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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2641

Fulcrum round which political protagonists should polarize

By Oscar E V Fernando

When several other countries that started together with Sri Lanka have solved or are solving similar problems such as ethnicity and religion, why have we not solved ours, even with our glorious and supposedly peaceful past?

Was freedom granted to us too abruptly after 500 years of subjugation and are we still trying to get used to it?: should the lions have been gradually released as in the style of the lion cub in the novel--Born Free?

The colonizers handed over to us a vibrantly flourishing economy—perhaps as vibrant as the ‘granary of the east’ economy that existed when we were invaded 500 years back: however the economy handed over to us by the colonizers was manned by the so called minorities purely because of their knowledge of English or adherence to a religion amenable to the rulers; this would have been as a result of the schools they attended—an inevitable fact that should have by now been maturely accepted without trying to load retribution on the progeny of the then minorities—thus trying to make it right by doing two wrongs. However the consequent enormous problem that has cropped up from this initial blunder of the colonizers has not been solved; now the avenging is causing the country to bleed to its death. Why?

This colonial era was pregnant with disaster, what with the Indian labor brought in to the country etc—and this disaster set in very rapidly and explosively immediately after freedom in the fifties, when various political forces capitalized on the issue to gain power. With this action, that seems a political folly when observed in retrospect, has come about the down fall of a booming economy that ran the country up till recent times on the fat and steam of this colonial economy. Having exhausted the fat and also the lean left over by the colonialists, we are now in debt to the world due to the extravagances and the many splendors of experiments pandering to a section of the majority that desires retribution on the progeny of the minorities that were used by the colonizers; this section of the majority has always been used to sway the vote base to capture power at every election up till now—in the very style predicted by Lord Soulbury in the forties when he said that the Ceylonese voters may swing like the pendulum; yes they seem to swing with each projection of a chinthanaya.

But it is now time for the leader of the country, the president to replace this brand of politics to statesmanship!!

Can such problems of ethnicity religion and the economy in the present context of our country be solved by consulting the vote base directly before it is examined minutely and dispassionately by an enlightened few or in a statesman like manner devoid of deep politics, as was attempted at the last peace process with peace dividends by the present leader of the opposition? Yes of course it has to go for a referendum eventually; the right moment would be when the peace dividends start paying off. Unfortunately this attempt was frustrated due to political rivalry also because of those outside politics who had coiled round him together with political drum beaters within.

It is also time for the leader of the opposition Mr Ranil Wickremasingha to uncoil himself for the betterment of the country and be free to be the statesman that he inherently is. His performance on this joint platform will surely give him a good chance to face elections with less money going around.

The conduct of the economy after freedom was a continued experiment with capitalism and a form of communism and that, like mixing oil with water, has so far failed. This was a colossal wastage of management funds, and a situation where the country could not evolve a clear cut national policy devoid of politics; very soon the bureaucracy of the nation was politicized leading to the introduction of public corporations for business ventures, evidently at that time eliminating the so far ‘pampered’ minorities to be replaced by the majority community ethnic and religious vice

This magnified the looming disaster further and is continuing to date to the very down fall of the nation with such ‘public ventures’, loaded with political appointees most of whom are non productive; consequently these have run into millions in debt to the treasury and the treasury in turn being indebted to the World Bank and other international financial institutions; now we are paying interest on the interest due, with inability to settle the loans to the outside world. This disaster was further aggravated;

With the introduction of Sinhala language as the official language within twenty four hours to the detriment of ethnic minorities; this expeditious change of official language has had the same repercussions as that expeditious granting of freedom by colonialists. Solving this problem has been most illusive over the years—strangely every solution at the very brink being scuttled by an almost unseen force—with the southerners obviously falling a prey to it and bungling the situation further for the past fifty nine years.

The language policy brought about communal estrangement now magnified into civil warfare that needs settlement within parameters of our deeply indebted and battered economy—an illusive problem not solved due to political rivalries, manly between the two major parties. The several abrogated peace pacts speak for it self. The recent ramifications of the last peace process speaks further on the political rivalry that surfaces each time a solution is at it’s brink. There has to be a reason for this continuation that is ruining society and also the economy. Couldn’t it be that some section of the civil community or even some country stands to benefit by this seemingly manipulated chaos?

Whilst all these sensitive problems cropped up in the south and the politicians were carrying on in gay abandon pampering to the majority and cajoling them for votes at alternative elections, and also dissipating the economy, the aspiration that existed among Tamils from the State Council days for a separate autonomy due to their preponderant position in the country during the colonial era, further nurtured by the proximity of their ethnic brethren just a few miles away in Tamil Nadu, India, grew in leaps and bounds; this aspiration turned a grievance with communal riots arising from the language issue, climaxing into a major grievance with the Black July caused by the killing of thirteen soldiers in the Tamil north.

The existence of the community of Tamils what ever be their origin, as much in doubt as that of the majority race, is a fact of life to be accepted as inevitable; this sensitive problem has been kicked around for far too long due to political rivalry of the two major parties. Time is running out and no amount of elections or referenda can solve this problem as long as the two major parties are divided and in this condition neither party could ever rest contended and worse, the country would be in eternal turmoil—with or without war as there are regional eagles waiting for the prey. Couldn’t the leaders of the two parties ever realize this ever present danger?

Only statesmanship will win.

