by Kumar David
Today I am courting an avalanche of invective and censure from hyperactive readers. You live only once so why not I live dangerously? My objective is serious. It’s about left leaders who did ‘this or that’ and whose plans misfired. Can we distinguish between the unforeseeable, plain bad luck, errors of judgement made in good faith, opportunists, sons of bachelors and progeny of female canines? I intend to argue that the coalition tactic of NM et al is a case of bad luck and error of judgement, not greed and corruption. Conversely the politics of Tissa, Vasu and DEW is not forgivable, it is opportunism. I did not support NM’s Coalition Resolution at the fateful 1964 LSSP Party Conference, so I don’t need to make excuses for his standpoint. A large number of other MPs, Provincial Councillors and Local Representatives belong to even lower breeds.
A comment one hears is “It was easy to convert (some say corrupt) NM, Colvin et al to Sirima”, but that is wrong. The LSSP and CP made a political decision, a wrong not a corrupt decision and that is the starting point of my intervention. The left in the 1960s and early 70s, not only in Ceylon but also Algeria, Chile, India, Indonesia and in fact almost everywhere theorised that world-wide a period in which a broad anti-comprador, anti-imperialist unity would be the vehicle of progress had dawned. In the terminology of the time “an alliance of all progressive forces including the national bourgeoisie was necessary”. Hector was the principle architect of this model in the LSSP and theorised extensively in his writings. Was this a bogus theory that NM etc. adopted to secure cabinet posts and sinecures, which is what the Dead-Left is doing today in snuggling up to the Rajapaksas? Did NM covet a job in Sirima’s cabinet – Nonsense! It is no secret that the ‘golden brained’ left leaders despised their soon to be counterpart morons in Sirima’s Cabinet.
In the context of the Cuban and Algerian revolutions, the launch of the non-aligned movement and stunning victories in Vietnam, the majority in the left believed that global class power correlations had been transformed. Socialism it seemed was a low hanging fruit to be plucked with ease; and given the intellectual superiority of the left leaders and the powerful party and working class organisations that stood behind them, the challenge had to be grasped. But it was not the prowess of individuals and most certainly not a deficit of moral probity that settled the outcome, it was the way in which objective reality evolved. The global economic plunge rooted in the end of the post-war boom of Western capitalism, two oil price crises, the disorientation the left suffered globally due to the madness of the Cultural Revolution and the vicious counter-attacks of neo-liberalism, were neither foreseen nor factored in. Many left populist regimes suffered defeat: Algeria (Boumédiène’s coup 1965), Indonesia (removal of Sukarno in 1967), Chile (Pinochet’s coup of 1973) and Pakistan (overthrow of Bhutto in 1977). The only bright spots were that Cuba survived but only just and Vietnam won. The expulsion of the left in 1975 from the Coalition that prefigured the JR regime fitted this emergence of the global hegemony of Regan-Thatcher neo-liberalism.
Can we blame the failure of the Coalition (hence the downfall of NM etc.) on global bad luck alone and say that big mistakes in domestic affairs were not made? No, that would not be true. Though NM rebuilt the nation’s finances he pushed too hard and too far. The austerity measures hurt the masses too much; he should have been cunning and relaxed in about 1973 though it would have slowed down the resuscitation of nation’s financial viability. True the 1971 JVP Insurrection was, to borrow Lenin’s terminology
, an infantile leftist disorder of theoretically clueless and strategically disoriented youth, but the left parties should not have eviscerated these misguided intellectually late maturing adolescents so harshly and they should have intervened to protect them from massacre by the state. The military and police tasted blood in 1971 and again in 1989 and let the Tamils have the full force of it later. There are fundamental errors in the 1972 Republican Constitution as well. So yes, the left in coalition did err.
