Defending offenders: Nationalism; a convenient pretext

26 April 2015 07:28 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Unrealistic to expect the Opposition to support the Government to introduce political reforms, when members are under investigation

he present political crisis in the country has risen as a result of the failure of the two main political parties to work together to bring about political reforms that the leaders of the present government promised to the people in the run up to the January 8 Presidential Election.
But the Leaders also promised to stamp out corruption, in particular, to prosecute people who have been responsible for corrupt activities under the previous regime.
It is obvious that these two objectives cannot be pursued simultaneously. Since many people in the Opposition camp have been accused of bribery and corruption, how can the present rulers expect the Opposition members to extend their support to them, while the law enforcement authorities are instructed by the government to investigate charges of bribery and corruption levelled against Opposition figures?
The crisis came to a head, when the Bribery and Corruption Commission directed the former President to appear before it to make a statement regarding a case filed against him.

The above developments gave the agitated members of the Opposition an opportunity to mount a campaign against the government, effectively undermining the process of political reforms. Their main argument that their “national hero who saved the nation” should not be treated in this manner.
In other words, he should not be treated like any other citizen even before the law. The decision by the authorities to direct the bribery and corruption Commission authorities go to him to record a statement rather than ask him to appear before it is indicative of the threat that a major faction of the main Opposition poses not just to the reform process but to democracy in particular and good governance in general.
As is well known, nationalism is a potent force that can be used to mobilise a significant segment of the ordinary masses. State sponsored propaganda over the last decade, besides other influences emanating from education and nationalist political parties.

Instilled in the minds of a sizable section of the Sinhalese population that the country faced a grave separatist threat aided and abetted by “international conspirators against the country” along with “unpatriotic civil society groups” and that MR stood against all of them and saved the nation.
For many members of the Sinhalese-Buddhist community, this is more than enough to maintain their loyalty to MR irrespective of how he handled other matters of governance during his regime.
On the other hand, there were others who remained loyal to him for more mundane reasons such as space he created for them to engage in not so patriotic activities like illicit business ventures, abuse of public resources and various forms of rent seeking.
Many ‘advisors,’ public officials, business people, politicians of all ranks and even some so-called intellectuals found enough opportunities to take a share of public resources for their own use. So, those who shared the bounty were not a handful of people.

It is significant that the politicians closely connected to the inner circle of the previous regime interpreted their electoral defeat as a consequence of as international conspiracy against a patriotic nationalist leader.
Now the same kind of argument is advanced when the law enforcement authorities take legal measures to investigate corruption against his retinue. Such measures are simply interpreted as an attempt to tarnish the image of a patriotic leader. People who campaigned against the former regime wanted political reforms to make the state more democratic and transparent but this cannot be done without the support of the Opposition.
It is unrealistic to expect the Opposition to support the government to introduce political reforms, when some of the Opposition members are under investigation by the law enforcement authorities. This has resulted in the present political deadlock.
It is true that a sizable section of the Sri Lankan population wants a democratic state that adheres to the principles of good governance. Yet, the country did not have such a state for several decades, in particular over the last decade.

The State bureaucracy, law enforcement authorities, the Judiciary and even the Parliament did not function in keeping with high ideals of good governance.
For instance, public servants in general did what the political authority wanted them to. Now, when public servants give orders to politicians, it naturally look odd and unreal.
Hence, the argument, that this new breed of public servants is also being manipulated by the ruling party leaders.
Meanwhile, the government continues to be under pressure to introduce political reforms and punish offenders under the bribery and corruption law.
Practically, these two cannot be done simultaneously. As long as the government pursues those who have allegedly committedoffences, the main Opposition will come under increasing pressure not to cooperate with the government.
On the one hand, if the law enforcement authorities and public officials continue to act independently in keeping with the law, the government cannot order them to stop their actions without losing its credibility.

"Despite certain shortcomings that many have pointed out, the present regime is on the right path to remove many obstacles that prevented the establishment of a truly democratic state"

On the other hand, if the government allows them to act independently, without being interfered with by the members of the government, those who have committed offences in the past would have to face the consequences. Present agitations by a section of the Opposition against the legal measures taken by law enforcement authorities are meant to mobilise nationalist forces to prevent the enforcement of the law. The arguments that they advance against the above measures will no doubt figure prominently in the run up to the forthcoming parliamentary elections.
While the above developments are not wholly unexpected, right thinking citizens in this country have no choice but work hard to protect the democratic space that has been created in the country over the last three months.
Despite certain shortcomings that many have pointed out, the present regime is on the right path to remove many obstacles that prevented the establishment of a truly democratic state.
The future prospects of this country in terms of sustainable and equitable development, good governance, rule of law and public welfare depend very much on the establishment of such a state. Socially responsible politicians, civil society groups, enlightened citizens, concerned journalists and intellectuals have a collective responsibility to ensure that the country moves forward on the above path so that people in this country can look forward to a contented and peaceful future.

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