The political mayhem that surrounds us needs to be addressed and I would attempt to maintain objectivity throughout. This is quite different from my other articles and this is me presenting my standpoint about the topic at hand. After all I write not as a supporter of single political party but rather a Sri Lankan youth who is baffled by the political instability that shadows the country.
As a student of Development Studies myself, it could be comforting to say “this is third world politics”. I even will be able to justify my statement. In fact it might astonish you that Sri Lanka is actually in a better place compared to some other third world peers. But that ‘comfort’ evades me. The more I study of development theory the more I realize how difficult it is for us to overcome our state. Let us compare us to where we need to reach. We watched as Singapore surpassed us, and perhaps we still watch the tide shift around us.
Bloomberg ranks 20 of the emerging markets which consist of the African states of Zambia and Namibia. Hilary Kramer writes to Forbes about how the African markets are becoming attractive to investors. She cites examples from Nigerian Stock Market to support her claim. This could be Sri Lanka. In his book ‘Breakout Nations’ Ruchir Sharma talks about the potential Sri Lanka holds to develop and he mentions that Sri Lanka has a great advantage because of its “geographical sweet spot”. He further talks about the politics and claims that Sri Lanka showed record breaking post war growth. He speaks about the importance of political stability for investors and having read the book I can say that Sharma spoke of Sri Lanka with more optimism than he did of Brazil.
In January 2015 the political shift which overthrew the Rajapaksa regime gave power to President Maithripala Sirisena. Ranil Wickremesinghe swore in as the prime minister minutes after the new president. President Sirisena had the blessing of the former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka who was a presidential candidate in 2010. The Prime Minister and the President were from opposing political parties and until the presidential elections in 2015 they all had very little to do in terms of a ‘common ground’. We do know that in Sri Lanka, the terms ‘ruling party’ and ‘the opposition’ really lives up to the literal meaning. With this new found friendship many saw the new regime as stable and unified. Things got tricky.
President Sirisena ran his campaign with a promise of “100 days”. The ultimate outcome was abolishing the executive presidency created in 1978 by then president J.R. Jayewardene. This promise was kept on the 28th of April 2015 when the 19th amendment to the constitution was passed “overwhelmingly” as the Asian Tribune words it. There was one vote against this amendment. So perhaps this new government is unified?
The former President Rajapaksa had a special retirement agenda. His name never seemed to have missed the media since his defeat till this day. As per this trend, his name will continue to take space in the Sri Lankan political arena. It started with the new regime pursuing corruption charges against him and his family members; his sons, his wife, his brothers. Many remember the demonstration in front of the bribery commission the day former defense secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa was called for questioning, the uproar about calling a former President to a bribery commission and of course with each of them denying these charges. Along with the Rajapaksa family, prominent figures of the previous cabinet were called for questioning and these same individuals were seen on stage in rallies that promised people a ‘return’ of Mahinda Rajapaksa.
160 days after assuming office president Sirisena dissolved the parliament on the 26th June 2015. The elections are to be held on the 17th of August 2015 and the new parliament is to meet on the 1st of September. The run up to this decision by the president has been interesting and confusing. Much turmoil surrounded the idea of giving the former President Rajapaksa nominations for the upcoming elections. It brought back the social media hyper that existed prior to the presidential elections earlier this year. Many said that giving nominations to the former president was ‘betraying’ the 6.2 million people who voted for him. What about the approximately 5.8 million people who didn’t? Arguing it out logically President Sirisena is accountable for both people who voted and didn’t vote for him. Perhaps giving nominations to former president Rajapaksa is a step towards reaching out to this 5.8 million people.
However after much distortion the former President was given nomination and is confirmed to contest for the elections this August. Many Sirisena supporters fear that the reentry of Rajapaksa would be burying the hatchet about the allegations of corruption. But really, what has been done so far? January to now has been a period of allegations in the country. Every politician took a minute to form accusations about one another. But everyone seems to be silent about what has been done. A common saying about Sri Lankan politicians is that “they are all the same”. Indeed the 19th amendment was a positive step towards democracy but then anyone who expected more than that I would say was foolish.
Indeed Prime Minister Wickremesinghe seems confident since January than he has been in years and Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera had the luxury of many official tours since his appointment. But I am not convinced that a ‘vision’ for Sri Lanka exists specially amongst the political turmoil. Well as some might think, “it hasn’t been long, the new president and his government needs time”, and I agree. But I say these words to bring out something more than point out the lack of political directive. Niccolo Machiavelli says “Politics have no relation to morals”.
Politics for personal gain is a game well played in many countries by politicians. Sri Lanka has experienced this, not just during the period of President Rajapaksa but even in governments before. Anyone who would think the new regime is ‘clean’ lives a dream, as politics will remain politics. However an opportunity rests in our hands to elect the ‘lesser’ evil to represent us as our government. It is important for us to keep in mind that we are talking about a country which is still overcoming the effects of war, in terms of social cohesion.
Be it Rajapaksa, Wickremesinghe or Sirisena the name would not matter as long as the vision that we as Sri Lankans need is formulated. I speak for my colleagues; I speak for a country with potential. We need to snap out of the hypocrisy that one side is good and the other is not, and work towards bringing us closer to political stability in order to tap the development nerve.