Peace for the World

Peace for the World
First democratic leader of Justice the Godfather of the Sri Lankan Tamil Struggle: Honourable Samuel James Veluppillai Chelvanayakam

Thursday, June 8, 2017

‘Yahapalanaya’: A game of patience?

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logoFriday, 9 June 2017

I am neither a political science expert nor a commentator, but I know some basic universal principles and ethics that should go with politics in the civilised world. Do we hear of politicians crossing over, switching parties or forming destructive cults within parties in mature democracies? I believe that this happens very seldom there.

First and foremost, in those countries, the people, who aspire to become career politicians, check the most compatible party for them based on their principles, ideologies and conscience, before taking action. This is the personal litmus test they all take.

Many, except for a very few, come with the supreme intention and passion to make people’s lives better and to uphold the democratic norms and rights of all. If they find some mismatch at some point, they leave politics for good, keeping their good names intact, more often than not.

01We have 225 MPs in Parliament and a few thousand people in other political structures. Strictly speaking, it is an overcrowded cadre that goes beyond our country’s meagre means, on maintenance. But, how many of our politicians go by their conscience or have taken the litmus test before coming to politics? I think it’s just a few at present. For most of them, it is a lucrative job!

In Sri Lanka, the most notable cross-over took place during President Rajapaksa’s first term. Many UNP MPs joined the Rajapaksa administration, betraying the party and their voters for personal gain, on the pretext of helping the Government to win the war against the LTTE. Why did they leave the UNP? Did the UNP change its fundamentals or was it not to help finish the war? No!

I would not say that all of them who crossed over received pay-outs, but certainly many of them were handsomely rewarded through ministerial portfolios and other lucrative perks, to say the least. By and large, this is the political calibre we have today although we boast about democracy, Buddhist values and the like. They mostly go for personal gain! Some of these people have now returned back to the UNP!

Having said that, I must also acknowledge a subset of MPs including some relatively young politicians such as Anura Kumara Dissanayake and his team of JVP MPs, Harsha De Silva, Eran Wickramaratne, Buddhika Pathirana, Ranjan Ramanayake, Champika Ranawaka and some TNA and SLFP MPs who make a rare exception, compared with the aforesaid opportunists.

These people seem to be engaged in principle-based ‘gentleman politics’ to an acceptable extent at least, but it is only a minority of about 50-60 MPs, in my opinion. This is a positive factor, but, it is just a fourth of the Parliament if we go by these numbers. Not a sizeable chunk when it comes to political dynamics, especially in a country like ours!

What the country has been through since 8 January 2015

In this analysis, it is important to look at what the country has been through since 8 January 2015. As per the mandate, Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe took up the topmost positions in the Government as the Executive President and Prime Minister, respectively. However, Ranil Wickremesinghe didn’t have the support of the majority of MPs in Parliament singlehandedly, but the Sirisena supporters of the SLFP/UPFA came to his rescue. The JVP and TNA also supported the progressive moves of the Government.

In the run up to the general election held in August 2015, this arrangement was just a temporary measure for a few months to give some relief to the people through the budget and pass the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in order to remove some extreme executive powers vested in the President.

The main promise to the public was to bring about ‘Yahapalanaya’ (good governance). But the socio-political atmosphere that prevailed pre 8 January 2015 was really toxic, law and order was hardly in force on the supporters of the Rajapaksa administration. They could literally do anything and go scot-free at the time! Not to mention that quite a few used this window to accumulate wealth through illegal means and take revenge on their opponents, etc.

Hence, the country’s cleansing process cannot be that simple as many of the hard-core people of this calibre are still around as people’s representatives. This is mainly due to the electoral voting system we have in place. Also, they are not short of cash for any election! This does not imply that all the others are saints! There are culprits in the other political parties (UNP, SLPA/UPFA Sirisena group, etc.) too. But, the difference is that they do not have State patronage or cover up from their masters that the sycophants of the previous regime had, as I believe.

