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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2646

Democracy triumphs in Sri Lanka: Time to refocus on key Nation building blocks

By Raj Gonsalkorale

The political forces that gathered under the United National Party umbrella led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe have won the Sri Lankan general election of 2015, defeating the forces that gathered under the United Peoples Freedom Alliance led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

By whatever yardstick one measures the result of this election, the people of Sri Lanka appear to have chosen not to confer excessive power to any political party, and to move on from the past and work towards greater cohesion and integration amongst all ethnic groups in Sri Lanka, while respecting and acknowledging the differences among them.

No doubt it is the fervent hope of all citizens that all communities will accentuate their common characteristics rather than their differences, and accept Sri Lanka as a unitary nation where every citizen will have equal rights as a citizen, has every right to be assured of their security irrespective of where the live and every right to call any part of the island their home.

These basics had not been assured at different points in the past to all communities, and such shortcomings had led eventually to terrorism and war. It is hoped the new Parliament will take all necessary steps to make sure any constitutional and operation deficiencies associated with the basic rights of all citizens will be addressed, and that this will be looked at as a national issue and not a politically partisan issue.

Sri Lanka needs to redefine and reconfigure some basic nation building blocks to assure peace and prosperity to all its citizens.

In this regard, it is strongly suggested that the new Parliament develops a Bill of Rights and appoints a non-Parliamentary body to monitor compliance with such a Bill of Rights. This is an essential building block for nation building, particularly in a country emerging out of armed strife and discord that arose from inequalities and instances of discrimination.

Another key building block is the development of a long term plan for full implementation of the trilingual policy introduced by the previous Mahinda Rajapaksa administration. Ability to communicate better with each other is obviously the only way to break down barriers between different communities, and an essential element for reconciliation among communities.

Education policy is the other key building block that requires a national approach. The country has for too long been politically partisan about national policies on education. This should not be the case as the future peace and prosperity of the country depends on how the younger generations of today and the generations to come are educated in their formative years. A national curriculum that should be monitored and reviewed by a non-political expert body and not by politicians is another important building block that should be considered by the new parliament.

The environment in which a child grows up is the responsibility of the entire society. Religious leaders, civil society leaders, school teachers, university teachers, public and private sector institutions, and every importantly, the media, whether it’s the print media or the increasingly powerful social media, have a lot to do with creating a better environment in which a child could grow up.

In this context, the quality of politicians needs substantial improvement. They have to be role models for the younger generations, not models that have been despised by everyone in recent times. This is another important building block to build a decent, honest society.

Political parties should introduce very strict selection criteria for selection of candidates, and every political party should have a body to monitor the performance of their candidates.

Not only politicians, but religious leaders and civil society leaders also need to be role models for the younger generations. This has not been the case in many instances, and rather than respect and regard, some religious leaders who have involved themselves in politics, have been anything but religious or pious and have become the antithesis of role models for the younger generations.

The new Parliament should develop a very strict code of ethics with which all Parliamentarians will have to comply with and face pre-defined consequences if a monitoring body, hopefully a newly created independent body appointed by the Constitutional Council, finds noncompliance by any member of Parliament. Parliament might be supreme in terms of law making, but Parliamentarians are not supreme by any means.

Mr Ranil Wickremasinghe has called for a national plan for Sri Lanka that should be supported by all political parties. This is a commendable statement. In order to have their support, the development of such a plan should involve all political parties to ensure ownership of such a plan. Hopefully, it will include the nation building blocks that have been mentioned here.

The country has voted and made a decision who they wish to be governed by and how. There is a clear message they did not wish to confer too much power to any political party or an individual. The Prime Minister designate and his cabinet that will be sworn in soon, and his Parliamentary group must take heed of the fact that the voters have indicated they wish for power to be shared, and governance should be by discussion and compromise.

While giving a mandate for the UNP, they have also given a strong mandate to the UPFA to be a credible, strong and effective Opposition, and to work with the government where necessary on key national policies and to keep any excesses of the government in check.

In this respect, it is incumbent on the Prime Minister designate Mr Ranil Wickremasinghe to have a dialogue with the former President and defeated Prime Ministerial candidate Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has indicated he will be in Parliament, and who has considerable influence amongst a large section of the electorate, to discuss and agree on areas of cooperation, and the formulation of a national policy on the key building blocks mentioned here and other areas of the national plan mentioned by Mr Wickremasinghe.

- Asian Tribune -

Democracy triumphs in Sri Lanka: Time to refocus on key Nation building blocks
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