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Sunday, 18 July 2010

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A healthy dialogue

The leaders of the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and the main Opposition - the United National Party (UNP) who had a fruitful round of talks last week, came to a general agreement on the executive presidency, established during the J.R. Jayewardene regime in 1978.

The two major political parties in Sri Lanka agreed to create the post of executive prime minister, responsible to Parliament through a Constitutional amendment in the near future. The new post will replace the country's executive presidency which was introduced over three decades ago.

Following a proposal submitted to the All Party Conference by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the main constituent party of the ruling UPFA, this landmark decision was taken when a government delegation led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and a UNP delegation led by Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe met on Tuesday at Temple Trees.

It was indeed heartening to see the two parties, which had governed Sri Lanka since Independence, coming to a consensus in the best interests of the country. This is a welcome sign and would undoubtedly be commended by one and all.

On the other hand, this was an exemplary act by President Rajapaksa, who has not even commenced his second six-year term in office after his re-election as the executive President in January this year. With the landslide victories he and his ruling party obtained at the recent presidential and general elections, the UPFA could have sailed through easily for six more years with extensive executive powers and a near two-third majority in the legislature.

Nevertheless, President Rajapaksa has an abiding interest in the country, shedding petty party politics. Putting the country before self, the President is of the firm belief that the Constitution should not be amended for personal reasons as a definite vision is essential in the broader interests of the nation.

With four decades of experience as a parliamentarian, the President is fully aware that the executive presidency had been created as a 'lone post' and that it should be transformed into a Head of State who would be responsible to and co-operate with the Parliament.

Though the executive presidency has wide powers, even superior to that of the legislature, President Rajapaksa has hardly exercised those powers as he strongly believes in parliamentary democracy. This is manifested by his frequent visits to the Parliament to witness sittings, the last being during the presentation and debate of the 2010 Budget.

Unlike some of his predecessors, President Rajapaksa did not exercise the extensive powers of the executive presidency to get the better of his political opponents. The only effective tool that he used to tame his political opponents was elections, thereby obtaining mandates from the masses to implement his policies. Being the youngest parliamentarian to be elected at the 1970 general election, President Rajapaksa strongly believes in parliamentary democracy. This is precisely why he is even willing to forgo his second term and return to Parliament.

During the recent discussions with the main Opposition, Ministers Dinesh Gunawardena and Basil Rajapaksa had explained to the UNP delegation the basis on which the forthcoming Local Government elections would be held. The two delegations had also discussed the issue of empowering the statutory bodies under the 17th Amendment to the Constitution.

In a positive move, they had agreed to empower these bodies and accepted the fact that officials appointed to them should be responsible to the Cabinet of Ministers.

The controversial preferential election system from 1994 to 2009 has largely precluded in forming a government with an absolute majority. The increasing popularity of the President after his illustrious leadership to eradicate terrorism after 30 years helped the UPFA secure 144 seats at the 2010 general election.

Certain international bodies and LTTE proxies who are all out to bring Sri Lanka before a war crimes tribunal are totally blind to the massive development activities that are going on apace in the North today. Are they so blind that they cannot see the improvements that have taken place in the day-to-day life of the Northerners after the Security Forces rescued nearly 300,000 innocent civilians in the world's biggest human rescue mission?

The time has now come for people of every strata of society, irrespective of caste or creed to lend a helping hand in the government's development drive sans political ideologies. We must commit ourselves to rebuild the lives of the people who suffered immensely for decades due to LTTE terrorism.

The Government's largest financial allocation was channelled towards regional development to improve the living conditions of those affected in the North. The government has spent millions of rupees to rebuild the Kilinochchi hospital, rail tracks and the A-9 highway that were destroyed by LTTE terrorists.

The President said in Kilinochchi last week that this was the beginning of a new era that would unite all Sri Lankans under one umbrella. We should all join hands and work together to achieve prosperity. The government and the main Opposition have agreed on the necessity of forming a stable government and moreover agreed that future Constitutional reforms should ensure such stability. It was also agreed to implement the decisions taken through a committee comprising representatives of both sides.

It is needless to state that the other political parties, in the Government and the Opposition, must continue with this healthy dialogue to prevent extraneous elements disrupting Sri Lanka's forward march.

The meeting between the President and the Leader of the Opposition is a good sign which proves that the power of unity could prevent interested organisations, both here and abroad, meddling in Sri Lanka's internal affairs.

At a time when various external forces, with questionable agendas, are threatening the country's sovereignty and its territorial integrity, it is the bounden duty of every citizen to unite under one banner, shedding petty political rivalry.

It is up to the UNP to support the government to go ahead with the proposed Constitutional reforms aimed at strengthening Sri Lanka's sovereignty and expediting its march towards becoming the Wonder of Asia.

 

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