Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

  • April 2017
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Open letter to President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga – Rebuilding a divided nation

Posted by harimpeiris on April 23, 2017

                                  (Published in the Daily News of 20th April 2017)

 

President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga

Chairperson Office of National Unity and Reconciliation

Office of the Former President

Colombo.

 

Dear Madam,

 

Fulfilling the promise of a new Sri Lanka

 

I thought I must write to you regarding the current political situation, as the government deals with the unenviable task of rebuilding and stabilizing an economy dragged down by the predecessor Rajapakse Administration through a combination of corruption, mismanagement, declining government revenue and excessively large doses of external debt utilized on mostly white elephant projects of dubious utility value, including the failed Mihin Lanka, the world’s most expensive express ways per kilo meter, an unused airport in the middle of nowhere and a grossly underutilized port.

 

The mandates of 2015

 

My reason to address this letter to you is due to the fact, that a little over two years ago, you were instrumental in doing what was then thought to be impossible, that of uniting a divided and fractious opposition into a common political front, the rainbow coalition that brought President Sirisena to power on a promise of good governance and state reforms. At that time, the Rajapakse Administration was deeply entrenched in power and many political analysts, especially those aligned with the Rajapaksa’s dismissed the possibility of good governance and democratic reforms as a mass mobilizing factor. However, the elections of January and indeed August 2015, was to prove otherwise. It should be a cause of some satisfaction that a majority of Sri Lankans opted for a democratic and compassionate (inclusive, tolerant & pluralistic) state, rather than a populist and authoritarian one. It is in that context rather puzzling how some in the Joint Opposition claim rather disingenuously that there was no mandate for a national government, when it is clear that there are twin mandates of January and August 2015 concurrently in force and that both of these are for a politically united approach to state reforms, both economic and political. It is imperative that these reforms be implemented in the interest of a new Sri Lanka, which moves away from the social conflict and economic malaise from which we have suffered for much of our recent history.

 

A disunited Rajapakse Joint Opposition

 

It is a matter of some regret, that the Joint Opposition backing defeated President Rajapakse seems intent on obstructing every single attempt at reform, from economic reforms, reconciliation and the constitutional reform process. However, it should be noted that the same fault lines which brought an unexpected and unlamented early end to the Rajapaksa Administration, still continue to persist and encircle the Rajapakse come back project. First among them is the raging internal debate as to which Rajapaksa, should succeed Mahinda, Basil, Gotabaya or even the young man in a hurry, Namal, poor Chamal and Sashindra, not really ever either aspirants or contenders for being brother number one (pun entirely unintended). It is eminently clear from the close supporters of both Gotabaya and Basil that neither is willing to play second fiddle to the other, in the event of next time around. Sri Lanka’s tortured pre-colonial monarchial history is dominated by royal families which lost power due to an inability to sort out internally and within themselves their succession battles and one observes that the attempted Rajapaksa dynasty suffers from the same fatal flaw.

 

This internal familial contest for power also extends to political tactics and approaches, where Basil Rajapakse has adopted a decidedly confrontational approach, launching a new political party, trying to organize rallies, protest marches and public shows of political muscle while the Gotabaya Rajapakse approach is decidedly different, using interlocutors and intermediaries to try and bring about a political alliance between the defeated Rajapaksa’s’ and the incumbent Sirisena presidency, rather incredibly to try and overturn the people’s mandate through a political alliance, the logic and rationale for which has never quite been made clear or politically articulated.

 

A premature focus on 2020

 

Dear Madam, you hold the respected post of SLFP Patron and unlike the SLFP’s other former president, retired from office gracefully due to democratic term limits and with plenty of political capital at your disposal, which was on rather evident and public display in the formation and victory of the Yahapalanaya administration in 2015.  With the honeymoon period of the government decidedly now over, the hard work of the mid-term period beckons. In that context, it is crucial that the SLFP as the party founded and led in the past by your late esteemed father and mother and indeed by you, now under the leadership of President Sirisena, effectively contributes to implementing the much needs reforms, including the reconciliation process, entrusted to your leadership.

 

It was renowned political scientist John Paul Lederach, who wrote and articulated the concept of the moral imagination, the ability of political actors and formations, to see positive possibilities, opportunities and outcomes through change and reform. I am a little concerned that some leading lights of the SLFP, who mostly backed the wrong horse in January 2015, are failing to seize this historic window of opportunity for Sri Lanka to effect reforms which will ensure that the Sri Lankan state reflects the full diversity of our society. That we eliminate what LTTE suicide bombing victim late Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam so succinctly described as the anomaly of having imposed a mono ethnic state on a multi ethnic polity. Some sections of the SLFP going by their public statements, seem already quite focused on the next elections due in 2020.  In the alternate I would respectfully submit that it is more important, at least to the sovereign people of Sri Lanka, what is actually delivered and achieved from 2015 to 2020, rather than the contours of the next election due only about three years hence.

 

The Rajapaksa regime was ended because a section of the SLFP and the UNP together with others came together. They must now work together. JHU leader and articulate Rajapaksa critic, Minister Champika Ranawaka recently made an interesting observation, that the SLFP and the UNP can contest separately but then govern together, in a nation building exercise. JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake in the context of the SAITM debate stated that toppling a government was no option, when there is no viable, attractive or acceptable alternative. The best response to political extremists in both the North and the South, is for the National Unity administration to work together to deliver the next round of the democratic, political and economic reforms which the people mandated two years ago.

 

With highest regards,

Harim Peiris

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