By Gamini Jayaweera –
The leading candidates for the forthcoming presidential election have been nominated by Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), United National Party (UNP), Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), and the National Peoples’ Party (NPP)
A lot of “good” things have been promised by possible contestants from all parties. As the prospective candidates’ names are in the public domain, I consider that the time is right to highlight a few facts about these parties so as to contribute to the information that is needed for the voters to make an informed decision about their preferred candidate in this presidential election.
The State We Were In
After defeating the ruthless Tamil tiger terrorist organisation, the people in Sri Lanka overwhelmingly voted for the SLFP leader Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa to be the Executive President of the country to rebuild a peaceful, law abiding, corrupt free, and democratic country where all communities could live together without fear of intimidation and discrimination.
However, the hopes of the nation have been destroyed.
We have all experienced the rapid deterioration of moral values in our society during 2010 to 2015. The allegations of the introduction of a “White Van” culture, an unprecedented abuse of power by politicians, increased criminal activities by powerful & influential people, nepotism, killings and the disappearance of journalists, the suppression of the media, unacceptable political interference in the rule of law and intolerable levels of bribery & corruption that has been spearheaded by some administrators.
In addition, drug dealers have been working openly with the backing of influential people. Decent public servants have been unable to carry out their professional duties due to interference from politicians & their supporters.
Other anti-democratic factors include the misuse of public funds for personal and political gain, obtaining massive foreign development loans, where 10% – 20% commissions have been negotiated for some of the ruling party members.
There have been signs of the country heading towards a possible dictatorship where some of the disturbing activities such as greed, hatred, and ignorance were visible in our “Dhammadeepa”.
Some of the ruling party politicians, their relatives & friends, some business leaders, and drug dealers have been having a “jolly good time”. The government, and other private sector organisations have been borrowing because they believed that tomorrow was going to be better than today. Banks and lending institutions have been lending money to friends and relatives of the politicians without enough diligence, or with no security for their debts.
Credit should be given to the Rajapakse regime for carrying out a remarkable job to improve the conditions of our roadways. It must be admitted that for the first time since independence an elected government in Sri Lanka has made an outstanding and impressive contribution to transform the unacceptable conditions of our country’s roads into international standards.
The Rajapakse regime claimed that they had built an “Economic Boom” but unfortunately the “Boom” was built on a huge amount of borrowed money with a very weak industrial base. There have been no strategies or contingency plans in place to avoid a possible “Economic Bust” that would drag our country into “bankruptcy”.
The fearful voters have been dissatisfied in the way the country has been run by the unruly political gangs, and they voted to oust the President, Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse even though he led the war to defeat the ruthless Tamil Tiger terrorists in 2009.
The State We are In
The new political “marriage” was formed between the UNP and SLFP following the victory of the “Common Candidate” in the presidential election in 2015.
The “Yahapalanaya” government was established to bring solutions to the above-mentioned atrocities. A 100-day programme was introduced. Pledges were made to take appropriate actions to abolish the executive presidency, to limit the cabinet to 30 members and to eliminate bribery & corruption.
Some of the administrators of the previous regime who plundered the public funds were to be punished irrespective of their political status. Pledges were also made to hold a Dhamma Sangayana (Buddhist Religious Discourse) in Sri Lanka in 2017. Such promises were made by the new regime amongst other things.
The people in Sri Lanka were hopeful that the new administration would deliver their promises.
But, the abolition of the executive presidency has been halted, defeated MPs of the previous regime have been elected as Cabinet Ministers through the back door, bribery & corruption is rising, and irregularities continue in the government Tender processes and procedures.
Furthermore, there are allegations that the fraudsters are continued to be protected by the administrators. There have been alleged malpractices in the issuance of Treasury Bonds during 2015/16, causing billions of rupees’ to be lost, which would otherwise have benefited the Sri Lankan Government and its people.
Other problems include an alleged mis-use of public money in the Sri Lankan airlines, the appointment of “old school” friends for top government positions without them having sufficient experience and qualifications, spending multi-million rupees on importing luxury vehicles for government ministers, illegally dissolving parliament, appointing an illegal Prime Minister, alleged collusion with judges and the Attorney General’s department and continuing nepotism.
To make matters worse there have been no constructive discussions between the President and the Prime Minister to solve the problems in the country. No arrangements have been made so far for the promised Dhamma Sangayana (Buddhist Religious Discourse).
The above are examples of some of the atrocities carried out by the “Yahapalanaya” (amongst other things) and of the broken promises given in the election.
The “Yahapalanaya” government should however be applauded for reducing the possible dictatorship activities of the previous regime and for restoring the media’s freedom and the freedom of speech without intimidation, safeguarding the workers’ rights to take industrial action for their rightful demands, and permitting peaceful & legitimate protests against the government without fear and intimidation.
Two Main Candidates and their Coalitions SLPP Coalition
SLPP in a coalition with some other smaller parties, have put forward former Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa who served under his brother, former President Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa as their prospective presidential candidate.
