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The people and Sri Lankan elections

“The Sinhala people- the majority- have to view these elections as an opportunity to demand critical issues such as pervasive corruption, nepotism, favouritism, lack of accountability, disrespect for the rule of law and politicization of all national institutions are brought to an end to ensure good governance.”

By: Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

(December 03, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The presidential election will be held on 26th January'2010, two years ahead of schedule, and the general election on due time, soon thereafter in Sri Lanka. The circumstances under which these elections take place will be different from those prevailing over the past three decades. Two JVP insurgencies and the long running Tamil militancy had negatively affected elections held in the past few decades. Emergency regulations and anti- terrorism laws of a draconian nature were in force and continue to be so. The JVP and the LTTE were in a position at the height of their respective and on one occasion combined powers to subvert the free expression of popular will in areas under their influence and distort the state-people relationship considerably.

The response of the government and the national political parties were reactive in nature and directed at eliminating the symptoms-violence was met with counter violence - while not simultaneously attempting to address the root causes. Civil liberties and rule of law were enfeebled and impunity entrenched. The state and its agencies have progressively become insensitive to issues relating to civil liberties and the rule of law. The state and its agencies have also as a result ceased to reflect the values of the island's people and the national ethos. The causative factors leading to the JVP insurgencies and the Tamil militancy yet remain unresolved.

The defeat of the LTTE has ensured the possibility the elections next year can be held in conditions that are freer and conducive to discussion of issues that are critical at this juncture of our history. However, free expression and a wide -ranging public debate can take place only if the emergency regulations are withdrawn and the anti-terrorism regulations suspended. The public services, police and armed forces should play their assigned constitutional role in these elections and prevented from interfering in this process and distorting results.

The Sinhala people- the majority- have to view these elections as an opportunity to demand critical issues such as pervasive corruption, nepotism, favouritism, lack of accountability, disrespect for the rule of law and politicization of all national institutions are brought to an end to ensure good governance. The cost of living and other bread and butter related issues should be relegated to the background for the moment. These issues can be addressed in a transparent manner once good governance is assured. The government and politicians will become responsive to the issues of concern to the people if good governance is entrenched.

The war is over. It is in the past. Instead of debating who deserves credit for winning the war, public attention should turn to substantive issues that matter to the future of our country. The stupidity of the LTTE contributed to ending this war, as much as the efforts of all the forces arraigned against it. The government elected democratically by the people led this war effort and succeeded. The people won this war, having backed the war effort at tremendous cost to themselves. The people paid the price in blood, tears and cost. This fact should not be forgotten by the servants of the people, at all levels in the government structure.

The Sinhala people also should demand issues of concern to minorities, particularly the Tamils and Muslims, which have caused national grief, be dealt expeditiously in a visionary manner. The fact that minorities exist and their grievances and demands which are reasonable should be addressed immediately, should receive due recognition.

While in the long term the minorities should not feel they are minorities, as envisioned by the president, the fact the minorities feel alienated at present should not be ignored. The need to reform our political system to ensure the minorities are treated as equal citizens and recognize their right to manage their affairs at the periphery and have a say in national affairs, should be an issue at these elections. We should not pussy foot around these issues any more. We have done this for too long and paid a heavy price as a nation.

The Sinhala political parties should articulate their proposals to ensure good governance and solutions to minority-related issues in unambiguous terms before the electorate. The Sinhala political parties should adopt a national, rather than a sectarian outlook in their policies to attract the minorities to their ranks. The Sri Lankan electorate should not be treated as village idiots once again. One community should not be played against the other for cheap political gain. Emotive reactions and distortions should not be brought into play to cloud national issues such as good governance and the rights of minorities. Issues such as devolution, units of devolution, provincial councils and subjects for devolution, should be discussed openly and widely in an honest and objective manner.

Issues and personalities seeking election should be the subject of a wide- ranging discussion in the print, radio, television and internet media, subject to the normal laws of the country. Candidates fielded should be educated, cultured, of proven ability and untainted by criminality and corruption. Any party fielding candidates of dubious reputation and unacceptable conduct should be shunned by the people.

The country has been cleared of a virulent and long running armed insurrection seeking to set up an independent state of 'Eelam' within its borders, the resulting terrorism and the psychosis of fear. The armed forces and the police had a free hand and plenty of support to end the insurrection. They have accomplished their task amidst allegations of human rights violations. The overt aspect of our national tragedy has ended, hopefully for good. However, the insidious factors that are far more debilitating and are a cancer in our body politic remain to be dealt as a matter of urgency, if we are to take our due place in the 21st century. We have to become a value-based society and these elections are an opportunity to set the process in motion.

