Sri Lanka facing acid test
As the curtain comes down on the 2005
Presidential election campaign, the hope in every righteous heart is
likely to be that peace and reconciliation would be our lot in the days
ahead. The recent campaign was said to be one of the most peaceful in
recent times and we hope the law would continue to be firmly enforced,
fearlessly and fairly.
It need hardly be said that times such as the present put this
country's democratic credentials severely to the test. On paper we are a
functional democracy and have been exercising the franchise from way
back as 1931, - a record of sorts among Third World states. Yet,
election - related violence, intolerance of dissent, election
irregularities and violence against women were rife in times past when
elections came around.
We need to frankly face the fact that marred records of this kind
prove that Sri Lanka has been a democracy more in form than substance.
In contrast, in flourishing liberal democracies, for instance, election
campaigns and polls are largely peaceful, with nothing even remotely
approaching election violence breaking to the surface.
Accordingly, we need to practise what we preach from platforms,
pulpits and elevated heights, rather than pay lip service to them in
ritual fashion. Humane values need to take concrete form in the public
sphere, particularly in times of contestation such as the present,
rather than be allowed to float desultorily in the clouds above.
A challenge of the same nature faces SAARC - to get on to a more
macro-level reality. While banding together to fight terror is well and
good, SAARC also needs to emphatically institutionalize humane and
democratic values in its regional cooperative arrangements in a bid to
block the growth of intolerance, terror and hatred in this region.
Coming back to the Presidential poll in Sri Lanka, the need seems to
be urgent that a countrywide consensus on practising the more
substantive democratic values be established without further delay.
Casting our franchise periodically and shouting ourselves hoarse on
divisive issues, do not make us a democracy. On the other hand, the
practising of tolerance and equality would certainly make Sri Lanka a
democracy in the truest sense of the word.
These are some essential chores for the incoming President. Without
institutionalising and practising the core values of our religions, in
which many take immense pride, it would be futile to speak of this
country as being a functional democracy. The upcoming poll would be an
appropriate time to put our much-proclaimed tolerance and sense of fair
play into practice, for instance, and we hope our polity would rise to
Alongside the practising of democratic values and principles,
election time and the days ahead would also test the degree to which
Lanka's political leadership could seriously commit itself to the task
of depoliticising local society.
The fact should be faced that a divided polity would only continue to
breed conflict and violence. This has been largely Sri Lanka's lot from
1948. Do we intend to continue with this tragic legacy ? This is the
challenge our political elite and our Presidential hopefuls ought to
face and overcome.
If great Indian leaders, such as Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru
- to take two sons of the SAARC region as examples - are continuing to
be household names everywhere almost, it is because they gave to
humanity its inherent dignity and not because they proved themselves
brilliant political strategists or tacticians.
These great and good men of South Asia should be our standard. Could
we forge political communities where everyone, irrespective of race,
creed or religion, would be invested with the dignity and worth
characteristic of human beings ?