- Monday, 31 August 2015
Within a week of former government’s second electoral defeat, this time at the general election, two senior representatives of the United States paid a rare joint visit to Sri Lanka. They were the first representatives of foreign powers to visit the country after the elections. They came even before parliament has met and the new government has been formed. Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera was one of only three ministers to be appointed at the time of their visit. The speed of his appointment may have been due to the rapport he has demonstrated with the hitherto alienated sections of the international community. US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Sri Lanka after the presidential election and referred to him publicly as a friend. It can only help that Sri Lanka is viewed by the US positively at this time and not negatively.
The visit of US Assistant Secretaries Nisha Biswal and Tom Malinowski was a reconfirmation of the importance that the world’s dominant power places in Sri Lanka. At the height of the Rajapaksa presidency in 2009 when the confrontation between the former government and the US-led international community was building up, a visiting US Senate delegation recommended that Sri Lanka was too important a country for the US to lose. This was when the United States was leading the campaign to compel the Sri Lankan government to accept an international investigation into human rights violations in the last phase of the country’s internal war. The Rajapaksa government responded by mobilising anti-West sentiment both within the country and internationally to protect the Sri Lanka’s sovereign right to conduct investigations into itself.
- Wednesday, 26 August 2015
UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY TO ADDRESS ISSUES OF GOVERNANCE
The outcome of the General Election held on August 17, and the victory secured by the United National Front for Good Governance led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe paves the way for democratic transition to take place in two key aspects of good governance. It will consolidate the shift away from a highly centralised structure in which the system of checks and balances was weakened to a more consensual and systemic mode of governance that followed the election of President Maithripala Sirisena in January. It will also consolidate the shift away from a militarised mindset within the government in which mistrust of ethnic and religious minorities was highlighted to a society that is multi-ethnic and multi-religious in its decision making and choices.
The National Peace Council also welcomes the prospect of a government of national unity to address the challenges of the future. The agreement signed by the two largest political parties, the UNP and SLFP after the elections, to work together for two years on identified areas of good governance including the safeguarding of fundamental freedoms and protection of the rights of women and children reflects the consensus that exists in society regarding good governance. However, we regret that the both the government and opposition did not live up to their commitments towards the empowerment of women in politics when they failed use their quotas in the national list to appoint women to parliament and instead appointed only two woman to the 29 positions. They failed to rectify the abysmally low representation of women in parliament which fell to 4 percent. Another priority area for reform would be in the area of inter-ethnic relations and the sharing of power between the ethnic majority and minorities.
- Monday, 24 August 2015
At the presidential elections held in January this year Sri Lanka made its initial transition away from authoritarian rule in which ethnic nationalism was utilised to deliver repeated electoral mandates. The victory of the coalition of parties led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at the General Elections on August 17 will ensure that the changes brought about at the presidential election will be sustained. The majority of Sri Lankan voters reaffirmed the choice they had made in January when they voted in President Maithripala Sirisena and rejected the siren call of narrow ethnic-based nationalism. The main significance of the latest election verdict is that it paves the way for transition to take place in two key aspects of governance. The first is that will consolidate the changes that have taken arbitrary power away from individuals and vested them instead in systems.
The question at the general election was whether the change that had taken place after the January elections would be reversed. The sustainability of the reformist good governance process lies in the fact that virtually all the political parties have agreed that the systems of government need to be strengthened. The second important transition that the country has taken as a result of the general election is the shift away from the governance approach of the UPFA period that saw the escalation of militarization in a state that suspected conspiracies against itself and the targeting of ethnic minorities as potential enemies of the state. There is now a need to journey towards a society that is truly multi-ethnic and multi-religious in its decision making and its choices.
The result of the general election ensures that the process of transition will not be reversed any time soon. Even though the UPFA challenge to the new governing coalition was very strong during the elections, now that the result is in, their challenge appears to have collapsed at least for the time being. Members of the defeated opposition are gravitating to the leadership of President Maitripala Sirisena who occupies the presidency of the SLFP as well as being chairman of the larger UPFA coalition. Bereft of a popular mandate, the twice defeated former president Mahinda Rajapaksa has little in tangible terms to offer to keep them loyal to him. It appears that many in the opposition would be interested in joining the new consensus government to be formed by the signing of an MOU by the UNP and SLFP.
- Monday, 17 August 2015
Elections in a democratic polity provide an opportunity to assess the mind of the people. They are superior in gauging public opinion in comparison to any opinion poll which is necessarily of a sample of society only. During the last phase of the election campaign, there were reports of opinion polls that showed a last minute surge for the opposition. This countered previous surveys that showed a comfortable lead for the government. These coexisted with still other surveys that claimed the opposite. The choice of the electorate at this general election would provide an invaluable insight into the priorities of the Sri Lankan voter, especially whether they are moved more by emotion than by rationality. This applies both in the North as well as the South.
In the North, the main issue is whether the voters will support Tamil nationalism, and a confrontational posture against the government that is elected, or an accommodation with the government. The northern Tamil dominated electorate will have a choice of parties that are prepared to work with the government as well as those that are more geared to opt for confrontation and have the support of the separatist section of the Tamil Diaspora. Emotion might dictate confrontation but rationality suggests moderation, especially after the tragic experience of three decades of war. An indication of the strengthening of the post-war ethos of reconciliation is the entry into the electoral battle of rehabilitated LTTE cadre amongst whom the best known is a former bodyguard of the slain LTTE leader.
In the rest of the country, the main line of contestation is between the personality-based politics of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who has headed the opposition campaign on the one hand, and the good governance promise of those who governed the country for the past seven months on the other. A positive feature of the new order is the conduct of the elections by the election authorities. Unlike the presidential elections which took place under the former president’s government, there has been no significant abuse of either state resources or one-sided violence perpetrated against political opponents. Instead there has been a general observation of the election law by the contesting political parties and aspirants for parliamentary seats. These elections can be said to be the cleanest and fairest in a long time.