The Guest Column by Victor Ivon

19th March 2000

Hatred: barrier for fruitful talks

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Will the Ranil-Chandrika dialogue lead to a change in the existing political picture? Will it be able to bring about at least a consensus on a solution to the ethnic crisis which has led to continuous destruction of life?

It is vital that the government and the opposition act on the basis of a consensus on problems of national importance. Although that is a normal practice in a democratic political system, such a dialogue does not exist in the political culture of Sri Lanka. What prevails is a tradition of obstructing whatever the government in power does, whether good or bad. Without finding solutions to the matters that have led to the on-going hatred between the governing party and the opposition, this erroneous tradition which does not contribute to the welfare of the country cannot be ended, merely by glib talk meant to mislead the other.

In a democratic system there are several political parties and the contest must be free. The rules and regulations about the contest for power must be equal for all and must also be just. The electoral contests must be free and fair, and must be able to reflect in a fair manner the extent of the public support the various parties have.

In a democratic political system the governing party should not indulge in conspiracies to weaken the opposition parties. The party in power must not utilize its majority for the purpose of making laws, regulations that will block the chances of the opposition to come to power. The strength of the parties should be held in such a free and fair manner that they will be trusted and respected by the opposition parties. The parties to the contest can function without hatred for each other and when necessary can act with a consensus only if the above mentioned basic conditions that help to make the struggle for power a free contest, are fulfilled.

However, in our country, the contest for power is not an honourable one, it is in a disgraceful state of affairs. The party that comes to power, as a matter of habit, uses its political power to oppress the opposition. Launching of conspiracies to weaken the opposition has became a normal practice.

The election process too is conducted, not freely and fairly, but in a manner advantageous to the party in power. As a result the contest for power among political parties too has became a fierce tussle conducted in implacable hatred. The oppressive policy followed by the party in power against the supporters of the opposition parties has created a vengeful attitude towards the ruling parties. This hatred that exists in the contest for power among the political parties has to be removed in order to create conditions in which the government party and opposition will work in consensus in matters of national importance. However, that cannot be done through deceptive glib talk. It can be done by fulfilling the basic conditions necessary for turning the contest between political parties into a free contest.

It was during the period after 1977 that the governing party implemented a massive anti-democratic and outrageous policy of using its political power for oppressing the opposition parties. J.R. Jayewardene changed the rules of the game to his advantage and to the disadvantage of opposition parties. In order to remove his main political opponent from the field he deprived her of her civic rights.

He harassed and oppressed opposition party activists. For the purpose of weakening the SLFP he created internal divisions in it.

He converted the electoral process into an utterly corrupt process in which the government could get the results it wanted.

In 1994 Ms Kumaratunga came to power as an angel intent on bringing about a positive change in this state of affairs. But, after coming to power she is now treading the same path trodden by J.R.Jayewardene. Harassing of opponents, launching of conspiracies for the purpose of weakening the activities of opposition parties etc., have become a normal feature of Ms Kumaratunga's period of office too. Although she has not, like J.R.J. deprived her main opponent of his civic rights so far, she considered the possibility of doing so. She is now making an attempt to change the rules of the game just as J.R.J. did.

Without fulfilling the conditions that would guarantee a free and fair contest between the parties in the political arena, it will not be possible to remove the hatred between the governing party and the opposition.

Without taking steps to eliminate hatred, it is unlikely that any attempt to reach a consensus will be successful.

In these circumstances the present bilateral discussion will inevitably end up as a farce aimed at cheating each other.

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