The Sunday Leader

Citizens As Stakeholders In Governance

By Lionel Guruge

In history there occasionally arises a great opportunity to make life better for humankind; if such an opportunity is ignored, it can never be recaptured, as there can be no rewinding of time. Such a lost opportunity will continue to cloud our future for a long time to come. We see this phenomenon in the current political situation. Though the current situation may appear to be political turmoil and chaos, proper management by politicians and relevant parties has the ability to transform it into a turning point for a golden future for the people of Sri Lanka.

Two political camps operated in our country at the time of the Presidential Election 2015 namely Mahinda Rajapaksa’s and Maithripala Sirisena’s. Various social strata provided support to these two camps. Subsequent to the victory of Maithripala, Mahinda Rajapaksa forsook the chairmanship of the party and that paved the way for Mr. Maithripala Sirisena to become Chairman. Though he was appointed to the Chairmanship of Sri Lanka Freedom party he was not elected to the presidency of the country with a majority of votes of the supporters of the party.

Thereafter he was elected as Chairman of United People’s Freedom Alliance as well. It is a unclear as to what extent he will get the support of other political parties with his being appointed to the leadership of the Alliance. The reason being that parties such as Communist Party, Samasamaja Party and New Leftist Front are not the stakeholder parties of the Alliance.


Problems and challenges

Mr. Mathiripala Sirisena has continuously faced the challenge of obtaining support from political parties for the Acts and Constitutional Reforms incorporated into the 100 day programme.

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party and certain stakeholder parties of the Alliance have continuously adopted a policy of not supporting the government because it was formed by the United National Party. This is a state of disarray unprecedented in the history of Sri Lanka. Hence the President has had to implement the national government concept and offer ministerial, deputy industrial and state ministerial portfolios to a group of members of Parliament from the Sri Lanka Freedom party. Members who indirectly supported Mr. Maithripala Sirisena even during the hard and fast rule of President Mahinda Rajapaksa seem to have been absorbed to the government in this manner. Similarly it seems that the President has prevented indecisive elements from making the enemy powerful. However this situation has received vehement criticism from the People’s Liberation Front. Even the Tamil National Alliance has expressed dissatisfaction with regard to the weakness of government intervention into creating national unity.

Though Mr. Champika Ranawaka was highly critical of the 19th Amendment to the constitution, it was given approval by the Cabinet of Ministers. Meanwhile parties such as Udaya Gammanpila, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Dinesh Gunawardena and Wimal Weerawansa by going against the programme of the government have launched a campaign to field Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Ministerial candidate. This was amply demonstrated by a recent defiant move of hundreds including provincial councilors and SLFP MPS including the Western Province Chief Minister, who participated in the meeting of 26th March in Ratnapura, in spite of clear directive by the SLFP Secretary not to. The government is not in a position to ignore this impending crisis.

The expectation of the People’s Liberation front in this crisis situation has been to go for a snap poll and to broaden its share of power as a minor political party. The United National Party too expects a snap poll. All these factors have made more complex the challenges that Mr. Maithripala Sirisena faces as the state leader.


Reconciliation and the national anthem

What is important as the next step is to take relevant short term and long term action in building up national unity and reconciliation which was expected by a majority of votes from the Tamil and Muslim people. The decision to sing the national anthem in Tamil as well is a good move.  However, the actual process of creating awareness of the significance of this decision was poorly handled by the state media.

State media appears to lack the ability to effectively educate people on the importance and impact of such steps as the proposed Independent Commissions and Right to Information Act, the National Medicinal Drugs Policy Act and the 19th Amendment. If a mechanism was created to do so, private media would not be able to ignore it. On the other hand some media institutions are now actually distorting the situation.

Many media institutions actually portray the decision of allowing the National Anthem to be sung in Tamil as a seriously wrong. The patent inability of state media to counter that impression was regrettable.

Even Ven. Maduluwawe SobithaThero who provided leadership for the present democratic reforms, issued somewhat narrow statements in this regard. However, the People’s Liberation Front and the Jathinka Hela Urumaya have made constructive responses on the subject.


Conflict management

Good governance can only be established by making freedom, democracy and social equity its underlying principles. Public displeasure has been aroused by incessant talk on frauds and corruption without practical action being taken against the perpetrators. Speeches about nabbing thieves have proved popular but probably should be foregone for a while and the real challenges of good governance have to be identified. What is most important is the commitment made towards implementing the principles of good governance.

It is said that the support of the former president is sought for good governance. Chandrika Kumaratunga appears supportive.

However, the stance of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is the usual one which sees him camping with local level activists and Buddhist monks. One may interpret this as fishing in troubled waters.  However, the government also has initiated a communication mechanism to displace it. Mahinda Rajapaksa is a popular leader. He has a big voter base. This will be decisive in a future election. If he is not provided opportunity to contest through the Alliance, he may contest through another party and erode the voter base of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party to a considerable level. Then the voter will seek an option to the existing crisis situation. If the United National Party obtains a majority power in parliament president Maithripala Sirisena may become lonely within the political power structure.

Given all these circumstances it is practical for Mr. Maithripala Sirisena to be flexible and obtain the association of the former president for his national reconciliation programme. This should go beyond a mere invitation but actually be an extension of the hand of friendship. It is a timely political strategy that will provide him the opportunity of being a stakeholder in a power structure which creates national unity in post war Sri Lanka.


Creating respect for humanity

The parties which are convened in the National Executive Council provide an enormous backing in making important decisions for the country. Though they are not directly joined to the cabinet of Ministers, they currently carry out a constructive role. It is a responsibility of President Maithripala Sirisena to continue this and win trust.

The Tamil National Alliance is adopting a moderate policy at the moment. The political interest of making them stakeholders of good governance should be achieved. They have provided a big mandate for it.

It is important to take note not to make the political parties of minorities weaker when introducing a mixed system in place of the proportional voting system. Objections have surfaced in regard to the introduction of a post of an executive prime minister in place of the executive presidency. Should we move back to the old Westminster system?

It will be more practical to formulate constitutional provisions which apportion the powers of executive prime- minister among the members of the cabinet.   If not, the unpleasant political experiences of the 1972 to 77 era would resurface.

The prime expectation of all these reforms is a society which values human dignity.

A transitional period exists at the moment. However some recent incidents are regrettable. The responsibility of political parties is not to put down other political parties but to become stakeholders of good governance. This transitional period should be availed by political parties to create dialogues and standing for their policies instead of engaging in discordant politics. The 100 day programme is only a beginning. It is a moment at which a solid foundation stone should be laid for the vast structure of freedom, democracy and social equity.

Many parties including academics and artistes rendered a great service for the social campaign created for achieving good governance.

However, some parties have switched to a rigidly critical stance due to problematic situations created in implementing the 100 day programme. What is needed is not the type of criticism which destroys saplings; but constructive criticism with intelligence, empathy and tact. Similarly intellectuals should not be silent on the premise that they have fulfilled their responsibility. Destructive disillusionment at this stage can be very harmful.

The media also bears considerable responsibility. Some media are not engaged in this dialogue and some adopt their usual nationalist policy. It is important for media, the fourth estate to be updated at this hour, considering that it is also a principle of good governance to create a decent media culture.

We now have a historical opportunity to fulfill the aspirations of our society by promoting open dialogue on the challenges Sri Lanka is facing at the moment. This will pave the way for a bright new era post-Independence. But if this opportunity is not seized, the aspirations of Sri Lankan citizens will regress by many more years.

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