19 September, 2019

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The Majority That A Problem-Solving President Must Win

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The delay in the announcement of the ruling party’s presidential candidate continues. There are reports of negotiations and breakdown of negotiations within the UNP. The open disagreements within the ruling party may be contrasted with the decisiveness of the main opposition party, the SLPP. Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa was granted the party leadership and nominated his younger brother Gotabaya to be the presidential candidate of the SLPP. Thereafter he announced that he himself would be the prime ministerial candidate at the general elections that would follow. Such decisiveness fits well with the current emphasis in the country on the need for a strong leader to address the many problems in the country.

The UNP’s protracted decision making highlights the absence of a one-man show there. The absence of a towering figure who enjoys both supreme power and mass appeal like the former president has meant that there is more scope for inner-party conflict within the UNP. The challenge will be to channel the present struggle within the UNP in a direction that is in the best interests of the party and the country at large. Ironically, their main challenger, the SLPP, may have shown a formula, which is to announce its presidential and prime ministerial candidates together, as one package. It is for the wisdom of the UNP leadership to find the best combination of their leaders to meet this challenge. The fact that time is being spent on this process is not necessarily a disadvantage if it leads to a win-win outcome.

According to the election law the presidential elections need to be held between November 9 and December 9. The legally mandated campaign period is four to six weeks and nominations of candidates must take place 16-30 days prior to the campaign period. With the likely election date towards the end of November or early December, this leaves time till October for the presidential candidates to be nominated. At the last presidential election held in 2015 President Sirisena’s nomination came at only a few days before nominations closed about six weeks before the elections. There are advantages in having a shorter election campaign, as it leaves the candidates with less opportunity to make mistakes or to be critiqued by their opposition.

Reformist Presidency

The keen interest being taken in the presidential nomination is that the presidency continues to be a powerful institution, even with the reduction of its powers by the 19th Amendment. In addition to the powers vested in the president by law and the constitution, the president can also wield tremendous moral authority by virtue of the fact of election by the country acting as a single electorate. The powers of this office need to be used for the good of the people and not merely for self-aggrandisement or for helping colleagues and friends. The president needs to be a person who is willing to spearhead unpopular but necessary reforms.

Among the hardest of the unpopular but necessary reforms that the country needs to undertake are ones pertaining to relations between the ethnic and religious communities. This has proven to be extremely difficult to do, as the failure of negotiations, agreements and constitutional reforms over the past several decades have shown. Beginning with the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact of 1957, all such agreements have failed to get off the ground due to the fear and suspicion of members of each ethnic and religious community against the others. The inability to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the constitution also derives from this fear and mistrust that power that is devolved may be misused.

If Sri Lanka is to take a leap forward into a new dynamic of development, it needs to overcome its legacy of ethnic and religious conflicts. It needs a political solution to them. But so far the leading protagonists in the presidential competition have yet to make a firm declaration about what their policies will be in this regard. So far what the people have heard is that national security will be the number one priority. This can mean that ethnic and religious minorities who are seen as not being part of the polity, due to their wish to preserve their own ethnic and religious identity, may be viewed as national security threats and subject to national security measures.

Win Trust 

During the past four years Sri Lanka took a turn for the better in terms of its inter-ethnic relations. The government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe gave leadership to the bid for a new constitution more than any government since President Chandrika Kumaratunga tried to promote a power-sharing constitution to resolve the ethnic conflict. There was considerable optimism and reason for hope, but this ended with the April 21 Easter Sunday bombings which turned the clock back in terms of inter-community relations. There is need for leadership now to put back the reconciliation and peacebuilding process back on track.

In the past four years, the government agreed to implement a series of reforms aimed at resolving the ethnic conflict. These included constitutional reform but also a process of transitional justice in which the human rights violations of the past would be investigated, the perpetrators of any such crimes to be prosecuted and for compensation to be given. However, it is not enough to put forward plans and set up institutions. It is also necessary to give visionary leadership that is capable of taking the people along on the journey with the government. This leadership needs to have the ability to win the trust of a majority of people, not only of one ethnic or religious community, but of all communities.

In other words, the leader who can lead Sri Lanka out of its internal conflict that led to three decades of war is one who must necessarily enjoy the confidence of a majority of Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Christians which are the main communities in the country. It is not good enough to have a leader who enjoys the support of the majority of the Sinhalese, if that leader does not also enjoy the support of the ethnic and religious minorities, and vice versa. Only a leader who enjoys the confidence of all sections of the people can lead the country safely to a political solution without creating a backlash from disaffected hardliners in any of the communities.

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Latest comments

  • 5
    1

    This is a good joke? who creates problems? MS created a problem. Ranil created a problem. MR created problem. Goata created problems? now one man is left out. It is AKD. We have tried him yet, let us assume you refer to him with this title.

