, the commission will make recommendations for the formulation of media standards to guide the appropriate use of media by political parties and independent groups. They will also propose a code of conduct for political parties, independent groups, and their members in the execution of political and public affairs. 

Additionally, the commission will suggest ways to strengthen laws and regulations related to the registration and operations of political parties in a manner that fosters trust and public accountability.” (

This colossal, convoluted effort should be made by a popularly elected President, Parliament and Provincial Councils. Wickremesinghe has no mandate, no right, and no time, to undertake this task.

Ranil has thrown everything and the kitchen sink into the agenda of this Commission. He will doubtless bring its proposals to parliament and try to use them to scramble the constitutionally scheduled electoral process and calendar through SLPP support and executive action. In Latin America, such a course of action is termed an “autogolpe” or “self-coup”, in which a President stages a coup from above (often together with a pliant National Assembly) instituting a ‘civil-military junta’.

It is shocking but unsurprising that at the very moment that Ranil is attempting to extend his tenure by hiding in the belly of the Trojan Horse of electoral reforms, a group of 32 academics and attorneys including Ranil’s Constitutional lawyer and UNP ExCo member Suren Fernando PC, have signed a petition calling for “the Government of Sri Lanka and Parliament to immediately launch a meaningful and sincere process to abolish the executive presidency as part of a package of democratising reforms” and urging “all political parties in parliament to sponsor and vote for such a Bill…” 


Calling now for “democratising reforms” foregrounding the abolition of the executive Presidency which entails legal challenges and requires a referendum, can only delay the 2024 presidential election which is the earliest scheduled national election and chance for peaceful, democratic regime-change. It is also the first available exit-ramp from ongoing economic shock-therapy.

Seeking the abolition of the executive presidency within sight of a presidential election which gives us the chance of our first ever leftwing President (Anura Dissanayake) or a populist, progressive-centrist President (Sajith Premadasa) as in Latin America while effecting a generational shift in the country’s leadership, only entrenches the besieged elite Establishment. This slogan at this time serves Ranil’s interests. Its peddlers are objectively (and in Suren Fernando’s case, consciously) Ranil’s allies, entrenching his rule.


Off-Centre Opposition 

The Budget is presented by President Wickremesinghe who is also the finance minister. The first national election in the Constitutional calendar is the presidential election, not the parliamentary one. Oddly though, the SJB fires at the ‘corrupt Rajapaksa Government’ while never naming and shaming the incumbent.

There is an asymmetry between the contours and content of the current crisis on the one hand, and the policy prescriptions of the SJB, on the other.

Here are the main features of the crisis, which would have constituted a slam-dunk for Ranasinghe Premadasa:

“…According to UNICEF, more than 5.7 million people, including 2.3 million children, require humanitarian assistance. The report adds Sri Lanka is among the top ten countries with the highest number of malnourished children, and the numbers are expected to rise further.

The Household Income and Expenditure Survey of the Department of Census and Statistics reveals the poorest 20 per cent of households in the country generated only Rs.17,572/- while the poorest 40 per cent of the households generated Rs.26,931/-. 

At today’s prices, the cost of breakfast for a single individual costs approximately Rs. 300/-. A family of four -father, mother and two children would therefore need approximately Rs. 36,000/- per month to have breakfast alone for a month. 

The cost of a basic lunch (without beef or fish) is Rs. 350/- per day or (350 x4 x 30) Rs 42,000/- for lunch a month for a family of four and another Rs. 42,000/- for dinner per month. 

In other words, the cost of providing breakfast, lunch and dinner for a family of four is Rs. 120,000/-. 

A family with two children would also need another Rs. 160,000/- (annually) to provide the kid’s basic educational needs -uniforms, school bags, pens, pencils, exercise books, facility fees, transport charges, shoes and socks. 

In the estate sector, tea and rubber workers, though playing a major role in earning valuable foreign exchange for the country, receive an average monthly income of Rs. 46,865/- according to the Department of Census and Statistics. 

