Pressing the Parliament 'refresh' button
So the battle is joined! By the
time you open this newspaper, the whole country will be brimming over
with excited political speculation. Hopefully, this edition of the
Sunday Observer will help begin clarifying the speculation and
indicating important trends and issues.
It is a speculation multiplied several times over given the number of
contesting political forces that have risen to matured national
electoral status. These forces now prepare to be tested electorally
after nearly two decades of marginalisation by authoritarian politics
that was also so intensely driven by solely ethno-nationalist rivalry -
a 'Lion vs Tiger' big match almost as childishly simplistic as that of
high school sports rivalry played out by the 'old boys' (an uniquely Sri
After nearly twenty years of intense ethno-nationalist internal war
and a parallel civilian politics, today the nation has broken out of the
confines of that nationalist 'big match' and is flexing its political
muscles in the variety of dynamics that necessarily drive a society.
Today, Sri Lankan Democracy reverts back to an arena of politics in
which society's many issues - social, economic, political, institutional
- are, once again, addressed with somewhat equal attention.
A sizeable chunk of that linear, ethno-nationalist contest certainly
ended with the 2009 defeat of the LTTE. That defeat, rather than
'solving' the ethnic conflict, only worsened it in many ways - as the
Muslim community learnt. The Tamil militant leadership, especially the
LTTE must share the blame with the Rajapaksa regime for taking the
ethno-nationalist contest to that bloody, barbaric, extreme.
More importantly, the reduction of militarist depredation enabled the
nation as a whole to focus on the worse, bigger, depredation that the
Rajapaksa regime wreaked countrywide and society-wide. As the flames and
screams of the war faded, a growing cohort of citizenry awoke from the
fantasy of tribal victory and supremacy to realise how much the edifice
of society and polity was tottering courtesy of a presidency gone
The outcome of January 8 was the result of that awakening of many
sections of the citizenry to the looming crisis of State. That
awakening, itself, is of a scale that evidenced a maturing of Sri Lankan
democracy. On their very own, without the Liam Foxes, the Solheims, the
Gandhis or, even the dubious leverage of East Asian investors, Sri
Lankans came together not just as the two traditionally alternate
governing parties, but as a broad coalition of forces coming from all
corners of the island and the range of social classes, ethnic
communities and ideological streams. It is this broad-spectrum political
coalition that is the most notable feature of the January 8 regime
change. There are other features that also go to make this political
The cream of the country's intelligentsia together with leaders of
the business elite collaborated creatively in complementary activism to
ensure initiatives for national recovery on several tracks - fighting
corruption and nepotism, reforming the Constitution, revitalising the
policy-making and national planning processes, among others.
Further, with full knowledge of the vast repair job needed, the
political parties in the new ruling coalition have agreed to remain
unified in purpose even after the parliamentary elections. Today, the
ruling coalition has committed to the parliamentary electoral contest
while reminding voters that even if the rival parties compete with each
other during the elections, they intend to return to the same coalition
in government for the next two years. This commitment - mandated in the
January 8 elections, as well - signals the serious intent for continued
and thorough political and social reform in the new Parliament as well.
All this careful coordination of intermediate term political goals
among parties and a broad consensus on the long term vision of a revived
Sri Lanka are clear evidence of a sophistication not hitherto seen in
Sri Lankan politics. It demonstrates the longevity of genuinely
democratic tradition despite the carcinogenic stamp of nepotism, racism
and authoritarianism of the past decade. It portrays social commitment,
political vision and elements of systematic planning - all essential for
re-building of the polity.
These parties that have led the change, deserve to return to power
free of those tainted with the corruption and violence of the previous
regime. Those parties that have been out of power now deserve to take on
leadership responsibilities so that the citizenry can experience new
choices in government.
What remains to be seen is whether these same parties and their
leaders can comply with all of the laws, rules and norms that govern the
parliamentary electoral process as they go into the electoral contest.
Will the familiar motifs of thuggery, bribery, unsavoury deals, and
sweeping disregard for election laws characterise the forthcoming
elections? Can our new leaders refrain from the malpractices that were
the hallmark of successive governing parties? Will there be new and
relatively clean blood in the candidates for parliamentary seats?
Will politicians in power avoid abusing their offices and ministerial
resources for political gain? Will we experience the ugly fisticuffs of
'manape' rivalry? Minus the independent commissions, can the elections
be administered neutrally and fairly? Will media moghuls manipulate the
public mind for their own political favourites?
The coming weeks until August 17 will show.