    • 0
      0

      This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

    • 4
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      Dear Sinhalese Man,
      .
      Welcome to the forum. Just want to make two points.
      .
      I’m not you, and you’re not me! And that’s O.K.
      .
      I agree with your comment, but you have accidentally left out one word:
      .
      “We have NOT tried him yet, let us assume you refer to him with this title.”
      .
      That also is O.K. But this is what I suggest: make full use of your Preferential Votes. Professor Kumar David has outlined in great detail how he suggests that we should vote – strategically:
      .
      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/give-your-second-preference-to-the-dnf-unper-to-halt-gota-tick-both-preference-1-2/
      .
      As for me, I’m waiting impatiently for Nagananda Kodituwakku to come up with publicity other than Youtube programmes in Sinhala, and Facebook. I’ve spent far too much time on those, and am convinced that he’ll make a good enough President. That is one of the remotest possibilities that one can think of, but I suggest a First Preference for him, apart from what Prof. David suggests.
      .
      Nagananda Kodituwakku is no racist. However, he must understand that few people have hours to spend looking at Youtube, and a significant number of those who may vote for him, understand little Sinhala. Plus, there are many who are not typical young mobile phone types. It may be that the newspapers, T.V. and other media are deliberately ignoring him.

    • 3
      0

      S Man,
      There is no much sense of talking about AKD simply b’cos, as K D Lalakantha himself asserted, the goal of NPPM not to win but to draw some votes from other main candidates in order to prove that their “hard work” during all these years finally yielding fruits.

      In any case, I think that not that many who have voted up or down this essay have understood the key question posed in the heading itself. It directly applies to the “seismic shock” to ethnic reconciliation efforts tenderly progressing under Ranil’s efforts. I do also do believe that Easter Bombing incident created so much anxiety not just in S/B majority; but among all ethnic groups. The reason that the shock felt beyond Muslims vs all others was that it raised a huge question about the national security as a whole. However, I must also add that the fear of turmoil wouldn’t have gone to extent it really did had not for the silly activity of A Rathana & SLPP opportunism.

      But, now, following the usual response of fear first and calming down once things are understood, people are beginning to understand that Easter Bombing incident was not by Muslims but by a small deviant group of Muslim youths which itself was a threat to the general Muslim community; that Dr Shafi’s case picked out of thin air motivated by a handful of individuals who abused their official power in order promote a personal as well as a political vendetta; and that the security failure occurred due mainly to the stupidity of the president.

      I do agree that the situation is not fully settled yet & upcoming election campaign can have some effect on the issue.

      • 1
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        Dear DP,
        .
        Are you responding to “Sinhalese Man” or to “Sinhala_Man”? I tried to draw attention to the fact that there are two of us. Make note of very different Gravatars.
        .
        I’m quite sure that this is not an attempt by either of us to mislead other readers, but some time ago there was an utterly racist guy who began posting calling himself something like “SinhalaMan”. We shot the guy down!
        .
        Beware, at Election time all sorts of tricks are tried. In 2015, there were 19 candidates. These were the first four :
        .
        Maithripala Sirisena New Democratic Front 6,217,162
        Mahinda Rajapaksa United People’s Freedom Alliance 5,768,090
        Ratnayake Arachchige Sirisena Patriotic National Front 18,174
        Namal Ajith Rajapaksa Our National Front 15,726
        .
        You will find the full list here. You will have to scroll a lot and get lost among the trees, so you will not understand the forest at all:
        .
        https://elections.gov.lk/web/wp-content/uploads/election-results/presidential-elections/PresidentialElections2015.pdf
        .
        This will be a lot simpler. Scroll down a little:
        .
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_Sri_Lankan_presidential_election
        .
        Got it, I hope?
        .
        MaRa obviously planted the guy who came third, wanting to mislead My3 supporters; while the Yahapalanaya guys looked high and low for a guy with the same name as MaRa’s eldest son – and found him! This time, remember that we must try to match the guile of the politicians: mark Preference Votes. Here’s one very learned man’s attempt to teach “Strategic Voting”:
        .
        https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/give-your-second-preference-to-the-dnf-unper-to-halt-gota-tick-both-preference-1-2/
        .
        This information must be got across to those citizens who use mainly Sinhala and Tamil. We guys who use English hardly matter. If well presented, most voters will be angry at all the manipulation that goes on.

        • 1
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          S_Man,
          No, the other guy!

  • 5
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    I don’t believe we have an ethnic or religious issue among the majorities. A few dogs are barking and the majorities are watching.
    ..
    Every dog has it’s day. But tomorrow is very dark for them.
    ..
    In my view all we need is law reforms and economic solutions.
    ..
    Political solution is up to the people to select an honest soul who has the best track record. When the will is there the way is allready there.
    ..
    With money in hand and proper laws in place people wouldn’t care about the politicians. It will be another job.

