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Why did Ambassador Sison call on Ven. Sobitha?

| by Upul Joseph Fernando

( September 1, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The recent meeting between Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera and US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Michele J. Sison, caused a wave of ripples in the top echelons of the government. She had sought an audience with the reverend Sobitha for a specific reason; that is to find out about the proposal to abolish the Executive Presidency, spearheaded by the Ven Thera, with the support of a wide spectrum of social activists, who stand for good governance.

Recent history showcases many instances where the United States and the West had pitched in with considerable force, both overtly and not so overtly, to promote democratic governments in the region. A good example of American involvement in championing democracy in the region is Bangladesh. When its people streamed onto the streets demanding democracy, all indications pointed to a big crisis on the horizon. In this critical situation, America played a very crucial role in guiding Bangladesh to attain a democratic form of government.

Their modus operandi in neutralizing the developing political crisis was to establish an interim government with the help of the country's military establishment. The next step was to encourage the interim government to hold free and fair elections to choose a democratically-elected government for the country. America helped Bangladesh to attain the democratic aspirations of its people through a series of manoeuvres mounted through its Ambassador, Patricia Butenis. She was also one time American Ambassador in Sri Lanka.

Fight for democracy in Bangladesh

Her role in the fight for democracy in Bangladesh was at times deemed controversial. When she summoned the Elections Commissioner to discuss matters related to elections, it drew criticism from several quarters. Indifferent to the hue and cry created over this matter, she not only met with politicians of both sides, but also met representatives of the Judiciary to discuss relevant matters for a successful election. She was able to deliver her responsibilities successfully to the satisfaction of all concerned. The Elections Commissioner and the government servants, who helped smooth out the election process, were an immense boon in her bid to introduce democracy to Bangladesh.

Prior to that, America had carried out a series of political democratization experiments in another South Asian country, Nepal. By 2006, the country was in political turmoil due not only to mismanagement of the country's affairs by its monarchical rulers, but also because of the Maoist rebels, who were on a sabotaging spree throughout the country. America made the first successful operation when it managed to dethrone the country's monarchy. Next it was able to cobble together an interim government with the participation of the Maoist factions. However, this first attempt at introducing democracy did not succeed because of the lack of conciliation and consensus among various factions. Notwithstanding its failure the first time, America and the West have yet again taken up the challenge to steer Nepal along democratic path.

This time around, these pro-democracy forces have managed to install an interim government headed by the country's Chief Justice. Moves are afoot anew to get the concerned parties to draft a new Constitution for the country.

Democratizing Maldives

The Maldivian democratization map also carries the unmistakable American and European footprint. The long-time President, Abdul Gayoom's, authoritarian rule came in for severe criticism within the country and from the international community. It was in this backdrop that America and the West became directly involved in the country's affairs in 2008, working towards a change of government in that country by bringing all the opponents to Gayoom's regime under one banner. This operation too was successful, and Mohamed Nasheed was elected President under a democratic Constitution. But when Nasheed also started wearing an authoritarian mantle similar to that of Gayoom, he was ousted and his deputy was made pro-tem President, until new elections were held to democratically elect a new President.

The recently concluded Maldivian election was a result of that commitment by the principal powers involved. The above affords a brief look at how America and the West applied themselves with unmitigated determination to help change Constitutions seen as promoting authoritarianism in South Asia, from Bangladesh, Nepal to Maldives, right under the watchful eyes of China. Such changes went off smoothly and unhindered because they had the full blessing of the regional super power India.

America openly criticized the 18th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution that removed the term restriction of the presidency. This could well be the compelling reason for America to find common ground with Rev. Sobitha's active engagement with other activists to push for the abolition of the Executive Presidency.
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