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What is happening? What can we do?

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA - JANUARY 09: Sri Lanka's newly elected president Maithripala Sirisena (C) prepares to take oath as he is sworn in at Independence Square in Colombo on January 9, 2015 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Sirisena will be the 7th President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. (Photo by Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images)

Featured image courtesy Time

The overall picture that emerges from the January 09, 2015 revolution and the events that have already taken place and are taking place as a result of this change can be summarised as follows.

First of all, the January 09 revolution defeated the corrupt and oppressive regime that was in power. It brought an air of some relief to the country. it saved the country of the most likely threat of international sanctions being imposed against it. It also prevented the country of the possibility of being plunged into a dreadful situation. The policies of the new government towards the minority ethnic groups were more tolerant. It has created an atmosphere in which the minority ethnic groups could live free of fear. However, there is no sign that clearly reflects the governments’ intention or the capacity to go for larger reforms that are needed to overcome the major crisis the country is faced with. The consequences of this situation might eventually lead to intensification of   the existing crisis thereby plunging the country into a more serious crisis.

The limitations of the January 09 revolution

The January 09 revolution had it own limits. They were inherent in the initial political vision of the revolution itself. Its major aspiration was to defeat the Rajapaksa regime. That remained the only issue which had a common accord of the forces that contributed to the revolution. Beyond that there was no mention in the agenda about the revolution of specific reforms to be introduced to overcome the crisis the country had faced with. Although, it claimed for the abolition of the presidential system, it was not clearly articulated in the agenda. Apart from that, there was no mention of the larger changes intended to be introduced. Except for defeating the Rajapaksa regime there was hardly any other major issues in it. Even after the victory of the revolution, except for probing into the alleged frauds and crimes of the former Rajapaksa regime, apparently, there was hardly any serious dialogue being initiated on the larger changes and reformations required to be effected to overcome the major crisis the country is faced with. The only serious issue which had drawn some attention has been the proposed New Constitution. That again is on a superficial level. No in-depth or larger vision is reflected in the approach towards the changing of the constitution. .

Problems of the Institutional system

The entire Institutional system had become inefficient and corrupt by the time the Good Governance regime assumed power. The Parliament that enacts laws, the police that implements the law, the judiciary that interprets and executes the law and the tax collecting institutions had reached a deplorable level of degeneration and distortion incapable of performing an effective role expected of them. The inter racial and religious relationships had entered a phase of crisis and widespread confusion and anxiety.

For a salutary forward march of the country, first of all, all these issues should have been resolved with an altogether new perspective. It is an important and essential historical condition to be fulfilled to overcome the crisis. Obviously, the leaders of the Good Governance regime lacked the strong vision required for that. Even after coming to power they have failed to adopt such a vision. Apparently, the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe seems to have a genuine dream for the country’s economy. But, it cannot expect to be realised unless the degenerated institutional system is restored to a truly democratic societal component which is free of corruption and inefficiency. As far as the leaders of the good governance regime were concerned, the system of Independent Commissions implemented through the Constitutional Council remains to be the one and only alternative solution for the extremely corrupt Institutional system.

As has been pointed out previously, the introduction of Independent Commissions would have been effective in improving the efficiency and productivity of the institutional system provided the institutional system itself had followed established norms and standards of good practices. Unfortunately, the entire institutional system had reached a putrid and distorted level. There is hardly any positive change that can be effected in an institutional system which is corrupt and critically weak to such an extant by introducing a system of independent commissions alone. Seeking solutions for rectification of the corrupt institutional system was not an object of the constitutional Council. The constitutional Council, in appointing officials for the commissions and the other positions, was concerned primarily with the maintenance of the existing system and was not intended to rehabilitate the institutions through those appointees. Under the circumstance, there is no effective role that can be played by the independent commissions operated under the Constitutional Council (CC).

Drifting off track

The Parliament seems to be dependent more on the grant of privileges to its members in ensuring their support for the enactment of laws rather than reforming the parliamentary system itself. This situation has not only stopped at aggravating the distortion of the parliamentary mechanism. It has also become a serious factor that has begun to militate against the confidence of the people on the regime of good governance. Although, the regime of good governance, upon assuming the office, rushed to appoint a new Chief Justice to the Judiciary, it has not made a significant change in the judicial system. The Judiciary too, cannot be considered to be functioning in a satisfactory level. It is in a state of confusion. During the previous Rajapaksa regime, a selected group of judges were offered 15 acres of land each from the Katharagama temple lands, presumably to ensure their loyalty to the rulers. They are not entitled to accept such grants. Apparently, no probing has been made so far, into such transactions. Besides this, the tax collecting institutions too, are in a state of extreme corruption and confusion.

Mahinda Rajapaksa who was capable of defeating Prabhakaran was unable to keep hold of power because he failed to pursue the reforms that were needed for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the society and the country which had become corrupt and putrid over a period of nearly three decades of persistent war and bloodshed. It is by far the same mistake of Mahinda Rajapaksa, which is now being repeated by the leaders of the present good governance regime. Just as much as Mahinda Rajapaksa failed to realise that the defeat of Prabhakaran alone would not be adequate to overcome the crisis of the country, the two present leaders too, who had defeated Mahinda Rajapaksa and succeeded him, have equally failed to realise that the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa alone will not help solve the crisis that the country is facing. The former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had to pay a big price for his mistake. It may be that the leaders of the good governance regime too, may be forced to pay a similar price for repeating the same mistake.

