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Dodgy Politics of ‘Viyathuns’

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“The Island” on Saturday (8 August) has carried a report, captioned “A sizable Viyathmaga group enters Parliament”. The content of this report should be assessed against the slogan – electing “educated” people to the Parliament, gaining currency in the recent past mainly due to the deterioration in parliamentary standards and decorum.

Under British colonialism, in 1910, it was claimed that in the Legislative Council “the low country Sinhalese, the Kandyans and Tamil peasantry are represented in the Legislative Council by native members, selected from the educated classes of these races.” But, in actual practice, British Government Agents, of the Western and Central Provinces, were nominated as the “real representatives” of the peasantry, under the pretext that the “best part of their lives has been spent in Ceylon”. Under McCullum reforms, in 1910, an “Educated Ceylonese Constituency “was declared possessing stipulated professional, income or educational qualifications for voters not registered in the European and Burgher electorates.

Have we not elected “educated” people to the legislature – to the State Council and, thereafter, to the Parliament – since we gained adult suffrage in 1931, the year we began the real electoral process? Nobody can deny that since 1931, to date, we have elected QCs, PCs, a host of lawyers of different kinds, doctors, chartered accountants, engineers, academics, including a few vice-chancellors, and other professionals, to represent the people. Many of those had held very important portfolios. Similarly, many of those were responsible for our ongoing economic, political, socio-cultural problems and disasters, as well as the blunders made in the international arena. Elaboration is not needed that it was the “educated” representatives who were behind the divisive politics, on communal lines, in Sri Lanka. One of the most eminent Vellala Mathematicians, who disliked Ivor Jennings being appointed as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ceylon, who later became an MP, was in the forefront of preventing the depressed castes of Jaffna entering the Maviddapuram Kovil, the in mid-sixties.

Is appointing more “Viyathuns” to the Parliament the solution to our economic, political and socio-cultural problems? Before answering this question one must have a clear definition of the Sinhala term “Viyatha” and its plural “Viyathun”. Here we do not intend to give its many-faceted meanings, found in classical Sinhala literature, because it is a very cumbersome exercise. There are many references to “Viyathun” and “Viyath Sabha” in classical Sinhala literature. One such reference is “Viyath Na” or “Viyath Nayaka”, signifying the Teacher of the King. This term was unashamedly used by one of our Viyathuns as one of his recent election slogans! A grave error made by many in the present context is to use the term “Viyathun” to describe professionals and technocrats, which is absolutely wrong. Another misconception is using the term “Viyathun” to denote our so-called intellectuals. Chairman Mao, in his writings, had defined clearly the class characteristics of intellectuals.

Soon after the November Presidential Elections, writing to a Sinhala weekly, I have stated that one of the biggest challenges of the new President is striking a balance between the technocrats and the seasoned politicians, headed by MR, working at grass-root level; in other words establishing a close relationship between the technocrats, who are clad in three-piece suits, and the seasoned politicians who wear cloth and banyan. The success of the future governance will depend, basically, on the success of this close affinity.

We should not forget that in the recently concluded General Elections, the Viyathuns reaped the harvests in the fields asweddumised by the grass-root level politicians, who toiled day and night, for many years, who worked against all tremendous odds, braving stormy weather and physical harm. We identify these two groups as sowers (ploughmen) and reapers. The reapers also had the benefit of the “wave” which we have observed in the 1956, 1970 and 1977 General Elections. According to popular lore, in 1977, fielding even a “polpittha” was enough to win a parliamentary seat. Riding on the waves is an easy task, rather than clearing wayside roadblocks and obstacles. The sowers were equipped with unparalleled organising ability.

Viyathuns may have produced results in their chosen fields and careers. It is not a guarantee they will succeed and stand out in a different field, under different circumstances. Only in business you convert challenges into opportunities. In politics, challenges take one to the brink of disaster.

During the recently concluded Parliamentary elections, we observed “Viyathuns” resorting to the same ugly tactics, used by seasoned politicians, when they entered the “manape” fray. We heard self-centered, egoistic slogans and saw third-grade celluloid-hero type videos. We also witnessed open conflicts, and even use of strong arm tactics, by the sowers and reapers. It was evident that to win, any “Viyatha” had to come down to the level of a grass-root level politician. Financially, materially and in terms of the number of “catchers’ around them, they were not poor. They matched or, in most cases, overwhelmed their senior cousins in advertising. It was rumoured that some obtained millions for their election campaigns. As true “Viyathuns” they should disclose their funding sources, setting an example, inculcating a new political culture.

