Monday 9th November 2020
President Donald J. Trump was planning to paint the town red. His plan having gone pear-shaped, the Democrats are doing that. Joe Biden has emerged the winner in the US presidential race. He had won 279 electoral votes and Trump 214, at the time of going to press. President Trump’s allegations of electoral frauds, undue delays in vote counting and other such issues have taken the gloss off the Democratic win to some extent.
This is not the first time there have been allegations of fraud and intimidation anent a US presidential election. Such incidents were widespread in some parts of the US including Louisiana and South Carolina, during the closely contested 1876 presidential election, and both Democrats and Republicans were responsible for them, according to historians.
Interestingly, Trump, whom Russia is accused of having made the President, has been brought down by what he calls the China virus, among other things. The Democrats were hoping for a walk in the park, on 03 November, but Trump put up a good fight; if not for the pandemic, which has plunged the US into chaos, Trump would perhaps have been able to secure a second term. The Republicans have performed impressively in the Senate and House races, which went alongside the presidential election.
The American polity is riven with deep divisions. The biggest challenge before President elect Biden will be to make the American democracy great again, and reunite the United States. He addressed the nation very eloquently and undertook to do so. However, the proof of the pudding is said to be in the eating. He will have to preside over one of the worst crises in the history of the US as well as the world. The US topped 125,000 daily COVID-19 infections on Friday, and this portends serious trouble for the new administration to be formed. Trump chose to keep the country open despite the rapid increase in infections, and his modus operandi has not worked. He fought shy of closing the country as he did not want the economy to suffer. Lockdowns will entail huge economic, political and social costs. How does Biden propose to get on top of the situation?
The Democrats have defeated the nationalistic forces that rallied behind Trump. But whether they will succeed in managing their electoral gains hinges on Biden’s ability to deliver. Will he and Kamala Harris be able to live up to the Americans’ expectations? We are reminded of the 2015 regime change in this country. It was also considered a setback for nationalism and saw the coming together of a docile President and a self-assertive second-in-command. What happened thereafter is now history.
Meanwhile, the process of electing the US president is not yet over. What is known as the general election has been completed, for all practical purposes, although the final result has not yet been announced. The people have voted for 538 electors in favour of Biden and Trump, and the exact number of electoral votes each of them has secured will be known soon. Thereafter, it is up to the electors to vote for either Biden or Trump when they meet as the Electoral College, on 14 Dec. 2020. Their votes are sent to the Congress for the final tally, which is scheduled to be announced on 06 January 2021.
The Founding Fathers expected electors to be ‘men capable of analyzing’ presidential candidates, but the members of the Electoral College are today bound by their party allegiances more than anything else. The electors are thus party loyalists, but not all of them are legally bound to vote for the candidates they have publicly declared their allegiance to. There been instances of ‘faithless’ electors voting for candidates other than those they were pledged to. Following the conclusion of the 1948, 1960 and 1968 presidential elections, when the Electoral College met, third parties received electoral votes, much to the disappointment of the voting public and the main candidates. After the presidential elections in 1976, 2004 and 2016, faithless votes changed the final tallies but had no impact on the outcomes of those races.
In 2016, Republican Candidate Trump lost two electoral votes (out of 306 elected) and his Democratic contender Hillary Clinton five (out of 232 elected), owing to faithless candidates. Some States have legislated for the cancellation of faithless votes, and the electors who cast them are penalised in five States, but those from other places face no such legal barriers.
Faithless electors have not changed the outcome of a US presidential election so far. They are not a problem in an Electoral College blowout situation, but the fact remains that they have the potential either to change the apparent winner or to send a presidential election to the Congress. The US polity is polarised as never before. Even armed Trump supports were sighted near some counting centres. President Trump, having declared himself the winner falsely, is ready to do whatever it takes to retain power, and anything is, therefore, possible. Trump has not conceded defeat, and a representative of his legal team has said that much could happen between the election and the inauguration of the President due on 06 January 2021.