Paucity of vision

The leaders who defeated Rajapaksa had a limited vision of merely defeating him.They have failed even to fulfil the limited constitutional reforms as envisaged. The simple requirement of holding a referendum in addition to the two thirds majority of the Parliament for abolition of the presidential system of government had not been given due consideration in formulating even the limited program of constitutional changes pledged by them. The theoreticians of this program realised it only after the matter was referred to the constitutional courts. Even after that, the victors lacked self confidence to go for a referendum. The absence of consensus on the abolition of the presidential system too, had an impact on this situation. Certain people who were close to the President did not like to see the reduction of presidential powers and resultant enhancement of the powers of the Prime Minister. Consequently, we have inherited a constitution which is full of holes and hideously drafted with patch work. There seems to be no genuine desire or capacity to abolish the present constitution and introduce a new one in keeping with the changing needs of the country.

It is not possible to adopt a new constitution merely through the two thirds majority approval of the Parliament. It has to be ratified by a referendum as well. Despite the leaders of the government talking about a new constitution, it appears that they lack self confidence to go for a referendum to have it ratified by the people. Those interested in the continuity of the presidential system has discouraged the attempts to introduce a new constitution assuming that the entire exercise will be rendered worthless if the proposed new constitution is defeated at the referendum. Under the circumstance, the mechanism adopted to draft a new constitution will not provide a sound basis for formulating a good constitution. Even if a good constitution is drafted, it cannot be legalised. A Constitution approved by the two thirds majority of the parliament but not ratified by a referendum cannot be considered a legally valid constitution.

The government does not seem to have a clear cut and specific target. It seems to be shooting at several different and ambiguous points. Probably, it is not allowed to act on a clear political agenda. It is compelled to work according to several agendas which are unclear and mutually contradictory. The leaders of the government are more interested in responding to the sentiment of the uneducated segments of the electorate rather than the opinion of enlightened and educated people. Their focus is more on the petty and relatively unimportant problems rather than the important issues which need priority consideration.

The light against darkness

In this backdrop we cannot expect to have any progress in the country’s economy except for an economic stagnation. There can’t be prospects of solving the major problems that demands significant structural changes than addressing petty issues that are more the concern of pious illiterates of the society.  Similarly, as far as the issues of the minority ethnic groups are concerned, nothing substantial and enduring can be expected except for prevalence of a tolerant attitude towards them .The Country may soon approach a level in which nothing will happen the way it ought to happen and inefficiency will reign supreme as a cancer pervading the entire nation. But the government has not been able to display its ability to reverse this trend. Amidst this unfortunate scenario the loss of public confidence will be inevitable and unavoidable. This will invariably result in the government loosing the public support and being compelled to sustain its existence exclusively on the state power. This crisis in the government, however, cannot be expected to pave the way for the political group led by Mahinda Rajapaksha, which has become the main anti government movement to buttress its strength and shove its way back into power

The charges levelled against the members of the Rajapaksa family and the prominent people of the political movement led by him are extremely serious. The public knowledge of the proceedings of the court cases against them and the findings of them might invariably diminish and weaken the level of acceptance that they enjoy in the society. In spite of the drawbacks in the judiciary it is likely that some of them may be even imprisoned. In this backdrop, the political movement led by MR, despite being a substantial force, will not stand a chance or capacity to come back to power. Even the small political parties both Sinhala and Tamil which have emerged as alternate movements outside the main stream parties too, are not capable of filling the vacuum that is being created in the political arena.

In a historical sense, all political parties big or small which are in the present political stream appear to be moving towards the end of their journey. All these parties, to a greater or lesser extent should be held responsible for the great catastrophes that the country has to face with. The hands of all these political parties to a lesser or greater degree can be said to have been smeared with blood and corruption. Most of these parties are very old. Even JVP is now 52 years old. All these political parties are still living in the times of their birth. The world has changed a lot and become modernised since then. Yet, they have not been able to change themselves and become modern in terms of ideology or organisation.

By the time Sri Lanka gained independence, by all indicators that measure the level of development of a country, Sri Lanka enjoyed a prominent place among the other Asian countries. The country was equipped with a prominent infrastructure facilities compared to all these countries. By the indicators used at that time, we had a broad road network stretched out to all corners of the island and a railway network of 1000 kilo meters and an efficient and profitable railway service. The Colombo city had a tram- car and trolley bus service as well. In terms of per capita income, Sri Lanka was ranked high and it was second only to Japan.Sri Lanka’s achievements in the arenas of education and health remained very high compared to the other Asian countries. Above all, we had a very good Civil Service, respectable judicial service and a Parliamentary system of government of very high repute.

