Activists call on GR to protect democracy, minorities

Monday, 18 November 2019 01:52 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Say voting patterns in North and East show division with South 
  • Want guard against majoritarian democracy
  • Say minority rights as important as economy 


By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya

Political analysts and activists yesterday appealed for President-elect Gotabaya Rajapaksa to maintain democratic space and protect minorities to ensure a “majoritarian democracy” does not evolve in Sri Lanka during the next five years. 

Political analyst Kusal Perera warned that as the vote by the Sinhala-Buddhist community essentially decided the outcome of the Presidential Election, it was therefore necessary to reach out and reassure minority communities that space will exist for them to be involved in governance. 

“The Election left all minorities out of deciding who the President is. It was decided by a large number of mobilised Sinhala Buddhists and the decision legitimised a Sinhala Buddhist democratic status,” Kusal Perera told the Daily FT. 

Perera also spoke about discipline as one of the key areas of the Rajapaksa leadership, cautioning “discipline has to be defined”. He explained that discipline in the military is not the same as discipline elsewhere. “In a democratic society, citizens have a right to oppose, protest, and dissent,” he said, adding that it was not clear what kind of discipline the President-elect was focusing on.

As for the maintenance of a democratic space, Perera said: “There will be law and order for the Sinhala-Buddhist population and it will be a legislative victory for them.” He was also of the belief that there will be a democratic space but only until the Parliamentary Election.

With a slightly different outlook towards the days and weeks to follow, Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) Executive Director Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu was of the opinion that instability will not come about if the appointment of a Prime Minister and Cabinet and the dissolution of Parliament can be resolved amicably.

He added that ideally, anyone elected as the Executive President has the power to reconcile the North and the South. “As you know, the Election results have split the country in two, with the minorities going one way and the rest of the country going another,” Dr. Saravanamuttu said, adding that, “If we cannot agree with each other, we will never be able to pursue the path of prosperity that we all say we deserve. We need to have that reconciliation and unity. It cannot become a majoritarian democracy.” Dr. Saravanamuttu added that he hopes President-elect Gotabaya Rajapaksa will recognise the need for reconciliation and unity and take necessary steps to ensure he is the President of all Sri Lankans.  Echoing his views, Office on Missing Persons (OMP) Chairman Saliya Pieris said: “The President is the President of the entire country, and whether one supported him or opposed him at the Election, he must be constructively supported in the implementation of his vision for the country, as long as he does so in terms of the spirit of the Constitution.”

His post on Facebook went onto say: “The new President should be given all the support he needs, and no doubt there will be much goodwill as he starts his term. It would be good to remember that at least 47% of the people voted for a different candidate and that they, too, are equal citizens of this country. Their vote must be respected.”

“At the time of electoral euphoria, it is easy to brand the voters of the defeated candidates as enemies. However, the victors should take a cue from leaders who reached out to those with whom they disagreed being magnanimous in victory,” Pieris wrote, adding that this will be a major task the new President will have as he assumes office as much as the economy and security.

Human rights activist Ruki Fernando also pointed out the need for the President-elect to respect those in the Northern, Eastern, and Central Provinces with different viewpoints, saying: “It’s clear that the minorities don’t have much faith. The hallmark of democracy should be how minorities are treated despite having different political viewpoints from the leader.

“There was no significant difference in the policies of the main contenders, but the Government will have to address war-related issues and ethnic conflict in the country,” he added.