I have been closely following the various statements made by the politicians from the government and the opposition regarding the possibility of forming a national government after the August 2015 General Election.
The Prime Minister has stated that the entire Parliament will be made into a government to carry out the future economic and social plans for the country’s development, whereas the former President who has again come into the political arena after hibernation for over 6 months is vehemently opposed to forming a national government and with usual mucho has stated that the Prime Minister has accepted defeat and that is the reason why he is calling for a national government.
It is also revealed by some sections of the public and politicians as well as the so called “political gurus” are strongly under the view that the former President together with his close henchmen who are notorious for misleading the general public are shouting from the roof tops about foreign conspiracies as well as the Tamil Diasporas, NGOs trying to destabilize the country and that the President and his government are now carrying out their policies to satisfy the US.
These critics have gone to the extent that the CIA and RAW are active in Sri Lanka to prevent the former President coming into power again and further curtail Chinese influence in this strategic Island in the Indian Ocean. The Chinese are trying to gain a strong foothold in Sri Lanka to keep their sea routes safe for economic and military activities. It is no secret that Chinas has deployed nuclear submarines that used to dock in the Colombo harbour regularly and such visits will increase considerably if the Port City Project which I analyzed earlier becomes a reality.
Further the strong supporters of the former President who have been accused of wrong doing are trying to come back to power apparently to squash all criminal inquiries against them. It should be stated that no one is guilty of such criminal acts unless proved and these former law makers are accusing the present government for taking revenge from their opponents by instituting charges against them.
With the above background, I will now attempt to give some thoughts of a national government which is unique in Sri Lanka after independence.
However the Father of the Nation D.S. Senanayake had advocated such an endeavor during the Legislative Council days as far back as 1920’s which is well documented in the biography of D. S. Senanayake published by the Senanayake Foundation in 2013. I had the fortune of purchasing this book about a year back but was too busy without studying it till a few days ago.
D.S Senanayake was a true statesman who had the country and its people at heart and did not amass wealth or fame but was a son of the soil who fought for our Independence.
Donoughmore Constitution and the State Council
In Page 64 of the biography, it is stated that “The acceptance of the Donoughmore Constitution was an important turning point in the political history of Sri Lanka as it gave rise to the State Council in 1931 where for the first time the elected representatives entered the realm of the Executive which hitherto was the prerogative of the Colonial Government. On 10 July 1931, the heads of all Executive Committees were announced. In the election process, seven representatives of the people were elected by secret ballot as Chairman of each Committee and they were designated “Ministers”.
“The elected Ministers were 1. D.B. Jayatilaka -Home Affairs 2. D. S. Senanayake -Agriculture and Lands 3. C.W.W.Kannangara –Education 4. H.M. Macan Markar - Communication and Works 5. Peri Sundaram – Labour Industry and Commerce 6. T. B. Pannabokke –Health 7. C. Batuvantudave –Local Administration. The Chief Secretary was the Chairman of the Board of Ministers and D.B. Jayatilaka was elected Vice Chairman.”
It is also reported that none of the Northern Tamils were represented in the State Council as they boycotted the 1931 General Election and thereby denied representation from Jaffna, Kayts, Kankesenturai, and Point Pedro.
I would also quote from page 67. It has been stated that no member of the Board of Ministers utilized the Donoughmore Constitution to the advancement of Sri Lanka as D.S. Senanayake did. He was fully aware that holding executive power was meaningless; unless the real benefits are passed down to the people. He also knew that his position should be utilized to the utmost for Sri Lanka to achieve self-government.
Identifying agriculture as the main income of the rural masses and the non –availability of water being the biggest obstacle, he engaged in restoring all ancient tanks and even embarked on huge irrigation schemes. He opened up the dry zone which was the granary of ancient Lanka, settling landless villagers in his vast colonization schemes .He was also wise to the fact that national unity is absolutely necessary to prevent the fragmentation of the country. With these ideals in mind D.S. Senanayaske planned and plodded his way inching towards achieving Independence during the sixteen year period of the Donoughmore Constitution”.
The Executive Committee System of the National State Council
The concept of a national government in the present context should emulate the Executive Committee chaired by D.S. Senanayake Minister of Agriculture and Lands. Chapter 5 of the biography states that the other members of the Executive Committee were P.B. Nugawela, E.A. Obeysekera, A. Fellows Gordon, J.L .Kotalawela, E.W. Abeugunasekera and A.F. Rajapakse.
Although D.S. Senansyake did not approve such a system at the beginning, he soon realized that the Executive Committee system was a useful tool to achieve the ideal of Self –Government.
