By Mahesh Senanayake –
Engulfed with a deep sense of anxiety and skepticism, here is a nation showing great spirit of fighting against a deadly unforeseen enemy – Covid-19. Majority of this nation has rallied around a common goal forgetting all differences, exactly the same way they faced a deadly terrorist group for years or the way they faced an inhuman suicidal bomb attack by a group of misguided youth exactly a year ago. That is to fight Covid 19 and come out of the prevailing turmoil to pursue a path of resilience. The mentioned trait of the Sri Lankans is undoubtedly a blessing for governments in power as most of the people are ready to pay heed to government’s rules, specially at a time of crisis, with the exception of some unscrupulous islanders making things tough, as seen in the current back drop of fight against covid-19.
An appreciation of the government’s commitment, amidst positive criticism, towards bringing back normalcy is surely due. Led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, it is evident that the first person of the country has successfully been able to set an apparatus mainly spearheaded by the military and public health sector. Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s strong affiliation with the military coupled with his sound understanding of how the apparatus works is seemingly a success factor in controlling the global pandemic that has plagued many economies. Unstinted support given by both the major and minor political parties towards the task persuading the government to take every step to rescue the people is a phenomenon in a country which has unfortunately developed a political culture where the opposing parties do not draw any parallel line with the government of the day, even if the worst imagination would occur. The writer recollects how the then opposition fully usurped the terrorized atmosphere befell due to the Easter Sunday attack year ago, for political advantage. They fired all cylinders of their political machinery instigating wide spread doubt and fear psychosis using politicians, members of the pubic, trade unionists and clergy who mercilessly attacked the good governance government of which credibility was stained by a common candidate who is now eyeing a return to parliament. Despising any effort by the then government was the norm of the day and a considerable portion of the voters were drilled to believe political myopia. Ironically the then opposition is the government today.
As mentioned, the current government seemingly finds itself in a comfortable status with the support from public, civil society and opposing political parties at large. Constructive criticism by the opposing views, be it from the political or non political domain should be received with modesty which is a key to nurse a democracy. Hence, the scenario is not sans criticism. The primary basis for such criticism has hinged on the government’s preoccupation to hold early elections in a bid to secure a 2/3 majority trumpeted as a sine qua non to serve the people better. That has been the orchestrated voice of the government from day one as pointed out by several political commentators. President’s proclamation to dissolve the parliament without taking the stock of the deteriorating situation and creating passage for nominations, the slow reaction of the government to comprehend the incoming threats from the global pandemic were the essence for such criticism levelled against, however, with no political malice. As the pandemic is hitting the socio-economic landscape with no favors to rich or poor, Sinhalese, Muslims or Tamils, the country-wide appeal is tilted towards delaying the general elections and giving priority to eradicate the contagious menace and subsequently reopening the economy hopefully for quick resilience. It is at this point that the government’s commitment is put to test, mainly, as the experts fighting the virus have not announced a firm time line of eradication yet. Public doubts were further doubled with the claims from government politicians saying the matter will be over by third week of April. Thus a government who was praised by many is now facing dilemma to prove its genuine interest towards saving the lives of the people rather than holding general elections to secure a 2/3 majority in a hurried manner. Recent letter by the secretary to the president Mr P. B Jayasundara written to the election commissioner, flatly negated the election commission’s recommendation to seek supreme court advice to avert a constitutional impasse. The said letter further persuades the elections commission (EC) to hold elections by mid May which is now the topic of political debate. This has been a cause for concern as the prevailing atmosphere in the country would not facilitate a steady mindset of the public to use their franchise wisely and the contesting parties to reach the voters adequately. Hence, with a negative track record of abusing the state machinery for electioneering by any party in power, it is no strange to see erosion of public faith of a free and fair election when they see the urgency and growing political intervention by the ruling party to covert the situation to an advantage. The defense put forth by the government that the current vote on account ends by the 30th April and any use of pubic funds without approval of the parliament by the president, beyond the cut off date is unconstitutional and therefore a new parliament should be formed as early as possible is equally contested by the political parties, seasoned constitutional experts and the civil society pointing out that such constitutional impasse can be solved by increasing the limits allowed in the current vote on account , especially given the nature of the global catastrophe. This political argument has now trickled down to the masses who tend to engage in debates at every possible moment. This is quite evident on the barrage of social media blame game. Such untimely and despicable arguments will not augur well for the country.
What is quite startling is the deliberate political moves, if there are any, to conceal the efforts and endurance by all alike, to fight Covid-19 which has already posed many economic challenges for the post pandemic times. This is the prime concern that should not be overlooked in the backdrop of a fast dwindling state revenue, growing state debt, deteriorating rupee, struggling balance sheet of a country and falling world economy. The public have again started to divide or are being divided by proponents of political ideologies, thus, they being pushed away from deliberating key national issues generated due to a failing political system and the worst catastrophe in this century so far. The last a right thinking Sri Lankan would not want to see is surely the ramifications of political wrangling that will plagued the country in a post covid 19 period that is going to be abundant with concomitant political worries.