MEN & EVENTS – by Sugeeswara Senadhira
Although there are certain apprehensions about the acts of commission and omission of the government of good governance in some quarters, there seems to be universal agreement that the policies of President Maithripala Sirisena are the most suitable for the country. This is the view of not only the supporters of the regime but also the viewpoint of known critics as well as the renowned impartial analysts.
The collective endorsement of the foreign policy of President Sirisena became quite evident at the panel discussion on Sri Lanka’s global affairs since January 2015, organized by the premier think-tank, Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS) last week. Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka, who was one of the main campaign speakers of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the last Presidential Election praised the Asia-centric middle path foreign policy of President Sirisena for the first time in public and said, “I think that is the correct and realistic foreign policy that Sri Lanka should adopt at all times most especially in this post-war period.” He described the foreign policy of the government as “realistic, positive and constructive.”
“The very nature of the new administration, which is an experiment in a kind of by party sensation, has lent itself to a certain dualism in foreign policy and in that dualism I see the aspect of realism as represented by President Sirisena’s policy,” he said.
Dr. Jayatilleka, analyzing President’s stance on the UNHRC resolution and on accountability, said it is a very clear policy. He recalled that President Sirisena said in his interview with the New York Times and in an extensive interview with the BBC Sandeshaya that he has full confidence in the Sri Lankan Courts and, especially after the 19th Amendment, he has full confidence in the Sri Lankan lawyers.
He has full confidence in the Sri Lankan laws as implemented and implementable after the 19th Amendment at the freeing of the institutions and processes from the excessive political pressure. That is the correct position that is the realistic position and that is the position in line with the national interest, Dr. Jayatilleka said.
“There are clear models for Sri Lanka under your leadership. One is that of Iran under President Rouhani, the other is Cuba under President Raul Castro. Both are examples of constructive engagements of negotiations based on a principal pragmatism and I even call it a smart patriotism.”
Different political analysts with varied agendas might give diverse interpretations to Dayan’s fresh elicitations. But the viewpoint was not limited to Dr. Jayatilleka. Respected academic Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda, who was one of the panellists at the BCIS event said the government has taken Sri Lanka’s foreign policy to a post-ideological, post-egoistic, and post-confrontational phase. Some critics may not see the value of it. Yet, the realization of it is no mean achievement for any government, he said.
According to Dr. Uyangoda, the success in the external relations front is primarily characterized by the government’s ability to establish a policy regime of equilibrium vis-a-vis major regional, continental and global powers. His view was that only in three areas the government seems to have been successful.
i) Managing external relations through a strategy of policy flexibility;
ii) Arresting the process of Sri Lanka’s drift towards hard authoritarianism; and
iii) Keeping the opponents – the so-called joint opposition – at bay, preventing its growth into an imminent political threat to regime stability.
The academic pointed out that any government would want to steer a new path of foreign policy. Given the atmosphere of extreme hostility between the two camps, the government was compelled to abandon immediately the foreign policy orientation of its predecessor. The new orientation was seen in the restoration of closeness with regional as well as global powers that had earlier been marginalized. This core dimension of the foreign policy continues with only a slight change.
Global political system
“For the first time since 2009, we could see the Sri Lankan Government, the UN, the EU and Western Governments – the West-led managers of the global political system – sitting and talking to each other as friends, committed to a shared goal of post-war peace-building and development in Sri Lanka,” Dr. Uyangoda pointed out.
He felt that the government might also need to recalibrate its external relations and seek new domestic as well as global allies who are sceptical of, and even opposed to the Geneva process. This is the topic which Sri Lanka’s foreign policy watchers of domestic political developments, including himself, would monitor with great interest during the next few months to come.
He cautioned the President that while seeking new allies, President or the Prime Minister should not ignore the broad coalition that made possible the regime change of January 2015. Nor should they turn their back on the reform agenda for good governance, democracy, and peace building.
While Governor of Eastern Province Austin Fernando articulated the development in reconciliation and related areas, the keynote speaker Prof. Ram Manikkalingam of Amsterdam University said he believed it is this peaceful, democratic and quiet revolution in Sri Lankan politics that has had a far-reaching impact on the country’s standing in the world. “This quiet revolution is a major and beneficial development in our own, Sri Lankan politics. I think this is obvious. What is not so obvious, but I believe almost as important, is that our quiet revolution is just as important for our standing and relations in the world. Or I should say, creates a major opportunity and responsibility for Sri Lanka to better navigate and perhaps even influence the world,” he said.
The panel discussion was unique in many ways.
It had an excellent panel of top academics representing diverse views. President Sirisena attended the dialogue, listened with patience and finally in his brief address he assured that the divergent views expressed by the panellists would be taken into consideration while deciding future cause of action.
Explaining further, he said Sri Lankans should realize that they cannot live in isolation and that they need international support. Therefore, Sri Lanka has to cultivate other countries. This is no secret, and there is no reason to hide the policy, the President said.