Although it is high time to put the recent unprecedented constitutional crisis behind us without brooding over it too much, yet it would be useful to probe into the lessons we can learn as a country from that sad episode. Was it a result of defective legal advice? Did it precipitate due to sheer force of circumstances beyond one’s control? Was it triggered by personal vested interest? Or, was it mere fancy and folly? A gloomy 51-day recent drama in our motherland witnessed one of the worst comedy of errors in the history of post-independence national politics.
All of a sudden, wave after wave, the country rose to the shocking news of the deposing of the incumbent Prime Minister and the installation of a new Prime Minister with some ministers taking office at the same time. The media and political commentators jumped at the news and lo and behold, the TV channels and evening late editions of national papers gave the startling event the broadest of headlines it deserved. Many felt this change to be too drastic even if it was thought to have been justified and thus pursued hastily. However, the whole land turned topsy-turvy.
Much of the international world took it with a lot of displeasure, with some even condemning it outright and challenging the government to act always in respect of the Constitution. As a result, gradually over the month, the stock exchange dwindled, the foreign investors suspended their projects, the international monetary agencies ceased releasing aid and funds and the tourism industry just flattened with many airlines and hotel bookings cancelled almost overnight.
Further, the rupee continued its lousy downward trend. Pandemonium reigned in the house of Parliament with sessions disrupted by the most despicable and boorish behaviour ever staged within this sanctuary of democracy by these-called people’s representatives. The unruly and erratic politics of the ensuing weeks ended with the government boycotting the proceedings of the parliament.
For the first time, Sri Lanka entered the Guinness record as the first-ever country in modern times, where the appointed government boycotted parliament and its deliberations with only the opposition sitting and passing resolutions with a majority! It could not but be a hilarious and strange comedy of errors! Is this, we as concerned citizens may ask, the state of our national politics after 70 long years of national independence from colonial rule? Who is running our country, cheating our people, robbing their civic right of franchise, dragging this pearl of the Indian ocean into rack and ruin? Are they genuine Statesmen of the stature of which the nation can be proud of or just a bunch of immature and heartless politicians vying for power drunken with greed looking for the position, vested interests and fringe benefits?
Politics is a service to people
This whole strange and shocking phenomenon of unexpected, radical political change and confusion, however, proves providentially to be an occasion for the enlightenment of the masses, at least for those who are looking for genuine political leadership and clean politics in general. By now, the pseudo-actors have shed their bearings and revealed their real identity. There has been too much bribery and corruption that have invaded the governing ranks staining the image profession of politics, noble as it is. Too many in government have been found blatantly guilty of embezzlement of funds as well as abusing and misappropriating public and state property.
The culture of waste has ruled their erratic way of life and when dealing with situations. We have reached a stage where it is extremely difficult as ordinary citizens to identify clean and honest politicians who take on this profession becoming servants of the people. Few have taken to politics for self-aggrandizement as well. All kinds of scams of small and high magnitude have throttled the country and impoverished it in many ways. Some good and abiding lessons must be learnt from this sad episode that should stand us in good stead for years to come in re-building our future.
The controversial issues surrounding an executive presidency with excessive powers and unclear points in the text of the Constitution opened to multiple interpretations made these issues more complicated and difficult. The scenario that featured presidential decisions and the subsequent appeals made to the judiciary at different levels with the Supreme Court delivering its verdict made up the various contrasting and odd scenes of this national political drama. It was in one simple word a horrible spectacle to behold. The whole constitutional system had created a hornet’s nest: a bundle of contradictions.
It was a good opportunity providentially for the people of the land at large to see and perceive the chaos that can overtake a country when it is sunk in unstable political conditions in its governance. The chances for disarray are evident in such a tottering system. What now urgently needs to be done to heal this terrible wound and avert similar tragedies in the future are open questions that still beg for satisfactory answers.
Should the solution come from reform in the Constitution itself or should it come from the authentic conversion of politicians to decency and truthfulness in the way they go about their obligations and duties? Or else, do the people en masse need some good enlightenment and conscientization about their political choices instead of being dragged away by rosy pledges of flattering election manifestoes many of which are often not achieved! These are hard questions that need uncompromising answers. The country looks to the governing leadership to search painstakingly for these required answers. It is time that politicians of all hue look at this crisis dispassionately and collaborate in seeking a way out of this mess in a way that will augur well for our dear motherland.
Urgent needs of the hour
1. National Issues
Notwithstanding the bone of contention around the need for a new constitution or the thrust on economic development, there is a complex of issues at bay that has to be faced and sorted out. There looms the decades-old imperative of devolution of power into the provinces in order to solve the national question. The national and international debts running into billions of dollars will continue to be a nauseating burden until we are capable of giving up our begging bowl and are strong enough to rely on our own financial resources. Our economic policies have to look for more and more foreign direct investments which not only would boost our income but also provide opportunities for our large number of unemployed graduates.
The export sector has to look into newer categories of products in addition to embellishing the traditional exports of tea, rubber and coconut, not to mention the new technology needed to enhance production in these spheres. The apparel and textile industries have to be expanded. Being an agricultural country and needing an agro-based project of industries, the farmers need to be given a helping hand to improve their techniques and be assured of the unfailing supply of water and fertilizers. Will some government launch a massive mega-project to manage the immense amount of water that cascade on our land during torrential rains, instead of these waters inundating the paddy fields, destroying life and property, frustrating farmers and eventually flowing into the sea!
What had the successive governments of the last 70-year period of independence done regarding this matter of conservation of water that nature gives us so much in abundance during these torrential rains? What about refurbishing the number of tanks that are already being neglected that will prop up agriculture when the rains cease and the dry season comes along?
2. Political Ethics
The moratorium on taxes forthwith that burden ordinary people and the lowering of the living index can easily be achieved by avoiding waste of excessive and unnecessary expenditure in the state-sector and government. One here raises the simple question of large fringe-benefits to those holding government positions in the ministries, the parliament and those in local government. It concerns vehicles and the exquisite plethora of allowances that can easily be scrapped. Of course, there is the radical need of crying a halt to fraud, bribery and corruption at all levels and an imperative call to all in government to adopt a simple lifestyle.
As a country constantly with the begging bowl at the mercy of international funding agencies on the one hand, and crushed under heavy national and international debts on the other, we just cannot justify them wallowing in such a high lucrative lifestyle. What is required is not aid, but mechanisms at improving our trade and augmenting our reserves! While education must be skill-oriented opening channels for greater employment, the most vicious social evil of the drug trade that menaces our youth has to be arrested forthwith. The kind of national politics in vogue must be to our youth a source of hope instead of frustration and mistrust.
The recent shocking tragedy provides good education also to the masses of our country who are often called to elect their representatives who are not expected to be guilty of breaching public trust. They must realize that the sovereignty of people means that the country belongs to the citizens and politicians are only the caretakers of the motherland and providers of the needs of the people. Their politics must be at the service of the people, of their needs, security, prosperity and peace.
Though multi-party politics is a basic tenet of democracy and a lofty one, it should not be so divisive and deceptive that it leads a land to economic bankruptcy, political instability, unbearable high cost of living for the poor and the most vulnerable, abuse and misuse of national assets, creating social unrest and disunity and finally leading us to the brink of a failed state. As long as the sovereignty of the people and the noble ideals of democracy are maintained, we can be assured of a steady march of the nation towards peace and prosperity.
It is time that all political leaders and the parties they lead rise up to a level of mature and insightful politics in the interest of the common good of the motherland, without fostering disruptive agendas and creating hornet’s nests that will infallibly deny us, a prosperous and hope-filled journey forward.