[arrested Suspects of 1971 youth uprising]
The presidential election of 8 January saw a resurgence of the democratic process in Sri Lanka, driven by an electorate which, in unprecedented numbers, exercised its franchise to choose not merely a President, but the future it wanted for the country.
The election showed us that Sri Lankans in all parts of the country, irrespective of ethnic or religious differences, united in their resolve to restore good governance and the rule of law and to resist authoritarianism. This provides a foundation on which the newly-elected administration must build a new framework of democratic governance that promotes inclusivity, diversity and pluralism. While many issues need attention we concentrate for the moment on the following.
We urge that the celebrations be kept simple and dignified without major military and military hardware demonstrating parades, floats, and the use of school children. The occasion should promote new standards of simple and disciplined lifestyles.
Most important is to use the opportunity to remember the victims of the civil conflicts which Sri Lanka has endured since independence, to pledge our collective commitment to peace and reconciliation, and to resolve that there should never be such violence in our country again. We call upon the government, as a sign of our commitment to national unity, to ensure that the national anthem is sung in both Sinhala and Tamil, and that this practice be continued.
The election also shows that poverty and disadvantage have cut across all ethnic lines and people are looking for a better economic future. It is imperative that the current government addresses the problems of economically disadvantaged groups including those affected by conflict and war, and natural disasters including floods and droughts.
While acknowledging that these problems are common to all throughout the country, those of the people in the north must be resolved on an urgent basis. This includes restoration of land, resolution of the Indian trawler issue, resolution of the Chunnakam groundwater pollution problem, and a people-centred and inclusive development programme in the context of a long term political solution for the region.
Transparency, media, right to information
The Friday Forum is aware that implementing the 100 day programme will not be easy, and that all necessary measures to restore a democratic framework cannot be carried out during this short time. However we call upon the Government to live up to public expectations in building an environment of transparency and good governance within this time.
In the aftermath of the elections, the media has been continuously reporting allegations of the abuse of authority, rampant corruption, illegal amassing of wealth and the plundering of the countries’ economic and other resources that took place in the last few years. We ask that these reported instances of wrongdoing be addressed urgently and those found guilty be brought to book. This must be done with strict adherence to legal procedures and in a transparent manner which wins public confidence.
Transparency also requires a media which is both free and responsible. We deplore the behaviour of the media in the run up to the elections. Both print and electronic state media were grossly servile and partial to the point of indecency and showed a total disregard for all norms of responsible journalism.
We demand that both the State and the private media take a balanced, dignified and professional approach and present news with independence and integrity rather than serving the dictates of individuals. We also call upon the government to ensure that the promise to enact a freedom of information law is fulfilled.
It is critically important that the trust and goodwill placed in the current administration by the people of Sri Lanka not be squandered but be used as the first step in re-building a truly democratic country.