Dateline Colombo

Sri Lanka: Stability in 2015

05 Jan, 2015    ·   4793

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera, with a focus on the presidential elections, sets the stage for Sri Lanka in 2015.

“Heroes are our guides in our journey towards freedom. Their lives and history are what makes our goal firm….let us light the fire of ambition in our hearts on this holy day,” said Prabhakaran, the ruthless terrorist leader of the Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka. Such words were content to his Heroes Day speech on 27 November, 2001. Eight years later, the incumbent Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa defeated Prabhakaran’s deadly military machine. This military defeat saw the decline of the idea of regional autonomy or the Tamil Eelam – win previously deemed impossible.

The eradication of the scourge of terrorism and barbarity in warfare is a tall task. The recent Peshawar attacks stand testimony to this. Violence against the innocents continues, even as we stepped into a new year. As the New Year begins its important to think about the world we have created; the killing of innocent children was disgraceful. As the most intelligent of species on our planet, the brutalities of our past and present make it evident that the time to strengthen a culture of values and protect our social fabric from the scourge of brutality, is now.

The Peshawar massacre is not alien to the South Asian or Sri Lankan cases. In Sri Lanka, the LTTE terrorists massacred innocent children when those children were asleep in remote villages. Sri Lanka won its battle against terrorism by sacrificing many lives, but it is not removed from the larger struggle of the world towards defeating terrorism. Terrorism in  anywhere should be addressed and defeated. The priority of the world’s agenda for the next decade should be to create a safe world for its inhabitants. Without this, economic and individual prosperity would be a difficult task.

When political systems fail to adjust to change, social instabilities may occur. The incumbent Sri Lankan president continued the political system with nearly 100 ministers introduced by the former president. The opposition campaign targets corruption and lack of good governance in the present regime. The importance of establishing the independent bribery commission and other commissions could be considered because they are the fundamentals in a democracy – and need strengthening. Loss-making government institutions have to be revived and strengthened. Meritocracy has to be introduced in all levels of governance. Instead of making ad hoc decisions, foreign policies must be formulated after incorporating research inputs instead of making ad hoc decisions. All these areas need development to achieve the $7500 per capita income by 2020.

In the build-up to the 8 January presidential polls, the political landscape has been volatile. Political crossovers have exceeded the maximum threshold levels. While it appears that these decisions were made to improve people’s lives, it is worth questioning as to whether decisions to switch sides were made with the consent of those who elected them. People vote for their representatives looking at their policies and political affiliations. How could elected representatives change sides without the consent of the very people who elected them to office? This crossover of politicians is a way of plundering votes and should not be encouraged as it will further deteriorate the political culture; a trust deficit with the political system is building among the people.

On 8 January, these very people will elect their new president. Different polls predict different outcomes but concur on the likelihood of a very small margin. This author believes that even if the joint opposition candidate, Maithripala Sirisena, wins, he will miss the country’s target for two reasons:

Firstly, due to the coalition he has built with the former president and many others. In the event of an electoral victory, once the euphoria of the polls ceases, such a cocktail of political cultures will find it difficult to establish a common ground to work together to take the country forward.

Secondly, dismantling the system of the Executive Presidency. The promise of the removal of the executive presidency in 100 days is promising but the strategy afterwards is vague and unclear. After the proverbial 100 days, voters will find themselves being led by a different leader than the person they have trusted their vote in. The current opposition’s post-election strategy is limited in its pragmatic capacity.

President Rajapaksa, who surgically removed the terrorist tumor by an invasive surgery – a task his three predecessors failed at – will still carry more weight. The ongoing run-up to the polls is a necessary eye-opener to President Rajapaksa. The present government, despite its strengths, needs to commit to strict rules to tidy the country’s political culture and introduce better governance.

George Orwell's 1945 classic, ‘Animal Farm’, where the animals decided to rebel against the farmer and restore a new and better order, is a good example of today's political climate. What Orwell tried to demonstrate in his book was as to how easily political dogma can be turned into malleable propaganda. It is therefore important to understand the changes we wish to bring to our system, and the risk of political instability if we do a total system change.