Now that the political turmoil has settled and the focus can turn to recovering what was diminished during the last 50 days of political pandemonium, I thought it would be good to reflect back on some of the positive things that happened as a results of the constitutional crisis.
The political leaders have been shaken up – having the rug pulled out from under your feet can do that to you. Pro-democratic political parties, civil society groups and individuals fought hard to restore the democracy of the country, by using the protection given by the constitution. Because of that the UNP has been given a do-over. As Hon. Sajith Premadasa said in a statement made right after Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe was reinstated: this would be a different and revolutionary government.
Of course, now the people are not quick to believe everything that politicians say, and there is a renewed urgency in holding political leaders and the government accountable. People are watching the actions of the government more carefully than they did before, and will think twice before casting their vote in the next election. So, with this second chance also comes greater responsibility to govern virtuously.
Added to that, it was overwhelming to see the number of people that came together to protect their fundamental right for democracy; it was not only the activists that were on the streets for days, demanding the protection of the constitution and democratic values, but also citizens from every walk of life joined the effort. And social media was used as a driving force to mobilise for the sake of protecting democracy and ultimately our nation.
But democracy wouldn’t have prevailed without the judiciary. The judiciary was given the opportunity to prove their strength and independence. Since the first interim order given against the dissolution of parliament, people were able to hold on to an ounce of hope that this anarchy would be solved, because of the Supreme Court. As an advocate of transitional justice, I too have a renewed hope for justice to be meted out for outstanding violations that took place during the war.
So where do we go from here? How do we learn a lesson from this crisis and strengthen our democracy further?
Firstly, it has become obvious (if it was not already) that there is urgent need for constitutional reform – i.e. the executive presidency should be abolished. But also there should be provisions to avoid the buying of politicians elected by the people – crossovers should not be allowed. The national list should also be eliminated so that those who are rejected by the people don’t get in through the back door. More importantly, a lot more work needs to be done to avoid the constitution been interpreted wrongly for personal gain. As Ms. Maithreyi Rajasingham said at the event organized by ‘Professionals for Democracy’, a few weeks ago: “we could have avoided this political crisis if we jointly completed the constitutional reform process”.
Similarly, there is a need to consider punitive action for political leaders who violate(d) the constitution. We need to ensure that the constitution remains sacred, and that this kind of crisis would not happen again because no serious action was taken against those who violated the constitution.
Finally, the is a need to educate people to discern between fake news and factual news – and avoid falling for false propaganda. It was painful to watch/listen to certain media outputs because of how the truth had been spun to propagate the cause of one side. Whilst media needs to take responsibility to disseminate factual and unbiased news, the people too need to be educated to understand the difference. However, this is easier said than done.
We need to remember that there will come a time in the near future, where we get to use our vote to elect a new government – let this be a lesson learnt to use that vote carefully to do what is right for our country’s future. Ultimately, the power is in our hands!