18 May, 2024


Downplaying The Main Problem

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

This has been among the most promising elections if the number of election promises that have been made are counted. The presidential candidates seem to be determined to outdo the other when it comes to the promises they make in their election manifestos. If one promises free fertiliser for paddy production another will promise it free for all agricultural production; if one offers a salary hike to the working class, the other promises more. Even tax breaks to companies are not exempt with a race to the bottom to reduce them to the corporate sector. At the same time direct welfare payments to those with a lower income are being promised with the money, which is sky high, to come from somewhere.

But there is one area in which promises are hardly to be seen. This is the area of proposals to end inter-ethnic and inter-religious strife, which has for long been the main unresolved problem in the country and its permanent dividing line. Nor is the question of healing the wounds of the past, and dealing with the human rights violations that took place on all sides during the three decades of war being addressed and neither the failure to find a political solution that would address the roots of the conflict. Indeed, some of the candidates make no mention of such a problem to be addressed. They pledge to have a strong government that would prevent the country from being divided and to protect its sovereignty from internal and external forces.

The focus on strong government as the solution to the problems besetting the country is not unique to Sri Lanka. The Indian electorate recently re-elected the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi by a big majority. The Indian government has recently demonstrated its strength by terminating the special constitutional arrangements for governing the state of Kashmir which even the Indian judiciary, famed for its independence, is not willing to reverse. In the Philippines, tens of thousands of alleged drug dealers and addicts have been killed on the streets, but President Rodrigo Duterte continues to have high popularity ratings despite the human rights violations taking place under his government.

Different Path

Contrary to this trend in the world of voting in authoritarian governments that would unify their societies, in 2015, Sri Lanka took a different path and voted in a government that promised to uphold human rights and good governance and improve the economic conditions of the people on that basis. However, the failure to deliver on these promises to the satisfaction of the general public is now putting into doubt the gains so far made. The allure of strong government at the cost of giving less priority to human rights and reconciliation seems to be high. The forthcoming presidential election will be crucial in determining the course that Sri Lanka takes in the next five years, as its outcome will heavily influence the general elections that are to follow.

Among the government’s successes, the improvement in the sense of freedom of expression and freedom from the fear of being made to disappear have been considerable. These are not visible to the physical eye, as in the case of highways, airports and ports, and construction of high-rise buildings, but are felt in the heart. The main success of the government has come alongside its weakness as a government compromised by internal divisions, in that it strengthened key institutions of state, such as the judiciary and Human Rights Commission and set up new ones such as the Right to Information Commission. These institutions have performed admirably due to independent leadership following their appointment by the Constitutional Council, and not at the whim and fancy of the president, as done previously.

However, it is also possible that the majority of the electorate will see other matters as being of more importance to them. The government has failed to perform according to expectations in many key areas, including economic development and preventing national security breaches. The Easter Sunday attack may have been the only such breach, but it was so massive and the failure of the government leadership was so manifest, that it has discredited the government to a very high degree. In these circumstances, there is the possibility of a change of government into the hands of those who promise strong government and national security as priorities, rather than the protection of human rights and the checks and balances that come from the independence of other institutions of state.

It is not only in India, Philippines and Sri Lanka that the liberal values of a multi ethnic, multi religious and pluralist society are being challenged. Even in the oldest democracies of the world, the United States included, there is an increase in nationalism and reduction in tolerance for those of different cultures. However, in both Western European countries and the United States, those who are elected to power by the majority vote and seek to undermine the human rights of others are being resisted at every level. The systems of power sharing in the long standing democracies are deeply rooted at every level, in local and county government, in the autonomy given to state and provincial governments and in the independence of their judiciary and media.

The value of democracy is that not only the will of the majority prevails, but that it distributes and shares power amongst different institutions, ensures human rights and freedoms of the individual and thereby guarantees against dictatorship. These institutions, such as the media and judiciary, and the human rights commission and right to information commission, exercise controls over the government leaders so that they do not end up becoming independent of those who voted them into power. The true democratic leadership will not see other state institutions as rival centres of power to be opposed, confronted or suppressed, but as essential parts of the system of government to ensure democracy and the wellbeing of all.

