Colombo, Elections, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War

Is post-war Sri Lanka at grave risk of a “Fat Tail” failure?

Eurasia Group, a leading global political risk research and consulting firm earlier this year listed ten countries that may fall risk to “Fat Tail”.  To those of you not familiar with the word, Fat Tail is described as “ A highly volatile political development. Risks include the fall of regimes, military coups, political gridlock and the break-ups of existing states.” It named ten countries with “Fat Tail” risks as a probability and even though Sri Lanka was not on that list, recent political developments in the post war scenario make the country a likely candidate to qualify to be on that list.

The most unexpected developments have taken place in post-Eelam war Sri Lanka. While in June or July or even by August, a regime change was pooh poohed by almost everyone, now not many are willing to dismiss the possibility that quickly.  The entry of the former Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka has changed the equation to such an extent, the regime of President Mahinda Rajapaksa appears to shaken even though  outwardly it dismisses there is no real challenge from him to the  incumbent.

The question many are asking is, if Fonseka does not pose a real challenge and the President is conformable of an easy win, why is the former Army Commander being viciously attacked on some very personal issues using the state media?  It’s unlikely that negative campaigning is going to win President Rajapaska any support but a “positive “ campaign, which is what the President told journalists some weeks ago he wished to engage in, may help him win more support.

The other “fat-tail” risk of military coups can no longer be not taken seriously. The talk of a military coup is very much in the air in the country and is reportedly one of the reasons that the President clipped General Fonseka’s wings. And even though he is retried, he is believed to command the loyalty of a large segment of the lower rankers in the force. The government on its part has been using that possibility to attack the former Army Commander’s commitment   to following the path of democracy if elected. Like one government minister put it recently, “A political dictatorship would be better than a military dictatorship.”

General Fonseka’s poster campaign so far has not done much to clear the perception that he still remains very much a military man despite trying to don the garb of a politician. The latest poster  shows him in army uniform with the words “country before me (“mata pera rata”) but this may not  win him much  support from a sceptical  public who are suspicious about the real intentions behind the man in the uniform, particularly if he continues  use the uniform to prop himself up. However far fetched the possibility of a military coup may seem at present, General Fonseka will have to start changing his image fast from that of a regimented   military man to a civilian who is not only comfortable to wear civil attrite but can also speak and behave like one.

As for one more “Fat-tail” factor, that of political gridlock, the country has been this phenomena for several years now and one classic example of this is the inability of all the political parties to come together to implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and set up the independent commissions. While there are serious doubts about how independent this so called independent commission really are given the fact that political parties end up selecting their representatives to these bodies, they are the only alternative available to the country to prove at least there exists in this country some semblance of good governance. Also the different political parties nominating their representatives to the commissions are still better than what is happening at present with the President unilaterally making appointments.

As for the final factor that contributes to a “Fat-tail” risk, the threat of break-up of the state, for now we can put that behind us with the LTTE defeated. But   that also may not be a definite situation if the political rights of the Tamil people are not guaranteed soon. No leader or government in power will be able to rest on their laurels thinking that by eliminating the threat of secession by the use of armed rebellion, everything else will fall into place. The underlying factors that contributed to such situation are still very much present and need to be addressed soon.

The two main candidates in the upcoming presidential election should start by telling the people of the country how they intend to address this issue instead of wasting resources, time and money to slander each other. Otherwise, “Fat-tail” risk or not, it maybe the people who will rise up against two men who only seem to be trying, one harder than the other, to prove who is more “patriotic.”