25 June, 2022


Restraining Divisiveness Of Forthcoming Elections

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The continuing defection of government members away from President Mahinda Rajapaksa‘s election campaign is an indicator of the formidable nature of the challenge faced by the government. The President has a reputation for being able to take on any challenge. However, what he is seeking to do is unprecedented. No President in the past had the opportunity to contest the elections a third time. The Sri Lankan voter has had an earlier tradition of not returning an incumbent government to power at elections. This only changed with the presidential system that concentrated power in the hands of the President and enabled ruling parties to muscle themselves back to power.

There is growing apprehension that the coming elections can become violent. The stakes are very high for the contesting political parties. The presidency is by far the most powerful institution in the country. Winning the presidency is the goal of both sides. The issues being canvassed at the elections, of corruption, nepotism and betrayal of the country to international interests are highly emotive ones. Violations of election law are occurring on a large scale with the misuse of state property and resources being highlighted by election monitors. There have also been acts of violence that can increase sharply as the election approaches.

Maithri CandrikaIn this fraught situation the sign of statesmanship would be for the President to initiate an all party discussion with the participation of religious and civil society on the need to ensure a free and violence-free election. This discussion must include the post-election situation, to ensure that no revenge-seeking will be tolerated. It is the President who is best suited to make this call as he holds the positions of Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and is also holds the ministerial portfolios for Defence and for Law and Order. Initiating such a discussion is in the national interest. It would both create confidence about the electoral process in the minds of the general public and could also reduce the polarisation within the polity.

Positive Tone

So far, however, the government’s presidential election campaign has not taken on a positive tone. It seems to be focusing attention on international conspiracies and plots to divide the country, which are not new anymore. It is the opposition that is setting the pace in this regard at the early stage of the presidential election campaign. They have promised to abolish the presidential system and the 18th Amendment both of which lead to an overconcentration of power. They have pledged a new constitutional system that will ensure the de-politicisation of state institutions that will make government leaders accountable for their actions. Now the Common Opposition Candidate Maithripala Sirisena has promised to form a National Government if he wins the presidential elections.

“I am inviting my former colleagues and all parties represented in the current parliament to join a national government,” he said and promised to return the country to its status as a parliamentary democracy that existed until 1978. He also said he wanted to bring about a peaceful constitutional revolution, citing India’s independence leader Mahatma Gandhi and South Africa’s anti apartheid leader Nelson Mandela as his inspirations. He said he was an admirer of both Gandhi and Mandela and will follow their example in leading the country to establish a new political culture. This would include ensuring that all will be protected by the Sri Lankan state after the elections.

The Common Opposition Candidate’s promise to form a national government has three positive aspects to it. The first is that it will be the best way to ensure there is a 2/3 majority in Parliament to make the necessary constitutional amendments. It is unlikely that a sufficient number of parliamentarians will cross over from the government ranks to the opposition prior to the presidential elections to ensure a 2/3 majority. Therefore there will be a need to persuade government parliamentarians who did not cross over to also give their vote for the constitutional amendments. This can best be done through the arrangements of a national government.

National Reconciliation

Second, the formation of a national government that includes members of the present government who did not cross over prior to the election can ease the trauma of the transition. It will reassure those in the outgoing government that they will not be left powerless and at the mercy of hostile opponents. Indeed, they can be part of the national government which will also be a transitional government. This type of assurance is important because there is anticipation the forthcoming elections will become a do or die battle in which violence can take an upper hand. It is indeed possible that relations will be shattered during the elections. But after the people give their verdict, there also needs to be political reconciliation in the national interest.

Elections are necessarily divisive as they pit one contestant against the other. The rivals seek to get the votes of the electorate by highlighting differences rather than commonalities. This is where statesmanship must accompany the political need to be different. What is necessary for each of the contestants to win is not necessarily in the national interest.  The effort to win elections must not detract from the higher goals of maintaining peace at home and peace in the world.

The third positive aspect of a national government is that it will contribute to make the constitutional reform process a consensual one. The three previous efforts at changing constitutions were partisan exercises. The two new constitutions of 1972 and 1978 were rammed through without any heed given to the protests or wishes of the opposition parties. As a result there was no sense of ownership of those two constitutions by the opposition parties, let alone the people at large. The attempt at passing a new constitution in 2000 was derailed because of opposition protests.

Minority Participation

In seeking to form a national government it is also important that the ethnic minority parties be included.  The ethnic conflict has been the most divisive and protracted problem in the country.  It was there even prior to Independence from the British in 1948, when Lord Soulbury observed that overcoming communalism and creating a unified nation was the biggest challenge facing the newly independent country.

Therefore in effecting constitutional change, it is crucial that the views of the ethnic minority parties be respected and their interests be accommodated. This is where the South African principle of “sufficient consensus” will become useful.