The errors and misjudgements that I briefly summarised, are as different from the opportunism and greed for Cabinet posts and perks of the leftists of the next generation, as heaven is from earth. I don’t want to take off on a protracted exercise of scolding and denigrating the Dead-Left but I want to drive home the difference between the reasons for the defeat of the first generation of leftists and the narrow aims of the next generation. However even this second generation of pygmy leftists are a cut above blackguard mainstream politicians whose hands are deep in the honey pots of public finance, nepotism and racism. Since the county is overloaded with this moan, further comment from me is redundant. I am, to be sure like most readers and columnists, very tired of upbraiding the regime, its leaders and its parliamentarians. Nine out of ten opinions one reads and 99 of every 100 conversations one engages in, lambasts the government of the day. Can’t it become the defined and accepted editorial policy of all newspapers, websites and TV stations that devote their attention to Sri Lanka, that we don’t need to repeat this; can’t it be taken as given. Consider how much newsprint and digital resources we could save! If that could be agreed then neither I or legions of other commentators would not need to say that the old left leaders erred, sometimes grievously but they are demi-gods in comparison with the sons of bachelors and of curs that fill the political scene these days.
This compels me to repeat a theme that I introduced just three weeks ago and I feel disappointed that did not evoke much support. It is unfortunate but true that the people of Lanka have become habituated to electing blackguards from the village level up to Kotte at all levels of representative assembly. The redeeming feature is that our people are as short of patience as they are blighted of memory. Months ago I was the first to emphasise that the popularity of the Double-(Raja)Paksa Presidency and Government had collapsed. A regime elected by near unprecedented majorities had become the country’s most despised in a period measured in months. It is imperative therefore, given this character and temperament of our people that legislative (or constitutional) reforms be enacted to enshrine the Right to Recall at all levels of our electoral system. I am disappointed that my suggestion has not evoked interest.
Indian anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare sought empowerment of the electorate to recall elected representatives many years ago. That is giving the electorate power to remove or de-elect an MP before the expiry of his/her term of office. It is logical that if people elect representatives they should also have the power to remove them. It is a tool to exercise greater control and a whip to ensure greater accountability including the right to remove the corrupt and the criminal. Recall confers on the electorate the power to ‘de-elect’ their representatives through a direct vote initiated when a minimum number of voters registered in an electoral role sign a recall petition. The most useful aspect of the right is not actual recall which may be used infrequently, but the threat which will deter MPs from abusing their position. The other advantage of the system is that it will deter candidates from spending millions of rupees on elections because the opportunities for earning by indulging in corrupt practices is not guaranteed. It is incontestable that Sri Lanka has an urgent need for the right to recall Members of Parliament, Provincial Councils and Local Government bodies at all levels.
In the United States there have been upward of 150 recall elections of Governors, Senators, Mayors, State Legislators and City Council members from 1911 till the present time; about 75 were successful. Recall of Members of the British Parliament in now possible under legislation enacted in 2015 for defined offences less than those resulting in automatic disqualification. These petitions are automatic and triggered by a Local Returning Officer of Elections, not by popular initiative. If the subsequent recall petition is signed by at least 10% of the electorate, a by-election is called. On 1 May 2019, Fiona Onasanya was the first MP to be removed from office. Many countries on the American continent (Argentina, Canada, Columbia, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela among others) have Federal or State recall laws which have been successfully used. Switzerland, India, Germany, Ukraine, Latvia and the old Soviet Union have recall legislation in different forms covering the whole nation or certain States/Provinces. In strong federal systems provinces can enact legislation for themselves. The powers and mechanisms pertaining to these Right to Recall laws vary a great deal and are tailored to suit each case.
President picks up the gauntlet
by Jehan Perera
By proroguing parliament President Ranil Wickremesinghe has given the parliamentarians, and the country at large, a reminder of the power of the presidency. There was no evident reason for the president to suddenly decide to prorogue parliament. More than 40 parliamentary committees, including important ones concerning public finances, enterprises and accounts have ceased to function. The president’s office has said that when parliament reconvenes on February 8, after the celebration of the country’s 75th Independence Day on February 4, the president will announce new policies and laws, which will be implemented until the centenary celebrations of Sri Lanka’s independence in 2048. Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew transformed Singapore from a relatively underdeveloped and impoverished agrarian society into one of the world’s most developed countries in the same 25 years that the president has set for Sri Lanka.
President Wickremesinghe has been getting increasingly assertive regarding his position on issues. Recently he attended a large gathering of Muslim clerics, where he was firm in saying that society needs to modernise, and so do religious practices. He has also held fast to his positions on reviving the economy and resolving the economy. There have been widespread protests against the tax hikes being implemented which have eroded the purchasing power of taxpayers. First they had to absorb the impact of inflation that rose to a rate of 80 percent at the time the country reneged on its foreign debt repayments and declared bankruptcy. Now they find their much diminished real incomes being further reduced by a tax rate that reaches 36 percent.
