As the President Maithripala Sirisena reiterated in his maiden speech, the need to create a new political culture indeed is aimperative. The recently concluded election proved that we clearly need to establish standards on how an election should be conducted and what Good Governance should look like. But first, let’s take stock of what happened.
Time for Reflection
Undoubtedly Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was a leader loved by the masses. During his time, he was able to end a 30-year-old war by defeating the LTTE. He was hailed by all Sri Lankans, irrespective of race or political affiliations. He had many skills, his public relations were amazing. Many who have met him even for once, spoke of his charisma, if he made a request, people just could not refuse. One could sit with him and thrash out things. He contributed to the infrastructure development of the country. And we all remember him for his activism in the arena of Human Rights when he was an Opposition MP during the 1980s.
"So what really went wrong? It was his own seeking that brought him to disrepute. Due to the activities of his Cabinet members he began to lose popularity"
So what really went wrong? It was his own seeking that brought him to disrepute. Due to the activities of his Cabinet members he began to lose popularity. Although he was a street smart, seasoned politician, he did not foresee this situation. Calling for a Presidential Election prematurely was his own mistake. With blurred vision he set out to a contest where his assumption of his opponent was proved wrong. But there were a significant number of other contributory factors
1. The lavish living of his offsprings earned the scorn of the general public. He could have guided them, but he failed.
2. A large percentage of that National Budget was allocated to a particular ministry. The functions of other ministries were also incorporated into this ministry. This drew displeasure from other ministers.
3. The damage done by one religious organisation was irreparable. Buddhist clergy failed to advise him and show him the correct path.
4. Heavy reliance on astrologers.
5. His inaction when his party members broke the law. The offences were as serious as murder, rape, drug peddling and child abuse, harassing journalists and allegations of bringing Ethanol and Heroin. His silence appeared to be an endorsement.
6. Monopolising the media - both public and private, especially the morning programme of the SLBC in which the Chairman screamed insults at everyone opposed. Similarly some editors of state print media too started to follow the same trend of ‘naming and shaming’.
7. His own ministers accused of amassing wealth.
8. Unjust actions against the former Army Commander and former Chief Justice.
9. Sidelining the stalwarts of the SLFP, made key party members walk away, while he gave prominence to the cross-over MPs.
10. The complex displayed by the External Affairs Ministry Head led to Sri Lanka becoming ill-reputed internationally. The diplomatic cadre was subject to politicisation and nepotism.
11. The most common and forgotten mistake the government ever made was to belittle and ridicule Ranil Wickremesinghe, this action forced him to hunt for an
All this combined marred his war victory and also put the country into disrepute in the eyes of the public.
"The campaign started with cut-outs of Mahinda Rajapaksa being displayed all over the country. This action prompted the public to wonder as to where the money came from?"
What went wrong in the campaign?
It was evident that the UPFA was not ready for their opponent in the beginning. They were probably expecting someone else to be the contender. From that moment on, there were so many contributory factors that went against the UPFA candidate.
1. The campaign started with cut-outs of Mahinda Rajapaksa being displayed all over the country. This action prompted the public to wonder as to where the money came from?
2. Campaigning on communal lines, one religious group did enough damage in trying to attack a particular community, another community became the common target, UPFA campaigners forgot that Muslims and Tamils are also Sri Lankans.
3. Apart from the paid advertisements, the media was over-doing the promotions. Many programmes were in violation of election laws. Media fell to disgraceful levels. Lately the State Media did “ live broadcasts “ of Campaign meetings which showed speeches of not only Mahinda Rajapaksa but also the others who spoke very poorly.
4. The UPFA campaign team did a real disservice to its candidate by transporting crowds for every meeting. This provided false confidence to the candidate that a large crowd was gathering to support him.
5. It is not incorrect to say that the UPFA did the campaign for the Opposition particularly through the insults that were hurled at Maithripala Sirisena, Ven. Rathana Thera, Patali Ranawake and Ranil Wickremesinghe especially by WW.
6. Particularly the government ministers and other speakers were unable to respond to the allegations which were made by Champika Ranawaka. He was “Mr. Clean”. His allegations were clean. It was foolish of the UPFA to boycott the Satana programme on Sirasa TV, and also block its transmission.
