Head of the Department of Philosophy at University of Peradeniya, Dr. Charitha Herath speaks to Daily Mirror about the current political trends and the future. Dr. Herath also served as the Media Ministry Secretary during the former rule and as the Chairman of the Central Environment Authority.
It is nothing but name-throwing!
Pooling votes polled by all at LG Polls to show as a majority against SLPP is wrongful argument
It is similar to Grade 5 student ranked fourth trying to be first by staking a claim for marks received by others
Only this government held ministry officials answerable to implementing Cabinet decisions
How do you look at the current political situation?
It is a complex situation. It is a sad situation we are facing now. Politically, what happened at these local government elections is that the so-called 2015 mandate for the government has been challenged and defeated.To me, that mandate is gone now. It is not the number of votes that matter here. The 2015 mandate has been challenged ideologically as well.
There is no atmosphere for that ideology to prevail now. The government is functioning without a mandate from an ideological point of view. As a result, the government is confronted with an internal struggle to get out of the mess it is entangled in. This is the drama we see ever since the results of the local elections were put in the public domain. People cannot see real governance today.
Those who govern tend to forget what happened at the elections on February 10, 2018. It is the second episode of the political drama we see today. Only those within the government believe that there is a government. Others do not believe in it.
There is an argument emanating from the government that the number of votes polled at these elections by the parties that were together in 2015 still exceeds the total votes obtained by Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). It is argued that the 2015 mandate is still intact as a result. What is your view?
The nature of that argument is wrong. The United National Party (UNP), for example, sought votes based upon their performance. In fact, Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) headed by President Maithripala Sirisena disputed the performance of the UNP at the elections. I read the votes polled by the President’s party as an expression against the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister received votes in contrast to votes of the President. If somebody tries to pool the two baskets of votes into one for the sake argument, it will be misleading. The President and the Prime Minister were placed in contrast with each other at the election.
As I have said at television debates, such an argument by pooling the votes of SLFP/UNP/TNA and JVP to show as a majority against the SLPP is similar to an argument that a Grade 5 student, who ranked 4th in the class text, is claiming that he should be considered as the first by giving marks of the Second, the Third and the Fourth rankers together! By the way, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is the main opposition. At least it is what public knows. How can one put the votes polled by the main opposition along with those obtained by the ruling parties?
This is a complicating argument. It is a ridiculous argument. It does not make any political sense.
At the 1956 election, Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) - led front headed by SWRD Bandaranaike polled 36% of votes. But, they had got the parliamentary majority. Likewise, one has to consider the number of local bodies won each by party in correspondence with the number of votes polled. This was an election meant for securing power at the local bodies. The SLPP won 70% of local bodies this time.
There is an argument that the government lost because it failed to take action based upon the 2015 mandate. The civil society organizations that backed the government say the defeat was due to the failure to punish those involved in corruption and frauds. What is your view?
One part of their argument is correct. The government is lost. That is true. But, why the government lost is a different story. First, the government was not intelligent enough to manage of any of the affairs it was supposed to do. They raised expectation of the people that there would be an impressive economic growth.
They compared it to a Singapore-like growth. They created dreams for people. They acted in the exact opposite way after coming to power. They did a lot of damage to the economy of this country. The bond fraud at the Central Bank was a grave crime. There is a mismatch of what they preached and what they did.
Next, they harboured suspicions about people in the government apparatus - bureaucrats etc. As a result, the government machinery was not working properly. It is not working up to now. The officials of the state machinery were under the impression that they would be faulted if they worked.
They thought they would be penalized by the CID or the FCID. So, they stayed away from taking decisions. The government cannot understand the kind of influence they made on these people in the state machinery. Bureaucrats were not working at all. They have justification for that position. It was difficult for them to decide what to be done or not. For an example, this government disputed the Cabinet decisions of the previous government and implementation of them.
For running a government, you have to have a mechanism identified. The Cabinet of Ministers is considered as the high ranking decision making body. It should be read as ‘If you implement a Cabinet decision, it amounts to the implementation of people’s mandate’. The Cabinet of Ministers is governing side of the people’s representation.
Never in history were the Cabinet decisions questioned as this government does today. This government questioned the decisions of the then Cabinet and held officials who implemented them answerable. How can the officials respond to it?
