System Change, Not Mere Regime Change; Let Ranil’s Sunset Be Sunrise For Our Youth By Vishwamithra –

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“Can you see the sunset real good on the West side? You can see it on the East side too.” ~S. E. Hinton

Ranil Wickremesinghe‘s New Year’s message is a hollow statement. It lacks substance. It lacks any policy pronouncements. Even its content that is presumed to be dealing with the overview of the past mistakes lacks sincere introspection as to Ranil’s own past performance, more than thrice as Prime Minister and many years as a powerful minister in the UNP-led governments. Mentioning the concept of a System Change more than once is not sufficient reason why the people should believe in him as a trustworthy leader. No reasonable person would trust him anymore.

Ranil loves to present himself as an experienced politician; more often than not, he has behaved as if he has all the solutions at his fingertips. It may have been the wishful thinking of all his supporters, if he has any, that he had the potential to resuscitate the country’s dying economy. But once again, Ranil shows us that he does not seem to understand the basics of ‘just’ governance on the one hand and the presence of mind to handle the youth of the country in a more empathetic manner on the other. No leader of a country should issue an official statement from atop the pulpit that leaves more questions than answers. A wretched lack of virility of the current system was exposed yet again. 

Ranil Wickremesinghe aside, it’s time we are focused, whether Ranil and Company pays any attention or not, on the most acute demand of the hour – an authentic and real System Change and how it should come about and how the subsequent system would look like.

Another year has dawned. After an eventful yet frustrating year has passed, the most provocative question that dominates almost every inquiring mind is that whether Sri Lanka is ready and willing to usher in a System Change, not merely a change in the current regime. Sri Lanka has gone through the nonsensicality of regime change- from the Senanayakes to the Bandaranaikes to the Jayewardenes and the Rajapaksas. But the real sociopolitical consequences the people expected have not materialized. The policy changes that were brought about by each change of successive regimes had not delivered the goods and services pledged on the election platforms. Time and time again, our voters have been taken for huge rides; the strange reality has been that the voters seemed to have not minded that their blind obedience was taken for granted.

It proves beyond any shadow of doubt that the voters as much as the political leaders are responsible for our successive failures. On the economic front, each regime has indulged in borrowing after borrowing to keep a nation fed, clothed, educated and healthy. Some of our staple food, rice, is subsidized by way of fertilizer grants or appropriations; clothes are subsidized by way of provision of school clothing to kids; our education is free from kindergarten to the university level and medical expenses are looked after via government hospitals. In other words, we are a welfare state whereby our population has been conditioned by an ‘entitlement syndrome’, making it impossible for any government to balance its yearly budget, leave alone making a domestic surplus. Ensuing sociocultural effects of this mind-destructing syndrome are incalculable.

That is precisely why a system change is, if not impossible, extremely difficult. The entitlement syndrome that has taken ahold of the collective Sri Lankan mindset has become a hidden controller of elections. Whoever satisfies the most, whoever is promising to keep the entitlement syndrome rolling at whatever the national cost, is bound to receive most votes. It has compelled all governments to bend over backwards to keep an ever-hungry electorate crave for more and more. This continuous dependency on government roll-outs has not only created many an economic burden on the national coffers, it has also produced a tremendous socioeconomic and culturally-starved citizenry whose cravings are sometimes second only to the avarice of the corrupt and dishonest politicians.

On the other hand, the sociocultural and economic gap so created by the harmful and disastrous economic policies totally based on ideological and doctrinaire theories is ceaselessly widening. This gulf between those who have and those who have not has in turn resulted in cultural and socioeconomic tensions between the two primary social classes, haves and have-nots, making it rather easy and pliable for the politician to exploit to the hilt. All politicians, though viewed through the sociopolitical prism might be treated as a different set of citizenry as against the general public, too are very normal and everyday members of the public. The only difference is that those who class themselves as politicians take it for granted that political power is the end all and be all. When such elements seek office through elections and assume power, thanks mainly to affiliations to the ‘connected- people’, make every conceivable attempt to make more money in order to spend even more money at the next elections. The never-ending caravan is restarted and the cycle of politicking keeps spinning at breakneck speed. Who suffers most amidst are the common man, woman and child. Regime change is mistakenly assumed as System Change

