What does it mean to be grassroots democratic? | Daily News


 

What does it mean to be grassroots democratic?

Sajith Premadasa has gone on record saying that it is necessary to promote policies in a way that they are acceptable to the people. One of the main failures of the government has been to communicate its positive initiatives in a way that reaches mass audiences. A school teacher at a school in Gandara said that the Suraksha insurance scheme for schoolchildren had benefited four children in the school. Two of them had received a sum of Rs. 200,000 due to the death of a parent and another two had received a sum for Rs. 10,000 for having been sick and in hospital.

A local government official who was part of the conversation admitted to not knowing of the existence of this insurance scheme. He attributed this to inadequate communication by the government. This was contrasted with the previous government which excelled in communication though at a high cost.

The psychological boost to the SLPP of winning Elpitiya election so near to the all-important presidential election scheduled for November 16 could be high. Especially given the margin of victory, it has an impact.

Village-level campaign

Visiting the southern area day after that election victory had been announced, in many places people have seen, SLPP cadres carrying out their house-to-house campaigns for presidential elections. However, it is my experience that door to door campaign or pocket meetings at village level is mostly neglected. The UNP’s campaigners must speed up village-level campaign to tally with the activists of the Gota campaign. Some say the SLPP cadres had done two or three such visits so far. Pocket meetings are very positive because it allows two-way communications between the people and the activists.

On the other hand, inter-nationality peace programmes conducted for children and their parents with the assistance of local government officials had not been easy to organise. In one instance the district inter-religious committee had invited Buddhist monks from five temples to the event which was to take place at the Al-Asar Muslim School, but only one monk turned up.

The monks in two of the temples had expressed displeasure to the organisers for their choice of venue. The build-up of mistrust between the communities in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks and the election campaign of the SLPP which emphasizes the importance of national security may have contributed to this attitude.

However, the commitment of the civil society activists and anti-racist political activists ensured that a large enough number of Sinhala children joined the programme.

Hence Sinhala together with Muslim children drew pictures of inter-nationality working together. In doing so they got to know each other better, and so did their parents who had accompanied them.

In such programmes, children were divided into several groups randomly, and they work together regardless of different nationalities, religions and languages to come up with their pictures. The children then presented their artwork together and explained the concept behind it. Often they show positive reconciliation thoughts.

The local groups involved who collaborated to make these events success comprised a wide range of both state and civil society collections.

These include the district branches of the National Youth Services Council, Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission, Sarvodaya, Transparency International, Police Station and Community Policing Unit, District Inter-religious committee and National Peace Council. This showed the potential for peacebuilding if the necessary leadership was given.

Elpitiya election

A key factor in the heavy defeat of the UNP and its inability of getting more than 23 per cent of the Elpitiya vote was due to the lack of a systematic political campaign on the part of the grassroots cadre of the UNP before the local government election. This may be on account of the party’s focus on the power struggle within itself regarding its presidential candidate.

The decision to finally field Minister Sajith Premadasa as the UNP’s presidential candidate came just two weeks before the Elpitiya election. It was too late for anyone to settle the tide. However, it is clear now that the candidacy of Sajith Premadasa will address the deficit that the UNP suffers from in the south. The key factor here is that he is more popular than his party, at least among Sinhala. However, the party has a record of representing national unity. Sajith has to continue that fame.

Under its current leadership, the UNP has come to be seen as a grassroots democracy party, by people at the grassroots level. Cosmopolitan leaders who deal with global interrelations and policy issues but not with local level problem solving are pushed back to a secondary position.

By way of contrast, Sajith Premadasa is seen as a political leader who cares for the poor, oppressed and will spend his time with them solving their problems. He has been strengthening this belief in the general population by saying that he will not live in palaces in Colombo but will spend his time in the villages.

The mobile presidential secretariat that engaged in immediate local level problem solving that his father introduced when he was president can be expected to make a comeback when the younger Premadasa wins the presidency. This will address the desire in the electorate for leaders who will care for them and work hard to resolve their problems.


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