At the last general election held in August 2015, we saw some SLFP stalwarts, who are with the incumbent President, losing the election and the Rajapaksa faction of SLPA/UPFA, the ‘Joint Opposition’ (JO), securing about 50 MPs. In order to balance this situation and consolidate his position, the President appointed some defeated politicians from whom he could garner support, through the National List.

There is one cardinal norm that we cannot forget in the democratic world. At general elections we choose our representatives, and they in turn represent us in Parliament for a fixed term. In the case of Sri Lanka, we empower 225 people to represent us. The executive (President) and these 225 MPs are entrusted in making the Legislature to realise the aspirations of the nation. The party or the coalition that commands the trust of the majority forms the government.

Today, we have a Unity Government (between the UNP/UPFA and a few others) that has won the trust of about 150 MPs (two-thirds of Parliament) headed by President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. The number of cabinet, state and deputy ministers account for 90+ for obvious reasons (no track and the number changes upwards all the time!).

Whether we like it or not, the Yahapalanaya process has to be worked out through these 225 people to a large extent! This is why we see MPs/ministers demanding facilities (they have the bargaining power now) and the Government and President oblige most of the time to keep them happy. Two classical cases are the sale of vehicle permits issued to the MPs (but this has been happening since 1977) and some ministers demanding extra luxury vehicles as their official transport.

Apparently, the President and PM are working with a lot of patience. This is the path to ‘Yahapalanaya’ in Sri Lanka (could be so in the other developing countries too). We must understand the reality.

Government servants and other professionals working in semi-Government institutions are also an integral part of his equation! I believe that we have many talented and honest professionals in the Government service, if the political will is there to turn the country around.

Sacrificing immediate future for the sake of ‘Yahapalanaya’

The possible immediate action is only diluting the toxicity in the system and gradual improvement of governance – cannot hurry up or upset the applecart and lose everything so far built! In other words, as it appears, we are compelled to sacrifice our immediate future because it might cost us ‘Yahapalanaya’ outright (cannot afford the risk!) if things go wrong at this stage.

Thinking of the future (long term) wholesome benefits that ‘Yahapalanaya’ could bring us when established to an acceptable level, we the citizens should have patience now – a lot of it perhaps!

However, I am quite happy with two of the appointments the Government made recently. Harsha De Silva and Eran Wickramaratne received ministerial appointments where they could use their knowledge, experience and talent to serve the masses. These are noteworthy progressive signs!

While this process goes forward (though quite slow these days), we must take action including the following to ensure ‘Yahapalanaya’ as part of Sri Lankan culture for all times.
  • Inculcating a culture of taking the said litmus test before joining a political party. We must maintain the multi-party system. Some might even go to the extent of forming new political parties if they cannot find a suitable existing one.
  • Political parties must properly screen the people they take on board. Preferably, we should go for the educated who could think outside the box. This is not only checking the paper qualifications, education is much wider than that! Also, their social background is important.
  • The holders of top positions in Government and semi-Government institutions must be qualified and fit to hold those respective positions. We are in the 21st century now! 
  • To introduce the necessary adjustments to our education system to facilitate this process from a young age. 
  • The archaic older generation, in traditional parties such as the UNP and SLFP, should be replaced by the able young people. My gut feeling is the younger generations are relatively incorrupt worldwide in general. 
  • Sporting honest prospective political leaders who have the capability and capacity to seamlessly take over the national battens at relay points. Unfortunately, this is not in sight yet. 
  • People should be able to make sure that they can dismiss the corrupt politicians from the system as soon as possible. Country first! 
  • Restructuring and empowering the Government service to suit 21st century challenges. Examples can be drawn from India, etc. There is something we all must understand. Maybe we are still 10 to 15 years or two to three parliaments away from realising our fervent wish and hope of ‘Yahapalanaya’ (touch wood!), but it is a worthy gain we could long, sacrifice and work for, thinking of our future generations! 

(The writer is a borderless thinker and futurist. His contact email: