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Covid-19 & SL’s future

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by C.A. Chandraprema

 The emergence of yet another major Covid cluster in Divulapitiya is food for thought. While the entire world seemed to have lost control over the spread of Covid-19, Sri Lanka seemed to have brought it under control until this latest outbreak. Even this latest cluster though the largest by our standards, is nothing compared to what most other countries including highly developed countries with much smaller populations have been experiencing. There is little doubt that Sri Lanka will bring this cluster under control as it did the previous ones. There is no such thing as eradicating this disease which has no cure. All that one can do is to have a successful firefighting mechanism which is capable of containing any outbreaks. The Kandakadu cluster came as an unpleasant surprise just like the present one, but it was successfully contained.

At no point were we ever rid of Covid-19 completely. When the number of local patients declines, the repatriation of expatriate workers from overseas commences and every planeload brings new Covid-19 patients into the country. Hence the emergence of new clusters is something that has to be expected. Even countries like China and New Zealand which had established control over Covid-19 very early on, experienced the emergence of new clusters which they had to put a cap on. Before the emergence of the Divulapitiya cluster, people had begun relaxing to an extent that would seem to be inviting disaster. We seemed to be fiddling while the entire world burned all around us.

We were watching the news bulletins announcing new outbreaks throughout the western world and in parts of Asia which exceeded even the first wave experienced in those countries and yet going about our work as if nothing was wrong. The Divulapitiya cluster was perhaps a much needed reality check, to put the whole country on alert once again. One international personality who said, based on studies carried out, that this could be a three to four year pandemic, was Michael Moore the documentary film producer. Unless a vaccine is developed before that, this pandemic seems set to continue for quite some time more.

We are now nearing the first anniversary of the first outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan China and nowhere near developing a vaccine for the disease. One thing that can be said for certain is that the Covid-19 pandemic is going to be very different to previous outbreaks of viral dieseases like the SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak of 2003, or even the AH1N1 pandemic of 2010. Of these SARS was just a blip on the radar which affected only a few countries. AH1N1 was far more widespread – perhaps as pervasive as Covid-19 but the number of fatalities it caused was negligible by Covid-19 standards. As a disease, Covid-19 is nowhere near as fearsome as was the Ebola hemorrhagic fever which was also a viral disease with a fatality rate that could be as high as 90%. Yet with the number of Covid-19 deaths worldwide topping over a million, it cannot be ignored as a case of the ‘sniffles’ either. In actual fact most people are still unclear as to extent to which they should be concerned. If this had been a disease like Ebola, what we would be living through would effectively be the end of the world and people would have been in a state of blind panic.

 

Wake up call

 

But what we see now happening with regard to Covid-19 is whole countries and populations alternating between concern and indifference. One thing that the entire world seems to have decided on is that there will be no more complete shut downs as was imposed in March and April this year during the early stages of this pandemic. Such shutdowns were impractical and in the circumstances, only helps to suppress the spread of the disease for a while and it resurfaces the moment the shut down is lifted. The only alternative appears what countries like Vietnam and Sri Lanka have been doing, isolation of cases, localized shutdowns where necessary, restrictions on gatherings, imposing face mask and hand washing regulations and contact tracing. If this cannot be done in a particular country, perhaps the only other alternative is to try to go about your day to day work and hope for the best as countries like the USA and Brazil seem to be doing.

 The approach being tried by the USA and Brazil was tried out in its classic purity by Sweden which never had shutdowns or mandatory face masks or total restrictions on gatherings. At one point, even the wearing of face masks was discouraged by Sweden on the grounds that it would cause unnecessary panic. Today, Sweden which has less than half the Sri Lankan population has over 95,000 recorded cases and nearly 6,000 deaths. Swedish levels of infection and mortality would have caused the government to fall in Sri Lanka but the Swedes seem to be taking it with stoic indifference. There was much criticism of President Trump for having left hospital without being completely cured of Covid-19 and taking his mask off to address the media, but perhaps in those countries, there’s no alternative but to put on a brave face and weather the storm as best as one can.

