Business Times

All over bar the shouting

Another election has come and gone and it’s now back to serious business in Sri Lanka.
When workers stream into their offices in Colombo and other urban areas tomorrow it would be work as usual, bar the shouting of what would have been. President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s sweeping and unbelievable victory at last week’s poll sets the tone for the parliamentary polls which should be held anytime before April.

Given the margin of victory, the parliamentary poll result is a foregone conclusion with the ruling party expected to steamroll its way sans opposition. The unfortunate outcome of the poll was that the majority-Sinhalese and the minority Tamils and, to some extent, the Muslims have been further alienated. How the President will try to heal the rift, which is extremely important, is anybody’s guess. Another sour development was the unnecessary ‘crisis’ at the Cinnamon Lakeside when dozens of soldiers surrounded the hotel where main opposition candidate Gen. Sarath Fonseka was staying with his advisors and security men.

Whatever the reasons, it was a poor decision and showed the whole world including the international investing community that intimidation and other forms of repression still continues in Sri Lanka.
In Sri Lanka’s recent political history, no losing candidate has been harassed to such an extent even before the final count is announced. And, with the drama taking place at a five-star hotel frequented by the business community and would-be investors – what kind of message are we portraying to the outside world? The President and his ministers should have been magnanimous in victory and extended a hand of friendship to their foes.

Instead ministers came out with ridiculous statements – in the absence of not stating the truth – that the soldiers were there to protect the candidate or that they were trying to grab a few ‘deserters’.
Television images showed a hostile situation so much like the Taj Hotel Mumbai hostage drama a year ago.

A day later, the ‘truth’ emerges: a government spokesperson tells reporters that Gen. Fonseka is the subject of an investigation over a coup attempt and alleged assasination to kill the President and that he would be arrested once the investigation is over. Be that as it may, how anyone could get close to the President (while on the road) when all roads close or people on the streets are ‘shooed’ away (in addition to those walking down lanes being asked to turn the other side and not face the presidential route), beats one’s imagination.

The President and the state apparatus need to move on and get back into the development mode without hounding its so-called enemies. Whatever one’s belief and anger, Gen. Fonseka is also a decorated soldier and deserves shared credit for the end of the conflict which is how, society, business and the international community looks at it.

That won’t change and the quicker the government moves away from revenge-seeking to the role of governing, the better it is for the country and the little over half the people in the country who voted for the President. There is no doubt they are not seeking revenge – unless of course the government has ‘conclusive evidence’ that a plot was hatched. The law must take its course but the law must not be coerced to suit one side.

Amidst the drama of an election and post-polls uncertainty, there were some nice things happening. Last week’s launch of the double decker bus for city tours for local and foreign tourists (see previous page) is an excellent initiative in which Sri Lanka falls in line with many countries including India where any local or foreign tourist can take a bus ride in the city and visit historic and other sites of interest.
This has been a long-time weak link in our tourism and often most tourists had nothing to do in Colombo. It’s a good development even for local families and students keen on learning about the capital. There is always a silver lining! Let’s now hope the country will move forward after letting go of the past!

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