The minorities, particularly the Tamils have to do a lot of soul searching relating to their current circumstances and, their short, medium and long- term goals. These elections are a golden opportunity to do so. The prolonged insurrection and the civil war have debilitated the Tamils in terms of numbers and economic and social circumstances. The tale of the Tamil speaking people in Sri Lanka is a tragedy that should be a lesson to not only Sri Lanka but also the world. It should primarily be a lesson for these unfortunate people, who were forced to react in a short –sighted manner to the various actions and inactions-perceived as vicious- by the Sri Lankan state and were very badly led.

Emotions rather than pragmatic thinking came to the fore and in the process made what was presumed to be bad, horrible for the Tamils. The Tamils jumped from a warming frying pan into a raging fire, mesmerized by the utopia promised by shortsighted politicians and equally shortsighted, arrogant and 'Trigger-Happy' militants. Tamils should reconsider whether they want to continue on the path of emotive politics or embrace a practical and pragmatic path, which will lead to their recovery as a people and win the place they deserve within Sri Lanka.

While the Tamil vote will not significantly influence who or which party would be voted into power by the majority Sinhala electorate, they could definitely influence who is elected to serve them. This is an opportunity to elect a new set of Tamil leaders untainted by an unsavoury past, but with fresh thoughts, new strategies and proven credentials. There are many such men and women who are providing leadership silently and unsung in their villages and towns, amidst adversity. They should be given the opportunity to emerge and lead.
Let those who have misled the Tamils, have blood in their hands, have enriched themselves on the misery of others and have plans to enjoy power and perks at the expense of the Tamils be shown the place they deserve- hell! The forthcoming elections should be used by the Tamils to give those yet peddling the line of the LTTE and other militant groups the message that they have had enough and ask them to get lost. This is an opportunity to clean the Tamil political stables.

This is an opportunity to tell the Sinhala leadership not to foist leaders of their choice on the Tamils. This is an opportunity for aspiring Tamil leaders to define in concrete terms what they seek for the Tamils in the future. This is an opportunity for the Tamils to define their future relationship to the Sri Lankan state and the Sinhala and Muslim people. This is an opportunity to bring real democracy into play among the Tamils. This is also an opportunity for the Tamils not to repeat their past foolishness.

How the Tamils should start building bridges to the other people in Sri Lanka and take an interest in both their affairs and national affairs, should occupy the thoughts of aspiring Tamil leaders. The Tamils cannot continue to be parochial and isolated from the national mainstream any longer. Tamils should involve themselves in issues of national concern and vote for those who would be good for the whole country, including the minorities. Tamils should not function as a voting bloc for any party or individual. Tamils should vote as individuals as per their predilections, perceptions, experiences and expectations. All parties and individuals seeking election should canvass the Tamil & other minority votes.

The minorities should not become a football, in the competition between major Sinhala political parties, any longer. Tamils should never give room for a repeat of 'Dudligey Badey Masala Vadey' or similar partisan sloganeering among the Sinhala people. The minorities have to work with whichever government is in power, to ensure good governance and progressive national policies. The past must be forgiven, if not forgotten, by the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. The Tamils have to look forward to the future, without morbidly dwelling on a very tragic past.

The internally displaced persons, the resettled persons in the north, east and other parts of the country, and the war-affected should be the immediate concern of the Tamils. The need to give these unfortunate victims of the just ended national upheaval a meaningful and productive future should be at the core of Tamil concerns. While every Tamil has been adversely affected in one way or another by the prolonged conflict, the people who came out of the war zone last, have borne the brunt. They were the final victims of a brutal war and the inhumanity of the conflict. They have not only suffered the most, but also seen the most of human insensitivity and wickedness. They are our cross to carry. These elections give the opportunity to demand from aspiring Tamil leaders, what plans they have for these unfortunates.

These elections are about the urgency to recoup their losses as a people and recover from unimaginable trauma for the Tamils in Sri Lanka. The Tamils have to be told by their aspiring leaders the truth- the depth of the hole they are in at present. Tamils have to climb out of this hole first, before they start demanding anything. Tamils cannot talk of rights from the depths of a deep hole- a grave that can potentially bury them forever. Tamils need sympathy and help more than anything else now, from everyone in Sri Lanka and the world. This brutal fact must be told by aspiring Tamil politicians to their people. Let these politicians not try to mislead the Tamils once again with their slogans and big talk about a utopia about to dawn once they are elected. Let the Tamils not be fooled once again. It is a hard slog ahead and the Tamils should be aware of this.

Sri Lanka has an opportunity through the forthcoming elections to assert its true self as a nation. It is hoped all Sri Lankans and their leaders grasp this opportunity to do what needs to be done. We have shed enough blood. We have seen enough violence. We have brought about enough tragedy in our midst. Enough is enough. Let us learn our lessons from the past and chart a new course into the future.
-Sri Lanka Guardian

1 comment

vpw said...

the tamils should work with all other nationalities to rebuild srilanka, instead of cherry picking only the good things. it is time that we have a moderate tamil leader who relises that it is better for all the strggles to take place in the political arena. Look inward and not outward for help

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