Colombo Telegraph

Country Before Self

By Shiranee Dissanayake

People wanted a change. And this time they did not just hope for the change and sit back and let it happen. They worked untiringly day and night to achieve it. It must be stated that although there were many who supported the change for various reasons, ranging from expecting ministerial posts, positions of heads of institutions, business deals etc. there was a large segment of civil society who cared for this country and its people, who put the country before self. They comprised clerics, professionals, academics, politicians, journalists and civil society groups among others, who sensed that if the dangerous trends in governance which were unveiling before our eyes were not stopped, it would soon reach a point of no return. And so they took it upon themselves to do what it takes to bring about a regime change. Many are those who worked tirelessly without expecting any personal returns, to create the necessary structure which could harness the support of all communities and political parties to defeat what they all felt was detrimental to the future of this country and its people as a whole. They realized that unless all parties united and worked towards a unified goal, the chances of defeating Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa were remote. And so the concept of a national government took shape.

In this election we witnessed one striking feature which stood out above all. That is, that those belonging to various races, castes, creeds and political ideologies were able to bury their differences and unite to work together to achieve a common goal they all believed in. This was indeed a welcome sign as it demonstrated a touch of statesmanship in all parties concerned. When the current government took office all citizens who valued peace, ethnic harmony and good governance heaved a sigh of relief as they felt that the Maithripala regime struck the death knell to the undemocratic insensitive, corrupt forms of governance of the past. They believed that President Maithripala Sirisena would stand by his promises unlike the previous regime that promised the abolition of the executive presidency in their election manifesto and took action to strengthen and further enhance its powers to dangerous proportions, once they were in power. The composition of President Sirisena’s voter base reflects that he is a leader whom all communities in Sri Lanka namely, Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim Burgher and Malay had placed their trust in. Now the people have given their verdict and the regime change that civic minded citizens worked so hard to bring about, is a reality.

So now what next? Undoubtedly, the immediate priority of the government is to grant the promises made by them pertaining to the 100 day programme. High on the list is the abolition of the excessive powers of the current executive presidency, which have clearly proven to be a grave threat to democracy and a breeding ground for injustice, corruption, and tyrannical family rule. It is clear that the government needs a 2/3 majority in parliament to make the necessary constitutional changes as promised. However, the thinking behind the current attitudes of the various factions that backed the Maithree regime as well as those who promised to support this constitutional change now seem to be having their own political agendas. Although the new opposition headed by Mr. Nimal Siripala De Silva pledged their support to any proposal which was good for the people, they now seem to be prevaricating. What we now see unveiling before our eyes looks like a new ‘opera’ taking shape.

The groups that earlier endorsed the manifesto of President Maithripala Sirisena have now begun to sing their own arias. The UNP membership is dreaming of forming a UNP government. The opposition led by Mr. Nimal Siripala De Silva who at the beginning promised to support the constitutional amendments have now changed their tune and is dilly dallying thus stalling the process. The Hela Urumaya while supporting the abolition of the executive presidency is on a doubting trip of their own, and voicing sentiments of lack of faith in the Maithri regime, while the JVP and the TNA being outside the government, but who have pledged their support, appear to have taken on the mantel of the ‘phantom of the opera’. While the TNA is agitating for an international inquiry into war crimes the JVP is pointing accusing fingers at key members of the government, including Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for ruling without a majority, which of course is true. However, President Maithripala Sirisena clearly stated in his press conference after he crossed over, that he will be appointing Mr. Wickremesinghe as the prime minister if he becomes president. There did not seem to be any objection from any quarter at that time. Therefore, the only reason one can attribute to their silence is because their priority at the time was to bring down the Rajapakse regime. However, now that a general election is looming in the horizon what is blatantly clear, is that their priority is no longer supporting the 100 day programme which is in the country’s interest, but nurturing their own narrow political interests.

Anyone can see that 67 years of party politics have not helped to progress effectively along the path of peace, harmony and economic development. If one analyses the reasons for this it becomes evident, that one of the biggest obstructions to the forward march towards peace and harmony is the contention that particular sections of the community think of themselves as separate from others and needs to be considered as such. And so they have race based political parties such as the Tamil National Alliance, The Jathika and Pivithuru Hela Urumayas, The Sri Lanka Muslims Congress etc. Then there is the UNP, the SLFP, the Left Parties which have a mixed membership of all communities. Undoubtedly they have different political ideologies which is perfectly acceptable in a democratic set up as there are citizens too who subscribe to all these ideologies, and their views have to find expression within the government. But the basic flaw in this scenario is that they try to operate in cocoons by considering themselves separate from others. As a result conflicts arise which we have witnessed escalating into violence. Why has this happened? Is it because the system of party politics is flawed? Or is it because the insight, foresight and attitudes of those who operate within party politics are flawed?

Party politics is necessary to ensure that all views of the people are represented in the government. However, the success and effectiveness of the government will depend on how successfully they can deliver what the country needs as a whole and not what those belonging to one particular political party want. In this context a national government where all shades of opinion are present can certainly deliver the goods to a wide cross section of the people if only all parties in it can change their mindsets to unite and reach a consensus on issues. It is this experiment that has been tried with success in overthrowing the Mahinda Rajapaks regime. We have heard some politicians of the SLFP say that they and the electorate they represent cannot sit together with another political party. If that is so there is nothing to stop them from sitting outside. But what they fail to realize is that their party chairman President Maithripala Sirisena is the head of a state where a national government comprising all parties is in power.

The first priority which this government can implement if only there is unity of purpose among those in the parliament is the constitutional amendments with regard to the executive presidency and the electoral system. As it stands today, the process has not yet started even though the 100 day programme has passed the 50 day mark. Allegations are rife regarding the government dragging its feet with regard to these vital issues which need to be completed before the next election.

People do not want operas and media circuses. They have had enough of them already. The parties within the government and without must get their priorities right. They must put the people’s mandate before their own political agendas and ensure that the last chance they have to safeguard democracy and bring about good governance which the people voted for, has to take precedence over their own personal preferences. It is now time for all parties to realize that they would not have the people’s support at the next election if they do not get down to business and ensure that what the people have voted for is delivered before the 100 days end.

What the newly established regime must realize is that they are subject to close scrutiny by the people, and any move by them which smacks of the type of bad governance of the previous regime will not be tolerated.

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