Speaking at a recent event, President Ranil Wickremesinghe opined that the fundamental policies pursued by the country should not change with the change of Governments. This no doubt makes sense since the change of policies with the change of each and every Government in the past could well have resulted in the present crisis the country is undergoing. Policy changes effected by Governments assuming power are mainly politically driven and have no rational basis. It is mainly done to spite the leaders of political parties who had lost power. In countries such as India and the United States basic policies followed by a particular Government don’t undergo radical changes with the change of that Government. It is the independent bodies that have been established that guide these policies. No political vendetta is involved in this process. There is no destruction or sabotage of projects commenced by the predecessors. This has led to general stability and uniformity in Governance.
On the contrary in this country policies followed by one Government usually undergo drastic changes with the ouster of that Government with the incoming regime dismantling all development activities and projects that had been commenced by its predecessor for no other reason than political vendetta. The situation gets compounded by the usual election violence leading to the destruction of what was built by the ousted political opponents. This has been the vicious cycle that has been continuing under all Governments since Independence with the result that the country remains stagnant, development-wise, what with all that had been commenced by the one party being destroyed by the other upon taking the reins of power.
Perhaps, a departure of this trend was witnessed when Chandrika Kumaratunga assumed office in 1994. Although railing against the market economy introduced by JRJ when in the Opposition she, nevertheless, opted to continue with the system by giving it ( open economy) a human face- whatever that may mean. She also declared that she who was at one time a good socialist would now become a good capitalist. To his credit, Mahinda Rajapaksa her successor, too continued with the open economy, with fierce anti-capitalists such as Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Batty Weerakoon too holding Cabinet posts in that Government.
However, there are instances when policies pursued by Governments have been detrimental to the country and its people. The Sinhala Only policy of SWRD though helping in redressing unfair discrimination based on language nevertheless proved to have a negative bearing in the long run. In fact, President Kumaratunga even went to the extent of apologizing for the folly of her father in introducing Sinhala Only which closed the door to an English education for our youth which was to later impact on their job prospects.
While policies should remain constant under all Governments, the political parties should also be held accountable for implementing what is contained in their election manifestos. Presently these election manifestos have become a big farce although they are being launched with much fanfare. In fact, the former Elections Commission which planned to introduce radical changes as regards the conduct of elections also spoke of making it mandatory for parties to abide by their election manifestos. As it is, little or nothing that are in the election manifestos are implemented and neither do the voters hold the parties accountable in this regard.
Measures should also be taken to halt the culture of election violence that has been bedevilling this country for decades. A strong and effective mechanism should be put in place to preempt all acts of election violence which has not only caused much destruction to public property but also resulted in loss of lives. How such violence is encouraged in the aftermath of a purely democratic exercise is baffling indeed. President Wickremesinghe has already demonstrated his intolerance of lawlessness by using law enforcement to get tough with the lawbreakers. Let this be extended to cover election-related violence too in the future. In no other democratic country is post-election violence seen to the extent that is prevalent in Sri Lanka. Perhaps, the nature and character of the candidates in the fray too has much to do with the phenomenon of election violence. Hence, the need for political party leaders to include decent and educated candidates in their nomination lists.
But are we hoping against hope? It is all too well known that it is the tough guys who indeed are capable of getting the votes for the parties with their strong-arms tactics and daredevilry. Hence, the hopes entertained by the public at large in seeing educated professionals and men and women of repute gracing the hollowed precincts of Parliament will continue to remain only a dream indeed. There are also the kith and kin and the progeny waiting in the wings to take over once the papas and mamas hang up their boots and even better still to join them in harness. It is time all political party leaders seriously give a thought to increasing the quality of our Supreme Legislature through the inclusion of appropriate choices.