On 8th January 2015 Sri Lankans elected a new President, putting an end to a ten years government that has been described as the most authoritarian and corrupt of the history of the country. After a peaceful and speedy transition of power the elected president Maithripala Sirisena, who led a coalition of several political parties, announced that a 100 days programme would be implemented to restore the independence of the judiciary system and investigate on a number of deals negotiated by the previous government.
Allegations of waste, money deals, and misuse of resources have been levelled against the former President, members of his family and a number of public officers. However complaints are being channeled through the appointment of the Special Commissions to investigate allegations of massive corruption in the preceding period: namely on establishment of Independent Commissions, the introduction of the National Audit Bill and Right to Information Bill, introduction of a National Drugs Policy and the creation of a Parliamentary system instead of the Executive Presidential system to eliminate the possibility of abuse of power.
The Former President, Mahinda Rajapakse, felt compelled to issue a public statement on these allegations, declaring that
“My government carried out more development work in this country than any other government in post-independence history. These unprecedented achievements were belittled in the eyes of the public during the presidential election campaign with the malicious propaganda that the costs of these infrastructure projects had been overpriced three to tenfold and huge kickbacks taken by politicians and officials in my government”.
Interestingly enough, days before the elections the former President expressed that it was better to vote for him, the known ‘devil’, instead of voting for an “unknown angel”. Sri Lankans opened their eyes not only to considerable waste, but the destruction of the social fabric through the abuse of power and manipulation of the media.. Statistics had been manipulated to portray a rosy picture of the economic situation. During the presentation of the 2015 Budget it was reported that the Sri Lankan economy was not in good shape as it had been informed by the previous government. The Budget introduced corrections and among them new taxes for the very rich, reduction of cost of several food items that had been overpriced and price of fuel. The “Relief Budget” looked into the predicament of the common citizens who had been facing a rising cost of living. The blooming economy report was a lie.
The previous government under former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, had said its debt to gross domestic product (GDP) was steady at 75% in 2014 from a year earlier, while the fiscal deficit fell 5.2 percent of GDP last year from 5.9 percent in 2013. Ravi Karunanayake, new Minister of Finance, said Rajapaksa government’s “real” economic numbers could be different because of much of the data is missing. An audit has been launched to find real numbers including those for debt, the fiscal deficit and GDP.
As it has been expressed by different sectors, the decision of the citizens to opt for change represented their demand for values, truth and decency. The search for the truth has started to be the focus of all discussions, at home and in public spaces. Women organizations have participated in the discussions raising their voices against the use of political violence, the abuse of power and the persistent humiliation of female politicians. For example, during the elections, former Higher Education Minister S.B. Dissanayake regarding the support of former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to Mr. Sirisena, said that she should be “put down in the ground, trampled, stripped naked and made to run along the streets.” His statement was considered an insult not only to the President of the country, but to every woman. This shows the style of campaign used by the previous regime.
Besides congratulating the citizens of Sri Lanka for standing up against authoritarianism, it is important to realize they stood up to establish a new social culture. In Sri Lanka, social status and reputation are key issues for social mobility. It is a priotiry for Shri Lankans to be united as a Nation through a healthier social and political culture where all citizens are treated with respect and dignity. The overwhelming support defending the dignity of women brings hope for the eradication of gender violence in this new period of our history.