But the government is not relenting. President Wickremesinghe, who holds the finance minister’s portfolio, is going against popular sentiment in being unyielding on the matter of taxes. He appears determined to force the country away from decades of government policies that took the easy route of offering subsidies rather than imposing taxes to use for government expenses and development purposes. In Sri Lanka, the government’s tax revenue is less than 8 percent, whereas in comparable countries the tax revenue is around 20 to 25 percent. The long term cost of living off foreign borrowings rather than generating resources domestically through taxation has been evident for a long while in the slow growth of the economy even prior to the economic collapse.
Another area in which the president appears to have taken the decision to stand firm is the issue of finding a solution to the ethnic conflict. This problem has proven to be unresolvable by governments and political leaders who give deference to ethnic nationalism. Being an ethnic nationalist in the context of Sri Lanka’s ethnic and religious divisions has been a sure way of gaining votes and securing election victories. No leader in Sri Lanka has to date been able to implement the compromise solutions that they periodically arrived at, the last being the 13th Amendment. Earlier ones included the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact of 1957 and the Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact of 1965 which could not even be started to be implemented.
At the All Party meeting that he summoned to discuss the ethnic conflict and national reconciliation, President Wickremesinghe took the bull by the horns. He exchanged words with ethnic nationalist parliamentarians who sought to challenge his legitimacy to be making changes. He said, “It is my responsibility as the Executive to carry out the current law. For approximately 37 years, the 13th Amendment has been a part of the constitution. I must implement or someone has to abolish it by way of a 22nd amendment to the constitution by moving a private member’s bill. If the bill was voted against by the majority in the House, then the 13th amendment would have to be implemented. We can’t remain in a middle position saying that either we don’t implement the 13th amendment or abolish it.”
The 13th Amendment has not been fully implemented since it was passed by parliament with a 2/3 majority in 1987. Successive governments, including ones the president has been a member of variously as a minister or prime minister, have failed to implement it in a significant manner, especially as regards the devolution of police and land powers. When parliament reconvenes on February 8 after prorogation, President Wickremesinghe will be provided the opportunity to address both the parliament and the country on the way forward. Having demonstrated the power of the presidency to prorogue parliament at his discretion, he will be able to set forth his vision of the solution to the ethnic conflict and the roadmap that needs to be followed to get to national reconciliation.
It is significant that on February 20, the president will also acquire the power to dissolve parliament at his discretion. By proroguing parliament, the president has sent a message to both parliamentarians and the larger society that he will soon have the power to dissolve parliament with the same suddenness that he prorogued parliament. On February 20, the parliament would have been in existence for two and a half years. The 21st Amendment empowers the president to dissolve parliament after two and a half years. Most of the parliamentarians belonging to the ruling party are no longer in a position to go to their electorates let alone canvass for votes among the people. Under these fraught circumstances, they would not wish to challenge the president or his commitment to implementing the 13th Amendment in full.
On the other hand, the taming of parliament by the president does not guarantee the success of an accommodation on the ethnic conflict and a sustainable political solution. The ethnic conflict evokes the primordial sentiments of the different ethnic and religious communities. Political parties and politicians are often portrayed as the villains who led the country to decades of ethnic conflict and to war. However, the conflict in the country predates the political parties. In 1928, in response to demands from community leaders in Ceylon as it was then known, the British colonial rulers sent a commission to the country to ascertain whether it was ready for self-rule. The assessment was negative—the Donoughmore commission wrote that the representatives of the biggest community held to the position that their interest was the national interest. All the representatives of the smaller communities who were divided one against the other were united against the biggest.
An important role therefore devolves upon civil society not to fall prey to the divisions that come down the years. There is a need for enlightened leaders of civil society to work with commitment to explain to the people the need for a political solution and inter-ethnic power sharing that the 13th Amendment makes possible. There were signs of this during the height of the Aragalaya when the youth leading the protests called publicly for equal citizenship and non-discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, religion and caste. They pledged not to be divided by ethnic nationalist politicians for their narrow electoral purposes. It is ironic that the government led by President Wickremesinghe has made these enlightened youth leaders the target of a campaign of persecution instead of making them a part of the solution by constructively engaging with them and issuing a general amnesty.
