We have come to the Manifesto stage of the current election campaign. The Samagi Jana Bala Balavegaya and the UNP have now issued their manifestos, on meeting the challenge of the Podujana Peramuna.
The Manifesto was a declaration of importance in world and local politics in decades gone by. There was the Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels in 1848, the October Manifesto by Nicholas II (1905) in an effort to cease the Russian Revolution, the Fascist Manifesto of 1918, Mein Kampf – Hitler’s manifesto in 1925, the Oxford Manifesto in 1947 giving the basic principles of Liberal Internationalism, and many more such political documents in the decades that followed.
This country saw the importance of manifestoes with the rise of the left parties – the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and the Communist Party (CP) and the later breakaways of the Left Movement. The LSSP and CP manifestos did bring out and present new political thinking in the country, which saw important changes such as Free Education, the extension of Free Health, the early nationalizing of the Bus Services and the Port of Colombo, and the pro-socialist political thinking for decades to follow.
The manifestos of today are not the stuff of good politics. The Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and UNP have displayed their party divisions, rather than policies to meet the needs and demands of the people. It is a Premadasa vs Wickremesinghe rivalry rather that a Janatha Sevaya or Service to the People thinking. The Pohottuva has the Gotabhaya Rajapaksa pledges for his election last November, and hardly anything new to meet the current and possible post-Covid situations.
The parties engaged in the electoral politics of today, are not presenting any new ideas or policies for the wider improvement of the country, the economy and the lives of the people. There is no show of the response to the changes that will be necessary in the post-Covid world, which will be the reality of the future. These manifestos, and the public statements by party leaders and key speakers at rallies and press briefings, have little or nothing on managing the crises that the country faces such as the huge unemployment and under-employment, the closedown of large sections of the garment industry, the shutdown of tourism, and problems faced by Sri Lankans employed abroad, who were the biggest contributors of foreign exchange to the country.
What we see are the same old political handouts of the decades just gone by, with moves to have wider divisions among the people – on lines of ethnicity and/or religion, and hardly any moves to achieve national unity, beyond the confines of majoritarian dominance.
The Pohottuva campaign is driven on the Two-Thirds slogan. Little is told to the people as to why such a large majority is needed. Its threats to democracy are hardly highlighted, with little or nothing said of the damage that 23 has done to the democratic process. Let’s not forget that the two governments that obtained 2/3 majorities under the old election system brought in the threats to democracy. The 1970 government of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaanaike and the left parties extended the life of that parliament, which was to end in 1975, by two more years. It also brought to an end the good public administration through the Civil Service, and brought the Administrative Service, with its political manipulation to this day.
The next 2/3 majority, in fact the 5/6 majority that JR Jayewardene won for the UNP in 1977 became a disaster for democracy, with the new Constitution of 1978 that brought the Executive Presidency and the overall presidential control over Parliament. That majority saw the parliament extended for a full six years till August 1989, through what was a clearly crooked referendum. JRJ did not seek a referendum to adopt the 1978 Constitution, which requires a referendum for any major changes to that same constitution.
The 2/3m majority that Mahinda Rajapaksa obtained, not by an election, but by political and profitable purchase in Parliament, also enabled the President to seek re-election any number of times. A 10-member Constitutional Council was replaced by a 5-member Parliamentary Council, Independent Commissions such as the Elections, Judicial Service and Police Commissions were brought directly under the Executive President. It was a move that armed the presidency with absolute power, supportive of nepotism and dictatorship.
We also had two-thirds majorities that brought much benefit to the country and strengthened democracy. This was the passage of the 17th Amendment that brought in the independent Constitutional Council, Public Service Commission, Judicial Service Commission and several others. The next was the 19th Amendment, which reduced the President’s term to five years and brought back the two-term limit. It brought the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to official acts of the President,limited the Cabinet size to 30 – unless through an Act of Parliament (on a National Govt,) and brought in the law on Freedom of Expression. The 19A has matters that should be changed. Let that be discussed and voted in Parliament.
What is significant about the 17th and 19th Amendments are that they were not adopted by a 2/3 majority obtained at any election – as sought by Gotabhaya and Mahinda Rajapaksa today. They were majorities gathered through the agreement of parties and members within parliament. This was the success of the democratic process with agreement and understanding among elected parties and MPs.
We have moved away from the promises of Volkswagens and bracelets, to waving of WiFi to the public, and many more goodies which had no call from the people. We are now seeing promises of a Rs. 20,000 payment to all employees, and crazy and deranged promises of land and housing. Those who talk big on housing have nothing to say of the shameful line-rooms of the plantation workers.
What do any of these parties, their leaders, manifestos or policy statements have to say on how best the sunshine over our land can be used to generate electricity, adding to the water power, and get away from coal and fuel?
Isn’t Sri Lanka facing a general election where none of the competitors have anything to say about the impact of climate Change, which is rapidly affecting this country? What has any party got to say about bringing to an end the continuous and tragic human-elephant conflict, killing so many elephants and humans each year? How much of our national assets are to be sold or transferred to foreign companies, as the national economy is fast scraping the bottom?
What new thinking is there among any of the so-called political rivals on raising the scope and levels of education, bringing new skills to our youth, and a genuine move to the New Age of Science, beyond the expanding digital boundaries? What does anyone say about fighting and eradicating corruption in every aspect of governance?
What can any political party in this race say about just 18 of the 225 members of the last parliament not contesting in this election? Was that 18 the only honest MPs?
Another area that has been totally ignored is the future of the Media – its role in development of a nation and its people, its task in breaking the boundaries of racist and ethnic extremism/
The need is for a truly new manifesto for progress, honesty and Service; and not Pipe Dreams of glory for families, crooks and catchers.