Sri Lanka has witnessed in the recent past three major elections: two presidential and one local government. Another parliamentary election is slated for the near future. Much of national financial resources amounting to hundreds of millions of rupees, are being spent on these national events that consume so much administrative procedures, human resources, time and energy. One wonders how beneficial are elections to a country ridden with staggering debts and often with the begging bowl? The crooked and twisted ways practically all our post-independence era elections have meandered are not only shocking but to an enlightened citizenry appear mere folly and matter of a hilarious nature. On the one hand, regular and lawful elections must always be held without interruption while the question arises why so many and for what purpose? Is all the time, energy, planning and money spent on these events worthwhile, considering their ultimate outcome to the people. After all, democracy has to be a matter of involvement of all the people. As Abraham Lincoln envisaged it, democracy is based on franchise empowering the citizens to create a government by the people, of the people and for the people. These form the triple base of a true democratic way of life in a country. The more enlightened, mature, reflective and discerning the body of the citizens are, greater the possibility of a democratic choice becoming authentic and thus bringing a healthy
polity into existence.
Towards an enlightened polity
It is true that a multi-party system is a sign of a free and healthy democracy at work and thus facilitating the collective participation of the citizenry, which is the voting population in the exercise of franchise. The question however could be posed as to whether all voting individuals are consciously aware of their sacred duty by the country to make the right choice when they cast their votes as enlightened participants at elections at all levels. Is he being swayed by or unduly under pressure from one political party or group while voting? Is he able to understand issues in depth which help him decide on the best option to choose representatives of a governing body? To what extent are they able to understand the serious issues that beset the country? Are the voters being carried away by what they repeatedly hear from the media channels which are often biased and are failing miserably in presenting objectively and dispassionately the truth about issues that touch the life and struggles of the people?
Seventy-two years of independence have seen a series of elections that have put different major parties to power. The periods of absolute majority are too much of a temptation for the government in power to recklessly and irresponsibly decide on a rash course of political action that has adversely affected this country. The 1977 absolute majority government that brought in the executive presidency to this day remains a controversial political issue. In fact, there was recently a reformist current that fought the general election on whether to retain or abolish this type of political rule that gives unlimited power to the executive. We have seen both the benefits and the disasters of the executive presidency. There was that sudden sacking of the Prime Minister, which happened to be the worst comedy of errors in Sri Lanka’s political history.
The temptation to dictatorial rule remains always the risk of absolute-majority governments. However, one cannot forget the benefits as well, like the launching of the country into the free market economy and the institution of free trade zones. So is the defeat of terrorism that brought in a very sad and devastating destruction to the entire country for thirty years. Elections were fought on these issues and entire sections of the people were carried away by these election agendas. Yet, the same phenomena of populist politics is in vogue even at the present time. We have seen this happen in the last local government and presidential elections. Some of the promises made and pledges assured are rather slow to come by as we notice now. Those highly critical of the present are continuing to harp on the pledges not being carried out by the present government apparently struggling to fulfil its promises.
A people-friendly government will strive genuinely to work for the betterment of the people. Once elected and placed in power, their priority should be the service of the people
Party politics and Masses
There are very crucial issues that the country is facing at the moment. The ethnic question that profoundly disturbs the national unity is far from being resolved. No government seems to succeed in getting at that magic formula that will unify the majority Sinhala Buddhist south with the minority Tamil Hindu north and the ethnic-mix in the east. There is too much polarization still among these geographical and cultural units of our country. What exactly will catalyze the ethnic harmony that is so essential for national reconciliation and economic prosperity which have been already delayed for too long? What forces are preventing this reconciliation? Are political parties preaching extremist forms of communalism? One has to find out what the people in the North, East and South want. Are their aspirations to do with political devolution or economic development? The bitter lesson of history is that politics of whatever hue based on ethnicity, race, language or religion will inevitably bring disaster and untold suffering to a country. The racial riots of the 1950s, the black July of 1983, the frightful ethnic war that bled the country and some surreptitious communal trends that are spreading even at present spell eventual misfortune and downfall of this beautiful island-nation of the Indian ocean.
Politics at the service of the people
Together with the ethnic issue, the downturn of the national economy, the unemployed youth, the menace of drugs that has made Sri Lanka a big Asian hub, the rising cost of living, the unfortunate lot of the farmers and plantation workers are some of the serious issues that the voters must take into consideration when choosing governments. The truth of the matter is that promises are seductive but hard to fulfil and at the end of the day, it is the people who are cheated from election to election. Politicians are more interested in strategising their victory by any means possible. Elections are golden opportunities for the people to make right choices and put into power a decent and truth-telling government. They are not to be abused to just grab power at whatever cost.
We have come to a point when more and more minorities are getting alienated from the national majority and this phenomenon is not good omen. It is once again leading the country into social disintegration and fragmentation, instead of fostering harmony and goodwill in a cohesive manner. National unity is the most needed priority at the moment. All extremism has to be staunchly rejected and what must be done is to mend differences, diffuse conflicts and reconcile factions, We need politics of reconciliation which will heal the wounds of division, mistrust and alienation.
A people-friendly government will strive genuinely to work for the betterment of the people. Once elected and placed in power, their priority should be the service of the people. They will demonstrate this by occupying themselves with the most urgent issues that affect the people. Right now, national security and economic revival are definitely important. These can gather momentum only if national unity is also concurrently pursued. A Sri Lanka has to emerge where all citizens can put their hand to the plow and work together socially and politically for the well-being and the common good of their motherland. Failing in this task means total failure in all other endeavours, however praiseworthy and noble they are. The 72nd year of independence is a golden opportunity to renew this national resolution and walk towards a better and stable future for Sri Lanka.