Colombo Telegraph

Steps From victory

By Asanga Abeyagoonasekera

Asanga Abeygoonasekera

After a victory at the recent parliamentary elections, Sri Lanka is seen by the outside world as a shining example of democratic peaceful elections and political transition. Our democratic values in society are far superior to an individual politician.

According to Justice Weeramantry, “our ancient civilization fore-shadowed concepts of equality, freedom and democratic procedures in a manner which throws on us the burden of carrying on these democratic practices and developing them to the best of our ability”. We have made history by creating a national government and by signing a MOU between Government and Opposition for the first time. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe backed by his long political career has exercised within the democratic framework trying to accommodate all voices from many political parties. As he says “Our aim is to emulate the dignified tradition of King Lichchavi, whereby people would meet peacefully, discuss issues peacefully and disperse peacefully, in order to ensure good governance and build a united and prosperous nation”. The Lichchavi kings had ruled the Kathmandu area in Nepal from 400 to 750 AD. This period saw the flowering of a liberal political Culture and coexistence of Buddhism and Hinduism.

It was a ballot based silent revolution that changed the Rajapaksa regime on 8th January- orchestrated by the people of Sri Lanka. The people reaffirmed their verdict at the 17th August Parliamentary elections. This secured a clear victory for the United National Front for Good Governance taking 106 seats while the opposition could secure only 95 seats. The new Government with the leadership of the new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will be ready to take Sri Lanka towards 2020. As he pledged to introduce good governance and fight against corruption to bring economic prosperity in his election manifesto its time he executes the promises with the right kind of cabinet ministers.

The four time Prime Minister who understands and knows most politicians in his political sphere would have to find the art of moving away from playing prisoners dilemma as he needs to get everyone to cooperate and move forward not stagnate at one place. According to my fellow Young Global Leader and Adjunct Prof. Lutfey Siddiqi, “If you and I were to change our ways together, we could both get to a better place. However, if I was to change and you were not, I’d be much worse off. And because I can’t be sure that you will move, I won’t make the move either. These words demonstrate a classic “prisoners’ dilemma,” where groups of people settle for a suboptimal outcome because they cannot ensure coordinated action that could take them all to a better outcome.
Great leadership, especially in the context of national leadership is about orchestrating coordinated movement away from the prisoners’ dilemma to a higher collective outcome.”

On the UNFGG election manifesto promises one million jobs with 45 industrial zones, which will clearly take us to an economic height at-least to double our per capita from the present $3200 to $8000 by 2020 a projection earlier given by central bank. It’s important to get few areas ready to move our economy from efficiency driven to innovation driven economy in the years to come. Investment in education is a vital area where more than 40% fail GCE O/L mathematics and lack of competent teachers for English and other important subjects need to be considered. We need to invest to transform the present system to a world class education system with the right investment for schools, teachers and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). STEM is on top of the priority list in Singapore and the investments they have done on these areas are significant. Development of STEM is a priority in countries such as Singapore that has already developed a world-class education system, which has ranked the Singaporean universities at the top 75 world’s best ranking.

On fighting corruption it is important to give the top priority to strengthen the bribery commission and the commissioner. This could be strengthen by implementing Right to Information Act which will give individuals of the society power to question politicians and others of their lavish spending specially during elections. Political corruption has to be looked at and transparency during elections and after the elections is an important topic.

During this author’s recent visit to trans-Himalayan development forum- forty scholars from Asia participated in questions of common regional interest. A question was raised during a conversation with South Asian Scholars. The question centric to effective leadership was reiterated -“How do we make politicians disciplined and answerable so that they will not steal people’s money? Can we make them afraid enough of being answerable to some authority such as the bribery commissioner? The answer was that it will be a difficult task in this region as politicians make their own rules.

According to an Indian scholar, they made a gold statue of a South Indian politician which was not an issue and most politicians earn much as possible and reinvest a percentage for elections while some keep it apart from their political careers. Some people enjoy this cycle in society and they elect the same individuals knowing their record on corruption. The conversation ended with some optimism that certain things would improve in two generations time. If certain leading scholars are of this mindset, how do we make this region as developed in political and educational culture as EU?

Given the existing political culture which requires correct political will to transform – it could be far away from everything resting on the fundamental values of integrity and rule of law- the most solid foundation for economic prosperity.

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