Notes to the People: Your Vote is Critical on 5 August
Posted on July 26th, 2020

By Sumanasiri Liyanage Courtesy Ceylon Today

The Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka states that the sovereignty rests in the people of the country and the legislative power of the People shall be exercised by Parliament through their elected representatives and directly by the people at a referendum. On 5 August, we vote to elect representatives to the country’s primary legislature, the Parliament.

As one newspaper has recently reported the Parliamentary Election would cost Rs100 billion. Nearly Rs 50 million to elect one representative. As the newspaper aptly asked: Is it worth? Spending that much of tax money, what kind of Parliament should we vote for on 5 August? There are many answers to this question. These answers come from many different perspectives.

Some would argue that we must elect wise” women and men at least with a college degree. A recently formed group thinks a Parliament with more women representatives would be good for the country’s political health. Why not vote for new faces getting rid of 225 people in the last Parliament. All these and many other suggestions of course entail some sense, so should not be thrown away. In casting my vote in every Election, national, provincial or local, the saying that invariably reverberates in my inner self is what Arhat Mahinda advised King Devanampiya Tissa about 2500 years ago. O Great King! The birds of the air and the beasts on earth have equal right to live and move about in any part of this land as thou. The lands belong to the people and all other beings and thou art only the guardian of it.” 

Angel Guardians for Five Years

Even though the representatives we are going to elect on 5 August are wise youth with college degrees, they are elected only for five years. They are not the owners of the land but just guardians. Hence, their legislative power has to be conditioned, controlled and restricted not only by the relevant clauses of the constitution but also by the needs of the birds of the air and the beasts on the earth”. Nonetheless, the experience of the last 42 years has amply shown that they surpass the constitutional limitations, and totally disregard the latter, i.e. the needs of the birds of the air and the beasts on the earth”. The Leopard killings in the last three months has proved that these representatives have failed to protect the rare animals in the country.

Post COVID-19 Context

According to epidemiologists the country is now in a post COVID-19 situation identified by two principal characteristics: 

(1)    A serious economic crisis marked by mass unemployment and underemployment, sluggish even negative growth and growing poverty. 

(2)    An increase in conflicting forces in the Indian Ocean region (IOR) that have a direct spill-over effect on Sri Lanka. 

When people pass their power for five years to their representatives, it is imperative to think about how these representatives interrogate with this situation dominated by these two features. However, we have to bear in mind they are paradoxically related. 

It’s evident the economic crisis requires a greater degree of inward orientation. It is clear that the outward orientation that Ranil Wickremesinghe has repeatedly campaigned for is not going to work under the given international situation. There would be a reduction in export earnings because the global economy would experience 5 per cent of negative growth that would reduce world consumption significantly. Similarly, the earning from tourism will also decrease substantially. In such a scenario, continuous faith on export-oriented growth strategy is a chimera. Hence, import substitution sectors with reasonable cluster effects have to be encouraged. While in the sphere of economics, the idea of delinking is making headway, it is interesting to see that in the arena of international politics, more and more integration appears to be reinforced. This may be attributed to the increasing tension between China and the United States in the Pacific and IOR. Although it is not the largest ocean, the significance of the IOR has greatly increased in the last ten years or so. China’s recent presence in the IOR has led India to move towards the US while Pakistan, its traditional ally, moved away from it. The US is planning to form a big alliance in the Indo-Pacific region linking India, Japan and Australia. 

In this backdrop, protection of the sovereignty that rests on the people of the country will be problematic if the representatives of the people succumbed to the pressure of the international and regional powers haunting in the region. 

Vacillating President and the Cabinet

The Prime Minister has appointed a commission headed by Professor Lalithasiri Gunaruvan to examine the pros and cons of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact as far as its expressed objectives and operational modalities are concerned. The Committee has recently submitted its report and indicated the signing of the MCC as it exists would be a serious threat to the island’s sovereignty. From the report it’s clear the preparation process of the MCC had been done without giving any importance to Sri Lanka.

Although the committee report has revealed the danger of the MCC to the country’s sovereignty, its foreign policy, its economy and finally its people, it appears the President and the Cabinet appears to be vacillating to take a firm decision on the MCC seemingly for two reasons. Although it is not within the MCC, the President has already asked to expedite land registry digitalisation contracted to the US firm. 

(1)    First, they seem to think US$ 480 million is a big support to the COVID-19 affected country. In support of this view, they emphasise the fact that it is a grant. Because it is a grant it would be much worse that a high premium loan. 

(2)    The second argument which is equally feeble is it’s not fair to change foreign policy decisions and agreements with other countries after a Government change. Of course, such decisions should be taken with proper analysis, not just short-term gains. In this sense, we have seen the brilliance of non-aligned foreign policy that was taken in the 1960s. However, in the last forty two years (1978- 2012), Sri Lanka’s decisions in the foreign policy arena have been shaky and based on short term considerations. Former Foreign Secretary Dr Palitha Kohona warned sometime back that once the MCC process was begun there was no turning back. 

It is quite clear, both arguments to sign the MCC and associated two agreements ACSA and SOFA should be vehemently opposed by the electorate in Sri Lanka at the 5 August Parliamentary Election. The people who have an iota of concern on their sovereignty and its future generation should not vote for candidates who appear to be in support of the MCC.  

The writer is a retired teacher of political economy at the University of Peradeniya.


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.



Copyright © 2023 All Rights Reserved. Powered by Wordpress