By H.L. Seneviratne –
I am neither an astrologer nor a pollster, but purely on the basis what happened on January 8th and, more important, what underlay that event, it is clear that there is no way the Mahinda Rajapaksa faction can win the August 17th election. January 8th was the expression of a social fact that had quietly come into being and gradually gained a momentum capable of demanding the loyalty of increasingly larger numbers of individuals. This development suffered some loss at the inability of the Sirisena–Wickremesinghe government to achieve the promised reforms swiftly, energizing the forces defeated on January 8th, and leading them to think that the new force was dead. But subsequent events have shown that it was only sleeping, and it has now awakened with a roar. Our responsibility as citizens is to be vigilant and make sure that the incoming UNP led government does not precipitate itself into the same political culture that we are trying extricate ourselves from. This should be a major concern of every responsible citizen, particularly the elites who are capable of theoretically comprehending this political culture as a social phenomenon.
For, this political culture did not come out of the blues, but is the culmination of an evolutionary process. While it is true that the Rajapaksa regime best exemplified it, its origins go back to independence and indeed, in a sense, to the pre-colonial era of traditional authority marked by the ruler acting as if the kingdom were his private household. The more direct and proximate roots of the phenomenon are the constitutions of 1972 and 1978, the former politicizing the public service and giving state recognition to the majority religion, and the latter replacing the first past the post system with a preferential system, along with the accompanying replacement of the electorate with the district as the electoral unit. This led to a massive increase in election expenses that in turn encouraged an unholy union between politics and black money. The end result of this process is the political culture that we are trying to extricate ourselves from. The danger however is that this political culture has now become endemic and has invaded every cell of the social organism, making it extremely difficult to eradicate. Yet somehow this needs to be done, and it is for accomplishing that onerous task that the UNP led coalition is about to get its mandate.
The restoration of good governance has already begun since January 8th. It needs to be made more comprehensive, more organized, and placed on a methodical foundation. Among its many areas of work are law and order and the independence of institutions as envisaged in the 17th Amendment. It augurs well that the UNP led coalition plans to enact a new constitution rather than tinker with the existing one. It’s important that this task is done properly with adequate time allocated for public discussion and input. It hardly needs mention that among the most urgent tasks facing the new government is national reconciliation, the belated first step in crafting a nation.
The idea of a national government is timely, and should be pursued to the fullest. The value of a national government lies less in its form than in what underlies it, namely, a national consensus, which should be the expression and watchdog of the national interest. Competing political parties can pursue the national interest in their own different ways, but they should all be loyal to the national interest, and should act only within the frame of the national interest. A national government is the embodiment of the national interest, and is an excellent training ground for the eventual rise of partisan governments that seek to advance the national interest in their own particular ways. There will always be attempts to equate partisan interest with the national interest, which warns us of the magnitude of vigilance and perseverance necessary to safeguard the national interest.
Relentless vigilance is the price of democracy. Among the requirements for vigilance is a free and vibrant press. A free press is the most efficient vehicle of dissent, and dissent is essential for fostering accountability and good governance. Especially given the prospect of the incoming UNP lead coalition forming a numerically strong government, it is important that we remember that power corrupts, and the arrogance of power can debase the best of men. In such a context it is not entirely irrelevant that we wish the best of luck to the small parties, especially the JVP and the TNA. The JVP should continue and intensify its excellent recent record of exposing instances of corruption and other manifestations of ill governance.