It may be recalled that in 1877, the Congress had to appoint an ad hoc electoral commission to sort out a dispute when both Democratic and Republican candidates who contested the 1876 presidential election—Samuel J. Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes, respectively—claimed victory with South Carolina, Florida and Louisiana being in doubt. The election results were revised, and the Congress, following a stormy session, announced, on 02 March 1877, that Hayes, who had almost conceded defeat a few months before, had been elected the President.
Of that presidential monkey wrench
Thursday 7th July, 2022
The Opposition has, after weeks of dillydallying, agreed to form an all-party caretaker government. The JVP remains noncommittal but it will have to make common cause with other Opposition parties if it is not to be branded a spoiler. The SLPP, however, has not taken kindly to the Opposition’s move; it is seeking to have one of its MPs appointed Prime Minister.
Some Opposition parties have claimed that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is against the proposed all-party interim government. If so, he is asking for more trouble. It was to oust him that the people took to the streets, first. Their main slogan was ‘Gota Go Home!’, but the President managed to deflect them from their purpose and save his skin by throwing others including his elder brother, Mahinda, to the wolves. First, he got the entire Cabinet except Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to resign, but as pressure continued to mount, he had Mahinda resign and appointed a new Cabinet with Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister. Those measures have not helped contain the crisis and grant relief to the public, and it is only natural that the people’s anger is rising. If the President tries to prevent an all-party interim government from being formed, the people, and the Opposition will go all out to oust him. He will be without any defence.
President Rajapaksa has failed; he has made colossal blunders on his own admission, and they have inflicted irreparable damage on the country. The current economic crisis would not have come about if assistance had been sought from the IMF about two years ago, and the rupee floated much earlier without being defended at the expense of the country’s scarce foreign reserves. Ill-advised, politically-motivated tax cuts led to the prevailing rupee crisis and excessive money printing, which has led to hyperinflation, and the rupee devaluation. The President’s disastrous experiment with organic farming has taken a heavy toll on the agricultural sector. That is why the people launched the ‘Gota Go Home’ campaign. Wickremesinghe became the Prime Minister, undertaking to play a messianic role, and the UNP made him out to be a miracle-man capable of attracting billions of dollars in next to no time because he was in the good books of the developed world. But the crisis has taken a turn for the worse since his appointment as the PM. It has now been revealed that an amendment to the Exchange Control Act in 2017, when he was the Prime Minister, stood forex racketeers in good stead and paved the way for the present dollar crisis. Newly-appointed Minister Dhammika Perera, who was brought in as a National List MP to promote foreign investment, has declared that PM Wickremesinghe is obstructing the country’s efforts to bring in foreign exchange, which is the be-all and end-all of any economic recovery programme. He has called for the latter’s resignation as the Finance Minister. Minister of Power and Energy Kanchana Wijesekera does not seem to know whether he is coming or going. The only thing he does efficiently is to increase the prices of fuel, which is in short supply.
The incumbent government has manifestly failed and is not capable of resolving the crisis. There is a massive build-up of public anger in the polity, which is a simmering volcano. The Opposition is planning to go on protesting until the President steps down, and such a course of action will plunge the country into anarchy, and let the genie out of the bottle. The only way to defuse tension, and foreclose protests that are bound to debilitate the economy further is to form a multi-party interim government so that the Opposition will have to stop protesting and put its shoulder to the wheel to help turn around the economy and ameliorate people’s suffering. The formation of a national unity government will also go a long way towards regaining the confidence of foreign investors, lenders and well-wishers. It will be plain political suicide for President Rajapaksa to try to throw a monkey wrench in the works.
All bark and no bite
Wednesday 6th July, 2022
Parliament was thrown into turmoil once again yesterday, when a group of Opposition MPs staged a boisterous protest against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s presence in the House. They shouted themselves hoarse, asking the President to step down. The whole country has been asking the President to go home, but he carries on regardless. Politicians who savour power never give it up of their own volition; they are like limpets. So, no amount of shouting will help the SJB, the other Opposition parties in Parliament, and the public see the back of the President, as it stands. It looks as if the Opposition had to change its strategy.