Smallness of the leaders

The Sri Lankan political leaders emerged during the current age cannot be reckoned as to be great or outstanding leaders. Their political vision was myopic and was primarily concerned with the selfish and parochial motives .They lacked a long-term and a broad vision. They all have desperately failed to consolidate and sustain the level of development the country had achieved at the time of independence. Similarly, they have failed to dissociate from the parochial divisions like race, caste and religion and to treat all citizens on equal terms and recognise them as respectable humans who are entitled to equal rights.

Instead, they nourished racial, caste and religious differences rather than dislodging them. By doing so, they sought to gain narrow political advantages. They failed to realise the need for building a united nation to ensure the continuation of the system of the new nation state bequeathed by the British colonial rule. The spirit of the nation that had been moving towards a unified whole was divided and fragmented it into pieces rather than unifying it. They sapped the essence of the country rather than enriching it and corrupted the system of governance, the judiciary and the bureaucracy.

The country has been turned into a place of an incessant bloodshed. The political movements which were inherently selfish and remained insensitive to the serious mistakes committed by them consciously or unconsciously and had failed to atone for and repent over their mistakes have now reached the stage of being gradually removed from the political scene. This seems almost inevitable and   beneficial despite the fact that it is going to happen in the absence of alternative political movements to fill the vacuum being created by the wholesale exodus of the old movements. This might invariably result in creating a kind of an anarchic situation posing serious challenges. Perhaps, the alternate political movements may emerge in the aftermath of the impending anarchic backdrop.

The damage that may be caused by such an anarchic situation can be mitigated if the enlightened citizens are mobilised through an organised social movement. The setting up of citizens’ organisations at village, city and workshop levels and federating them into a Citizens Centres thereby establishing a wide network of social movements and enlightening the people by educating them would help convert the impending disaster into an opportunity that can be harnessed for the benefit of the people. It can certainly provide a strong and sound foundation for the country to move forward with a sense of hope during the impending period of transition.

Citizens based social movements

The role of Citizens based social movements should include social and psychological processes. Their main objective should be to restore and revitalize the social psyche giving it a real spiritual dimension. It must help cleanse all biases based on race, caste and religion and work towards ensuring equal rights and respect for all citizens which is their due and thereby reinforce the nation building process. Similarly, it must also endeavor to free the society of superstitious beliefs and ignorance and transform it into a modern and enlightened society based on rational thinking and sense of justice.

It should be a mixture of all ethnic groups that represent the Sri Lankan society. It should not be restricted only to the three major ethnic groups –Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim but instead must embrace all other minority groups, men and women belonging to all castes and religions. It should start with a strong ideological framework which must be open ended and flexible enough to effect modifications and adjustments so that it could be enriched and improved further in the face of public debates and   criticisms that it may have to encounter in the process. It is also important that a citizens movement of this nature is firmly rooted in a democratic footing. Democratic principles should be well respected internally. A person or a group holding different views should have a space to stay in the organisation. The Policies of the citizens’ movement must allow room for them to express their views openly and even to make an attempt to have their views enshrined in the official policy of the movement. All decisions must be reached through a formal democratic process. All internal activities must be made transparent. It should refrain from depending on foreign funds and all expenses should be borne by the funds generated through membership fees only. In the final analysis, the movement must be a role model of democracy that can be emulated. The members must be free of religious, racial or caste biases. They must be non violent, free from hatred, just and truthful and free of corruption and bias, secular and Multiculturists.

Dispelling the darkness

If we are able to create a citizens’ movement of this nature and make it a movement which attracts followers not by thousands but by several lakhs, then it would be possible to make a deep impact on the society, the state and the system of governmental and non governmental institutions. It can breathe a new life into the psyche of the Sri Lankan society which is now in a state of ailing and degeneration. The wounds of violence can be cured. The society can be based on new ideals and turned into a modern social force that thinks rationally, justly and multi culturally. The nation that is in a state of disintegration can be united. A common Sri Lankan identity can be promoted whilst at the same time safeguarding the individual identities of its constituent parties .The changes that emerge from this process will invariably make a profound impact on the governance of the country and its religions, arts and the science. This process will help create an atmosphere where genuine reforms conducive to common good of the people can be introduced in place of false reforms promised by politicians at their whim and fancy. Such an atmosphere will promote the creative energies in spiritual, cultural, science and technological sectors causing new creations and innovations. In the final analysis the country that is now in a state of stagnation can be turned into a one that is peaceful, vibrant and swiftly moving towards dynamic progress and development.

The idea of founding a strong social movement capable of effecting far reaching and beneficial social changes is not just an utopian dream that cannot be realised. It is in fact a dream that can be realised. The idea is more relevant today. There prevails a conducive social atmosphere with a very high potential in the country for such a movement. There is a substantial social segment interested and desirous of raising the country to a better and sanguine height. The members of this segment consist of different age groups. They are educated, rational and are capable of looking at things from a broad perspective and free of parochial biases. They are very well aware of the causes that have contributed to the failure of the nation. A good number of them have taken lead in various rights based struggles at National and Provincial level and have gained experience. If the activists in both these groups could get together and propel a vibrant Citizen’s Movement at national level and be committed to its objects, then making this dream a reality will not be difficult.

It is important that we keep this idea open for public debate.