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30th March 1997

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Keep your promises now

As a clean election, it left a great deal to be desired. But the verdict was clear enough. The country has endorsed its decision of 1994, possibly in more muted tones, but a clear endorsement nevertheless.

It will take more time to unravel the threads that went into the complex fabric of this vote. Was it a straight-forward parochial vote? How far were National and ethnic issues mixed up with votes on party lines? Whatever motivated the voters, broken promises have apparently vied unsuccessfully, with feelings of giving the President and the PA a fair chance to prove themselves.

It is now up to the President to use this vote wisely and follow the dictates of her conscience, which must surely have reflected in the original PA manifesto, a well-intentioned document which has been so far sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.

She must without delay address herself to the law and order situation in the country and pull the police out of the pathetic plight it finds itself in. The judiciary must be given the confidence to adjudicate without fear or favour and the public service made to work. The media must not be treated as enemies of the state. None of this will happen unless political interference ceases. From this all else flows. Otherwise spoutings from political platform and dreams of words written and debated will only continue to be sanctimonious humbug.

Bold but tricky course

The draft constitution has been pre sented but sans the chapter on the sensitive devolution of power.

The Government is embarking on a bold but tricky course in the belief that the recent local election results reflect approval for Government policy on constitutional reforms. That is yet to be seen except to say that the package was largely a non-issue at the elections and an important element in that was the fact that the Buddhist clergy remained in their temples during the election campaigning.

Many cannot still understand why the abolition of the Executive Presidency must be linked to the other amendments and cannot stand on its own. Does it mean that if the amendments are rejected the Executive Presidency remains?

It is a matter of alarm that with the announcement of the draft constitution came the news that the Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister, the Attorney-General and the Legal Draftsman were to visit South Africa to study constitutional reforms there - sponsored by USAID.

This smacks of impropriety. For the country's Justice and Constitutional Minister and the Attorney-General to go on visits financed by a foreign donor agency? But then new standards are now the order of the day in the Attorney-General's Department and the Justice Ministry.

Recently some NGOs sponsored Government and Opposition MPs to visit Switzerland and Ireland and lectured to them about the need for devolution in Sri Lanka. The Minister of Fisheries was among the Sri Lankan MPs who went on this trip. The Sunday Times urged party leaders on both sides not to allow their MPs to be sponsored like this to support the devolution package.

This is the beginning of 'MPs for hire' - democracy that has enveloped politicians both in England and America. There is public debate in those countries about the credibility of those in high public office when they offer themselves to power groups with cash. There is need for public debate here too for the way our representatives conduct themselves.

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