Now, as we enter 2017, civil society faces the twin challenges of holding the current government to account, and preventing yaha-palanaya ideal from being discredited by expedient politicians. At the same time, civil society must also become more professionalised and accountable.
‘Civil society’ is a basket term: it covers a variety of entities outside the government and corporate sectors. These include not only non-governmental organisations (NGOs) but also trade unions, student unions, professional associations (and federations), and community based or grassroots groups. Their specific mandates differ, but on the whole civil society strives for a better, safer and healthier society for everyone.
The path to such a society lies inevitably through a political process, which civil society cannot and should not avoid. Some argue that civil society’s role is limited to service delivery. In reality, worthy tasks like tree planting, vaccine promoting and microcredit distributing are all necessary, but not all sufficient if fundamentals are not in place. For lasting change to happen, civil society must engage with the core issues of governance, rights and social justice.
Ideally, however, civil society groups should not allow themselves to be used or subsumed by political parties. I would argue that responsible civil society groups now set the standards for our bickering and hesitant politicians to aspire to.
Sri Lanka will hold a general election on 17 August 2015 to elect a new Parliament. It has been preceded by a high level of citizen and civil society advocacy for raising the standard for who should be elected to represent the people as their Members of Parliament.
Public concerns about deteriorating Parliamentary debate and the overall decline and degradation in representative politics were captured by the ‘March 12 Movement’, a mission to elect clean and corruption-free politicians to Parliament.
Parallel to this advocacy, data analysis tools have been used by citizens to probe the conduct of MPs in the last Parliament, which was dissolved on 26 June 2015.
Manthri.lk is a trilingual website that tracks the performance of the 225 Members of Parliament in Sri Lanka. It goes by the official record (Hansard), analysing and coding each statement which is fed into a customised system developed by the website owner and operator – Verite Research, a thinktank that provides strategic analysis and advice for decision-makers and opinion-formers.
In this week’s Ravaya column, (in Sinhala, appearing in issue of 16 August 2015), I share some of the key findings by Manthri.lk website on the conduct of 225 MPs in the last Parliament – 202 of whom are seeking re-election.