Intervention Or Flirtation: America’s Interest: Good Governance Or Economic Stability?

By Vishwamithra –

“When a diplomat says yes, it’s yes; when a diplomat says maybe, it’s no; if a diplomat says no, he’s no diplomat” ~ Anonymous

In a widely-read Sri Lankan news website, under the banner headline ‘US Ambassador Julie Chung Encourages Collaboration Between President Ranil and Opposition Leader Sajith to Counter Rising JVP Popularity..!’ appeared the following: ‘In a diplomatic move that has stirred the political landscape of Sri Lanka, United States Ambassador Julie Chung has initiated discussions with both President Ranil and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, urging them to build a common platform against the growing influence of the leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) party. The surprising call for unity comes amid concerns about the JVP’s increasing popularity, as recent surveys indicate an approval rating of 60%.’ The news item was dated January 10, 2024. More than forty eight (48) hours have passed and the US Embassy has neither denied nor acknowledged the authenticity of the subject matter. That in itself is disturbing and newsworthy.

On its face value the story looks rather suspicious. The United States is not a government that would palpably entangle itself in a purely domestic political squabble. But allow me to set the story right as follows: Professor GL Peiris was a former External Affairs Minister. He may have had a private dinner party for the US Ambassador at his residence, which should not allow any eyebrows to be raised. Amongst the invitees may have been President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa. For all intents and purposes, the dinner party would have been another occasion GL, in his grand old tradition, hosting a foreign ambassador. Nothing looks or sounds of a conspiratorial execution of ‘political diplomacy’. Yet as one who has been in these shadowy business of ‘political diplomacy’- evening gatherings, given the present political currents, the writer has more questions than answers.

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Many a question could be answered; many a road-map could be plotted and many a political marriage could be sworn to in these unscrupulous corridors of Colombo bourgeoisie from amongst whom the Wickremesinghes, Peirises hail. Premadasa’s father, of course, knew that he did not belong there. For him the Colombo bourgeoisie was his nemesis. But for Sajith, it’s a different ball game. Old traditions of class differences have vanished and in its place has arisen a totally new class of those who are in power and those who aren’t. His father’s money has provided him with a cushion of elitism and the leadership of the UNP-alternative, Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) has buttressed that position further.      

Yet, for Julie Chung, the dinner party can be easily explained away. Being a foreign diplomat, she has every right to attend a function that was hosted by a former Minister of External Affairs. To keep in constant touch with men and women who matter in society is one of the hallmark qualifications of such emissaries. There is no conspiracy here. But all other factors seem to have conspired not only to create a context for these men and women whose ultimate objectives are strangely congruent with their  professional interests; it is also coincidentally convenient to discuss matters of political affairs of the country. With no commitments and no harsh disagreements, the invitees may have retired into the gentle night, but GL Peiris, if he were the man behind the arrangement, would be a winner if and when the stated objectives are met in the near future.

In the course of after-dinner discussion, Chung, Wickremesinghe, Sajith and Peiris would have, no doubt, been engaged in an exchange of views of the prevailing political conditions in the country. It was an ideal place and space for one or two trial balloons to have been let go. Subsequent introspections on the part of Ranil and Sajith and planning and plotting the next move by Julie Chung and sheer glory of premature satisfaction for GL may have followed the dinner party.    

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Both Wickremesinghe and Premadasa are not alien to this aspect of politics. One is reminded of the beginning of the process of how Dudley Senanayake became the Prime Minister after his father’s demise. It was JR Jayewardene and Esmond Wickremesinghe (Ranil’s father), who were among those who conspired and plotted to make Dudley the successor to DS; and it happened in the corridors of the hospital at which DS was still breathing, his last. If the Chung-Ranil-Sajith-GL dinner party story is true, difference is only the corridors. One was in a hospital and other, GL’s home sweet home.

The process aside, in the current circumstance of the rising popularity of the National People’s power (NPP), the substance of the subject matter is more important. The power struggle between the elite and non-elite is coming out in the open arena. However much the super-rich class is making every possible attempt to safeguard and protect its class privileges and its exclusivity to access to government coffers. Despite the IMF assistance, Sri Lanka is still struggling to raise her head above the water. Colombo, as was witnessed and enjoyed by some members of the Sri Lankan diaspora in the United States during the farcical fortnight that comes every year at the end of December and and dawn of January, is one big carnival. Shuttling between one five-star hotel and another, these members of the diaspora come back to their domicile land and pronounce that life in Sri Lanka is unbelievably lavish and there is no dearth of comforts and riches.

But the story behind the story is utterly lamentable; its core is rotten and the outer veneer is transparent, showing the rotting core. One would not see it if one chooses not to. This is where the NPP and its leadership have to play their part. The real story must emerge; its distressing cavities and glaring incongruities must be exposed as frequently as possible. Seventy five years of deplorable rule, seventy five years of corruption, seventy five years of apathy and public delusion must be thrown away. Vehement and unequivocal condemnation, ruthless pursuit of truth, determined and unambiguous commitment to the cause of the underprivileged and unrecognized class of men and women should not waver.

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Anura Kumara Dissanayake and the rest of the leadership of the NPP must make it their new year’s resolution that come what may, they must not rest until the goal post is reached. Good Governance and economic stability can coexist. Ranil Wickremesinghe is trying to say that economic stability should precede. Yes, economic stability must precede, but not at the cost of good governance. Without economic stability there can be no good governance but without good governance, there is no economic stability.

In terms of some private expressions by those who advise the government on IMF assistance, poverty in the country is alarmingly rising; corruption among the politicos and the bureaucracy is worse than before. Sugar-coated serenades to economic stability would not keep the masses down. When the opportunity presents itself by October, 2024 to dethrone the current rulers by peaceful means at the elections, AKD and the NPP must not let that chance go. For, there wont be another peaceful chance that would come about in the future. A ‘system change’ by peaceful means is possible; it’s, in fact, more than probable. A ‘system change’, that is what the privileged class fears; that is what the global powers might not be comfortable with.

Julie Chung may not be interfering with our local politics. Maybe she is flirting with Sri Lanka’s political destiny. Robbing Sri Lankans of their inalienable right of self-determination is a great transgression. Such atrocities should not be permitted by whoever the powers may be. It is the writer’ view that the USA will not go to such extreme ends to intervene. An innocent dinner party and the many natural conversations that are integral part of such gatherings should not be interpreted as conspiracies and sources of plotting. Yet being forearmed is forewarned.     

Entwined in this web of current-day politics, my mind goes back to a distant past. Evening falls on the banks of Kala Wewa. Her twin, Balalu Wewa, on the other side, bathed with the splendor of approaching twilight of the day, seemed to be hugged and be one with the entrancing roar of Kala Wewa. King Dhatusena, the builder, beholding this spectacle, must be reaching the summit of self-enchantment and delight. A marvel that today’s rulers would never be privy to. Such glorious meditation, such delightful thoughts penetrate my heart and mind. It’s better to end this column with such sublime gratitude to our elders who made this land great and her people greater.

*The writer can be contacted at vishwamithra1984@gmail.com

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