Making loud noises, without any substance, at public gatherings, like “beating a palm frond with gravel” (“thal aththata boralu gahanawa”) is not a quality of a “Viyatha’. We saw many “Viyathuns” occupying the centre stage and later decamping, accepting high posts and becoming ideologues of the opposing camp. So, we have to be very careful when we deal with “Viyathuns” who are very liberal in their thinking, who do not have any sound political ideology, euro-centric in art and cultural values like any other politician in opposing camps, and who do not provide space to art and culture in their political agendas.

SENA THORADENIYA

 

 

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Hemasiri begins to unload against Sirisena

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Former President Maithripala Sirisena, on April 24, 2019, had told former IGP Pujith Jayasundara that if the latter took the blame for the Easter Sunday bombings he would be given his pension and posted to any country of his choice as an ambassador, former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando yesterday told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) investigating the Easter Sunday attacks.

Fernando said that Jayasundara had come to him for advice on the matter soon after Sirisena had made the offer. Fernando refused to advise him, given the sensitive nature of the proposal. “I told him that he should talk to his family members,” Fernando said.

Sirisena had also told Jayasundara that the Commission he appointed to investigate the attacks, headed by Supreme Court Judge Vijith Malalgoda, would clear the former IGP. Jayasundara only had to accept the responsibility and resign, Fernando said.

The witness also said that around 25 and 30 decisions taken by him as the Defence Secretary had not been implemented due to President Maithripala Sirisena’s interference.

“On one occasion, former IGP Jayasundara and I prepared the documents needed to transfer some police officers. The following day, Sirisena called me, scolded and asked me to cancel the list. He said he was the Defence Minister and that IGP and I had no authority to do such things. Although I tried to explain that there was no political motive behind our attempts, he was not ready to accept it.”

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SJB General Secretary condemns 20A

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By Saman Indrajith

SJB General Secretary MP Ranjith Maddumabandara yesterday said that the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution had started with all signs of dictatorial regime and any one who cherished democratic values should abhor it.

Addressing the media at the Opposition Leader’s Office in Colombo, MP Madduma Bandara said that only a very few members of the Cabinet of Ministers had seen the content of the draft bill of the proposed amendment. “Not even the Prime Minister has seen it.

Many ministers do not know what it was about. But they have been forced to pass it. Those are signs of a dictatorship being created. If this is the way the Prime Minister and the ministers of the cabinet are being treated before the 20th Amendment becoming law, we can imagine the way it will be once the amendment becomes the law,” he said.

“The MPs who vote for this bill will do so to prune down their powers themselves. Parliament has the supreme power over public finances. But as per the new laws proposed by the draft bill the parliament will lose those powers and they will be vested with the executive presidency. This bill is an attempt the undermine the powers of the legislature. So the MPs will lose their power. We hope that those in the government ranks will have clear understanding of the repercussions of this bill,” he said.

Kegalle District SJB MP Sujith Sanjaya Perera said: “The SLPP government was formed on a promise of bringing down the cost of living and provide relief to the people. They promised to produce the food needed for the country within this land. Now there is a shortage of fertilizer. Farmers complain of the collapse of their cultivations because of lack of fertilizers. Planters too complain of the fertilizer shortage. Nearly 50 per cent of tea industry has faced the problem. There would be food scarcity very soon. Farmers have no means to work for the next Maha season.”

Gampaha District SJB Member Harshana Rajakaruna displaying a coconut at the press conference said: A coconut is now priced at 100 rupees. A kilo of sugar is 150 rupees, a kilo of rice is sold at Rs 120 and the potato price has increased to 180 rupees a kilo. The cost of living is skyrocketing. Where is the relief package promised to people. That was promised at the presidential election campaign. It is nowhere to be seen.

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Now, UK concerned about detention of lawyer allegedly involved in Easter Sunday carnage

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Dinesh G. says matter before SC

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Many an eyebrow has been raised over the UK condemning the arrest of 2019 Easter Sunday attack suspect, lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah, at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council.

