By Kusal Perera –
What’s there to talk about 2013 ?
The only good thing is, in about 80 hours from now – mid day 28 December – this year would be over. There’s nothing nostalgic about it, except in personal and private terms. Politically, much expected Northern Provincial Council elections and the much favoured electoral victory for the TNA seems no exceptional achievement in post Northern and Tamil politics. For the Southerner, casinos have been decided upon and is being half heartedly protested by “puritans”. None is asking what benefit would they have for the poor and the deprived. What social equity and what contribution to rural development, is not what is asked about. There are also NO Anna Hazares, NO Kejriwals, NO Aam Admi Parties, but a popular, Sinhala President there is, sans an opposition. There is ever growing massive corruption, fraud and extortion, shipping, transshipping and peddling of drugs reported almost every day, battalions of saffron clad rogue clerics allowed free roaming, Tsunamis of murder, rape, sexual assaults, child abuse cracking all indexes of failed and falling States and also a much feared and revered Defence and Urban Development ministry Secretary sitting tough, under whom the police and civil security is, since 2005 December.
The year also ends with the UNP Convention, its 55th since it was formed. Undemocratic as it exhibits itself to be and the convention presided over by a leader who sounded more a school’s principal sitting over a Monday morning assembly, passed four resolutions that again was mere tradition and nothing more. The first resolution says the party would work towards victory at the next elections headed by the new leadership council. Wonder why an opposition party has to pass an unanimous resolution to say it would work towards electoral victory. That’s what it obviously has to do.
The second resolution promises the party would abolish the Executive Presidency. Abolishing the presidency would take us back to a parliamentary system. We have had two parliamentary systems, with and without an upper house during the first 30 years after independence, under two different Constitutions; the Soulburry and the first Republican Constitution. The Soulburry constitution allowed for total disfranchising of Indian origin Tamils, making them stateless and then allowed the whole State to be “Sinhalised” with Sinhala language made the ONLY official language of the country. That parliament could not safeguard the right of minorities, nor could it arrest the decline in social life leading to a political crisis that paved for the first Southern Sinhala armed uprising to catalyse in late 1960s. The first Southern Sinhala armed insurrection broke loose in 1971, just a year ahead of the change in Constitution.
The first Republican Constitution ushered in thereafter in 1972 stressing the importance of being wholly independent and neutral from the British crown, allowed for politicisation of the State with the PSC brought under cabinet authority. Buddhism was written in as a very special religion to be treated exclusively under the Constitution. That parliament allowed for continuous rule under Emergency regulations that even allowed for very strict enforcement of food rationing in a tightly closed State controlled economy.
Performance of all governments during these first 30 years within a parliamentary system was inefficient, dismal and off the mark where curbing of rights and socio economic development was the unwritten norm. Therefore abolishing of the Executive Presidency per se to get back to an undefined parliamentary system is no answer. What if the Executive Presidency is instead curbed and its immunity removed, I may ask.
Third resolution calls for end to corruption and reducing of cost of living. Is the UNP calling on this Rajapaksa regime to honour this resolution on “corruption and CoL” ? There can be nothing more insane than that. That resolution would have had some meaning if it was a pledge instead to form a government sans corruption and fraud and would reduce CoL. The fourth resolves to work “collectively” to form a people friendly government. That seems the only valid resolution at the UNP convention for a party that had over the past decade showed, it has no collective political decision making and no collective campaigning on a single political platform.
This therefore ends where it began and explains why within the UNP, there are factional perspectives, each searching once again for a presidential candidate, “common” to them. End of the day, no lessons learnt, we are going to be told, never mind the promises doled out its “a face with a name” we would have to choose, to vote against a regime that is far outdated and far too toxic to live with. The promise for abolishing of the executive presidency within just 06 months is now 19 years old. Win or loose, others who followed also promised same, but we continue to live under an executive presidential rule, a dead weight to carry along that once again prompts change. But on what programme ?
It is therefore time to leave these worn out faces and corroded names as “common candidate” aside. The only thing common in them is their willingness to swim with the Sinhala tide and carry the promises over to another election. The end of year 2013 and the 65th independence celebrations round the corner, it makes sense to start talking in terms of a clear socio political programme to gain long robbed prosperity. Perhaps 2014 is a good year to begin such dialogue at the end of which, the opposition in particular could be demanded to adopt same, IF they wish to have people vote for them in a country that had been voting since 1931 and literacy had increased to well over 93%, but votes rejected at parliamentary elections had increased from 03.8 percent in 1994 to 5.09 percent in 2010, in the Colombo district itself.
IF that is any indication the people are loosing faith in parliamentary democracy, it also says the people are fed up with all political parties that come with empty calls for change packed with low grade entertainment to entice the voter. It is therefore time to be serious in politics and talk of political programmes for socio economic development, for establishing a functional democracy and genuine promise of a future for ALL. This draft programme therefore identifies the following 04 major areas as the most nationally important areas for political intervention in fairness to all citizens.
