The Need of the Hour!

A Paradigm Shift in the National Political Culture


By Rev. Fr. Leopold Ratnasekera OMI.

Recently we, as concerned and honorable citizens who have placed in the members of the present Parliament our highest hopes and considering them icons of integrity, were utterly disillusioned, dismayed, shocked and frustrated at the ugly scenes of erratic behavior that were orchestrated and the pitiable chaos that followed such childish demeanor of our peoples’ representatives. This is an unprecedented event that superceded even the unruly incidents when long time ago President Prēmadāsa, the common man’s trusted Head of State, was heckled in Parliament by some disgruntled MPs of his own party and on two other occasions, as for example, when a Buddhist monk was indecently manhandled and when the honorable members left their seats and sat on the floor and a blackout too ensued. The incident of last week was a veritable slur on our democracy and a stinking stain on the mantle of our ancient history and culture. We lost our honour and dignity as a civilized nation with these uncalled for and immature undisciplined behaviour with the portals of the highest national citadel of good governance being thus violated and dirtied. Any citizen, with some good sense and patriotic love for our dear motherland, will feel deeply hurt and let down by these nation’s uncanny leaders and lawmakers. Let politics of future be mercifully spared of such disgusting scenarios.

It is of no use to blame one particular party, or an individual, for this unfortunate incident but all parliamentarians must be called to account for this crime against our people. They have let us down very badly and people are beginning to lose confidence in them and in all democratic institutions. The blame must be laid firmly and squarely at the doorstep of every peoples’ representative who took part in that ugly incident, at that particular session of parliament convened for a very special purpose at the insistence of the Prime Minister and pressured by many in the Opposition. The purpose was blatantly defeated and a great tragedy overwhelmed us all.

It is true that over the last two decades this beloved country had been ruined by bribery, corruption, embezzlement of funds, robbery, cheating and lies. There have been cover-ups over many massive acts of abuse of political power and financial transactions. Many of these are the property of the people and amount to national wealth. They have been squandered by unscrupulous maneuvering of financiers who have been very astutely active in their abuse and misappropriation of these chunks of national wealth. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, are the noble words of the prophetic sage. The mammon of iniquity very often seduces, specially those who are bent on greed and avarice. The phenomenon of the Central Bank Bond Scam has become the perfect example of such a situation that resulted in a vicious form of greed and corruption, dishonesty and mis-management that has affected the entire nation and tainted, once again, the good name of the Pearl of the Indies. It is simply a despicable form of high-level thugery. There are some who even feel that had Ceylon continued under the British in some benevolent form, we would have turned out to be a second Singapore or perhaps a second Hong Kong – a land of economic boom, a commercial and strategic hub of Asia!

After all, what has 60 years of independence brought to this country after the period of Hon. D. S. Senanāyake, who unfortunately had an untimely death. His death affected the country’s future in a decisive way. The SWRD Bandaranayake regime, despite being a common-man’s government, did not last too long. It was a regime that counted on nationalization including that of the island’s network of schools. It was a disaster. Strikes and violent demonstrations were galore! Then the economic down-turn of the seventies was a great blow to the nation’s march forward, although non-alignment was a positive contribution. The eightees and the ninetees saw a zig-zagging type of national politics that swayed between the two main political parties of the country, the SLFP and the UNP. The country, fortunately, began to tread along the path of free trade with free-trade zones popping up in a few places under a new Constitution and an Executive Presidency. The Open Economy brought in some relief to the country. However, the violence of the JVP insurrections and the 30-year disastrous war, based on ethnic hatred and language-tensions, once again sunk the country in the doldrums of economic decadence. In the meantime, in the international scene, Sri Lanka began losing its once good name and the war-crime allegations emerged from the predominant western countries and spoilt our stand in the United Nations. The UN Human Rights Commission kept pressing in charges of crimes against humanity by both the terrorists and the government armed forces in the days of the war. These charges are still on the cards and we are struggling to face them with courage by a seemingly authority of good governance. What about the after effects of the war? The parentless children, the widows and the widowers, the orphans, the injured in the war, both among the army personnel and the civilians, the devastated and poisoned lands, the lost properties, the occupied territories, etc. added and is adding to the woes of the already bleeding nation. The so called "National Question" is still involving us in a struggle for bringing transitional justice for the affected and peace to the citizens. The cry for justice and reconciliation, compensation and compassion is still in the air. The grievances are still to be redressed and full justice is still to be meted out to those affected by the unfortunate and unforeseen disasters of the war and the post-war period.