 Throughout the West there have been protests against any move to reimpose shutdowns. A phenomenon aptly termed ‘Covid-19 fatigue’ is setting in throughout the world. Indeed the same can be said about Sri Lanka. Despite the horrific stories that one hears about the rate of infections and fatalities in other countries, people are becoming less and less amenable to Covid-19 routines such as wearing face masks and washing hands. In most establishments in Sri Lanka, the sinks and soap have been replaced by hand sanitizers as most customers show little inclination to go through the hassle of washing one’s hands before entering an office or a shop. As of this moment, the entire world is actually veering in the direction of countries like Sweden, USA and Brazil except perhaps countries like Sri Lanka which have hit upon an alternative way of dealing with the problem.

 Finally we may well end up dealing with Covid-19 the way the world dealt with the Spanish flu over a century ago – by basically ignoring it and allowing those who die to die and hope for the best. As a result of that attitude, the economic impact of the Spanish flu was not as severe as one would think, even though that pandemic killed millions worldwide. The attitudes that we are seeing towards death in countries like Sweden, the USA and Brazil are very different to the attitudes that prevailed in the West just a decade or two ago. In the old days, if a 98-year old person died in a hospital, his relatives would file a medical negligence suit claiming that his dearly beloved great great grandpa would still have been alive if not for someone’s negligence. Things came to such a pass that in some countries insurance companies refused to insure medical professionals against medical negligence claims and governments had to consider laws limiting the maximum payout that can be obtained from a medical negligence suit. After the end of the cold war and the emergence of a unipolar Western dominated world, the West suffered a serious loss of commonsense.

 Damages could be claimed for the most ridiculous causes. This writer is aware of an instance in a western country where a man jumped out of a moving train just as it was coming to a stop at a station as we see so many passengers doing in Sri Lanka on a daily basis. One would think that if anyone is injured after jumping off a moving train without waiting a few seconds for it to come to a halt, one has to bear the consequences of one’s actions. But not in the West. In the instance mentioned, the passenger sued the railway company saying that he jumped out only because it was possible to do so. That was the West just a few years ago. In recent years this snowflake culture in the west developed to untenable levels with just a word being considered a threat and the victim needing counseling or medication to get over the stress of being called a name. But today people are dying like flies in the West and one would expect a flood of litigation bigger than the Asian tsunami of 2004, but we see nothing of the kind. The West is taking the damage from Covid-19 with third world levels of resignation. Perhaps this is nature’s way of correcting attitudes.

 

Face to face with reality

 

Covid-19 has brought home to the Western world the realities of life and how. It’s tempting to hope that this new found realization of practical limitations, of one’s own mortality and vulnerability of what is possible and impossible, will lead to a more realistic approach to the rest of the world. At one point some theorists in the West were advocating R2P (the right to protect), a doctrine formulated to enable the West to intervene even militarily in any country on the pretext of protecting its population or a part of its population from its own government. One Western leader who realized that this involvement in dozens of conflicts around the world with little or no understanding of what they were doing, was sapping the strength of the West was Donald Trump. He has been taking concrete steps to extricate the USA from interminable and unwinnable wars all around the world. The realization of limitations on the political and military front go together with a similar realization on the economic front.

 Indeed it could be said that the realization of these realities predated Covid-19 – the election of Donald Trump in 2016 symbolized that trend. Covid-19 only been a kind of coup d’ grace in this whole process. The changes in the world economy now taking place due to Covid-19 actually began before Covid-19 appeared on the scene. Unbridled economic globalization was proving to be untenable. In the US, companies selling goods in the American market would relocate overseas to cut costs and increase profits and import into the USA what once used to be produced within the USA. Its not that these companies were making losses when they were producing within the USA, but they could make greater profits when they relocated to other countries with cheaper labour costs and cheaper inputs. Thus we saw globalization being driven by an international kleptrocracy that had no loyalty to any nation or anybody except the profit motive. The Americans within this kelptocracy had no regard to the fact that relocating production facilities overseas were depriving Americans of their jobs.

