25 May, 2017

Going Beyond The Election Manifestos In The National Interest 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

There are two attributes of election manifestos. One is for a political party to place its vision for the future and programme of action to achieve it before the electorate. Virtually all political parties have revelled in making excessive promises during election time. The election manifesto of President Maithripala Sirisena during the presidential election in January was different. As it focused on a 100 Day Plan, its promises were realistic. Many of the promises made have been implemented to a substantial degree. The main achievement was the passage of the 19th Amendment which reduced the president’s powers and strengthened the independence of institutions, such as the police, judiciary and public service, which are essential features of a well governed society.

The second attribute of an election manifesto is to provide the political party that forms the government to be able to refer back to its electoral mandate and justify its activities in the future. This would be especially applicable to those actions that are in the national interest, but are not so popular with the country’s people. Examples of this are hard to come by in Sri Lanka although there are examples from other countries. In Sri Lanka, on the other hand, apart from promises such as to even get rice from the moon to fulfil election manifestos, hardly any political party is willing to inform the electorate about the bitter medicine that is needed to resolve problems that adversely affect society.

The most relevant case in point in SrI Lanka is the ethnic conflict and its solution. So far it has been civil society groups who have made comprehensive assessments of what needs to be done to tackle this vexed issue. The political relationship between the ethnic majority and minority communities has been the most intractable problem in the country. It has divided the people and made them mistrustful of one another, and has dissipated the country’s energies away from the task of economic development and material prosperity which makes other problems easier to resolve. In this respect the JVP is to be credited for its willingness to tackle the issues of war-time accountability for human rights violations by proposing a Commission against Discrimination along with a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the peace building process.

UPFA Manifesto 

The election manifesto of the UPFA sets out an impressive array of promises. The articulation of the UPFA’s manifesto can be attributed to its drafters who count well known political analysts, jurists and commentators. It promises to meet the most urgent needs of the general population through higher salaries and more jobs which will come through a massive development effort. However, the efforts of the drafters of the UPFA manifesto are foundering floundering on the track record of the previous UPFA government that was led by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. With new exposes of huge levels of corruption during the period of the previous government hitting the news virtually every day, the question that arises in the minds of the electorate is why these plans and activities were not implemented during the previous years, especially after the war ended.

Mahinda posterIt appears that the leaders of campaigning for UPFA on the ground are aware that their manifesto is getting little traction from the electorate. Those campaigning against the UPFA have been pointing out that if the former government failed to implement these promises whilst in dominating the national polity as they did during the previous decade, there is little likelihood of them doing any better this time around, especially when they will not be able to dominate the national polity. This is the most likely reason why the UPFA is once again resorting to divisive ethnic nationalism to attract the votes of the majority Sinhalese community. UPFA speakers are constantly raising the bogey of the revival of the LTTE, the TNA’s separatism and the adverse role of the international community in pressing for war crimes trials against the government leaders and the security forces who won the war.

The intention on the part of UPFA allies, such as the BBS to create incidents that can rouse the nationalism of the Sinhalese majority is a signal that they feel that this is the issue on which they can gain votes. They have been bringing lion flags which represent the Sinhala community to election rallies. But this flag is shorn of the orange and green stripes that are part of the Sri Lankan national flag, and which are meant to represent the Tamil and Muslim communities. In most countries mutilating the national flag is considered to be a punishable offense, outweighing the right to free expression. The BBS is however claiming that what they are waving at election rallies is not a mutilated version of the national flag but the lion flag of the Sinhalese. It appears that they are trying to create a situation where they can argue that the Sinhalese cannot express their identity today.

Problem Solving 

The UPFA manifesto states that a “National Harmony Commission” with broad powers and a district level mechanism will be established to uphold a “National Harmony Charter” which seeks to safeguard the fairness and equality meted out to each and every Sri Lankan citizen”. It also says it will devolve powers of administration to the village level through the re-introduction of the Village Councils System for local government administration. These references to the village and district levels, as against the provincial level, appear to be messages that if the UPFA wins the election they will de-emphasise the province in dealing with the ethnic conflict. This would be a massive setback to decades of negotiation and compromise between successive governments and Tamil parties and is likely to set the stage for renewed inter-ethnic confrontation.

The clash of extremes is beneficial to those who wish to benefit from extremist politics. But it will not solve problems. What Sri Lanka needs to day is not the mobilising of one form of ethnic extremism to counter another. Rather it is the taming of extremism by a process of fostering inter-ethnic understanding and trust-building so that there can be joint inter-ethnic problem solving. The lacuna regarding this issue in the manifestos of the political parties means that they will have to be dealt with after the general elections by the new government as these are not problems that can be left without a resolution. The JVP’s willingness to affirm that they will deal with the ethnic conflict and war-time accountability issues through commissions against discrimination and truth and reconciliation is welcome in this regard.

The truth of what happened during the three decades of the war must be known to the people, and accountability sought, with reconciliation rather than punishment as the primary goal. There needs to be appropriate compensation and reparation to enable the conflict affected populations a fresh start in their lives. There needs to be a fair sharing of power between the ethnic and religious communities through the devolution of power. This needs to also include mechanisms for power sharing at the level of the central government in a manner that recognizes the plural nature of our society. Speech that incites hatred or violence against those of other ethnic or religious communities needs to be prohibited by law. These problems need to be resolved but without the advantage of having explicitly asked for and received a mandate for such problem solving.

