|Tuesday, 13 April 2004|
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Getting perspectives right
Through a happy coincidence we Sri Lankans herald a New Year, only a few days after we heralded a new Government. A good omen.
The Sinhala and Tamil New Year is a day of peace and happiness, of religious worship, of paying obeisance to our elders. A day of giving and receiving, a day of love and laughter, fun and games. Altogether, a day of great joy.
It is opportune that at the beginning of a New Year we reflect on the one gone by, take stock of ourselves, see where we were right and where we went wrong.
We Lankans have a habit of running away from the truth, especially when the truth hurts or is not to our liking. We avoid facing up to the truth, preferring self deception, a very fragile and contemptuous alternative.
To face up to the truth and admit our faults, at least to ourselves shows character. It is only then that we can progress, move forward.
As a nation and as a people our refusal or reluctance to be self-critical has cost the country dearly.
Each of us tries to shift the blame to others, when really we are at fault, not having sufficient strength to say "I am wrong, I will correct myself."
We have been living in a fool's paradise, while other countries such as India and Singapore, to name but two have forged ahead. Sri Lanka has paid dearly for this. For example, the value of the Sri Lankan rupee in 1968, was one hundred per cent more than the Indian rupee.
A hundred Sri Lankan rupees fetched two hundred Indian rupees in legal Indian tender. Today, it is the other way round, two hundred Sri Lankan rupees is equivalent to one hundred Indian rupees. In fact, our economy was in a very healthy state at Independence. We even loaned the British Government 30 million Pounds Sterling.
Singapore was a backwoods country at the time. But, while others in the region forged forward determinedly, we in Sri Lanka rested on our laurels, squandered our foreign exchange reserves and finally have had to borrow money at enormous interest to buy our daily needs.
It is appropriate that with the dawn of a New Year and a new Government, we get our perspectives right and join hands with the President and her Government to get us out of the mess we are in and march forward to a permanent peace and contentment.
Decisive poll in South Korea
South Koreans will go to the polls on Thursday. More than 35 million voters will elect 299 representatives to parliament, which will have a crucial role to play in the coming years, as South Korea tackles a host of contentious issues.
One of the main issues on which the electoral pendulum is likely to swing is the impeachment of President Roh Moo-Hyun mainly on charges of violating electoral neutrality.
The move has apparently triggered a public backlash against the Grand National Party (GNP) and the Millennium Democratic Party (which teamed up to suspend Roh) and gained sympathy for the Uri Party led by Roh's reformist loyalists. The Constitutional Court has 180 days to give its verdict, but the MDP has already apologised for trying to dislodge Roh.
The dispatch of troops to Iraq has been passionately defended by the main opposition GNP as well as the Uri Party, but the latest wave of deadly bomb attacks and kidnappings have caught the attention of voters. South Korea has plans to send up to 3,000 troops, mostly for non-combat work, to the war-torn country. The MDP seeks a revision of the deployment plan, while the Korea Democratic Labour Party wants it scrapped.
North Korea is never far from the politicians' and voters' thoughts in South Korea. The unification of the two Koreas is the ultimate goal, but the nuclear stand-off has cast a shadow over such optimistic ambitions.
The Uri Party and the MDP favour a flexible engagement policy which may appeal to voters desiring peace in the peninsula.
The voters will also consider such factors as the economy when they elect a new legislature. A sluggish economy will not help South Korea's forward march. Increasing the rate of economic growth, just 3.1 per cent in 2003, will be a major challenge.
A major feature of the South Korean election is the entry of a large number of women to the male-dominated politicl arena.
Two of the major parties are led by women - the GNP by Park Geun-Hye, daughter of the late President Park Chung-Hee and the MDP by Choo Mi-Ae. Most women candidates have not been tainted with charges of corruption and a record number of them are expected to be elected.
It is worth noting that women outnumber men among eligible voters. The possible election of a large number of women will certainly mark a new chapter in the South Korean political scene.South Korean voters will not expect the new government to turn back the clock. Instead, they will seek political stability, economic growth and an end to corrupt practices that have marred local politics.
The election will further strengthen democracy in South Korea and give its people an opportunity to voice their concerns freely.
Produced by Lake House