By G K Nathan –
The two elections held in 2015: first is the Presidential on 8th of January and second is the Parliamentary on 17th of August provided the opportunity to the people to make a choice between: the introduction of good governance or the consolidation of totalitarian regime in Sri Lanka; majority of the people, voted for a change on both elections. Hoping for a better future for all. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the practitioner of sectarian politics during his regime was defeated in the first and again in the second attempt to grab power through the Parliament. Formation of a National Government with participation of both major parties in Sri Lanka: Maithripala Sirisena of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), as the President and Ranil Wickremesinghe of United National Party (UNP), as the Prime Minister sets a new path in the post-independence history of Sri Lanka. The divisive politics in Sri Lanka and sectarianism became the focal point when SLFP was formed breaking away from the UNP government in 1951, from the first government formed just prior to independence on 4th of February 1948. The International community has welcome the formation of the National Government with a promise to uphold good governance in Sri Lanka. The challenge for the new government is to respond to all the resolutions passed at the United Nation Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions from 2012 to 2014 on allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Should the members of the former regime becomes the sacrificial lamb, if found guilty so that the new National government can start with clean slate or continue to protect them and follow the path of the previous government? Also, taking note that the approaches of the last regime did not impress the International community which has stood steadfastly on their demands: to uphold human rights with justice for war victims, accountability for alleged war crimes and repeated calls for reconciliation between different groups in Sri Lanka. Acceptance of good governance provides a second opportunity to emerge from the quagmire of divisive politics in Sri Lanka dominated by the differences in religions, ethnicities and languages, since independence. At that time Sri Lanka had relatively well educated population and also, enjoyed universal suffrage that was introduced in 1931; the first country in Asia and among other countries in the Indian Ocean rim that achieved both, during the colonial occupation. Unfortunately, in the post-independence period in Sri Lanka, good governance was ignored and the imposition of divisive politics based on differences, rather than bringing people together, persuaded many to migrate from Sri Lanka to other countries, especially to Western democracies. The Tamil Diaspora has become a force to be reckon with and will continue to strengthen with time, their interest in what is happening in Sri Lanka and their support for the rights of Tamils will also continue; upholding good governance will be a way to draw on the input from Tamil Diaspora to support the country in many fronts. The Tamil Diaspora, initially, originated from South India and Sri Lanka, started spreading far and wide, during the colonial era; in all there are about 3.3 million, including just over one million Tamils who left Sri Lanka in the post-independence period. Sri Lanka has the potential to become once again, a successful, proud and prosperous country, as during the pre-independence days. Will the new National government pursue an inclusive policy and ignore, Rajapaksa regime differentiating, Tamils as “tigers”?
Sri Lanka’s current political and social predicament was caused by failure to understand and implement good governance, which delayed progress in Sri Lanka compared with other countries in the region, but countries like India, Malaysia and Singapore with multiethnic, multilingual, multireligious communities were successful, even though starting from low base in comparison with Sri Lanka. Different regimes in Sri Lanka perpetuated the military conflict in Sri Lanka for about thirty years, due to inadequate efforts or unwillingness to cooperate with International community. During the decade long rule of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, he and his associates totally ignored the good governance as defined by the United Nation Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (UNESCAP) and he became an unwelcomed guest in Western democratic countries. The UNESCAP has put Sri Lanka at the bottom of the list as far as funding is considered, because it is an accepted principle that “bad governance is the cause of evil within a country”. Major donors and International financial institutions provide aid and loans on the conditions that reforms will follow to ensure that good governance is practised. “Good governance”, which is as old as the human civilization, is defined as: “accountable, transparent, equitable and inclusive, effective and efficient, follow the rule of law, participatory and consensus oriented”. All of them were missing during the long regime of Rajapaksa from start to finish.
Rajapaksa Regime Set New Precedence of “bad governance”
Ten year regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa started with winning of the Presidential Election of Sri Lanka on 17 November 2005, in which he received 50.29% of votes against Ranil Wickremesinghe who polled 48.43%. The narrowest of margin, ever in any Presidential elections in Sri Lanka. The call by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to boycott of the Presidential election had affected the result, because LTTE held sway over the large part of North East Sri Lanka at that time, especially, Tamil majority districts: Jaffna (1.21%), Vanni (34.30) and Batticaloa (48.51%) polled poorly affecting the final outcome. The districts with Sinhala majority, participation rate was about 80%. The victorious Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Presidential election became the Commander in Chief of the armed forces and appointed his sibling Gotabaya Rajapaksa, as the defence secretary, together prosecuted the war against LTTE. The three decades long military conflict between Sri Lanka Armed Forces and LTTE came to an end on 18th May 2009. Unthoughtful act of LTTE, put Mahinda Rajapaksa in power who brought LTTE’s total demise. The Rajapaksa regime contravened each element of the UNESCAP definition on “good governance” in the 10 years of his regime and to win the military conflict, breached International Human Rights Law (IHRL) and International Humanitarian Law (IHL). Repeated calls by the International community, during the military conflict and even after the end of conflict, to uphold justice, accountability and reconciliation were ignored by former President Rajapaksa. A number of reports were published by International human rights organizations, also two reports appointed by United Nation Secretary General: one to investigate what happened during conflict by Panel of Experts and the other to review how the United Nation acted in Sri Lanka during the conflict referred to as Internal Review Panel were released in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in response to these reports, set-up commissions of Inquiry within Sri Lanka, and some investigations remain in a limbo and other commission reports remain unpublished. What has happened in the past remains unimpressive and extended the definition of “bad governance”.
