By Ameer Ali –
Dear Muslim Parliamentarians
This letter addresses you at a very critical moment of time, when the country’s democracy as well as the future of your community are facing existential crises. Ever since the executive presidency came into existence, all democratic values, traditions and freedom, cherished by the people of this nation, have progressively eroded with the consent of you and your predecessors. True, the constitutional provisions to safeguard the democratic rights of minorities came under attack prior to the executive presidency came into existence and under the 1972 Colvin Constitution. Yet, as long as the judiciary of the country remained independent and the principle of rule of law was upheld there was some measure of protection to minorities in times of political crises. All that has now evaporated and you are now a partner to a regime that in the name of good governance, is failing to protect your community, derailing judiciary’s independence, allowing corruption reign public administration and denuding all conventional norms of democracy. In short you are all promoting and protecting a failed government and a failed state.
Your community is well aware that not all of you entered the parliament through the ballot box. Yet, all of you have made substantial personal gains at the expense of your community. Some of you, by successfully changing colours, have been able to maintain your status and privileges under successive regimes, and in all those regimes whenever the interests of your community came under unprovoked attacks by unruly elements you have maintained an unholy silence. What did you all do when the Aluthgama riots broke out? What did you all do when Muslims were attacked and their assets were destroyed in Gintota, in Ampara, in Digana and in Katugastota? What did you all do when Muslim retail establishments like Fashion Bug and No Limit were burnt? Yes, we knew that you all collectively met and appealed to your bosses to catch and punish the law-breakers. Did your appeal succeed? We see the same culprits still hobnobbing and moving freely to repeat their misdeeds, and shockingly, protected by some members of the security forces. Were the victims of these riots compensated? We hear that 80,000 rupees per victim offered to the victims in Digana. Do you really believe that amount is sufficient to recover all they have lost? Should you all not have resigned wholesale and sat with the opposition to send a strong message to the rulers and whole world regarding the plight of your community? You did not do that because you did not want to lose your positions and perks.
Leave aside the community. What has been your contribution towards addressing the national issues? The rising cost of living is driving millions of families into debt and poverty. Social media reported that the national suicide rate has increased over the last two decades because of mounting indebtedness and worsening poverty. Has any of you made any recommendation towards easing this pressure in your parliamentary debates? Why did you all keep quiet when the central bank bond-scam ballooned and became a national scandal? What was your suggestion so far to bring down the level of national debt, which is crippling the economy and mortgaging the country to foreign institutions and countries? The nation is facing huge environmental problems. Nature is an amana or trust, according to your religion, given to humanity to manage in the interest of all creations and not to ‘conquer’ it solely for the interest of home sapiens. We know that you all are faithful to your religion. However, has any of you bothered to explain to your parliamentary colleagues your religion’s uncompromising stand on this issue? This is one area where you should have led the national campaign for environmental protection. Finally, where is your leadership in relation to reforming the MMDA?
Your failures are too many and it is pointless to enumerate them. However, we admit that your failures are partly due to an all-powerful Executive Presidency under which you are been pushed into a situation where you either put up or shut up. Therefore, the abolition of this constitutional monstrosity can bring relief, at least partially, not only to you but also to your colleagues on both sides. A realistic opportunity to do away with this presidency appears to be around the corner. This is what prompted this letter. I am drawing your attention to JVP’s forthcoming motion to amend the constitution to abolish the executive presidency. Let me tell you at the outset that I am not a member of this party nor for that matter of any party. However, I see that the JVP parliamentarians, who themselves are uninterested in becoming president, are moving in the right direction with a sensible motion, the success of which, with a suitable alternative, will bring back the democratic values and freedom the nation had lost since 1977.
To be frank, Muslim leaders should have been at the forefront of the campaign to oppose the JR constitution when it came before the parliament in 1977. Instead, while some of them surrendered to JR’s dictates and cunningness some others took the diabolical step of forming a political party of their own, the SLMC, to counter JR’s ethnic agenda with one of their own ethnic horror. The consequence has been a total disaster for the Muslim community. True, the two former presidents, Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa promised, when contested for re-election, to abolish the Executive Presidency. Having tasted its fruits once, they were unwilling to fulfil their promises. Now, it appears that even the Joint Opposition has given conditional support to JVP’s amendment. That condition is to dissolve the parliament immediately after the motion’s passage. If the minority MPs vote unanimously in support of the motion, there is a good chance of the motion gaining the two-third majority votes required to become a reality. This is why this letter appeals to you all to demonstrate at least on this occasion to show some leadership. The nation at large and your community in particular will remember you forever if you make the right decision to support JVP’s motion, and work thereafter with constitutional experts to find an alternative.
*Dr. Ameer Ali, School of Business and Governance, Murdoch University, Western Australia