Wednesday, February 15, 2012

It is all about timing and strategy – Who will have the last laugh?

 A student of political science is better versed on this subject of timing, and the immense lengths seasoned politicians go to reverse the usual trend of missteps of Governments in power, especially of those who have been in power for too long.

I must admit that the Government of Sri Lanka has gone to great lengths to study this subject deeply in order to reverse the reversals, and try and ensure uninterrupted periods in power by defeating all the reasons for the need or perceived need for change by the populace in a democracy.

Whilst there are a lot of arguments about whether Sri Lanka is a democracy, it is still undeniable that as long as there is an overwhelming support for the party in power, they will win any election, even if there is some minor degree of electoral engineering, which the current government engages in to increase their majority, and stifle dissent, and make it difficult for those who oppose them to vote, by excluding them from electoral lists and such like. In a tight race all this matters, but the elections held for all the local councils in 2011 clearly showed support continuing for the government.

When one looks closely at this support, it is apparent that the people were immune from any shocks, be it violence, terrorism, or price hikes. In fact the prices of many consumer goods fell due to the high value of the rupee and even the price of motor vehicles came down with the reduction in the duty. The economy for the purposes of elections, looked bright, the stock market was performing and even the jobs prospects did not look too bad, with ever growing foreign remittances that have kept the economy ticking. So no surprise, the support was real.

This whole equation has suddenly changed as the artificial illusion of prosperity has begun to fall apart, as the pack of cards has begun to tumble. It was inevitable, the question was when would it come. The government kept it at bay by for example squandering $2B to support the exchange rate, until it ran out of exchange and the huge surge in imports arising party due to the overvalued exchange rate created a huge balance of payments crisis that has to be plugged.

I believe that the government machinery has done their own polling that shows the people are able to absorb price increases, in order to reduce the subsidies, without too much agitation. Further the next set of elections are over a year away and it is time enough to get back onto a firmer footing once these subsidies are eliminated and the government finances improve.

It is therefore important for the opposition to seize the moment when the government is most vulnerable, to take the initiative to convince the voters of their ability to better manage the economy, and show clearly that had they been in power their policies would not have led to this current spiral of cost of living increases.

We will be in for a daily dose or shock treatments. It was the fuel price increase a few days ago. The falling value of the rupee and the crash in the stock market was yesterday. Each day was another shock with today being an unprecedented increase of 40% in the price of electricity.

These cost of living increases, when the farmers are suffering drastic reductions in the price of their produce, means all categories of consumer, both rural and urban have been dealt a blow and the rich have also had to face the music along with the poor. So what is the strategy of the opposition to meet the challenges and persuade the people that they have an alternative that is better?

The opportunity has been handed these sweets on a plate and if they do not capitalize on this at the present, there may not be another time, when so much that affects every individual’s pocket is affected at once. So it is important they are able to clearly present their case to the people at large and convince them of the seriousness of the mismanagement, along with a strategy to overcome some of the reasons, with solutions to improve the lot of the poor especially who are the most vulnerable segment of the population in this period of rampant increases in costs especially of the poor man’s shopping basket.

The timing is perfect for agitation, people are either seduced into slumber or too frightened to face the tear gas and water cannons, and even rubber or real bullets, that the state will throw at the demonstrators. If the forces come out against the people it is likely that the lower ranks will mutiny against killing their own people for the sake of protecting a government that has suddenly lost all credibility, as all their words in the recent past have NOT held water.

It is time to agitate sporadically all around the nation, on issues that affect that particular region, be it farmers who cannot even get Rs16 per kg for their paddy, to vegetable farmers who cannot sell their produce even at Rs5kg. Everyone is now affected by the fuel, electricity, gas increases, which will transcend into all imported consumables. With all local costs going up, inevitably all local produce goods will also increase in price, leading to an unsustainable attack on the living standards of all who live and work here. Only the overseas workers will see more for their remittances.

Now that no one in government can show their faces in public lest they be ridiculed, it is the moment the opposition has been waiting. Make use of it without delay for maximum impact, and who knows how the tide can turn as long as the catalyst resonates with the people.

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