Religious, political and other leaders who met at the Ampara District Secretariat yesterday demanded that tough action be taken against those involved in the communal and religious tension that erupted in this eastern town on Monday night, with attacks on a place of worship and business houses.
The Cabinet at its meeting yesterday also agreed that tough action should be taken after several ministers expressed deep concern over what had happened and said the newly patched up national government should act fast and firmly to prevent small groups of conspirators from creating racial or religious tension in Sri Lanka again. Since the February 10 local elections, national attention has been focused on a political crisis after the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)—the two major partners in the consensus or coalition government – suffered a major defeat. Emerging victorious was the newly-formed Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) whose de facto leader is the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The party is also backed by more than 50 of the SLFP or United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) MPs who were elected at the August 2015 general election.
Most political analysts have said the SLPP’s sensational victory was largely a protest vote against the UNP-SLFP government’s failure to implement most of the promises made in the campaign for the Presidential election held on January 8, 2015. Some experts also claim joint opposition members or their supporters conducted house-to-house campaigns alleging that the government was trying to push through a Constitution which would divide the country and take away the prime place given to Buddhism.
Since January 8, 2015, many steps have been taken to restore democracy, the rule of law and judicial freedom. So as media freedom. We no longer hear of killings, abductions or attacks on journalists or media officers. The 19th Constitutional Amendment, approved unanimously in April 2015, overturned the authoritarian 18th Amendment of the former regime. We also see the effective implementation of the right to information (RTI) law which has effectively restored the people’s right to the freedom of information.
Several steps also have been taken for reconciliation to rebuild racial and religious harmony. The government has handed back thousands of acres of lands taken over from civilian families during the war though hundreds of people have been protesting in Vavuniya complaining they are still not aware of what happened to some members of their families. Almost one year ago, parliament approved the Bill for the setting up of the powerful Office of Missing Persons (OMP). But it was only last week that the President approved the OMP commissioners nominated by the Constitutional Council and the OMP is expected to begin work soon while political observers point out it coincides with the annual sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
Last Sunday’s patchwork reshuffle of the Cabinet and the promises that the January 8 pledges would be fulfilled will be taken seriously by the people only when effective action is taken. An important area is racial and religious unity in diversity. The government must crack down on small groups of pseudo patriots, conspirators or extremists who try to exploit these sensitive areas for their own political advantage. Those who come into politics for prestige power or privilege and to make money need to be clearly identified, mainly by the free media and they will surely be rejected by the people.
Moderation and dialogue are vital factors in all religions and those who go to extremes cannot and must not find a place in the leadership of Sri Lanka. Then only can we build a peaceful, just and all-inclusive society.