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Needed: An Agenda for Reform on Groundviews

Whilst it is not clear as to whether we would be voting in both the presidential and general elections on the same day, it is clear that we will be voting in at least one of them in the next three months, followed soon thereafter by the other.  Most likely it will be the presidential elections since it is the president who has to decide and since he is much more popular than his party. Moreover, we have been told that he is willing to sacrifice, if necessary, two years of his first term in order to secure a second and a parliamentary majority nearest to the heart’s desire.

All elections are important and these will be no exception. It is worth reminding that we are still in a post-war situation and far from the post-conflict one we ought to be in. What this requires is the prioritization of peace, reconciliation and unity and the firm commitment to ensure that the causes of ethnic conflict are not reproduced and sustained.  This means at least the rights of the IDPs as the litmus test for all else, a political settlement of the conflict and a reversal of the culture of impunity in respect of human rights along with facing up to the questions of whether there can be unity without reconciliation and reconciliation without accountability.  This is not all.  There are serious questions to be considered on the economic front with regard to employment and indebtedness – the real consequences of the fate of GSP Plus and the IMF loan – and most importantly in light of recent demonstrations, the ability of the system of education to meet the requirements of the economy.  And given Angulana, what happened to Nipuna Ratnayake and the Bambalapitiya drowning, the overarching issues of the Rule of Law, the supremacy of Constitution and the intentional violation of the Seventeenth Amendment.

Constitutional reform, at least in terms of the abolition or reform of the executive presidency will be on the agenda, as a consequence not so much of the requirements of governance but the emerging imperatives of regime survival and stability.  There is the danger that on this score, what is in store is the abolition of the form and title of the executive presidency with the transfer of its substantive powers to an “executive prime minister”.   The electoral system too, could be up for debate with the virtues of the ‘first-past –the post’ system and constituency MPs being eulogized to discredit proportional representation.

There is a crying need for a national debate on the future of the country and the issues on which the next presidential and general elections are to be fought.  The challenges ahead are far too serious to treat these elections merely as opportunities to register electoral approval, appreciation, admiration and gratitude for the defeat of the LTTE.  There has to be a tomorrow and a time when the war is truly behind us.  We need a plan to move towards that time and in order to design one, as many of us as willing and able must be part of that process.  An agenda for change and reform is critically needed and it will not come from the politicians who are trapped in fighting yesterday’s battles.

The island wide debate, discussion or conversation on change and reform is a vital and integral part of this.  Where however, through or on what medium or channel or site can it be conducted?

The obvious answer is the mainstream print and electronic media.  For a variety of reasons, very real and crucial constraints ranging from official displeasure, threat and sanction to self censorship, ideological disposition, market demands and problems of professionalism, the robust exchange of ideas called for will not happen here and not beyond the efforts of a persistent few, as required.  Moreover, since it is an exchange of ideas – a discussion, debate or conversation- that is called for, many voices need to he heard.  This is not about letters to the editor, about comment and observation alone but about participation and engagement with passion and conviction about the Sri Lanka of the future, we desire and deserve.

Citizens’ journalism and given its record as a forum for quality debate, Groundviews is ideally positioned to make a major contribution to this exercise in national rejuvenation and renaissance.  Is it not possible in the lead up to the elections that citizens use Groundviews to canvass their ideas for constitutional reform, governance, human rights and the economy and whatever else they see as constituting essential elements of an agenda for change and reform? The exchange could, but need not be time bound. As in the nature of a conversation it should be ongoing and active.

This would be a convincing demonstration of the strength and value of citizens’ journalism and its substantial utility in empowerment for peace, governance and human rights – An enabling facility for a functioning democracy.

GV - Test 1