By the time this article goes into print the country would have voted for its choice of Executive President. All that remains is for the votes to be counted and for the National Elections Commission to announce the result. Having exercised their franchise, can the citizenry now leave everything in the hands of a new [...]


A citizen’s duty does not end with the casting of his vote


By the time this article goes into print the country would have voted for its choice of Executive President. All that remains is for the votes to be counted and for the National Elections Commission to announce the result.

Having exercised their franchise, can the citizenry now leave everything in the hands of a new Head of Government, and go back to being a silent spectator of what goes on in the sphere of governance. Hardly. In a vibrant democracy, casting the vote is only one part of one’s civic responsibilities. Irrespective of who is elected the Executive President, a citizen’s duties are not over.

If “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”, then equally, active participation by concerned citizens, in the affairs of Government, will determine the trajectory of governance in the country in the days to come.

Active participation will require engaging constructively with Government, if and when it deviates from the path that is beneficial to the country and its people. It will require a heightened sense of civic consciousness to keep track of governance issues and point out to Government any shortcomings. Where necessary, it will become necessary to mobilize public opinion in a constructive way. In doing so, the objective should be to keep the Government on track, rather than to be disruptive.

The exercise of people’s rights should not be designed to make governance difficult and help the Opposition.The abuse of democracy in this manner, for evil ends, is not much different to the use of authoritarianism to suppress the legitimate rights and freedoms of the people. Civil Society and its leadership will have to play a critical role in keeping democracy alive, as well as the country on an even keel. The role of a citizen is best captured in the words of a renowned and erudite Indian Judge, who proclaimed that “in this spaceship called earth there are no passengers, only pilots.”

The country has witnessed various elements taking advantage of the democratic space that opened out after January 8, 2015, to pursue interests inimical to the National Interest, such as hate campaigns against minorities and pseudo patriotic agitations which, in the long run, are detrimental to the well-being of the country and its people.

While the success of a democracy will be determined in considerable measure by the exercise of responsible citizenship, it will also be largely determined by wise and responsible governance. Such leadership will have to be visionary but, at the same time, be sensitive to the views of the public. Only then can governance be meaningful from the people’s perspective.

A few of the more urgent tasks facing a new Government may be discussed here. Since January 8, 2015, large strides have been taken in improving the institutions that contribute to the infrastructure of democratic governance. The Judiciary, the Police and the Public Service have been allowed the space to function independently and free from political pressure. The benefits of such policies are already very evident, with democracy increasingly becoming very much a part of the political landscape of this country.

This is best illustrated when one compares the run up to the November 16, 2019, Presidential Election, with what transpired in the run up to the January 8, 2015, Presidential Election. When the 2015 Presidential Election was called, the Opposition had to ensure that the candidature of Maithripala Sirisena was a well guarded secret until the last moment, because of the fears arising from the authoritarian nature of the regime of the time.

In contrast, in 2019, the main Opposition candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s candidature was announced over 3 months before the scheduled date of Election, as there was no fear of any harm being caused to him. In fact, he was able to conduct an Election campaign for well over 3 months, publicly and fearlessly, which was a clear indication that democratic freedoms were not being trampled upon.

Notwithstanding such comparisons, however, much more has to be done to ensure that democracy takes firm root in the structure of governance.
Another area that a new Government has to take action is to ensure that the Rule of Law is firmly enthroned in the country. Apart from weaknesses in the Rule of Law contributing to injustice, as a result of it not being applied firmly and fairly, it can also result in tragic consequences to the country and its people, as evidenced by the horrendous terrorist attack of April 21,2019, which resulted in the tragic deaths of so many people.

National Reconciliation is another area which a new Government will have to pay attention to. The efforts of the Yahapalana Government in building National Unity and Reconciliation, helped the country to withstand the shock of the Easter Sunday attacks, by standing together.

However, these achievements were somewhat undermined by evil forces, which stoked the embers to create ethnic strife and fears, in order to achieve their own ends. A renewed effort at National Reconciliation can greatly help in removing fears and restoring confidence between the different communities, and facilitate the larger goal of National Building.

The addressing of minority grievances and resolving the National question, in a manner that is satisfactory to the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, as well as taking decisive steps to curb hate speech, which drives communities apart, will have to receive priority for a new President.

One of the areas in which the Yahapalana government failed was in bringing to book those involved in corruption in public life. Although initial investigations were launched, the processes were not completed due to a multiplicity of reasons. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this was one aspect of Yahapalana governance that caused dissatisfaction among the people.

One of the most formidable and critical challenges facing a new Government will be that of getting Sri Lanka out of the debt trap. Not only will a new Government have to extricate the country from the burden of debt, but also ensure rapid economic development at a national level, while ensuring that the fruits of such development are equitably distributed among the populace.

The above list of priorities are not exhaustive of the tasks that a new Government will have to undertake. It only serves as a snapshot of the overall challenges facing the country.

( )

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.