"I do not know what the country needs in the name of Yahapalanaya. I think the people voted against the previous rule in 2015 as things did not happen in the proper way as per their thinking"
The government talked a lot about concepts such as good governance and reconciliation. How do you look at them from the western and our indigenous points of view?
In election mechanism, we sometimes bring undefinable concepts. Definitions are not suresuch election rhetoric typed concepts. It is something like salvation or Nirvana. The Yahapalanaya is such a kind of concept. You can interpret anything as yahapalanaya and not as yahapalanaya as well. There are not definite meanings for these kinds of words. Some people thought Yahapalanaya is something about punishing wrong doers. The other people though it is the continuation of development work that was started. Some think that Yahapalanaya is something related to removing the executive presidency.
There are those who thought yahapalanaya is nothing but punishing those involved in fighting the war. Likewise, there were thousands of meanings for these Yahapalanaya. It is not a concept that should be tested in a political domain. Different people see it in different ways. The JVP had its own way of looking at it. The TNA also had its own interpretation.The UNP thought differently. They thought they were in the opposition for 20 odd years. For them, Yahapalanaya means ensuring some benefits for their supporters. The Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) thought that punishing those whom they do not like is Yahapalanaya.
Then, the Prime Minister referred to the Lichchavi principles found in the Buddhist texts. In fact, Yahapalanaya and Lichchavi Dhamma are two different concepts. This is nothing but name –throwing as we call in philosophy. You can throw a lot of names. But, you cannot deliver on them.
Now look at the issue created by this government on Social Media. I know this subject since I remained engaged with the media works as the permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Media and Information during the 2012/2015 period. Today, social media is not only a platform but also a network for people. People live within that network. It is now part of their lives. People engage in their routine work and businesses in this network. If you block it, people will assume that their rights are taken away.
How can one read yahapalanaya and the ban on social media together? How can one read Lichchavi Dhamma and the postponement of elections together? You cannot do it.
If you maintain Lichchavi principles, you will have to sustain democracy.
What does the country need under these circumstances in your view?
I do not know what the country needs in the name of Yahapalanaya. I think the people voted against the previous rule in 2015 as things did not happen in the proper way as per their thinking. There was much bogus political rhetoric was created against the previous government.True, there were a lot of mistakes that happened. I think the people thought of a proper mechanism to replace that regime in order to speed up development. But, this government, I think, took it in a different way. They stopped the development momentum overnight. They unleashed a witch-hunt of those who governed. Now, three years have lapsed. We do not find any mega development projects started afresh. Nothing happened but a lot of talks continue.
"The government is lost. That is true. But, why the government lost is a different story. First, the government was not intelligent enough to manage of any of the affairs it was supposed to do"
You served in that government as a bureaucrat. What went wrong with that government?
There were certain things that the previous regime was not addressing properly. The one main issue was criticism coming from one part of the government. For example, MP Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera was making some criticism as a government member. There were some internal squabbles in the party. There was some imbalance among the ministries. There was the belief that some ministers were given more and better responsibilities than others. There were some issues that should have been addressed. Some sections of the government broke away as a result.
There was a very clear Western Bloc that is against the government due to the fact that Mahinda Rajapaksa ignored the western countries in making the decision on the final stage of the war. Those Western actors (of cause, including some big Eastern powers as well) worked against the government in many different ways. Those campaigns operated from Geneva to Colombo. That was one main issue which was not able to manage. In the social media, young people were given prospects of better lives under a new regime. Young people got carried away. We also faced anti-incumbency feelings. The SLFP-led alliances were in power for the last 20 odd years. It means young people were familiar only with such form of governance.
What is your view on western model of democracy in the context of new powers rising in the world?
There are a lot of issues to be addressed. But we failed in fronts. We were not able to find a mechanism to address our social issues through this system?
People are represented by 225 members in Parliament. The members are assigned to devise policies and laws. People were doing their job people whereas their representatives were not. These representatives should engage in serious decision making.
Do you see any mismatch between what this government promised and what it implements now in terms of democracy?
There is a complete mismatch. They raised expectations of people saying that their economic projects and plans were very advanced. Today, everybody experiences that these are way below those of the last government.