SRI LANKA: Parliamentary Election—Challenging Divisive Politics with an Alternative People’s Narrative

A Statement from the Friday Forum forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission

The country is about to face another decisive Parliamentary election shaping our political future. The Friday Forum wishes to place some crucial concerns before the voters.

There is much confusion among the public about what is at stake with the Parliamentary election. Is it the danger of a return of terror and war, or is it the return of attacks on democracy, deterioration of the rule of law, authoritarianism, and governance that is not accountable to the people? Indeed, the election campaigns have already begun with accusations and counter accusations. The polarising rhetoric in recent weeks is worrying, as it points to the possibility of an election campaign with incitement once again of racial and religious hatred and violence. The damage done during such virulent election campaigns may trouble the country for years, as we all know from our tragic political history.

Despite the end of a brutal armed conflict over six years ago, it was only with the recent Presidential election that serious attempts were made to restore democratic institutions and values leading to a democratic ethos. We are once again being called to make crucial decisions between moving towards substantial democratisation or falling back into the abyss of narrow nationalism and authoritarianism, this time through the establishment of a new government. The controversies and bargaining that took place recently over necessary amendments to the Constitution demonstrate once again that many politicians are motivated by self-interest rather than the public interest. Therefore, it is when voters are informed, vigilant and far thinking that a people stand the best chance of electing a government most inclined to uphold the sovereignty of the people and serve them through justice, equal rights, freedom, and integration.

The Parliamentary election campaigns are already centring on personalities and comparisons in performance, and drowning the real social, economic, and political challenges that face us as a people. We call upon all political parties to declare their stance on at least the following crises that have remained unaddressed for decades.

• National reconciliation and integration

What steps will be taken to address the decades-long grievances of all communities affected by war? What mechanisms will be adopted to discover the truth about the violence and destruction that occurred, and build a sense of national identity and belonging as citizens of this country? What initiatives will be undertaken to strengthen and recognise the right of all communities to equitably share national resources and live in the country with a sense of security and dignity? Also, will the constitutional devolution of power have a place in the political solution to the national problem and if so what will be the degree of devolution?

• Economic crisis and development

How will the vast inequalities and increasing economic deprivation and poverty of large sections of our population be resolved? How is it intended to honour our massive foreign debt without cuts for instance in social welfare, education, and health that benefit the poor? How will the preservation of the environment and ecology be prioritized in development and how will garbage disposal for example of plastic and toxic material be managed? How is it proposed to keep abreast with the positive benefits of progress without spreading greed in some sectors and further dehumanising and adding to the misery of the poor and the deprived?

• Foreign policy

What measures will be taken to construct a stable and comprehensive foreign policy that will restore relations of dignity with our immediate neighbours and the world, and at the same time protect our sovereignty and ensure our international commitments especially with the UN of which we are by choice a member state?

It is by repeatedly returning to such sensitive and daunting issues, which are often conveniently forgotten, but so fundamental to our body politic, that we can set the country on a meaningful path towards integrity, dignity, and progress. As we face one of the most divisive and yet crucial Parliamentary elections, all citizens must have the courage to hold those entrusted with political authority accountable. For this a strong alternative narrative, challenging the political culture of expediency that we have allowed our politicians to build, becomes indispensable. Furthermore, this is our moment as citizens to defeat the actors and forces which are against pluralism and democracy. We must recognise that our collective future demands respect for the rights of all citizens of whatever community to live in peace and with dignity in our country. This task cannot be limited to election times alone. It is a continuing struggle for democracy and the sovereignty of the people.

Professor Savitri Goonesekere, Bishop Duleep de Chickera, and Ahilan Kadirgamar
For and on Behalf of
Professor Savitri Goonesekere, Bishop Duleep de Chickera, Mr. Ahilan Kadirgamar, Ms. Shanthi Dias, Rev. Dr. Jayasiri Peiris, Mr. Pulasthi Hewamanna, Mr. Ananda Galappatti, Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran, Mr. Faiz-ur Rahman, Mr. Priyantha Gamage, Professor Arjuna Aluwihare, Mr. Javid Yusuf, Professor Gameela Samarasinghe, Dr. A.C.Visvalingam, Ms. Damaris Wickremesekera, Mr. Tissa Jayatilaka, Ms. Manouri Muttetuwegama, Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda, Mr. D. Wijayanandana, Professor Camena Guneratne, Ms. Suriya Wickremasinghe, Mr. S.C.C. Elankovan, Professor Gananath Obeyesekere, Dr. Deepika Udagama, Mr. Danesh Casie-Chetty, Dr. G. Usvatte-aratchi, and Mr. Chandra Jayaratne.

The Friday Forum is an informal and self-financed group dedicated to democracy, good governance, human rights and the rule of law. It has for over five years sought to alert the public on issues concerning the rights of the citizen. We work on a non-partisan basis and have been critical of both the Government and Opposition.

Document Type : Forwarded Statement
Document ID : AHRC-FST-036-2015
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Administration of justice, Democracy, Institutional reform, Judicial system, Prosecution system, Rule of law,