Referring to a debate on the “Reforms of the Constitution “D.S. Senanayake stated in the State Council in July 19 1932: “Sir, when the Donoughmore Report was accepted, I was one of those rather apprehensive of the success of the Committee System. At that time I was not certain how the Constitution would work and what difficulties we would have to contend with. But since I have been in charge of a Committee for about a year I must say that my faith in the Committee system has increased considerably. It may be, Sir, due to the fact that I have in my Committee very sincere workers who are concerned with the welfare of the country and who have not been trained in the art of talking merely for talking. Their life, it may be, has been devoted to work and they are not professional talkers who are anxious to split hairs and rise debates on any subjects. The members of my Committee have always taken a practical view of things, and their assistance and advice have been of greatest value to me”.
The reader could now judge to what despicable levels our Parliament has deteriorated where even members are scolded in filth by the so-called senior parliamentarians. The august assembly has turned into a talk shop where majority of members accuse each other and try to split hairs contrary to the State Council where there was constructive criticism.
The members of the Executive Committee of the State Council were great patriots who were from the educated class and always had the poor peasant’s interests at heart.
Unlike the present partition politics where political parties are trying to convince the voters that they will look into their welfare after winning the election, the former philanthropists who were given executive power never misused such power and did not forget the voter after elected to office.
We presently witness the various talk shows and debates under various names aired by the electronic media who do not show any non partition approach as their executives are biased and have political leaders as their favorites whether now in power or defeated at the last election. Further, the politicians who are in these debates bring their supporters as cheer leaders. It is sad that politics has gone to such low depths that these events have become stage comedies.
A National Government for Good Governance
If the concept of good governance is to be firmly established in Sri Lanka, I would strongly advocate to form various legislative Committees under the 30 ministries as envisaged after the General Election. Each Committee should be an executing body comprising of parliamentarians from all parties chaired by the respective minister. The members should strive to be non partition and work on a common agenda as contained in the 2 or 5 year medium to long term policy objectives of the relevant ministry in harmony with long term National Plan for Sri Lanka legislated by Parliament. Each Committee member should take full responsibility for decisions taken collectively.
It is of utmost importance that before these Committees are constituted all party leaders must meet and identify the commonalities for economic and social advancement of the country based on the National Master Plan. The professionals should play an active role in formulating the National Master Plan and also advise the Executive Committees on strategic matters related to the particular ministry such as health, education, finance and planning, environment, natural resources etc.
It is also important that the views of the general public should be ascertained and also entertains complaints against law makers and government officials and such ombudsmen should be appointed to each ministry as well as local government bodies.
The constitutionality of such committees should be debated and agreed to by all parties that will be represented in the next Parliament.
Confrontational politics in Sri Lanka since 1951
There were three major political upheavals that led to the emergence of confrontational politics in Sri Lanka since 1951 and after gaining independence in 1948.
The first was the resignation of the Leader of the House on 12 July 1951 which was due to a misunderstanding that he will not be the next Prime Minister and the Father of the Nation was to nominate his son as the next Prime Minister. This was mainly precipitated by the Leader of the House who was a sworn enemy of another senior minister whom he defeated in 1956 with the support of the “Puncha Maha Balawegaya” namely the” Sanga, Weda, Guru, Govi, and Kamkaru” and this gave rise to a new coalition of the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna whose main constituent was the Sri Lanka Freedom Party led by the then Prime Minister S.W.R.D.Bandaranayake.
The ‘Sinhala Only’ policy of the government in 1956 alienated the minority communities especially the Tamils as competence in Sinhala was made compulsory to enter government service. The frustrations of the minorities culminated in their seeking premature retirement and leaving their motherland to seek fresh pastures abroad. This was the second political upheaval that led to confrontation.
In this regard I would like to quote the late Lee Kuan Yew, the world renowned statesman who took Singapore from the Third World to the First in his biography “One Man’s View of the World” page 73: “When Singapore became independent in 1965, a group from the Chinese Chamber of Commerce came to me to lobby for Chinese to be chosen as the national language. I told them –you have to fight me first. Nearly five decades have lapsed and history has shown that the ability to speak English and to communicate with the world has turned out to be one of the most important factors in Singapore’s growth story.”