7. Attacks on the opponent’s campaign such as setting fire to the stages, firing at meetings, importing Indian artistes and attacking local artistes proved to be disastrous.
8. The story about an international conspiracy eventually became stale. And the campaign team ran out of ideas to fight a gentleman.
Throughout this campaign I felt that the public was more interested in” who was out” than “ who is in”. This was clearly articulated by the JVP. Their consistent slogan was to defeat MR. They were a strong ally in making the public understand who and how the public wealth is being misappropriated. So the early declaration of the Presidential Poll was like suicide.
What went right in the Maithree Camp:
What Maithripala Sirisena undertook was a huge task. His pledge was to abolish the Executive Presidency. A pledge which previous Presidents have failed to keep. He was running a race with a promise to change the game for ever. The opponent was a sitting President with all the resources at his disposal. It was a gamble that he took and placed his complete faith in the people. This election eventually proved a few valid points to all political parties.
(a) To the people it was irrelevant the quantum of money spent.
(b) It was irrelevant how many state institutions were under the incumbent President.
(c) It was of no significance how many media institutions were supporting or promoting one candidate.
(d) It did not matter whether all the ministries were under his control.
When the desire for change by the people becomes an imperative, everything else is irrelevant and one can be uprooted by the power of the people. President Sirisena should pay a tribute to a vast number of people in his team for this victory. The following I FEEL are some of the key factors which contributed to the success of his campaign.
1. Great credit should go to Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera who was a strong campaigner against the Executive Presidency, he was the decoy candidate of the Common Opposition.
2. Patali Champika Ranawaka and Ven. Rathana Thera of Hela Urumaya who were like the Kudapola Hamuduruwo who led this battle. “Mr. Clean” – Patali Champika Ranawaka advocated against corruption and nepotism both in media and on stage. The first move which brought the fall of the dominos was three people, Rajitha Senarathna, Patali Champika Ranawaka ,Ven. Rathana Thera and five other ministers and deputy ministers walking away.
3. The United National Party for supporting the campaign and for the strategic brilliance of Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe
4. The JVP for being a strong advocate against the Rajapaksa rule.
5. Former President Chandrika Kumaranatunga was instrumental in bringing all parties together inside this Trojan Horse.
6. Mr. Rauf Hakeem, Mr. Digambaram, Mr. Bathiudeen and their teams gave their support in a way that the people believed that a change was possible. The TNA too supported unconditionally.
7. The social media became one strong source of information in this election, although people seriously doubted if social media could help win elections.
8. The few media institutions which gave the campaign space such as Wijeya Newspapers, MTV/MBC and TNL.
9. The theme of the campaign “Maithree Paalanayak” was a powerful concept. So was the campaign song which reached the hearts and minds of the public.
10. Last but not least, lakhs of people “OF ALL FAITHS AND COMMUNITIES “ who placed their faith on Maithripala Sirisena.
What the Election results say
Sri Lanka has spoken. The election result speaks volumes of what Sri Lankans think and how they feel and what their aspirations are. For the first time the country elected a Leader from Rajarata, from a farming community with no political lineage. He is much more a people’s man than Ranasinghe Premadasa and even Mahinda Rajapaksa. The people have proven that they chose the one who they believed would deliver the change. Nothing else mattered. The making of highways did not matter. People chose brains over town beautification. They chose accountability over cut-outs. There was a clear verdict from the up country plantation community. Their message was ‘To hell with Thonda – we want basic food provision at an affordable price and proper housing’. Similarly the North and East also have spoken. They want a settlement of their issue. They want to talk to someone who would listen, and come to an amicable settlement. At every election the Tamil representatives are labled as separatists or Tigers. The need to recognize the minority ethnic groups as equal citizens and let them be free to do activities in their region is paramount. The need to have land to cultivate, opportunities to produce and markets to sell their produce, needs immediate attention and redress. The message was also clear for all the sectoral leaders. Left leaders such as Tissa, Vasudeva and DEW were not recognized, their own party members supported for a change probably telling their leadership that it is time to step down. If Rauf Hakeem did not pledge his support at the last moment, the same fate would have fallen on him too. At this election people at large did not want lavish competition. They voted in the guy who had no posters, no space in the state media and no acting up.
