UCA News

Sri Lanka

Sri Lankans have been fooled — and the future is no brighter

In a presidential election due this year, it appears the public will be forced to pick from failed politicians

Support Asia's largest network of Catholic journalists and editors
Support Asia's largest network of Catholic journalists and editors
Sri Lankans have been fooled — and the future is no brighter

Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena attends a ceremony in Colombo on June 6 to commission a ship the United States gifted to the Sri Lankan coastguard. Critics say Sirisena has failed to keep his promises. (Photo by Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP)

Share this article :
We now know that the 6.2 million people who voted in Sri Lanka’s presidential election of Jan. 8, 2015, were taken for a ride by those in authority.

Those who hoped for fundamental change were duped by both the man who became president and those who were elected to the legislature.

Maithripala Sirisena, who rose to power as the candidate of the United National Party (UNP)-led opposition coalition, failed to abide by his promises and good governance was thwarted by widespread power corruption.

Sirisena and his Sri Lanka Freedom Party were unable to work with the elected prime minister, Ranil Wickremasinghe. The UNP found that after several years in opposition they could not work with their alliance partners, whose ideologies and plans followed different routes.

The PM and his party were involved in the Central Bank bond scam which was not properly investigated, even as corruption came to light. Others in the party sought to remain in power and were motivated only by protecting their own interests, including seeking commissions from economic development proposals.

The president did appoint a commission to seek the truth of the bond scam — the attorney general filed papers on June 28 at the Permanent High Court against 10 defendants, including former Central Bank governor Arjuna Mahendran. On the other hand, however, he himself is not devoid of corruption. He is trying to use the constitution to remain in power and appears to be making use of government funds for his pet subjects and to dupe the public.

Nor has he acted for the welfare of the people; he has instead allowed his immediate family members to thrive on commissions from economic projects.

Both the prime minister and president have washed their hands of the Easter Sunday terrorist tragedy and put the blame on others.

An unattractive choice

A presidential election is due to be held at the end of 2019 and it appears the public will be forced to pick from failed politicians. Voters can no longer rely on the traditional parties to provide suitable heads of government.

A further drawback is the influence of foreign superpowers. Western leaders in the U.S. and Europe, as well as leaders in India and an increasingly powerful China, are keen to get their claws into Sri Lanka’s power set-up.

Some local leaders do not appreciate the significance of international bigwigs aiming to get a grip on the island nation.

However, voters have an unattractive choice of presidential candidates: the incumbent Sirisena, who initially promised that he would retire after his first term, or Rajapaksa, the defeated candidate of 2015, who was barred from standing again due to the 19th amendment to the constitution. He therefore formed a new party — Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) — to allow him to become prime minister instead, as in a Russian republic, while a member of his family or a close associate was free to stand for the presidency.

PM Wickremasinghe also seems to have been involved in nominating a presidential candidate from his own party.

Civil society groups, who are free from political party affiliations, would much prefer an alternative candidate who can be trusted to genuinely work for the welfare of the people.

Many voters desire above all else to have a candidate who is anti-corruption, educated and capable, someone who seeks the common good and welfare of all people irrespective of man-made divisions of caste, creed and ethnicity.

Still treading the wrong path

The country’s major religions have preached for ages the need for their political leaders to possess the highest values and morals but those in authority have not taken these concerns to heart.

When these so-called “leaders” are advised and challenged by the heads of religion, what do they do? They ignore them … while still purporting to seek the advice of these religious leaders to fool voters and boost their popularity.

After 71 years of political independence, the country is still not progressing down the correct path. It has instead become a fool’s paradise, in which legislators usually act in pursuit of their own selfish motives and personal gain.

The Universal Human Rights Declaration (UDHR) is not a new religious doctrine initiated solely for the benefit of people in the West — it guarantees individuals everywhere rights based on religious and human values.