…During and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the then Governor of the Central Bank pointed out that over 500,000 casual/temporary workers lost employment due to the lockdowns of that period. The financial crisis leading to a country’s bankruptcy has ensured that a majority of these workers remain semi or unemployed. 

The earnings of a large section of our population are therefore insufficient to provide even three basic meals for a family of four, let alone provide for the educational needs of children. The above-mentioned figures also do not include the cost of house rent, medical needs, electricity and water bills and or recreation. 

The past two years also saw workers’ real incomes falling amid hyperinflation. The result -families lost 40 per cent of the value of their nominal incomes within just a year through May 2022 according to statistics published by the government itself. 

…The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) announced it would be increasing electricity tariffs by 18 per cent and …Minister Bandula Gunawardena announced the Cabinet had approved an increase in the Value Added Tax (VAT) from 15% to 18% from January 1, 2024. He added the increased VAT would be imposed on certain goods and services that are currently not taxed…” (

Whenever one heard Ranasinghe Premadasa, one got a stark picture of the lived reality of the majority of the people, locally and globally, whose liberation he was unwaveringly committed to. He was always concrete, on point, determinedly creative, had fire in the belly. He viewed economics from the standpoint of the people and their lives. Economics served the people, and not the people, economics.

By contrast, the policies proposed by the SJB do not arise from the vortex of the contemporary crisis and trace no emancipatory pathway out of it for the citizenry.

In a pre-Budget intervention, SJB chief economist Dr. Harsha de Silva reinforces Ranil’s policy template:

 “… Cost-based tariffs or cost-reflective pricing. Harsha noted that this approach reduces government expenditure that would otherwise be used to support loss-making enterprises…He outlined the social market economy plan of the SJB…Harsha suggested re-evaluating the Termination of Workmen Act…The event concluded with Harsha’s vision to address the bloated state sector through measures such as golden handshakes, privatisation, and other key reforms…” (

There is a place for such views but not in the Opposition space, because they are no alternative to, but merely a reiteration of and not even a substitute for Ranil’s policies.

The SJB ignores the social content of the crisis and is ignorant of the paradigm shift in economic thinking. Globally, it has been decades since the fetishism of ‘growth’/ ‘growth rate’ was replaced as primary goal by the ‘physical quality of life’ (PQLI), Human Development (HDI) and ‘growth with equity’. Similarly, the neoliberal Washington Consensus has been frontally challenged at least since the United Nations World Summit on Social Development (Copenhagen 1995), with ‘People’s Security’ the new central concept produced by its convenor, Chile’s Juan Somavia. Today, Davos and Biden’s NSA Jake Sullivan reject neoliberal globalism.

As PM and President, Premadasa was way ahead of the curve in global economic thinking; the SJB is way behind it. (

The SJB also lags behind the paradigmatic breakthrough in Lankan economic thought 50 years ago in 1973 and practiced successfully 30-35 years ago.

In 1973, addressing the Rotary Club of Colombo West, a 49-year-old Opposition parliamentarian who had rebelled against his own liberal-conservative leader and launched a civic movement called the Citizens’ Front (‘Puravesi Peramuna’), made the boldest of ideological and conceptual moves. He undertook a parallel critique of the economic policies of the powerful coalition government of Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike as well as the free-market policies traditionally associated with the party he belonged to, the UNP, led at the time by the much-loved Dudley Senanayake.

This rebellious young MP, R. Premadasa, demarcated himself from both the statist, involuted low growth/high equity model of the centre-left, and the externally-driven, high growth/high inequity model of the centre-right. In an economic crisis marked by a paucity of hard currency, he posited a third model, decades before Anthony Giddens. (A Plan for Sri Lanka: People’s Participation in Government-April 4th 1973, republished Ceylon Daily News, Nov. 21, 1991.)

Any ignorant, patronising attribution of Premadasa’s innovative paradigmatic intervention to the intellectual influence of Susil Sirivardhana must account for the fact that the Rotary Club speech (first published by my father within days) was delivered when Premadasa and the UNP were in Opposition (1973), 5 years before Susil joined Prime Minister Premadasa (1978).