The government still has a working majority in Parliament; it therefore has the edge in shouting matches in the House and can secure the passage of bad laws. Yesterday, there were dozens of government MPs shouting in support of the President. The Opposition has its work cut out as regards its plan to topple the government by mustering enough numbers in Parliament, and this may be the reason why it has taken its battle to the streets. A similar situation arose towards the latter stages of the yahapalana government. The UNP-led UNF retained an absolute majority in the House with the help of the JVP and the TNA although it was losing popular support rapidly. The SLPP intensified its campaign outside Parliament and turned the tables on the yahapalana regime; it won the presidential and parliamentary polls with huge majorities. But this time around, there is neither an election in sight nor a guarantee that the next government to be elected would be a stable one, and the present crisis would go away even if Parliament resolved to dissolve itself and a snap general election was held anytime soon. There’s the rub. The SJB, other anti-government forces, and the country will stand to gain only if all parties get together to break the back of the crisis before the next general election.
It has been reported that the Opposition is planning to launch a continuous protest soon to pressure the President to resign. The President is not likely to step down due to protests, but if he happens to find himself in a situation where he is left with no alternative but to sacrifice Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appoint a new government with someone else as the PM, to save his skin, he will not scruple to do so. After all, he had his own brother, Mahinda, step down as the PM, didn’t he? In fact, he offered the premiership to SJB leader Sajith Premadasa before appointing Wickremesinghe PM. Anything is possible in politics.
The Opposition may have thought yesterday’s protest against the President would go down well with the irate public, languishing in queues and skipping meals, but such gimmicks will not help solve their problems. People are so indignant that they may love to see the President and other government grandees being ridiculed, but that does not serve their purpose. The interests of the public will be served only if all political parties, which are responsible for the mess the country has got into over the years, albeit to varying degrees, speak with one voice and act unitedly to resolve the crisis.
President Rajapaksa may have sought to prove MP Wimal Weerawansa wrong by attending Parliament yesterday. The latter said on Monday that the President was nowhere to be seen, the implication being that he was in hiding. But the President’s presence only led to a serious disruption to parliamentary proceedings in a time when the national legislature should remain maniacally focused on how to contain the crisis. The IMF and foreign governments have told Sri Lanka with one voice that it has to get its act together to qualify for financial assistance, but its political leaders are jousting for supremacy instead of sinking their differences and working out a common agenda to save the economy.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe threw down a challenge to JVP leader, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, who claims to be able to revive the economy in six months. He said he would resign, allowing Dissanayake to take over as the PM if the latter could present to Parliament a workable plan to resolve the crisis so fast. Will Dissanayake take up the challenge or continue to protest? The SJB also can reveal to the House how it intends to sort out the economy, and thereafter ask for the reins of government to implement its economic recovery programme. Such a course of action will be much more effective, and beneficial to the country than shouting.
A dangerous trend
Tuesday 5th July, 2022
Fossil fuel is highly inflammable and has to be handled with care, as is known to everyone. Shortages thereof could also be so, in a manner of speaking, as evident from how tempers flare in fuel queues, igniting violence. There have been countless untoward incidents at filling stations, some of which even had to be closed temporarily as a result. The situation has recently taken a turn for the worse. Now, protesters are clashing with the police and security forces personnel directly. An armed soldier was stabbed at a fuel station in Embilipitiya, the other day, and an army officer was seen kicking a protester elsewhere. This is an extremely dangerous trend. When the armed forces are deployed to control angry crowds, violent encounters are to be expected.