 No regard was paid to the question as to how Americans were supposed to purchase the goods that were being imported if a good part of the population did not have an income to pay for those goods. After about two decades or more of unbridled globalization, countries like the USA were looking for a reset, which Trump provided in 2016. So even before Covid-19 appeared on the scene, a turning inwards was becoming apparent throughout the world, most conspicuously in the USA and Britain. Suddenly, ideas like Sovereignty, borders, national security, national economy had once again become fashionable. Now Covid-19 has made that trend a necessity. People have learned the hard way how disruptive over dependence on imports can be in certain situations.

 Even before Covid-19 hit SL, we had certain priorities dictated not so much by economic reasons as by political ones. There was a need to generate more job opportunities locally. There was a need to cut down on imports and to produce such goods locally whenever possible so as to conserve foreign exchange. There was a need to limit our dependence on certain overseas markets. All these have been made even more necessary by the pandemic. There will be restrictions on the number of Sri Lankans who can be employed abroad as the economies of all countries shrink and the volume of world trade contracts. Quite a number of those already employed are likely to lose their jobs and return to Sri Lanka which makes it imperative that job opportunities are created locally for these people.

 

Making room for a reset

 

The decline in foreign exchange earnings will have to be met by limiting imports which also works in favour of the above mentioned objective of creating more employment by producing such goods locally. Over the past four decades or so, both political parties have had policies trending in this direction to a greater or lesser extent. The UNP of J.R.Jayewardene despite its open economy orientation still gave priority to the local production of rice through projects like the Accelerated Mahaweli Programme. They also tried to get local sugar production going by earmarking the Moneragala district for sugar cane cultivation and setting up the Pelwatte Sugar factory. The sugar produced by this new factory was sold on the local market for slightly above the world market price with the then UNP government imposing a tax on imported sugar to make Pelwatte sugar viable on the local market. The UNP of J.R.Jayewardene was a development oriented party and in the 1980s, they were sneeringly called the ‘Sanwardhanas’ because of their emphasis on economic development.

 However, after the mid-1990s the UNP completely lost its development orientation and became a mouthpiece for NGOs. It came to such a pass that the UNP government stored paddy from a bumper harvest in the Mattala airport to make fun of the bumper harvest as well as the airport. It’s very unlikely that JRJ would have reacted to a bumper paddy harvest in that manner. During his time, he even participated in the traditional wap magula ceremonies, getting into the paddy field barebodied and in a sarong like the farmers. Now, due to Covid-19, and the economic and political changes that had been taking place in the world before Covid-19, we have once again come to an era where the prime need of the country is to promote local production, to create new avenues of income for the people and generate jobs locally for the youth entering the labour market every year.

 For Sri Lanka, the need for an economic reset that has been made necessary by Covid-19 is actually an opportunity to make a change of course that was becoming necessary due to political circumstances. Making such a change of course when things are normal both domestically and internationally is difficult because the disruption caused generates stresses and resentment. Now however with the entire world in turmoil, and the domestic economy also thrown into disarray due to circumstances beyond the control of the government, it’s easier to change course with minimal political fallout.  



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Politics

A brave new world

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By Uditha Devapriya

Divided from the Indian subcontinent, yet also deeply connected to it, Sri Lanka has never had an opportunity of forging and shaping a foreign policy of its own. The high point of its foreign relations, under the three Bandaranaike administrations over a period of 20 years, did signal an effort, and a sincere one, towards this end. Yet with the election of a staunchly pro-Western government in 1977, the emphasis on non-alignment that had been a hallmark of the island’s foreign policy ruptured, never to be regained or restored.

Of course, commentators would contend that Sri Lanka need not be non-aligned. They would also point out that non-alignment, in itself, doesn’t preclude making choices and siding with friends. The fact that the country lead the Non-Aligned Movement, at its peak years in the 1960s and 1970s, did not prevent it from privileging one set of interests over another: this is why, and how, while forging a close relationship with the Indira Gandhi administration, the United Front regime (1970-1977) was able to balance its ties with Pakistan vis-à-vis the 1971 War in Bangladesh and the West vis-à-vis the Soviet Union.

