Meeting multiple challenges together | Sunday Observer

Meeting multiple challenges together

The headlines we read or hear daily, if not hourly, of national affairs is, surely, a scenario of multiple challenges facing the nation and its leaders that would daunt anyone. Fortunately, we enjoy the social solidarity of being part of an island community of peoples of various collective identities – of cultural groups, economic groups, sub-regions.

Thanks to the news media and its current broad freedom of publication across the range of media, we, citizens, are kept relatively well informed not only of issues but also of opinions, interests and facts. Thanks to a recovering democracy, we also have some assurance that the public interest is at the forefront of national affairs – well, much of the time, unlike the recent political past.

Rome was not built in a day. Nor can the Sri Lankan state and economy be re-built from its post-war, ethnic-tension-ridden condition in just two years of a radically new endeavour in coalition government between the two, traditionally rival, major national political parties. The endeavour is complicated by the role in past misdemeanour of both these parties in their past tenure in government.

The sheer range and variety of issues with which citizens are now bombarded constantly can bewilder the ordinary citizen seeking stability and space to pursue one’s interests and well-being. Fortunately, not only are we drawn together as an island community, but we are also richly inspired by education by four major spiritual traditions.

Reassured by our intermingling, and disciplined by teachings of social responsibility and justice, we are aware of the need for a dispassionate understanding of national issues. We have lived through decades-long social rebellion, full-scale internal war, social racism, massive corruption, political repression and betrayal. We are able to view current events and, social and political dynamics as framed by all that has happened in the past.

On the one hand, we still have a persistent rash of crudely instigated acts of social terrorism against ethnic minorities. On the other, we hear of untiring efforts to manage and maximize the programs to re-build the economy and administration. Yet, on a third side, we are informed of the painful, slow, steps being taken to rehabilitate communities, families and individual lives shattered by the recently ended, decades-long war.

Amid all this, we are also aware of a complicated process of political consultation between parties and social interest groups about the contours of the new state constitution that would help repair our nationhood and take us towards post-modern society.

At the same time, there is all the cacophony over the fate of many past big-wigs and cronies who are now under rigorous investigation on charges of enormous plunder of public finance, national resources, and manipulation of public institutions. Political futures are at stake, in addition to the apportioning of blame where blame is due and full redress.

Today, we live in an era where ‘news’ is instant and immediate in transmission and, covers every aspect of planetary life – although how much we know depends on how much we access ‘the news’. The news media is full of accusations and counter accusations : between past governing leaders and current leaders, between rival politicians and rival political parties.

The opening up of the political system and the encouragement of public debate on all issues of national interest or sectional interest has opened the flood gates, as it were, for a multiplicity of discourses. Numerous civil society groups have joined in on the debates.

Hotly debated are issues of economic policy, social policy, and constitutional reform, among other subjects. And, the more controversial a debate, the bigger coverage by the news media. If debates between Government and Opposition are prominently reported in the media, a controversy within the Government or between the two main coalition partners, the SLFP and UNP, is reported as even bigger news.

To some, all these debates are interpreted as damaging rivalries, harmful to group interests. To others, such multiple interactions and controversies are the very essence of a dynamic and thriving political community. The very fact that people are not afraid to criticize and, more and more are coming forward to express their views – whether politician or farmer or housewife, whether minister or parliament or president – demonstrates the solidifying foundation of Sri Lankan democracy.

The National Unity coalition government presides over this newly freed up society and, as long as the government utilizes internal debate to ensure consensus and just policies, it will continue to fulfil its mandate from the people. The citizens know well that open argument and debate within and outside Government is an assurance of transparency in governance unlike the recent past of conspiracy and corruption hidden in the shadow of a pretended patriotism.

What the citizens expect of their government is the building of unified policies for national advancement that would bring together all the diverse interests represented by the coalition parties. The unification of this very diversity as represented by the governing coalition is some assurance that all voices will be heard. 

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