Mixed bag for SLFP-UNP
A cross section of Sri Lanka’s business community,
civil society and professionals was polled by The Sunday Times FT
last week on the MoU between the SLFP and the UNP but the results
proved contrary to what most people would have expected, analysts
Respondents were wary saying these ‘were
good first steps” but warned of another possible insurgency
if the JVP was sidelined.
53 % of the 250 respondents believe it would help seek a political
settlement to the national issue while many were undecided. However
an overwhelming 87 % said it would help boost the economy, encourage
business and investment which was a contradiction of the response
to the first question. “This shows that a good 30 % in the
first question response were hoping against hope that the alliance
would work while also having their reservations,” one analyst
said, reviewing the results.
The email poll, a regular feature on issues of
national importance that impacts on the business community, asked
for responses to the impact of the new alliance on peace, the economy,
divisive politics and whether the two parties – apart from
the LTTE – were part of the reason why the country is not
The survey also drew many comments with one of
the key issues being people being sceptical. One pithy remark to
the question on whether this would end confrontational politics,
was “Dream on” which implied that politicians cannot
be ‘ever’ trusted. Cynics also raised the spectre of
both sides ‘taking the country for a ride and benefitting
The issue of whether Sri Lankan leaders are sincere
and courageous came out strongly while there was also concern that
there won’t be any opposition to challenge wrongdoing, corruption
and inefficiency. With full details of the MoU not in the public
domain, the survey also raised the issue of elections and what would
happen if there was a poll.
But the majority (64 %) strongly felt the two
parties – apart from the LTTE – were the stumbling blocks
to peace with the opposition (either the SLFP or UNP) opposing a
political settlement for the sake of opposing.
Business leaders, most of who welcomed the ‘pact’,
however stressed the need for a strong civil society movement inclusive
of the business community to make sure the MoU works, instead of
solely blaming the two sides if it fails.
Nihal Perera, President of the Travel Agents Association
of Sri Lanka, saw this as a positive message to carry to the forthcoming
World Travel Mart in London in which a strong delegation is going
Kishu Gomes, Managing Director, Caltex Ltd and
an outspoken young business professional, agreed that it is time
for everyone to get together to support this cause.
“The business community and Sri Lankans
need the parties to focus on the political aspects and focus on
the peace initiatives which are crucial for business.
Pressure has to be exerted and maintained and
we respect the two parties for what they have done. But they have
to be constantly reminded of the benefits for the country.”
Renton de Alwis, a former Tourist Board chairman,
believes civil society, the business community and media leadership
must go beyond issuing statements to make sure it works. He called
for an ongoing ‘intelligent’ public dialogue on how
this alliance can work for the good of the country without leaving
it only to those who have come together.
“That dialogue must be on each of the six
agreed issues and must be with a view to assisting the political
leadership to look beyond their own agenda.”
Ranjit Page, Managing Director of Cargills Group
and the Food City Supermarkets, repeated what he has always stood
for – work instead of talk. “We need to stop commenting
and work to ensure this effort succeeds.”
Deva Rodrigo, former Chairman of the Chamber of
Commerce (CCC), said the private sector and in particular, the CCC,
has been promoting a bipartisan approach towards resolving issues
of national importance. The MoU was an encouraging and promising
development though the past is replete with failures in such attempts.
He said civil society and business leaders should
spread the word that politicians who impede the success of this
effort would be rejected by the voters and challenge those attempting
to return to divisive politics.