Colombo, Constitutional Reform, Elections, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War

The 2010 Elections: Finishing the War on Terror & Beginning the Battle for Democracy

The 26th of November 2009 went by without Vellupillai Prabhakaran making his annual Mahaveera Speech. We can effectively say that he and the LTTE died on the beaches of the Nandikandal Lagoon in May 2009. The Sri Lankan Government won the war against the LTTE and declared that Terrorism had been defeated. Some Sri Lankans danced in the streets, ate Milk Rice and lit fire crackers celebrating that Terrorism had been defeated. The wiser sections of Sri Lankan society knew that the defeat of the LTTE gave Sri Lanka only a glimmer of hope and that there will be much more to do in a post war Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. They bowed their heads, said a quick thank you and bravely carried on silently with their lives.

Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction are key words and images that flash across our media and society today. Getting the economic and material resources to rebuild our country will be a tough task but it is achievable. Just like it took a colossal effort and the support of Sri Lanka’s ‘silent’ yet brave majority to win the war, we will be able to pull ourselves together and with the help of friends from Western or Eastern Bloc’s Sri Lanka will rise like a phoenix from the ashes of its scorched economy and infrastructure. There is however, one key necessary factor which will be needed to sustain peace in Sri Lanka. This factor has been lacking in Sri Lanka for the last 30 years of civil war. It was responsible for the rise of violence and militancy in Sri Lanka. It is maybe one of the most important root causes of the Sri Lankan conflict and if it is not addressed Sri Lanka will slowly but surely slide back into conflict. This factor is Democracy.

We need Real Democracy, not the ‘symbolic’ Democracy that has been granted to us by name. We have grown increasingly comfortable with our symbolic democracy and become de sensitized to the absence of a Real Democratic system. Sri Lanka needs a representative, free and fair ‘Real Democratic’ system. Without this system we will never be able to inclusively resolve our differences, disagreements and achieve our aims without having bloodshed. But many a democratically aware citizen in Sri Lanka would ask how exactly we could go about bringing about Real Democracy in Sri Lanka. There are many ways that Democratic principles can be genuinely enshrined in society and state. This article will illustrate a politically contextual approach outlining initial steps to bring about genuine Democratic change in Sri Lanka.

The conduct of an election is the fundamental indicator or ‘measure’ of Democracy. Sri Lanka has experienced a number of important elections throughout its Civil War decades. The victories of the UNP during the 1980’s, Chandrika Bandaranaike’s Peoples Alliance victory in 1994, the UNP’s return to power in 2001 and Mahinda Rajapakse’s victory at the 2005 Presidential Election are to name a few. Sri Lankan elections have had their share of rigging and violence. However, nothing rejuvenates and invigorates Sri Lanka’s flailing Democracy like an election, preferably a General Election but those like us who beg for Democracy cannot be choosers and there is also the distinct possibility of a General Election in 2010 after the Presidential Election. Yet we can safely say that the Presidential and General elections of 2010 will be one of the most decisive because of the fragile peace that currently binds Sri Lanka together. Furthermore, these elections will be the first Presidential and General elections to be held after the defeat of terrorism in Sri Lanka and hence their importance is unquestionable.

Naturally, we all have our doubts about these elections. But the time has come for our people to become mobilized around building a Democratic Sri Lanka. This is not an idealistic statement but an inevitable consequence from the end of war. While the war destroyed lives and property, it also eroded Democratic Principles in Sri Lanka. It did not matter on whether a Tamil Militant shot a Member of Parliament or the Sri Lankan Government created new draconian laws to counter militancy thereby resulting in the ‘stagflation’ of freedom, there was no need to choose sides as warring parties took turns in wiping out Sri Lankan Democracy, it was war itself that promulgated the destruction of Democracy. However, the war is now over. Sri Lankans will gradually realize that there is more to peace in Sri Lanka then victory itself. There are a hundred million issues that need addressing in Sri Lanka from infrastructure development to the reduction of crime, from the revamping of the education system to the integration of domestic markets with international demands and more importantly the rehabilitation of individuals and property laid waste by decades of war. Our people will slowly start to realize, and in fact some have already realized that they need to have a say in the conduct of these matters. This realization will bring them to the logical conclusion that Sri Lanka’s Democracy must be re established. Our people will realize that the war is now finished and the time has come for them to win their democratic rights back.

Hence, this first expression of post war democracy in 2010 is very important. It will be the foundation upon which the ‘Citadel’ of Sri Lanka’s 21st Century State will be built. These elections will be historic. They will either herald the dawn of a new plural democratic Sri Lanka or create the seeds of struggle against an Anti Democratic authoritarianism. To avoid the latter, we as Sri Lankans must be ready to wage a non violent struggle to protect our Democratic rights while preventing future bloodshed and repression. Our Sri Lankan Democracy will be at its most fragile during the 2010 elections and its aftermath. To rejuvenate and rebuild our Democracy, and indeed our country it will take a colossal effort on the part of individuals, pressure groups, political parties and Presidential candidates. Future generations beckon to us, it is in this moment in our history that we must come together and in one voice say ‘Preserve Democracy in the Motherland’.

As a first step both candidates in the Presidential Election and all parties that will participate in a future General Elections should declare that they will implement the following provisions;

Fight against Corruption: According to Transparency International; Sri Lanka moved from position 67 in 2004 to position 97 out of 180 in 2009. There is something rotten in the Sri Lankan state and its corruption. No complex arguments need to be given about this topic because everyone in Sri Lanka knows that something has to be done about corruption. The old ‘the parties in the opposition or who came before us did it, so we can too’ argument has increasingly become non negotiable. There can be no arguments and no negotiations on this issue, the Sri Lankan people have had enough of bribing everyone from the local Grama Sevaka to Government Ministers. All parties and candidates must declare their assets before they run in an election or spell out a 5 or 10 point program with a timeline on how they will combat and drastically reduce corruption when they come into power. 

Sanctify Media Freedom: How many journalists have been killed, injured, abducted and threatened from 2000 to 2010? What about the question of self censorship? If a particular journalist supports the governing party there’s nothing wrong with it, likewise a journalist who supports views opposing the government should also be allowed his or her right to express freely. Media Freedom in Sri Lanka is a major issue. Any candidate or party running in the Presidential or General Elections must pledge to protect media freedom by guaranteeing they will abolish the draconian Press Council Law and establish state mechanisms and laws that will protect journalists from violence and intimidation. It is one thing to initiate legal action against a journalist because of defamation and another to have a white van gang abduct or kill him.

Implement the 17th Amendment to the Constitution; it is a part of the constitution. If a section of the constitution is not implemented it violates the constitution. This degrades democracy and democratic principles in Sri Lanka. Without the 17th Amendment, no independent parliamentary commissions including a police commission and an elections commission can be established. This basically means that citizens of Sri Lanka have no direct access to an independent parliamentary mechanism to complain to when they are unsatisfied with State services and obligations.

Implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution; no matter how political parties posture themselves the 13th Amendment to the constitution is a part of the Sri Lankan constitution. Political parties opposing the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the constitution are encouraging Sri Lankan citizens to violate the Sri Lankan constitution. Either they should change their stance or join in a debate to rewrite the Sri Lankan constitution.

Abolish the Executive Presidency; it was created to control a State which was facing multiple insurrections at the time. The executive presidency is a centralized state mechanism which suited the 1970’s to 2009 Sri Lanka civil war phase and it should be abolished so that a more democratic post war Sri Lanka can be built.