Editorial/Opinion

Do right by the nation

The search for presidential candidates is now in full swing. The main parties are busy negotiating alliances with lesser known parties in order to secure the compulsory 50% plus 1 of the total vote, in order to be declared winner of the 2019 presidential election due in either November or December.
Last week, the Working Committee of the governing United National Party (UNP) met behind closed doors at Temple Trees early in the morning and the meeting that was expected to last a few minutes dragged on till well past lunch time. What went on behind closed doors was a tense battle of wits between the frontline presidential candidates and their supporters within the committee.
For the first time in a long time, it seemed that Party Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was feeling the heat from within. Although he has maintained silence on the subject of the candidature, he has not ruled himself out of the race. Joining him in the fray will most likely be the party’s Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa and Speaker Karu Jayasuriya.
The fact that the party’s Assistant Leader Ravi Karunanayake is carrying out a concerted campaign of his own to derail the Premadasa candidature is by now a well-known secret. It seems Premadasa for some reason is an anathema for the likes of Karunanayake, although he remains the best bet for the UNP in the rural hinterland.
Surprisingly though, Speaker Jayasuriya is making a strong claim for the party nomination with rising support among the urban masses who see him as the right antidote for the communal, ethno-centric politics that seem to dominate the current national political agenda.
On the other side, the main challenger and likely Pohottuwa candidate, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has been having a mighty headache of his own over his eligibility to contest. His much publicised renunciation of American citizenship, which is an absolute necessity in order to be eligible to contest, is still shrouded in controversy.
Meanwhile, the other serious contender, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) candidate, who has already been announced as the incumbent President Maithripala Sirisena, remains torn between the devil and the deep blue sea with no one likely to throw him a life jacket.
There is no doubt that the emerging election will be a watershed moment in more ways than one for the simple reason that the elected candidate will be looked upon to lead the country into a highly competitive, volatile, and challenging global environment both politically as well as economically.
The election will therefore be a conscience call on the nation to get its act together and put the best possible man or woman in the country’s most important seat at least seven decades after independence.
Going by the candidates in the fray, for all intents and purposes, what looks most likely at this juncture is the prospect of being served the same old wine in new bottles. Therefore, expecting a miracle to happen would only be to deceive oneself of the stark reality of more of the same.
The challenges ahead are many. Once the presidential election is done and dusted, getting the economy back on track in the post Easter scenario should ideally be top of the agenda. Coherent, steady policy is the need of the hour and not empty rhetoric to please the gallery.
It is unfortunate that the incumbent, President Sirisena, squandered what was a golden opportunity to put Sri Lanka on the right track after being elected as the common candidate of the country’s two main political parties. Given how poorly that experiment went, it is unlikely that such an opportunity will present itself again in the foreseeable future.
It’s not that Sri Lanka does not have the right template to follow. Singapore back in the ‘50s and ‘60s looked up to Sri Lanka as the country to follow in terms of development. The fact that ever since, no leader has had the charisma, commitment to the cause, or most importantly, self-discipline to execute what Singapore did, is certainly cause for national introspection. The failure of consecutive leaders to walk the talk when it comes to establishing ethnic harmony, law and order, and equitable justice for all, has no doubt resulted in our current predicament.
History has proven time and again that there is nothing stopping Sri Lanka from taking its rightful place in the global arena other than its own politicians who at the end of every five years turns out to be a liability for the country. What Mother Lanka is crying out for today is for a true statesman to ascend the office of President. Someone who has the strength of character to rise above party politics and be the statesman he is supposed to be.
Unless those lining up for the job have a serious ability to surprise, their collective track record suggests little hope for the country. So then, where do we go from here? The mood in the electorate suggests a craving for a fresh new face that will have the courage to shake up the system and bring back hope.
The three main parties in the fray should ideally go back to the drawing board and think out of the box to bring forth a candidate who can stand shoulder to shoulder with the movers and shakers of the global arena.
Singapore’s iconic Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew has over the years, very charitably described how Sri Lanka lost the plot in becoming what it should have become. With so many wasted years, an opportunity is once again presenting itself for the country to produce its own Lee Kuan Yew. It is up to the three main parties to at least now put national interest ahead of all else and nominate three candidates who have the potential to do Sri Lanka proud. The people, with their ballot, will do the rest.