By Uditha Devapriya

Udaya Gammanpila’s advice to politicians in the face of the growing economic crisis is a five-point checklist: accept that there is a problem, identify it, understand it, reveal the truth to the people and set an example by making sacrifices.

The checklist reads like the Buddha’s vision of the notion of suffering, from its acceptance to its avoidance. Social media users, especially on Twitter, were quick to criticize it, calling it yet another example of the government’s indifference to the plight of the people. And yet, on some weird existential level, it makes sense.

More importantly, it points to rapidly emerging divisions in government. The most noticeable divide is, of course, between the SLPP and the SLFP. The SLFP now says it will never challenge the SLPP. That remains to be seen, given that many SLFP MPs favor supporting the ruling party. For its part, the SLPP will have a lot to lose if the SLFP decides to go it alone, in particular its parliamentary majority. In this sense, it remains to be seen whether the SLPP will be as arrogant and confident as it was in 2020 in the face of the prospect of its most important coalition partner stepping down.

There is, however, another more important divide. Figures like Udaya Gammanpila and Wimal Weerawansa have criticized the regime in recent months, especially regarding its attitude to the power and debt crisis. Given that they broadcast similar sentiments in Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second government, it would be interesting to know how far they would go this time. Gammanpila is particularly outspoken with his diagnosis and prognosis of the crisis, setting him on a collision course with SLPP bigwigs, though it’s doubtful that in itself paves the way for future defections.

In any case, these are developments that the opposition will have to take into account. But is the opposition, or one of the oppositions, responsible for it? Apart from MPs touting a holier line than you, from Anura Dissanayake’s bashing of mainstream politics to Champika Ranawaka’s rebranding of so-called developmentalist presidentialism, no one is making the contingency plans they should To do.

This is partly explained, of course, by the political dynamics the SLPP inherited after coming to power: the SLFP and the UNP had split long before the Rajapaksas even claimed their position in the elections, while the UNP’s colossal defeats led to a similar rift. between Ranil Wickremesinghe and Sajith Premadasa. But it is not the only reason.

The political situation in the country reminds me of the showdown at the end of Reservoir Dogs: if you pull the trigger, everyone will pull theirs, but you still don’t want to put down your gun, because you’re sure that no one others will deposit theirs. It is the worst impasse an opposition can find itself in and the best thing a government can hope for.

Behind this problem is an inability on the part of the opposition to make distinctions vis-à-vis the SLPP. Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s point that Sri Lanka’s post-independence history has essentially been a series of maru weem is true in the sense that oppositions and governments presented themselves as the worst option and made promises that they reneged on after coming to power. But that’s only half the picture.

I think a pragmatic opposition should draw the line between progressive and regressive elements in a government, saluting the former and criticizing the latter. Of course, what is progressive and regressive is highly debatable; we saw it two weeks ago when those who thought Basil Rajapaksa announced that Sri Lanka would go to the IMF urged the SJB and JVP to support the government. My idea of ​​a progressive inclination in the regime would be the dissenting remarks of Udaya Gammanpila. Yet no one seems to have even noticed them, let alone noted them. This does no credit to anyone, neither the SJB nor the JVP.

A pragmatic Opposition should also do everything in its power to avoid fragmentation within its ranks. Yet the opposition remains more fragmented than ever. On the one hand, the JVP-NPP is issuing contradictory statements on the debt crisis, with one faction opposing the IMF line and another calling the rating agencies “independent”. On the other hand, the SJB hesitates between neoliberal prescriptions and populist declarations. On the other hand, the opposition led by the SJB split between Sajith Premadasa and Champika Ranakawa.

Personality politics can only get you so far. The Champika Ranawaka faction’s claim to be more popular than the Sajith Premadasa faction is intriguing at best, given that the man they boast emerged fifth in the Colombo district while the man they compare him favorably with got first place. Twitter liberals, as is typical of this class, remain split on Ranawaka: some favor him over Premadasa, while others see him as a more effective and dangerous ideologue than Rajapaksa. It’s hard to take sides here, but that’s beside the point: the point is that by dividing the opposition, these factions threaten to move what could be a progressive bloc to the very right of government.

A more worrying trend is that opposition MPs are promoting paranoia on social media, especially Twitter, distracting not only online users but also the public from more important issues. An opposition MP’s tweet of a video allegedly showing an inferior imported variety of rice, for example, gained a lot of traction, until even government critics pointed out that the rice in question is not was neither imported nor inferior.

Missteps like this show the level of disconnection between Colombo-based opposition MPs and the grassroots, especially the rural grassroots. It can only delegitimize an already embattled opposition, lend credence to liberal opprobrium and convert floating voters into outfits promoting a leaner, “cleaner” version of Rajapakist politics.

To complicate matters further, liberals and left-liberals talk of replacing the presidency with a parliamentary system. As laudable as this may be in political discourse, it is counterproductive and ultimately helps no one, let alone a faltering opposition in disunity.

A parliamentary system operated in Sri Lanka at a time when regional and international geopolitics were more orderly than they are now. To opt for such a system when politics is more unstable than ever is to give way to centrifugal forces and, in the long run, to a big backlash. Moreover, contrary to popular belief, the country did not necessarily do better under Westminster: the disenfranchisement of Tamils, for example, took place under a parliamentary regime, as Dayan Jayatilleka recently reminded us.

The same goes for left-liberal rhetoric on constitutional reform. Drafting a new document and removing the presidency now, when centripetal forces are at their peak, would almost certainly lead to implosion. Conversely, advancing reforms that rock the boat and galvanize these forces would achieve the same result. Ironically, but not surprisingly, the nationalists who want a more entrenched constitution and presidency and the idealists who want to get rid of both no longer speak at cross purposes: they operate from two camps, but lead us into the same field of battle. This cannot end well.

None of this is to say that the opposition should not debate or talk about these issues. They should, as indeed they are. However, as the experience of yahapalana The years should tell us, shouting about the need for reform and amputating the existing structures where simple surgery would suffice – a distinction that Dayan Jayatilleka makes in his last article – would not achieve the reformist objectives nor retain the populist reactions.

The bottom line is that the opposition, whether green, red or even blue, needs to be more open and outspoken than it is now. He must realize that working alone will not work and he must revise failed strategies from the past, replacing them with new tactics.

The problem is that left-liberal ideologues who once identified with the yahapalana scheme, and eventually became beneficiaries of yahapalanist largesse, focus on centrifugal forces, while government supporters want to entrench centripetal forces. This endless standoff between the ultra-nationalist fringes and the liberal peripheries will not work for anyone, especially for an opposition desperate for popular legitimacy.

For its part, the opposition, in particular the SJB, must be more pragmatic than it is. It must recognize progressive dissent within government, offer resistance to dissenting factions within its ranks, and not get entangled in social media paranoia. In a nutshell, it needs to become more practical when it comes to tactics and strategies. As Hegel wrote long ago, freedom is actually the recognition of necessity. It’s a creed that the SJB would do well to uphold.

The author can be contacted at [email protected]