There was considerable modesty in President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s reference to the success of democracy in Sri Lanka as shown by the results of the provincial council elections, in his address to the UN General Assembly earlier this week.
At a time when Sri Lanka stood out as a shining example of democracy in practice, contrary to the many criticisms made of the country’s commitment to the democratic process; and showed the path to future progress as a democratic system, President Rajapaksa did not boast of the significant achievement but let the world judge for itself.
Taking pride in Sri Lanka’s eradication of separatist terrorism spanning three decades, and confirming that the country is now in the process of addressing issues of development and reconciliation, with the government being at all times responsive to the priorities reflected in public opinion, he made the following reference to the recent provincial council elections.
“A significant event in this regard is the opportunity, which the people of the Northern Province enjoyed at the elections, held three days ago, to elect their representatives in the Provincial Council. It is a matter of legitimate satisfaction to me that this was made possible after the lapse of almost a quarter of a century. There can be no doubt regarding the crucial importance of this measure in the context of political empowerment and reconciliation. It is clearly the responsibility of the international community to assist with these efforts and to ensure their success for the benefit of all the people of Sri Lanka.”
He clearly let the world to fully digest, appreciate and evaluate the full meaning of this resounding success of democracy, in a country that has been the subject of constant criticism and even threats of “punishment” by the so-called international community for its lack of adherence to the democratic process.
When the conveniently tagged “international community” mainly of the West, human rights activists whose vision extends only to some countries of the world with regard to these rights and away from countries that are members or are supported by the “international community” and the pro-LTTE separatist groups domiciled in the West, were screaming about the lack of democracy in Sri Lanka, especially in the treatment of its Tamil citizens, the results of the NPC elections gave them all a good lesson in the actual functioning of democracy here.
Democracy, that had been questioned and was the subject of major attack, emerged shining in the Northern Province. It emerged from the dark clouds of false accusations, unverified allegations and unsubstantiated charges of violations of human and democratic rights. And this emergence was made possible by none other than the Tamil people themselves, who voted in large numbers in a fully free and fair election, and made an unfettered expression of their ability to participate in the freedom of electoral democracy.
Representing a country that had suffered so long from terrorism, it was apt that President Mahinda Rajapaksa opened his address the UNGA with an expression of sympathy at what was then happening in Kenya, with the al-Shabab terrorist attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi. President Rajapksa’s opening statement was an expression of his own sympathy and that of Sri Lanka at what was taking place in Kenya. He said: ‘At the outset, I offer my condolences to the families whose loved ones died as a result of a terrorist attack in a shopping mall in Kenya.
Having suffered from many terrorist attacks, for nearly three decades, we Sri Lankans condemn this cowardly act.”
Sri Lanka, as a country that has a strong commitment to the principles of international cooperation on which the UN is based, the President said: “Reflecting on the work of the UN, matters of a political nature have over-ridden the most basic issues, which affect the under-privileged and marginalized, who dominate world society. The commitment to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) brought a real sense of optimism. The theme for this session is timely, as progress in MDGs could be evaluated with its deadline fast approaching.
Appreciable progress has been made in the MDGs, with the results being uneven among and within countries. According to World Bank projections, by 2015, Sub Saharan Africa and Southern Asia will be home to approximately 40% of the developing world’s population, living in extreme poverty. This only diminishes the sense of our optimism.”
This was an important observation on the shortcomings of the UN, in letting matters of a political nature over-ride the UN’s most basic issues of the development of countries and societies worst hit by economic hardship. There is more importance in this observation coming from a leader of the South Asian Region, with Sri Lanka now building strong and extensive ties with Africa, a continent that had long been neglected by the planners of our foreign policy. One of the events on the President’s schedule at New York is a meeting with African leaders.
President Rajapaksa drew the attention of the world to the increasing interference by some countries in the domestic affairs of other countries, mainly in the developing world. He was critical was no doubt of the role the international or world policeman played by one country, which has the support and participation of other countries and organizations such as NATO and some key member countries of that organization, under the convenient monicker of the “international community”.
He made strong emphasis on this in stating that: “It is disturbing to observe the growing trend in the international arena, of interference by some, in the internal matters of developing countries, in the guise of security, and guardians of human rights. Therefore, we continue to witness agitations the world over, leading to violence and forcing political change accompanied by turmoil.
“It is timely to contemplate whether such movements have led to better stability in these countries, or produced different results, due to inappropriate external factors. In fact, the positive outcomes envisaged by those responsible have not come to pass, but indeed contributed to making those countries unstable. Does this not erode the authority of the Security Council because of unilateral or group actions?
