Navigating the new normal

With Sri Lanka easing its lockdown restrictions starting tomorrow (11), amidst the discovery of new Covid-19 cases on a daily basis, the real battle to contain the virus as well as resurrect the crashed economy is only just beginning.

The biggest concern is to ensure that a second wave does not take place as has been the case in many countries that successfully contained the virus the first time. Countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Korea did well in round one but have faced huge challenges in round two.

Sri Lanka has modelled its virus response on the lines of the Chinese example with a strict lockdown and stringent safety protocols. While the majority of the people have adhered to the precautions, a sizeable number have chosen to ignore the guidelines.

If Sri Lanka was to model its reopening also on the Chinese example, then it would be apparent that the road ahead is anything but smooth.

Wuhan, the Chinese epicentre of Covid-19 which gradually reopened at the beginning of April, is struggling to find its feet a month later. When the lockdown was eased, it was widely anticipated that shops and businesses would reopen, factories would begin production, and public transport would return to normal, but very little of that has happened.

Instead, people are finding themselves out of jobs, entrepreneurs are finding themselves struggling for survival, shops are closing because owners can no longer afford to pay high rents, factories are idling due to lack of consumption, and the end result is an economy heading into recession – something that has not happened in decades.

With an imminent full-blown conflagration between Beijing and Washington, there is every prospect that Sri Lanka and the other emerging economies will become collateral damage in this war of attrition. How our leaders play this out will inevitably decide our revival prospects.

It is no secret that the decision to open tomorrow has been heavily influenced by the Government’s resolution to go ahead with the general election on 20 June. With the Election Commission (EC) requesting a minimum of 35 days to prepare for the poll, the schedule ahead is a tight fit. However, the date now depends on the outcome of litigation initiated by at least half a dozen individuals and parties that have filed fundamental rights (FR) applications in the Supreme Court (SC) seeking to annul the dissolution of Parliament and declaration of elections based on the unconducive environment brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Be that as it may, the already delayed election has actually been a blessing in disguise as it has provided a window for people to think and reflect on who best should represent them in the new parliament, which will arguably have the toughest job in the country’s post-Independence history in getting the economy back on track.

At the time we gained independence in 1948, Ceylon was Asia’s reigning star. But, with the exit of the British, that show didn’t last long. We certainly didn’t waste time in losing the plot with the events that transpired just eight years later in 1956. It has been all downhill ever since.

The British for their convenience had a divide and rule strategy so that we natives were busy fighting each other rather than them. After Independence, our politicians simply could not see the bigger picture or in some instances simply did not want to, and the seeds of dissension that were sown between communities rather than being uprooted, were allowed to fester and grow. The rest is well-documented history.

Covid-19 has presented an unprecedented second chance at redemption for politicians to put aside petty politics and unify in the national interest, but it seems that the same forces that destroyed prosperous Ceylon are still very much alive, playing the same deadly games and in the process, pushing the country further into the doldrums.

The time has now come for people to take matters into their hands through the democratic process and throw out the elements that have destroyed the country from within. In 40 days, they have the opportunity to elect a new set of representatives who can stop the rot. This fundamental fact is what will shape Sri Lanka’s destiny for generations to come. Those elected will be the ones who will either make or break this nation in the unforgiving, dog-eat-dog world that will unfold in the post-Covid-19 era. Let’s hope that profound thought will sink in for the electors.

It has been speculated that the pandemic will be around for up to two years and around 70% of the global population could be infected at some point or the other in the absence of a vaccine. The fallout of this is two years of global economic misery followed by a global economic war that will decimate the weak and sustain the smart.

Therefore, the writing is on the wall. It is only a parliament that will spawn a capable, credible, qualified, experienced, go-getter government that will save the day for the nation. Every country in the world will be compelled to utilise their best brains to ensure economic survival. This is the first time in history where traditional politicians will have to make way for professionals to run governments not only here but all over the world. If we, at the next poll, don’t realise this truth and persist with those who have failed us, then we are doomed.

What we must remember is that at the end of the day, every Covid-19-battered country will line up and fight for the same share of the pie, be it resources, markets, financial assistance, etc. If Sri Lanka's answer to this is the same chilli powder throwers, holy book throwers, water pourers, and foul-mouthed hooligans in white garb, then we the people have failed the nation and generations to come.

The world economy as we know it has been reset in digital parlance. When the pandemic eventually pans out, all those affected will line up as equals on the starter’s line. Who wins and who gets what will depend on the athletes that each country fields at the race, meaning the governments they elect. Therefore, it is essential that Sri Lanka picks the best possible team to run the race ahead.

The people of this land who more often than not have voted with their hearts and not their minds have an obligation this time around to ensure that those who have failed in their duties and responsibilities should not be re-elected; those who have propagated hate and caused divisions and dissension should not be re-elected; those who have governed with their mouths and not action on the ground should not be re-elected; those who have lied and failed to account for their actions and inactions should not be re-elected; those who have amassed wealth and fattened themselves on the poor man’s account should not be re-elected; those who have cheated, robbed, and hoodwinked the public should not be re-elected; those who have been proven con artists should not be re-elected; those who have violated the law and democratic principles should not be re-elected.

In navigating the new normal in the post-Covid-19 context, the relevance of outdated, mediocre politicians will be zero. The ball is in the people’s court.