|Wednesday, 3 September 2003|
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Political expediency and power elites
In Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's reply to President Kumaratunga on the Manirasakulam camp issue, one statement stands out as particularly significant. That is, the point made by the Prime Minister that "acting on the basis of political expediency" at this juncture was not the correct approach to resolving the problem.
This statement, we feel, goes to the heart of many a matter which has proved contentious in President - Prime Minister relations. Fortunately, the Prime Minister has kept a cool head in these more than occasional political squabbles, thereby illustrating a remarkable degree of political maturity and tact. In fact, we wouldn't be wrong in taking the position that this coolness of head and heart has enabled this country to ward off many a political storm and to date salvage the cohabitation arrangement, however much shaky it may be.
However, the majority among the "silent citizenry" would agree that "political expediency" has, indeed, been our bane as a polity and this quality among sections of the political elite, is continuing to dog this country at its heels.
Dark blotches in our post-independence history, such as the "Sinhala Only" Bill and the torpedoeing of the Bandaranaike - Chelvanayakam pact, are recollected and criticized ad nauseam in commentaries and analyses of the country's ethnic question on account of their being singular examples of political expediency. They are, correctly, seen as fatal blunders in Southern attempts at handling the ethnic conflict. For instance, if the B-C pact had been allowed to be implemented, we could have brought the problem down to containable limits because the pact essentially envisaged the creation of a North-East Regional Council - a possible option in a power devolution strategy.
By analysing current developments in this perspective, we do not intend to be partisan. When we speak of a Southern political and power elite which has not been always acting with foresight and discretion, we do not wish to favour either of the major political parties of the South. Both major political parties, in and out of power, have, on major national issues, more often than not, acted with an avaricious eye on their vote banks and not with the aim of promoting the national interest. In this respect, these parties could be said to measure up to each other - one trying to outdo the other, it may seem, in the devious art of political opportunism.
National advancement would depend crucially on whether the political elite could wipe the slate clean and get down to the task of governing without making political expediency a basis of their actions. To the extent to which the country's interests could be placed above party interests and power considerations.
Sri Lanka would make some progress towards resolving the issues which have been tearing it apart.
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