Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Sri Lanka: Why govt. must seek a fresh mandate?

The worry people have is whether they would have to put up with this kind of government in the future, too. This government was put together mainly to keep at bay their common enemy and there was no common basis on major issues such as economic policy, Tamil separatism, foreign policy, Constitution, security, education, health etc.

by S. Amaratunga-
( July 18, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) This government has proved beyond doubt that a country like ours cannot be governed for the good of the people by a hybrid government of the kind we have at present. It has two heads and two tails and they pull in different directions, and trying to trip each other they fall to the ground. Even members of the government accept that it has failed to deliver on their promises. If we leave the vote catching promises aside, the government has failed miserably to maintain the economic growth that the previous government, whatever may be its faults, had achieved, and allowed it to collapse irreparably. The economy of a country is the most important single factor for the well being of its people. This is mainly due to the inability of the government to be consistent in taking decisions on major economic policies. For instance, there is no consensus among the top government leaders regarding the policy on Hambantota harbour and Trincomalee oil tanks. The two parties that have come together in a marriage of convenience to form this government, have inherent differences that could be traced back to their origins, and it is not easy if not impossible to resolve these differences and agree on major policies such as selling or leasing national assets and devolution of political power. The people who support these two parties are also divided on these issues, and due to this the two parties have a separate existence and cannot come together, without dissolving their identity, which is based on their policies and the people, would not want that to happen.
Therefore, the major problem that people could perceive in this arrangement is the impossibility of this union continuing any longer and the fact that there is no future in it. People, and the country, would continue to suffer due to this mismatch of the governing parties. Neither the two heads nor the two tails can get on. Instances of discord are too frequent and even the tail dares to insult, in public, the head of its partner. One of these worthies said in public that their partner had been in the opposition for too long and doesn’t know how to get the work done, and that it is their party which does all the work. When these matters are pointed out at media conferences, the higher-ups could only say that it is very difficult to manage a composite government. The question is, if it is so difficult to manage the affairs of the government and amity within its ranks, how such a government could solve the complex problems facing the country. This is the reason that the government has so far not solved a single problem, including minor problems like disposal of garbage. Could the people afford to have such a government?
The worry people have is whether they would have to put up with this kind of government in the future, too. This government was put together mainly to keep at bay their common enemy and there was no common basis on major issues such as economic policy, Tamil separatism, foreign policy, Constitution, security, education, health etc. The leaders of the previous government had earned the wrath of the western powers for defeating the LTTE going against their dictate, and these powers also helped in effecting a regime change. The common enemy of all these players, local and foreign, is still around and gaining in strength and the need to keep him at bay would be felt by these players in the future too. What kind of government they would plot and put together in the future remains a problem for the people. In desperation, they may conjure the most inimical combination, similar or even worse than the present. They may resort to the most unethical and unconstitutional measures like making ministers out of individuals rejected by the people, making leaders of the opposition out of worthies who have no majority support in the opposition, making everybody ministers, creating new unheard of subjects to accommodate new ministers, joining up ministries that are totally unrelated, gifting super luxury vehicles to ministers and MPs to prevent them crossing over, protecting the corrupt within while hounding the enemy without etc. In the future luxury vehicles may not be sufficient enticement, and private helicopters may have to be doled out despite the fact that victims of natural and manmade disasters are yet to be compensated and the poor cannot make ends meet.
The question that has to be raised is did the people give a mandate to these political parties to form this government and do as they like? The Presidential Election was won mainly with the UNP votes and the minorities chipping in. But at the General Election, which elected the parliament, the people did not give a mandate for the formation of a coalition of the present kind. Those who voted for the SLFP did so mainly because of the popularity of the leader who won the war against the LTTE. This is shown by the fact that those who opposed that leader in the election campaign lost the election.The candidates who were thus defeated were not small fry but stalwarts who had held high posts in the government and the SLFP. Therefore, the majority of people who voted for the SLFP did so in the hope that those whom they voted for would form a government, with their war hero at its head. But several of those who won the election riding the wagon driven by their war hero, were high jacked to prop up the hybrid government, thus betraying the people’s will. What was worse was the unconstitutional appointment of those who were defeated by the people for not supporting their war hero, as cabinet ministers.
In a democracy, it is said that the government is of the people, for the people and by the people. This ideal may not be always possible to achieve and sustain, but its total collapse and the apparent alienation of the government and its people must make the government think of the moral obligation, and the need to consult the people and seek a fresh mandate to rule the country. There is no other way to ensure and safeguard the sovereignty of the people, for the sovereignty of the people is bestowed in the franchise. Benjamin Franklin said “in a free government rulers elected by the people are the servants and people their superior and sovereign”. The present government has denied this right of the people by postponing the elections to local bodies on very flimsy pretexts. Yet, the government says it is not afraid to face elections. Obviously the government does not have a mandate to continue this unstable ramshackle of a government and it must seek a fresh mandate.