Four Challenges Before Rajapaksa

by Gamini Weerakoon

"The last and most important of challenges will be the local government elections. Mahinda Rajapaksa for the first time will be on a sticky wicket: Flood havoc, cost of living, revolts in lower ranks and even grumbling and growls among his top notchers." - File Photo
(January 24, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Sri Lanka faces four immediate challenges that should be taxing the brains of those who are supposed to be leading us towards an ‘Asian Miracle.’ The most serious appears to be the La Nina rains that pelted the island and caused havoc — the damage caused being said to be greater than the devastation of the 2004 tsunami.

About a million people were affected by La Nina, an estimated 40 persons killed and the damage estimated at Rs. 40 billion. Some will say the damage caused by nature’s disasters is as comparable with disasters caused by patriotic Sri Lankans such as the whiz kids of the Petroleum Corporation and the Central Bank on a hedging deal, which according to Petroleum Products Minister Susil Premajayantha, has resulted in the country having to pay three international banks a whopping sum of Rs. 29 billion. But Rs.29 billion appears to be simply cadju nuts.

La Nina

The devastation caused by La Nina has been serious enough for foreign aid organisations, countries — friendly and not so friendly — and even Ban Ki Moon whom we have been blackguarding round the year, to come to our assistance with an offer of US$ 51 million. We Sri Lankans have the spirit of the captain of the German Warship EMDEN who ordered his band to keep playing as the ship sank off the Sri Lankan coast. It is aptly summarized in the pithy Sinhala phrase: ‘Nava gilunath band chune.’ So as the floodwaters recede, come what may – Dengue, H1N1 or any other affliction — our leaders are off to salubrious climes, of course, for ‘important’ visits.

World Cup

At the height of the floods, as the humble peasants of the Dry Zone and neighbouring regions fled their cadjan shacks, with only the clothes they were wearing, towards high ground, another national priority engaged the attention of most of the sporting public: The Loka Kusalane (World Cup in Cricket). Ever since Sri Lanka won the World Cup under the daring captaincy of Arjuna Ranatunga, those Sri Lankans to whom cricket had been a sudda’s game suddenly came to consider the World Cup as an inherited property of the country.
Arjuna is now on the wrong side of the political divide being one of those rare politicians who acts according to his conscience, rightly or wrongly and at times is being treated as a petty thief. In contrast Sanath Jayasuriya MP is now top of the pops with outriders escorting his official car. A slight scratch on his fender merited reports in the state controlled press.

Last week it was reported that the ball which was being wrapped with pirith nool to be exhibited at the World Cup venue at the newly built Mahinda Rajapaksa Stadium at Hambantota (which we commented on last Sunday) was doing its rounds through the Wanni with more of that supposedly sacred thread being wrapped around it. Our only hope is that such immature, infantile gimmicks would not be repeated which will be a disgrace to Buddhism and project Sri Lankan cricket as some kind of mumbo-jumbo. Does Sri Lanka Cricket have any control over such exhibits being displayed or are they together in this mumbo-jumbo?
Meanwhile Colombo Municipal Council’s ‘administrator’ is also getting into the act. He is organising a ‘cricket fiesta’ on Greenpath on days the World Cup matches are played, with a giant TV screen for the match to be watched. We don’t know how the ‘Kamil Show’ will go and it would be prudent to know before hand whether the ‘thirsty’ Aussies, the rumbustious boys from the Caribbean and the like will be satisfied with faluda, koththu roti and ice coffee. Meanwhile the nauseating stagnant canal by the Khettarama Stadium is to be cleaned and roads around the stadium are to be repaired at a cost of Rs. 30 million of the tax payer’s money. Non cricketing types are entitled to ask whether the canal that has been stinking to high heaven for years and roads with pot holes can only be repaired if a World Cup comes along.

Royal Wedding

Another challenge which is likely to surface is the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton scheduled for April 20. No doubt, everybody who considers himself somebody will like to be in London when the festivities are on and would like a joy ride on board Mihin Lanka or SriLankan. Two problems arise: Visas and the reception that the LTTE brethren will accord to the Sri Lankan head of state and his hangers on. By tradition, heads of Commonwealth States are invited for Royal weddings but the present state of relations between 10 Downing Street and President’s House in Colombo are not very cordial to say the least. On the other hand the British Prime Minister may not be involved in the issue of invitations for the Royal wedding which would be a matter between the palaces of the Royal family.

On the occasion of the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, our President J.R. Jayewardene with his wife Elena were in attendance and if we remember right so was Prime Minister R. Premadasa and his wife Hema. There were other catchers on the delegation who were not invited to the wedding ceremony or dinners but were quite content to be on the streets hoping they would catch the eye of a TV cameraman.There is still another month or so to go and how the events would play themselves out will be a subject not only for gossip but politics as well.

Local Government elections

The last and most important of challenges will be the local government elections. Mahinda Rajapaksa for the first time will be on a sticky wicket: Flood havoc, cost of living, revolts in lower ranks and even grumbling and growls among his top notchers.

But a forlorn UNPer tells us: Aiyo, don’t worry. Our fellows will run themselves out and with a computer ‘jillmart or two’ will be home, safe and dry.

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