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Reining in ethnicity based politics

10 January 2020 05:10 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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  • People who elected me to office desire a profound change in the political culture
  • Reject politics based on petty agendas that have sown  division in our society
  • Impossible to manipulate politics by playing the role of kingmaker
  • An unstable Parliament under the influence of extremism is not one that suits the country

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s policy statement made in Parliament last Friday has been outshone by alleged telephone conversations -- between United National Party (UNP) MP Ranjan Ramanayake and various police officers as well as judges -- which have now gone viral on social media.   

The movie star cum politician seems to have influenced police officers and judges who have handled high-profile cases during the past regime through telephone conversations and one-on-one meetings. Interestingly, he had recorded such conversations and stored them in CDs for hitherto unknown reasons.  
If the voice recordings seized from his official residence at Madiwela are in fact authentic, collecting these conversations are far more dangerous than his seeming influence on police officers and judges when it comes to law and order and judicial independence as he may use these audio clips to blackmail relevant individuals in the future. However, leaders of the incumbent government can do the same.  


Copies of these CDs have -- within hours of seizure -- gone into the hands of many government politicians and monks who now rightly question the independence of the police and judiciary during the past government. However, their allegations that politicians in the past regime were hand in glove with officers of the police and judiciary in handling high-profile cases have started to boomerang with the question as to how these CDs reached them.  
Politicians influencing the police and judiciary is not a new phenomenon in Sri Lanka -- it is not confined to a particular political party either. While in office, former President Maithripala Sirisena accused the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime of phoning judges from Temple Trees. He once said a former Chief Justice requested him to extend his tenure while promising to deliver judgments as the President pleased. Hence, it is inappropriate to allow this “traditional” scandal to eclipse some of the pivotal points including national reconciliation underscored during the President’s policy statement. 


In fact, those issues have to be considered in unison with a constitutional amendment presented a few days ago by former Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe to revise the cut-off point for political parties to be eligible for parliamentary and provincial council seats, as both views seem to reject the political identities of minority communities.  
During his policy statement, President Rajapaksa said: “The people who elected me to office desired a profound change in the political culture of this country. They rejected political agendas founded on race. The majority of people proved it was no longer possible for anyone to manipulate and control politics of this country by playing the role of kingmaker. I invite the politicians concerned to understand this stark reality. I call upon everyone to join the national undertaking of developing the country and to reject politics based on petty agendas that have sown division in our society in the past.”  

 

"It is true that too many political parties in a country might be harmful to stability, but at the same time, suppression of political views that manifest in the form of political parties would threaten the very foundation of democracy"


Nobody would have had the slightest doubt that he referred to south-based smaller political parties such as Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), Communist Party of Sri Lanka (CPSL), Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) which had contributed to the kingmaking process, and anyone would have visualised the expressions on the faces of minority communities leaders including Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) chief Rauff Hakeem and Ceylon Workers’ Congress (CWC) leader Arumugam Thondaman who had been accused in this respect in the past.   
It is however noteworthy that the President contradicted himself in saying “they rejected political agendas founded on race. The majority of people proved that it is no longer possible for anyone to manipulate and control politics of this country by playing the role of kingmaker.” Wasn’t the agenda of the “majority” of people founded on race, had they purposely and consciously proved “it is no longer possible for anyone to manipulate and control politics of this country by playing the role of kingmaker”?  


What did the President expect from political parties representing minority communities when he said: “I call upon everyone to join the national undertaking of developing the country and to reject politics based on petty agendas that have sown division in our society in the past”? Does he want them to dissolve their parties and join his just not to become kingmakers?   
During elections, any party representing majority or minority communities will put forward conditions or demands when they coalesce with any one of the two main parties. Even the first and only chief minister of the now-defunct North-East Provincial Council Varadharaja Perumal and leaders of a few other small Tamil parties who rooted for Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the presidential poll sought solutions to the ethnic issue -- the then opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa promised them on August 5 last year to implement his famous ‘13+’ formula. How do agendas and demands of some minority parties become unifying ones and those of some others become “agendas that have sown division in our society”?   
At the tail end of his policy statement, the President said: “Although elections can be won through numbers, an unstable Parliament that cannot take clear decisions and remains constantly under the influence of extremism is not one that suits the country.” Here too he was obviously not referring to JHU, PHU, LSSP, CPSL or at least the parties of Perumal and Karuna Amman, the former special commander of the LTTE for Ampara and Batticaloa Districts, who are now with the President’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). How come one party becomes extremist while another does not when both seek solutions to similar issues?  


MP Wijeyadasa’s constitutional amendment to enhance the percentage of votes from 5 to 12.5 for political parties to be entitled to seats in Parliament also seems to target parties of minority communities. However, it would threaten the existence of other smaller parties such as JVP, JHU, PHU and NFF. It will also push all minor and minority parties to come under the control of the two main parties for survival, except for a few in the north and east which can win seats in those provinces.   
It is true that too many political parties in a country might be harmful to stability, but at the same time, suppression of political views that manifest in the form of political parties would threaten the very foundation of democracy. It is not difficult to understand JHU leader Patali Champika Ranawaka who while responding to Wijeyadasa’s constitutional amendment said his party and JVP would have to go to jungles to do politics if that amendment was implemented.   
Despite motives to decry race based politics, one has to accept that it is a hindrance to true national reconciliation, as it pushes people to think on ethnic lines at every election. The proportional representation (PR) system is far more divisive than the existence of ethnicity based parties. It divides people on ethnic lines even in districts where minorities are minimal and race based parties would not contest. It is only a soothing memory now that there was a time when the first-past-the-post system was in force where people voted for the candidate of their party without considering their ethnicity.   

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