In actual fact, the former colonies of Asia and Africa did not, in the wake of decolonisation, explicitly ally themselves with either side of the Cold War. Ideologically many if not most of them adhered to a socialist economic system, or something that could pass for one. But this didn’t always mean they bandwagoned with the socialist bloc, or, conversely, alienated the Western front. Gamal Abdel Nasser’s attempts at obtaining American funding for the Aswan Dam, and Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s ability to enlist Western aid against the 1971 insurgency, showed that the indigenous elites in these ex-colonies did not [always] identify their foreign relations with one side of the Cold War to the exclusion of the other.

For its part the socialist Left went along with these trends. Throughout the Third World, particularly in countries like Sri Lanka, where traditional Marxist categories did not make sense, the [significantly non-Communist] Left advocated alignments with parties which were, from a Marxist perspective, hardly radical or revolutionary. The LSSP advocated no contest pacts and later agreements and alliances with the SLFP, while Nasser carried on a troubled, ambivalent relationship with the Communist Party. It was only logical to expect a similarly ambivalent stand on foreign policy from these formations.

It wasn’t just those groups, of course; even the strongholds and heartlands of the ideologies and tendencies they stood for often deviated from the orthodox line. Thus, the Maoists in Ceylon, while holding the line against the Sirimavo Bandaranaike government, could not quite withstand China’s decision to provide that regime with military aid against the 1971 insurrection. Internationally, it could not tide over or come to terms with the shock of Deng Xiaoping’s reforms. In foreign policy as in domestic policies, discretion frequently took the better part of valour; ideological abstractions did play a part, but they were often dispensed with in the interests of better relations with other countries.

The lines that had been drawn during the Cold War sharpened considerably in the 1970s and 1980s across Asia and America, often disrupting the political divisions that had been drawn for decades in these countries. In Sri Lanka the election of a leftwing government failed to prevent an uprising among radical Left university graduates. Four years later, that avowedly leftwing government splintered, leading to the expulsion of the two oldest Left parties in the country. Neoliberal authoritarianism, of the sort which had been installed via covert US support in Chile, became a fact of life in 1977. The rhetoric of non-alignment and neutrality, evoked so frequently once, became passe now.

In Sri Lanka, the first and second waves of neo-liberal authoritarianism – the two UNP administrations of J. R. Jayewardene and Ranasinghe Premadasa – would be followed by the election of a Clintonian Third Way Centrist regime, led by the daughter of the same lady associated with the country’s dalliance with socialism. Under Chandrika Kumaratunga Sri Lanka’s nonaligned credentials were restored, yet never to the same extent as before: it was under Kumaratunga, after all, that Israel established an Embassy in Colombo, more or less breaching Sri Lanka’s commitment to the Palestinian cause, which had been a hallmark and a motif of the Non-aligned Movement at its very inception.

It’s tempting to argue that none of these changes could have come about without the end of the Cold War. To say that is to assume that the end of the Cold War came about because of one set of forces triumphing over all others. For a brief time in history, from 1991 to 2001, the United States enjoyed its peak years: what Charles Krauthammer called, not unfittingly, the “Unipolar Movement.” For some it was the end of history, for others it was the victory of liberal democracy. In this brave new liberal world, we were told, power no longer had a say in international relations: hence the many calls, deplored by diplomats such as the late Gamani Corea, to do away with institutions like UNCTAD and NAM.

This argument has many pitfalls, not all of which deserve mentioning here. I would contend that the unipolar moment came to an end in 2001, when two planes rammed into the World Trade Center in New York, the capital of liberal internationalism. What began in 2001 more or less culminated in January 2022, when Vladimir Putin recognised two breakaway regions in Ukraine and kickstarted a war that continues to redefine the frontiers of geopolitics in the present century. Viewed for long as a dependable friend of the West, Putin has now turned into a symbol of the continuing relevance of power in geopolitics: a point which suggests the Cold War never ended, and the old lines and distinctions still linger.

By all accounts, the new Cold War is different from the old. The clash today is not between two superpowers, but between various powers vying over different interests. The world was simpler then. It is more complicated now. While major powers like India and China vie with each other for dominance over specific regions and interests, developments like the Russia-Ukraine War have brought them to the same table. Xi Jinping’s congratulatory missive to the new Indian President and Wang Yi’s meeting with Delhi’s Ambassador to Beijing should not be taken as mere formalities, nor should Indian Foreign Affairs Minister Jaishankar’s remarks be taken as ramblings of an annoyed government official. These episodes suggest clearly the complexities of geopolitics, where, more than the days when the world was divided into two warring halves, there are no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.