But let me stress that this is not an easy position for the new President. Powerful political and civil society organizations brought him into power. They will scrutinize his every move. So he needs to deliver on his promises and also demonstrate good governance within one term. But he can be the unifying leader who Sri Lanka needs.
What the Common Person needs
By selecting and electing the Opposition Common candidate, the people are expecting more sustainable support. Although no one dies of hunger in this country, there is abject poverty in many areas. The average poor man therefore needs a basic food basket at a REASONABLE PRICE and overall social security. We should allocate more funds for EDUCATION AND HEALTH , because these two sectors are extremely important. The Government needs to focus on the creation of a Charity Commissioner in ALL LOCAL AUTHORITIES, because it is only through this process the poorest of the poor can be targeted for assistance.
Protection of the Rural Farmer
As a country which boasts about agriculture, we have done little so far to protect the farmer. Supply of water for farming as well as appropriate fertilizer must be provided. Price control of essential food items is also needed. The country should never allow any farmer to either fall ill or commit suicide due to a lack of state patronage. For someone who comes from such a community, my sincere hope is that President Sirisena will bring about an Agriculture Policy which will protect our farmers.
Having experiences a massive Tsunami and subsequent floods, landslides and drought, I am not convinced that we as a nation are prepared for disasters. This ill preparedness affects the rural farming community. Given the challenges of climate change, we must be prepared for future disasters.
Housing for the poor should be another key area where we need a national action plan. I would like to suggest that every year each Divisional Secretariat Division builds a minimum of five houses in each Grama Niladhari area. We can also let the private sector contribute to address the housing problems of the rural poor.
Protecting the SME
It is extremely important to bring measures to protect the small and medium scale enterprises as they are the ones which provide employment opportunities.
No one in this country asked for highways. They only cater to a meagre percentage of the population. I believe that Sri Lanka MUST develop mass transportation systems such as the railway. Creation of new rail roads, will enable people to travel throughout the country at a “reasonable cost”.
Much Needed Immediate Changes
There are many changes that the new government needs to bring about without delay.
1. One of the most important aspects is that celebrating war victory should cease forthwith. Hurting the feelings of any community is not something a responsible government should do.
2. Election laws should change in a way that a common man can contest without having to beg, borrow and steal money. Laws and regulations need to be amended accordingly.
3. The new president we sincerely hope will do away with the gamut of advisors which the former president has appointed and create a Civil Society body made up of outsiders which can meet on a monthly basis and then report to him and he can in turn act on those reports.
4. Top priority is to mend the strained relationships with Western countries. I believe that a majority of the SLFPers are not anti-west. We must realize that we cannot and should not try to live in isolation and should solicit support from all countries and not a chosen few. We should win the respect of the international community.
For future Elections
The need to create an equal playing field for every candidate is essential. If we look at the amount of money spent on elections, it seems that those who have money are the ones who can contest, if not that, those who without money are coerced to illegal means to find funds for their campaigns.
In the last few elections in Sri Lanka, it was crystal clear that candidates resorted to distributing ‘gifts’ to the voters. This should cease forthwith through regulations.
Media stations should not be allowed to have programmes one after the other promoting one candidate. Obviously this is another area where standards, rules and regulations must be set so that media can be monitored by the elections commission.
i. All television stations to be brought under the control of the Elections Commission in relation to broadcast of Political programmes including News segments.
ii. All print media institutions government or private to be brought under the control of the Elections Commission in relation to articles or News on Elections.
iii. Advertisements on all media print or electronic to be controlled and monitored by the Elections Commission. Preventing undue advantage to any political party.
Role of the Clergy
Indeed certain clergy played a pivotal role in bringing this change. However in the new political culture I suggest that clergy of all religions should remain neutral. The role of the clergy is to advise the leaders. Clergy’s involvement leads to voter segregation as Buddhist, Islam, Catholic which should not be the case in a country where there is a strong need to establish a Sri Lankan identity.
In any society their role is not to take sides but to be the voice of the people. To hold a mirror to the leaders and show where they are straying from the promises made to the public. When artists take sides they lose their credibility among the people, this also devalues their creations.
