Wijith DeChickera is concerned that Sri Lanka is on the fast track from Arab Spring to a decline and fall like never before in its history

As another new year dawns, darkness hovers over the horizons of most Sri Lankans. A muted season, if that time of year has any meaning beyond the pale, far from the revellers in seemingly cash flush urban settings.

There’s also anxiety about headline and food inflation – and a nagging sense that our governors have lost the plot fleshed out by last year’s citizen protests, as well as closed ranks to deliver more of the same in 2023.

And that – at the time of writing – there were miles to go before the staff level agreement could be safely converted into an IMF board approved bailout of a putative US$ 2.9 billion was cause for concern to fiscal managers of our island’s stalled economic engine. And cold comfort to families (with an estimated 5.7 million facing malnutrition) eking out a living, or staving off starvation by hook or by crook.

That this struggle – in the conventional sense, now that the erstwhile aragalaya of the people has fizzled out like the last skyrockets we see on new year’s eve in a dark black sky – takes place against the backdrop of untaxed big business, political wheeler dealers on the take and all-comers on sundry black markets (including the money laundry that passes for a bourse, as is widely believed) feathering their own nests is galling to egalitarians who have long cried out for a more equitable salvation.

There will be a growing sense of unease as the clock counts down the seconds to midnight on New Year’s Eve that even partygoers who are oblivious to the economic Armageddon beyond ‘31st night’ and those who are still partisan to the powers that be in their emperor’s new clothes sense that darkness would follow dawn.

Would flipping the calendar to a new month bring better prospects or spell economic doom all round?

The future of this nation is indebted to a trifecta of political stability, socioeconomic justice and fiscal good health.

AN END IN MIND Arguably, fiscal good health could ensue through the interventions of diverse stakeholders in Sri Lanka’s economic recovery project.

Alongside the debt restructuring negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, our cash-strapped nation recently also sought a spate of credit lines from India and China. And the Central Bank of Sri Lanka is working with exporters to ensure that their forex earnings are maximally repatriated.

Additionally, the government is seeking an influx of foreign direct investments (FDIs) – a hard ask under ordinary circumstances because of policy volatility and red tape among other barriers.

That said, it’s a harder task for the prevailing gubernatorial culture, intractable sabre rattling by political parties with their eye on a possible dissolution of parliament in March and general elections beyond it, and the background noise of ongoing unrest in the public square.

And even if a citizens’ movement tried and tested the notion of popular sovereignty in action to oust a sitting president, prime minister and cabinet in 2022, the apolitical aragalaya – never sustainable in the medium term – has grown tired of clenching an angry (yet, nonviolent) fist in the face of complacent MPs whose ‘vote’ for entrenching the status quo can be ‘bought’… by force; amoral suasion; and old-fashioned pay, perks and pensions.

THE FREAK SHOW On the other hand, there could well be a change in political colours if a (yes, yet another) coalition forms on the sidelines of the post-dissolution freak show that passes for principled governance in the 21st century.

But a genuine transformation of the entrenched political culture looks less likely, given that the aragalaya has petered out – bar the mule-like persistence of youthful activists and dangerously simmering trade unions biding their time.

It’s problematic whether what was once considered ‘Sri Lanka’s Arab Spring’ will bring the notion of popular sovereignty – the idea that polities frustrated by the performance of their elected representatives to the point of citizen activism can finesse regime change – to the fore again.

In the absence of a constitutionally mandated right of recall whereby the electorate could recall dud, tone-deaf and self-serving politicos by petition, civic action or referendum, it’s all we have.

TO THE BACK TEETH Sad that the politically unprompted irritation of ordinary citizens fed up to the back teeth with arrogant and/or incompetent governments has fallen by the wayside.

Especially now, in a milieu where the relatively cushioned middle and upper classes have their cake, fuel and rich food needs momentarily met. Can such a party last?

Sorrier still if the forex crunch can’t be reversed by diasporic largesse and other stakeholder instrumentalities – including the recently demonstrated friendly disposition of the Paris Club with its call for a 10 year moratorium on debt repayments and other benefactors of our bankrupt nation seeking a win-win solution to Sri Lanka’s woes.

Tragic and ironic if the good, the bad and the ugly will have the plug pulled on them equally precipitately – and a once pleasant paradise (where only the politically corrupt and insensitively profit minded are vile) goes down the tube.