By Jehan Perera –
The continuing defection of government members away from President Mahinda Rajapaksa‘s election campaign is an indicator of the formidable nature of the challenge faced by the government. The President has a reputation for getting in a position to take on any challenge. However, what he is seeking to do is unprecedented. No President in the previous had the chance to contest the elections a third time. The Sri Lankan voter has had an earlier tradition of not returning an incumbent government to energy at elections. This only changed with the presidential method that concentrated energy in the hands of the President and enabled ruling parties to muscle themselves back to power.
There is expanding apprehension that the coming elections can become violent. The stakes are really higher for the contesting political parties. The presidency is by far the most potent institution in the country. Winning the presidency is the aim of each sides. The issues becoming canvassed at the elections, of corruption, nepotism and betrayal of the nation to international interests are highly emotive ones. Violations of election law are occurring on a big scale with the misuse of state property and sources getting highlighted by election monitors. There have also been acts of violence that can increase sharply as the election approaches.
In this fraught situation the sign of statesmanship would be for the President to initiate an all celebration discussion with the participation of religious and civil society on the need to have to ensure a cost-free and violence-totally free election. This discussion have to include the post-election circumstance, to make sure that no revenge-looking for will be tolerated. It is the President who is best suited to make this call as he holds the positions of Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and is also holds the ministerial portfolios for Defence and for Law and Order. Initiating such a discussion is in the national interest. It would both produce confidence about the electoral method in the minds of the general public and could also minimize the polarisation within the polity.
So far, even so, the government’s presidential election campaign has not taken on a positive tone. It seems to be focusing consideration on international conspiracies and plots to divide the nation, which are not new anymore. It is the opposition that is setting the pace in this regard at the early stage of the presidential election campaign. They have promised to abolish the presidential program and the 18th Amendment both of which lead to an overconcentration of power. They have pledged a new constitutional system that will make certain the de-politicisation of state institutions that will make government leaders accountable for their actions. Now the Common Opposition Candidate Maithripala Sirisena has promised to form a National Government if he wins the presidential elections.
“I am inviting my former colleagues and all parties represented in the current parliament to join a national government,” he said and promised to return the country to its status as a parliamentary democracy that existed till 1978. He also mentioned he wanted to bring about a peaceful constitutional revolution, citing India’s independence leader Mahatma Gandhi and South Africa’s anti apartheid leader Nelson Mandela as his inspirations. He mentioned he was an admirer of both Gandhi and Mandela and will stick to their instance in leading the country to establish a new political culture. This would include ensuring that all will be protected by the Sri Lankan state right after the elections.
The Widespread Opposition Candidate’s promise to kind a national government has 3 optimistic aspects to it. The initial is that it will be the very best way to make certain there is a 2/three majority in Parliament to make the necessary constitutional amendments. It is unlikely that a enough quantity of parliamentarians will cross over from the government ranks to the opposition prior to the presidential elections to guarantee a 2/3 majority. Therefore there will be a require to persuade government parliamentarians who did not cross more than to also give their vote for the constitutional amendments. This can ideal be carried out through the arrangements of a national government.
Second, the formation of a national government that involves members of the present government who did not cross over prior to the election can ease the trauma of the transition. It will reassure these in the outgoing government that they will not be left powerless and at the mercy of hostile opponents. Certainly, they can be element of the national government which will also be a transitional government. This sort of assurance is crucial due to the fact there is anticipation the forthcoming elections will become a do or die battle in which violence can take an upper hand. It is certainly possible that relations will be shattered during the elections. But following the folks give their verdict, there also wants to be political reconciliation in the national interest.
Elections are necessarily divisive as they pit one contestant against the other. The rivals seek to get the votes of the electorate by highlighting differences rather than commonalities. This is where statesmanship should accompany the political need to be various. What is necessary for each and every of the contestants to win is not necessarily in the national interest. The work to win elections have to not detract from the greater ambitions of sustaining peace at house and peace in the world.
The third optimistic aspect of a national government is that it will contribute to make the constitutional reform process a consensual one. The 3 prior efforts at altering constitutions had been partisan exercises. The two new constitutions of 1972 and 1978 were rammed through with out any heed provided to the protests or wishes of the opposition parties. As a outcome there was no sense of ownership of those two constitutions by the opposition parties, let alone the people at large. The try at passing a new constitution in 2000 was derailed due to the fact of opposition protests.
In searching for to form a national government it is also important that the ethnic minority parties be included. The ethnic conflict has been the most divisive and protracted problem in the nation. It was there even prior to Independence from the British in 1948, when Lord Soulbury observed that overcoming communalism and generating a unified nation was the largest challenge facing the newly independent country.
Consequently in effecting constitutional change, it is essential that the views of the ethnic minority parties be respected and their interests be accommodated. This is where the South African principle of ”sufficient consensus” will turn out to be useful.
When Nelson Mandela was negotiating the way out of the Apartheid system which handful of thought was feasible to achieve peacefully, he sought to acquire a maximum of consensus. Nevertheless, the South African leaders realised that on some issues getting the consensus of all parties was not achievable. So they decided that at least the most essential parties had to agree. In the Sri Lankan case, exactly where matters relating to ethnic minority rights, devolution of power and post-war reconciliation are concerned, the agreement of the main ethnic minority parties will be required.
The government’s military victory over the LTTE unified the country geographically, but not in heart and mind. It is due to this unresolved difficulty that the nation faces international opprobrium, possible sanctions and is not getting the economic investments it could get from the Diaspora and from international firms. The main international concerns over Sri Lanka have been the unwillingness of the government to deal with the human rights violations that took place for the duration of the war. South Africa provides a model in which truth and reconciliation walked hand in hand. Right after decades of political polarisation and pricey warfare, this will not be an simple challenge to take up and needs the collective wisdom of both the government and opposition, and regardless of which side wins the election.