Sins of our fathers: Blind partisanship restricts constructive debate

Sri Lanka has undergone many political changes as a nation in the post-civil war era. A fiercely contested presidential election in early 2015 saw the defeat of the once untouchable president, Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Former Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa. Credit: Newsfirst‎

Former Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa. Credit: Newsfirst‎

In the general election held later in 2015, the then main opposition party (United National Party), with the help of minority parties, was able to get the required majority needed to form a government.

However, strong divisions about who should be ruling the country remain among Sri Lankans, divisions that the nation cannot afford, especially while on a road to reconstruct the great damage done by the civil war that ended in 2009.

Current Sri Lankan president, Maithripala Sirisena. Credit: Colombo Telegraph

Current Sri Lankan president, Maithripala Sirisena. Credit: Colombo Telegraph

As a youth, looking at the situation and attitudes of my peers, it is difficult to think about a politically unified country. The seeds of deep partisanship are almost hereditary in Sri Lanka.

More often than not, many individuals see the political process through the lens of either “my party is doing this right” or “my party did this better.” It is very hard to have a discussion only based on issues.

The problems facing the country like the growing fiscal deficit and the road to rebuild communities ravaged by the civil war cannot be ignored, but they certainly cannot be addressed when the country is divided and each group is critical of the other.

Former president Rajapaksa still commands a significant following within the country and there are those that look forward for a resurgence. On the one hand, there were many accusations against the former president that included suppression of the media, nepotism and political revenge. On the other hand, there is the “Yahapalanaya” (meaning good governance), the promise for a better country by the new president, Maithripala Sirisena, and the new government.

Many promises were made during the election, but the government has had mixed successes when it came to the delivering on said promises. The increase of taxes, for instance, has been met with widespread criticism.

Moreover, the president himself has been accused of taking the backseat in the development process. Some have even gone the distance to compare him to Rajapaksa. These allegations became popular among Sri Lanka’s youth following the appointment of Sirisena’s brother as the chairman of Sri Lanka Telecom, one of the country’s largest telecommunications services provider.

At this point, let’s take a step back. It is true that there are shortcomings in the new government. It is also true that the former government had a lot of shady dealings and corruption charges.

However, simply sticking to the opinion that one’s own political party is better is not the way forward. Dialog is a necessary step in reform, but if the dialog consists of arguments like, “Both parties are corrupt, but so and so is better at providing for the people,” there is no hope left for any bipartisan solutions.

It is important to realize that simply changing the leader will not solve some of the greater issues in the country. However, when looking at the rhetoric within the youth of the country, certain realities come about. When I talk to friends and colleagues from Sri Lanka, there are many who stick vehemently to either side.

Like many things in Sri Lankan life, politics is also a family matter. Children absorb a lot about how and why to support one party or the other from their parents. Therefore, moving forward, I call on my peers to think about what they say about each party, base their arguments on facts and engage in a constructive debate.

I firmly believe that the future of Sri Lankan politics can be shaped for the better once we realize that change can only come from the participation of people. Once the conversation is geared toward the common issues instead of those in charge, the decisions become shaped for the best. To all my Sri Lankan peers, do not become the drones of politicians who will eventually take your support for granted. Become instead a voice that will shape the realities of our beloved home nation.

Cover credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV

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Kushan Costa

Electrical Engineering major at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Teaneck NJ former President of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers student chapter, Global scholar and Honors Student, Graduate Hall Director at FDU. “Writing is a calming exercise; it’s a sort of meditation for me. I write so that my thoughts and ideas may survive, long after my time.”