“This trend needs to be arrested, as it has now extended into areas, detrimental to the well-being of populations. This turmoil results from attempts to impose a type of democracy, upon countries with significantly different cultures, values and history. The world needs no policing by a few States, particularly when the UN is mandated to ensure international security, through multi-lateral engagement. This engagement, to be complete in our time must ensure protection of the human race against the flagrant abuse of modern science in such forms as nuclear and chemical weapons.”
The Sri Lankan President was clearly looking at the glaring and tragic examples of what such policing had done in Iraq and Afghanistan, extending to Pakistan, and also in northern Africa. The recent threat that was made against Syria is a blatant example of the moves at such international policing outside the United Nations, threatening its very purpose in resolving international disputes and assist in the settling of internal disputes. One could recall the statement by President Putin of Russia that “US exceptionalism” cannot be e accepted today, when the threats against Syria were made by a shaky President Obama, who was uncertain of his own Congress approving such attacks, due to opposition by the US public. The opposition to such policing is further strengthened by the British public being clearly against it, and the House of Commons voting down Premier David Cameron’s motion to support President Obama in attacks on Syria, as Prime Minister Tony Blair supported President George W Bush in attacks and regime change in Iraq.
The bloodshed that we see daily in Iraq, after the US and allied troops have that carried out regime change left the country, and the tragedies that we continue to see in Afghanistan, reaching into Pakistan, are clear proof of the failure in attempts to “to impose a type of democracy, upon countries with significantly different cultures, values and history”, as President Rajapaksa stated. These efforts at imposing “democracy” on different people’s and cultures also carry with them the efforts at exploiting the natural resources of these counties by the West, and efforts in continuing the advantages the West gained in the Middle East, Africa and Mediterranean countries were carved out by the Western Powers after the World War 1.
With his strong interest in the progress of youth, especially in giving them them the necessary skills for progress in the emerging world of technology that must co-exist wth traditional values for many more years, President Rajapaksa told the UN that the progress of youth is a key aspect of Sri Lanka’s post-2015 Development Agenda.
He laid out the progress that Sri Lanka had made in achieving the Millennium Development Goals of the UN. He said: “Despite contending with one of the most ruthless terrorist groups in the world, the 2004 tsunami and the global food, energy and financial crises, Sri Lanka’s attaining the MDGs is salutary. Statistics speak for themselves. Sri Lanka was ranked 92nd out of 187 countries in the Human Development Index in 2012. Absolute poverty in Sri Lanka declined to 6.5% in 2012 from 15.2%, over a period of five years, surpassing the MDG mid- term target.
The goal of universal primary education will be easily achieved by 2015. The key dividend from this strong educational infrastructure has been a drastic reduction in the unemployment level. Sri Lanka’s accomplishments in healthcare include the infant mortality rate of 9.4 per 1000 live births, highlighted by UNICEF as a success story.
The early recognition of the crucial role women play in political and socio-economic development amply warrants Sri Lanka’s sense of pride with the world has first elected woman Prime Minister, the late Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Sri Lanka has been rated 16th in the world Gender Parity Index.
It is in this context of progress in achieving the goals of the present and the future that President Rajapaksa stated that: “Sri Lanka has mainstreamed youth in its post 2015-Development Agenda, and is at the forefront of advocating internationally the interests of youth.” He informed the world that Sri Lanka will be hosting the Commonwealth Youth Forum 2013, this November and the UN World Conference on Youth in May 2014.
“I take this opportunity to extend an invitation to you all to join in celebrating youth at the World Conference. I also call upon the United Nations to declare an International Skills Day as recognition of skills development of youth, paving the way for reduced poverty. An innovative development has been the establishment of a Youth Parliament to sharpen the awareness of democracy and skills of the new generation and prepare them to assume leadership.
“It is of the foremost importance that Member states decide individually the means for achieving these MDGs. The unique socio-cultural practices and traditions of countries should be taken into account when designing these processes.”
President Mahinda Rajapaksa thus emphasized the both the important success of democracy in Sri Lanka, the support for genuine democracy in other parts of the world, and full support for the UN to carry out its mandate for progress and unity. He also cautioned the world to the dangers of imposing democracy in other countries and cultures and in the role of the world policeman that is increasingly questioned today.
With democracy shining bright in the county, he showed the world of the pogress made in the MDGs, and made very clear his vision for the future in the mainstreaming of youth development and the call for the UN to declare an International Skills Day in recognition of the many advantages of skills development of youth. It was in all a message from a strong democracy, delivered with continuing confidence in the success of genuine democracy in Sri Lanka and elsewhere.