The third major political upheaval leading to confrontation was the republican constitution of 1978 in Sri Lanka and the change of the electoral system to the proportionate system taking into consideration the votes cast to each political party on a district system. This was the final episode that culminated in division of the voters into various political parties and the escalating violence at all elections whether it is a Presidential, General or Provincial Elections , election to Pradeshiya Sabahas, Municipal Councils etc. It is a well known fact that the 18th Amendment further escalated the violence leading to deaths, mayhem, racial hatred etc. The racists have now emerged in significant numbers and try to brain wash the electorate that external forces such as the Diasporas, NGOs, imperialists from the west, neocolonialists, violent religious groups etc are trying to influence the voters to bring their favourite politicians into power.
Results of the Presidential Election on January 8 (2015)
For the first time in the political history of Sri Lanka the General Secretary of a ruling political party which had a two thirds majority in Parliament resigned and contested its leader who was in power for over 9 years .
This was possible due to the support the present leader of Sri Lanka got from the entire opposition as well as civil society and others who had suffered due to discrimination , high cost of living as well as corruption, favouritisms, family dandyism etc. This was the first step to eliminate such unethical practices and bring about a just and free society in Sri Lanka.
This victory also proved that political parties with divergent policies could work in harmony for the people of Sri Lanka without any racial or religious discrimination and always formulating far sighted national policies for economic and social advancement.
The General Election of August 17 (2015)
The President of Sri Lanka who is also the President of the two major groups in the opposition of the previous government has declared that he will remain neutral at this election and will not support any political party. This is contrary to the principles of an executive presidency but his declaration that there should be a national government augurs well for strengthening democracy in Sri Lanka.
Whatever the outcome of the General Election, it is time our political leaders give up confrontational politics and join hands to develop the country taking a glaring example from D.S. Senanayake the Father of the Nation who toiled hard giving up his personal comforts and uniting all races to win our freedom in 1948 and laying a sound foundation for the development of the dry zone.
It is surprising that this statesman had a vision to make Sri Lanka self-sufficient in food and he spoke of food security over 65 years back!
My humble advice to all political leaders in Sri Lanka is to read the biography of D.S. Senanayake –The reflection of Parakramabahu which consists of 8 chapters as this could be a valuable guide for good governance .Most of the speeches he made in the National State Council were never confrontational and were aimed at bringing unity among all races and religions in this country. I would now like to quote from the Prime Minister the Leader of Independent Lanka when he addressed the nation of 4 February 1948.
“To day is a very special day. It’s a day that brings happiness to all Sri Lankans. For four hundred odd years our forefathers , who were willing to sacrifice their lives to protect Sri Lanka that was a free country for more than two thousand years , unable to protect that freedom , had to hand the country to the English people some hundred odd years ago. Years after the handing over, however, the control of our Lanka has again come back to us”
“Today all of us must be contended that we were able to achieve independence without a violent struggle, without spilling blood. I believe that we were able to achieve our goal only because we acted only because we acted according to our religious beliefs and rejected armed struggle and thereby abandoned the spilling of blood”
“Now the time we are celebrating Independence, let all of us Sinhalese , Tamils , Muslims , Burgers and all those have links to Sri Lanka , unite in brotherly love to rise with determination seeking development of our country and our people”.
It is now opportune for every Sri Lankan including out law makers to look back in retrospect whether the words of this great statesman were followed and the reasons for all this hatred, enmity, confrontation and distrust among our society arose and how to build a united Sri Lanka as envisaged by the Father of the Nation at the time of Independence.
As a tribute to this great statesman, I propose that Parliament and all government institutions carry a very touching photograph of D.S. Senanayake driving a bullock cart through a flooded river bank on an inspection tour of one of his colonization schemes when he was minister of agriculture (opposite page 107). This is in stark contrast to our present day politicians who drive in convoys in bullet proof cars! It is best to analyze what alienated our rulers from those they rule!
My main objective in writing this article is how to eliminate confrontational politics and work on policies that are common to all political parties irrespective from what shades they belong to – blue , green ,red, yellow etc. and strive to develop the country collectively especially adopting paradigms of social and economic policies that are acceptable to the people without any racial and religious discrimination.
To this end I like to quote the President in his recent speech at the opening of a CWE Complex at Kilinochchi when he said that he hopes to develop the country without any boundaries and as a united and a unitary state.
I now call upon the voters of the country to think carefully before you cast your vote - whether you are sending the correct candidate to our supreme body that formulates policies beneficial to the country and the three arms of good governance namely the legislature, executive and the judiciary work independently without any interference from lawmakers! I am confident that the voter will make the correct judgment to make Sri Lanka a prosperous country with a free and just society after August 17 !
(The writer is a retired United Nations ESCAP officer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org )