The Cabinet on Wednesday (16) discussed the British government criticism of Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from the 30/1 accountability resolution and current human rights situation in Sri Lanka et al.

Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena briefed the cabinet of ministers of strong criticism directed by the UK at the onset of the ongoing UNHRC sessions.

The UK’s International Ambassador for Human Rights, Rita French, in a statement delivered on behalf of Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Montenegro and the UK alleged that civil society and human rights groups in Sri Lanka experienced an increasingly difficult operating environment.

A British statement quoted Ambassador French as having said: “Instances of intimidation, harassment and surveillance continue, including threats to families of disappeared persons. Individuals are detained indefinitely without appearance before court, such as lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah.”

Declaring Sri Lanka’s dynamic and diverse civil society lies at the heart of its vibrant democracy, the Core Group expressed its strong solidarity with Sri Lanka’s civil society, and human rights defenders while requesting the government to take all steps necessary to allow them to operate freely.

Cabinet spokesman and Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella Thursday (17) told post-cabinet media briefing of Sri Lanka’s response to Core Group’s latest criticism. The Core Group also made reference to the proposed now controversial 20th Amendment to the Constitution as well as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa government quitting the Geneva process.

The UK statement further quoted Ambassador French as having said: “”It (Sri Lanka Government) has suggested that a new domestic process will take the Geneva agenda forward. While we appreciate this continued commitment, previous such processes have, regrettably, proved insufficient to tackle impunity and deliver real reconciliation. This Council will want to pay particular attention to how the new approach, will differ from these previous attempts and put the victims of conflict at its heart. The future of the Independent Commissions including the Office for Missing Persons and Office for Reparations will be particularly important.”

Responding to several questions regarding attacks on Sri Lanka over human rights and accountability issues at the post-cabinet media briefing, Minister Rambukwella pointed out that Lord Naseby had quite efficiently countered the very basis of the 30/1 accountability resolution. The minister recalled how Lord Naseby in Oct 2017 in the House of Lords set the record straight. Kandy District lawmaker pointed out that Ambassador French’s statement was nothing but an extension of accusations propagated on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations. The Media Minister was flanked by co-cabinet spokesperson Minister Dr. Ramesh Pathirana and Director General of Information Department Nalaka Kaluwewa.

Minister Rambukwella said that Sri Lanka wouldn’t succumb to international pressure.

Responding to The Island queries regarding the Core Group’s criticism, Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said that Geneva statement had been conveniently silent on why lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah was taken in by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).

The police took him into custody under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in April this year over his alleged involvement in the Easter attacks nearly a year before.

Noting that Hizbullah had moved the Supreme Court against his arrest, Minister Gunawardena pointed out that British nationals were among about 40 foreigners killed in near simultaneous suicide attacks in Colombo, Batticaloa and Katuwapitiya. Nearly 270 killed and over 400 wounded in Easter Sunday attacks.

Minister Gunawardena said that those who had been critical of certain aspects of the ongoing investigation into Easter attacks should go through the submissions made by the Attorney General‘ s

Department in respect of Hizbullah arrest before the court. The minister said that the AG compared the suspect with the late Anton Balasingham, UK based theoretician of the LTTE.

Responding to another query, the Minister said that the government would certainly inquire into UK claim that civil society and human rights groups were operating in an increasingly difficult environment.

Perhaps, they should reveal specific incidents in case the civil society and human rights groups brought them to the attention of UK the High Commission or other members of the Core Group.

Minister Gunawardena said that civil society groups worked overtime against the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) during 2019 presidential and 2020 general elections. Their high profile projects went awry, the minister said, adding that the SLPP did nothing other than to rout the political opposition at two national elections.

The Foreign Minister alleged that various interested parties were making a desperate effort to sustain anti-Sri Lanka campaign though the then government restored peace over a decade ago. Colombo based embassies couldn’t be unaware of the ground situation, Minister Gunawardena said that incident-free presidential and parliamentary polls highlighted the peaceful environment. There was absolutely no basis for accusations that civil society and human rights groups faced threats whatsoever, the MEP leader said.

Minister Gunawardena acknowledged that the government would have to set the record straight as regards war crimes accusations reiterated by some lawmakers from the North at the inauguration of the 9th parliament.

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