President Abraham Lincoln had said “The Ballot is stronger than the Bullet. Sri Lankans using the ballot elected the present President - for a change - to establish good governance and rule of law as a “peace dividend” for the betterment of the people.
The President has already taken certain steps to fulfill some of the pledges given during the Presidential election campaign – 19th Amendment is a major step in that direction. It looks some voters do not seem to understand the implications with regard to endemic corruption, arbitrary abuse of power etc. Due to autocratic style, freedom of speech, democratic mechanisms for accountability, independence of the judiciary did not exist during the previous regime.
What is happening right now? Colloquially we say in Sinhala ‘CHANDA-GUNDU’ and voters need to realise that every politician knows the promises during election campaign need not be fulfilled. They use CHANDA-GUNDU heavily in an attempt to attract more votes and the voter gets carried away at every single election. The wise old saying – “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”, does not seem to apply to our voters. It is, therefore, a crucial decision for the well-meaning public who should use their vote wisely without getting caught to false propaganda and promises; I quote “Money and corruption are ruining the land, crooked politicians betray the working man, pocketing the profits and treating us like sheep, and we are tired of hearing promises that we know they’ll never keep” Ray Davies.
Life for Sri Lankans continued to be a never-ending struggle even after winning the war. Hence, the countrymen raised the question why should people suffer endlessly when war related wasteful expenditure had ceased; politicians led wasteful luxurious lives. Public money wasted; Corruption, nepotism, misuse of government assets, funds, abuse of power, lack of planning for industrialisation continued unabated for private gain.
Furthermore, state funds had been disbursed to fictitious accounts and non-existent public works. We are, therefore, at crossroads to ascertain how we should govern ourselves in the coming decades. We should re-position our plans to determine our future, which should necessarily provide for new possibilities of ethnic harmony, co-operation and unity across a plural civilisational landscape.
In fact, corruption curtails economic prosperity and deprives the children of poor households from their basic rights, eg. education and good health. Corruption affects the poor and middle class adversely and denies their human rights,constitutional and even their other basic rights as a citizen. Corruption in the Sri Lankan context is grand because it involves large transactions, high-level politicians and bureaucrats.
The last Presidential election, therefore, became the turning point and the masses supported and voted overwhelmingly for the purpose – A CHANGE.
The President dissolved Parliament on June 26, fixed the election for the August 17 and the new Parliament is due to be convened on September 01 – the total estimated cost of the election process is over Rs. 4 billion.
Let me now take one example from the Canadian Parliament. A law has been now enacted in Canada requiring corporate executives, immigrants, taxpayers and others to act with honesty. Canadians are now mounting pressure on politicians for passing a law requiring politicians and government officials also not to give false promises to win elections and mislead the public.
My argument is that we have to place trust in the change we made. We cannot reverse it at any cost. Those who did not fulfil their promises are now making seemingly great promises. We must listen carefully to all what they say and elect clean, capable candidates with commitment, who can be effective Parliamentarians – who can strengthen the hands of the President.
It must be emphasised we need intelligent, effective and efficient governance in this country at present. Leadership is not about the next election alone. It is about the next generation and more. Our leaders did not have the competence to take the advantage of the huge potential in our people by giving them the correct direction to achieve sustainable development and economic growth. Our failure is by design and they have, therefore, pushed a large percentage of citizens to a life time of poverty.
It may also be interesting for our readers to consider what happened in the 19th century, as railways were spreading across Britain and the United States. When a proposal to build a railway was put before Francis I, Emperor of Austria, he was still haunted by the spectre of the 1789 French Revolution and replied, “No. No. I will have nothing to do with it, in case the revolution might come in to the country”. The same thing happened in Russia until the 1860s. With the new technologies blocked, the Tsarist regime was safe, at least for a while. As Britain and the United States grew rapidly, Austria and Russia failed to do so. It was in the 1840s that Britain was undergoing a railway mania, where more than 6000 miles of track had been completed for the Britishers.
How unlucky are we in this country? We have destroyed what Britishers gave us too. The former regime failed to improve our railways. If railways were improved, it could have benefitted the masses immensely. They preferred to invest heavily on roads and highways. Had they improved the railway, it could have served both the public and earned their commissions too!! This is why I argue that the former regime did not have the visionaries to take the country forward after winning the war.
I would, therefore, imagine we need to elect representatives who are able to perform their legislative, representative and oversight functions well. We have a law professor in Parliament lowly misleading the public. They want only to grab power spreading lies and bitterness. It is a pity Vasudewa Nanaykkara and many others, with long years of experience in Parliament, did not behave the way the public expected. We must also take precautions not to elect those who are over 70 years. Let us send capable, young representatives who are new to politics.
President in a speech requested the voters to send good, capable and clean representatives to Parliament. It appears a National government consisting of different parties would be the best alternative at this juncture in our country.
It is obvious there is a silent cold war in Sri Lanka at present. This should not be allowed to deteriorate further. There was a period due to the war, although there was an internationally recognised government, their authority was exercised in a restricted area only. In the North and East there were no laws, no political positions, no administrators, no police – in other words no government. We now need an effective and efficient state, where rule of law and good governance is restored in every nook and corner in the country,now that the war is over. We have to learn to respect civic rights, minority rights, human rights and ethnic harmony without which there is no hope of providing order, an effective system of laws, mechanisms for resolving disputes, or basic public goods.