The case for political unity | Daily News

The case for political unity

Three years ago on August 17, 2015, Sri Lankans reaffirmed their commitment to democracy and good governance by giving an overwhelming mandate to the Rainbow Coalition to govern for five years. Just a few months earlier, they voted for a radical transformation in the country’s trajectory by voting for Common Candidate Maithripala Sirisena to become President. The nascent Government formed in January 2015 sought a public mandate for a renewed term, which was granted. The new Government began work exactly three years ago, on August 18, 2015.

This was a Government with a difference. For nearly 65 years after independence, the two major parties – SLFP and UNP – had governed in turn. Political analysts called it “Thattu Maaru” in Sinhalese, which essentially means that they governed the country one after the other. But this had the disadvantage of being based entirely on political imperatives, not national ones. This is why the Government that came into being on January 8, 2015 was different – for the first time ever the two major parties were in a formal ruling coalition. This gave rise to the name “National Unity Government”. In a way, this also depicted the need for national unity after the political and social polarization that stemmed from the 30-year conflict.

The departing Mahinda Rajapaksa Government had altered the country’s fundamental governing structure to such an extent that many remained pessimistic whether the new Government would be able to change anything at all. It was a dark era in which fundamental freedoms and even the Judiciary were trampled. The Police and law enforcement agencies had to dance to the tune of the Government. Critics of the Government were made to disappear courtesy of the White Vans. True, the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government ended the long-running war, but failed to win the peace with its triumphalist attitude and antagonistic approach to Human Rights. It eschewed reconciliation and promoted division, discord and rancour. One adverse result of this course of action was the country’s almost total isolation in the International Community, with only a few equally nefarious regimes backing it up.

In this light, the incoming Government had a tall order. Its first priority was to set things right in terms of governance. Hence the term Good Governance Government, an alternative term for the National Unity Government. It is the Sinhala interpretation “Yahapalanaya” that caught on and eventually entered the local political lexicon. Whatever the name, the task at hand was daunting – set the country on the right path after years of being in the doldrums.

To its credit, the Government has accomplished this task with aplomb. By establishing independent commissions and also by creating a general climate of freedom sans fear and suspicion, the Government has restored the independence of the Judiciary and the Police, upheld the supremacy of law, bolstered an independent public service and above all, granted full freedom of expression for all including the media. It is also cracking down on all forms of corruption – in fact, it is the only Government in recent memory that probed acts of corruption that occurred during its own term. Taken together, this alone is an achievement worthy of celebration. Indeed, the restoration of media freedom, with a total stop on attacks and disappearances of media personnel, has often been cited as the most important achievement of the Good Governance Government by the International Community.

Today, Sri Lanka has become a fully fledged member of the International Community, thanks to the Government’s constructive engagement with the rest of the world. Instead of confrontation, the Government opted for a dialogue on matters such as human rights and post-conflict accountability. The International Community has accepted this approach and given the Government the time and space to resolve such issues through a domestic mechanism, which will go a long way towards achieving reconciliation among the different communities. The Government has launched an active reconciliation mechanism to bring the North and the South together in order to achieve lasting peace.

The previous Government made a huge show of “development” which was in reality riddled with corruption. However, this Government has embarked on a huge development drive without the element of corruption – from the giant Moragahakanda-Kalu Ganga project to the Light Rail Transit (LRT) system in Colombo suburbs. Realisng that developing the big cities alone will not equate to development, the Government has launched two rural development programmes that will cover the entire island – Grama Shakthi and Gam Peraliya. The village is at the heart of our primarily agricultural nation and these two programmes will be a big boost for the national economy.

The Unity Government is not flawless, but it is vital to continue this exercise in political unity for the larger good of the nation. There are elements in the Opposition that are desperate to ruin the process of reconciliation to meet their own political ends. In this backdrop, unity must prevail between the two main parties. Politics must come second, the country’s future must come first.

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