Sri Lanka

Three years in the hot seat

Jan 9, 2018
Today marks the third anniversary of the election of President Maithripala Sirisena as Head of State. President Sirisena spearheaded a campaign to establish good governance in the country following virtual family rule that was not accountable to the public, and to dislodge a government mired in unprecedented corruption, gross violation of human rights and general maladministration. The President who presented himself as the Common Candidate pledged to cleanse the body politic of the serious malaise that had infested it and restore a clean and transparent administration. In this endeavour he received the fullest backing of a wide range of civil society organisations, artistes, professionals, intellectuals and all those clamouring for good governance led by the Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera and his National Movement for Social Justice. The President lost no time in living up to the ideals espoused by the Ven Sobitha and his followers, upon being elected. He divested himself of much of the Presidential powers that was abused by his predecessors and transferred these powers to parliament. Independent Commissions were set up to ensure justice and fair treatment to public servants.
 
For the first time in the country’s post Independence history, a Unity Government comprising arch rivals, the UNP and SLFP, was formed with the intention of working for the common good of the public and achieving the long term goals of the nation.
 
Of course, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Much needs to be achieved yet in terms of the pledges made. There certainly has been tardiness in the implementation of the main pledge of bringing to book those involved in massive corruption under the former regime. The President also had to contend with other issues that had unexpectedly cropped up that has tended to diminish his good governance project, somewhat.
 
But there are plenty of positives that the President could certainly be happy about, going into the fourth year of his Presidency, the most significant being the climate of peace he has ushered in and the elimination of the once all pervasive fear psychosis. This change is seen virtually in all sectors and spheres of activity. There is today complete independence of the judiciary and the Attorney General’s Department has been totally freed from government interference. Sri Lanka, which was virtually in the dog house, internationally, has today won back the goodwill of foreign nations in good measure. World leaders and dignitaries who gave this country a wide berth in the not too distant past today visit us on a regular basis. For the first time in nearly four decades, a US Foreign Secretary paid an official visit to Sri Lanka, shortly after the election of President Sirisena. The GSP Plus facility which was withdrawn by the EU due to human rights violations was restored, giving our exports to EU countries, particularly garments, a tremendous boost.
 
On the ethnic front, the President has endeavoured to remove all irritants that stand in the way of reconciliation between the two major communities. The government is gradually handing over civilian land occupied by the army to their original owners and the process has gathered pace recently, with more and more lands being released. He makes frequent visits to the North and continues to interact with the northern population who overwhelmingly voted for him on January 8. A constitutional process aimed at meaningful power devolution has been embarked upon with the participation of all stakeholders. Violence directed at religious minorities which was a frequent occurrence in the past has been contained, with the President maintaining cordial relations with all religious heads.
 
Going into his fourth year, no doubt, there are mounting challenges the President will have to confront, both, political and on the socio-economic front. There is also the dissidents of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party who are waiting their opportunity to trip him over. The outcome of the Local Government elections in this respect may prove crucial and force the hand of the President to act decisively. The challenge to his Presidency, interestingly enough, comes not so much from the UNP, as one would expect, as by the faction led by his predecessor.
 
President Sirisena will also have to make a decision on the MOU his party has signed with the UNP, very early into the fourth year of his Presidency. The matter has been held back pending conclusion of the LG elections. He no doubt will have a difficult choice to make in this regard, with the SLFP falling far short of the numbers to form a government of its own. He certainly is placed in an unenviable situation. On the one hand, as the leader of the SLFP, he has to work in the interest of his party. On the other hand, he is left with little alternative but continue with the present arrangement in the name of stability. Whatever it is, the Sri Lankan public will be in for interesting times as the political denouement unravels in the new year.
 
Daily News, January 9, 2018

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