21 October, 2020

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Unified Political Approach On Handling Covid-19 Crisis Is Necessary 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The spread of the Coronavirus is an international calamity. Even though an island, Sri Lanka has not been able to insulate itself from the global impact of the pandemic. The country had an opportunity to miminise the impact of the pandemic if it had acted earlier. It had an early warning when, at the end of January, a Chinese tourist developed symptoms of the virus while in the country and was treated successfully. This incident could have set off alarm bells that others too might be similarly infected. The rescue operation by Sri Lankan Airlines in early February to fly into the heart of the pandemic in Wuhan to bring back Sri Lankan students stranded was hailed as a heroic act. It could have been used to rally the entire country to face the looming catastrophe.

Unfortunately, it took more than 6 weeks for the government to take the necessary steps to seal off the country from the rest of the world by closing its international airport to incoming passenger traffic. The responsibility or blame for this cannot be placed solely on the government though government leaders are expected to lead and be in front of their people. The failure of Sri Lankan society as a whole, at least at its more prosperous and formally educated level, was seen in the failure of school and government authorities to put a stop to the cricket big matches that took place during this period even after the regular school system had been shut down due to the Coronavirus crisis.

The failure of stop festivities that brought tens of thousands of the country’s elite society came together in the pavilions of cricket stadiums may have been due to complacency that what was happening in other parts of the world, could not happen in the island. Sri Lanka was spared the SARS epidemic that ravaged other parts of Asia. However, there appears to have been another key factor that delayed the governmental response. This was the declared and resolute intention of the government leadership to proceed with the general elections as soon as possible. It was with that intention in mind that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolved parliament six months ahead of schedule in terms of the constitutional powers vested in him and set the general elections for April 25.

Political Delay 

It is noteworthy that the government waited until after the nominations closed for general elections to commence the lockdown of the country. The government’s determination to follow up with the nomination process would be due to the political advantage that it anticipated by holding the general elections as soon as possible. On the one hand, the government is hobbled by not having a majority in parliament. While President Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the presidential election in November 2019 with a significant majority, parliament continues to represent the balance of political forces that existed back in August 2015 when the last general elections were held.

The second reason for the government’s interest in holding the general elections as soon as possible would be to take advantage of the division within the UNP which is its main rival for political power. With most of the UNP parliamentarians joining the SJB, which is headed by the UNP’s deputy leader Sajith Premadasa, neither party is likely to do as well as the UNP would have if it had succeeded in resolving its leadership crisis that led to the break. This would be advantageous to the government, and to their hope of obtaining a 2/3 majority in parliament that would give them the unilateral power to change the constitution. Until the nominations process was underway both the president and the elections authorities took the position that the elections would go ahead as scheduled.

While the logic of holding general elections soon made sense from a partisan political perspective, it is not justifiable that the desire to seize the moment for political gain overrode national safety considerations. When the government decided to wait for the period of nominations for elections to end before declaring curfew, the country lost valuable weeks in which it could have taken decisive action to halt the spread of the Coronavirus. This delay will compound the difficulties that the government, and the rest of society, will have to pay for the problem to be tackled in a systematic and thorough manner.

Share Responsibility 

Fortunately, Sri Lankans have had the experience of sudden curfews being declared due to the many decades of war and terrorism. There is also a willingness to concede individual rights to the needs of the collective especially when the government is behind the restriction. Nevertheless the present curfew, which is for four continuous days has been unprecedented and could have been done with more forward planning. The sudden declaration of curfew has created difficulties in commercial and personal lives. It will put pressure on the country’s social welfare system and economy. There are large numbers of people who earn by the day. After four days of being confined to their homes by the curfew they will be hard pressed to store up for the days of lockdown that lie ahead when the curfew is relaxed today for a few hours. In this context, social discontent and unrest are bound to spread. The government needs to consider direct economic assistance to the poorer sections of the population.

Sri Lankan citizens need to cooperate with the government authorities they have at this time. Many would believe that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the best leader to handle the present situation. Under his leadership, the government has been making maximum use of the military to handle the emergency situation. This should not be viewed as a militarization of the country but as a temporary phenomenon. Due to the decades of war and counter terror operations, the Sri Lankan military has the resources, the training and experience to handle multiple crises. The leadership that President Rajapaksa gave to the military during the time of war has instilled trust and respect for him in the general population, which was reflected in the outcome of last November’s presidential election.

