By Harsha Gunasena –
There is a dissatisfaction of the performance of the political parties of the country but at the elections not only people vote for the same political parties but also, they tend to elect most criticized persons as their representatives repeatedly.
For a long time, we have experienced an intentional inflammation of ethnocentrism and religiocentrism by the present leadership of the country which was used against the minorities making the claim of false protection of the majority from the minorities especially after the end of the war. They have intentionally inflamed a false patriotism against the Western countries claiming that the country was leaning towards them especially in relation to selling of state assets and promised that they would not engage in doing so once coming to the power. In addition, they have emphasized the need for strong leadership and centralization of power to spearhead the rapid development of the country. Now we have come to the end of all these dramas and in the run the country got wounded severely.
The country can be developed only by rallying all groups of people together rather than fragmenting the society. None of the developed countries achieved that status by giving a step motherly treatment to such a considerable percentage of its citizens. If there is a dispute, the leaders of the country and the people should be matured enough to negotiate and settle it. At least after a 30 year long civil war they should have been able to do it. Instead, what is happening is the so-called leaders use it to come to power. Also, it is getting established that the propaganda by the opposition during the previous regime against the Muslims were based on false information. The case of Dr. Safi was an example. In addition to that the present government punished the Muslims by enforcing cremation of the covid affected bodies against the health guidelines since the Muslims voted against them during the last elections.
Social activist Shehan Malaka Gamage said at a press conference that he had a doubt whether the Easter attack was designed as a part of a project to bring the incumbent president to power with the help of the former president. The Police had taken a long statement from him about this claim. If correct, this is the most disgraceful peak of the process of using ethnicity and religion to come to power, started in 1956.
Sri Lanka should be able to end the political ethnocentrism under the circumstances provided that the people are capable enough to understand reality. This is evident with the emergence of the social activists such as Shehan Malaka Gamage who are not from the traditional political lineage.
The present government came to power promising that they would not sell the state assets to foreigners. Those were empty promises since it was the previous Rajapaksa regime that sold the land where Shangri-La hotel is to them. In the case of Eastern Container Terminal (ECT) the previous government planned to give more than 50% of the shares of the company which would control the ECT, to the Port Authority. The decision taken by the government to allow the Port Authority to develop it and offer 85% shares of the Western Container Terminal (WCT) to an Indian company was not only against the previous position of the government but also was foolish. The government is not having funds and the reexported goods at the said terminal mainly comes from India so that their investment is sustainable for the industry. By this decision the company which would control the WST was given more than 50% of shares. 85% of the shares of the company which controls Colombo International Container Terminal was given to the Chinese company by the previous Rajapaksa regime.
Sri Lanka needs foreign investments especially considering the financial status of the country. It is the responsibility of the government to manage whatever the foreign investment the country receives from various sources. It could be a long lease or a sale. It should be done after a careful evaluation of the project with a view of the benefits accrued to the country and not the benefits accrued to individuals.
To the extent the people realize the gravity of the financial crisis faced by the country the resistance of the people to leasing or sale of the state assets will get reduced. Also realizing the conduct of this government, the political resistance to such acts would get diminished.
The government follows an unwise policy in respect of the issue of government debt which is a result of successive governments of Sri Lanka. The main problem of our economy is the long-term budget deficits and deficits in the Trade Balance. As a result of the policy of not soliciting the support of the IMF in balance of payment issues aggravated by the pandemic, the country is facing import restrictions and the government is moving towards price controls including the exchange rate, causing difficulties to the people. If the government seeks the assistance of IMF, the government will have to agree to the conditions aiming at the reduction of the budget deficit which would be beneficial to the country in the long run. Therefore, if the IMF option is taken at least there will be long term benefits compared to the present situation.
At the past two elections, the present ruling group campaigned heavily to convince the people that it was 19th amendment to the constitution which paved the way for anarchy in the country. After coming to power the President assigned himself tremendous power through 20th amendment to the constitution. His working pattern using authoritative powers without listening even to his own ministers, failing himself and the state in the process, proves beyond doubt that it is detrimental to the country to allow one person to hold such a vast power.
The latest development is declaration of emergency by the President which allows him to rule by Presidential decree. That strengthens the President more and eventually the country would experience more failures. We have a clue to another dangerous step the President might take. There were reports that there was an attempt of forcibly taking power in the night of the 2015 Presidential election day. Repetition of a similar act would be the next step if this process of centralization of power is not stopped.
We have to bear huge number of Covid deaths especially of the senior citizens due to the militarization of the Covid management without consulting the medical officers.
One main reason for the current situation of the country is that the tribal collectivist thinking of the majority of the people associated with their social inferiority complex. That is why the majority Sinhalese have a fear of extinction. That allows the politicians to arouse the sentiments of the majority against the minorities and the West and come to power. This deceitful politics prevailed in the country for a long time and now it has been intensified.
In 1970s people talked about the multinational companies which were exploiting the assets of the country. During the era of free economy emerged after that period there were lot of Sri Lankan companies transformed to the status of multinational companies. For instance, Hayleys and Aitken Spence started businesses in the foreign countries in 1980s and 1990s. Now those are multinational companies headquartered in Colombo. There are good number of such companies in Sri Lanka. People may not be aware of this. Understanding this is a way to move away from the social inferiority complex.
The international popularity of the song Menike Mage Hithe sung by young Yohani De Silva provides much comfort with positive thoughts in this dark period in moving away from the social inferiority complex. The World cup victory in 1996 and Olympic medals in 1948 and 2000 and recent Paralympics gold medal of Dinesh Priyantha were such instances.
The country can use this positive thinking to reemerge during the possible anarchic situation in the near future. Recently since the government did not take any action to lockdown the country the trade associations spread throughout the country took steps to close the shops in their respective areas. This was exercising of power by the people even exceeding the expectations of the Opposition. This was a progressive move and if this trend could be continued it would help to line up the people for a far-reaching political change of the country.
If the power is transferred to the Opposition in the regular system of shifting of power with the promise of more concessions to the people, this disaster would continue. The country is facing this situation due to the operational method of the democracy. A democracy to function smoothly needs an intelligent participation of the people. If they can be hoodwinked by the political parties with vested interests, that country would end up in a disaster. The answer is neither an armed rebellion nor a military dictatorship. We have faced three armed rebellions and we understand the grave consequences the country faced. With the employment of military personnel in the various positions in the country under the present regime we have firsthand experience of their capabilities, let alone the disastrous consequences a country like Pakistan is experiencing.
Therefore, the answer is to create a new inclusive political structure through a broad people’s movement. It is a freedom struggle. This movement should be a broad-based one combining all the ethnicities, believers of all the religions and people of all the castes. Political parties also can be included in this movement. This movement which should be essentially democratic, non-violent and non-revenge taking, should be engaged from drafting a new peoples constitution to agreeing to a common policy framework for the country.