Can these sensitive ethnic and religious problems be solved by consulting the vote base before a rational finality is reached and the voters gradually educated to meet it—though it may appear to be democratically sound to do so? It would be like the pithy saying in Sinhala—hora ge amma gen pena ahanawa wagi. Of course that pena would have to be consulted at the opportune time. Can this ever be done with the two major parties standing apart?

Shouldn’t we heed Winston Churchill’s admonition on democracy—many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one portends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

In the context of the ramified problems that Sri Lanka is embroiled in, one wonders whether our democracy has to be tainted with a streak of totalitarianism to solve our problems—as well said by another of our stalwart politicians the late Felix Dias Bandaranayke.

It is certainly in this imbroglio of communal passions prevailing in the country that late J R Jayewardena with his shrewd political wisdom created the political and constitutional office of the Executive Presidency with extensive powers given to it by the constitution. He surely would have meant it for a certain period until these passionate problems are solved. Just to point out the severity of this colossal office it is pointed out that contrary to a popular belief that J R Jayewardena introduced it to ensure perpetuity for his life term presidency, he stepped down and allowed late Ranasinghe Premadasa to take over—so says Bradman Weerakoon in his book Premadasa of Sri Lanka. He would have sensed that several explosive problems faced by the country could not at every turn be dealt within the parliament because it represents the very masses that are swayed by the sensitivity of the ongoing discussions.

We in Sri Lanka have been fortunate in that so far all our presidents have not abused the massive powers so vested in the office to the extent it could have been. Nevertheless this power has to be exercised with caution and firmness to solve the very sensitive problems that have beset the country.

It is in this context that the present president should be that strong fulcrum around which the various political forces that plague the country with differing and divergent political ‘isms’ must now polarize into set positions; this polarization may take some time but it will be worth the attempt.

Today we see political stalwarts taking bold steps with crossovers etc in a style never seen before. This is a sign that the body politic is shaken up for the good of the country, although some see it as crossovers for commercial gain. The defectors must not see this as a constructive criticism—very often it is destructive criticism that Sri Lankans are very adapt at. For that matter stones were thrown at late T B Illangaratne with stories of Swiss Bank accounts and he died almost a pauper. Stones were also thrown at late Gamini Dissanayeka with stories of apple orchards in Australia. Incidentally this writer presently vacationing in Australia has yet to discover these orchards so widely believed by some during his political lifetime and even now. When will such narrow infantile behavior ever stop in this land of the blessed!

Politics is power and it is height of hypocrisy for politicians and those others to say that politicians should not pursue power. If they do not hold on to power they would be letting down the voters. At this juncture of the country it is left to the other UNP’s to think of the country without wallowing in old party labels only. Whilst maintaining the label, new thinking must set in to save the country at this crucial stage. Why not make new moves and find new places for the different talents and skills of the UNPers.

The party must work out a strategy with the president to maintain their own identity to face the next election with their concerted performance as a group in the government—this will be followed by their vote base to the very end and the nation would be grateful to the party and to its leader who will surely get the chance he lost on the last occasion—at least he must negotiate and ensure it is so that he will gain votes for the vision he would so execute; at the same time the UNP must consider the reforms suggested by its defectors and make the changes in its constitution in a manner that would capture more votes in the future?

What else would prevent solutions to all vexed problems of the country, when compared to all other countries that have gone ahead? Could it be the manner in which we search for truth within, without that sense of altruism towards others that would bring a sense of solidarity with fellow communities? Together with this all important matter to ponder about, the lack of a solution could also be caused by a very cogent reason pointed out in a recent editorial of a news journal given here in extract.

“Today, having lost a string of crucial battles, the LTTE has obviously shifted its focus to the other fronts. It is funding a section of the media, sponsoring politicians and waging a battle against the government on the diplomatic front with the help of its allies in INGOs and UN agencies. It is also making a not so-hidden effort to effect a regime change, which has been a weapon it has used in the past very effectively. It is capable of turning political trouble in the south to its advantage, as we saw in the early 1990s, when it capitalised on the internal battles of the UNP. The assassination of UNP rebel and DUNF Leader Lalith Athulathmudali in April, 1993 triggered a political tsunami, which shook the very foundations of the Premadasa administration. Then the outfit used one of its sleepers by the name of Babu to remove President Premadasa physically from politics”

To this could be added the LTTE’s hand in the last presidential election where it ensured the defeat of the UNP whose leader nearly solved the ethnic issue with that international network—for which he was named the cunning fox.

This writer has on several other occasions pointed out that the master craftsman of the north is at every turn laying a spider’s web inviting the southern fly to its parlor and therefore couldn’t agree less with the editor who wrote this piece. Many were the times the extremists in the south got caught to this web. One clear case is the packing off of the IPKF from our shores as a joint action by the south with the LTTE—being enemies at war one side had to be dumb; your guess is good as mine as to who was dumb: now, the south wants Indian assistance to solve the ethnic issue. Isn’t it hilarious how the Bombay onions overnight turned to ‘B’ onions!!

To avoid such emotional outbursts in the ethnic front and similar out breakings in the religious front now in the making, it is hoped that the fulcrum which is the presidency will stand tall and strong without getting buffeted by the blowing of politic in the next few seasons—as he is well fortified by the constitution.

What ever be the time taken, let the president solve the several problems sensibly with forces he can work with—with forces his political ancestors had links with. He should carry on regardless of destructive criticisms such as the jumbo cabinet etc as this cost would be nothing compared to the cost of the country’s devastation in a war that those very critics want!!

- Asian Tribune -

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