Good Governance: One Year Of Success And Compulsions
When Maithripala Sirisena, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Chandrika Kumaratunga and other disparate political leaders such as those of the Jathika Hela Urumaya decided to get together and present a common candidate to topple Mahinda Rajapaksa and his regime, it is doubtful whether they had the vaguest idea on what their political and economic strategies would be in the event of success. Individuals may have entertained their own visions but they were spelled out only in hazy terms such as, restoration of democracy. Yet, in the tumultuous year that followed – the anniversary which was celebrated on Friday – very much had been achieved. Was there a method in their vagueness? The toppling of the Rajapaksa regime itself with its infrastructure of widespread nepotism and fast growing crony capitalism cloaked in hypocritical piety brought down much of the horrors they had vowed to destroy.
White vans, which were used to abduct critics and opponents of the regime, vanished overnight. The media blossomed out in the open, including state controlled institutions; people came out on to the streets to protest without fear, as they are doing today. Post-election violence disappeared and policemen without their political patrons turned out to be toothless tigers.
President Maithripala Sirisena then worked a political miracle. He appointed UNP leader, who was mainly responsible for his presidential victory, as prime minister even though he did not command a parliamentary majority! He then brought together the two arch rivals of Sri Lankan politics, the UNP and SLFP, who were at daggers drawn at each other for 60 years, to form a coalition government.
Both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had agreed to do away with the Executive Presidential System but the Supreme Court ruled that a referendum was required for the purpose and they settled for drastic curbing of presidential powers with the appointment of a Constitutional Council, which in turn appoint executive councils to run the main branches of government, which earlier was a prerogative of the president.
Many more changes were brought about to ensure greater freedom for the people but the Sirisena – Wickremesinghe government was also responsible for certain moves that made a mockery of Sri Lankan democracy. One was not only the re-appointment of defeated candidates on the National list of parties but even making these individuals cabinet ministers! Certainly it was for political survival that this expedient was resorted to but it undermined the sovereign power of the people by electing political rejects as representatives of the people.
Members of the Yahapalanaya government – particularly UNPers – were severely critical of the Rajapaksa regime when they enticed Opposition MPs to cross over to government benches with the offer of ministerial portfolios and other perks to give the Rajapaksa regime a two-third majority with which they commenced dismantling of Sri Lankan democracy.
There are many other achievements and failures during the past one year rule. Politics is the art of the possible and it could be said that the choice before the leaders was political expediency to keep the government going with a working majority or let it collapse with the possible return of the Rajapaksa regime that was rejected by the people. The Yahapalanaya government made the correct decision. One year of ‘good governance’ is over and now is the crunch time where the problems of the people have to be grappled with and resolved.
Two major challenges will be the implementation of the UNHCR resolutions and the drafting of a new Constitution. On both issues the government will need the active support of the Opposition. It is also a challenge to the Opposition: Either play cheap politics or bring down the government or in the interests of the nation to ignore petty political gains and help Sri Lanka to resolve problems that have plagued the nation since the mid-fifties and kept the great majority of people in absolute poverty.
The other is the new economic and development policy presented by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. If the people are to break the bonds of poverty and emerge as citizens of an emergent economy, such brave and bold strategies have to be adopted. If not we will be running in the same spot we were in the mid-fifties. There are also many aggrieved people who have lost their property and loved ones at a time when terrorists and thugs ruled the roost. They want these perpetrators of crimes brought to justice. Courts set up in accordance with UNHCR resolutions may be able to help the minorities but there are those like journalists who have been political victims – even killed – who have to be considered.
The murder of the founding Editor of this newspaper, Lasantha Wickrematunge seven years ago, still remains to be addressed. He who did so much to expose corruption of the previous regime and help those in the then opposition, surely he needs better consideration.
The Government for Good Governance has brought about much change in its first year. It has to keep the pace of change going or it will remain in the same spot, but they also cannot forget basic obligations such as to see justice is done.