Privatisation of education and demonising of students of Lanka
by Anushka Kahandagamage
Sri Lanka is trapped in debt due to decades of corruption and short-sighted economic policies. To come out of the trap or, I would say, escape the moment, the government is seeking loans from the IMF, or anybody else who is willing to lend, no matter the conditions. To this end, under the IMF’s tutelage, the government is seeking to privatise education, aware that it will face the wrath of the people. In this setting, to suppress the protests, the government has adopted a strategy of demonising students, in the public education system.
School children as “drug addicts”
A media empire, which has strong ties with the current Lankan regime, recently sent shockwaves through schools, and their communities, by reporting cases of school children hooked on harmful narcotics. Following these reports, there were many write ups, social media content and stories published on the menace of drug addiction, among Sri Lankan students. That media network even released a video, interviewing two schoolgirls who claimed to be addicted to harmful substances. In the midst of the media frenzy, the police carried out surprise checks in schools, searching students’ bags. The state humiliated and terrified school children by using the police to conduct surprise checks in the schools and peek into the students’ backpacks, instead of investigating the avenues through which dangerous drugs enter the country. After a week, the Minister of Education claimed he was unaware that the police were conducting surprise checks in schools, with sniffer dogs, adding that there was no need to deploy the police force for this purpose. If the Minister was not aware that the police raided schools, it is not surprising that the state would also turn a blind eye to how narcotics enter the country. While there is a risk of students addicting to dangerous drugs, the state cannot place all the blame on students. Instead of taking responsibility for the state of affairs, and acting to keep harmful substances off the island, the state places the burden on schoolchildren and simply refers to them as “drug addicts.”
Bhikku students as “alcoholics”
The next example is from the Buddhist and Pali University, in Homagama. Similar to the first story, the same media network reported some irregularities occurring in the University. Those irregularities included the student monks forcing incoming students, also monks, to consume weed, liquor and party. Following this news report, some investigations were conducted in the University and empty liquor bottles were found in an abandoned well. Then we witnessed several press conferences where University authorities questioned the student monk leaders. While one cannot and should not disregard students’ violence upon another student, it is interesting to note the way the government is taking up the particular incident, at this particular point of time. There was a massive social media campaign to show that the student-monks are immoral and unworthy of education. It cannot be a coincidence that the student monks, at this University, were actively involved in the Aragalaya. In other words, the government was trying to defame the University, and the students, by labelling them as oppressors and alcoholics.
The Rajapaksa regime continuously used Buddhist monks, in their political operations, especially to incite conflict and win elections. The state has frequently deployed Buddhist monks to further its nationalist agendas. When the state used monks for their agendas, including to instigate violence, the monks were not framed as ‘immoral.’ The higher Buddhist authorities did not take action against groups, like Bodu Bala Sena, or Ravana Balaya, or their violent activities. It is ironic that the Government seems to be concerned about the ‘morality’ or ‘discipline’ of Bhikkus at this moment when many student Bhikkus have joined hands with the people to protest against the state.
University students as “terrorists”
The last example is the most pressing at this moment. On 18th of August, 2022, the police arrested Wasantha Mudalige, the Convenor of the Inter-University Students Federation, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Along with him, the authorities detained Hashan Jeewantha and the convener of the Inter University Bhikku Federation (IUBF), Galwewa Siridhamma Thera. The state labelled the politically active university students as “terrorists”. Again, this cannot have happened by chance; we all know the Aragalaya against the Rajapaksa dictatorship was heavily influenced by the Inter-University Students Federation and the Inter University Bhikku Federation. The student unions were the muscle of the people’s protests against the oppressive and corrupt regime. The Ranil-Rajapaksa regime labelled the student leaders’ terrorists and started arresting them.
The state’s stamping of University students as terrorists is a folly. If the state labels its own youth as “terrorists,” it means that the state has failed miserably because it is its own actions that have pushed them toward what is labelled as “terrorism.” The state should take a step back and reconsider its decisions.