    • 3
      0

      “During the past four years Sri Lanka took a turn for the better in terms of its inter-ethnic relations”

      I would rather say that was the period (+ few years of previous govt) when the concrete foundation was laid to harm the peace between Sinhalese and Muslims systematically to increase the vote bank, to bring out few fake heroes & to help few businesses. Present & the previous govts ignored it purposely for their own advantage. Post East-bombings mistrust & the rift between the communities wouldn’t have been this worst and deep, had that foundation be stopped at the right time, I mean years back.

      Agreed, that both communities have to reform themselves on many aspects & Muslims might want to do more, but a legitimate govt shouldn’t be giving a free rein to the opportunists.

  • 2
    0

    The present Prime Minister has acted with much patience and tenacity to bring reconciliation and understanding between varying groups and promote inter-ethnic and inter-religious harmony. The Easter attacks were allowed to occur to disrupt this arduous and “nation-saving” process. There is ample evidence for the people to understand that the President, the former president and defense secretary were aware of the warnings. If Harin Fernando knew about it, his close friend Sajith Premadasa too must have known about it. The Easter tragedy was the turning point for the present government. The media frenzy about the presidential race; all the talk shows, discussions and even some dialogues in popular teledramas are being geared to that end. The implications and fall out of the Easter tragedy is already forgotten. The Christian worshipers were “sacrificed” to achieve this state of affairs and the aftermath of the attack was maneuvered to let the Muslim community feel its share of the pain. What else do we want us to happen before we open our eyes to the reality of what is unfolding before us?

  • 3
    0

    if ranil wins sirisena will continue to act like cat on a hot tin roof till the end of his term
    if sajith wins he might calm down
    if gota wins god knows what he will do

  • 1
    0

    It is the majority of Sri lanka that is the root cause of all its problems. From the very inception of independence the majority were molly coddled by the politicians and promised the sun, moon and the stars just to win votes. The minorities were all ready done away with because they were of no use and they were considered to be cattle fodder. The majority were happy, are happy and will be happy as long as they are the majority. What is left of the minorities will cease to exist in a very short time.
    The biggest headache of the politicians for ever will be giving the majority all the goodies they ask for but then politicians are persons who promise to build bridges where are are no rivers and as long as the majority are taken as fools ( they are fools) the politicians will win.
    Sri lanka is lost as a failed state a point of no return and as long as the majority slumber in their fantasy world that they will be given all they want and that life will be made easy at every election then the only place of rest to them will be the cesspit of ignorance.
    The minorities have nothing to loose for they have lost all but for the remaining for whom life is made hard every day there will always be a greener pasture somewhere in the world for them to graze.
    If any politician can promise a free tuk tuk to every majority family then they have won the golden pedestal to govern for life. Gone will be the days of a glorious land of skills of all forms accept for the only skill of driving a tuk tuk as a road killer. So be it.

  • 4
    0

    Ranil has decided to hand over the country to Mahinda Rajapakse Family. He wanted to save Mahinda Family from international war crime investigation. That is why he did not contest and gave it to Sirisena.

    • 1
      0

      Ranil has decided ? If anyone it’s the people who have decided it moron. Ranil can save Mahinda from war crimes ? Is that a April fools joke or something. That fool can’t do anything about it.He takes his orders from the west not the other way around.

  • 4
    1

    Time for the Sri Lankan’s to decide on the country’s future President.
    We have tried SLFP, UNP and the National Government .
    All 3 have made a mess.
    Time to give JVP a chance now

  • 1
    4

    Sri Lanka is the country of Sinhala-Buddhists, for the Sinhala-Buddhists where minorities are tolerated. Tamils and Muslims in Sri Lanka can go back to their Tamil Nadu because they have “Right to Return of Person of Indian Origin”.

  • 0
    1

    Jehan Perera: Since 1940s, the western community, now the Pivot to Asia program needed Sri lanka to become a failed state. For that, Politicians had to be very corrupt, Higher Officials needed to be corrupt. Country’s system has to be limping. Ethnic and religious problems are a must. NOTE: Ethnic and Religious diversity are all over the world. Britain is like that but they rally around the royal family. americans rally around the Flag – Ammerrica-. Only Sri lankan has to forget the word Sinhala, forget the Buddhist culture, social engineering which is happening last 40 years or so is essential. The next most important thins is corrupt parliament and who are governing the country. Ranil has 40 years experience but he is a Western agent. The whole world knows that. Mahinda Rajapakse also was double acting and he was not much different. So, the country is ruined. Now the country’s most important issue is who will Approve SOFA-VFA and MCC compact and change other required legislation so that the Sri lanka will be ready for take over and exploitation and final abandoning just like a prostitute. There are people who earn a buck supporting that.

  • 0
    0

    It is good that Jehan acknowledge now that a problem solving president need a majority support. He and his ilk didn’t think it would be necessary in 2015. The local Goebels, Mangala Samaraweera and the rest of yahapalanista theoreticians didn’t think so too. Their formula was (and still is judging by various comments) to target 30% Sinhala votes and 80-90% minority votes to ram through whatever agenda they have in their minds. They will fail again unless they make a course correction this time around.

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