By Amal S. Kumarage –
For most Sri Lankans, politics ends when our vote is cast. It is seen as the end of our democratic obligation and we like to be left alone until the next election. Well who wouldn’t? After all, politics alone does not develop a country. Its progress is a collective effort of all its citizens in diverse ways ranging from the economic to the social, the spiritual to the environment. There is much to keep everyone busy and to leave governance issues to those elected representatives. However, increasingly Sri Lankans are being drawn in to episodes of political drama with each act ending in greater apprehension as we appear to head towards what now appears to be an act for which there is possibly no script in place. As each act closes, a different segment of the population applauds. Meanwhile, the country struggles with debt, corruption and worse still keeps getting divided along language, racial, religious and now possibly along values and ethics- a symptom of failure of keeping a country together.
The Constitution that provides the rules of governance has been tinkered with regularity over nearly 50 years mostly for specific political expediencies to consolidate power, so that the current context does not seem even to bother us anymore. The media that bitterly complains of interference into independent reporting falls like a pack of cards with a mere wind of change, a growl and a huff. The judiciary, the administrative service, the professionals have sadly shown political partisanship above professional ethics or critical thinking. The different religious establishments have mostly chosen to side with the powerful and have long lost being a beacon of light to guide the critical thinking of the common people. Political orientation, support and personal reward have become established cycles of patronage expected from elections among individuals and corporates vying for benefits. If Sri Lanka is truly being educated and developed, we should see more rational and ethically driven decisions not just in politics, but across all aspects of society. In fact the opposite appears to be happening where we are arguing if the popular sentiment should override the written law which to me is a regressive step towards a primitive society.
However poor the performance of our politicians, we cannot shirk from the responsibility that it is we who have elected them and the blame for their dismantling of the checks and balances of governance rests with us. However tempting it is to conclude that the diagnosis for all ills across society is to call all politicians evil, it is perhaps the most dangerous position at this time. To hypothesize that it is all the fault of one party or the ‘unschooled’ MPs or that the rot is due to the fault of one leader or one government or the electoral system has no rational validity and is only an escape from our own individual culpability. One of the small victories of the last two weeks was the inability to fully tempt large numbers of MPs with money and position. The current crisis has left many disenchanted Sri Lankans from the village to the city and from the south to the north calling the folly of the political parties and the prospect of another election. But in fact it is we the people who are being fooled to think that another election would solve the problem and that people’s sovereignty would reign thereafter.
As long as Sri Lankans think politics in terms of colours of blue, green, red or purple and not in terms of black and white of what is right and wrong, we will only succeed in changing the actors but the drama will go on. As long as Sri Lankans especially the religious leaders, the professionals, the academics, the university students are unwilling and scared to think and express publicly their individual opinion based on ethical and moral aspects, we remain condemned to see more or worse of what we have had the misfortune of seeing over the last two weeks. The disappointment of the Executive, the failure of the Legislature, the retreat of the media have brought us to the last remaining bastions of democracy namely the Elections Commission and the Supreme Court. The tea boutique jokes, the Facebook memes, the despair shared at cocktails and lunch rooms alike, should give way to greater public discussion of what is ethical and moral as the political culture of the future Sri Lanka. We should be able to identify and reject the lies, the conspiracy, the greed, the grab and the hold to power to generate values in public opinion around us. On that alone can we rest Sri Lanka’s future.