In May, the country witnessed a spate of violence in the aftermath of the SLPP goon attacks on the Galle Face protesters. Organised gangs wearing full-face helmets carried out arson attacks in a very systematic manner as if they had rehearsed for those destructive acts. Luckily, they failed to sustain the wave of violence, but they may be able to compass their anarchical ends if clashes between the people and the armed forces erupt.
The best way to defuse widespread tensions is to make fuel freely available, but given the prevailing forex crunch and the attendant shortages of essential imports, the government must at least make a serious effort to ration fuel to be imported and bring profiteers to justice. Cynics say Sri Lanka has become an oil rich country of sorts although pumps at its filling stations have run dry. This situation has come about thanks to hoarders who are making a killing while the ordinary people have been left without any fuel. At this rate, the government might not be able to solve the fuel shortage even if a dozen ships carrying oil were to arrive in quick succession. Raids continue to yield huge amounts of hoarded diesel and petrol, but we believe that the police are only scratching the surface of the problem. If handsome rewards are offered for information that leads to the seizure of hoarded fuel, and raids are stepped up with more decoys being deployed, the police will be able to seize at least a shipload of fuel from hoarders.
What characterises the petroleum sector is utter chaos with racketeers having a field day. Most vehicles, especially trishaws, do not leave queues even after being refuelled; they keep returning and obtaining diesel and petrol continuously at the expense of others, who are left without any fuel as a result. Most trishaws are not available for hire these days, for it is much more lucrative to wait in queues, obtain fuel and sell it on the black market, where a litre of petrol or diesel fetches as much as Rs. 2,000. The success of any strategy to dispense fuel equitably will hinge on the government’s ability to hold unscrupulous elements at bay until fuel supplies are restored to the pre-crisis level. The recently-introduced token system has manifestly failed, and it is only natural that the government has dissociated itself from this harebrained scheme.
The government should introduce fuel rationing urgently. Perhaps, it should seriously consider adopting the odd-even rationing and having fuel stations stamp a mini calendar on the reverse of the revenue licence of every vehicle so that dates on which fuel is issued can be cancelled, at the pump, preferably by the police. This scheme, we believe, may help halve the number of vehicles waiting in fuel queues, infuse the public with confidence and thereby thwart speculation, which results in hoarding.
Meanwhile, when diesel is issued, priority has to be given to vehicles engaged in public transport and tourism, trucks transporting essentials, fishing craft, etc. This does not happen at present; even the owners of super luxury SUVs that do not do more than four to five kilometres to a litre of petrol or diesel have unlimited access to fuel. Many such gas guzzlers have been sighted at the CPC’s Kolonnawa storage terminal, where fuel is said to be issued to the so-called VVIPs, while the majority of private buses cannot operate for want of diesel.
The root cause of the fuel crisis is the shortage of forex, but the government’s cavalier attitude and inability to introduce a proper rationing system have aggravated it and are likely to plunge the country into anarchy with people clashing with the police and the armed forces, much to the glee of the so-called Helmet Brigade waiting in the wings for another opportunity.
Dhammika asks Ranil to resign as FM
JVP Leader accuses govt. of hatching plot against his party
BRICS emerging as strong rival to G7
‘Dates have the highest sugar content to fight Coronavirus’
U.S. Congress to probe assets fleecing by US citizens of Sri Lankan origin
Sunday Island 27 December – Headlines
Features4 days ago
When will the Gang of Four be held accountable for their irresponsible decisions?
Business2 days ago
Sri Lanka’s economic confidence index plummets
Business3 days ago
Young apparel entrepreneur offers ‘winning deal’ to Sri Lankan nationals living abroad
News5 days ago
Fuel crisis: Key CPC facility opened for VIPs, friends as public transport shrinks
News6 days ago
HRCSL: No prisoners were used in 09 May attacks on protesters
News5 days ago
Resignation of Prez, PM prerequisite for resolution of current crisis – Direction Sri Lanka
News3 days ago
Dr. Godahewa warns govt. over its IMF strategy
Features4 days ago
The Estate Appus – a dead or dying species?