Sri Lanka: Stability in 2015

‘Heroes are our guides in our journey towards freedom. Their lives and history are what makes our goal firm… let us light the fire of ambition in our hearts on this holy day,’ said Prabhakaran, the ruthless terrorist leader of the Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka. Such words were the content of his Heroes Day speech on 27 November, 2001. Eight years later, the incumbent Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa defeated Prabhakaran’s deadly military machine. This military defeat saw the decline of the idea of regional autonomy, or the Tamil Eelam, – a win previously deemed impossible.
The eradication of the scourge of terrorism and barbarity in warfare is a tall task. The recent Peshawar attacks stand testimony to this. Violence against innocents continues, even as we step into a new year. So as 2015 begins, it is important to think about the world we have created. The killing of innocent children was disgraceful. As the most intelligent species on our planet, we must realise that the brutalities of our past and present make it evident that the time has now come to strengthen a culture of values and protect our social fabric from the scourge of brutality.

The violence of the Peshawar massacre is not alien to South Asia, nor to Sri Lanka in particular. In Sri Lanka, the LTTE terrorists massacred innocent children when those children were asleep in remote villages. Sri Lanka won its battle against terrorism by sacrificing many lives, but it is not removed from the larger struggle of the world towards defeating terrorism. Terrorism anywhere and everywhere should be addressed and defeated. The world’s agenda for the next decade, which must take priority, should be to create a safe world for its inhabitants. Without this, achieving economic and individual prosperity will be a difficult if not impossible task.

When political systems fail to adjust to change, social instability may occur. The incumbent Sri Lankan president continued the country’s political system with nearly 100 ministers introduced by the former president. The opposition campaign targets corruption and lack of good governance in the present regime. The importance of establishing an independent bribery commission and other commissions should not be underestimated, because they are the fundamentals in a democracy – and need strengthening. Loss-making government institutions have to be revived and strengthened. Meritocracy has to be introduced at all levels of governance. Instead of making ad hoc decisions, foreign policies must be formulated after conducting rigorous research. All these areas need development in order to achieve the envisaged $7500 per capita income for Sri Lankans by 2020.

In the build-up to the 8 January presidential polls, the political landscape was volatile. Political crossovers exceeded the maximum threshold levels. While it appears that these decisions were made to improve ordinary people’s lives, it is worth asking whether the politicians’ decisions to switch sides were really made with the consent of those who elected them. People vote for their representatives having looked at their policies and political affiliations. How could elected representatives change sides without the consent of the very people who elected them to office? This crossover of politicians is a way of plundering votes and should not be encouraged, as it will further weaken the political culture and cause it to deteriorate. A trust deficit between the people and the political system is building.

On 8 January, these very people went to the polls to elect their new president. Different polls have predicted different outcomes, but all concur on the likelihood of a very small margin between the candidates. This author believes that even if the joint opposition candidate, Maithripala Sirisena, wins, he will miss the country’s target for two reasons: firstly, due to the coalition he has built
with the former president and many others. In the event of an electoral victory, once
the euphoria of the polls ceases, such a cocktail of political cultures will make it difficult to establish a common ground on which to work together to take the country forward.

The second reason is the dismantling of the system of the Executive Presidency. The pledge to remove the Executive Presidency in 100 days is promising, but the strategy for what will come afterwards is vague and unclear. After 100 days, voters will find themselves being led by a different leader than the person to whom they entrusted their votes. The current opposition’s post-election strategy is limited in its pragmatic capacity.
President Rajapaksa, who removed the terrorist tumour by invasive surgery – a task his three predecessors failed at – will still carry more weight. The run-up to the polls has been a necessary eye-opener for President Rajapaksa. The present government, despite its strengths, needs to commit to strict rules to tidy up the country’s political culture and introduce better governance.

George Orwell’s 1945 classic Animal Farm, in which the animals decide to rebel against the farmer and restore a new and better order, is a good example of today’s political climate. What Orwell tried to demonstrate in his novel was how easily political dogma can be turned into malleable propaganda. It is therefore important to understand the changes we wish to bring to our system, and yet also the risk of political instability if we bring about a total system change.

— Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Executive Director, LKIIRSS, Sri Lanka