The days and months ahead are going to be difficult and challenging ones. The Election Commission has bowed to the inevitable and indefinitely postponed the general elections set for April 25. But parliament has been dissolved since March 2 by the president. The democratic system requires a democratically elected president to be supported, checked and balanced by a democratically elected parliament. This is not only a matter of checks and balances but also of sharing responsibility. With the entire world in crisis, satisfying the competing claims of different sections of the people will incur the wrath of many sections if not all. It is better that the responsibility should be shared. It is important that the president should summon an all-party meeting to discuss the consensual way forward. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s meeting with party leaders today may be the prelude to this necessary step.

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Latest comments

  • 3
    0

    Thanks to our politicians, we have become a divided nation. Without unity we can never fight this battle. It may be too late for our idiots to realize this, and too late to make things right. The crisis is now.

  • 2
    1

    It looks like every political activist in the country is becoming a Corona virus pandemic management expert.
    /
    But under the thin veil, they are all using the epidemic to attack the president and the government. This is beneath contempt.
    /
    The army has done a good job in containing the epidemic and NGo wallahs and other operatives need to shut up and stay in their burrows to prevent infection.

  • 0
    0

    Jehan, Unified Approach is a better word in the TITLE. You can see whose heads are emerging through this key-hole. Most of them them, have different appetites: connect the dots. Remember, political leadership in the 70’s soon after JVP revolt; Mrs B’s appointing political authorities (henchmen) at all levels and, felicitating ceremonies that followed. The final one was FELICITATING JONNY from Horana.

  • 0
    0

    Sri Lankan political system has become a joke, a stand up comedy. There is a president who is elected with the island wide vote. If he fails he faces reelection. Why we need to get involved all these losers, crooks and incompetents. They talk a lot but what have they proven, the despair and disaster to the country. Just like NGOs, they also want to eat piece of the cake and prove it is worth to keep them. I can suspect, if that happens, after all these, International community people in Colombo also might have their way of saying do this it this way and not that way.

  • 1
    0

    Sharing the power, Sharing the responsibility, Sharing the wealth and Sharing the love bring prosperity to this nation. Unfortunately, Srilanka become a place for natural and man made disasters continuously since Buddhist Sinhala took the political leadership. Senanayake Family, Bandaranaiyake Family, JRJeyawardena Family and Rajapakse family shared this land within them since Buddhist Sinhala took over this nation. The result is continues bloodbath in the soil in the name of Lord Buddha. Even Corona cannot change the attitude. Still Corona is used to political cheat and political opportunism.

  • 0
    0

    RW says Govt. must reconvene P’ment to obtain additional funds to fight COVID-19
    .
    PM accuses RW, SP of attempts to use legal arguments to block Govt. finances, anti COVID-19 programs
    .
    In Australia Labor says it is putting aside partisan differences to hand the Government a discretionary fund of $40 billion to spend as required without legislation, as Parliament breaks for almost five months.
    The Government has been granted “unprecedented” freedom by the Labor Party to address the challenge posed by coronavirus.

    Soma

  • 0
    0

    It is because of the present president that we are facing the Virus attack successful to a greater extent. Either Ranil and his Yahapalanaya or Mahinda Rajapakse and his govt alone would have defeated us very bad, they would spent money in truck loads, but we do not where money is gone and all these three wheeler parties including JVP would be just complaining saying give us the power others are not doig it.

  • 0
    0

    Unified Political Approach On Handling as the Globalization is connecting to way of life standars we changes in all area and new procedure socialization transportation and hygenic rules are upgraded globally and global rule is set to all countries that means we are under a global guidance, Trade make made in the world. Standards also improved policy cohesion or interconnection, international cooperation developers of policy makers identified critical barriers. and need for new version mapping the policy

  • 0
    0

    We will report successful containment of the virus.

    Already, I hear anecdotal reports that Registrar’s are asked to state pre-existing conditions as cause of death on death certificates.

    The only thing scary about this pandemic is the scramble in the shops last morning; hardly our finest hour.

    Only in Sri Lanka!

  • 0
    0

    our leaders can get together, to make deals to escape from each other, whoever come to power and not solve national issues. jehan, you are mistakenly optimistic by saying that army assistance is ‘temporary.’
    -dayal

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