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A fresh start?

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Monday, 17 December 2018 02:18


The swearing in of Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister yesterday morning saw the end of a constitutional deadlock that undermined Sri Lanka’s Constitution, democratic institutions, created fresh economic challenges, and brought the country to a halt for seven long weeks. Yet the celebrations will be short-lived as the new Cabinet and Government have to roll up their sleeves and get down to a daunting amount of work.

The first challenge will be the Cabinet that is expected to be sworn in today. The United National Party (UNP) has been the beneficiary of the pro-democratic campaign that was waged across party, social class, and ethnic lines for the past seven weeks. A large segment of the public put aside their disillusionment of the UNP and its disappointing track record since 2015 to fight for a principle.

Protecting the Constitution and the independence of democratic institutions was a collective effort that was done for the benefit of all Sri Lankans. The fact that many people are already calling for that campaign to continue shows how little confidence the moderate, progressive, and law-valuing segments of society have in the UNP.

They say a democracy can only exist in an environment of constant vigilance. For the next year or so, ceaseless vigilance will be needed indeed. One positive element that emerged from the constitutional standoff was that many people were reminded of the importance of Parliament, even though the antics of Parliamentarians from both sides of the divide had ridiculed the august institution in the past. The value of Parliament must continue to be upheld, especially since MP Mahinda Rajapaksa and his loyalists are likely to use it as a battlefield to push back against the new Government.

A vibrant opposition is an important element of democracy, but Parliament cannot be used to spread divisive and damaging ideologies and should not become a platform for nationalistic grandstanding. It is the responsibility of the Government to be vigilant of this both within and outside the House. Rajapaksa’s ideological standpoint has only been reinforced during the last seven weeks. It was a frightening reminder of what Sri Lankans stand to lose if he is allowed to return. What finally forced the hand of President Maithripala Sirisena and MP Rajapaksa was gridlocked public finance and not concern of running roughshod over the Constitution.

This means that the UNP has an added responsibility to protect the law. Anti-corruption efforts on allegations before and after 2015 must be bolstered, reconciliation has to be supported, and structural reforms for the economy have to be implemented. The UNP must find a way to move past its inefficient and inconsistent policymaking, and learn to work transparently and efficiently within the legal framework and with the support of the public service. It must learn to listen to stakeholders and communicate its policies effectively to the public. It must not return to the habit of closed door deal-making, questionable tenders, and opaque governance systems that characterised it in the past three years.  

The UNP must prioritise its key goals, give a credible timeline, and communicate them effectively. With a Government of its own, the UNP can have more control over policies and their implementation. Time is running out. One thing is certain, the people are watching.

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