National People’s Movement for a ‘transformative leadership’ | Sunday Observer

National People’s Movement for a ‘transformative leadership’

The launch of the NPMs policy statement  and the invitation to the public to comment and contribute suggestions,  at the New Town Hall Auditorium  attracted over 500  people.
The launch of the NPMs policy statement and the invitation to the public to comment and contribute suggestions, at the New Town Hall Auditorium attracted over 500 people.

Staring down the barrel of another make-or-break election at the end of 2019, civil society activists and architects of the common candidacy platform that triumphed over the Rajapaksa juggernaut in 2015 are beginning to put their thinking caps back on.

In the first flush of Yahapalanaya triumph in January 2015, the country saw remarkable and transformative changes that were markers of the opening up of democratic space and reform. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution, enacted almost unanimously by Parliament, in the first four months of President Maithripala Sirisena’s term, helped to restore judicial independence, strengthen independent commissions and curtail the powers of an all-powerful executive. The past four years have also seen the enactment of the Right to Information Act, powerful and citizen-empowering legislation that has been decades in the making. The freedom of expression, so severely under threat during the tenure of the former regime, is thriving.

Yet for all the early gains, for reformists and activists who spearheaded the 2015 campaign for change, the past four years have also brought bitter disappointment. The Government has fallen far short of the good governance benchmarks promised during the 2015 campaign, and the citizenry has learned the bitter lesson that the political system is rotten and corrupt at its very core. Networks of political patronage, impunity, a failure of the political leadership to comprehend and live up to a historic mandate have left the reformist constituency of 2015 wondering: ‘Where to from here?’

In January 2015, President Sirisena’s win was carefully orchestrated by civil movements such as the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) led by Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera who favoured the idea of a common candidate campaigning on platform of good governance, rule of law, democratic freedom and pledges to abolish the executive presidency.

As described by Leon Trotsky in ‘Theory of Permanent Revolution’ the journey to become a mature model of democracy is by continuously struggling for fundamental change. In that backdrop, as the NMSJ which birthed a monumental change in 2015 a new movement today is gradually picking up pace.

The launch of the National Peoples’ Movement’s (NPM) policy statement and the invitation to the public to comment and contribute suggestions, at the New Town Hall Auditorium this Monday (July1) attracted over 500 people. The venue is synonymous to the birth of change. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera began his revolutionary movement in the same dusty hall tirelessly holding meetings and lectures that gradually gathered momentum.

The crowd this Monday packed into the fairly small venue to witness a possible beginning of a much anticipated change.

Sporting the tagline ‘Together We Can’ and promising to ‘Save- Serve Sri Lanka’, the NPM has a larger vision for the country and bigger dreams. Currently backed by 17 civic organizations, including Sarvodaya’s Deshodaya and United Professionals Movement (UPM), the NPM is governed by an interim leadership council that has one key vision - to introduce apt and new faces into the country’s political system and gradually flush out corrupt leaders.

The NPM’s carefully drafted policy statement looks into shortcomings in the present governing system, economy, youth affairs, and peace and national reconciliation among others. Its vision is to build a ‘peoplecentric, progressive and efficient Sri Lanka, free of corruption, where equality, justice and respectfulness prevail’.

Its ideology is that a majority in the country is yearning for a ‘transformational political leadership’, but currently the power struggle is between key political parties that have led to an authoritarian rule. Unlike the NMSJ the NPM is looking at introducing a new face to run for presidency, and to put forward more candidates for the parliamentary elections.

Deshodaya’s Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne who serves as the leader of the NPM is determined that the leadership change they anticipate can be converted into reality.

Deshodaya, or National Re-awakening as translated into English, has worked with communities at the grass-roots level to promote a healthy culture of democracy, good governance, reconciliation and sustainable peace.

“We don’t believe that the current political forces in the country are going to take this country anywhere,” says Dr. Ariyaratne adding that there is a dire need for a system change. “We have to think afresh and bring in experienced young leaders to the fore and create a platform where they can engage to find a new path for this country,” he said.

One of the challenges the NPM foresee is winning the trust of young voters. Dr. Ariyaratne explains the youth are disappointed in the power hogging of already existing politicians, and they need ‘hope’.

The NPM also hopes to increase women participation in politics from current about seven per cent to 50 per cent in 2020. Dr. Ariyaratne explains even though women make up to 52 per cent of the country’s population, their political participation remains minimal despite women holding crucial positions in state and private sector institutions.

“We need to create a safe and conducive environment for women to come and engage in politics. This way we will start to see women’s participation increasing organically,” Dr. Ariyaratne says.

The NPM will identify a presidential candidate by September to compete in the elections this year and select several candidates to face the next parliamentary elections, he said.

Prof Sarath Wijesooriya, the convener of NMSJ, saw how the same dream the NPM presents giving birth to a new governing system in 2015 but failing to live up to the expectation and hype. He believes lessons can be learnt from the 2015 experience, that NPM can take onboard on its journey as a new citizens’ movement for change. He said there was no significant difference between what Sobitha Thera expected from his 2015 movement and the NPM, but the key difference is the NPM is looking at new faces to govern the country. He said 45 per cent of Sri Lanka’s voter base was divided between two key political parties, and in such an arena it will be hard for a new face to win the presidency.

“If they can, however, get at least 10 well-driven and anti-corruption candidates into the parliament they can make a significant change in the political system,” Prof Wijesooriya pointed out adding that the NMSJ will also support the NPM if they push for this vision.