Hong Kong was a business centre and a popular intermediate port of call for all western countries for more than 800 years. Ships were anchored there before they ventured up the Pearl River to Canton (now Guangzhou) to conduct their business in commodities such as in tea, porcelain and silk. In return for these Chinese products, the British, to maintain the credit balance, introduced opium, grown in India, and sold it to China. Eventually, when China wanted to prohibit the importation and sale of opium, the British declared war. In 1842, after the end of the so-called first Opium war, China ceded Hong Kong Island to Britain. This was followed after the second Opium War ended. Britain obtained a 99-year lease of the now expanded Kowloon Peninsular and New Territories for a period of 99 years, commencing in 1898.
In 1925, the authorities acquired a strip of flat land for use as a flying club on a property near the Victoria Harbour, which was being reclaimed and developed by a Dr Ho Kai and Mr Au Tak. The airfield was also used by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and then in 1936, the first Imperial Airways aircraft, to land there, was a DH 86A Express (4-engine, biplane) with Cargo and just one passenger.
During the Japanese occupation in WW 2, the original runway was extended using prisoners of war labour. Cathay Pacific Airways was founded after the war in 1946 with a solitary war surplus DC-3 named ‘Betsy’ with the initial intention of importing wool from Australia. Meanwhile, the population in Hong Kong was growing with refugees fleeing Communist China. To house them all many highrise buildings were constructed. As labour was cheap, luxury and electronic goods began to be also manufactured in abundance in Hong Kong. In 1958, the short runway, at what was now called the Kai Tak aerodrome, was extended to 8,000 ft. and then later extended to accommodate the wide body, big jets, such as the Boeing 747, Douglas DC10 and Lockheed L1011 Tri Stars.
The problem with Kai Tak was that the landing approach to one end of its runway was over the Hong Kong harbour, between high ground in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, involving a low turn at 550 feet at 2.2 miles. Even for veteran pilots it was exciting, especially in bad weather with high wind and low visibility, to which Hong Kong is often subjected to. Eventually, it became the busiest single-runway, cargo airport in the world, working to its full capacity.
From the early eighties, Air Lanka, too, had regular flights from Bangkok, Thailand to Hong Kong. During those days someone had built a cement factory in Hong Kong harbour and that used to spew out smoke. As a result, even on days with good weather the visibility was bad. On the hillside of a park called Lok Fu, at the end of the approach of the Instrument Guidance System (IGS), there was a ‘Checker board’ and pilots were expected to fly visually towards it.
Additionally, they had flashing lead in-lights also known as ‘rabbit lights’, mounted in the sea, directing the aircraft on a curved approach path to the landing threshold. Safeguards had to be in place such as two different electrical sources on alternative lights to prevent total failure. Closer to the touch down end, lights with limited beam width (to ensure accurate flying) were mounted on building roof tops as the final approach was low over these buildings. By law, no other flashing lights were allowed in the area. Not even for advertising thereby minimising the chances of pilots making mistakes. The lights were ‘on’ 24/7. There were two settings. High intensity during bad weather and day time and low intensity during night time.
I started flying into Kai Tak as a First Officer in the early eighties in the old Boeing 707 aircraft, which needed a lot of muscle to manually fly that critical approach to the runway, known as ‘Runway 13’. Then we graduated to the Lockheed Tri Stars, which made matters easier with a bigger flight deck with larger windows improving visibility on the final approach descending low level turn in excess of 40 degrees.
Finally, Air Lanka invested in ‘fly by wire’ Airbus A340 aircraft, which needed no muscle at all but the excitement was still the same which necessitated each flight crew member to adjourn to the toilet before the top of descent for a ‘nervous pee’. This happened every time all the time! One day, soon after Air Lanka acquired the A340, I was required to operate an evening flight to Kai Tak. Due to the A340’s design, our crew had reduced to two (Captain and First Officer) in the flight deck from the previous three (Captain, First Officer and Second Officer/Flight Engineer). It was mainly to reduce the fixed costs of crew salaries. The S/O or F/E had a vital role to play besides operating the panel. He was an extra pair of eyes, when things got busy, vital actions wouldn’t be missed and mistakes not made.
After take-off from Bangkok we were told that a Director of Air Lanka and his wife were on board our flight. This officer and gentleman had a reputation of being a strict disciplinarian, a proud product of the Royal Air Force (RAF) College Cranwell, a former Royal Ceylon Air Force (RCyAF) Officer, and a Flight Instructor of some of my own Flight instructors in the SLAF. Having left the RCyAF, he had flown with the RAF. After retirement from the RAF he joined one of the many civil flying schools at Ratmalana as Chief Flight Instructor.
