SLFP and UNP must ‘Agree to Disagree’ with their opponents and get on with ‘yahapalanaya’ to 2020!

A “modus vivendi” is a Latin phrase (literally, “way of living”) and it is used in the same manner as a related phrase “agree to disagree”, normally reserved for informal and temporary arrangements in political affairs. Therefore to resolve conflicts, Sri Lankans must “agree to disagree”, in particular the politicians; must tolerate but do not accept the opposing position(s); recognising that further conflict would be unnecessary, ineffective or otherwise undesirable and should remain on amicable terms while continuing to disagree about the unresolved issues. After all, those who will live in peace must agree to disagree in many things with their fellow-citizens, and not let little things part or disunite them; therefore SLFP and UNP must ‘Agree to Disagree’ with their opponents and get on with ‘yahapalanaya’ to 2020!

With the end of World War II, the elite leaders of Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) the little island nation, kept in close touch with India; The Indian leaders in return brainwashed the minds of these Ceylonese leaders to accept as true that it was too small a political and economic entity to standby and that the country may get bartered away by a peace treaty. On gaining independence in 1948, as United National Party (UNP) rule began with all communities represented in government the country was all set on the road to prosperity with the sound base left behind by British. New economic activities with available resources and taking advantage of the strategic location of the island, would have brought more revenue in to retain its sound economic position in the region; but aggravated by ‘the too small a political and economic entity’ fears inhibited UNP from venturing into such ventures, this caused a heavy economic setback for the country. Instead UNP, the party formed earlier to keep the leftist elements out, began their rule on the wrong footing, by reducing the vote base of the leftist opponents in parliament that impacted on the Indian origin Tamil minorities more than the leftists. Next was to implement a majority biased colonisation programme in the homeland of the Tamil minorities in North and East of the country; that impacted on the lives of these minorities; finally a change in the leadership split the UNP. After gaining independence, in addition to the internal discords with the opponents, UNP foresaw the danger of domination in the region that prevented a warm relationship developing with its neighbour India. They instead align with the west and kept the commonwealth membership. To overcome UNP should have agreed to disagree accommodating their opponents and got on with good governance. But they choose to promote subsistence agriculture based colonisation programme that disturbed the ethnic harmony and dented the economy heavily; gradually the country lost its leading nation position in the region, who with all this negativity failed to prolong the golden era.

In the meantime, the breakaways from UNP formed the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and picked a very powerful weapon to collect rural votes promising to replace English with Sinhalese as the official Language; that enabled them to defeat the UNP to form the new government. The language issue was a natural sequence to independence, a point missed out by UNP, who had themselves toyed with the idea, but having won the election earlier forgot all about it. But to retain harmony in the country, should have had a transition period for the introduction of Sinhala as official language; to enable the children of minorities to learn the official language at school; and during the transition period the adult minorities be provided with interpretation facilities in remote areas, where only the minority language was in use. That way, all would have accepted Sinhala Language as official language and Tamil language retained its rightful place as the language of the minorities, as it was during the colonial years and earlier. That would have made the change of official language from English to Sinhalese without all the ‘bloody’ (literally) fuss seen in later years that led communities fighting to kill each other like animals do in the jungles, that resulted in the bloody civil war engulfing the whole country for over three decades. The act of giving prominence to the majority religion only antagonised the minorities, who were followers of other religions; because in a true democracy with a Buddhist majority rule, Buddhism would have within a short time surfaced to the top without state patronage; if at all it was the other religions that would have needed special protection. This lack of understanding of democracy rule by the two political parties of the majority community, ruined the nation and eventually split the communities into many fragments. Whereas these two political parties should have ‘agreed to disagree’; without taking such hasty decisions on both language and religion issues; both were done in conflict with the very first constitution, that was made to satisfy the multi-ethnic and multi-religious communities of the country. SLFP took a non-alliance route and was able to maintain a friendly relationship with India, until the last regime came to power; who had no policy and antagonised relationship with India; who based on the Indo-Lanka Accord, kept an eye on Sri Lanka and was a key player in helping to end the war in 2009 and in forming the New Coalition Government in 2015.

The relationship between the largest political parties UNP and SLFP, in the post independent Sri Lanka, was never cordial; what is even worse these two major political movements had been forever divided and contributed to the decrement of the nation. They should have ‘agreed to disagree’ on matters and just allowed the other to rule and wait for their turn, by people voting them in at elections. These confrontations passed through very different phases and yet both receive split support from the majority community; and heavily relied on the support of minority parties to form governments. The minority parties who formed coalitions to form the government, negotiated ministerial positions and other benefits in exchange for their support. Sadly, in almost all cases the people who voted for the minority parties in government never benefitted out of the coalition and that has been the case from the time of independence to date.

With the end of golden era; saw the economy shrinking and population increasing; the whole world knows how the history went with three people uprisings from the rural Sri Lanka, which was once a Paradise Island. But not much known of the growth in bad governance and accompanying immoral and unethical activities that has flourished in the country.  The rulers themselves have been party to these interrelated activities, which deteriorated to such a low level to the extent of exterminating opponents as rulers misused their powers. At last the people, who were at the receiving end of all the sufferings imposed on them by the rulers woke up in 2015; and with the help of India and few western nation, planned and voted out the rulers and replaced it with a new coalition government of UNP, SLFP and few other minor parties. The new government formed was mandated to put the country on the path of good governance. Naturally expectations ran high with hopes that country would recover soon.

