|Thursday, 15 January 2004|
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Where we stand now
The interview with President Kumaratunga on ITN on Tuesday evening, besides helping to dispel many a popular misconception on President-Government relations contributed towards clarifying some prime issues facing the country.
To begin with, the President put the record straight on the current status of the Mano-Mallik talks which are aimed at breaking the current political deadlock. Far from being off, these talks are still on and hold out the promise of narrowing the differences between the President and the Government. Therefore, speculation in some sections of the media that these talks are faltering, has very little basis to it. It was also disclosed by the President that there is agreement between top figures in the Government and her on the need to coopt the opposition into the peace process.
So, it is not as if all hope has collapsed for the country. True, much remains to be achieved in terms of unity of purpose between the President and the Government, but it is certainly not the case that no effort is being made to reach unanimity in aims between the squabbling arms of the State. We urge the President and the Government to build on these positives rather than permit the differences which separate them to take on overwhelming proportions.
It needs to be noted that the Prime Minister has taken full cognizance of the need to ensure the sustainability of the peace process, although he has made the take-over of the Defence Ministry a strong point of contention. If the President's interview made one thing clear, it was her firm commitment to bringing ethnic peace. So, here we have a considerable basis for united action between the President and the Government. It would amount to betraying the trust of the country, if these commonalities are not built on. Indeed, there is no choice but to act cooperatively to further the vital interests of the country.
The President also did well to botch rumours about an imminent general election. This would, indeed, be a suicidal option, considering the meaningless exercise it would turn out to be. For, a poll is unlikely to substantially change the current balance of political forces in the country.
Therefore, the country's political elite has no choice but to cohabit or plunge the country into further uncertainty and discord. History is likely to judge the country's current rulers favourably if they take the sensible course of cooperating for the purpose of furthering the common good, with ethnic peace constituting a huge component of this worthy aim.
Apparently, a prime requirement of the moment is confidence-building measures between the President and the Government. There may be no question of the principal political parties merging but they need to recognize the objective reality that time is fast running out for Sri Lanka. Once the country is put on a recovery track these parties could get back to competitive politics.
What is a World Space Week doing in the Year of Rice in the Decade of Literacy ? One look at the United Nations calendar informs us that these are among the multitude of special days, weeks and years dedicated to various causes.
The world will observe 55 such special days in 2004, focusing on a range of issues from AIDS to human rights. The International Mother Language Day on February 21 will start the special days' calendar that ends with the International Migrants Day (December 18).
Some critics question the wisdom of dedicating a day to a particular cause and splurging funds on a worldwide propaganda drive, saying little can be achieved by focusing on one topic for 24 hours. Proponents say the theme days help divert government and media attention to worthy causes.
It is indeed true that special days give us an opportunity to reflect on particular issues and to implement programs that would last through the year. For example, the World AIDS Day (December 1) has always led to renewed interest in the plight of AIDS patients in poor countries and in the development of a vaccine.
On the other hand, we must not confine our thoughts and deeds to a particular cause just for one day. There are many pressing issues - AIDS, food security, human rights, child abuse, substance abuse, human trafficking - that deserve our attention throughout the year. Campaigns on such issues must continue through the year, with an increase in media coverage on dedicated days.
The UN had this objective in mind when it declared 2004 as the Year of Rice and the International Year to Commemorate the Struggle Against Slavery and its Abolition. Developing better varieties of rice will be essential to allay food security fears in Asia. Focusing on all forms of slavery is also essential as millions are forced to work in appalling conditions worldwide. It will be the turn of microcredit and sport next year, while 2006 will be dedicated to deserts.
The concerns of developing countries must be given priority as the world observes these special days, weeks and years. Otherwise, the very purpose of declaring such special days would be negated.
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