According to some of his students, although he was a very competent Flight Instructor, he ran a ‘tight ship’ and had a ‘short fuse’. Some students shivered in their boots. A definite ‘no-no’ in modern times. Being a close friend and neighbour of the then ‘Royal Family’ at Horagolla, he was later appointed a Director at Airport and Aviation Ltd Sri Lanka (AASL) and subsequently a Director at Air Lanka. The feedback I received by my own SLAF instructors and relatively junior Air Lanka First Officers who were trained by him, was that he didn’t shake hands and that his social behaviour was highly unpredictable. I had never met him but his reputation went ahead of him. It was an understatement to say that I was a bit apprehensive. I had heard that a few months before, when he was a Director at AASL he had chided one of his ex-colleagues for inviting his (the Director’s) wife to sit in the flight deck for the landing!
Anyway, courtesy demanded that at some point during the flight between Bangkok and Hong Kong, I had to make myself known as the Captain of the flight. What better time than the top of descent into Hong Kong when I would be going to the cabin to fulfil my ‘physiological’ need. After exchanging pleasantries, (I didn’t shake hands though) I invited him to sit in for the approach and landing which was always thrilling. He mentioned that he had flown into Hong Kong before in Bristol Britannia and Vickers VC 10 aircraft and requested that I permit his wife to do so. I was totally taken by surprise, but able to hide my reactions and agreed without hesitation.
The flight was uneventful until the latter part of the descent where we were informed by Hong Kong Control that the expected IGS for Runway 13 was unserviceable and instead they offered us an older, non-precision approach known as a ‘Visual Step Down’. Although neither my First Officer nor I had done such an approach before, we were carrying the necessary maps and charts that would allow us to safely carry out such an exercise. The French, UTA Douglas DC 8 pilots with whom Air Ceylon pilots flew used to say, “If you could read and understand English, then you can fly anywhere”. We could do the same (read and understand). The only problem was that the right turn to the final approach, after Stone Cutters Island, was almost 100 degrees in comparison to the regular IGS Approach which was only 47 degrees to the right. Both turns need to be done manually keeping the runway in sight.
The change of approach also meant a delay to all inbound traffic as adequate traffic separation had to be maintained. Now dusk turned to night. At last we were cleared for our self-briefed approach. Just as we got to the minimum descent altitude (it was a ‘gin’ clear night), we looked out and could see nothing familiar. Upendra, my First Officer, suggested dutifully that we should go-around. Then, it struck me that if I go slightly left I may catch a glimpse of the lead-in lights, which were flashing 24/7 in the harbour. Sure enough the lights were still on. I announced “Lead-in lights in sight” and continued with a sense of relief.
The approach speed of the ‘fly by wire’ A340 aircraft can be ‘selected’ by the pilot or ‘managed’ by the autopilot. On ‘selected’ mode the autopilot maintains any speed selected by the pilot in an airspeed window. On the other hand, the ‘managed speed’ automatically maintains an appropriate speed, depending on the flap setting. For that to happen we had to ‘activate the approach’ programmed through the Flight Management System (FMS) computers beforehand. I kept the autopilot on so that both pilots could search for visual cues to establish where we were. What the autopilot was doing was reflected exactly in our flight instruments. So, the plan was to take the autopilot off and continue to fly manually after visually establishing our position. The standard phraseology was “Autopilot off, speed managed”.
This time when the speed was managed it went up to 250 knots and the engines spooled up! We had forgotten to ‘activate our approach’ in the rush when our workload increased. If a third crew member had been there he would have probably reminded us to programme our FMS Computers well ahead of commencing the approach. Since it was too late to turn our heads in to programme them, I then did the next best thing possible and called for “selected speed and 140 knots” (our target approach speed), which was selected by First Officer Upendra and we proceeded to land. That saved the day and engine power returned to normal, ending up in a good approach and landing in the night. I am sure our lady guest in the Flight Deck was impressed.
Every flight has its own share of ‘Threats and Errors’. By definition Threats are external factors beyond the control of the crew and Errors are mistakes made from within by the crew members themselves either collectively or individually. An error could turn into a threat and vice versa. The task of the crew is to mitigate threats and trap the errors made to make it a safe flight. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) carries out regular Line Orientated Safety Audits (LOSA) on member airlines to ensure that these principles of air safety are met.
Flame throwers as deterrent to wild elephant incursions into cultivations?
Much has been written in the news and social media about the sad and continuing Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) . I have read somewhere subject to correction, that most amount of elephant deaths caused by this conflict has been recorded in Sri Lanka, compared to other elephant habitats.
Independent wild life experts and officials of the Wild Life Department have discussed this matter on numerous occasions, but there seems to be no sustainable solution, effective in the long term. In my view the basic problem is that human being have encroached into Elephant Country, in which these mighty animals have lived for generations and taken over the territory, they rightfully occupied for ages. This is another result of the so-called development that every country talks about but that development at the risk of damaging the environment is not sustainable. Many developed countries protect the environment at any cost in preference to so-called development but not in our country.
