The Sunday Times Editorial

25th February 1996

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Riot of Colors

Independent journalists, sincerely committed to the vision of building a just and fair society through the medium of the press, have often been affronted by the way self-seeking politicians fix labels on them. They allege that some journalists are UNP or others SLFP, that another journalist is somebody's uncle or somebody's nephew.

Now we find that the business community of Sri Lanka are facing the same problem. Politicians are fixing labels even on the committed entrepreneur whose aim is to develop his business and through that promote overall economic growth.

Patrick Amerasinghe, President of the Chamber of Industries and Federation of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Sri Lanka, put it pithily: "The business community has been caught in the crossfire between warring political parties which have not quite grasped the severity of the crisis. Recent incidents have left the business capital badly hit. There is poor cash circulation and more cash outflow. Banks are tight - unwilling to give loans etc. in the fear that the public will not be able to repay them. Increasing numbers of businessmen are unable to pay wages to their workers. Investors are thinking twice about coming to Sri Lanka and unemployment is growing daily."

Excessive party politics where almost everyone and everything is labeled blue, green or red has been the biggest drawback in the development of Sri Lankan society. Party politics has ruined this country and if we look deeply at the ethnic crisis itself we would see its roots in petty party politics.

The Sunday Times has often called for national unity in facing national crises like the current ethnic conflict. But governments then and governments now, opposition parties then and opposition parties now, still appear to be putting personal gain or glory first, the party next and then only the nation. No wonder our patriotism is misplaced.

The Organization of Professionals Association (OPA) a widely respected and independent body has passed a strong resolution and launched an islandwide campaign urging all political parties to come together and form a national government. Apparently disillusioned by the continuing spectacle of political back-stabbing while bombs and bigotry blast the nation apart, the OPA has warned of the socio-political and economic disaster facing Sri Lanka if political parties do not pull together.

The OPA plea certainly echoes public sentiment. But judging by the damp squib from last Wednesday's much-awaited Chandrika-Ranil summit it seems that the cry for national unity will be just another cry in futility.

It seems that while struggles and conflicts generally melt the hearts of ordinary people, they have a contrary effect on the typical politician. Calamities apparently harden the politician's heart. They think mainly about their power pockets.

See what is happening today. The government is unleashing commission after commission obviously aimed at opposition politicians. The UNP, for good measure is trying every trick and strategy to cut the ground under the feet of the government. Even outside Colombo in the villages, the people are branded UNP or SLFP by the small-time politicos who are a mere extension of the cheap politicking done by their leaders in Colombo. We also know how footloose, futile or frivolous party affiliations are for some politicians. They jump from one party to another for a mess of pottage.

At least some ministers of this Government are trying no doubt to rise above the ordinary. But that should not be merely to get the two-third majority in Parliament for Bribery Commissions or the package - while subtly trying to tear the other down. That's what cheap party politics teaches - to tear people down rather than build them on, to compete rather than care. Even if the formation of a national government is highly improbable, if not impossible due to wrong attitudes and petty thinking, let us at least defuse the growing tensions between parties that entrap ordinary people, journalists, businessmen and professionals.

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