Sri Lankan Politics: Scramble for power and bane of people

By Rev. Fr. Leopold Ratnasekera OMI., Ph.D., Th.D.

The great bane of many third-world countries looms in the craftily orchestrated dramas of greed and struggle for power in the political arena. Formerly Ceylon, beginning from 1956 and now Sri Lanka, in the course of the last four decades or so, has provided an ideal oasis for power-hungry politicians to play their astute games and political trickery at the expense of often misinterpreting people’s choices and oppressing them with their high-flown imaginary visions. There comes a time when an entire country and a nation can turn so corrupt and cock-eyed that they just are not able to see any other wiser way of thinking and deciding. The recent three elections country-wide, the Presidential election, the parliamentary general election and the local government election that followed give us a fair idea of how politicians are hawks at the game.

What a pity! Where is the spirit of statesmanship exhibited by our great fore-fathers of the calibre of D.S.Senanayake, the first prime minister of independent Ceylon, Sir Baron Jayatillake, a great politician-philosopher, the noble rank and file of statesmen and national leaders who knew how to wage a commendable fight and struggle for Independence? Where have all the decent politicians and national leaders gone? Are the politicians on stage at present without exception just power-hungry selfish individuals who at whatever price are bent on after capturing power or how many of them are true statesmen genuinely committed to build up this country along the three-way path of political stability,national harmony and a strong economy. This is all this country needs to be assured of a better and prosperous future devoid of this harang of party turmoil and lack of political vision in all the major parties at play today.

A Nation in Crisis all the way

It is true that S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike broke away from the capitalistic, imperialistic and aristocratic UNP (so he thought in his radical political thinking) to unleash the five-great-revolutionary forces galvanizing the monks, the farmers, the teachers, workers and ayurveda physicians to launch an unprecedented people’s political movement, thus winning the hearts of simple rural Buddhist populace and bringing in a “People’s Government” (Apē Ānduwa). Bandaranaike was not left in peace to bring in his socialistic vision into the soul of the nation. Strike after strike followed suit buckling his plans, communalism began raising it head, the signs of the impending not too distant catastrophe and national decadence were to follow. The ninteen-sixties betrayed a lamentable instability that hit the economy rock hard. No one forgets the economic depression of the nineteen-seventees, the dent on foreign currency, lack of basic nutritional needs and the acute ratio of unemployment.

The 1980s witnessed the volcano of ethnic conflict that engendered a fierce and destructive armed struggle soaking this nation in blood and hatred. Since the historical events of the triple colonial aggression on our country, the thirty-year ethnic war could be considered as our history’s next most national tragedy, the difference being that it brewed from within our national ranks. The efforts of the governments were inept and impotent to quell this move towards a war. The expenditure incurred in fighting a world’s worst terrorist outfit sucked the country off its financial resources and left a country battered and bewildered.

However, with the defeat of terrorism, there opened a new page for treading new paths for national unity, economic progress and social integration. In no time, the raw greed for power from the rulers and political immaturity of leadership, there dawned a period of political instability marked by race for power and the dashing of people’s aspirations to zero. This is the drama at the present time.

The speech from the President and the opening of the second session of the nation’s eighth parliament gave us some idea of the state of confusion that has engulfed our country. Even at this eleventh hour, the opportunity for saner political leadership and the more enlightened understanding of the people at large can bring in some light at the end of this dark tunnel to which we have been led. Politics in this country unlike that of countries like Singapore, Switzerland and Finland has proved itself to be a disastrous national exercise.

There seems to be a relentless greed to grab political power and once won, bribery and corruption had crept in at all levels into the sacred sanctuaries of public trust to dampen and poison their undertakings and responsibilities.

13th amendmentNo one doubts today the utterly miserable condition Sri Lanka is being subjected to by politicians. Recent events and revelations give ample proof to the despicable extent the State machinery has been vitiated. It is a wholly crooked system of public life that prevails in the country where even the civil organizations and citizens’ movements appear powerless to stem this cancerous tide. Our politicians are experts in the disastrous skill of lambasting ruling governments while proclaiming their self-justified stance that they instead can rule better. They never get tired of asking for newer elections of all kinds and begging for newer mandates from the people! We cannot lay aside the political maneuvering that introduced the office of the Executive Presidency that brought in five presidents. This has by now created an hornests nest and is a continuous bone of contention, confusion and instability in today’s Sri Lankan politics.

