What can Ranil do? – The Island

by Kumar David

The spirit of my column is not mocking: “He can’t do anything; his Interim Administration (IA) is an exercise in futile gesture. Not at all, it’s a serious, even bookish question about what RW’s AI with any luck is likely to achieve and what, even a congenital optimist will grant, it can’t. And in between, there are a multitude of maybe and maybe not options. I have never been a supporter of the UNP, but I will not let my political views influence the assessment offered here.

I think RW will pull a few rabbits out of the hat and do a few things regarding the impending doom. This may be one of the reasons why he said “the next two months could be the worst”. If he dulls the pain, he can sing “See, I did it!” Tamil Nadu recorded shiploads of rice, milk powder and medicine and Delhi recorded oil/oil tankers. Japan has offered a $1.5 billion grant that we will not be able to repay. The IMF and the Americans have not yet dropped anything in the begging bowl but charity is under consideration. For some incomprehensible reason, although we know we are a lousy lot, the rest of the world has a soft spot for Ceylon-Sri Lanka. And then there are the virtues of non-alignment. If RW plays coy, he can get the Chinese and QUAD to fight for mating rights. Petrol and gas shortages may ease and if they do, RW will claim the credit and whistle Sajith to come in for a hug and a drop. It’s not unrealistic; this is a possible sub-plot of two months; indeed, so far he has outmaneuvered the SJB. However, if it fails to dampen the fuel rumble within two weeks, it will be burned out; public opinion will turn against him and there will be more unrest in the streets.

While this subplot seems manageable, the next one is much tougher. Food! Gotabaya’s stupid dogma of fertilizers has brought the country to the brink of famine. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has named Afghanistan and Lanka as countries where people will go hungry this year. Moreover, even if we had dollars, the world scene is very bad. Many UN agencies are warning of a food crisis. Between 1.5 billion and 400 million people will die of hunger. An FAO briefing notes that Russian wheat accounts for 16.8% of world wheat exports and Ukraine’s share is 11.5%. In 2021; Russia or Ukraine (or both) ranked among the world’s top three exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil. (China and India, in that order, are the largest wheat producers in the world). Russia is the world’s largest exporter of nitrogen fertilizers, the second for potash fertilizers and the third for phosphorus fertilizers. The UN warns of an inevitable disastrous fate. The price of bread in this island devastated by Gota has doubled. RW et al can’t do anything about it except pray harder.

Why not make a conspiracy theory movie with a plot that our fertilizer scuttling fools were working in cahoots with Russia and Ukraine to ransom the world? I have a grumpy buddy in Australia who will buy the world rights if it’s dark enough. Seriously, the Treasury and the Central Bank have been drained by the wickedness or idiocy, respectively, of the MR plus the Royal Family or the GR. So this is RW’s third hurdle (after fuel shortages and the impending food calamity). The nation’s reserves are gone, the future is bleak, and RW and his merry men can’t get over any of this. At some point people will say of RW either, “The bugger tried and did a few things, but the real bad guys are the fucking Paksas”, or they’ll roll him with the Paksa-robbers and nearly 225 other bachelor sons and cursed him too.

Alas I have not finished with the bad omens. The worst concerns a medium-term program to rebuild the national economy. In a series of columns spread over weeks, I made a few points that people agreed with. The basic truth is that as a nation we consume and have consumed for over 70 years more than we produce. Ceylon-Sri Lanka is broke because we ate far more than our economy produced. A significant reduction in consumption is already in full swing. High inflation, steep increases in fuel prices and a 50% fall in value of LKR with no increase in wages, amount to a substantial restructuring of the economy away from consumption. Savings of all kinds, insurance and pensions, in fact everything that is monetary in the hands of the public have de facto been reduced in value. Inevitably, there will be more to come. The consumption reduction part of the restructuring is in progress, the production part has yet to be tackled.

Does that sound like siding with the well-heeled against the yakos? No, the capitalist class was in twisted games up to the eyes. The worst was the neoliberal period of JR (RW was one of them), oiled by anti-Tamil pogroms, subversion of the judiciary and an authoritarian constitution. To stay within the narrow economic argument, the JR era of neoliberal openness to highly sought-after global investors and unchecked laissez-faire in the domestic economy has been a disaster. Investors did not arrive in numbers as expected, increased the looting of national resources and impoverished farmers in the North and East, a factor in the rise of Tamil nationalism.