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Latest comments

  • 5
    23
    Mahinda is the best to go beyond any election manifestos in the national interest. He is a true patriot of the nation.
    • 12
      4
      You are right that Mahinda is the best person to go beyond election manifestos to protect Buddhist Sinhala Fundamentalism which is 100% against to the true Buddhism (Lord Buddha’s teachings) and true peace loving Sinhaelese of this Nation. It is also true that Mahinda went illegally and immorally to bring 18th amendment in order to become more powerful President despite the promises he made to remove the executive powerful presidential system during the past 10 years. He went beyond the rule of law to assasinate former Sunder leader editor Lasantha and several other journalists. He went beyond the international law and customs to massacre those thousands of who surrendered at the end of this war including the Pirabhaharan’s child and his wife. He went beyond the rule of law to send war hero and former military commander Sarath Fonseka into jail. Even now he has already started his violent campaign through white van operation and thug violence attack on his political challengers. He is a true patriot of the criminals and underworld thugs.
      • 2
        9
        Ajith Mahinda destroyed the LTTE and peace to Sri Lanka which no one else could do. This is more than enough. He is my cute hero.
        • 7
          3
          NIRMALA n “Mahinda destroyed the LTTE and peace to Sri Lanka which no one else could do.” VP and Hindia destroyed LTTE and MR destroyed peace in Sri Lanka. “He is my cute hero” On the other hand He is an ugly zero to many others.
          • 0
            3
            Native Vedda Stop undermining my comments.
            • 3
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              NIRMALA n “Stop undermining my comments.” If yours was a comment no one in their right mind would dared to undermine it. However you are capable of undermining your own typing and are doing it splendidly.
        • 1
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          NIRMALAn, Mahinda put a drama to cheat Sinhalese.Mahinda destroyed Srilanka, not LTTE. Mahinda is now saying LTTE has come back and he wants to come back. Why? Where did LTTE come from? I know Mahinda is your hero because he massacred thousands of Tamil civilians using chemical weapons to put his drama.
          • 0
            1
            Ajith Look at the recent history since the 70’s. Srimovo massacred the Sinhalese in 1971. JR massacred the Tamils in 1977. JR massacred the Tamils in 1983. Premadasa massacred the Sinhalese in 1989. Chandrika massacred the Tamils by bombing staffing the Tamil areas during her presidency. Mahinda is our saviour. He brought all these to an end by dealing with my Thambi’s padai. He made Sri Lanka peaceful by finishing off the worst terrorism. I am for him! with him for ever!! and die for him!!!
  • 8
    3
    The best way to weed out false election promises is to have them costed by a reputed accounting firm such as S&P. I’d imagine people would be reasonably educated to understand pies in the sky when the numbers do not add up! UPFA manifesto is irresponsible and quite dangerous. If they win they will borrow heavily and send the economy deep into the red to fulfill dodgy election promises. UNP should scare the bejesus out of voter showing that the economy will be in deep trouble is UPFA takes another turn.
  • 4
    10
    I can’t understand why you are wasting time analyzing the UPFA manifesto with this level of detail since you have already proclaimed in one of your previous articles the [Edited out] club will win the general election. I guess when you see the mass wave of support generated by MR this article is the panic reaction to it. Get used to it Dollar Boy MR did a lot to this country. Sinhalese will vote him in in a big way. That is when you will put your feet in your mouth.
  • 5
    4
    The UPFA /Mahinda campaign failed and was defeated on 8th January. Within 8 months they offer so much which they did not do anything during the 10 year period they ruled. How do you believe them? Do they think they can hoodwink the masses again and again. They want to get to power by whatever means to fulfil their family ambitions.
  • 1
    7
    “This is the most likely reason why the UPFA is once again resorting to divisive ethnic nationalism to attract the votes of the majority Sinhalese community. UPFA speakers are constantly raising the bogey of the revival of the LTTE, the TNA’s separatism and the adverse role of the international community in pressing for war crimes trials against the government leaders and the security forces who won the war.” Jehan, I thank you making it clear as to where the confusion lies. Many other writers make the same assumption, that ‘divisive ethnic nationalism’ or ‘racism’ is the rallying call of the UPFA. Your argument goes that the UPFA rhetoric is ‘divisive’ because: – The bogey of the revival of the LTTE – The TNA’s separatism and – The adverse role of the international community in pressing for war crimes.. The fear, if you can call it that, of the LTTE revival is a genuine concern. Even if it is a ‘bogey’, how can that be ‘divisive’? Separatism is not something that the UPFA likes, and they are entitled to their opinion. Neither do they like war crimes. The constant claim that this is all ‘divisive ethnic nationalism’ is somewhat far fetched.
    • 3
      6
      Agree whole heartedly. Further, I like to know how and why Jehan Perera states that the BBS is an ally of UPFA (“The intention on the part of UPFA allies, such as the BBS to create incidents that can rouse……). That, only goes to show the partisan attitude of the writer and that mudslinging is very much a part of electioneering.
  • 0
    3
    Jehan Perera is [Edited out] represents a NGO funded by foreign agents. Colombo Telegraph shamelessly provides a forum and a livelihood for unpatriotic elements. If not for CT those who disseminate lies, distort the truth at the behest of separatists and the neocolonial west would have no hiding place.
    • 1
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      Pl put forward your arguments for or against what the points the author raises. That will be very helpful. Can anybody beat this person at lying: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzGj2hYoymo&feature=youtube_gdata
      • 0
        0
        Davidson! This proves my point. Antinational elements.; who don’t have the courage to reveal their three identity
  • 1
    0
    This is progressive thinking. Doesn’t address many issues, like the need for justice and accountability, but I presume the author evades this because he doesn’t believe it is possible in Sri Lanka. It does mean that continue international engagement is a must.

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