Sri Lanka so far has not been fortunate enough to benefit from these developments. It has been guided by a philosophy which died in 2001, a philosophy adhered to by the most zealous advocates of liberal internationalism: those who believe that Western rhetoric on human rights and democracy is what it purports to be and nothing else. As Rajiva Wijesinha has noted in Representing Sri Lanka, a book that deserves to be read closely, these groups make up a considerable part of our foreign policy establishment: a fact which has precluded the country from making some much needed choices in foreign relations.

In his book Wijesinha lambasts two tendencies within the foreign policy establishment in Sri Lanka: a line that hedges all bets for the country’s future on relations with the West, and a line that shirks and demonises the West and seemingly “Western” abstractions like human rights and democracy. As Dayan Jayatilleka has pointed out only too eloquently, the former line almost lost us the war, while the latter has line lost us a durable peace. The result has been a grand mess, where, in a never-ending cycle, we latch ourselves onto one or another major power, only to switch sides unceremoniously to another power while neglecting the concerns of our ex-partners. The recent fracas over the Chinese “spy” vessel is the latest in a series of faux pas that will, I suspect, continue for quite some time.

Stripped of all abstractions, foreign policy is but a manifestation of a country’s interests. Trapped in the past, Sri Lanka is yet to come to terms with this fact. But in the face of an unprecedented crisis, it cannot afford to think this way any longer. It must take stock of what is happening outside, and realise that what matters is what we need. And what we need now is a foreign policy that coheres with our interests.

The writer is an international relations analyst, researcher, and columnist who can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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Crime and Punishment In Sri Lanka – Where is the Equity ?

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By Anura Gunasekera

Recently, the Kegalle High Court Trial at Bar, on conclusion of the December 2018 Mawanella Buddha statue damaging case, conducted under the Prevention of Terrorism( Temporary Provisions) Act, has passed sentences of varying severity, on the accused who have admitted culpability. Three of the accused have been discharged and the cases against two fixed for further inquiry

Moving back to the period between June 2014 and March 2018, rioting Sinhala mobs, incited or led by Buddhist priests, destroyed or damaged hundreds of Muslim owned businesses, private homes, vehicles, and a couple of mosques, in Aluthagama, Digana and Panadura. Seven people were killed, six of them Muslims. The cost of the damage to assets, owned mostly by Muslims, would be, conservatively, in billions of rupees. Any forensic investigation of the Aluthgama carnage was pre-empted by forces personnel quickly cleaning up the scene of the crime, before investigations could begin, apparently on the orders of former President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, then Secretary of Defence.

As far as I am aware, not one person has been convicted for any of the above crimes, though much of the destruction is reported to have been caused, in full view of armed police and the forces. There have also been allegations of active assistance provided by uniformed police to the rioting mobs. Two Buddhist priests, Galagoda Athhe Gnanasara and Ampitiye Sumanarathana, publicly associated with the incidents, have been ignored by the law. In fact, in 2020, the Galagoda monk was appointed by then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, as the chairman of the “One Country, One Law” task force.

Amit Weerasinghe, leader of the “Mahason Balakaya”, a Sinhala-Buddhist extremist entity associated with the riots, was arrested and released. It is not clear whether any action was filed against him. More than a 100 individuals, all from the majority community, arrested in connection with the incidents of anti-Muslim violence described above, were enlarged on bail at the respective first hearings. However, 45 individuals, all Muslims without prior criminal records, arrested in connection with the Mawanella affair, were held in remand custody for forty two months, though there were no eyewitnesses to the related incidents.

Jude Jayamaha, convicted murderer sentenced to death in 2012, was pardoned in 2019 by then President Maithripala. Army Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake, sentenced to death for the torture/murder of a Tamil civilian family of eight, was given a “full presidential pardon” by former president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in 2020. Former member of parliament and close associate of president Gotabaya, Duminda Silva, sentenced to death for complicity in murder, benefited from a “special presidential pardon” , extended by GR in June 2021, which also included over a hundred other prisoners. However, Silva has been rearrested in May 2022, on a Supreme Court order suspending the pardon.