In this speech, Premadasa rolled-out a progressive third perspective:

1.  The foreign exchange crisis can be solved by enhanced national productivity. 

2. The key factor in raising productivity is the human resource, human capital. 

3.  Priority must be given to enhancing human capital by improving the material and qualitative conditions of life of the majority. 

4.  Society is a pyramid and it is only as strong as its base which must be strengthened. Therefore, economic strategy must be ‘bottom-up’, not ‘top-down’. 

5.  Both state monopoly and private monopoly of ownership must be eschewed. Instead, there should be a multi-sector ownership model: private, state, cooperative and joint. Through a new model mixed-economy, ownership must be diffused to ensure economic democracy, which would make political democracy meaningful.   

As President 15 years later, Premadasa’s economic policy leaped considerably beyond what he articulated in 1973, which nonetheless remained the home-base/launchpad.

Vietnam is often cited today as the success story that Sri Lanka could have been and should emulate. Emeritus Prof Howard Nicholas and his son Bram, an econometric wizard, underscore that Sri Lanka was well on the Vietnam trajectory (only) during the Premadasa presidency with its ambitious export-oriented industrialisation drive. His model was abandoned by CBK and Ranil.

Why does the SJB, which can exhibit an economic success story combining (simultaneously, not sequentially) rapid growth, increased foreign investment, a vibrant stock exchange, provincial industrialisation including in the North and East, distribution of state land to landless peasants, lower unemployment, narrowing of income inequality, enhanced direct transfer of real income to the poor; free mid-day meals, and free school-uniforms, not base itself explicitly on that development ‘miracle’ of rapid economic and social upliftment, which constitutes a unique ‘brand’?

Why does the SJB forfeit the franchise on this ‘multi-vector’ development model, and instead regard the party’s main selling point as its “economic team” of no demonstrable distinction; a trio whose policy template is Ranil Wickremesinghe’s stewardship of 2001-2004 and 2015-2019 which culminated in the UNP’s electoral marginality?


Anura’s economics error

On his successful American tour, Anura Dissanayake erred in his economic diagnosis, saying that “since the 1980s”, Sri Lanka’s economic strategy consisted of “(foreign) borrowing, selling (of national assets) and buying (everything overseas)”, instead of “production”.

AKD’s economic periodisation is incorrect. His critique is inaccurate concerning the pre-CBK Open Economy and the post-CBK Mahinda period. It is accurate concerning CBK-Mangala (1994-2004) and Ranil (2001-4, 2015-2019). Gotabaya’s grotesque lunacy (2019-2022) was more pre-1977 closed economy than post-1977 Open Economy.

If unproductive ‘borrowing-selling-buying’ was the principal doctrine after the 1977 Open Economy, how does AKD explain the state-led Accelerated Mahaweli Scheme which generated the rural prosperity (and rich peasantry) blocking the spread of the JVP’s uprising of the late 1980s? How does he explain the exportable agrarian surpluses under Mahinda?

How can Anura’s critique explain President Premadasa’s economic track-record, identified by Howard Nicholas, author of Marx’s Theory of Price and its Modern Rivals (Palgrave Macmillan, London), as the pathway to the Vietnam/East Asia model that Anura himself upholds?


Key variable: Dullas’ FPC 

The upcoming Budget debate will reveal whether or not the economic hard-drive of an SJB administration will be in Harsha de Silva’s hands, ensuring ‘Ranilnomics without Ranil’ while Sajith supplies philanthropic policy trimmings and the people continue to suffer.

Therefore, the people’s interests will be best protected and served by ‘tactical voting’ in 2024 (Presidential) and 2025 (Parliamentary), selecting Sajith as President, Anura as PM, and NPP as the Cabinet.

Dullas’ Freedom Congress could prove balancer/decider. Whoever wins it over as coalition partner—Sajith or Anura, SJB or NPP—would’ve demonstrated the capacity to flexibly shift to the center and attract the undecided ex-SLPP/ex-SLFP vote, thereby clinching the election(s).