While appreciating the intervention of the Sri Lankan Head of State to prevent any attempt to damage or distort the Tripitaka, at a time the effects of decades of misrule are yet to be resolved and extremists mobilizing together to further destabilise the country; it was encouraging that the President in his New Year greetings called on the people to learn from the past mistakes and to take the correct path towards progress without merely being proud of their rich heritage. But if the country is to be saved from the extremists, it is deeds and not words that is needed from the rulers rather than from the people, for the rulers themselves need to demonstrate that they understand and follow the word of the Buddha. Very refreshing that the head of state has openly admitted there were mistakes made in the past and the country expect the President to set an example to lead from front to correct the path for the ruled to follow to take the country forward on defeating the extremists from all corners of the country.
It is obvious that for democracy to succeed in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like Sri Lanka, there must be checks and balances to have a nation where all communities starts with zero advantage. The first mistake of the past rulers was in making Sinhala as the official language and then giving Buddhism foremost place in the constitution in haste removed these checks and balances to end up diminishing the commonness thus dividing the country into two nations. Thereafter the community in governance at every opportunity vetoed other communities from sharing the values to drive a wedge between the ruling majority community and the ruled minority communities leading to a civil war. After long agitation from the affected communities, the language of the Tamil speaking minorities was made official, yet the government never implemented it properly and the problem persists and needs to be rectified at all levels.
The rulers on gaining independence in 1948 had the natural advantage of becoming self-governing, lacked belief in their religion nor in the law and soon exhibited their disability to lead by belief. The one religion based governance gave the Sinhala Buddhist government to start with an advantage that diluted democracy was the root cause of the ethnic problem and the minorities most affected called for separation to end this mono lingual and religious pathway, that was suppressed by the rulers with state terror, led to the civil war. The rulers blamed everyone but themselves for the misery caused on its people and the whole world knows the impact the civil war had caused on the country. Yet the rulers wasted a decade unable to patch up a divided nation that is yet to have full peace, as the articles in the constitution in terms of religion is not balanced that divides the country into two nations as Buddhists and Non-Buddhists. Whether the rulers recognize this reality or not this religion based discrimination must end as a constitution for diversity in culture is essential to confirm democracy in this country.
Another mistake that needs to be corrected is the dictatorial dangers in-built in the presidential system as the rulers used democracy to takeover leadership that eventually drove to dictatorship to enable them to enjoy the benefits that come with power and the demand has been on the increase to abolish the executive presidency that has been proved unsuitable for the country. Four years ago in 2015 on this very day, to defeat the insane dictatorship people elected the current President, who pledged to abolish the executive presidency in 100 days. But the unity government of the President satisfied the people with the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, thinking that the executive presidency was rendered sufficiently harmless and that it would no longer be a threat to democracy. But the coalition government was in tatters only to sleepwalk into disaster to the anti-constitutional dismissal of the government by the President in October 2018 taking democracy with it.
The courageous role played by the minority parties, the spontaneous rallying around by ordinary people in defence of democracy and the rule of law all obliged the President to restore back the Unity Government. Though it was a positive development of the last several months, yet the mistakes, inabilities and hypocrisies of the government has done much to distance the very people who voted them in twice in 2015, because there was no one of sufficient stature to advocate the idea at the national level and the desire to abolish executive presidency ceased and the demoralised, scattered, inactive pro-democracy camp existence was in doubt. When the government was removed from power by the President, the minority political parties in opposition and ordinary people stood against the growing anti-democratic tide by demonstrations. Then the judiciary passed a judgement against the dissolution of parliament to restore the government back to power. Thus the need to abolish the executive presidency has once again been confirmed as the country is unsuitable for an executive presidency as it gives rise to monarchical longings seen many times in the past.
The present political system in the country is unsuitable to an executive presidency due to the absence of inner-party democracy in any of the major political parties or for that matter any political party as leaders remain leaders and there are no democratic spaces within the main parties to challenge their stranglehold or policies and it was this absence of internal democracy that negated the achievements of the 19th Amendment, the only safe option left now is to abolish the executive presidency. The draft 20th Amendment which envisages a president who is not the head of government and cannot function as a member of a political party elected by the parliament is a good starting point. Thereafter the new government can complete the thorny task of overhauling the twenty times amended draconian constitution, possibly with a new constitution.
Last mistake but not least that needs to be corrected is the economic derailment, caused by the failure of the government in 2015 to take adequate measures to correct and the economy has been made worse by the short-sighted policies of the rulers. This in spite of government been adequately warned by the policymakers about the economic crisis the country was facing before it was sworn in, but the warning was ignored as the government was pre occupied with other matters including getting totally immersed in the constitutional reforms.
The Prime Minister did present an economic policy statement to Parliament in November 2015 was well-crafted taking into account the prevailing economic situation in the country. It had very correctly identified the long-term need for the country to cut down its consumption, divert resources for investment, boost export of goods and services by concentrating on high tech products, linking to external markets through bilateral trade agreements and changing the budget structure by increasing the direct tax base and reducing the reliance on indirect taxes. But due to lack of joint effort from the two main coalition partners of the Government to follow the strategy outlined in the statement the ownership of the new economic policy strategy fell exclusively on the Prime Minister and was the reason for the subsequent conflict between the President and the Prime Minister with regard to the type of economic policies to be adopted by the country. Thus neglecting the economic front only deepened the economic crisis in the country.
However the Prime Minister continued to present economic policy statements to Parliament, another in October2016 and the last in November 2017, without reference to the goals achieved in the previous statements. Then independent of these statements, a new policy document titled Vision 2025 was released by the Government in June 2017 outlining a set of policies to be adopted by the Government aiming at the elections to be held in the country in 2020 and beyond. Now with this year reckoned as a year of elections the government is getting ready for elections and has postponed economic reforms. These measures will be at the expense of the future economic growth in the country.
The President had not been happy about the way the economy was planned and managed by the Prime Minister, did setup a National Economic Council under his chairmanship and in April 2018 announced that it had prepared a National Economic Plan which document is yet to be released to the public domain. This policy disunity in the new Unity Government during the last four-year period produced a messy economic policies which cannot be easily unravelled by either party in the Government to cost the economy substantially. To correct this mistake it is very necessary to come up with a National Economic Policy to be used by any political party that comes to power in 2020.
Unity Government to serve the people better needs to pays attention to these mistakes of past rulers and look ways to correct them, while at the same time attending to the effects caused by them before facing the elections, if the country is to recover from the present mess. With that frame of mind the ongoing issues of the minorities be it those of the people affected by the civil war or those most neglected estate workers or the poor living in far stretches would receive proper attention. Thus to prevent the people voting the power greedy politician again as they did in 2018 LG Polls, the President and the Prime Minister must validate by deeds that they follow words of Lord Buddha. That will open up space for their political alliances to face the election and allow people to select their government.