What’s the difference between this government and the previous one? Ask some random person on the street and the most likely answer would be ‘nothing’. That’s a perception of felt benefits. In fact some might even say ‘this lot is worse’ and if pushed might explain, ‘they said they would be different and that means they wanted us to hold them to higher standards’.
Put the question to a Sinhalese flagging reconciliation and ‘worse’ is what you are likely to get. And that’s not only because the government has been a poor communicator on thinking, strategies and on-the-ground implementation. It’s more about pandering to Eelamists, over and above the reality of being no different to the previous regime on things like nepotism, corruption, abuse of state resources, wastage and the use of force to quell protests.
Things are not all rosy when it comes to media freedom. The independence of the judiciary has been a frequent brag, but recent events makes one wonder. Just 18 months after the General Election, it’s still early days. It’s scary if one were to indulge in extrapolation.
The word in the street (or all the streets of all the relevant economic territories) is that nothing is getting done Small wonder, considering that the appointers have essentially been clueless about the competence and integrity of the appointees to the top posts in the cabinet. In short, then there’s rank incompetence when it comes to both word and deed.
If the questions is “should they be thrown out then and the old lot brought back?” the response would be ‘Is it so bad that this is the best you can come up with?” What it means that no one seems to know what needs to be done or else there’s no one around who can get it done.
Talking of words and deeds, the government’s international friends who heaped praise have come up short when it comes to delivery. It’s the ‘bad guys’, the Chinese, that the government is looking to these days. Clearly the government couldn’t figure out the simple truth that one has to borrow from those who have the bucks and not those in chronic debt. Foreign investors are not looking our way despite the President and the Prime Minister meeting with world leaders and being assured of support. It’s simple, really. The particular head of state can ask the relevant business community to ‘explore the possibility of investing in Sri Lanka’ and they will do what any reasonable person would — conduct a risk assessment. Naturally they will be told of incompetence, corruption and most important political instability. And they stay away.
The best indication that the government is in dire straits politically is the ‘go easy’ approach of the international community. Tung-Lai Margue, the Ambassador for the European Union in Sri Lanka says ‘even in Europe elections are postponed’ referring to the local government elections not being held. He doesn’t or maybe cannot say the obvious — the government is scared to go before the people. If elections are important elements of democracy, then those who ranted and raved against the previous regime for being undemocratic should be rapping the knuckles of the President and the Prime Minister. That’s not happening.
Shivshanka Menon, India’s former Foreign Secretary opines ‘it is not for outsiders to say how this (reconciliation and healing) should be done.’ He has to say this too: ‘we did not see the same drive and energy in pursuit of reconciliation as we saw in the post-war rehabilitation work which proceeded fast and well.’ Maybe India, he country that has contributed most to the social, economic and political troubles of Sri Lanka and has fueled ethnic strife at every turn, is also on ‘go easy’ mode.
Prince Zeid of the UNHRC seems to disagree. He believes there’s been progress. He’s disappointed at the pace and about the substance, and want Sri Lanka to adopt new laws (for hybrid courts). But homilies, knuckle-taps and rank interference (which he would dare not demand new laws from say, Israel or the USA) aside the UNHRC has essentially allowed the government to purchase some time. Two years. Naturally the human rights industry is upset. So too the pro-LTTE and Eelamist groups here and abroad. They should understand that reconciliation or rather helping Tamil chauvinists to even hobble towards Eelam is less important to the ‘international community’ or rather its white and Western masters than to have a pliant government in place.
They simply don’t want to even nudge a badly leaking boat that is struggling to navigate unfriendly waters. Rocking it might be disastrous they probably feel.
What does all this boil down to? The vocal boys and girls of the international community is hopeful that this government will prevail. Hope is all they can do, though. Apart from holding back on stick and keeping silent on non-existing carrots. One could call it love or rather affection. Maybe it’s nothing more than ambivalence, but there’s no harm in calling it ‘love’ given current poverties in the affection department or a ‘love bite’. It is not insurance however from other, less affectionate, bites that are probably on the cards. Anyway, it’s still one headache less for the Government. What it does with the breathing space is of course left to be seen.
Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. Email: email@example.com.