Those who occupy the ‘Opposition’ benches in parliament make every plan to come to power at the next election, not because they want to serve the masses, but to replace those who are corrupt and dishonest with more corrupt and more dishonest frauds of their own. Absence of charismatic, honest and sincere leadership is becoming more and more apparent. The masses on the other hand, with no real alternative to be seen and listened to, will submit to this damaging and acidic process, willy nilly.

What is a System Change? Can it be brought about without violence? Can it be implemented through the existing frame of parliamentary procedures? If not, what other means is available to the youth of the country who is eagerly waiting in the wings to inherit an already damaged and wounded system?

If the present Constitution is not capable of delivering a change that is real and totally outside the current one which is becoming more and more incapable of producing genuinely fervent leaders who would sacrifice their personal goals and ambition for the greater good of the youth and yet unborn generations, then that Constitution needs to be replaced. A ruthless approach with justifiable goals and reasonably practical vision needs to be adopted. If there are no leaders who can fit the bill, then we must find such men and women who are not yet in the field. With each day spent without any effort being made to understand and assimilate the necessity for such an authentic change is time which is not spent wisely but crudely wasted!

Can the new System Change include an ongoing, continuous or perpetual audit of assets of all politicians – President, Prime Minister, parliamentarians and top government officials? Fake declarations of assets that become activated only when a petition is received or a court order is issued are an anachronism. They serve no meaningful purpose at all. Can there be an executable clause in the Constitution mandating each person seeking parliamentary election to possess a minimum level of education, not GCE Ordinary or Advanced level, but at least a basic University degree? Such proposals would serve to instill mass-confidence and trust in those who get elected to the highest Legislative body in the country. Instead of a mere inclusion of a constitutional clause as ‘rights’, can we include a ‘Bill of Rights’ declaring ethnic equality with punishment for denial of those rights, also inserted as a mandatory pursuit of ethnic harmony. Those pundits who say that morals and ethics cannot be legislated must be told to ‘go to hell’. The national priorities in the midst of the collapse of the nation’s very life and survival are more significant and critical than analytical punditry.

It is quite hard and grueling even to think on the lines I have penned in the preceding paragraphs. Yet, if a System Change is the number one priority, we must realize that it is hard and grueling to usher in a new change, a new era. 

Hundreds of thousands of village masses do not have time to waste. A young village graduate who has failed in his every attempt to seek employment to suit his qualifications is reaching despair. And in his despair he is left with imperfect choices in life. He has been meeting his fiancée every evening on the bund of the nearby reservoir. While they exchange adolescent pleasantries each evening, they also wander into the dreamy world of future as to what they would do with their first child once they become parents. The young man is singing his damsel to sublime calm and delightful peace. Yet they do not seem to experience the delight of beholding either sunrise or sunset. They live in the hinterland of the country and sunrise is witnessed over top of the hillock in the east or receding sunset is beheld when darkened skies tell them that it’s time to go home. 

Such consummate joy of life will never visit them again, for the time of youth is fast disappearing amidst twilight like a fading silhouette of a weary farmer retiring for the day. Empty words of politicians and harsh realities of day-to-day living are too weighty a burden to endure. A system change has to come. But that change cannot be a dictatorship of one person, an oligarchy or of the proletariat; it cannot be a monarchy, nor can it be an authoritarian regime that does not trust in elections. It must be a representative government, a government that can be representative of the people, yet with full control of the flow of matters of life; matters that really matter to the people. It must be a government with a stern, steady and stoic leadership. Unfortunately for the youth and his pretty damsel waiting for the splendor of the evening sunset beyond the unyielding woods in the distance, we don’t have such leadership in the current, stagnant and ugly mosaic of undisciplined and incompetent regime.

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