Three new foreign ambassadors, who presented their credentials to President Maithripala Sirisena on Monday (November 4), took the opportunity to ask the Sri Lankan leader about his neutrality in the forthcoming Presidential election. Their eagerness towards this month’s election clearly showed the great interest in foreign governments about this democratic exercise in Sri Lanka.
The President said that he decided to be neutral, the moment he took the decision not to contest in the Presidential election. He pointed out that they could easily observe that the current free, fair and peaceful Presidential election campaign reflected the strength of democracy in Sri Lanka. He said that this great democratic characteristic was restored due to broad political transformation that had taken place in the country.
Furthermore, the fact that the Head of the State also holds the Ministry of Defence and controls the police, armed forces and law and order machinery, he could ensure the impartiality and peaceful conduct of election.
Although, the National Elections Commission stated that over one thousand complaints have been lodged with regard to the Presidential election, only a handful of them could be listed as violent incidents. There were no fatalities and these were minor scuffles between different party supporters.
Peaceful conduct of elections
The moment reports of scuffles were received, the police have taken swift action to prevent escalation of clashes. Police sources confirmed that there were no interference by ministers and other politicians because they all were aware that President Sirisena had given strict instructions to ensure peaceful conduct of elections and prevent violent incidents and malpractices.
When President Sirisena announced his neutrality at the presidential election, he had temporarily stepped down from the SLFP’s leadership and appointed the party’s former General Secretary Prof. Rohana Lakshman Piyadasa as the acting Chairman of the party. “President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to temporarily step down as the SLFP’s Chairman was made in good faith. He wants this Presidential Election to be fair and peaceful. In my view this is a good example for everyone,” SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekara said.
President Sirisena completes the tenth month of his fifth year of Presidency tomorrow (November 9) and this is an occasion to take a retrospective look at the achievements and failures and to understand the reasons for failures.
At the time of completion of 3 years of Yahapalana Government, President Sirisena said, “Some asks me whether I am pleased with what I did during the last three years. Without hesitation and clearly I can respond that I am a happy and a satisfied man with what we achieved during that period.”
Although yahapalana government could not complete its 5 year term as President’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) withdrew itself in the third year, the end of yahapalanaya does not mean the achievements of the last four and half years should be underestimated.
Some of the major achievements are firmly established in an irreversible manner. For example, strengthening of democratic institutions, establishment of independent councils, media freedom, judiciary independence and last but not the least, the curtailment of executive presidency powers and devolve them to the parliament are some of the solid achievement of the yahapalanaya. This was significant as two former Presidents came to power, agreeing to transfer the executive power to the parliament, but they did not fulfill that promise.
One of the first things that President Sirisena did as soon as he was elected was to transfer as many as powers possible to the Parliament and, establish the Constitutional Council and the independent commissions through the 19th amendment to the Constitution. Though he wanted to de-centralize more powers of the Executive Presidency, he had to drop that idea as the Supreme Court stated that according to the constitution there should be a national referendum for that exercise.
Last year, the President said the government had been able to achieve much for the benefit of common people and the country though those achievements could not be felt tangibly by the people immediately. “We have been able to launch a mission to eradicate fraud and corruption by introducing the measures for transparency, good governance, human rights and civil liberties of people and democracy. What we introduced were the basic needs for a society to function ensuring the rights of people,” he pointed out.
Establishment of the independent commissions was the biggest victory for the democracy of this country. Intellectuals, civil society leaders, political parties of this country had fought for nearly 40 years for the establishment of independent commissions which will ensure checks and balances. The most important commission is the independent election commission introduced by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. By establishing independent commissions such as the police, public service, human rights and auditing, a firm foundation for regaining Sri Lanka’s place in the democratic world was laid.
Ensuring media freedom and right to information were foremost among the promises given to the people when rallying them towards the January 8 change. These two have now become a reality. This, indeed is a great achievement as freedom of expression is a right that is essential for the progress of the country and the society.
However, one has to acknowledge that there were some failures and omissions too during this period. The biggest failure of the government in the last 4 years is the inability to take forward its crusade against bribery, fraud and corruption. Due to various reasons, the government failed to take legal action against culprits responsible for the Central Bank Bond fraud and several other issues of bribery and corruption in the past.
When weighing the achievements and failures, it is also necessary to give considerations to the challenges and problems that caused those failures. When an impartial study is taken on President Maithripala’s tenure on the eve of the most important democratic exercise of electing his successor, full credit must be given to President Sirisena for strengthening democratic institutions that ensure free, fair and peaceful elections.