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This is my Nation


 

End ‘kussiye yuddaya:’ UNP urges govt.

Almost everyone-even those in government- agrees that the cost of living has risen to unmanageable levels, and is still rising with no respite in sight. The government has not been adept at sound economic management nor has it appeared prudent in its own expenses, sustaining a jumbo cabinet with all its trimmings.

As a result, public resentment against the government is rising amidst a plethora of price hikes and strikes demanding better wages. The war, more war and nothing but the war was the government’s mantra to keep critics at bay. But the recent air-cum-land attack at Anuradhapura dented the government’s boast.

Friday’s killing of S.P. Thamilselvan, Head of the political wing of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) might offer some succour to the President, but the economic hardships faced by the average citizen are of such intensity that much more needs to be done about what the UNP calls the ‘kussiye yuddaya’ (the war in the kitchen).

Come Wednesday and the Mahinda Rajapaksa government will be called upon to deliver its budget proposals in parliament, an event eagerly awaited probably more for its political consequences than for its economic impact.
Some months ago, there was wild speculation that the government would be forced to surrender its parliamentary majority and resign on the vote on the budget. That speculation only gathered momentum with the formation of the National Congress between the United National Party (UNP) and the breakaway faction of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led by former Minister Mangala Samaraweera.

That pre-budget hype appears to have died a natural death now. No one in the corridors of power realistically expects the government to collapse on the vote on the budget now. With some clever political manoeuvring, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has ensured that he has the numbers to see the budget through, if only by a slim margin.
Yet, the budget will be of some political interest, mostly with regard to what stance would be taken by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). It is no secret that the JVP worked harder than most sections of the SLFP to bring Mahinda Rajapaksa into power. But now for a variety of reasons, that relationship has soured and Rajapaksa bashing has become a popular pastime among JVPers.

But the JVP itself is on the horns of a dilemma. While it has been harshly critical of the government, especially its handling of the economy, it knows that any attempt to destabilise the government and force a general election would only undermine its own strength in parliament, as it would not get a substantial slice of the vote if it were to contest on its own.
That would drastically reduce its strength in parliament from its current thirty nine seats and with that, its bargaining potential in any future government. It would also only help boost the UNP which for long has been idling in the opposition with no immediate prospect of gaining power. Therefore, if the JVP decides to oppose the budget, that would signify a political crossroads, to say the least.

The UNP itself is also not so keen to go for the government’s jugular and force a showdown for several reasons, but main among them is the most relevant: it simply does not have the numbers at this point in time to do so.
Hence UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s advice to the party not to set deadlines in the public domain as to when the government would be toppled, for it may be forced to eat its own words as deadline after deadline passes with the government still merrily carrying on.

The UNP also recognises that to play the waiting game would be to its own advantage. The longer they wait, the more the JVP loses its credibility vis-a-vis the public, and the more unpopular the government itself becomes- factors which both work in the UNP’s favour.

More time would also give the UNP an opportunity to revitalise the party at the grassroots level, an activity that has been neglected for some time now by its Colombo-centric leadership. A school of thought within the UNP, led by the indefatigable but civic rights-less S.B. Dissanayake appears to have convinced the leadership of this: hence there is now no mad rush to overthrow the Rajapaksa administration-not just yet anyway.

If those are the political considerations revolving around the budget, what of the budget itself, an annual exercise that pretends to shape the country’s economy for the next one year?
Almost everyone-even those in government- agrees that the cost of living has risen to unmanageable levels, and is still rising with no respite in sight. The government has not been adept at sound economic management nor has it appeared prudent in its own expenses, sustaining a jumbo cabinet with all its trimmings.

As a result, public resentment against the government is rising amidst a plethora of price hikes and strikes demanding better wages. The war, more war and nothing but the war was the government’s mantra to keep critics at bay. But the recent air-cum-land attack at Anuradhapura dented the government’s boast.

Friday’s killing of S.P. Thamilselvan, Head of the political wing of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) might offer some succour to the President, but the economic hardships faced by the average citizen are of such intensity that much more needs to be done about what the UNP calls the ‘kussiye yuddaya’ (the war in the kitchen).

Faced with all these issues to grapple with, the budget becomes almost predictable: there will be no major hardships or price hikes imposed on the public at large, and instead an attempt will be made to deliver a sunshine budget with a wage hike thrown in for good measure, funds permitting.

That way the JVP will be hard pressed to overtly oppose a people friendly set of proposals and the government would have won a reprieve-at least for the time being. Of course, if there are more sinister methods to raise revenue for the government, they could always be introduced post-budget, just as some of them were introduced in the run up to the budget.

Wednesday’s budget therefore will have little economic significance in the long term. But when it comes to voting time on the budget proposals, it should provide exciting political theatre. And, who knows, it may be a curtain raiser for future political trends as well.

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