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Friday, July 24, 2015 - 03.20 GMT
“He is the first President we can look up to”


Civil Society Representatives Appreciate the President’s Neutral Role in the Election Campaigning Process. “He is the first President we can look up to”
As directed by President Maithripala Sirisena, Secretary to the President P.B. Abeykoon informed all Ministry Secretaries and Provincial Secretaries that recruitment, appointments and promotions in the government service should be carried out in compliance with the directives issued by the Elections Commissioner during the election period. He also informed them that vehicles issued to the personal staff of Ministers, Deputy Ministers and State Ministers other than their private Secretaries should be handed over to the respective Ministry Secretary.

Mr. Abeykoon said that officials should hand over their official vehicles to the Ministry by July 20 and action would be taken against those who are keeping these state vehicles in violation of the instructions issued by him through the circular.

This is the first election in Sri Lankan history that a President has been this adamant on making sure the state resources and powers are not exploited by candidates for their campaigns. It is also the first a President has decided to remain neutral during the campaigns leading up to the election.

The President’s Research and International Media Division recently reached out to several prominent civil society representatives regarding their views on the President’s role in the election. The views they shared with us are stated below.

Dr. P. Saravanamuttu, Overall Coordinator of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, stated that it is important to note that this is the first time a President has chosen to not be involved in an election campaign. He added that the neutrality of the President in this election would be helpful to makesure state resources are not exploited in the election campaigning, especially since he has the three forces under his control.

Dr. Jehan Perera, Director of the National Peace Council, noted that the President’s contribution to ensuring good governance, values of democracy and rule of law in Sri Lanka is admirable. “His role in this election has been a very positive one so far. His actions have been very statesman like; he has been thinking more about the country than his own political party. I wish he could have explained his situation earlier than he did, so people would have not misunderstood what he was trying to achieve.”

Mrs. Shanthi Sachithanandan, Director of Viluthu, Sri Lanka, the Northern-based Centre for Human Resource Development, says she supports the President’s decision to remain neutral during the election, however, taking our constitution into consideration, the President has to remain neutral and above party politics. Although it is unfortunate that previous presidents have chosen to not abide by that, the President is doing exactly what is expected of him as a President by staying above party politics. She also believes that the President should have remained above party politics from the beginning of his Presidential term. If he did so, he would have not have to be involved in or take blame for Mahinda Rajapaksa’s candidacy. “He’s the President to all of us, not just his political party and I applaud him for choosing to remain neutral during the election campaign.”

Mr. Sanjana Hattotuwa, Founder and Editor of Groundviews, Sri Lanka’s premiere citizen journalism site, too shared his views on the President’s stance in the election so far. “The President's instructions have resulted in a campaign that is the quietest in living memory, without the visual and noise pollution that one associated a national election with. There are no grotesque banners or cutouts, comparatively few posters, no photos of candidates adorning light poles. Though it is early days yet, the President's decision to take a neutral stance can be seen in, at least, two ways. One, in line with what I've noted above, as a stance that has directly and concretely contributed to a campaign culture in total contrast with those in the past, especially under the Rajapaksa Govt. This is a good thing.
There is however a more critical reading that doesn't take away from the first point. President Sirisena's task is not just to remain neutral, understood as a position that doesn't take sides during the campaign, because in fact, he in his speech already made his views very clear and picked a side, opposed to MR. Though President Sirisena may see himself as being above the electoral fray, he is the President of all of us, incl. supporters of Mahinda. In that role and position, his responsibility is to ensure that citizens are given the news and information they need, including of the Rajapaksa's, to take a decision around whom to vote for at the polls.

This in turn requires him to address the most serious allegations against the former President, including obviously corruption. The facts and figures are well known, the white elephants are well known. Not running afoul of the EC's instructions, the President should nevertheless make his position clear around the *values* he wants citizens to keep in mind when voting. We aren't used to a values based President.

President Sirisena has demonstrated he isn't expedient or purely party political. He is the first President we can look up to, a role model of everything we have been bereft of and violently denied. At a General Election, he needs to interpret 'neutrality' to mean that though he will not get involved with or comment on the election campaign per se, he nevertheless - as President - speaks his mind on what he thinks citizens should consider when voting, including the need for a new political culture, new blood and a new imagination around Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans, with the General Election as the basis for all this and the continuation of his good governance foundations.”

Involving civil society opinions in state affairs is an important element of good governance. These positive comments from Heads of some of the most prominent civil society organizations in Sri Lanka is a testimonial to the President’s efforts to help maintain good governance in Sri Lanka.

Courtesy - Asian Tribune







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Last modified: July 24, 2015.

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