It's time to heal wounds and end dirty politics

I have been asked by the editor of this esteemed newspaper to pen some thoughts on the current political developments and trends in our country. My life has been associated with politics for such a long period of time and I have seen political events at such close quarters that I think I am well up to the task.

As a professional the abstract concepts about politics and the reality of Sri-Lankan politics I have seen and witnessed with my own eyes is a stark contrast to the high ideals of politics that emanated from great philosophical thinkers such as Aristotle, Descartes, Russell, Chanakya and Machiavelli. The noble concept of politics such as service without any personal benefit is no longer a truism in many societies and countries. Politics today is the obtaining and retaining power hopefully through legal and constitutional means.

The people through an evolved democratic process that has some minimum benchmarks obtain power through political parties and people's representatives. In Sri-Lanka these ideals are heavily influenced by the politicians intention of hanging on to power at any cost.

Our political culture has been greatly influenced by what I call the perpetual crisis of democracy. We have had three insurrections two in the south and one in the North. These insurrections have been suppressed at a great cost to the nation and society. The first insurrection in 1971 was brutally put down by the armed forces at a cost of nearly 50,000 lives. As I was only 2 years old when this happened I do not have any memory of this event but the fact of the matter is for the first time in our polity the blood of Sri-Lankan youth was spilt to preserve the so-called status quo.The politics of the gun started in Sri Lanka.

The second insurrection in 1988-89 was equally put down by brute force. This insurrection was more venomous and nasty than the first one. Here innocent civilians were ruthlessly executed in cold blood for believing and following a political ideology. The carnage had no limits. Death squads on both sides operated with impunity and I am sure most of the good citizens of this country still remember the thousand burnt bodies on the roadside.

By the time the second insurrection started the third armed insurrection in the North was well under way. This insurrection created the most violent and ruthless terrorist organization in the world. The rest is history we all know what happened. It changed the course of our country from reaching its full potential as a model liberal democratic nation with an equitable open economy to a nation at siege grappling to come to terms with an economy failing to deliver the aspirations of the people.

In politics as in any other vocation one is constantly given advice on how to conduct oneself; "Be patient your time will come", "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are", "A smooth sea never makes a skilled mariner", "The steeper the mountain the harder the climb the better the view from the finishing line", "The softest things in the world overcomes the hardest things in the world" and "We cannot direct the wind but we can adopt the sails" are some that immediately come to mind. To me, as a young politician who is deeply concerned about the future of this country, I am influenced by these sayings but the rough and tumble of Sri Lankan politics, especially the jealousy, bitterness, violence and venom that is generated, is enormous. It is very difficult to keep your head above the water.

When in 1973, the late J.R. Jayewardene became the leader of the UNP he made it a point to bring up young and talented individuals within the party. My late father was only 31 years old at that time. By 35 he was a cabinet minister. With young and talented individuals he transformed the UNP into well-organized truly united unit with a distinct brand of nationalism, positions based on merit and economic liberalism.
Although one could criticise President Jayewardene on many issues he kept the party together.

However, after his tenure, President Premadasa was unable to keep the unity of the party. He should not have victimised Mr. Athulathmudali and my father. Here we learn an important political lesson: internal party unity is very important and to preserve it the leadership should give talented individuals their place in the party.

The election process is deeply flawed and needs immediate change. The preferential system in the country needs too much money, builds up resentment and acrimony among your own colleagues and does not bring about a result so that an individual MP is responsible for his own constituency. Immediate electoral changes are necessary and hopefully this will happen within the lifespan of this parliament.

The fact of the matter is that the electoral process brings up more negativity than positive elements. Having contested three elections now the candidates are more concerned about the 'manapes' than more important issues such as policies for the constituents and making your political party win. The violence, the money that is thrown to buy votes and the tensions and animosity between candidates mean that this electoral system has to be overhauled. How much money individuals utilized in this election can never be fathomed but the more important question is how this cash is generated, where it comes from and what is the 'payback' after the election.

I have always believed that it was crucial for both main political parties to work together to end the brutal terrorism that had gripped our country for thirty years. It was with this intention and this intention only that I joined the government. President Mahinda Rajapaksa's bold decisions have paved the way for the total annihilation of the LTTE.

Many were the skeptics, here and abroad, who never thought that the LTTE could militarily be defeated. To them appeasement was the only way. He braved all the odds and went for the jugular and did what had to be done. The government is now reaping the benefits of that victory politically. Our nation stands at the threshold of great economic development that will propel our people to the fruits of economic prosperity that has long eluded them.

We must think of the long term and build this country for generations to come. Wounds must heal and there must be a spirit of give and take. TheTamil population of this country must truly feel as part of this country. There has to be a sense of inclusiveness. There has to be a genuine-and-implementable devolution proposal so that militancy or any other forms of 'blood' politics would not take shape in our country.

There has to be proper fiscal management of our economy. The debt burden has to be reduced and we have to go for an era of 'disinflationary growth'. There has to be a greater deregulation of the economy so that credible finance can be raised in the international markets for our development efforts.

Our education system needs immediate attention. Over the last two decades there has been marked detioration in teacher standards, curriculum and physical standards in schools. Arguably as military expenditure will significantly decrease we should be able to increase our capital expenditure on health and education accordingly.

I strongly believe that D.R. Edward de Bono's lateral thinking methods should be part of our national curriculum. But I suspect these innovative ideas would not be implemented because our administrators and bureaucrats are happy with the status quo and and have grown apathetic over the years.

A well-targeted poverty alleviation programme, ensuring that economic growth goes to the villages, urban regeneration through private and public partnerships, taking innovative and meaningful steps to create an IT revolution and self sufficiency in energy and food should surely be some of the goals that we should strive to attain. I believe that we have the human capital to achieve these objectives.

We must not miss this chance. It may be last chance as this nation has missed so many opportunities to reach the Promised Land. We must ensure equitable development so that a vast majority of rural Sri Lankans can feel the fruits of economic development.

We must have a meaningful political devolution process, reform our education system so that our benchmark is quality instead of quantity, ensure rapid infrastructure development and transform the military expenditure into a truly 'peace' dividend.

To do this we must lay aside petty political and other differences and get together as patriotic citizens to ensure that country will rise again. If we all play our part I am optimistic that this can be achieved.

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