Written by Tharushan Fernando
13 Nov, 2016 | 8:19 pm
What a week it has been. American and indeed, global politics was turned on its head when business tycoon and TV star Donald Trump won the race to the White House; PM of India Narendra Modi struck at the heart of corruption with surgical precision by banning Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes in a political masterstroke. And our own good-governance government unveiled its budget for 2017.
That a total political outsider could become the President of the United States will be analysed and reanalysed for years to come by the political pundits who, for the most part, got it wrong in the first place. What is obvious is that Trump didn’t just defeat Hillary Clinton. He defeated the pre-election polls, a heavily partisan media, and a massive, well-oiled, well-funded political machine – the party system. Not just the Democratic Party machinery, but also his own Republican Party.
As News 1st predicted in our editorial in the past weeks, it is an entire political order that is being challenged and rejected. The feeling of apathy people have towards how they are being governed crosses party lines. And we repeat this today – political parties are representing people’s aspirations less and less.
Another man who was voted in on the crest of a wave was Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi. His bold stand against corruption sent shockwaves across the world and a clear, unambiguous message to the public, politicians and business community alike: “I intend on remaining accountable to my people”. While his currency-ban is being hailed as a glorious step in the right direction, India’s poor and middle-class seem to have been left abandoned in the commotion. And unless Modi steadies the ship quickly, his masterstroke may backfire.
Still, one must admire a man who has the courage of his convictions.
It is in this backdrop that the ‘Yahapalanaya’ government unveiled its budget for 2017 last week.
Touted as a Budget of the People, one must carefully consider this in light of the IMF Framework that overlords the peripheries of the Sri Lankan economy.
To the present government, turning its back on the IMF just isn’t an option, considering the repercussions of such an attempt. And so, walking a political tightrope that is the National Government and under the close scrutiny of the IMF, the Finance Minister and the government were not left with much wriggle room. That’s the cold, hard truth. And even within this tight squeeze. it managed to make some proposals that bordered on the ridiculous. For instance, whose idea was it to give away tabs to A/L students? It is exactly this type of hare-brained thinking that results in a loss of public confidence. Teach our students to code. Teach them to develop apps. Teach them computer programming. And help them unleash their own creativity. Simply ‘giving away tabs’, achieves nothing. Except of course to rack up a Herculean bill.
The public are becoming increasingly weary of politicians asking the public to tighten their belts whilst sparing no expense on themselves. People will not shy away from paying higher taxes, but leadership for such austerity measures must come from the very top. The people are tired of paying for economic crises created by, more or less, the same people, now attempting to fix it.
One year ago, Hillary Clinton was well set to win the Presidency of the US. She believed, winning the Democratic nomination would be a cake-walk. It wasn’t. Bernie Sanders fought Clinton to the wire and nearly took the nomination away from her by bringing together millions of small donors in a movement that mirrored Trump’s campaign. She pulled through by a whisker but was obliterated by Trump who tore through traditional political boundaries.
In his book Political Order & Political Decay, Francis Fukuyama speaks of the Mechanisms of Accountability as a pillar of political order. Today, that pillar is under siege by the people of the world, enraged at the indifference shown by a decaying political system. Accountability means more than simply allowing citizens to choose and discipline their rulers by way of periodic elections. Simply being voted in, is no guarantee of being tolerated by the public, unless substantive accountability is followed. A modern government must immediately respond to the interest and ‘common good’ of its people. But in a system where long-standing, powerful political institutions have been subject to political decay, this may be, just too much to expect.
Our own politicians and parties would be wise to take heed. What happened in Sri Lanka on January 8 2015, then BREXIT and then Trump, and soon, perhaps Marine Le Pen are all harbingers of a new political order. One that shows scant regard to party politics and demands absolute accountability.
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