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The Time For Change Is Approaching

By Dr Jehan Perera

Dayasiri Jayasekara and C. V. Wigneswaran

The hope of change in the type of politics that might be practiced in the country was short lived. The TNA’s nomination of former Supreme Court Justice C. V. Wigneswaran to be its chief ministerial candidate for the Northern Provincial Council upgraded the quality of those contesting the provincial elections.  As a person who had earned his reputation as a professional and a judge, his nomination was also seen as having the potential to upgrade the standard of politics in the country.  There was some hope that other political parties would also follow suit and nominate those who had shown that they put the interests of the larger society before their own.  But it was not to be.  Politics at the present time is too much about attaining and retaining personal power, and too little about looking at the best interests of the larger community.

The crossover of articulate UNP Parliamentarian Dayasiri Jayasekera to the government ranks has emphasized how politics in the country is about personal power and being part of the power structure. In justifying his crossover in his farewell speech in Parliament the chief ministerial aspirant blamed his former party leaders of taking no effective action to oppose the passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, the impeachment of the former Chief Justice and the electricity price hike.  He expressed his disappointment that his former party leadership did not effectively oppose the government.  But he joined this very government when it offered him a position.  Unless there is more to the agreement he has with the government that took him in, it looks like he will only seek to strengthen the government to continue on its path without changing course.

Accompanying the UNP Parliamentarian in his defection are several local level members of the opposition.  This will almost certainly guarantee yet another electoral defeat for the opposition and will further reduce the institutional checks and balances on the power of the government.  It will also increase the pressure on the Opposition and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to revamp his party structure.  It will lead to calls to him to consider the greater good of his party, and of the country, rather than continue to lead the opposition in the present manner.  The most recent defections, which will further weaken the opposition, are a continuation of a process that has been debilitating the main opposition party during most of the past two decades.
There is a tendency to blame the UNP leadership and its internal divisions and weaknesses for the sins of the government.

ut the criticism of the opposition leadership for its ineffectiveness needs to be accompanied in equal if not greater measure by public pressure on the government to practice good governance rather than engage in misgovernance as at present.  It is the government that has the levers of military and economic power under its control, and not the Opposition. It must use its powers in the interests of the larger society and not of itself or its supporters only. This recalls the timeless advice of Arahat Mahinda to King Devanampiyatissa over two millennia ago when he said that the king was not owner of the land and its inhabitants, but only the trustee.

That this type of thinking is still being talked about at the more intellectual levels of civil society is a reason to be optimistic and not pessimistic about the future. This was indeed the thought that emerged at a symposium on Religion and Reconciliation organized by the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations where the keynote speaker was the founder of the Sarvodaya Movement, Dr A. T. Ariyaratne, and other speakers included senior Buddhist monks, Ven. Dr Bellanwila Wimalaratana and Ven. Galkande Dhammananda, and leaders of other religions, Kurukkal Babu Sharma, Fr Benedict Joseph and A. M. N. Ameen.

Although the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute is a government-controlled one under Foreign Ministry auspices, those who attended the symposium showed a much greater liberality and universality of spirit than is presently visible in the government. Both the speakers and the audience upheld the importance of universal values for the betterment of the country. One of the monks said that he saw the country heading towards renewed conflict, and we would have no one to blame but the present generation.  If the thirty year war that ended in 2009 could have been blamed on the previous generation, the coming conflict will be due to the misgovernance of the present generation, and all who sanction the absence of morality in politics, he said.

Another notable feature at the symposium was the dissent of youth.  When a representative of an extremist religious group tried to criticize the liberality of the main speakers at the event, he was immediately challenged by the youth present in the audience.  This echoed another event that took place a week earlier where the opposition leadership was itself challenged and was unable to come up with an adequate response.  The growing impatience of the youth with the older generation of leaders is one sign of change. The duty of politicians who aspire to be elected to office, or hold it, is to lead the country as a whole to a better future, not to cater to only a section of the people in order to secure themselves in the seats of power, whether in government or opposition.

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