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#4685, 6 October 2014

Dateline Colombo

Stronger Democratic Values for a Better Tomorrow
Asanga Abeyagoonasekera
Executive Director, Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS), Sri Lanka

In the last few months, geopolitical instability has resurfaced in Eurasia and the Middle East. The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addressing the World Economic Forum special meeting on Unlocking Resources for Regional Development in Istanbul stated: “Terrorism is not regional its global now and it has threaten the entire global peace.” He strongly condemned the ISIS for the current tumorous situation in Iraq and Syria.

Moussa Mara, Prime Minister of Mali said, “Islam is a religion of peace and must not be seen as an instrument of terror.” Calling for a concerted international response to the global cancer of terrorism, he urged for greater efforts by Islamic countries to explain Islam’s underlying precepts. Many speakers emphasised the importance of creating a stable and peaceful region. The author of this article was a participant at this important regional forum.

The battle against ISIS is escalating with aerial bombing by the US forces in Iraq and Syria. According to the Turkish President nearly 1.5 million refugees have entered the Turkish border for shelter and protection. Turkey with its geostrategic location surrounded by Europe, Middle East, North Africa and Eurasia has been experiencing significant growth over the past decade of about 5 per cent annually despite the global financial crisis. Structural reforms and macroeconomic stability have sustained the growth and the rising living standards. Additionally, the Turkey will be the forthcoming G20 Chair. The ongoing ISIS crisis in Middle East region could affect its economy and impact global trade. The ISIS threat is a serious threat to world peace. The international community needs to support the campaign against this extremist group.

Terrorism in any part of the world should be considered a serious threat. The Sri Lankan military battled for three-decades with one of the most brutal terrorist organisations, the LTTE, and was successful in defeating them. The country has lived through the threat of terrorism and has felt the bitter pain of dealing with the terrorist issue. The Sri Lankan economy has grown since 2009, which is when the war ended. The growth of GDP and new infrastructure such as highways, ports and airports could be seen. However the individual per capita increase is a cause for concern among the public who have not experienced it due to a rise in the cost of living.

In the last few months in Sri Lanka several provincial elections were held and the entire nation focused on elections and political talk shows, but the voter turn-out at was less than 50 per cent; in some provinces an even lower percentage was evident. This indicates the trust deficit between the public and the politicians or the lack of interest in the overall system, which could surface to become a serious issue. According to the 2014 Edelman trust barometer there is rise in trust towards NGOs and decrease in trust towards the government. In South Asia, with rising political corruption due to the lack of good governance, trust has decreased between the public and governments. Punishing corrupt politicians as done in India, such as the powerful South Indian Chief Minister Ms Jayalalitha, is a good example of the strong anti-corruption institutions and mechanisms prevalent in India. Such action could restore the trust deficit between elected representatives and the public. It is important that the South Asian region should try to end this generation of corrupt politicians.

Now the political discussion has begun on the next presidential election in Sri Lanka, as many believe the government will go for an early election beginning of next year. The process and the legitimacy for President Rajapaksa to contest for the third term has been questioned and a discussion forum called “Mahinda can” was created by a few intellectuals. One should realise the repercussions of constitutional amendments to extend term limits and the benefit s that could bring to the nation. Sri Lanka’s image as a rich democratic nation in the rest of the world could be questioned, but some may argue that it is better to have the third term as it provides political stability. The 18th Amendment has further strengthened executive power and made checks and balances weak. One may wonder as to what the other coalition political parties under the government would say. Even in the Philippines a recent survey was conducted to extend President Aquino’s term limit; around six in ten Filipinos are not in favour to amend the 1987 Constitution. This may be due to the fear of creating another autocratic leader such as Ferdinand Marcos.

The three-pronged approach discussed - fighting terrorism, establishing good governance and constitutional reform - is to secure or restore the rights of people, not to take away what was given. Through good governance, extremism, which leads to terrorism, can be minimised. As the world celebrates global dignity day on the 15 October, it would be important to respect different communities to create a peaceful dignified world with stronger democratic institutions to preserve and secure liberty.

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