During the Rajapakse era, four (4) Rajapaksa brothers held powerful positions in the government. In addition, Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s eldest son Mr. Namal Rajapaksa also served as a Member of Parliament, Mr. Shaseendra Rajapaksa, son of Mr. Chamil Rajapaksa was a Chief Minister and there were other close relatives of the former President who served in different levels of his administration. In other words, it was an administration which was mainly driven by the powerful Rajapaksa family members.
Is the SLPP different to the previous Rajapaksa regime? Are there free-thinking politicians with leadership credentials other than the Rajapakse brothers in their “new” outlook? Is it fair and reasonable to assume that the Rajapaksa brothers and their family members will hold powerful positions (President, Prime Minister, Speaker of the House, and important Ministries) in a new administration if the SLPP win the elections? Is there a risk to democracy once the power of a government is vested in one family?
I have highlighted several examples of the alleged atrocities which had taken place during the Rajapakse era under the heading “The State We Were In”. Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa was a powerful member of that government and therefore he himself was collectively responsible for creating “The State We Were In” during that period.
Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s supporters claim that he is the only candidate who could bring and maintain discipline in the country. But the problem is that he is surrounded by the same “old” politicians and some of them were the part of the problem in the Rajapaksa government. Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa failed to discipline them during his time as the Defence Secretary. But he has been accused by his opponents that he used an iron fist against the journalists, opposition supporters, and ordinary people who raised their voices against the Rajapaksa government’s alleged illegal activities to silence them.
Has Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa got new policies to address the problems created by the Rajapaksa and the “Yahapalanaya” governments since 2010? Is it fair and reasonable to assume that some of the corrupt politicians who are supporting his campaign are gearing up for another round of looting of the public purse? Can Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa distance himself from these fraudsters?
Some of his supporters claim that he is a strong leader. It is fair to say that Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa has got “dictatorial” type leadership qualities to command and control the people to complete his planned tasks at any cost.
But it appears that Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa lacks a deep understanding of the essential leadership qualities, such as social & emotional intelligence and humility, that are required to be the President of Sri Lanka. Has he developed such leadership qualities, amongst other things, during the past 4 years that would allow him to change his style of leadership to create a just society?
Based on the above brief analysis, can the voters trust that Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa will not take the nation back to “The State We Were In”? Can Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa apologise to the nation for the alleged atrocities and misuse of public funds which took place during the Rajapaksa era to exhibit that he is a reformed politician who practices humility – one of the essential leadership qualities?
The UNP in coalition with minority parties have nominated Mr. Sajith Premadasa as their presidential candidate. Although Mr. Sajith Premadasa is not a powerful minister in the current government, he is also collectively responsible for the alleged atrocities which have taken place under “Yahapalanaya. He is therefore also responsible for creating “The State We Are In” as described in this article.
Mr. Sajith Premadasa is a young politician with nearly two decades of experience in the Sri Lankan political arena compared to his main rival Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa who never held a parliamentary seat. Although Mr. Sajith Premadasa has accepted and apologised for the failures in the “Yahapalanaya” government, the UNP has also got some influential senior politicians who have been involved in abusing public funds and dealing with private companies to pay for their personal expenses in return for favouring them in financial deals. Some of them are not fit to be in the parliament. It appears that Mr. Premadasa has also failed to distance himself from some of the dishonest politicians in the UNP. Does Mr. Sajith Premadasa have the courage to sever ties with these dishonest politicians in a future UNF administration?
Currently he is surrounded by some young, enthusiastic, and respectable politicians who have exhibited their bold actions despite having to face criticism and possible disciplinary actions from the UNP seniors who are loyal to the party leader, Mr. Ranil Wickramesinghe.
These up and coming young politicians may make a difference in a new government because they have had the courage to break the shackles of Mr. Ranil Wickramesinghe’s iron fist style of leadership, which would allow them to support and nominate Mr. Sajith Premadasa as their presidential candidate.
But will they have the majority in the Grand Old Party to carry out radical changes after the election, to win the trust of the people?
Has Mr. Sajith Premadasa got the leadership qualities which are required to be the President of Sri Lanka? Has Mr. Premadasa got the wisdom and compassion to recognise and work with emotional resilience, interpersonal sensitivity, critical analysis & judgement, vision & imagination and strategic perspective, whilst maintaining inner and outer peace regardless of the situation to be the President of Sri Lanka?
The opponents of Mr. Sajith Premadasa have so far failed to directly attack him but they are comparing him to his late father, former President Mr. Ranasinghe Premadasa who administered the country with an iron-fist to quell the JVP uprising and their supporters, who ran a murderous campaign instilling fear and intimidation against the citizens of Sri Lanka in the mid-80s. Is it fair and reasonable to judge Mr. Sajith Premadasa based on his father’s performance?
Can the voters trust Mr. Sajith Premadasa to be the President of Sri Lanka for the next five (5) years based on the above brief analysis?
