Cherishing our democratic
Limitations notwithstanding, our
democratic heritage is alive and well. This is something worth
pondering on in the immediate aftermath of May Day and our
hearty and rapturous celebration of the dignity of human labour.
The thought is equally relevant today, World Press Freedom Day.
Not all sections of our polity are appreciative of the fact that
Press Freedom too is very much alive and vibrant in this country
today, although among some it is proving a highly contentious
It could be argued that things could be better on the Press
Freedom and Freedom of Expression fronts in this country but it
is plain to see that there are no official curbs or snaffles on
the right of the citizen to express himself or herself on the
issues of the day. It is also pertinent to take cognizance of
the fact that the newspaper industry is thriving in this
country. Whatever the detractors of the state may try to make
out, there is an increasing number of newspapers and journals,
for instance, in Sri Lanka. The challenge before the public is
to utilize the Freedom of Expression rationally. It should be
abundantly clear to all that the proverbial 'Freedom of the Wild
Ass' serves absolutely no purpose.
We are led to these thoughts on ruminating on some points
President Mahinda Rajapaksa made in the course of his May Day
address on Tuesday. He said that Sri Lanka, which is one of the
oldest democracies in South Asia, reverentially abides by the
norms and values of the democratic system. Come what may, the
right of the people to change governments through the ballot is
continuously cherished in this country, the President pointed
It is a pity that these truths are not reflected upon in some
quarters. It is of relevance that our democratic freedoms are
increasingly cherished and treasured, North, South, East and
West, particularly in consideration of the fact that this
country was at the risk of perhaps losing them forever during
those 30 long years when the Tigers were running wild and making
short work of both life and limb of innocent people, besides
destroying the assets of this country in a mind-numbing fury.
What should be focused on clearly is the point that the
democratic system would not be ours to cherish today if the
initiative was not taken by the administration headed by
President Mahinda Rajapaksa to do away with Tiger terror once
and for all.
As the President himself commented, these are truths the
Opposition too needs to closely reflect upon. If the UNP was in
a position to hold its May Day rally in Jaffna, it is because
the terror threat is no more. It would have been hard to see the
UNP holding a gathering of any sort, leave alone a May Day
rally, in the North, if the Tigers were still up and about and
ravenously going about their business of killing and maiming.
It is not irrelevant to also ponder on the fact that in UNP
times, in the mid seventies and in the eighties, no development
projects were possible in the North. District Ministers were
appointed for Jaffna, but this official could never visit the
district in question to even oversee a semblance of development
activity because the LTTE would have none of it. In stark
contrast to those times, the North is today the centre of
development work because the Tigers have been brought to heel
and the region rendered habitable once again.
So, there is much the average citizen needs to be thankful
for. Our glass is half full and not half empty and all this has
been made possible because the democratic system in its
essentials has survived in this country. Of course, much needs
to be done to further democratic development but it should be
clear that ours is not a story of absolute gloom and doom.
But we need to put our hands together as a country and
collectivity to further the cause of prosperity and progress.
There are no 'trade-offs' between democracy and development. If
we are having a degree of development in this country today, it
is because democracy has been kept alive and the people provided
the treasured option of using peaceful means of changing
governments. Democratic freedoms have enabled us to choose
between political parties and personalities offering different
paths to progress. When one path visibly fails, we have the
freedom of choosing another. Thus has our democratic heritage
stood us in good stead. We need to protect it against enemies,
both internal and external.