After getting rid of this anti-capitalist rant, the question remains: “What to do now?” Two things that will have to be done even if Almighty God becomes Minister of Finance is that consumption will have to be pruned and production and productivity increased. The left will lament the first; but what the hell did comrades Lenin do, Stalin did it with an iron fist, Stalinist governments did it in Eastern Europe, the great helmsman tried in China and the messed up because he was half-crazed at the time, Castro did it quite successfully (think health care, education, and poverty alleviation) although American aggression has undermined any idea of ​​democracy. The big difference is that Lanka is not a post-revolutionary society; our task is to push in progressive social-democratic directions. The left, if it is faithful to its past, will not steal; moreover, it can help people to understand why they sacrifice themselves and that the usufruct will be reinvested for the benefit of their children.

To return to RW. Ok, I’m willing to admit he’s no crook, unlike the Paksa-Plunderers, the SLPP junkies and the majority of current and former MLAs – you know what I’m saying; I miss adverbs and adjectives and my editor has a phobia of four-letter words. At issue is whether a caretaker administration headed by RW, bolstered by crossovers from here and there and everywhere, with a less than mediocre cabinet, can carry out a program that reduces consumption and generates production increased economy? The answer is that the question is not relevant since the IA has no mandate other than to deal with urgent tasks relating to the prevailing emergency. RW plus the alliances it concocts (the SJB has now bowed its head in offering to back AI) needs to win an election to legitimize any mid to long term agenda on its drawing board. So, in the language of tennis; point-and-set in early elections.

The other bourgeois democratic option, the Sajith bandwagon, cannot form a government until it wins a general election or musters a working class majority or teams up with RW in an electoral front. This also makes it a “game” for early elections. Now let’s focus on the match-point. What will appease an angry populace and appease Gale Face Green? I cannot imagine a government without an electoral mandate surviving and carrying out a program of reform and reconstruction, without contest, for an indefinite period. Surely this is the match point to organize an election as quickly as the Elections Department can organize it.

Do I have a program that I will reach out for? Well, there it is. “Gotha Go” is unconditional, but timing is negotiable within certain limits provided the funeral date is announced now. This will appease the masses and appease GFG. Every day Gotha remains is perilous; he will undermine Aragalaya and conspire with other deifying devotees of Gannakka in the army. As long as he remains at the helm, urgency, curfew and the army on the streets will be Lanka’s lot. Rumor has it that a crisis is currently brewing over Project 21A; a section of the SLPP which it claims is making a last-ditch attempt to resurrect Paksa-Power via a reincarnation of Basil. If true, will this cut the ground under RW who will be forced into a tacit alliance with Aragalaya? Good but does he have the fighting spirit of Imran Khan? All of this, including above all the essential abolition of the Executive Presidency, falls within the political domain and everything goes without saying.

Much, much more complex is the economic dimension; we need a via-media acceptable to the masses and feasible in the present circumstances. Moving to a left-wing perspective, I’ve targeted these last three paragraphs at the NPP, JVP and Frontline, but they will be of interest to others as well. I agree that the state form will retain capitalist characteristics for the foreseeable future; but what capitalism? There are as many “capitalisms” (and “non-capitalisms”) as there are fingers on my two hands; Egypt or England, Pakistan or Peru, (and Vietnam or Venezuela). The concept of state form has become complex and convoluted around the world at this time, especially over the past forty years. However, this is not the occasion for a review of the theory of the state in the 21st century.

What kind of semi-capitalism in Lanka; neoliberal, laissez-faire, state-led, concessions to capitalists or populist concessions to the masses? Markets indeed rationalize production decisions and to some extent investment options; neither central planners nor computer algorithms can reproduce this. But markets must also be regulated, controlled and directed in the social interest. It’s a balance that requires intelligence, expertise and vision. Managing a 21st century economy requires a central cadre with adequate internal expertise at the heart of political power, but also requires relationships with assemblies of experienced specialists outside.

In addition to the old economic skills for running a government, one must understand the non-fungibles that have come to prominence in recent decades; financial capital, monetary policy, global trade and institutional practices. Additionally, there are intangible assets; design, research, digital systems, technical innovation. I don’t expect a left-wing political entity to turn into a panoptic faculty of specialists, nerds and wizards; Of course not! What it needs, in addition to a competent core, is to stimulate sympathetic relationships and external working relationships in these neighborhoods. This way of thinking is a paradigm shift for the young left in Lanka, but there is plenty of time to adapt. The left-wing contingent elected to parliament in the next elections will be large; a sign of things to come and a harbinger of the responsibilities he will have to assume in the future when he enters into administrative office.

Lynn A. Saleh