The recent event I baked 300 brownies for was a political one.
The Young Professionals of the United National Party of Sri Lanka recently held a panel discussion on the topic “Why we need an alternative government”. The event was moderated by Sunesh Rodrigo, and the panelists were:
Hon. Eran Wickramaratne, Member of Parliament & UNP Treasurer
Hon. Dr. Harsha De Silva, Member of Parliament
Mr. Chandra Jayaratne, Former Chairman Ceylon Chamber of Commerce
Mr. Lal Wijenaike, Attorney at Law, Head of the Rule of Law Committee, Bar Association of Sri Lanka
The event had an excellent vibe about it, people were energetic and so focused on what was discussed. In fact, there were many questions after the discussion was over. The discussion itself was very good, informed and informative, as well as rational and logical. The panelists spoke with facts and figures rather than with emotion, in contrast to current political practice. The moderator played a devil’s advocate role as well as a moderator role, questioning statements in a humorous manner. Both UNP parliamentarians were eloquent, and very easy to follow. They broke up their statements to facilitate everyone’s understanding. This is really good when there is a lot of data/content for an audience to follow.
The words “let’s criticize the issues, not the parties” by Dr. Harsha really resonated with me. Too often we are caught in party politics, aligning ourselves one way or another without allowing for the issue to be the focus. No party is 100% what we want, or 100% excellent, but depending n the focus areas they deem important to address (and the methods they address these issues in), we can get behind one party or the other. We cannot bleed blue or green or red based on nationalism or religion. We must understand what each party is good at. And then, let’s criticize the issue at stake, not the party. After all, the party is made up of people. They can change (and frequently do so, in Sri Lanka!). The party is both the best and the worst of the people’s ideologies because the people make it so. With people changing, the parties can all become better (hopefully not worse!) and people can become better by addressing the issues that need to be addressed. Slightly simplistically put here (by me because of my tendency towards brevity), but the core ideology makes sense.
Dr. Harsha addressed many issues, saying that we need to move away from the by one, for one principle now in existence. He was criticizing the fact that one family had the power and the prestige and that they did all they did for themselves. Both parliamentarians called for good governance to be the focal point in all our discussions, saying that private benefit at social cost was not acceptable. They promised the UNP could provide a road map for the future through its policy framework.
Questioned about the boom in highways in Sri Lanka, they both were of the opinion that highways were a need created by the changes in the world and in the country, and while the UNP may not have made highways, at the point they were in power, their efforts were geared towards the end of the war, etc. In the Q&A session, a few audience members did engage with this aspect, one speaking out on behalf of the UNP agreeing to this take. Dr. Harsha opined “It is not roads that we needed, it is a public transport system we need”. He emphasized that we need to talk to our communities and our neighbors, to spread the message. This was related to his statement about criticizing the issue: he said that we too need to do our piece for the country, because the UNP politicians are indeed doing their bit by discussing, questioning, and (when needed) criticizing issues. Both parliamentarians were absolutely well spoken, a plus point in any panel discussion.
They also called for a move from the primacy of markets to primacy of politics. Dr. Harsha emphasized that current market economics are tilted and loaded in favor of government cronies. He said that the UNP are trying to create a government fair to the people, not for cronies. “We are going to move back to a social market system as in 1978,” he said.
One of the questions raised was on the executive presidency: “How can we be sure the exec. presidency will be abolished, when everyone promises but doesn’t do so once in power?”
Hon. Eran answered this particular question saying, “The UNP has not had a president who promised this. Look at the politicians we have and compare them to the politicians they have.” He explained that the promise had been made by UPFA candidates and that the UNP has some exceptional politicians (including Harshana Rajakaruna and Udara Rathnayaka). He said to compare the activities of the UNP politicians with those of the UPFA.
Another salient point under discussion was the segregation of the law/judicial system from the government. Both Mr. Chandra Jayaratne and Mr. Lal Wijenaike expounded on the need for this separation, citing historical cases and more recent ones (such as of the Chief Justice). The call was for an ideal ruler where the ruler is a righteous ruler, which was explained to have nothing to do with religion as the majority believe.
Having sat through 2 hours of this invigorating discussion, I cam away feeling there was a glimmer of hope. However, I do believe the UNP has rested on its laurels too long. It could be a case of too little, too late. I feel they need to step up their game, deliver what they say they will, and be a good opposition. They need to be a sort of checks and balances to the government, they need to take an informed, educated stance on all issues they see the government going wrong on, and they must keep the masses educated. A balanced view (away from the method of histrionics commonly exploited) and support where support is due is needed. For me, politics need to be civilized, informed, and practical. I do not believe in murderous or cut-throat politics. I want a country where political parties and their supporters can exist without fear. One where you can say what you feel and not be carted off to be killed. I do not know if any of these parties in the country can guarantee a return to innocence, but at least if the opposition is strengthened, the government too will be forced to ensure certain basic inalienable truths and rights of the citizens…