The goals of progress that were the key expectations of the call and movement for freedom have been pushed aside as we approach the 72nd anniversary of Independence from colonial rule.
The celebrations on February 4 will be hugely affected by the coronavirus that has begun straddling the world, and the call for face masks gets louder than for the reduction in food prices in Sri Lanka.
Is this new coronavirus a real threat in a country trapped in the fever and deaths from Dengue in the past several years? Not very likely. From what we have read recently, what threatens Sri Lanka more is the Corona (or Crown) Maga Maru Virus – the Road Death Virus that takes eight lives, and maims double that number for life, every day. It is the crowning disaster in Sri Lanka that is wholly ignored by so-called national leaders, who must be delighted by the rise of the coronavirus from Wuhan, China; topping the news world, pushing away those recorded phone calls, and moving minds away from the Bond Scam, whether Ranil/Mahendran or Mahinda/Cabraal or both.
What do we have to celebrate on Feb 4 this year, as the country moves towards a general election, with a call for a 2/3rd majority in parliament by the lotus bud power handlers, and an opposition that is making a grand display of divisive politics?
The rise of democracy was seen from nearly a decade before independence, with elections to the State Council, but 72 years after freedom we see a huge decline in the democratic process, largely enabled by the 2/3rd electoral and manipulated majority in parliament. The first 2/3rd majority government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike, which brought the first Republic, and made Buddhism the State Religion, also extended the term of its parliamentary life by two years, and saw more than 10,000 killed in handling the first JVP uprising. It certainly was not the stuff of good Buddhist governance.
The next big 5/6th majority of the JR Jayewardene government brought the Executive Presidency which was a disaster for democracy. It stopped the cross-over of MPs, did away with by-elections, increased the number of MPs to 225, and brought in the district-wise proportional representation in elections doing away with the choice of candidates by electorates. Every government that was elected after JRJ in 1977 made pledges to do away with the Executive Presidency, but failed to do so in substance.
The next two-thirds was not from an election, but was politically manipulated by Mahinda Rajapaksa who won the 1990 polls with a huge majority, but not enough for one’s narrow political goals. A 2/3rd majority obtained by the offer of State Office in the Cabinet, as well as monetary and other benefits, saw the 18th Amendment. It was the denial and repudiation of democracy,which removed the two-term limit to a president, extending it for unlimited terms, and had exploitative control over the Constitutional Council and the heads of key State Commissions such as the Public Service, Human Rights, Judicial Service and the Police.
This is the disastrous record of the 2/3rd majority in the democratic process in this country. Yet, we are moving towards a general election, with the current president, whose elder brother President had repeatedly called for the abolition of that office, now calling for a 2/3rd majority to change the Constitution, mainly the 19th Amendment, which gives more powers to the parliament than to the president.
The 19th Amendment does have shortcomings and failures. We do not need a huge Cabinet for a National Government, the powers or limitations of the presidency must be better explained and laid down, and the parliamentary process further strengthened. Let the people know these needed changes and vote for them in parliament, where a 2/3rd is easily possible as obtained for both the 17th and 19th Amendments, by one government that had a shaky majority (17A) and another that was a minority government (19A). These were genuine victories of freedom and democracy.
Where are we heading in this 72nd year of Independence? President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had much to say of the kurakkan-coloured “Sataka” that his paternal uncle wore in his campaign for election to the State Council. It was forgotten or ignored for more than three decades, till Mahinda Rajapaksa saw its political benefit. Are we to move to a new trend of “Sataka” politics as the stuff of family politics, where the Deep South or Medamulana prevails over the rest of the island?
Is the rise of Sinhala-Buddhist politics to be the material of the next decade of freedom in a country that has forgotten that for nearly half of its 72 years of freedom, it has been a hugely bloody nation? Are we to forget the realities of the 30-year terror and bloodshed of the LTTE, the two bloody uprisings of the JVP, and the communal violence of 1957 and 1983?
There are increasing numbers of opinion builders who are keen to see the provisions of the Kandyan Convention brought into the practice of governance, than the systems and governance handed over by the colonial rulers. Is this the search for freedom and democracy? There is also a rise in thinking that the yellow robe of the Sangha is the ideal substance of government policy and practice, and should not be confined to the vinaya or discipline of the preachers of Buddhism.
Let us listen to the National Anthem sung – in one or both official languages – on February 4, and think deeper of the meaning of those lyrics by Ananda Samarakoon, and not feel as he did in being pushed to suicide. Let “Namo, Namo’ prevail in our deepest honour to our Motherland, with the hope for better governance in the years to come.