6 December, 2023


The Requirement For Transition That Unifies 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

This year’s Independence Day national event was significant for two reasons. It was the first to be celebrated under the leadership of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of whom much is expected, both in terms of giving meaning to effective government and in making the transition to the ethos and infrastructure of a developed society.  During his period as secretary of urban development, the cities were beautified and modernized. Giving further substance to the positive expectations of him is also his track record as the defense secretary who survived an LTTE suicide attack and was a key member of the state’s defence apparatus that won the war defying expectations. Prior to him, the country had engaged in more than a quarter of a century of indecisive warfare that was sapping its morale and financial and human resources.

This display of decisive leadership to end the war has given rise to the expectation that the president can lead the country again to victory over a myriad of evils that threaten to engulf it. Among the challenges that President Rajapaksa is expected to tackle in a decisive manner are the runaway corruption in state institutions as revealed in the multiple bond scams and the SriLankan airlines bribery case. These two cases of corruption are in the limelight at the present time on account of the huge sums that have been misappropriated. However, the country is rife with similar instances of corrupt practices although the amounts may be smaller. Another challenge that the president is well suited to tackle is the lethargy in the state sector which he encountered first hand during the surprise visits he paid to several such institutions.

The second reason for the anticipation of the Independence Day celebration was the prospect of getting a further indication from the president as regards the future direction that the country would take under his leadership. Although nearly three months have passed since the election victory of President Rajapaksa, there remains a considerable uncertainty as regards the future direction of the country. The government’s election campaign was very much focused on national security and catered primarily to the ethnic majority community’s concerns. These included strong critiques of the previous government’s policies that appeared to cater to the ethnic minority interests and were deferential to the demands of international human rights organisations.

Reassuring Speech 

In the immediate aftermath of the change of government there were concerns that the new government would reverse the space given to ethnic minorities, opposition parties and civil society.  However, this has not materialized in a uniform manner. One reason could be that the government has only a minority of parliamentary seats at the present time which makes it difficult to pass new legislation unless the opposition parties agree to cooperate. At the same time there is regression such as the opening of checkpoints on the road to and from the North and East. Bus travelers are asked to get down and walk to the checkpoints with their bags even at dead of night. More and more civil society groups are reporting that they are being visited by intelligence personnel. Among those so visited was the civil society group, and even religious clergy, who sang the national anthem in both Sinhala and Tamil in Colombo.  

As a result there is uncertainty about government policies and in particular the space it is prepared to give other actors to do their political and civil society work. This situation of uncertainty regarding political and civic freedoms is likely to continue until the forthcoming general elections at which the government is expected to win comfortably. The positive expectations of President Rajapaksa coupled with the protracted crisis within the main opposition party concerning its leadership are fueling the hopes of a big win. Unlike the government which made the transition to a new leadership relatively smoothly, the opposition’s efforts at transition do not appear to be succeeding. The inability of the opposition to settle its leadership problems has diverted its energies to infighting rather than to being a counter to the government. As a result government leaders are talking in terms of obtaining a 2/3 majority in parliament at the forthcoming elections that would enable them to engage in constitutional change which could set the stage for more centralized state control over society.  

In this context, President Rajapaksa’s Independence Day address was reassuring as he expressed positive and straightforward principles of governance. At the outset of his speech itself he laid down the foundational principles of freedom and liberty that would guide his government. Without qualifying his assertions he said, “Every citizen living in Sri Lanka has the right to live freely and securely. We will always ensure their right to think freely, hold independent opinions, and express themselves without any hindrance. We will always respect the right of any citizen to follow the religion of his or her choice. Every citizen has the right of free association and of free assembly. We will always defend the right of every Sri Lankan citizen to participate in the political and governance processes through his or her elected representatives. We consider all these as rights of human beings that no one can challenge.”

Inclusive Leadership 

President Rajapaksa also reiterated his position first articulated in his oath taking speech shortly after being sworn in as president when he said he would be the president of all Sri Lankans, including those who had not voted for him. It is possible that having spent many years in the United States, the oldest democracy in the world, which is known as a melting pot of ethnic and religious identities, the president would have a broader perspective on racial issues that many other more parochial and insular Sri Lankan leaders may not have. This non-racial attitude would be strengthened by his commitment to merit as the basis of selection and to technocratic solutions to developmental problems.

In his Independence Day speech, the president applied these principles to the country’s ethnically and religiously plural society by saying, “In a democracy, when the leader is elected following a legitimate process, he becomes the President of all the people of the country. During his term of office, he must serve the entire Sri Lankan people. He is not bound to serve only the interests of the people who voted for him. I have the vision that I must serve as the leader of the country looking after all citizens rather than serve as a political leader concerned only about a particular community. As the President today, I represent the entire Sri Lankan nation irrespective of ethnicity, religion, party affiliation or other differences.”

Mostly everything that the president said in his Independence Day speech, when looked at in and of itself was exemplary. The challenge will be to implement these ideas in a manner that gains the trust and confidence of all sections of the country’s multi ethnic and multi religious population, who have been deeply divided and scarred by years of conflict, war and terrorism. This reality was reflected in the singing of the national anthem in Sinhala only at the national event in Colombo, even while the national anthem was sung in both Sinhala and Tamil in the north and east and in other parts where Tamil-speakers are the dominant population. Students at the university of Jaffna put up black flags in protest while the TNA did not participate in the Independence Day celebrations in Colombo. 