Yet, what a contrast, the politicians of all divides and all hues are still battling and vying for power. They use the felt-needs of the people as pawns to justify their claim to better govern the country. The saga of the local government elections in which so many parties are fighting for power is clear evidence of how little the politicians are worried about the needs of the country. Everyone wants to grab the seats of power. The masses too are seduced and duped into this false power struggle. They are kept in blissful ignorance of the country’s real miserable situation: the rising-cost of living, the almost unsurmountable national debt, the pitiful state of agriculture with its farming communities and villages and, of course, unemployment and lack of foreign investments. Elections have become the veritable opium of the masses! The added cry of institutions that often threaten trade union action against injustices to them makes the situation really intolerable. The SAITM issue, the demands of the doctors and train employees, the nurses, the cry of the people of the interior villages for good roads, clean water, schools and medical care, safety from wild animals, etc., keep slowing down the daily routine of work and services pounding untold misery on the ordinary people, the patients, the workers and the commuters as civil life is often disrupted and people cannot attend to their daily chores and get on with their businesses. The rash spending of millions upon millions for parliamentary sessions and for the holding of all kinds of elections are a drain on the national economy and the brazen waste of resources which is a disgrace to the tax-payers. It is heart-breaking to see that national politics today, which instead of being a noble service to the nation, is almost as an oasis of bribery and corruption.

Any Sri Lankan, as a concerned citizen seriously taking into account the bizarre national situation but still holding a modicum of hope of a better future for his dear motherland, can ask, what we should be requesting eagerly and passionately from our politicians? In all sincerity and honesty we must plead with them to give up first of all the relentless greed for political power. Secondly, the need to tamper party politics evenly to serve the national needs and the needs of the common man. Thirdly, make a genuine effort to share a common platform, join hands together to raise this country from the horrible depths of misery, making it emerge as soon as possible from the mire and debris of corruption, thus laying the foundations for a peaceful, reconciled nation committed solidly to justice, social stability and economic prosperity. Those wishing to be elected to office must be clean men and women of integrity and those who love the country and its people. Instead of using them to achieve their hidden scurrilous agenda, they must be ready to genuinely serve the people’s needs and to tackling their urgent issues. National Reconciliation and transitional justice are the most urgent priorities for those who are in the government at various levels. They must become channels of dialogue among the various ethnic groups and social classes to advance the cause of good will and cooperation of all. For politicians, acting in accordance to their conscience and their sense of moral responsibility would be a far better and authentic way of witnessing to their religious beliefs. Morality and moral issues are certainly implicated in politics, economics, issues of social justice and human rights. It is essential that the wisdom and counsel of the national religious leaders are sought in important issues and not just their inter-religious blessings! It is their responsibility before the people to ensure the well-being and the security of all citizens. Those in higher forms of political responsibility must ensure that we have a decent and respectable standing in the family of nations. Peace is a priority that all must yearn and work for, the leaders in the North, North-East and the south. We have but one country, one national Sri Lankan identity though enriched by the diversity of languages, cultures and religions. Let us learn from countries like Singapore (Chinese, Malays and Tamils) , Switzerland (German, French and Italian), Belgium (Flemish and French) and Canada (English and French) and many other countries of such mix, how we can march forward hand in hand towards progress and social stability, despite differences, whatever they are.

Now is the time for reckoning for our country. This golden opportunity must be seized without delay and all avenues are to be exploited for our journey forward throwing to the winds the whimsical greed for power, destructive party politics, scandalous public behavior, so that we achieve unity of purpose and coordination of action. It is high time that a country of 60 years of independence become a mature nation capable of taking into its own hands, the destiny that history has marked out for it. The ancient Greeks wished that their kings and emperors be philosophers and advocated the concept of the Philosopher-king who can rule with wisdom and responsibility, in honesty and integrity. Sri Lanka at this hour is badly in need of such rulers and politicians: not just contending politicians with credible vision but statesmen of honour. We cannot fall short of our ideals and be a failed State. Nothing less than a radical paradigm shift in the political culture could possibly transform this beloved country. When we gained independence, many were the hopes and dreams for generations of Sri Lankans to come: self-reliance, prosperity and freedom. If pursued with good intentions and firmness of purpose even at this eleventh hour, in forgiveness and solidarity, we can still reach the heights and conquer the stars that can dazzle our horizons.

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