Changing political discourse
Looking around the world, Sri Lanka looks once more like a fairly
reasonable place to live in. Not so long ago, this could not be said,
what with a civil war raging in the North, people fearing to leave their
homes because of the bomb threat and the economy dragging itself along
by its bootlaces.
This is no longer the case. The end of the conflict which wracked
this island for nearly three decades began a process of restoring
normality in everyday life. The extra confidence generated by the end of
the war saw a rapid increase in the rate of growth, driven by internal
leisure activity and external tourism.
This year, both neighbouring India and Pakistan are experiencing
major power outages, which are affecting the way their economies
function - which Sri Lanka managed to avoid. Both are experiencing
internal terrorism; this week’s multiple low-grade bomb explosions in
Pune showing up many holes in the security screen (including
malfunctioning closed-circuit television cameras).In Bangladesh, the
international non-governmental organisations Médecins Sans Frontières,
ACF International and Muslim Aid have been told to suspend their
services in the Cox’s Bazaar district because they ‘were encouraging an
influx of Rohingya refugees’ after Myanmar’s recent sectarian violence.
The crosses erected near the site of the
massacre in memory of Holmes's 12 victims.
Picture courtesy: onlinenigeria.com
Outside the South Asia region, we find holes beginning to appear in
the socio-economic fabric. Sectarian violence is becoming rife in Egypt
and Nigeria. In Honduras, a deepening conflict between private
agribusiness guards and poor farm workers contributes to a homicide rate
of 86.5 per 100,000 (Sri Lanka’s rate is 4.6).
In Europe we find entire economies collapsing, four years after the
American ‘toxic assets’ meltdown. In the USA itself, ‘economic growth’
is not lessening unemployment, with manufacturing indices falling
steadily lower. Meanwhile, lax gun-control laws (there are 4.5 million
new gun sales annually) and a culture of violence have contributed to
100,000 shootings (and 30,000 deaths) every year: last month’s Aurora
carnage was no freak. Meanwhile, the 8,000 licensed gun shops in the
states on the country’s Southern border with Mexico are doing a roaring
business, selling assault rifles to ‘straw purchasers’, proxies for
trans-frontier drug mafias. About 50,000 people have died in the past
six years in Mexico’s Drug Wars.
Mexico’s narcotics cartels have spread their corrupting tentacles
throughout the body politic: on Tuesday four high-ranking army officers
were indicted on charges of protecting a Sinaloa-based drug syndicate.
The corruption has also infected American government departments.
Even in placid New Zealand, Transparency International’s ‘World’s
least corrupt country’, allegations have emerged of widespread
institutionalised corruption, this time in the Immigration department.
Massive visa frauds are being claimed to take place in Immigration
New Zealand’s offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Dubai, Pretoria
and Bangkok; and also perhaps in those bureaus dealing with Indian,
Pakistani, Sri Lankan and Middle Eastern student applicants. Visas are
also alleged to have been issued in New Zealand itself to fishing crews,
with no audits to ensure that labour law requirements are met. However,
these assertions are nothing compared to the evidence of monster
sell-outs of Papua New Guinea’s virgin forests. According to the
environmental organisation Greenpeace, five million hectares of forestry
were given away to logging and palm-oil companies under the ‘Special
Agricultural and Business Leases’ concession, with little revenue to
either the government or the traditional landholders.
These leases represent approximately 12 percent of Papua New Guinea’s
seven million tonnes of forest-stored carbon. The carbon rights
sequestered in these forests, valued at about US $ 23 billion, have also
been given away. The fact that Sri Lanka is relatively free from these
ills is a credit of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his government,
which has acted to return the country to peace, while protecting the
people’s sovereignty and keeping a firm grip on national resources.
However, the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) cannot
afford to rest on its laurels. It is facing elections to three
provincial assemblies in the midst of one of the worst droughts of
recent years - which is especially detrimental, given the popular
superstitious belief in the rulers’ responsibility for the weather.
The main Opposition United National Party (UNP) is making hay while
the sun shines, lambasting the government for perceived ills.
Unfortunately, UPFA politicians respond in kind - making a very special
target of the extremely vulnerable Opposition Leader, Ranil
The bane of Sri Lanka’s politics has been the extent to which
negative propaganda is used to decry one’s opponents, rather than
statements of policy. In recent years this has been worsened due to the
highlighting by certain broadcasting stations of the sound-bites of
politicians, rather than at least the gist of their speeches.
There is a great need for the pattern of this discourse to be
altered. Confrontation must remain - after all it is the essence of
democratic politics. However, the pattern of discourse has to change,
both in content and in style. Greater emphasis should be placed on
policy differences, on where parties stand on the different issues which
face us. Politicians need to devote more time to the why and the how of
the pillars of their platforms. They are not really grappling with the
two biggest issues facing Sri Lanka today: how is the economy to deal
with the world economic crisis - which is due to run for a long time -
and how is the country to confront the burgeoning problem of Climate
Change? The continuing world recession is only now beginning to bite us,
while the ongoing drought is a harbinger of what Global Warming has in
store. Politicians will have to deal with these two problems at the
international, national, regional and even village levels.
We need to see more serious political discussion with the people
about these issues. Now is the time for the politicians to become
statesmen, to set course on a new voyage to protect and enhance the
freedoms and comforts so bloodily safeguarded.