IMF program and President’s election prospects

Thursday, 8 February 2024 00:46 –      – 38

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National People’s Power (NPP) Leader MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake met with the Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar in New Delhi recently creating huge excitement among some quarters. The Indian Minister said he was pleased to meet MP Dissanayake. Further he said, “A good discussion on our bilateral relationship and the mutual benefits from its further deepening.” The Minister also spoke about Sri Lanka’s economic challenges and the path ahead. MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake is scheduled to meet several important people during the five-day visit in India. Several news channels in India also highlighted Anura as the most popular politician in Colombo.

The current President by a stroke of luck was provided with the opportunity of a lifetime to become the executive President of the country. He was certainly lucky because Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa chickened out at the last moment. The President certainly has done a fabulous Job with the economy. He inherited a bankrupt economy from the Rajapaksa family. The Governor of the Central Bank prior to the President taking over announced that Sri Lanka will not honour the financial commitments and would look to restructure the debt. Simultaneously he increased interest rates overnight by 100%. The impact of these decisions have been disastrous to the SMEs and to the credibility of the nation. Whilst inflation is in single digits the average Sri Lankan can’t see the benefits of low inflation. The President is currently electorally paying for the brunt of these ill-timed decisions.

Prospects for reelection

The President is still to formally announce his candidacy. Newspapers say he has appointed a UNP team to plan the UNP campaign. Interestingly the committee only consists of laymen. Surveys clearly show he certainly has no chance of being elected by depending on the UNP voters. For a start he needs a strong coalition of all the parties. Like the way Sirisena won the 2015 election. The President has worked with the JVP before. However his better option would be to work with the SJB. Given that the SJB is clearly stuck in the middle. Like the UNP, they could be in for a long time in the opposition. Whilst these bargains are done, the President needs to repair his somewhat battered image due to poorly managed tax reforms and prices of utilities. His tax policies have been totally insensitive. He needs to be sensitive to the needs and feelings of the majority of the public. He is happily cementing his image as a Colombo 7 elite.

He has so far travelled 17 or 18 times for 18 months. Must surely be a record for a Lankan President. Opposition allege his non-elected Chief of Staff (bureaucrat) travels with his bodyguard on business class, when a Secretary of a Ministry travels on Economy. He travels in bulletproof cars, etc.? An advisor is accused by the Opposition of working closely with the disgraced Health Minister. These excessive lifestyles of his associates are not appreciated by the public when they are taxed at $ 15 a day.

Also the excessive display of the military high ups in their top end European vehicles at the Independence Day celebrations does not augur well for the bloated highly expensive military that the taxpayers have to pay for. All this needs to stop if he is to improve his election prospects. In terms of capacity to govern the country the polls certainly don’t give him the credit for the country’s remarkable turnaround. He has himself only to blame for not selling his achievements and not negotiating hard for the poor with the IMF. If he does not read the situation soon, ironically it will be like the caretaker government, led by Churchill, which was heavily defeated. The Labour Party led by Attlee won a landslide victory and gained a majority of 145 seats. It was the first election in which Labour gained a majority of seats.

Undoubtedly the country needs the experience of the current President for at least for two more years. The country will be the loser if he digs his own grave for want of political astuteness and the Government’s excesses.

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