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Sunday, 11 October 2015

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Building peace for prosperity

While rabble-rousers harp on 'sovereignty' and 'hybridity', real-life in Sri Lanka now moves on to bread-and-butter issues such as economic strategy, fiscal policy for financial stability and the looming Budget. Even as the Human Rights Council wound up in Geneva, the President and the Prime Minister were winging their way on missions to cement global engagements all round.

While the President successfully presented Sri Lanka's case for post-war recovery at the UN General Assembly, Premier Wickremesinghe returned from official visits to India and Japan with a briefcase full of massive development aid, promising investment plans and vital trade and technical support agreements signed. Such much-needed embellishment of the country's development prospects can only come on the basis of a comprehensive movement towards social and political stability, which was what the Geneva Resolution was all about. Both Tokyo and Delhi threw their weight behind the package of reform and political redress that Sri Lanka pushed through in Geneva.

They could do so, like the rest of the current UN Human Rights Council, since the political change in January provided the external world with a transparent picture of the new social consensus within the country. This new consensus is the sustained majority popular vote, demonstrated successively and convincingly, in both the presidential as well as parliamentary elections, that supports the general orientation of the new regime. It is an orientation towards inter-ethnic understanding and cultural pluralism, revival of the rule of law, rational governance as against superstition and feudalism and, the re-building of democracy as opposed to autocracy.

This successive and firm demonstration of the people's will is the best response to all those who worry that national sovereignty is being undermined. It is this popular mandate that enabled Sri Lanka to help formulate a comprehensive package for national post-war recovery that was then adopted by consensus in Geneva with the entire world community - and not just one or two States - pledging support.

The Prime Minister's visits to Delhi and Japan saw successful outcomes on the basis of that new found confidence in the popular will of the Sri Lankan people. If those friendly governments had not been convinced that the new regime's political commitments are on the basis of a popular mandate, they would not have been so forthcoming in cash and kind. The sheer unanimity of world powers on Sri Lanka's new path forward based on popular will, dispels those fears about 'sovereignty'. Popular discourse and national debate now shift to the nitty-gritty of the next steps forward.

Economic aid and foreign investment plans now need rapid design - the implementing architecture needs to be set up and fine-tuned to ensure smooth and fast fulfillment of investment targets and infrastructure development. But the economic side of things can only bear fruit if social and political stability is on track. It is here that the country faces its greatest challenges. Political and community leaders must comprehensively contribute towards all the initiatives being taken in the realms of ethnic reconciliation, inter-ethnic understanding, the clean-up of public administration and law and order institutions and, an accounting of the sins of war committed by all sides.

The world will watch as the four major world religions represented here - Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity - share their spiritual resources creatively in Dharma, theology, and spiritual healing as they respond to the varied needs of truth-seeking, justice and reconciliation. Here is the opportunity to show the world that religion is not merely the tool of pseudo-patriots, communalists and nationalists but, more the spiritual font of civilised social and political management.

The challenge to re-build democracy calls for the awakening of the literate society that is Sri Lanka. The ranks of sophisticated professionals who, for too long have nourished foreign lands, must now contribute their intellect and special skills towards building an elaborate architecture for institutional reform and constitutional design. Civil society groups must help deploy these energies into fruitful channels of consultation and consensus building which ultimately will see the varied social and economic interest groups agree on a new political compact that will take form in a new constitution. Business chambers - which have direct interest in political stability - the trade unions, rights groups, youth movements, women's movements, ecology groups must all contribute to this process not merely in ensuring the articulation of their respective group interests but also in ensuring that a carefully structured dialogue. It is only such an elaborate process that will bring societal agreement and consensus on common national goals and mutually agreed institutions of democratic governance.

Such comprehensive societal support will strengthen the government's hands and enable it to preside over a genuinely popular process of constitution-making. Nepal, in recent years, has demonstrated the value of such civil society supported, government-led constitution-making. At the same time, we can learn from its mistakes. South Africa is to help us in post-war reconciliation. India must and will throw its weight behind the efforts for inter-ethnic dialogue, trust-building and movement towards a comprehensive political solution to the ethnic question. The Indian constituent assembly process is a valuable example to emulate.

The world as a whole, and our neighbours in Asia and our cousins in South Asia are not merely watching as the Emerald Isle strives to build peace, but all of them are enthusiastic partners, courtesy of the UN, in this historic endeavour.

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