In the past, both UNP and SLFP ruled the country without accepting the fact that Sri Lanka is a Multi-Ethnic and Multi-Religious nation; left no choice than to accept the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka Accord; not surprisingly then the UNP leader in power sheepishly admitted of not having a friend in the world, gives the measure of Sri Lanka’s diplomatic crisis at that juncture. But it was the first UNP regime under a cloud of majority rule messed around with the original constitution denying the rights of the minorities; that successive rulers followed failing to correct this denial and country had to go through the most destructive civil war ever faced by the nation. It was left to the close neighbour India come in again during SLFP rule to finish the war in 2009. Then the SLFP leader, repeated what UNP did in 1987 and continued with the majority rule that impacted the minorities and many fled to other parts of the world during the final years of the civil war and the six negative peace years to 2015. It must be said that the Indo-Lanka was a half-baked package; that caused more problems than solving any, rushed through and there was much opposition to it from all quarters that was not accepted by the grieved Tamils nor the misled Sinhalese. For it was the then UNP leader, who made a U-turn from the anti-Indian phobia built up by him over the years to mislead his people. Sadly, this leader with more than 2/3 majority in parliament missed the golden opportunity to come up with a home grown solution for the Tamil issue; incidentally it was this ‘Royal’ leader who prevented two previous attempts to pass in parliament ‘home grown’ pacts to solve the Tamil issue and destroyed the harmony that existed in the country. True there was opposition including a cabinet minister who resigned in protest, over the establishment of the Provincial Council system supposed to benefit the minority Tamil, whose voice was driven away from parliament by the same government few years earlier. The Accord was not conceived properly and was never implemented in full and still to date the Tamil issue has not been resolved, nor the fate of thousands of refugees in South India, who fled the country following the 1983 July anti-Tamil pogrom. Yet, a fact not well known to the world, is that the package did include deals between the two governments that allowed India access to some facilities in the country. Sadly, the opportunity was missed to resolve the Tamil issue; and lack of understanding of the accord and lack of trust of India, prevented our leaders to explore the other side of the deal to increase the engine of growth and productivity of the country. Because the finance and perhaps any lack of skilled workforce for any large scale could have been provided by India and with the available legal system to ensure the country would have benefited by such ventures. Thus for the second time in the history of independent Sri Lanka, the leaders with the frogs in the well mentality, missed the opportunity to develop the country.

Now in 2017, after two years passing mid-way of the coalition government rule, the expected changes have taken place at snail phase and the engine of growth failed to materialize. There are many reasons for this delay and some key reasons are:

  1. The new government was brought in to get rid of corrupt activities that has grown over many years and peaked to all time high during the previous regime, that is a herculean task to put right; Understandable, because though the people voted in a new government, the new ministers occupying key positions were old hands from previous cabinets and filled with few able new comers taking the rest of the seats to make the number. Needless to say, some of the old hands with involvement in shady activities in the past; have filtered through into the new government and continued their immoral activities, of which some have surfaced and are been investigated.
  2. The New Coalition Government, as it was a forced coalition of many political parties that had been in governments in the past that opposed each other; their behaviour continued with the same mindset even though they were put in the government to work together. Also an oversize cabinet with many ministers having to share ministerial functions that were split horizontally as well as vertically, that has kept the productivity low.
  3. There were the many tantalising humanitarian issues that effected the people following the three uprisings, in particular the third that turned into a protracted civil war ending in 2009, that were left unaddressed during the negative peace years that followed the war during by the previous regime. These thorny issues are picked up by this government and getting resolved. Yet at snail phase is a grave concern to the affected people, most of whom are the Tamil minorities living in the North and East of the country.
  4. Many incomplete projects left behind by the previous regime, with the new government having to pick them up to complete. While many completed projects are not earning the anticipated revenue and the government was facing difficulties to service loans taken for these projects. In trying to resolve these problems, the government found many new problems such as substandard workmanship in some projects that had to be put right and projects where terms of agreements not in favour of the state and was forced to renegotiate.
  5. Many reforms including the drafting of a new constitution to iron out all the problems that are preventing good governance, in particular implementation of the language policy and the 13th Amendment in the constitution with the uncooked devolution package due to its complexity; putting right many other biased amendments in the current constitution that caused more problems than resolving any are all being slowly worked on to put them to order by the government; that may result in the development of a new constitution, with many disgruntled members of the previous regime hell bent on delaying the whole process for petty reasons.

Now in 2017, the country is going through a phase similar to where it was thirty years ago in 1987; for opportunity has fallen again on the lap of our rulers with the Hambantota projects in the South; not due to any adventurous efforts of the government; but only because they are caught in a debt trap with China and fortunate the country is well placed on the route of China’s “Belt and Road” initiative. As in 1987, country got into this plight by default, due to misrule and again would find many petty reasons to oppose these projects. But all developments have its own problems and it is up to the leaders not to slip up as done in the past on many development projects and to get them properly analysed and resolved; for both the China initiated projects down south and the India initiated projects up North gives a rare opportunity to develop the nation. These projects must be pursued with full vigor with the full participation of all home grown professionals and skilled workforce for the benefit of the country and bring in expatriates only if expertise are not locally available. If for any petty reasons the leaders mess it up by selecting any other route may end with a Chinese colony down south when the lease ends in 99 years, to only destroy what little left of this lost Paradise Island. To that end, the UNP, SLFP and all other political parties in the fry should must also complete the initiatives taken to resolve many domestic issues, before getting ready to face the 2020 General Elections and let people decide who should rule them. Therefore UNP and SLFP must “agree to disagree” with all their opponents of these initiatives to take the country forward; not just to rid of the debt trap, but to prosperity by 2020.