This Avurudu is different !

12 April 2015 06:32 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Party political considerations that have taken over the national interests are now threatening the democratic transformation in the country.

This Avurudu is different because after a long hiatus, Sri Lanka has both peace and democracy. Those two attributes are important for they have a soothing effect even for the least political man and woman, though he or she may not fully comprehend its impact. However, absence of it is felt more acutely, and Sri Lankans of all- walks of life have bitter experiences about that.
For over three decades, this country had been confronted by the twin evils of terrorism and authoritarianism; each feeding on the other.




Terrorism of the LTTE and apocalyptic violence unleashed by the JVP not only did kill and maim hundreds of thousands and destroy billions worth property, but also rolled back democracy.
J.R. Jayawardene, the first Executive President cemented a culture of authoritarianism in Sri Lankan politics.
He was drawing from the legacy of his predecessor Sirima Bandaranaike, whose left leaning United Front Government dismantled the independent institutions in the country.
During the same years, Velupillai Prabakaran cut his teeth in terrorism and later, he would redefine the contours of terrorism to new extremes.
The conventional wisdom tells that authoritarianism begets terrorism, but, that is not always the case. Terrorists and insurgents exploited freedoms guaranteed by democracies to advance their goals. In our case, insurgents, both in the North and the South, exploited the very freedoms and the imperfections of our flawed democracy.





We finished off terrorism in 2009, of course, at a considerable cost, which, many Sri Lankans would say, was worth the price.  Then, the ideal situation could have been that authoritarianism and other highhanded tactics themselves gave away to more benign handling of politics. However, that did not happen. White vans operated long after the war was over. Media was gagged. The President and his cronies looted the country. It took another five years for us to end authoritarianism that besotted the country. It took a Presidential Election and over six million Sri Lankans, who voted against the former regime.
This Avurudu is different because after a long hiatus, Sri Lanka has both peace and democracy. Those two attributes are important for they have a soothing effect even for the least political man and woman, though he or she may not fully comprehend its impact. However, absence of it is felt more acutely, and Sri Lankans of all- walks of life have bitter experiences about that.





On this Sinhala and Hindu New Year, we stand at the crossroads. It is not so, just because the visiting UN envoys says so, or Secretary of State John Kerry is contemplating a visit. Sri Lankans who had been through that distressing thirty years, have finally been able to bring that era to an end. Had the war persisted, democracy’s come back could have been unlikely.  Even the well meaning politicians who wanted to restore democracy in the past found themselves and their efforts being overwhelmed by the vicious spiral effects of terrorism. Sri Lanka should thank Mahinda Rajapaksa for defeating terrorism of the LTTE, as much as one should, even grudgingly, take note of Ranjan Wijeratne’s contribution to end the other ruthless insurgency in the South; no matter, that the latter could well have been a defendant at the International Criminal Court, had it been existent then and we had signed the Rome Statute.  
Opportunities that lie before Sri Lanka are unparalleled given its tortured history and are more so, due to what we have managed to achieve even during those troubled decades.  





We kept our Welfare State intact, provided free education and health care, one of the few countries in the world to do so, and held regular multi-party elections. The economy grew at a modest six per cent since the mid 90s, during the height of the war and over seven per cent since the end of the war in 2009. That means there is a lot of untapped potential within our economy and its educated workforce, which successful economic managers would be able to put into use.
However, there is an unfinished business. The peaceful revolution that ousted a kleptocratic regime is incomplete and has now run into internal political bickering. Last week, a bill was defeated in the legislature and the 19th Amendment, which is to be debated when Parliament meets after the Avurudu recess has run into disagreements.





The SLFP has demanded that the electoral reforms go with the 19th Amendments, in line with the promises made in the election manifesto of President Sirisena. UNP’s manoeuvring to bulldoze its way, despite the fact that it is a minority in Parliament and popular support for it is still untested are bound to drive away even the most accommodating members of the SLFP.
This may be proof that even eight decades after the introduction of the universal franchise, Sri Lanka is not yet ready for bipartition politics. The UNP conduct, or at least the utterance of some of its key ministers, call into question the prospect of the two year- national government, that has been proposed to be set up after the general elections.





In a stark contrast to his predecessor, who held captive, an entire legislature in order to pass the 18th Amendment, to perpetuate his rule, President Sirisena has reached out to stakeholders in a polarising polity to prune his own excessive powers. That manifest commitment has no parallel in Sri Lankan history. Whereas Chandrika Kumaratunga promised the same and rather than abolishing the Executive Presidency, she went on to complete her two terms.
It is a shame that the UNP, driven by its own vested interests is squandering an opportunity to truly reform the political culture in the country.
By doing so, it is helping Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has posed the greatest threat to democracy in this country since the decimation of the LTTE and megalomaniac Velupillai Prabhakaran. UNP’s failure to hold the Rajapaksas accountable for manifold abuses is also rejuvenating the family and their cronies at the expense of the new President and his progressive agenda.





Party political considerations that have taken over the national interests are now threatening the democratic transformation in the country.
The peaceful revolution that ousted an autocrat with dynastic ambitions is incomplete. It is at the risk of being hijacked by a minority, some of whom, share certain similarities with Rajapaksa for penchant for authoritarianism.
As Sri Lankans celebrate Avurudu, those are foods for thought. Today, we stand at the crossroads, of course with an overwhelming optimism, despite the challenges that lie ahead. However, if politicians, specially the leadership of the UNP mishandle those opportunities, and exploit them in to their advantage, we could descend into the gloom that defined our past.
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