Presidential race: Some challengers

Keywords by Dr. Charitha Herath

Gotabaya Rajapaksa was officially nominated the SLPP candidate for the upcoming presidential election last weekend. With this nomination, the entire discussion in the political landscape has completely shifted focused to the upcoming presidential election.

Although the UNP is yet to officially announce who it will be nominating as the candidate to contest in the upcoming election, a situation where several party members are self-nominating themselves has arisen.

Gotabaya’s acceptance speech following the official nomination proposes a new dimension in the country’s political discourse. It is very important to note that his speech only focused on policy matters and development goals that are to be delivered if he is elected as the president, and not on the opponent or the shortcomings of opposing political parties.

In the recent past, all political campaigns in our country frequently focused on criticising one’s opponents, but not on what they are going to deliver for the country. The 2015 Presidential Election campaign is a classic example of this.

During that election campaign, the Rajapaksa Government was attacked with various political rhetoric and baseless allegations, without developing a substantial policy debate in the campaign discourse. There is nothing wrong in saying there was nothing new in the 2015 Presidential Election campaign beyond the rhetorical criticism and mere name dropping, i.e. good governance. The importance of Gotabaya’s speech could be highlighted more in that context.

Basil Rajapaksa, the staunch strength behind the rise of the SLPP, stated at a press conference that the party’s policy manifesto is due to be released in the coming weeks and that it will present in detail the proposed development strategies to be followed if the SLPP candidate bags victory at the upcoming election. In that sense, Gotabaya’s speech was a summary of the country’s development path in the aftermath of a political change. His speech is an attempt to change the dimensions of politics in our country, from talker’s projects to doer’s projects.

An election in a democratic society is to build up social consensus with the people on governing the state. Thus, it is not enough to only have political parties and leaders building up this consensus. It is necessary to present the development strategies that each of these leaders intends to implement during their tenure. The election campaigning platform should be used to establish a substantial discussion on such policies with the voters.

The content of Gotabaya’s speech indicated that it was focused on a range of areas from economic development and upholding cultural values to national security and environmental protection. In that sense, he undoubtedly demonstrated the role of a mature administrator.

If explained in academic terms, there is nothing wrong in saying that his speech was inclusive of a project mentality.

Project thinking is the process of realising the responsibilities that one undertakes, identifying the objectives of the project, and utilising the project’s resources to achieve its objectives. By 2005, the process of defeating terrorism in this country had dragged on to a point where no one could predict the end of it, and it was with this managerial capability that the then Government was able to eradicate terrorism.

Strong, free, and prosperous

On that note, I wish to present a few ideas which I think should be taken into consideration when formulating the party policy mandate of SLPP.

In other words, facing contemporary challenges as a country could be strategically addressed through three major points: how to make our country a strong country, how to make our country a free country, and how to make our country a prosperous country. The three central words here are strong, free, and prosperous.

The word “strong” should be interpreted as how to make this country strong in order to gain recognition in the international arena. To bring the country to such a strong position, a serious change in the governance structure should be made from top to bottom, and our perceptions need to be changed as well.

On the other hand, it is important to remember that the country’s strength is linked to securing its internal peace and security. Another area which is linked with this is improving the education system and strengthening the level of professionalism.

Secondly, making our country a “free” country is a serious challenge. We can very well recall that the slogans used in the regime change of 2015 were mainly about freedom and democracy. During the previous Rajapaksa regime, the idea of ​​independence was understood as liberating the country from terrorism and liberating the people from economic oppression.

But civil society in January 2015 showed that democracy in this country was not limited to such ground realities but could be expanded more into a “living-room” type of democracy, linked with concepts like “good governance” and “equal society”.

The majority of our society accepted at that election such rhetorical babbles on democracy, rather than the workable realistic form of democracy. By now, this “fairy-tale” form of intangible democracy has brought in serious contradictions in our governing structure. It is because of these contradictions that laws are put in place to postpone every election while preaching about high standards of democracy.

Therefore, it is my understanding that the main force of the next political transformation in our country should be focused on formulating a new definition of democratic governance and strengthening the rule of law.

The third biggest challenge we face is how to strengthen the country economically.

A new policy which focuses on the economic model and suits this country needs to be formulated for the betterment of the country. The new dimension proposed in Gotabaya’s speech will create a whole new chapter in domestic politics, as SLPP policies can contribute to this discussion in a substantial manner.

(Dr. Charitha Herath is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Peradeniya)