Instead, the euphoria demonstrated by Sinhala masses over the military victory against the LTTE was exploited to consolidate power in the hands of former President Rajapaksa, the Presidential election on 26th of January 2010 was called about a year ahead of schedule and won the election securing 57.88% of the votes against his opponent, the former Army commander Sarath Fonseka (40.15%) who led the army to victory, contested as the common opposition candidate. Following this victory, called for Parliamentary election on 8th of April 2010. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa led United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) won 144 seats polling 60.33% and Ranil Wickremesinghe led United National Front (UNF) won 60 seats polling 29.34%. Both elections were won with overwhelming support of majority of Sinhala people. Short of two-third majority in the Parliament, members from other political parties were coaxed by, offering cabinet, state and assistant ministers positions in the administration and formed a “jumbo cabinet” which exceeded one hundred members, probably a world record, in a country of just over 20 million people. Having met the objective of a two-third majority, the constitution of Sri Lanka was amended to scrap two terms limitation for the Presidency, which set the path to formation of totalitarian government for life. Also, the President was endowed with power to appoint people of his choice to all senior positions in the government, the subservient Parliament became a rubber stamp of President’ s actions; many of the people associated with the President are being accused of corruption and set a new definition to “bad governance”. The country in a path to becoming a totalitarian state and to further consolidate power by becoming the first person to be elected for the third time, called for the Presidential election on 8th January 2015.
The wisdom of the people of people of Sri Lanka, prevailed over one man to become a totalitarian leader; instead elected Maithripala Sirisena, former General Secretary of the SLFP, as the new President of Sri Lanka. He was supported by then opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe of UNP and all other groups in the country. Ranil Wickremesinghe became the Prime Minister and formed a United National Government with members of the UNP and SLFP, while burying “bad governance” promised good governance in the future.
Good Governance under United UNP and SLFP Leadership
The “trio” made up of Maithripala Sirisena, long standing General Secretary of SLFP and a minister in the SLFP government; Ranil Wickremesinghe of UNP two times Prime Minister, also the one who signed the CFA with LTTE with the support of the USA, European Union and Japan; and Chandrika Kumaratunga former two terms President of Sri Lanka and a member of the Global Leadership Foundation (GLF), after her politics. The “trio” came together to bring about changes in Sri Lanka and to promote good governance, contrary to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s policy of bad governance to take the country down the path of totalitarianism. For that Sri Lanka under the leadership of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa became an “outcast” or “a pariah” who was hardly welcomed in any of the democratic states, except countries which had regimes similar to that of Sri Lanka. The combined efforts of the “trio” had stopped Sri Lanka descending into a totalitarian state and continued downward slide was arrested the fact that the UNP and SLFP came together gives the country an opportunity to abandon the extremism of minor parties who were all rejected by the people in the recent Parliamentary election, minor parties have influenced politics more than their size deserves in the past.
The coming together of the two largest political parties UNP and SLFP, perhaps working with the third largest party, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) representing the Tamils in North East Sri Lanka will be a good forum that can promote a genuine effort to resolve the ethnic differences and resolve the continuing conflict once and for all. The “trio” has the unique opportunity to reject the past and uphold the promotion of good governance to bring peace and prosperity to the country. Mrs Chandrika Kumaratunga as one of the “trio” is also a member of the GLF, as such she is well disposed to promote the pool of expertise of GLF to apply in Sri Lanka, rather than to say it will be handled, internally when Sri Lanka has miserably failed for almost seven decades, since independence. Areas in which expertise of GLF can be applied in Sri Lanka are the following:
- handling ethnic divisions
political initiatives to defuse conflict
The new National government formed with Maithripala Sirisena (SLFP) as the President and Ranil Wickremesinghe (UNP) as the Prime Minister following the elections, both were elected convincingly with overwhelming support of Sri Lanka Tamils, Upcountry Tamils and Muslims within the same country each group forms a the Nation (A distinct group or race of people that share history, traditions and culture). The confusion in the definition of a Nation within a country had caused great tragedy in Sri Lanka, the GLF intervention, with expertise in the above areas can give valuable input. As Prime Minister is preparing to call the legal luminaries to consider a new constitution, seeking the expertise of GLF will give reassurance to everyone in Sri Lanka.
In the areas of victimization there are many who are still awaiting for justice for what they suffered under former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The initiative taken for victimization of Sarath Fonseka, the decorated general who was publicly humiliated and stripped of his rank, pension and medals collected in a 40-year career was discharged after the military victory. Perhaps, for the reason he challenged Mahinda Rajapaksa at the last Presidential election? Re-instating him as Field Marshall was a good sign, but there are many more ordinary people who are still awaiting for justice. This act by the National government is an example of upholding good governance, also it should be noted that what happened to Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka fits into the definition that “bad governance is the cause of evil within a country”. Will the people who committed such crime be pursued and dealt with in courts of law, the way the financial fraudsters of the past regime are being pursued? There are many members of the past regime who have committed bad governance on many people, so that the victims can receive justice and compensation for their suffering or loss of loved ones.
Furthermore, for the first time in many years, President of Sri Lanka has been welcomed in foreign capitals, as well as Prime Minister is waiting to travel places where former leader was not welcome. The first National government with promise to uphold good governance, as a first step, should release all reports prepared under previous regime and take appropriate action against those who committed crimes, which will be reassuring to all people of Sri Lanka and also to the International community.