March 2020

29.03.2020 - Cooperation Within The Polity is Required to Tackle COVID-19 Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised serious questions about the capacity of the current political and economic systems in many states to deal with a crisis of this nature. Sri Lanka, along with the rest of the world, is in an unprecedented crisis of enormous magnitude that has to be overcome with cooperation, solidarity and collective action. There has to be cooperation across all strata and groups with people helping people, especially those who are marginalised, daily wage earners and persons with disabilities who have no place to go. Sri Lanka has long prided itself as having an educated population. This is the time to show the world that our understanding of the crisis is real, and even as the lockdown and curfew continue, that we are willing to abide by the strictest measures necessary to control its spread.

We also need to find ways through the internet and through different social media to remain connected because one’s mental health going through this is just as important as one’s physical health. Those who have come from abroad from countries heavily infected by the virus, and those who have been infected by the virus for no fault of their own, need to be treated with care and concern rather than by stigmatising them so that they will not go underground. We would do well to remember that it is the care and protection we show the least of us that will save most of us.

It is also necessary at this time for the government to consider a holistic package of relief in consultation with all political parties. The opposition and other political parties need to become partners in resolving the crisis that has no respect for race, religion or social class. It is important that the cooperation among political parties also takes place at the provincial, local government and Pradeshiya Sabha levels as well. The current situation provides an opportunity to promote subsidiarity and enable local communities to deal with their own problems. In addition, in this situation of crisis, where urgent and unprecedented actions may need to be taken, we believe the government should enlist the support of the opposition to deal with situations that may require the framing of new laws and regulations.

The National Peace Council calls on the government to bring together all political parties to work on the way forward and to take political differences outside of the equation for action. We note that Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa recently called a meeting of political party leaders to determine what path to take. With parliament dissolved and elections postponed, it is necessary to ensure that the handling of the coronavirus epidemic is not compounded by other crises. In general there is a need to follow the provisions of the constitution as it is adherence to the law is what gives stability to societies. This is also the best way to ensure that having overcome the COVID health crisis, the country does not go into a post-COVID political crisis.

The COVID-19 crisis is very likely to run for more time and its economic and social effects will be felt for years worldwide and in Sri Lanka as well. This situation will also require an effective response. The post-COVID-19 economic recovery will need to be rooted not just in responding to the pandemic itself but also to the global recession and unemployment that is likely to follow it. Much will depend on the vigor of the debate within the country both during and especially after the current crisis to prepare for the future. This should aim at moving towards a sustainable social economic system focused very much on addressing prevailing deep inequalities and moving towards a stable and just society.

Governing Council
The National Peace Council is an independent and non partisan organization that works towards a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. It has a vision of a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka in which the freedom, human rights and democratic rights of all the communities are respected. The policy of the National Peace Council is determined by its Governing Council of 20 members who are drawn from diverse walks of life and belong to all the main ethnic and religious communities in the country.