It is evident from the brief analysis given in “The State We Were In” and “The State We Are In” that some members of the SLPP Coalition and the UNP Coalition are collectively responsible for creating a lawless society, as depicted by weakening the authority of public servants, the rapid deterioration of a debt-ridden economy, the steady increase in bribery & corruption, the continuation of nepotism, and the degrading of the status of our parliament by physically fighting with each other inside the chambers, thereby exhibiting their uncivilised behaviour to the whole world.
During the last two months the Sri Lanka media announced that some “old” Ministers and MPs are jumping from one party to the other for personal gain.
The irony is that the leadership and prospective presidential candidates of these two Coalition parties have not learnt any lessons from such behaviour or from performing these “political acrobats.” These are cynical attempts to disassociate themselves from their previous actions. Actions that should condemn them to the political wilderness.
It appears that the leadership and some of the members in the two coalitions have no intention of changing their mind-sets and policies. Such change is essential in order to introduce the radical policies required to lead our country out of this “political whirlpool” which attracts dishonest, corrupt, self-serving, and Janus-Faced politicians.
Do the voters in Sri Lanka have a choice? Is there a credible alternative third force? If so, can a third force destroy this “political whirlpool” and create the State we want to live?
The leaders of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna are good orators. They are very good in picking short comings in the two major parties but unable to spell out clearly how they are going to develop the country economically, socially, politically, and environmentally. During the last few years the JVP has acted as a very effective “pressure group” inside and outside the parliament. We need the JVP to maintain that element in our parliamentary democracy and they have done a fine job of it.
But the voters want answers to some genuine questions which are still bothering them. Will the JVP go back to the “old socialist” policies that will drag our country backwards, or have they changed their social, economic, environmental and political policies to suit the 21st century? Have they got humility to say sorry to the nation for their past atrocities which were carried out by the mis-guided JVP membership? Will they say that they are committed to resolve the injustices that exist in society through the ballet box? Can they raise their political battles over and above the “pressure group” mentality to become a driving force in the Sri Lankan political arena to govern the country to bring about the social justice which we all want to see?
Although the general public admire the way members of the JVP behave as elected members in the Parliament, can the voters trust them to deliver the State we want to live?
National Peoples’ Party (NPP)
It is a breath of fresh air to witness that a strong and growing social movement full of honest and experienced former public servants, professionals, and social workers are getting together to save our country from economic bankruptcy, lawlessness, inequality in society, and from daylight robbery of public funds by the politicians. All these things together with the prevalent nepotism, systematic degradation of the environment, and continuous abuse of trust creates a breeding ground for extremists and ideologists. It must be combatted and eradicated.
More than six decades ago the Sri Lankans enjoyed reasonable standards of living, welfare, state education, and medical facilities, all free from bribery and corruption. Sri Lanka was consequently the envy of all its neighbours in the sub-continent. It is with great sadness that today we must admit that we have become a laughingstock, not only with our neighbours in the sub-continent but also with the other countries around the world.
Although the NPP nominee, former Army Commander Mahesh Senanayake is an unknown quantity in the Sri Lankan political arena, he appears to have a sound knowledge of local and international affairs. It appears that he has got a team of well-respected former public servants such as the former Additional Solicitor General President Counsel Srinath Perera, former Auditor General Mr. Gamini Wijesinghe, and former Director of the Intelligence Unit Dr. Ajith Rohana Colonne, amongst other distinguished people.
Mr. Mahesh Senanayake’s knowledge and application of the essential leadership qualities such as social & emotional Intelligence (EQ), cognitive quotient (IQ), managerial quotient (MQ), and humility (which are lacking in our political arena), are yet to be proved and will be tested in the coming days. Having served the country as the Army commander, has he developed the wisdom and compassion to recognise and work with all sections in our society?
Can the NPP, JVP, and other progressive right-minded politicians, organisations, & civil societies work together and support the best candidate to challenge the two coalition candidates in the presidential election and initiate the radical changes that are necessary to annihilate the deep-rooted corrupt political landscape in Sri Lanka? Can they work together to end this painful journey through the long dark tunnel where the Sri Lankan people have suffered for a very long time?
It is worth knowing if any of the third force candidates will agree to step down paving the way for these essential reforms. If not, then the people will be doomed because of the selfish ambition of too many third force Presidential candidates who know perfectly well that the competing vote base is going to be divided between them leaving the “third force” in a weak position.
The State To Come
The most insidious doctrine of the Sri Lankan political landscape is that the voters think that they have no choices other than the two major political parties. One party accuses the other as capitalist (ධනවාදී) & reactionary (ප්රතිගාමි) while calling themselves as the only progressive (ප්රගතිශීලි) & socialist (සමාජවාදී) political force in the country and vice versa. They engage with the voters during an election and then they carry on with the same “old” tricks by governing the country in the same “old” ways with the same “old” politicians and political “acrobats”.
The voters in Sri Lanka must grow up!
In this election, they should seek answers to the following two questions before they cast their votes. Whose policies can deliver the “The State To Come” which provides a better political, economic, environmental, and social order in the country where the rule of law is sacrosanct and who can be trusted to work towards making the justice system in Sri Lanka a beacon of impartiality?