The outcome of the General Election held on August 17, and the victory secured by the United National Front for Good Governance led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe paves the way for democratic transition to take place in two key aspects of good governance. It will consolidate the shift away from a highly centralised structure in which the system of checks and balances was weakened to a more consensual and systemic mode of governance that followed the election of President Maithripala Sirisena in January. It will also consolidate the shift away from a militarised mindset within the government in which mistrust of ethnic and religious minorities was highlighted to a society that is multi-ethnic and multi-religious in its decision making and choices.
The National Peace Council also welcomes the prospect of a government of national unity to address the challenges of the future. The agreement signed by the two largest political parties, the UNP and SLFP after the elections, to work together for two years on identified areas of good governance including the safeguarding of fundamental freedoms and protection of the rights of women and children reflects the consensus that exists in society regarding good governance. However, we regret that the both the government and opposition did not live up to their commitments towards the empowerment of women in politics when they failed use their quotas in the national list to appoint women to parliament and instead appointed only two woman to the 29 positions. They failed to rectify the abysmally low representation of women in parliament which fell to 4 percent. Another priority area for reform would be in the area of inter-ethnic relations and the sharing of power between the ethnic majority and minorities.
The issue of ethnic nationalism continues to be alive in the country even though the inability of the defeated opposition parties to make it a winning formula at two successive elections suggests that it is receding as a force. The past ten years of UPFA rule was primarily based on ethnic nationalism with the general population being constantly exposed to a barrage of anti-minority propaganda. Therefore there is a need for the government to commence an immediate programme of public education on the issue of inter-ethnic relations and the options for a political solution that would address the roots of the conflict. This could be done alongside civil society organisations to prepare the ground for future reforms that are necessary to resolve the conflict in a sustainable and mutually acceptable manner.
- National Peace Council