- Tuesday, 24 March 2015
GOING BEYOND ELECTION PROMISES TO STRENGTHEN NATIONAL RECONCILIATION
The government is being criticized for its slow pace in implementing the 100 day plan of the president’s election manifesto. However, the government is also going beyond the promises of its election manifesto to strengthen the confidence of the Tamil people in its good faith. President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to permit the national anthem to be sung in the Tamil language taken at a meeting of the National Executive Council, which is composed of political party heads in the government coalition, is a courageous action. The National Peace Council commends the President for his statesmanlike decision. We see it as yet another reconciliatory action of the government that will make the Tamil-speaking people feel a greater sense of belonging to the Sri Lankan polity when they sing the national anthem in a language they understand.
Since 1951 the national anthem was sung in the Tamil language translation of the original Sinhala language version and to the same music. However, in 2010 after the war victory, when the previous government was consolidating the forces of Sinhalese nationalism, they decided to withdraw state sanction to the singing of the Tamil version and insisted that the national anthem should be sung only in the Sinhala language even in the Tamil speaking parts of the country. Former government leaders made, and continue to make, absurd and untrue statements that no national anthem anywhere else in the world is sung in more than one language, and that this will divide the country. Such unenlightened statements when raised to the level of government policy made the Tamil people more alienated from the mainstream of the national polity.
Several countries, including South Africa, Canada, Switzerland and New Zealand sing their national anthems in more than one language. Singapore which is mourning the demise of their first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew sings the national anthem in the language of a minority community, which is Malay, and not the Mandarin or English languages which are spoken by the majority community. The same is true of India, which sings their national anthem in Bengali. It is wise policies that keep the people of a country together regardless of their ethnic, racial or religious identities.
- Monday, 23 March 2015
Public criticism of the government has been growing. The opposition’s criticism is to be expected. With general elections around the corner it is in the opposition’s interests to look for opportunities to find fault with the government. However, it is not only the opposition that is criticizing the government. There is public criticism even by those who supported the government to win the election that brought it to power. One of the major issues at the presidential election was that of corruption and abuse of power. This was the issue on which the unity of the former government split when the presidential elections were called.
Most of the criticism has been on account of the government’s failure to take action against those from the former government who stand accused of corruption and abuse of power during their term in office. Those alleged to be amongst the worst offenders continue to be free, along with all others, even though some of them have been taken in for police questioning. But now a new factor has entered to make the criticism more serious. The issue of insider trading in the sale of government bonds by the Central Bank at huge profit to the beneficiaries and at an equivalent loss to the government has damaged the government’s credibility. Ironically, it has also led to opposition politicians who are accused of corruption and abuse of power leading public protests against those implicated in the deal.
- Tuesday, 17 March 2015
CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM MUST TAKE INTERESTS OF SMALL PARTIES INTO ACCOUNT
One of the main promises in the government’s election manifesto was to effect far reaching constitutional change to ensure good governance. The government pledged to bring in constitutional amendments within 100 days to make the presidency more accountable to parliament and to the judiciary, and also to change the electoral system. The major political challenge at the present time is to effect both of these changes within the 100 day time frame.
While the government’s promise to the people to change the constitution in 100 days is important, the changes that are made need to be just by all sections of the population. The existing electoral system which is sought to be changed is based on proportional representation, which leads to each political party receiving seats in parliament that are proportionate to their share of the national vote. In practice this has been favourable to the small parties and enabled them to have a voice and power in parliament.
However, after more than three decades of experience, the disadvantages of the proportional system used in Sri Lanka have become manifest and there is a consensus about the need to amend the system. What is being envisaged is a mixed system, in which some MPs are elected on the first-past-the-post system of constituency based voting, and others are elected on a proportional system. This mixed system was based on the recommendations of the select committee headed by the former minister Dinesh Gunawardena. However, the interim report was dropped due to the strong protest of the minority parties. It was expected to have a negative impact on the minority communities, minority parties and particularly on women's political participation.
- Monday, 16 March 2015
The election of President Maithripala Sirisena and the appointment of a government headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have seen a turnaround in relations with those within and outside the country. The improvement in international relations has been notable. The Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi who won election on a nationalist platform decided to be the first Indian prime minister in 28 years to visit the country. The last Prime Minister of India to visit, Rajiv Gandhi, was almost killed by a blow given to him by a member of the guard of honour who was angry about the signing of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord which Sri Lankan nationalists felt was an affront to the country’s sovereignty. In the last few years, relations between Sri Lanka and India became strained, particularly on the issue of the post-war political solution promised by the former government, but which was not delivered as promised.
The visit of Prime Minister Modi to Sri Lanka, and the welcome he received from the government was echoed by virtually all sections of the polity. In his speech to the Sri Lankan parliament, the Indian prime minister said that India expected the government to go beyond the 13th Amendment to the constitution which devolved power to the provinces. However, he did not spell out what this would mean, leaving this to the Sri Lankan polity to address. There was also the pledge of greater economic cooperation and people-to-people exchanges. The grant of visa-on-entry facilities to Sri Lankans will be a boon to those who wish to visit India. In recent years there is hardly any country to which Sri Lankans can travel to without obtaining a prior visa. It is to be hoped that the period in which a traveler with a Sri Lankan passport was viewed with suspicion by immigration officials abroad is coming to an end.