Include all in anti-poverty efforts: Kumaratunga
Former Sri Lankan president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga yesterday stressed the need for South Asian nations to promote inclusiveness and equitable distribution of wealth to address poverty and make democracy sustainable.
Kumaratunga urged regional leaders to ensure full participation of all in development efforts, as governments, often seen in South Asia, tend to slip into dictatorships.
“We will not probably emerge from poverty without inclusiveness and equitable distribution of wealth,” Kumaratunga said at a discussion on “Democracy and development: Alleviating poverty in South Asia” at BRAC Centre Inn in Dhaka.
Prof Rehman Sobhan, chairman of Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), presided over the programme organised by the private think-tank.
Kumaratunga, the first woman president of Sri Lanka, presented a lecture on the topic before taking questions from local politicians, lawmakers and civil-society representatives.
She identified economic and social inequality, cultural inequality, political inequality and nature of the state as factors in conflict and economic regression in the region.
“Poverty, inequality and exclusivity are directly linked and this may lead to conflict,” said Kumaratunga who retired from politics in 2005 after serving two terms as Sri Lanka's president.
She also linked good governance to durable development.
Kumaratunga said democracy and inclusiveness, which mean full participation of all including local government, are essential for development and prosperity.
“Village community worked extremely effective for centuries in South Asia, now political elites in different countries don't allow it to function,” she said. “We've the basis, but we've to work.”
Kumaratunga also said the intermingling of religion poses a threat to democracy in the region. She cited the example of Pakistan where religion played a key role in state formulation.
The former president of Sri Lanka admits that people are losing faith in democratic institutions, particularly in Sri Lanka. For example, she said Sri Lanka has seen a drastic decline in votes -- from 70-80 percent in the 1970s and 80s to 55 percent in 2010.
Speaking as a special guest, Gowher Rizvi, foreign affairs adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said people lose trust in democracy for the government's failure to deliver.
“Democracy's ability to distribute has been curbed and inequality widened,” Rizvi said.
Rehman Sobhan of CPD said development programmes have become more exclusive and inequality has gone up in the region. He said members of parliament do not want an active local government in Bangladesh.
Former foreign minister Anisul Islam Mahmud said he sees a lack of trust in democratic institutions across South Asia. Prof Mustafizur Rahman, executive director of CPD, delivered a welcome address.