Sri Lanka for a long time or even never has been the subject of such intense international interest. True the world awoke when we produced the world’s first female Prime Minister and there was major interest from superpower India when their Prime Minister was assaulted during the inspection of a guard of honour. However by and large Sri Lanka has not attracted so much of interest.
An unnamed diplomat from the United States made it clear that they expect future governments to honour international agreements entered into by the Yahapalanaya government.
Sri Lanka has a largely literate population and not one of the near fifteen million voters would have missed the heartbeat of that statement – widely reported in the press. It was clear that the diplomat hiding behind anonymity (that in itself is strange action for a diplomat of all persons) was referring to the soon-to-be-signed ACSA and SOFA agreements with the United States of America.
Sri Lanka has for long been practicing the art of being non-aligned to the west, to the east and Russia. Yet over the years for a variety of reasons Sri Lanka has slipped away from that noble state and become aligned from time to time with one or the other, compromising our non-aligned status along the way.
It is clear that Sri Lanka’s cancer is an acute lack of leadership. The ones we have are mostly devoid of high ethical and moral standards. They profess a belief in democracy which on analysis is easy to unravel as pure humbug.
Sri Lankan leaders are easy to influence and it implies that they are easy enough to procure for material or other benefit. Yet in its 71 years of independence not once has the law of the land found it fit to even initiate legal action against errant parliamentarians for bribery and or corruption. In the past under SWRD a small handful were forced off their positions when their actions were found to be incompatible.
It is most certainly not an indication that Sri Lankan politicians are above board in their dealings – far from it is the reality.
This government was elected back in 2015 on a bandwagon of claims of corruption, nepotism, family bandyism and political patronage all of which was impacting on Sri Lanka’s ability to forge forward economically. Apart from almost minor deviations nothing of any significance has been proven in a court of law. Fast tracked courts were set up yet the progress on holding those responsible accountable has been painfully slow. The lack of apparent real commitment to hold those responsible accountable under the law has been appalling.
The people have grown tired of the political system which is so very much in favour of those in power to enjoy unprecedented impunity.
Whilst the major political parties and individuals fight an almighty difference of opinion and a shocking inability to govern the nation with the public interest at heart, foreign powers have been hard at work to almost coerce the Sri Lankan government to accept changes that are more in tune with their geo-political agendas.
The Rajapaksa administration leaned heavily on China at a time in history when the Chinese were setting up their very ambitious BRI – the well-known by now, Belt and Road Initiative sometimes also known as the String of pearls strategy.
The Chinese monies came almost free and easily. The West tied governments down by linking aid and softish loans to the implementation of sound democratic principles. In the case of China there were no such restrictions. Government to government loans and project financing flowed into Sri Lanka with apparent ease. It came with a price starting in 2015.
The Indians and the Americans in particular were almost beside themselves at how easy it appeared for China to forge ahead with its significant investments. So much so that the Chinese persuaded the new cash-strapped government to cede control of Hambantota Port on the basis that the government had no money to service the loan. Many perceived this as yet another in a very long list of questionable projects tailor-made for the yahapalanaya government favourites to increase their net worth.
The American reaction to the two-oil tanker incident in the Straits of Hormuz – one of the world’s most strategic choke points – will almost certainly see a buildup of the American naval forces in the region including in the high seas off Sri Lanka.
This in turn will not endear events to the Chinese who are waging a fierce trade war with the Trump administration. The Indian climate will also be suspicious of these events and its concern for Sri Lanka has never been higher with freshly re-elected Narendra Modi making his foreign policy heavily reliant on very friendly ties with its neighbours – including of course Sri Lanka.
The suspicious and less than transparent nature of the activities of the Millennium Challenge Corporation – fueled by the timing of its funding announcement – has caused anxiety and worry to the opposition members as well as the people of the country. Ranil Wickremesinghe has developed strong links with the West.
The real question remains whether it was the West that developed links with Ranil Wickremesinghe, to pursue its own agendas which includes a new constitution for Sri Lanka.
The people bemoan the fact that Sri Lanka misses the presence of a strong political leader who will govern the nation accompanied by a policy based strategy.