In the meantime, the loose-tongued MP, Ranjan Ramanayake, has so far spent one year of a four-year sentence for contempt of court. I am open to correction by those who know the law better but, as I understand it, his sentence is based on a provision of the Penal Code, which dates back to a 19th century statute. However, it is a fact that most mature democracies have moved on from such archaic legal provisions, and now permit robust and reasonable debate in regard to matters pertaining to the judiciary itself.

Also relevant is the case of Lasantha Wickrematunge, and the many other journalists and anti-government activists, featured in the list of the murdered regime-critics over the last three decades, now simply names in a long and sad litany of unsolved crimes. There are the thousands of civilians who disappeared during our long war, and in the course of the suppression of two consecutive Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna uprisings; over 700 Sri Lankan policemen were murdered by the LTTE, in June 1990, after surrendering to them on the orders of the then President, Ranasinghe Premadasa, conveyed through then Inspector General of Police, Ernest Perera. The absence of an in-depth investigation in to this incident is, perhaps, due to the fact that the alleged mastermind- according to Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka- Vinayagamoorthy Muralidaran of the LTTE, subsequently became a government ally.

In fact, a review of unsolved murders and extra-judicial killings since the beginning of the Eelam war, would require a separate volume. The land that the Buddha is supposed to have consecrated with several personal visits is, truly, very bloody, underfoot.

In more recent events, parliamentarian Prasanna Ranatunge, heavily fined and sentenced to a suspended sentence, for attempting to extort money under threat from a businessman, has been appointed Minister of Urban Development and Housing, by President Wickremesinghe. Nimal Siripala de Silva, who resigned his cabinet portfolio pending investigation in to a major bribery charge (reportedly conveyed to then president Gotabaya by Japan’s ambassador), has been “acquitted”- by a panel led by former High Court judge, Kusala Sarojini Weerawardane, on conclusion of what must be the speediest of such investigations conducted in decades; just one week! Within a day of this miraculous “acquittal”, he is reappointed to the cabinet by President Wickremesinghe, as Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation.

The two actions by the new president makes a mockery of a key assurance given by him regarding the elimination of bribery and corruption during his maiden address to parliament. How does one conflate that noble pledge with the elevation of two individuals, one patently corrupt and the other allegedly so? That situation is decidedly worse than the case of former state minister, Lohan Ratwatte, whose forcible entry in to Welikada and Anuradhapura prisons, was investigated- with no conclusive outcome- by the same lady.

All of the above is a preamble to the current situation. Wickremesinghe, immediately upon assuming the acting presidency, declared a state of emergency and enabled the arrest of a number of individuals seen as leaders of the “Aragalaya”, the movement which actually paved the way for his presidential appointment. Apart from Joseph Stalin (General Secretary, Ceylon Teachers’ Union), Fr Jeewantha Pieris, Wasantha Mudalige ( Convener, Inter-University Students’ Federation) Eranga Gunasekera( National Organizer for “Socialist Youth Union”) and Lahiru Weerasekera (National Organizer for “Youth for Change”), four protesters “loitering” around the Bandaranaike statue at Galle Face, and a few who have been identified as having entered the Presidential Secretariat and the President’s House, have also been taken in.

In the greater scheme of things the “crimes” attributed to these individuals are clearly low level misdemeanors. Proven damage to premises and content are crimes which must be punished, but relaxing on the president’s bed and sitting in the president’s chair are not major crimes, though the latter have been classified as ” terrorist acts”.

Compare the above with the events which took place in parliament , on November 15, 2018, when members of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s party physically attacked the then Speaker, Karu Jayasuriya. At the fore-front of the aggression were then ministers, Johnston Fernando and Mahindanda Aluthgamage, who attacked the police who tried to restore order. Arundhika Fernando occupied the Speaker’s chair and was seen being smilingly felicitated by MP Pavithra Wanniarachchi. All these events have been caught on video-film as indisputable evidence. Despite the desecration of the very seat of governance by the lawmakers themselves, no action was taken against those guilty. Let us also not forget the May 9 attack on unarmed activists at Galle Face, in which Mahinda Rajapaksa and Johnston Fernando were clearly complicit.

