Dateline Colombo

Politics of Correctness: The Legacy of Lee Kuan Yew

06 Apr, 2015    ·   4859

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera comments on the domestic politics of Sri Lanka

“I always tried to be correct, not politically correct."
Lee Kuan Yew

Drawing open the curtains to what is the festive month of April in many parts of Asia and the world, on 02 April, one hundred forty two students were slaughtered in Garissa University College in Kenya by al Shabab:  an al Qaeda-linked Somali terrorist outfit. A statement issued by al Shabab warned Kenyans that their cities will run red with blood. Such acts put to shame the broader human race.

On the very day that this author was making a presentation on counter-radicalism and de-radicalisation in Antalya, Turkey, the Saudi-led Arab league initiated Operation Decisive Storm against al Qaeda militants advancing in Yemen. Although hard power can be used to suppress terrorists such as in the case of Sri Lanka, the challenge is the ability to destroy an idea or commitment to a cause using soft power after the military victory. Sri Lanka displayed to the world that a terrorist insurgency can be defeated with will and skill. However, over a period of militarised conflict, the ideology of the State and the counter-ideology of terrorist factions are long-term processes that seep into the societal mindset - removal of such ideologies requires strategic and thoughtful processes.

The Islamic State (IS) infrastructure can be dismantled by harnessing the political will of Western and Middle Eastern powers, and by building international partnerships. Although the threat of the IS and al Qaeda-directed attacks persist, the dominant threat remains in the form of self-radicalised homegrown cells and individuals. One approach to a counter-terrorism strategy may be to work towards creating a multinational, multi-pronged, multi-agency, and multi-jurisdictional framework with the aim of countering upstream counter-radicalisation and downstream de-radicalisation.

In Sri Lanka, the former Rajapaksa Cabinet of one hundred ministers was reduced to less than forty, which was remarkable. This was reiterated in February to the distinguished delegates from around the world in Nepal at the Consortium of South Asian Think-Tanks (COSATT) by this author. Last month, President Sirisena appointed another 26 Ministers - eleven more Cabinet Ministers, five State Ministers and ten Deputy Ministers - which is back to the same position as before. This new appointments to create a ‘National Government’ concept could be a move to avoid the SLFP MPs from drifting towards the former President. To do this, they had to break the election pledge of a limit of 30.

The usual conduct is that if Ministers or MPs are not part of the Government, they sit in the opposition. However, presently in Sri Lanka it is possible to belong to both Government and Opposition and be national. It is important to ponder who would function as the real opposition to the present National Government.

10 out of 25 promises fulfilled and less than 20 days to go for the completion of 100 days. A major constitutional reform - the 19th Amendment, - electoral reform, and the RTI act are still in the process of implementation. A dramatic change to the constitution is expected from the 19th amendment but should such a change be done in a rush as an urgent bill? One of the issues for rushing without public consultancy was the consequence of the post implementation of the 13th amendment, which created many complications. It is necessary to debate, deliberate and seeks public input in such processes.

Despite a quagmire of post-election domestic political issues, the initial State visit of the newly elected President Sirisena to China took place last week. The visit was a success with positive remarks from the Chinese President, who said, “China puts Sri Lanka in an important position in neighborhood diplomacy” and pledged that the two sides will continue to deepen cooperation in every sector.

The hotly debated US$1.4billion port city project remains suspended. Assistant Minister of Chinese Foreign Affairs Liu Jianchao’s stated that this is China's biggest investment project in Sri Lanka. The Colombo Port City Project that was suspended for months by the new Government is to continue. This came as a shock to the general public and this was rectified by several remarks by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, who said that it is still under suspension. Still, Beijing pledged around US$1 billion in new grants during the visit of President Sirisena.

Many Chinese contracts and projects had been questioned for the process of awarding and not following a proper approval procedure during the past regime. While the new Government is working to rebalance between New Delhi and Beijing, in an interview with the South China Morning Post former President Rajapaksa defended his actions and said China was being used as a political scapegoat. "I wanted development for Sri Lanka and China was the only one which had the resources and the inclination to help me," he said.

What the people aspire to and vote for remains better living conditions and not internal political battles. A lesson from one of the political giants who passed away last week who built his nation with a brilliant mindset, Lee Kuan Yew, demonstrated nation-building with sincerity which led to great heights. The emphasis in his masterly approach was correctness in approach at all times, and not placing political correctness at his strategies centre.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.