The Role Of The Opposition
Sunday Leader Editorial
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Disturbing reports on signs of emergence of violence in the North and East have been reported in the media.
Such reports may be false alarms, deliberate attempts made by political mischief makers or genuine indications of unseen developments taking place. When such reports emerge, whatever the personal views of politicians or security officials may be, it is imperative that they have to be fully and exhaustively investigated and action taken.
The National Unity government has its plate full, thanks to a political opposition in predominantly Sinhala regions and is misusing and exploiting powers and privileges granted to a democratic parliamentary opposition. The Opposition predominant in the Tamil regions has been passive or lukewarm in their support extended to the government. Undoubtedly there are constraints still placed on Tamil politicians who suffered the brunt of the violence in the near three decade long war.
We are going through the eighth year after the armed conflict. It takes time to understand how reconciliation be brought about and grievances attended to. But there can be no contentment on the progress made so far on subjects such as estrangement between the two communities, alleviation of grievances or dispensation of justice.
Undoubtedly these are onerous tasks but they cannot be put off, if there is to be a happy united Sri Lanka in the near future.
To some persons any sign of emergence of violence calls for increased military presence and enforcement of strict security measures – the military option. To others it means understanding of grievances, granting of demands and relaxation of security measures – the political solution. Sri Lankans have gone through this debate of military solution and political solution for the umpteenth time and know all about it. But they simply cannot make any significant move even now.
The basic reason is that the two communities remain in separate compartments even political leaders of both sides and the NGOs as well.
It is a matter for great regret that some of the once ardent revolutionary advocates for national reconciliation have not only gone dumb once their government was defeated and but also appear to be taking up cudgels to revive racism in a raw form!
The debate on a new constitution is now being eagerly awaited by some rabble rousing racists as a launching pad for their political careers.
Without political consensus in Sinhala and Tamil electorates on subjects such as devolution of administration and police powers, no such devolution will be possible. Thus the proposal to have a referendum on the constitution with all parties canvassing their views openly will be a deterrent to opportunists running with the hare and hunting with the hounds.
While a government in office has the awesome task of governance what are the responsibilities of a democratic opposition? They certainly have the right to oppose government moves – within limits – if they think it is inimical to interests of certain segments of people but they also bear a responsibility towards the people as a whole and the country as well.
Going by the conduct of most of the leading lights of Sri Lanka’s Opposition it appears that their sole objective is to wreck all strategies of the government and bring it down. The former President of the country has unabashedly declared that his aim is to bring down this government this year not giving much of reason why it should be done.
If this is the attitude of a political leader – twice elected as president – there is not much hope for democracy in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka has had great opposition leaders like S. A. Wickremasimghe, N. M. Perera, Pieter Keuneman, Philip Gunawardena, Leslie Gunawardene and Bernard Soysa, who were all committed Marxist revolutionaries but who were well aware that they were functioning under a democratic parliamentary system and rarely attempted to breach its limits. They were schooled in reputed universities where political principles mattered. Principles, conventions, morality and even law and order appear to have no relevance to the rabble rousers of today, frequently attempting street insurrections with misled masses.
It should be recalled that Marxist parties of the sixties lost their grip on political power to the SLFP when they took the principled stand of parity of status for Sinhala and Tamil instead of Sinhala only as the state language.
The Opposition has a definite role to play in parliamentary democracy but it is not the role of an enraged Hambantota buffalo in a Walang Kaday (pottery shed). For a start those religious leaders whom these Opposition leaders pay obeisance ever so often and seek their blessings should tell them about the responsibility of an Opposition and also tell the public about it.