Privatization of Education
The government and the government-validating media demonize students, labelling them as drug addicts, alcoholics and terrorists. The government undermines and defames the country’s student body. By doing so, the government is strategically isolating the students from the larger society and eroding public faith in them. Ironically, drug addicts, alcoholics, and terrorists are all confined to the public school and state university system, not private educational institutions. The media propagates the idea that students enrolled in the state education system are ‘immoral’ and ‘disobedient’. Meanwhile, Ranil Wickremesinghe, the puppet President of the Rajapaksa allies, proposes a new economic system which he thinks will counter the current balance of payment crisis. The proposal includes establishing an educational hub in Sri Lanka, which promises to privatise higher education in the long-term.
The state agenda of privatizing education is not a recent one, but it has been reenergized by the Ranil-Rajapaksa government in the context of crisis. Well before demonising the students, in the public education system, in June 2022 the government, national education commission, came up with an education policy framework.
Biased towards Rajapaksa ideologies, the national education commission that developed the policy, proposed to expand the privatization of higher education. In their report, the committee presents a table demonstrating how Sri Lanka allocates less money on higher education compared with the other middle-income countries. The next section outlines the way Sri Lanka relies more on government grants for higher education than other middle-income countries, which is confusing and contradictory, perhaps reflecting the grossly inadequate overall investment in higher education in the country. Then the report goes on to analyse how the poor school education system creates an unskillful student who is unable to think critically. It finally recommends promoting private participation in higher education, not only through funding but also by matching the curricula to fit the market and increase the “employability” of students. While on the one hand government pushes for privatising higher education, on the other, it demonizes the students in the public educational system. The State has seized the problem by its tail. The government is unable to perceive its own flaws in short-sighted policymaking, law enforcement, and corruption, and instead accuses and defames students, to distract them from its concerted effort to privatise education.
Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.
(Anushka Kahandagamage is reading for her PhD in the School of Social Sciences, University of Otago)
Janaka…Keeping the Elvis scene alive
For the past three years, local performers have certainly felt the heat, where work is concerned, beginning with the Easter Sunday tragedy, followed by Covid-19 restrictions, and then the political situation
Right now, there seems to be a glimmer of light, at the end of the tunnel, and musicians are hoping that, finally, the scene would brighten up for the entertainment industry.
Janaka Palapathwala, whose singing style, and repertoire, is reminiscent of the late Elvis Presley, says he was so sad and disappointed that he could not reach out to his fans, around the world, because of the situation that cropped up in the country.
However, he did the next best thing possible – a Virtual Concert, early last year, and had this to say about it:
“The concert was witnessed by so many people around the world, in 12 different countries, and I take this opportunity to thank all those who showed a great interest, around the world, to make the show a mighty success. Lasantha Fernando of Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the USA, went out of the way to pull a huge crowd, in the States, to make the concert a massive success. Lasantha, by the way, has done many shows, in Minnesota, including a concert of mine, four years ago.”
Toward the end of 2022, the showbiz scene started to look good, with musicians having work coming their way – shows, sing-alongs, events, overseas tours, recordings, etc.
Janaka added that the Gold FM ’70s show was back after six years, and that the music industry is grateful to Gold FM for supporting musicians with such an awesome event.
“Also, the unity and the togetherness of the Sri Lankan western musicians, scattered around the globe, were brought together, once again, by the guidance of Melantha Perera.
“The song ‘Baby Jesus Is Fast Asleep’, written, composed and directed by Melantha, was a true Christmas gift to people around the world.”
Referring to his career, Janaka said that these days he is involved in a mega video production project.
“I intend to do a road show for a total Dinner Dance Promotion package, titled ‘Janaka with Melantha and the Sign’.
“Phase One of the project is already completed, and we are now heading for the second phase, where we plan to get Sohan Weerasinghe, Clifford Richards and Stephanie Siriwardane involved in the cast”.
Janaka also spoke excitedly about his forthcoming trip to the USA.
“I’m so excited to tour the USA, after three years. The ‘Spring Tour USA 2023′ is going to be different.
“I’ve done formal concerts, in the States, but this Spring Tour will be a series of Dinner Dances where I would be seen in action, along with the top ranked DJ of Washington D.C., Shawn Groove, and some of the best domestic bands in the States, and I can assure all my friends, and fans, in the US, that this new venture is going to be doubly exciting.”
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