Since April this year six dead bodies have washed up ashore along the Colombo district coastline. The police have been very quick to attribute these incidents, and other recent murders in and around the Colombo district, to drug-related violence, though results of investigations have not been made public. Surprisingly, these incidents appear to have slid under the radar of routine news reporting, with minimal mention in the media.

One can also add the “Bond Scam” of 2015, involving the current president’s then Central Bank Governor appointee, Arjuna Mahendran, the “Sugar Scam” of 2020, the shambolic “Greek Bonds” affair of 2012, under the stewardship of then Central Bank Governor, Nivard Cabraal and the controversial settlement of International Sovereign Bonds in January 2022, again under the supervision of Cabraal in his second term as CB governor. However, Mahendran, hiding from the law in plain sight, is safely delivering profound statements on the economy of Sri Lanka to, international media, the profiteers from the sugar deal have not been dealt with despite recommendations by the National Audit Office, and Cabraal, still unscathed, is living in seclusion.

And what of the Rs 17.8 in cash, discovered in the President’s House by the Aragalists and handed over to the Fort Police on July 9, but produced in court by the police only on July 29? Where did the Fort OIC store this cash in the interim? Will former president Gotabaya, as head of the presidential household, be asked to explain the source of the cash and the reasons for its retention?

The point of this narration is to highlight the glaring inequity, in the application of the same body of law, in the context of social and economic position, proximity to those in power, personal political significance, and ethnicity. It would seem that the wheels of justice grind slowly, and selectively, subject to the above considerations.

President Wickremesinghe’s pious sentiments about combatting crime and corruption, are simply echoes of similar statements made by previous leaders of the country, in successive regimes, which have condoned colossal crimes and acts of corruption. Collectively, they have contributed to the present economic disaster, and the humiliating position of Sri Lanka in the global Human Rights Violation index. After 75 years of independence and “democratic” governance, Sri Lanka occupies the 112th position (in the 3rd quartrile), in the Global Freedom Index of 2022, behind Sierra Leone, Belarus, Kenya and Lebanon. The ongoing repressive measures being implemented by a supposedly liberal president, is likely to result in a further downgrading before long.

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PROPPING-UP THIS PRESIDENT IS A PRESCRIPTION FOR POLITICAL SUICIDE

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DR. DAYAN JAYATILLEKA

In one dimension, Sri Lankan politics is a tale of cross-party political collaboration that should have taken place but didn’t, and those that shouldn’t have taken place but did.The two varying yet intermittently intertwining story-lines have widely discrepant endings, though. Collaborations that should have taken place but didn’t are stories of what might have been and wasn’t. What might have been is often better than what actually was.By contrast, stories of collaboration that should not have taken place but did, are stories of disasters that were avoidable but weren’t.

Sometimes the collaborations that should have been preceded those that should not have been but were acted upon. These are particularly poignant because an alliance or political equation that had the potential of leading to something positive, was immediately substituted by an equation which culminated in catastrophe.

There is another, inner connection. It is the causal link between the alliances that should have been made and weren’t, that led to lost potential, which was then sought to be offset by alliances that should not have been entered into but were, with worse consequences than the stagnation sought to be avoided or offset by entering into them.

The Left was never as strong as it was after the General Election of 1947. If the discussion at H. Sri Nissanka’s residence ‘Yamuna’ succeed and a bloc had formed of the three left parties—the LSSP, CP and the BLP—and the independent progressives, Ceylon would have had a left oriented Government which would have taken the country on a Nehruvian or ‘left-Nehruvian’ path.

Having rejected that option, the same leftist parties were later reviled, and correctly so, for having clung to “Sirima’s sari pota” and electorally decimated where they remain to this very day. Just recently, and incredibly, their residues voted for Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Emergency under which the Aragalaya activists are being arrested.

After the magnificent Hartal of August 1953, the political parties that participated and supported it failed to unite in a single bloc. The result was that SWRD’s SLFP fell prey to the temptation of Sinhala Only, lobbied for by a civil society caucus led by Prof GP Malalasekara and the All- Ceylon Buddhist Congress he chaired, riding the surf of the Buddha Jayanthi and the ACBC report.