During the civil rights conflicts of the 1960s in the United States, the oppressed black minority fought against those who discriminated against them on the basis of their race. But there were enough white political and civil society leaders who stood with them and supported them even at great risk to themselves. The book the “Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South” by Osha Gray Davidson, which focuses on the rivalry between civil rights activist Ann Atwater and Ku Klux Klan leader C. P. Ellis is one example of how even anti-black political leaders could change their minds after a long process of engagement. Regardless of the outcome of the presidential election, the work for inter-ethnic and inter-religious justice, harmony and reconciliation, and for a change of heart, will have to continue as it does in other countries including India, Philippines and the United States.

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Latest comments

  • 7

    Let’s face it, NGR the psychopath, will do and say anything to garner votes and get elected to save his skin. He is not in the race for the love of the country or its people. Anyone who has even an iota of commonsense, will come to this conclusion after observing this clown’s deeds and his history. SP is by now a seasoned Politician. He must know how to counter this maniac’s every move. In SL, promises are not meant to be kept! Sirima promised to bring rice from the moon!!

    Some argue, it was mainly NGR’s activities during MR’s rule that brought about MR’s downfall in 2015. NGR was all powerful during that period. So in effect he had 10 years to transform the country to what he wished it to be. We witnessed what he achieved during that time. Now he is seeking another 5 years to barter the country to the Chinese! Do we want to go back to that dark era again? A leopard never changes its spots.

    Voters, please use your franchise judiciously!

    • 0

      Gamini do you get paid for these UNP advertisements? Just asking.

  • 3

    President Sirisena said during his presidential election campaign that the Rajapaksa family attempted to murder him several time. When he made a constitutional plot against the country joining with Mahinda he said that is a lie for only election campaign. Mahinda said he will go beyond 13+ during the war but later he went to 13-. Election promises are to cheat to people not to honour their words. Why Gota wants to ally with Karuna, KP, Douglas, and Hisbullah? They are good at abduction, murder, rape, and get bribe for them. It is simple as that.

  • 2

    Lack of elaborate plan for funding of free fertiliser to farmers, rise of salaries and wages, increase funding for education and tax cuts is worrying. People should question where the funding is coming from rather than blindly believing them and accepting their promises.

  • 2

    This election certainly will pose a problem to those who are involved in “human rights & reconciliation” industry for their own sustenance. Both major candidates appear to have no links with “human rights & reconciliation” industry. It is a major positive outcome because it is those (in)human rights champions who keep the wounds raw and open. One sided “accountability”, new constitutions are all mechanisms employed to remove scabs and open the healing wounds. “human rights & reconciliation” industrialists may have to move into some other industry to find the dollars required to continue their lifestyles.

    • 0

      According to Sinhala politicians Tamils have no Human Rights. They think that Tamils have No Right to be Humans.

  • 3


    This has been among the most promising elections if the number of election promises that have been made are counted.
    *** I am not sure if the above is correct and let us look at the promises that matter.
    1) To put security at the top of the Agenda. Gotha has promised to make the Country safe for the Majority at the expense of the Minority interest under the War CRIMINANAL Shavendra who has been made an outcaste by UN and now by USA. Gotha again falls in to the same category. Sri Lanka has paid a heavy price with more punitive measures to follow when Gotha takes over.
    2) To improve the Economy. This is near impossible when investment has dried up and export market dwindling and to shrink further. With China booted out ( evidence given below) Sri Lanka is on the brink of Bankruptcy. India is filling the gap which is evident from the overhead Electricity supply.
    3) To curtail foreign involvement. This is a false promise as the only foreign involvement is from India . But India has achieved all her goals . Gotha and MR will be LAME DUCK leaders unable to do what they want which was demonstrated when they were last in power. .
    ***What I meant by curtailing foreign involvement is evidenced by the news below.
    The land is now under the ownership of the Urban Development Authority and a lease agreement was signed between the UDA and CHEC Port City.
    *** China was given the Lease which has now been forfeited after Indian intervention. Gotha can you answer as to how you going to resist Indian Pressure.

  • 3

    Part 2

    Sajiths Promises.
    I thought he was a beacon of hope but he has turned out to be another hoaxer. after he uttered the following words.
    ” I will protect Shavendra the War CRIMINAL with my life.
    Sajith if you hear me loud and clear what about TAMIL LIVES .
    Where is your Vision . You have turned in to a “ONE EYED BANDIT”.
    Five Tamil parties have decided to not to vote for any Sinhala candidates. I have already stated that all the Tamils should ABSTAIN .

  • 0


    Sajith’s Mind is now’ kali’ meaning, his mind is now devoid of all sense. .

    • 0

      What about kali’s mind?

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