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#4845, 4 March 2015

Dateline Colombo

Sri Lanka: President Sirisena’s First One Hundred Days
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera

“Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real.”
Jules Verne, Around the World in Eighty Days

51 days have passed, and 49 remain to fulfill the election promises of the 100-day reform introduced by the newly elected regime in Sri Lanka. People are questioning the delay in implementing certain key promises, and the public is concerned that this may be another unfulfilled election promise. According to a top constitutional lawyer, Dr Wickramaratne, the proposed simultaneous implementation of both constitutional and electoral reforms lacks practicality. Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha, a leading supporter of the President’s coalition, has also expressed his dissatisfaction at the delay in the implementation process. He especially notes the delays in the re-establishment of the 17th Amendment, abolishing the executive Presidency, and the new electoral system.

The remainder of the hundred days will see the implementation of the Right to Information Act (RTI). The successful implementation of this Act will strengthen individual citizens to question political authority and enhance transparency. According to some media reports, its implementation is postponed. An important Act such as the RTI should ideally go through a process of taking into account citizen input and discussions with the public before being presented to parliament. India went through such a process and certain areas are still under improvement.

The 100-day reform promises a lot of good, but the practicality of this being implemented in so short a span of time is a concern that has been flagged by this author in previous columns. Of the social media groups that are monitoring the daily progress of these reforms, www.100days.lk indicates that only 9 promises have so far been fulfilled out of 25.

What people would like to see is a better political and economic environment than what existed during the previous administration’s tenure. This is the underlying reason they voted for a change. If the 100-day promise is not fulfilled it will lead to serious political issues arising from public dissatisfaction. What the new government should focus on is the essential list of priorities within the 100-day reform promise. A focus on flying around the world with themes such as “around the world in 100 days” is not a priority for the people.

In Sri Lanka, the construction of the lotus tower which aims to be the highest tower in South Asia is a symbol of wasteful expenditure initiated by the previous Government, and at the risk of neglecting priorities such as poverty alleviation. The contractual commitments from China and India remain a serious decision and challenge for the new Government in deciding its continuation or discontinuation. The Colombo Port City project called in a massive Chinese investment of US$15 billion to build a construction similar to the Palm City of Dubai. The housing project by the Indian TATA group of US$450 million is still under the new Government’s evaluation. These important decisions will be made by the new Government which will eventually face a general election in a few months.

Whether former President Rajapaksa will stand for elections and how the coalition will contest are among the vital election questions. The massive rally organised recently by the supporters of the former President Rajapaksa indicate his return to politics. Speaking to the local press, former President Rajapaksa said, “See, the US, Europe, the West, they are not our friends, Pakistan helped us, especially Musharraf. What happened in my country and the insurgency happening in your country, RAW [India's Research and Analysis Wing] is behind it." This is a serious statement that reveals that he wishes to project his defeat as an international conspiracy. Creating speculation about India’s involvement in regime change could affect Sri Lanka’s relations with them in the future. It could also stir negative sentiment among the Sri Lankan public.

Sri Lanka lost its freedom to the British Empire two centuries ago because of the lack of unity. The local Chiefs got rid of the local King with the support of the British and handed over to the British assuming the Chiefs could play a larger ensuring the country’s safety. Unfortunately, only too late were the brutalities of being a colony under the British realised. Sri Lanka lost its independence due to internal weaknesses, at the heart of which was the lack of unity. If united as one, Sri Lankans can focus their energy to empower the people, and with the right skill sets, achieve great heights.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe made an important remark on the 67th Independence Day: “We have now, once again arrived at a period, during which we could realise that objective. Groups that represent diverse communities, following different religions, political parties, civil organisations and various groups came together onto one platform, shedding their differences to achieve a common objective for the benefit of the nation.”

To create a common unity among the different ethnic groups and reconciliation should remain a top priority.

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