A triumph for democracy
Democracy triumphed against all
odds at Thursday's Presidential Election which saw Maithripala Sirisena
as the sixth Executive President of Sri Lanka. It was a momentous event
Sri Lankan collective faith in pluralism and democracy. Despite the
many rumours that circulated to the contrary, there was a smooth
transfer of power from outgoing President Mahinda Rajapaksa to new
President Maithripala Sirisena, a veteran in the political arena with
over four decades' experience.
The new President as well as his Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
hit the right note at the very beginning, starting with a simple
swearing-in ceremony at Independence Square, the very place which
symbolises the country's freedom from tyrannical colonial rule.
Simplicity and humility are the hallmarks of President Sirisena, a true
son of the soil from the rice bowl of Rajarata.
During his brief, nationally televised speech at Independence Square,
the new President identified several challenges before his
administration. He said that he will crusade for an economic, social and
political transformation in the country as pledged in his election
manifesto, adding that he is committed to build a society where freedom,
democracy, people's sovereignty and law and order reign. In short, he
promised to build a new country in 100 days.
This is indeed the need of the hour as all these cherished values had
taken a beating under the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime which brazenly
disregarded all norms of civilised conduct and democracy. This was most
evident in the way the previous incumbent conducted his re-election bid.
According to one conservative estimate, he had spent at least Rs. 250
billion on the campaign, from giant cut-outs to utterly revolting TV
advertisements that ridiculed the Common Candidate.
The State media, including this newspaper, were used in the most
shameless manner to promote the previous President who was seeking an
unprecedented third term, with not one inch of room given to the Common
Candidate or to any of the other 17 candidates. As President Sirisena
highlighted in his speech, it was his political maturity and mettle that
enabled him to fearlessly withstand this barrage of mudslinging.
It is indeed vital to restore democracy, freedom, people's
sovereignty and law and order in the shortest possible period of time.
Having ended the three-decade old conflict, the previous President had a
golden opportunity to become a revered leader like Nelson Mandela by
bringing all communities and religious groups together and strengthening
democratic institutions. However, he eschewed this path and chose to
tread in the opposite direction by steadily undermining and weakening
all democratic structures and sowing ethnic and religious discord for
As John Acton said years ago, "Power corrupts and absolute power
corrupts absolutely". Mahinda Rajapaksa embodied this perfectly through
the passing of the draconian 18th Amendment which removed Presidential
term limits and repealed all the independent commissions appointed
through the 17th Amendment. He spent government funds lavishly on
fruitless projects, most of which were named after himself. Even the
opening ceremonies of these projects cost millions of rupees. The
intimidation of independent media and human rights groups and the tacit
approval given to extremist organisations such as the Bodu Bala Sena
were other factors that led to his downfall. His close and extended
family was given a free rein to ride roughshod over the populace and
engage in acts of massive corruption.
As the Presidential Elections showed so decisively and clearly, the
people had flatly rejected these anti-democratic measures. The voters
rejected communalism, nepotism, corruption, injustice and
authoritarianism. The people have rightly demanded a country free from
these despicable acts.
In line with its promise of good governance through the Maithri
Palanaya (Compassionate Rule), the Maithripala Sirisena administration
should, among other things, take steps to Amend the Executive Presidency
to prevent the concentration of unlimited power on one individual;
Repeal the 18th Amendment and bring back the 17th Amendment and its
independent institutions; Reinstate Chief Justice Shiranee Bandaranayake;
Restore the rank, medal and pension of war hero General Sarath Fonseka;
restore law and order; establish a suitable mechanism to probe the mega
deals of the previous administration and bring back any monies stashed
abroad by corrupt individuals; check waste and corruption; appoint
competent persons to head all Government institutions; restore complete
media freedom; eliminate drug abuse; reduce the Cost of Living and fuel
prices and depoliticise the judiciary, police, administrative service
and the foreign service.
The latter is especially important because Sri Lanka has been
isolated internationally. The only countries which were friendly with
Sri Lanka had equally despotic regimes. Sri Lanka's relationship with
the West, which accounts for over 75 percent of exports, has been
strained to the breaking point. No measures were taken to improve our
age-old ties with neighbouring India. A professional foreign service is
sorely needed to address these concerns in a backdrop where Sri Lanka
faces increased international scrutiny over its human rights record,
especially in relation to the conflict. Engagement, not confrontation,
is the way to deal with the international community.
This brings us to the very crux of the matter - the ethnic conflict.
The Rajapaksa regime thrived on fanning the flames of ethnic discord and
even five years after winning the war, beat the war drum to win votes
while mollycoddling the remaining top Tiger leaders.
Ethnic and religious disharmony is simply not permissible in a
civilised, multi-ethnic society. The past, they say is a different
country and whilst not forgetting the enormous sacrifices by the
Security Forces and the civilian population to end the war, we as a
nation must move forward as one, forgetting all divisions. Many have
asked as to how the TNA and the JHU, with their seemingly divergent
views, could co-exist in a coalition. This is precisely the type of
understanding we need at this hour. Hopefully, this should lead to a
dialogue between parties on both sides of the divide and heal the wounds
President Maithripala Sirisena has also reiterated that he would
never permit the division of the country. Contrary to the propaganda of
the Rajapaksa camp, it is indeed unthinkable that President Sirisena,
himself a target of the LTTE on at least six occasions, General Fonseka
(who almost lost his life in a LTTE suicide attack), former President
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (who lost an eye in an LTTE attack),
JHU leaders who were in the forefront in the Mavil Aru incident and
other progressive leaders in the NDF, would never permit the country's
division. The TNA itself has pledged before the courts that it does not
stand for separatism.
The new administration has also promised to implement all viable
recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC)
which should address most concerns relating to the National Question.
The new administration should also initiate a dialogue with sections of
the Tamil diaspora which are inimical to the LTTE cause and get their
services for the Motherland.
The way forward is through political and social unity. The people
have unequivocally reposed their utmost confidence in President
Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the other
leaders of the NDF alliance to usher in a new political culture and a
new era of peace, reconciliation, prosperity and equality in a newly
resurgent Sri Lanka.