- Executive power and the independence of the legislature
- Tamil political demands that include power devolution
- Demilitarisation of whole society, including the economy
- National and rural economy that lay stress on education, health, public transport and local environment
Draft for dialogue, critiquing and improvement
01. Executive power and the independence of the legislature
The All Party Representative Committee (APRC) proposed by President Rajapaksa that included the JHU, the MEP and the SLFP has unanimously agreed on a proposal that allows for a total new structure in governance in three tiers. This could form the basis of the proposal for the future State reforms on a new Constitution. In brief it would be,
01. Parliamentary form of government at the centre with powers of the people shared at three tiers of the government, namely the Central Government, Provincial Government and Local Government. A snapshot of the system would show the following,
- a bicameral parliament
- a stronger provincial system with devolved power
- two elected community councils for Tamils of Indian origin and for Muslims outside North and East
- an upper house, the senate to include provincial representation
- a Constitutional Court independent of the judiciary to safeguard the Constitution from omissions and commissions committed against the Constitution by either the parliament or the PCs.
The Final Report of the APRC presented to the public by R. Yogarajan, MP and Nizam Kariapper of the SLMC, both who sat in the APRC deliberations, is a mirror image of the Final Report handed over to the President by the APRC Chairman, Prof Tissa Vitarana and had been reluctantly accepted as true to his copy. Thus it is proposed as a comprehensive draft proposal for a new Constitution.
02. Tamil political demands that include power sharing
The APRC is the basis for resolving of the Tamil political aspirations that for the first time gained political consensus from Southern Sinhala political leadership and what could be termed a “home grown” solution. It is thus proposed to adopt the APRC Final Report as the answer in paving the way for reconciliation and conclusion of the political disagreement that the LLRC also says needs democratic space for resolution.
The proposal under “ 01. Executive power and the independence of the legislature” is a major part of this proposal for power sharing.
03. Demilitarisation of whole society, including the economy
This society needs to get back to civil life under rule of law, policed by an independent police department and administered by civil administration. The police department should therefore be gazetted under the Home Ministry as it was in the past. This was stressed in the LLRC Report and is therefore proposed to be included in a political programme for democratisation. Not only should the security forces withdraw from all aspects of day to day civil life, the security forces should not be allowed to play an “investor” role in the economy. Right now the security forces are involved very much in the hospitality trade and their entry into business activities, deforms the market economy too, with tax payers money going into recurrent expenditure in all economic ventures of the security forces. Also, these investments, rob economic space and opportunity meant for other investors who would create employment and livelihood for youth and civil life.
04. National and rural economy that lay stress on education, health, public transport and local environment
Most “development projects” in multi billions that come, do not seem to address the major issue of social development for the larger population of the country. Massive investments talked of in terms of leisure entertainment and gaming centres will not be adding anything to improve rural life and alleviate poverty. There is no mention of how the rural poor would gain out of these leisure and gaming centres in improving the quality of their family life. These massive projects would instead end up creating a new elitist urban sub culture in the Western Province, decided by big money.
All these projects have already shelved the National Environment Act and would seriously damage the environment, beyond repair. “Dreamland cities” proposed to be created artificially by reclaiming long stretches of the Western coastal sea, would certainly dislodge marine fishing and may result in heavy erosion along the coast. Yet there are no Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) carried out as required by the law of the land. There is also no discussion on how all such investments would help improve education, health and public transport, all gone into festering degeneration.
Sri Lanka therefore needs far sighted, far reaching reforms in formal and informal Education, preventive and curative Health at community level and Public Transport with serious restrictions on hitherto unlimited import of vehicles resulting in unnecessary consumption of fuel at the expense of those poor people who can not even afford a push cycle. These reforms will have to be designed and positioned within a long term national development policy/plan.
In short it is proposed to have a 15 year National Policy on Education, Health and Public Transport that would be part of the 2015 – 2030 Socio Economic Development Plan of Sri Lanka. Conscious stress would be on social equity (fair access to livelihood, education and resources; full participation in the political and cultural life of the Community; and self-determination in meeting Fundamental Needs) and social justice in development, as against investment from wheeler dealers and without a plan.
Does the educated, middle class Urban polity want such a national programme for the future ? That is another more serious question at hand. They would have to prove, they are not selfish in an economy they are now comfortable living in, while all others feel their lives are crumbling in a chaotic world without answers. Where will the next generation go, if this country is allowed to be morally and culturally ruined with few stacking wealth to Himalayan heights under despotic rule, is one question the elder generation will have to answer, if not in public, then to their silent conscience, while 2013 fades away.