A Nation Adrift
In a democracy, a thumping majority is expected to result in cool heads among the victors and cold feet among losers. Not in Sri Lanka. 64 years after seeing the back of British settlers, Sri Lanka moved on. But far from progressing towards true democracy and self-determination these 64 years have seen rivers of blood and hate mar this beautiful land.
Independence did not make us a happy bunch. Instead it somehow has had the opposite effect with the winners of a near thirty year long war going for the jugulars of the losers and the losers preparing for rearguard action.
Sarath Fonseka vs. The Rajapaksas is a case in point.
While all these events such as ringing the former Army Commander’s hotel with armed soldiers in 2010 following a presidential election and him being thrown into jail thereafter can make the background for an excellent political thriller, it is certainly of much detriment to the country which only in 2009 emerged from a disastrous war against terrorism. The people of Sri Lanka expect to reap the benefits of peace and led comfortable lives but considering the political forces at play this would appear to be a vain hope.
Each election, whether presidential, parliamentary or local council raises the political tempo. We have all been witness to how this has resulted in greater destabilisation of the country – the exact opposite reaction required post war.
President Rajapaksa after his Independence Day celebrations in Anuradhapura yesterday is envisaging a great future ahead for Sri Lanka. Such hopes have been entertained by previous national leaders who scored similar or even bigger majorities that he did at the last election. Sirima Bandaranaike envisaged a democratic socialist nirvana after her massive 1970 victory and J. R. Jayewardene was thinking of surpassing Singapore in economic prosperity. But they failed because of many reasons, the main one being the failure to reach political compromises with opposition parties.
Apart from brief references being made to the need for the resolution of the Tamil problem President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been artfully dodging getting his teeth into the meat of the problem. He appears to be continuing on this course. Each recent electoral victory was convincingly won on the war cry of defeating LTTE terrorism. Soothing words were made to Tamils during the presidential election but no sooner he Tamil National Alliance declared that they would support Sarath Fonseka, the communal cry going back to the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact days was heard – Menna rata bedanda hadanawo – they are trying to divide the country. Rajapaksa has to take the racist bull by the horns instead of side stepping the issue because it is bound to surface with time. Speaking a few words in Tamil at public meetings is good, but it will not convince the wily Tamils of the desire to meet their aspirations.
In the Rajapaksa camp there are many including leading professionals who continue to ask: What is the problem that Tamils have which the Sinhalese do not have? To go on these lines is to travel back in time to those atavistic days when the problem all began. Mahinda Rajapaksa knows too well that though the LTTE is defeated militarily the threat is by no means eliminated.
Expatriate Tamils have quite a lot of cash which they are willing to part with as they did earlier for the cause of a separate Tamil state. This is the time to make moves for a genuine reconciliation.
If the grand visions of Rajapaksa – Mahinda Chintanaya – as they are called are to be realised, an even greater factor will be the establishment of a rapport with the Sinhalese political parties – the UNP and the JVP. It need not and cannot be a political coalition but there should be a greater understanding between the ruling party and opposition Sinhalese parties on issues of national interest. The reason for the political and economic stagnation of the country all these years has been the lack of basic understanding between the ruling party and the opposition.
As we pause to reflect today, Rajapaksa must be mindful not to lock horns with the Tamil National Alliance as is taking place now. It can paralyse any government that is elected after the next general elections. If this continues it would be a tragedy for Sri Lanka because this new parliament is expected to draw up a new constitution that could eliminate most of the problems faced now. Despite the political optimism now prevalent in the Rajapaksa camp, it is highly unlikely that a two-third majority could be mustered to have a constitution drawn up the Rajapaksa way. Besides if a constitution is to be durable and functional the interests of the political spectrum in the widest possible way should be covered.
The greatest challenge to constitution makers will be to curb the powers of the executive president and restore them to parliament for the re-establishment of law and order such as the enactment of the 17th Amendment. But it would be extremely optimistic to expect Mahinda Rajapaksa to curb the powers of the executive presidency having exploited its benefits in an unbelievable manner.
Those who are expecting a new constitution to work miracles, should understand right now that any good constitution can be wrecked by unscrupulous individuals at the levers of power.
National reconstruction has been in vogue in recent times as seen in the number of ministries that have been devoted to it in the over century strong cabinet of Mahinda Rajapaksa. Whether these ministries are really devoted to national reconstruction or mere name plates for ministers who are without proper offices or even a desk and chair as alleged by some is very much in doubt. National reconstruction is very important to the Sri Lankan nation but let us remember that while we speak of a Sri Lankan nation let us consider whether a true Sri Lankan has been created in the 64 years of Independence. One of the founders of Italy Garibaldi is attributed with the remark; Now that we have created Italy, let’s create an Italian. Those who speak in lofty terms of a Sri Lankan nation should first consider whether a Sri Lankan has been created in the last six decades.