Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 27 December 2015





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

2016: building a viable national future

In five days we welcome a new year - 2016. The beginning of this year saw the beginning of major changes in the life of our nation: a change at the apex of State leadership with the election of a new President which, in turn, led to a change in government and a corollary radical shift in national policy, in political conduct and, in style of governance. A meticulously ordered parliamentary election mid-year further entrenched the strategy for change.

What was this 'radical shift'? It has been a shift from a racist, nepotistic authoritarianism in which not just one parliamentarian would use her official vehicle and official guards to forcibly abduct an individual citizen and 'warn' him on some family issue, but, any number of governing coalition politicians at any level of governance from local to national, would be prone to such wanton and brutish behaviour. And, under the previous regime, such actions did not stop at a mere abduction and scolding but, ended with the complete disappearance of people or, in torture and murder, none of which was adequately prosecuted.

It is a shift from manipulative racism, corruption-ridden politics and economic mis-governance at all levels on a massive scale that caused more problems than solved them, to a relatively reduced incidence of corrupt practices and arbitrary rule. A somewhat cynical citizenry may be forgiven if, in their jaded state after a decade of blatant plunder and brutish authoritarianism, they are content to view the greatly reduced incidence of coercion and corruption today with some equanimity presumably in relief that the nation has been saved from chaos.

But a citizenry that had the good sense to unite in an electoral effort to end that chaos is not likely to remain blasé for long, especially if current misdeeds are glossed over and worsen. Procedural and behavioural discipline will impress and gradually reduce that feeling of déjà vu. Corrective actions that redress malpractices will reassure those less convinced of the genuineness and permanence of the 'change'. And the freedom to expose and denounce such mis-governance will serve as a valuable safety valve for discontent.

The recovery from chaos needs more than just restraint and discipline, however. Pro-active action is needed and, given the concentration of intelligence and creativity in this coalition government, it is not surprising that the 'National Unity Government' of President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has just such a formula for national recovery. There is an impressive list of social, political and economic goals already proclaimed ranging from inter-ethnic harmony, de-militarisation and return to civilian life, and, prosecution of plunder, to the repair of the bureaucracy and judiciary, and, to a complete overhaul of the Constitution to create a new foundation for national unity and social equity.

The implementers of this ambitious program, however, must, at all times demonstrate to the watching and hopeful citizenry that there is, indeed, a genuine 'national unity' among the political parties that make up the coalition government. The basically competitive nature of capitalist democracy must allow for some competitive spirit among the political parties generally. At the same time, however, the specific contingency of a national recovery necessitates restraint in that competition to enable the spirit of collaboration to lead to compromises that facilitate consensus.

As the Lord Buddha preached about governance in his time, consultation and consensus is critical if the fundamental issues confronting a State and its political community are to be fixed. As long as individual political parties predicate their participation in coalition government simply on a competitive drive for political dominance in government, the space for consensual democracy will be inadequate to achieve certain crucial political goals that can only be achieved by that lost national consensus.

And the readiness for compromise is not only required from the political parties. The various ethnic communities in the country as well as the other socio-cultural and economic interest groups must also engage with each other in that same spirit of collaborative deliberation and compromise.

Furthermore, this inclusive process of consultation and collective deliberation must extend far beyond Parliament and its elected members. There is a need for the constitutional reform process to embrace the varied professional, social, cultural, religious and gender groups in our island society so that all citizens participate in and contribute to the process of forming our renewed republic. Even as Parliament functions as a 'constitutional assembly', the entire range of interest groups should be provided with suitable platforms so that their interests are also factored in and their creative proposals help elaborate our new political association that will constitute our island nation.

This is the only way that the Sri Lankan nation can re-invent its statehood through a new constitution and a reform of the system of governance at national and regional levels that will accommodate all vital social interests.

2015 has been a year of change and of renewed hope in the future. In the coming year, the national community steps forward with a new excitement over the creative endeavours announced that will build that future.


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