Photo courtesy Maithripala Sirisena website
January 9th 2015
The very moment we are penning this letter, you are being sworn in as the 6th Executive President of Sri Lanka. We congratulate you and wish you all the very best to you as you are poised to walk through an avenue of challenges.
This rocky path of yours is signposted with “a program to be completed in 100 days”, which consists of abolishing the 18th amendment, amending the constitution to reduce most of the executive powers of the Presidency and its associated immunity, and, the setting up of a number of good governance mechanisms such as the independent commissions for the Police, constitution, bribery, elections and the judiciary.
We look forward to seeing the other major policies and pledges you have made in your manifesto entitled “Maithri palanayak, sthavara ratak” (a rule with loving kindness, a stable country). Women of this country, particularly in the conflict affected areas, plantations and migrant workers, need a lot of “maithri” as we have seen nothing but cruelty in the form of violence, discrimination and disregard for them. We have read accounts of your family life – that of being a loving husband and an affectionate father. We would like to see these qualities in your mode of governance. We would also like to feel the benefits of sound policies that would bring light into the lives of a cruelly violated people. You have outlined very solid policies which will impact on the quality of life such as education, health, nutrition, food security and economic development. We eagerly anticipate the restoration of values and systems together with the allocation of resources that will result in reducing violence against women and protection for children. Most importantly, the protection of the environment is also detailed in your manifesto.
At this point let us remind ourselves of the vote share in this Presidential election that brought you into power. The overall lead you obtained was 449,072 votes over your main opponent. In the North and East, not counting the Sinhala majority constituencies of Ampara and Seruwila (where your opponent won), you have been given a total lead of 740,251 votes in all the Tamil and Muslim majority constituencies. If not for these votes, you would have lost by 291,179 votes. This is not taking in to account the votes you received from the Tamil and Muslim people in all the constituencies outside of the North and East. In fact you won every constituency with a large margin where they were a majority. As an elected leader this places a big responsibility on your shoulders. We are confident that you would not prove, as the previous presidents have regrettably done, that Tamils and Muslims may decide the winner but nothing more.
During the run up to the election, the Tamil and Muslim people could not help but notice that their aspirations were not addressed by either of the main opponents due to the apparent fear that it might lead to the erosion of votes from the Sinhala Buddhist constituencies of the South. Despite the humiliation faced by the minorities for being treated as aliens in this country who would not be acceptable to the majority Sinhala people, they voted for you. They did so because they understood that their aspirations are intrinsically linked to the democratization process in Sri Lanka intended by your government. They voted for democracy.
How are you going to respond to this clear mandate?
Establishing democracy cannot be a piecemeal job. Good governance is nothing other than sharing of political power. Merely changing the nature of the executive presidential system does not assure democracy and equality for all. If this approach is not adopted, your leadership will remain an autocracy for the non-Sinhala ethnic groups and, in fullness of time, for the Sinhala Buddhists too, as we have seen very much under the last regime.
You need not look far. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. In the past 6 decades history of our country many consultations and negotiations have taken place. From among them, you may take the constitutional proposals presented in Parliament by Madam Chandrika Bandaranaike in the year 2000. All that you have mentioned in your manifesto may see the light of day only if you start by making the 2000 Draft Constitution the basis to create a State structure where all ethnic groups are equal and political power is shared among them. Challenging as it may be, you have to reverse the high levels of militarization not only in the North and East, but in all parts of the country; you will have to roll back illegal acquisitions of land, not only in the North and East, but all over the country.
In order to address this, you have an important duty to bring the Sinhala Buddhist people of this country from the Dutugemunu era to the 21 century; to bring them to accept that political structures for sharing power is the norm today and is in fact beneficial to the development of Sri Lanka as a modern country. This requires that you bring the Sinhala Buddhist majority of this country aboard on a common path towards democracy, that you convince them democracy will not threaten Buddhism. That common path shall ensure racial and religious amity and protect all religions. This expectation is the core of the Muslim and Christian vote for you. These are the communities who have been attacked by Buddhist racist groups over and over again.
The quality of your leadership matters in facing all these challenges. Your personal conduct will be scrutinized and followed very closely. Therefore it is our earnest desire to see you governing as an individual free from nepotism and corruption. We also hope that you will refrain from an autocratic style of rule, and maintain a participatory and consultative approach. We hope that all the deliberations you will have in the coming weeks and months will include civil society representatives from all communities.
Dear President, you will discover as the trappings of power engulf you, that you will be surrounded by suckers and wrong doers. We hope you will rise above them. And that you will make special efforts to be constantly accessible to the people and all those who voted you in. From today we will be your constructive opposition and will be watching over every step you take.