Contesting while in the post
Contesting while still holding the post does not create the environment for a free and fair election. The misuse of state property, media and all other resources was clearly visible. In the new political culture I would really like to see this position changed.
Declaring one’s assets when entering a political campaign is very important. And making it known even at the end should be introduced. It is necessary to create a procedure for maintenance of ledger account for receipt of monies and expenses, preventing the usage of ill-gotten funds in Election campaigns.
Cut Down on Cut-outs
Display of cutouts and banners should be restricted to the precincts of election campaign offices only. All Pradeshiya Sabha and Municipal council grounds should be made available to any political party without restrictions. Block booking of such venues by a single party should not be allowed.
Cross off Cross overs
The public fatigue on elected representatives’ crossing over to other parties is growing. We must introduce new laws to prevent cross overs, however in extreme circumstances this can be permitted.
I believe that creating a Code of Ethics to be followed by all elected representatives will also be helpful in this regard.
Government Officials and Resources
Usage of Government owned buildings for political meetings etc., during election time to cease forthwith. Summoning of people for various reasons by various government departments or ministries cannot be done during the election period. Publication of advertisements or any other promotional material by Ministries and Government Departments should be stopped. Government Servants to be barred from participating in media programmes and writing articles to the newspapers in support of a particular party or candidate.
MOU for Parties
Every year major political parties needs to sign a memorandum of understanding that they would not field unsavory , unscrupulous , corrupt candidates for future elections. This certainly will pave the way for quality candidates to come into the fray and also rid the system of such characters remaining in the political arena.
Elections during National Exams
We did notice that this election was called out of the blues. The campaign period overlapped the Ordinary Level Examination. This caused great inconvenience to the students. This should cease.
For Good Governance Witch Hunting
Maithripala Sirisena suffered unprecedented number of insults by those who were in the opposing camp. He did not respond to any of those. He continued to practice loving kindness and tolerance towards such individuals. We sincerely hope that President Sirisena will continue to have the presence of mind, the will and confidence to stop political witch hunting paving the way for a political culture, free from vengeance. While there may surface allegations of corruption, it would be very wise to let the authorities which are mandated to investigate these be allowed to do so. POLITICIANS SHOULD NOT BE TASKED WITH CRIME FIGHTING. The public expects them to get down to business.
A National Planning Commission
As at now, we do not see any planning done at the national level. We need to set up an Independent National Planning Commission like in India. This will give direction to the country’s growth instead of carrying out ideas of individuals. Such a committee will immensely benefit from Late Mr. Lalith Athulathmudali’s ‘ Vision for the Country’ document.
A National Think Tank
As a country we need to fill the vacuum of not having an intelligent discourse on development. This has to be done by setting up a think tank involving relevant people, experienced as well as young. They should meet regularly to brainstorm and come up with ideas for the progress of the nation.
It is evident that the public is very keen on the appointments which the new government is making. People have already begun to question some of the appointments. For example the appointment of Harin Fernando as the Chief Minister for Uva, in my opinion is not only unethical but also illegal. Any appointment, should demonstrate good governance and prove to the people that the choice they made was the correct one. I personally feel that a majority of Elected Reps to Parliament have themselves have not realized the “ THE TRUE MEANING OF THIS ELECTION VICTORY “
It is customary that the President pardons prisoners from time to time. I believe that in future such pardons should be gazetted explaining the reasons why a certain prisoner was pardoned.
Writing off Loans
The cabinet should finally sanction the write off of loans of state banks. Another suggestion is that while that is being done, details of such an action should be gazetted for transparency .
Finally I wish to state that the cabinet that has been sworn in is fundamentally a Minority Government or in other terms , more or less a ‘caretaker government’ until a general election is called and a proper government is in place. Therefore the newly appointed ministers should be wise enough to cut the festivities and get on with the work. This should be the first step towards creating a political culture where
1.The government will take a moralistic stance instead of individualistic or traditional stance where only a few benefit.
2.Bureaucracy is neutral from party politics where patterns of participation allows everyone, in the best interest of the public
3.Patterns of competition should be over issues and not over political parties
I wish the caretaker government all the very best in their endeavours to ESTABLISH , promote and protect good governance.
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