There is no contradiction between UDHR and the right to follow one’s religious beliefs. It is unfortunate that some try to analyze this U.N. declaration in such a manner as to demean human rights in Sri Lanka.

Can other religions contest the presidency?

The constitution does not object to this but it has become the accepted norm that only a Sinhala Buddhist can become president in Sri Lanka.

Is this due to Article 9 of the 1978 constitution? If so, it is misguided. While prominence is given to the majority religion, others are promised an equal status too ¬- yet it appears to be unacceptable to have a Tamil, Muslim or Christian president in the country. Isn’t this a myth?

Sri Lanka needs to establish an inclusive forum in which our diverse religious and ethnic groups can participate and engage actively and equally in the democratic purpose.

Although Lord Buddha spoke of Dasa Raja Dharmaya, 10 proposals for the king, they did not include that a Buddhist monk may ascend the throne.

Are there monks who are popular not only with their fellow Buddhists but with voters of other faiths too? The late Ven. Maaduluwaawe Sobhita Thera would have been a rare exception.

Sinhalese Buddhist political leaders and monks seeking office are extremists, nationalistic or chauvinistic to the core and will not be open to the needs of the people. They think only of their own ideologies and hope to triumph for the sake of power and would deviate from the very liberation that was propounded by their founder, Lord Buddha.

Since the Easter carnage, the local Catholic leader has been applauded by the people because of his advocacy among the faithful not to retaliate against their enemies. He also captured the attention of non-Catholics for preaching non-violence.

Few people, however, have proposed he become a political candidate in the future. This currently looks far-fetched and might also need the approval of higher church authorities.

Moreover, in the recent past only Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus, an Orthodox Christian, has been president in his own island state. There are no other examples to encourage the belief that a Catholic in Sri Lanka can gain high political office.

Catholic teachings expect the lay faithful to be involved in politics and guidelines were even specified in the Second Vatican Council held from 1962-65.

It is not for the Catholic clergy to devote time to partisan politics — that would hinder their pastoral responsibilities and be divisive among followers. The role of the clergy is to train lay people and follow the guidelines given in the Bible and in the Second Vatican Council documents of 1965, “The Church in the Modern World.”

This, therefore, is the guiding principle: that church leaders do not assume leadership roles in local or national politics but instead should train lay leaders to be involved in national politics … but with Christian principles.

Father Reid Shelton Fernando is a prominent human rights defender. He was a university lecturer and former chaplain of the Young Christian Workers Movement of the archdiocese. He is well known in Sri Lanka for his writings and commentaries on social and political issues. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of ucanews.com.

Support UCA News...

As 2020 unfolds, we are asking readers like you to help us keep Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) free so it can be accessed from anywhere in the world at no cost.

That has been our policy for years and was made possible by donations from European Catholic funding agencies. However, like the Church in Europe, these agencies are in decline and the immediate and urgent claims on their funds for humanitarian emergencies in Africa and parts of Asia mean there is much less to distribute than there was even a decade ago.

Forty years ago, when UCA News was founded, Asia was a very different place - many poor and underdeveloped countries with large populations to feed, political instability and economies too often poised on the edge of collapse. Today, Asia is the economic engine room of the world and funding agencies quite rightly look to UCA News to do more to fund itself.

UCA News has a unique product developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes. Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to - South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.

And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters that cover 22 countries and experienced native English-speaking editors to render stories that are informative, informed and perceptive.

We report from the ground where other news services simply can't or won't go. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don't have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.

With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.

Click here to find out the ways you can support UCA News. You can make a difference for as little as US$5...
UCAN Donate
Thank you. You are now signed up to our Daily Full Bulletin newsletter
Support UCA News

William J. Grimm, MM


Union of Catholic Asian News

"As Pope Francis has said, we live not so much in an era of change as in a change of era. That is especially true in Asia and for the churches of Asia. UCA News is the dedicated, Asia-wide news and information service for the Church in Asia and we need your help to maintain the service."