Political spaces

Thursday, 3 September 2020 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has gone on record requesting the public not to invite him for any private functions, including prize-givings, and weddings. According to the statement released by the President’s Media Division (PMD), this is to ensure that as much time as possible is dedicated to affairs of State. This is mostly a positive move, and should be expanded to include other ceremonies and politicians at large of different hues as well, so that politics is prevented from seeping into unnecessary areas of Sri Lankan life. 

Sri Lankans love politics, and vociferous political debate is found everywhere from family gatherings to social media. Most Sri Lankans never miss the opportunity to have conversations on politics with even random strangers, all the while giving their own interpretation of events and policy actions. A high level of awareness on what political leaders who are the public’s representatives say and do, is generally positive and is part of a vibrant democracy. 

However, there has to be boundaries on how politics can impact policymaking, and whether it is necessary to have politics involved in social, cultural, legal, religious and economic segments of society. Obviously, there is a political element to culture, cast, class, identity, division of resources and how they interplay between the myriad of issues across society. But the deeply partisan nature of modern politics, which focuses on pitting different communities against each other, or villainising a particular segment of society and exempting them from the due process of law and order, only leads to skewed discourse and encourages partisan yardsticks to prevail on issues that should not be under the purview of pure politics driven by specific political actors. 

For example, it is politically popular to use the pledge of promoting law and order to win elections, especially when they are targeted against social ills such as drug trafficking. But in practice these should be issues that are handled by courts of law, rehabilitation programs, updates to outdated legislation and reforming the prison system, among others. There are serious socioeconomic reasons as to why these issues have gotten so out of hand, and part of that is political impunity given by powerful politicians. Political expediency may support simply dispatching the offenders as a “clean up” of the underworld, but taking brutal shortcuts rather than focusing on holistic reform is precisely why these issues could return via different people in the future. 

Running a country is more than ticking off boxes on a pre-mandated list. Genuine governance requires upgrading and fixing systems and structures, so that they provide solutions to deeply complex issues that have been left unaddressed for decades. Obviously politicians and policy making have a role to play in this, but their political ideologies should not shut out due process and the balance of power along with the freedoms inherently given to citizens in a democracy. 

At the very least, politicians could consider declining not just invitations to prize-givings and weddings but also opening ceremonies of public-funded projects. During the pre-Presidential Election run up there were even reports of the same road being inaugurated by different political parties, which was simply disgraceful. The same could be said of politicians slapping their names on projects or focusing on their electorates at the cost of national financial well-being. There are many aspects of political public life that could do with some changes, many of them for the public good.