When Nelson Mandela was negotiating the way out of the Apartheid system which few thought was possible to accomplish peacefully, he sought to obtain a maximum of consensus. However, the South African leaders realised that on some issues obtaining the consensus of all parties was not possible. So they decided that at least the most important parties had to agree. In the Sri Lankan case, where matters relating to ethnic minority rights, devolution of power and post-war reconciliation are concerned, the agreement of the main ethnic minority parties will be necessary.

The government’s military victory over the LTTE unified the country geographically, but not in heart and mind. It is due to this unresolved problem that the country faces international opprobrium, possible sanctions and is not getting the economic investments it could get from the Diaspora and from international companies. The main international concerns over Sri Lanka have been the unwillingness of the government to deal with the human rights violations that took place during the war.  South Africa provides a model in which truth and reconciliation walked hand in hand. After decades of political polarisation and costly warfare, this will not be an easy challenge to take up and requires the collective wisdom of both the government and opposition, and regardless of which side wins the election.

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Latest comments

  • 2

    Jehan get real Dude, are you not aware that it is ONLY the Rajapaksa regime that practices TERRORISM in Sri Lanka today? State terrorism is the name of the game and the elections are not played on a level field.

    No other party is involved in massive violence. So really, Jarapassa needs to talk to his brother – Gota the white van goon, and reign him in. Recall that Jarapassas’ secretary Lalith Weeratunge, the CHAOS SPECIALIST promised chaos in Geneva –if Rajapaksa loses..

    You seem to think and talk like the opposition is engaged in violence. THis is NOT the case so there really is no need for your grand idea of discussing post-election violence with ALL parties. Rajapaksa ALONE owns and operates the MILITARY TERROR MACHINE in Sri Lanka!

    • 1

      Right on Dude! Jehan your article is full of stupidities – sorry to say!

      There is no need for a National Government that includes all the corrupt crooks in Rajapaksa’s Cabinet including him, his brothers, son and various uneducated morons and clowns… This is what Pathala Champika has suggested. A national government with Mahinda Jarapassa would mean MORE rather than less Corruption with politicians no longer checking each other but- giving themselves even more perks and privileges and living the good life at the expense of the impoverished masses!

      The culture of Parliamentarians crossing over for money, power and perks of to change the constitution MUST END FIRST. The nineteenth amendment must ensure an end to the culture of political cross overs that promotes stinking corruption among the uneducated Politicians in the Miracle of Modayas. Today the Diyawenna parliament is a sewer of corruption because politicians are constantly bought by the highest bidder to cross the floor of the house.
      The nineteenth amendment MUST put an end to CROSS OVERS in the Parliament of corrupt modayas!If an MP wants to cross over because he is bought he MUST lose his seat and face an election. The cross over culture to the highest bidder means that both the Govt and opposition today are equally CORRUPT and political culture is a its lowest ever. The unprincipled buying and cross over of MPs must stop.

  • 1

    There can be NO SUSTAINABLE PEACE without justice and accountability for the corrupt Rajapaksa brothers and their cabinet of equally corrupt clowns.
    Get this straight, Jehan Perera. This National Government of yours with all the corrupt politicians of yesterday running the country is a recipe for Disaster, NOT Peace!

    We have had enough of the false peace that you and your dead leftist Vasudeva Nanayakkara promote.

  • 0

    Jehan Perera

    “The continuing defection of government members away from President Mahinda Rajapaksa‘s election campaign is an indicator of the formidable nature of the challenge faced by the government. The President has a reputation for being able to take on any challenge. However, what he is seeking to do is unprecedented. “

    Expect Medamulana MaRa and his cronies to washed out on thos Tsunami, the Peoples Tsunami to get rid of Corruption, Nepotism and thuggery.

    The Days of Medamulana MaRa are numbered…

  • 0

    The Vellala run TNA and the Elite UNP are the two groups who got the Foreign powers involved in Lanka, to destroy the Economy, Peace and Harmony which existed since Nathikadal

    This was a two pronged strategy for the TNA to get self rule to run the North and Ranil Wicks to become the President.

    Now the greedy. the jealous and and the revenge seekers have come out of the woods and hijacked the agenda big time.

    And UNP doesn’t even get mention and the TNA is in the doldrums.

    CC Sira says neither Ms Pillai nor anyone else can take the Armed Forces to court And he would protect Rajapaksa too.

    The Chief Whip of the Sira coalition, Ven Rathna says no 13 A..And it is final.

    Can Sira win without Champika ?

    Mr Sambnadan didn’t want to front up to the PSC .

    He kept harping that the Rajapaksa followers won’t allow the TNA to have anything let alone 13.

    Mr Sambandan carried on about this issue for 5 valuable years to prop up the UNP while denying the poor in the North the chance to cooperate with the Govt to make best use of the Development programs

    Not even one SLFP or any other party in the Govt say anything against the 13 A except that they are open minded to discuss it.

    Look who the TNA has got now to help Sambandan get his self rule?..

    No wonder the TamilNet is pissed off….

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