The logic and spirit of the president’s Independence Day speech would be to end the distinction between centre and regions, so that the same rule applies all over the country. The growth of regionalism was a result of the regions being treated unequally.  Equal treatment over a period of time may lead the people of the regions to believe they no longer need to be regions, but part of the whole. Firm and inclusive leadership that is cognizant of the pluralism and diversity within the country and embraces it all with equal commitment is what Sri Lanka needs in its transition.  

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Latest comments

  • 1

    If the president wants to stop corruptions, the best thing is based on legal negotiations assess their assets accumulation during the entire political life. Some have foreign accounts, foreign real estates and also big land and property owners in sri lanka. when that is unexplainable, acquire everything.
    TNA leader sumanthiran is redundant and is inactive. LEader sumanthiran knows it. Former Leader is waiting the approval letter from the new govt about his Rosmid place retirement – bungalow.

    • 0

      Kapila Jayawardane got money in his wife’s name. That is the typical way of politicians. Some did with the help of their servants. So need to check the whole family.

  • 6

    A bit of an unnecessary arse lick from Jehan. I respect Jehan for many brave stands he has taken but this one is a bit too much praise without essential reservations. Jehan only notes and fails to CONDEMN the decision to throw out the national Anthem in Tamil on 4 Feb.

    • 0

      Of Boy, Dr Jehan has put a Rocket up the Professor’s arse for sure…

      The Professor was not this upset when his preferred candidate the beloved JVP Boss couldn’t score even 3% at the Prez Election.

      Good Professor probably hasn’t read PM Mahinde’s reply to that Hindu Journalist about the Hindutva Anthem..

  • 3

    Among civilized people, there is an accepted norm not to interfere in domestic affairs of a sovereign nation. But unfortunately some uncivilized leaders of one of our neighboring countries never adhered to this norm. As a ‘Big Brother’ they thought they have a right to interfere in domestic affairs of a small country. People in Sri Lanka went through enormous hardships and suffering as a consequence of interferences carried out by these uncivilized leaders. The statements made by the present leader of this country during the visit of our President and Prime Minister showed that he does not care for accepted norms of civilized people. We are wondering when this ‘Junglewalla’ will become a civilized person.

  • 2

    Real transition what we need is from “politicians” or “bureaucratics” first country to “people” first country.
    Let’s consider a example.
    “politicians” or “bureaucratics” takes a decision to impose a higher tax on vehicle imports.
    And they are getting a tax free permit for a vehicle in every 5 years.
    Higher the tax…. higher the profit for them.
    And common man have to spend a astronomical figure on a vehicle.

  • 3

    There was many corruption and murder cases in the past against the current president and prime minister that happened during their regime after the end of war. All these cases have been put into the bin now. Now you expect the same to find a solution to the corruption. President has warned judiciary not to involve with what he and his brother do. What does that mean? Yes they won the war with LTTE after massacring thousands. Even UNP won the war with JVP after massacring thousands of Sinhalese. Creating wars and ending wars did not do any good to people and the country. It gave an opportunity to corrupt this country and rob this nation to make few billionaires and many to beg for their daily food.

  • 0

    Future direction was well forecast on all feilds to serve as the leader of the country looking after all citizens Spirit of the president’s Independence Day speech multiculturalism, tolerance, respect for diverse faiths. and eminent helping economy accumulation for the future generation and set Growth, stability india china has co-operated with funds, And US supports the development programes.All these can be on progress mindful of the countries main spiritual practices religion Potraiying buddhism tradition.

  • 0

    Has Dr Jehan gone through transition I wonder..

    Anyway it makes sense to have strong corruption free central leadership which treats everyone in any part of this small Nation as equals.

    Instead of dividing it in to 9 Parts with with 9 crooks and 9 crooked Cabinets . like the one which we witnessed even in the Center for the last four years.

    On a l more serious note, I like the the way the Nerve Center of Yahapalanaya , the oldest Democracy in Lankawe, sorry the oldest Democrats iin Lankawe have now split after the defeat.

    I love the name which the Dalit Faction lead by Keselwatta Kid , Ajith Perera and Dr Harsh de Silva have adopted as their new party..

    I saw their Srilanka Heart Party Banner with Keselwatta Kid next the massive Red Heart with the Light Green background . And it is a Beauty…

    With Dr Rani’s portrait next to the real deal UNP Banner with the Black Elepahant in the dark green background, it will be a real contrast to the Heart Party…..

    Now at least the Keselwatta Kid supporters know whom they are voting for unlike in the past.

    With Mano Ganesahn from the Estate Party throwing his full weight behind the Heart Party, makes Keselwatta Kid a formidable opponent to the real UNP Dr Rani’s Party.

    May be Heart Party will support Pohottuwa if they can get a few dozen seats ,

    I am not sure that support will earn them free car permits and special allowances like last time

    But both Heart Party and the Estate Party supporters may like it ,because all they need is aa fair go for them and their kiddies to be equall with Dr Rani’s United National Party supporters. and their Kids..

    Now that Dr Jehan has expressed some support for every one to be equal , I hope he will support the Heart Party.

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