When SWRD tried to compensate by course-correction through the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam pact, the Left didn’t come forward to enter a bloc with him in support. Ironically the same left entered a united front with his far less progressive widow and enthroned Sinhala only in the 1972 Constitution.

The Left finally entered a United Front in 1963, accompanied by the unification of the left-led trade union movement. The united left won the Borella by-election that year. In 1964 the LSSP broke the left front and joined Mrs. Bandaranaike’s cabinet. In 1968, in place of a reunified Left, the CPSL joined the LSSP in a coalition with the SLFP, holding a joint rally in Bogambara.The resultant vacuum on the left permitted the birth and rapid growth of the JVP.

Fifteen years after the LSSP’s co-optation and nine years after the CPSL’s, the entire old left had been electorally wiped out, with Philip Gunawardena who had joined a UNP cabinet, having been electorally eliminated earlier in 1970.I could go on. The moral of the story is simple. Left unity is a good thing and left disunity is not. Left and the unity with progressive independents is a good thing and its absence is not. The Left uniting with a center party under left dominance is bad but doing so on an equal footing, isn’t.The Left uniting with a dominant center party, i.e., with the SLFP in 1964 and 1970-1975/’77, is a terrible thing.

A center-left or center party uniting with a rightwing or center-right party is a bad thing. President Sirisena and the SLFP learned that lesson the hard way and the current trend of the SLPP opting for Ranil Wickremesinghe over Dullas Alahapperuma, the SLFP and the 10-parties being drawn into President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s orbit, having voted for his draconian Emergency (the SLFP was absent), will prove electorally fatal.

TAMIL PARTIES

The Tamil parties have a sad history of supporting the rightwing UNP which inevitably winds up unpopular and the target of a huge backlash. The presence of the Tamil parties in a bloc with the UNP, unfortunately facilitates an utterly reprehensible entry of Sinhala chauvinism into the anti-government backlash.

It is utterly counterproductive for the Tamil parties to be in an elitist UNP bloc. It was the presence of those parties in the UNP-led seven-party national Government of 1965-1970 that facilitated the opportunistic or semi-spontaneous injection of Sinhala ethno-populism into the Opposition campaign of the second half of the 1960s, which even more horridly, culminated in the official Sinhala racism after it assumed office, e.g., media-wise and district-wise Standardization of university entrance, the hegemonistic status of Sinhala and Buddhism in the 1972 Constitution.

The Tamil parties should think twice before being enticed into an alliance, de jure or de facto, with the unelected, illegitimate president Ranil Wickremesinghe who will cause a further spike in unprecedentedly high social disaffection by his economic “shock therapy”. It could cause a toxic cocktail as Sir John’s Delft speech did.

TODAY’S OPPOSITION

What would have happened to any Opposition political party that joined, propped up or let itself be drawn into the orbit of the hawkish UNP administration of Sir John Kotelawala after the Hartal of August 1953?

What if SWRD Bandaranaike, having left the UNP in 1951, helped it in 1953, after chairing the Hartal rally on Galle Face Green, though the SLFP didn’t participate in the Hartal?

The answers of these counterfactual history questions are obvious. Any such party which became a de jure or de facto prop (“mukkuwa”) of the Hartal-hit Establishment which had a harder-line post-Hartal leader, would have been committing political suicide.Had SWRD Bandaranaike done so, he would not have been the beneficiary of the anti-Establishment tectonic shift caused or denoted by the Hartal and swept into office through the Silent Revolution of 1956.

Why then are the Opposition parties of today doing or contemplating something even more colossally stupid, of joining, supporting or collaborating with the UNP leader of the Aragalaya-hit Establishment? It is suicidal for two reasons:

Firstly, the leader in question is utterly unelected, totally devoid of a popular mandate, and is therefore a completely illegitimate (though not illegal) ruler.Secondly, he will drive through a controversial and polarizing economic program, which will sink any party associated with it.Meanwhile, the failure of the pro-Aragalaya parties, the JVP, FSP, SJB and TNA, to unite is a repetition of the failure of the pro-Hartal parties to do so in 1953-1956.

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