Sri Lanka known to travellers by a variety of names was once a paradise called “Ceylon” and officially called “the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka” is today a country that is either Democratic or Socialist or even Republic as it is heavily in debt to many nations. This sad state was reached as successive Presidents with greed for power ruled the island nation under the pretext of protecting the majority community and their faith after the well prepared democratic constitution with necessary checks and balance was replaced with the presently in use Draconian Constitution that was amended nineteen times to further violate grossly every democratic fundamentals. As every Sri Lankan needs to know about the current political situation, it is summarised below and the mess the country is in to enable them to wisely decide on a “One Nation Candidate” for presidency to rule them next than the current and customary one party candidate.
- Events after October 26, 2018, has shown that Sri Lankans value their democracy even though it is far from perfect, as such it is very unlikely that there will be a large number of takers from any community for an authoritarian government that is likely to be forced on to them by the prevailing corrupt system. Though Sri Lanka’s success in education as measured by adult literacy rate and health as measured by life expectancy at birth in 1976 had given an adult literacy rate of 76% and life expectancy at birth of 68 years that matched European upper middle-income countries, these numbers on education and health does not however get reflected in ballot power, as the corrupt practices prevailing still dictate who takes control of power. Today, the present government remains divided at the top with the President and Prime Minister competing for power, with people disappointed over the absence of good governance in the past four years. Further, none of the legislators with known bad track record have been exonerated to date and are free to contest the forthcoming general elections with the probability that after the Presidential and the General Elections, the same family dynasty regime with brothers holding the top two key posts would return to more authoritarian than that existed prior to 2015.
- In spite of being the only South Asian country that has reached lower middle-income status, a threshold crossed in 1997 (per capita GDP $800), it is very unlikely that Sri Lanka would realize its full potential in economic growth under the prevailing corrupt administration. Further people are well aware of the economic bubble the previous administration of authoritarian government created after 2009 that benefited only of a small ruling coterie and under that set up there was no benevolent or corruption-free government to take care of their basic needs that would have been under a democratic rule. That government borrowed heavily, mainly from China and spent the money partly on large infrastructure projects that yielded little or no income, instead created by 2015 a fiscal and foreign exchange crisis. As the loans could not be repaid without taking more loans, the rulers were forced to call for elections prematurely.
- When the Unity Government was voted in to power in 2015, people expected that it to uphold dharma and would actually find a solution to rid of corruption at all level. In spite of investigations revealing the truth and the “Yahapaalanaya” experience confirming corruption did cause poverty. For the corrupt administration helped the transfer of wealth from the ruled powerless people to the powered rulers, a truth not well acknowledged by the corrupt politicians on either side of the divide, as they were the main beneficiaries. Unfortunately the corrupt rulers have in the four years failed miserably and people witnessed that the political topography shifted rapidly with the dangerous concept of substituting actual facts at the highest levels of government deliberately designed to spread smokescreen and lies. Thus the present legislators in parliament have proved beyond any shadow of doubt that collectively they are incompetent when it comes to law-making that is fundamental to them. They made a mess of electoral reform that across the political band people seem to accept reverting to the previous system that was considered by everyone to be deemed to be flawed, specially made for the movement of vast sums of money and other ills. Then the lawmakers went about with the 19th Amendment to reduce the powers of the President and on with the ‘new constitution’ drama. As the current constitution simply cries out for replacement, people know very well that the constitution needs to be changed, but cannot trust these parliamentarians representing many political parties to do anything right to keep intact the sovereignty of the people, for each political party working with their own agenda.
- Further in March this year the government has to report back to the UN Human Rights Council on its implementation of the Resolution No 30/1 which it co-sponsored in October 2015. During the past three odd years the government has established an office of missing persons, legalizing the international conventions against torture and enforced disappearances and returned much of the military occupied land to the civilian population. Yet there are several of the commitments to be implemented, all due to the absence of a holistic approach has been a lot of disappointment with the slow pace of progress made by the government. Not surprisingly due to lack of trust of the government the legislators representing the minorities are unable to contribute meaningfully to rebuilding process of the divided nation. While the most damaging propaganda against the government from the majority community is that it has committed the country to make unacceptable compromises to national sovereignty. Subsequently both the President and Prime minister have been compelled to make repeated public announcements that they will not permit such an international presence in a judicial mechanism with the participation of international judges and investigators. May it be so the government has not in the period demonstrated by any action that would ensure accountability in war crimes cases and that its strategy of co-sponsoring the resolution has not been damaging to the country’s national interests or sovereignty. Unfortunately, the government has with the little or no progress on most of its commitments made to the UN Human Rights Council has turned its attention towards the polls; whereas there are yet considerable land to be released and prisoners are still held without trial and under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Further, the government has also to deliver on its promises to hold accountable those accused of human rights violations and crimes outside of the battlefields and take them before the law.
- Limited progress has been made in implementing constitutional reform in spite of the government appointing a constitutional committee consisting of all parliamentarians and set up various sub-committees, it appears that the process of constitutional reform has got stuck. This in spite of all politicians representing the minorities in parliament have come forward to assist the government in time of this crisis and are supporting the government to replace the nineteen times amended draconian constitution with a new constitution; the government yet to formally state its own stance on a draft constitutional document with many controversial issues as devolution of power, the nature of the state and the place of Buddhism.
True these UNHRC resolution 30/1 commitments are difficult ones for any government to comply, but they are necessary if there is to be justice in terms of dealing with the past and in creating a better future for whole population in the country. For the past four years, the strategy of the international community has been to encourage the government to implement the commitments it. The extension of the original resolution by a further time period two years back enabled the international community to keep the issue of the resolution on the table while giving the government the time and space in which to implement those commitments.
As election year nears there is once again talk of a new political alliances, but how can people trust these same corrupt politicians to deliver on their promises they would make before the polls? For the people have not seen light at the end of the tunnel in the past four years of unity government rule as the promises made by these politicians prior the last general elections held in 2015 were not kept. No matter how many alliance or new political parties come up before the next polls, they all must come out their corrupt practices and commit to rebuild the country for the whole population. With majority of the population poor, the importance of achieving economic and social successes to eradicate poverty without undermining democracy would be near impossible and national unity without any sectarian division only feasible if all politicians are immunised with democratic values to work with a new constitution fit for a nation that is multi-ethnic and multi-religious.
Sri Lankans must to resolve all country’s issues “Think out of Box” and bring in a One Nation Candidate for Presidency, who firmly believe in democratic norms and certainly must not be attached to any of the political parties, perhaps a person like late Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero, the influential Sinhalese Buddhist monk who was respected by all communities in the country. When voted to power the new president should foster democratic rule in the country by inducing home grown corruption free politicians to respect democratic norms to parliament. For this to happen many reforms are be needed to define eligibility of candidates contesting elections and a filtering process to select members for all political parties with a democratic process to elect its leaders, as none of the current political leaders are elected democratically. All this is possible only with a bold Srilankan not affiliated to any political party with legislators voted from candidates selected through the filtered system and committed to democratic principles. Attainable if all Sri Lankans act wisely towards this goal before the election fever sets in and then use their vote to elect the One Nation Candidate as President at the Presidential Election due before end of this year and then vote in corruption free legislators for parliament at the General Elections in the coming year.