National Politics and Peoples’ Cry

Fishing in troubled waters is what is plainly going in our political arena at the moment under the fake cover of concern for the future well-being of the nation. It is the ardent plea and the honest desire and hope of all concerned citizens who have at heart the well-being and the good name of the motherland to raise a cry for change and conversion of heart and mind in the life of politicians and those who dabble in politics. The power struggle of the political parties and their despicable greed had wreaked the hopes and aspirations of the people, especially the middle-class, the rural and urban poor. Which political authority in the future and political leadership will at long last relieve their long-standing sufferings and woes, we still yearn to see. Who will succeed in solving the national problem of ethnic reconciliation, turn around the economy down-turn and succeed in establishing an effective political and social order with a stable economy?

We do not need astute politicians who can hoodwink but eminent and noble statesman of character and of the caliber of D.S.Sēnānāyake, the father of the nation, Dudley Sēnānāyake who was the epitome of honesty and sincerity and Ranasinghe Prēmadāsa , the leader of the common man. Party politics need not be a shameful political rivalry for grabbing power by hook or crook. It must contribute towards complementarity of the vision of both the ruling government and a mature opposition. It appears as if there is a subtle form of tricking people and de-conscientizing them of the real status-quo of the country.

The dignity of the people is trampled and denigrated by those who use them as tools for their hidden agendas and personal benefits.

The national government which held out many a hope for the people who voted it to power unfortunately could not attain their targets and accomplish their due tasks to full satisfaction. Instead, a tide of confusion has resulted where everyone is lost in the blues! The political life of the country seems to have boiled down to a game that is incessantly being played by heartless politicians who do not seem to care a two-pence for the good of the people and their immediate needs: cost of living that has to be lowered, fertilizer for the farmers, facilities for rural people for travel and school amenities for their children and of course creation of jobs. The question of decent salaries has propped up every now and then for various categories of workers. The frequent strikes are a sign that not everything has been settled regarding the anomalies of salaries. The farmer and the middle-class worker are at pains to make their ends meet in their day to day struggle to live and be content. Our traditional exports, tea, rubber and coconut products bring in poor foreign exchange. There is foul-play even in these sectors. Remittances from migrant workers are being threatened with the challenges facing their very lives and their unwillingness to venture into these employments abroad. Factories are grinding to a slow halt. Investors are having second thoughts opening up enterprises in the country because of the political instability and financial uncertainty. Then there is the constant rising cost of living that is our bee in the bonnet. What about the colossal losses incurred by the state enterprises such as Sri Lankan Airlines. The post-war rehabilitation and the missing persons issue are still fearful challenges hurled at us by the human rights organizations It is indeed a sad scenario! As it is said, the ship is sinking but the merry-making is going on!

Not all hope needs be lost

In the light of the three urgent issues at stake at the moment, namely political stability, stable economy and national reconciliation, what is needed today is a disciplined breed of politicians who love the country, its people and are ready to transcend their personal gains with determination to do their best to work together for the progress of our dear motherland. Despite ideological differences that might be legitimate in a atmosphere of freedom of thought and expression, they must be noble-minded and motivated to work hand in hand for a Sri Lanka, a country well-stabilized, a socially integrated nation with everyone focusing on one single aim of facing the challenges at hand and capable of coming out of the darkness and uncertainty of the present.

What is at stake is the morality in political and public life and the maturity and sense of responsibility of those in high public office in their being accountable to the people and manifest a clear sense of transparency devoid of hidden agenda when dealing with national issues and people’s problems. The lessons of the failures of the so-called unity-government carry many a lesson that can give wise guidance for the ventures of the future. All politicians of whatever hue in this country, must give up their philosophy of politics that make them unstable and unsteady themselves like the lizard that changes colors. Instability and rattling movements in the noblest of our democratic institutions such as the Parliament means in the final analysis, destabilization of the country which affects the civility and the economy as everyone knows. It does not augur well at all for us in the international scene.. It is the very earnest and sincere desire of every enlightened Sri Lankan citizen that we emerge from the present impasse and be well on the way to a period of political stability and economic prosperity with national reconciliation soon achieved to make of our motherland truly the impeccable Pearl of the Indian Ocean.

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