The 6th President of Sri Lanka Maithripala Sirisena (MS) gives a fresh start to politics in Sri Lanka. He is the very first President to win the hearts and minds of all Sri Lankans, irrespective of any differences and divisions in post-war Sri Lanka. This is a remarkable achievement for democracy loving people, not only in Sri Lanka but also in the world as well. The people of Sri Lanka have voted for President Sirisena under the New Democratic Front (NDF) without looking at any of his past experience in overall achievements, success and failures in his political carrier which was linked to Sri Lanka’s socioeconomic and political processes. Overall, President MS had only a small percentage of work carried out as a Cabinet Minister compared to his opponent Mahinda Rajapaksa who had ten years as an Executive President, five years as Prime Minister, Opposition Leader and Cabinet Minister.
A Common People’s President
President Sirisena has no bourgeoisie family background compared to former ruling class leaders like D. S. Senanayake, S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike, Sirimavo Bandaranaike and J.R. Jayawardene. Mahinda Rajapaksa had only a political genealogy but was not of bourgeois origin. After executive Presidents R. Premadasa and D. B. Wijetunga, President Sirisena is the 3rd common person’s President for Sri Lanka coming from a non-elite background,a rural agricultural base and Buddhist family. If he has the courage and strength to carry out certain things, he can become the best states person of post-war Sri Lanka. He has that golden opportunity in front him.
Cohabit with Ranil
The most important factor is the cohabitation with Prime Minister Ranil Wickeremesinghe who will be the key figure bridging the gaps in Sri Lanka and the world. This is the best scenario which each of them having with key skills to address local and international issues. Before the new government gets into mega development projects with international input, it should address certain burning issues without delaying, as discussed in this article. But this needs careful attention and thorough research before finalicing and implementing them. But under the current circumstances it can be done without any delay. Local expertise should be used. Sri Lanka has a wealth of resource people who were completely left out in the previous regime since most of the offices were held by uneducated political appointees without a knowledge of the subject matter. The Government should not spend money and other resources to get international expertise in this regard since the country is rich in intellectuals, researchers, policy makers and professionals. But Sri Lanka could study the international success stories in this regard.
Quick relief on Cost of Living, Health, Education and Reconciliation
People are eagerly waiting to see the 100 days programme. Quick price reduction in essential items such as food, medicine and energy will bring short relief to communities in Sri Lanka. Immediate burning issues in the Health and the Education system need to be addressed in this period. There are several people still in IDP camps in the North and East since the war ended in 2009. The LLRC and its recommendations and beyond need to be prioritized and put into a work programme is a must. Sri Lanka has a high ageing population in the Asian region. There should be an immediate plan for social security for elders and their survival. Sri Lanka has still not given a rights based approach for differently abled people or person with disabilities. It is unfortunate that Sri Lanka is the only country in the South Asian region which has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD).
Independent Commissions & Right for Information (RTI) Act
As it is mentioned in the Maithri Manifesto, establishing the Independent Commissions to secure the impartiality of judicial, police,elections, auditing institutions and the office of the Attorney-General is crucial and this will pave the way to make a foundation for good governance structure for Sri Lanka (p.16). This will further be strengthened by passing the Right to Information Act (RTI) which again Sri Lanka is the only country without such an important Act in the South Asian Region. In 2012, under the UNP Government a Bill of ‘Right to Information Act’ was presented to Parliament. Later the Speaker informed the UNP in writing that since this draft bill had been rejected in Parliament on an earlier occasion, it was not possible to present the same bill again. The previous government deliberately and shamelessly attempted to show that there is no need in Sri Lanka for a Right to Information Act. President Sirisena has mentioned that, ‘Action will be taken to reinforce corruption prevention structures in accordance with the Anti- Corruption Charter of the United Nations to which Sri Lanka is a signatory’ (p.16). This will help Sri Lanka to become a less corrupt state. Currently it is ranked 85th in the Corruption Perception Index of 2014.
Engage with the World Swiftly and Promptly
The Maithri Manifesto had state that “The whole world knows that our foreign policy is in disarray after the military victory of 2009” (p.43).Sri Lanka lost almost all the friendly Western and other nations in the last five years with an unethical foreign diplomacy.In the last five years, Sri Lanka has the worst diplomacy relationships in the history of the Foreign Service of Sri Lanka. Post-war Sri Lanka needs to link with the world by peaceful means not neglecting them. Anti- personnel Mine Ban Convention(APMBC), Convention on Cluster Munition (CCM), Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), Convention on Convention Weapons (CCW) Protocol V, are still to be signed and ratified by Sri Lanka. In the last ten years the Foreign Ministry has lost its interest in the service and some of them have not had the necessary skills in the subject matter to deal with disarmament conventions and treaties. The writer himself had undergone many hardships just to convince to the previous government of Sri Lanka attend certain disarmament and others conventions at least as an observer state. But that also failed to even a junior Foreign Service officer with a sufficient knowledge in the subject matter not attend at an important meeting at the UN. Finally this author sent a letter to the President (letter copied for five cabinet ministers, secretaries, heads of military and others concern) on July 9, 2014 asking to review Sri Lanka’s policy positions on such conventions and treaties and HRH Prince Mired of Jordan’s visit to Sri Lanka on APMBC, but none of them replied. Sad state of affairs!
Immediate attention on the environment and wildlife
The MS Manifesto says that the President would “Re-assess all mega projects undertaken recently. I will punish those responsible for technical offenses in such projects irrespective of the status of the offenders” (p.20). This will be sufficient, there are some development projects recently started that need to be re-evaluated before they begin. Failure to carry out Environment Impact Assessments Surveys (EIAS) and impact on wildlife should be key considerations in any of this mega development projects. Otherwise Sri Lanka will lose its rich biodiversity as a hot spot in the global bio-diversity map. Wildlife enthusiasts should be proud MS manifestos has mentioned that the ‘Flora and Fauna Act will be strictly implemented without fear of favour’ (p.32). There are some urgent areas to be amended in the current 2009 Act of Flora and Fauna. Otherwise Sri Lanka need a new Flora and Fauna Conservation Act. The Department of Wildlife Conservation has drafted and proposed four Wildlife Sanctuaries and five National Parks for the Northern Region soon after the war ended in 2009, but the previous government was not interested to declare them due to economic reasons as proposed areas were to be used as development projects such as hotels. This needs to be addressed immediately before any illegal constructions appear in the pipeline made by the previous government on proposed wildlife sanctuaries by the DWC.
New media Culture
It is of utmost importance to state that State Media should have a code of ethics. It was a shame that the previous regime was using state media in an irresponsible manner. It is better to have public hearings over the state media that to show how they were abused, using university lecturers and others to mislead the general public with unethical mudslinging campaigns against opponents. With the new government the media should behave responsibly and must present Opposition views in the same time-frame allocated for the government. State media should not be biased to any person, any political party or promote some one’s political agenda. Private media needs to be responsible and transparent when they enjoy freedom of expression. Media freedom is a must in Sri Lanka and should be protected through laws and media Ombudsperson.
The 100 day programme can make Sri Lanka history. Previous Presidents were unable to deliver such necessary reforms and fundamental and structural changes, paradigm shifts even though some of them have completed a second term as the Executive President. Will President MS make it a reality? Otherwise “A Compassionate Maithri Governance a Stable Country” will be another promise like previous regimes’ failed “Mahinda Chinthana”s dream of “Wonder of Asia.”
The writer is the Country Researcher Sri Lanka for Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor and a freelance researcher on socioeconomic development and disarmament and volunteered in the field of Wildlife Conservation. His latest publication is on ‘Commonwealth States on Disarmament and Development A Socioeconomic Analysis.’ He can be reached at email@example.com