I am not an expert in resolving the HEC but I have a little experience . When I was Chairman of Pelwatte Sugar Industries Ltd, the Pelwatte Sugar Plantation had been created by replacing forest land to grow sugar. The then government gave some very attractive incentives to bring a Multinational Company to commence sugar cultivation in Sri Lanka. Thousands of acres of forest land were cleared to plant sugar cane. It was a big investment with an extensive infrastructure including bungalows for the top management and also for staff officers.
There were regular incursions by elephants who loved the sugar cane. The Plantation attempted to prevent the elephants destroying the sugar cane by constructing electric fences which they had to maintain, large elephant ditches, which had to be desilted after every monsoon, and so-called elephant drives which were only temporarily effective. I have watched the poor elephants being driven by large number of vehicles, using crackers and other means.
Basically, the above mentioned are the only strategies used in Sri Lanka for human beings to drive away the elephants from their traditional forests after removing the forest and converting it to various types of cultivations. In Africa , it is reported that they rear bees in artificial hives, as surprisingly these huge animals fear the bees which sting them in their eyes . I am not aware of such a strategy being adopted in our country.
The poor elephants are also trapped or fed with “hakapattas” which are devices with an explosive hidden in some morsel of food that elephants love. They try to eat the food resulting the blast inside their mouth, totally dislocating their jaws and ultimately resulting in death.
The Wild Life Department is supposed to be giving the villagers some ” wedillas” . Only one to three are given to a single villager . The elephant is intelligent enough to realize that if they bide their time after the limited wedilla’s are used, they can easily romp in. This is the only protection afforded to the poor villagers.
We have seen TV pictures of many homes of villagers totally destroyed over and over again, as there is no protection against these huge animals. Their stocks of paddy is also devoured and all their crops destroyed repeatedly. These houses have been built by their hard earned money and totally destroyed over a single night. They have to protect their crops by night and also protect their homes and wives and children. They have absolutely no salvation.
The authorities who are experts on Wild Life Conservation, I believe have various plans, but there is no accepted, integrated plan of action, other than for the villagers to suffer without any relief and for elephants to suffer by their injuries and ultimate deaths.
I have been thinking about it for some time and came across of a possible strategy which of course has to be appoved by the department of Wild Life and for the large population of genuine elephant lovers , who have tried their best to solve this problem but failed up to date. I thought of a particular device called a flame thrower. According to Google, (picture attached ), this flame thrower can be purchased in the US without a license and it can be used over and over again, if it is is refueled. I believe it cost around US$500 , plus of course the fuel used for producing the flame. There is possibily one catch and that is I believe sometime after the 1st World War, it was decided to ban armies from using this very potent weapon which can totally destroy small buildings, army camps etc., against individuals.
I do not intend them to be used to kill or maim elephants, but as a very effective deterrent at long range. I would like to have the views of the wild life experts before anyone can consider using this weapon as a deterrent. Mine is only a suggestion, as we continue to have elephant and human deaths, without any action taken to prevent same.
A COSTLY ADVENTURE – Part 14
CONFESSIONS OF A GLOBAL GYPSY
By Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil
President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada
Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum
Inspired by a Cycling Legend
When I was a little kid, my hero was Morris Coomarawel, who was the first cyclist to represent Ceylon in the Olympics (Rome 1960, at the age of 19). Then at age six, I rode my tricycle every evening in our front yard, imagining that I was Morris. In the years 1960, 1962, and 1963 Morris won the Tour de Lanka Cycle Race against several hundred older contestants. I was amazed that a teenager could cycle around 460 kilometers within 15 hours. Once a year, I impatiently awaited among a large group of fans, by the Galle Road near Bambalapitiya Flats, to cheer and watch Morris getting closer to the finish. Usually, he did so about 30 minutes ahead of the second placed cyclist.
I was not a natural cyclist. When I was in my pre-teens, I took a long time to learn how to balance in order to avoid falling when cycling around the bends. Determined to master the basics, I used to cycle around Havelock Park for hours. When I joined the Ceylon Hotel School (CHS), having met many colleagues who liked to cycle motivated me to get involved in organizing a cycling adventure.
The Cycling Adventure of the Iron Horses
Finally in 1973, the organizers of the adventure were able to convince about 15 of my CHS buddies to join a five-day cycling trip covering four (Western, Southern, Uva and Sabaragamuwa) of the nine provinces in Sri Lanka. When they heard that the plan was to cut CHS classes for two days to do the trip, three of them dropped off in fear of being punished by the CHS Principal. The rest of us who agreed to go on the trip planned details, itinerary, overnight free accommodation in friends’ homes, the budget, logistics and supplies at the CHS hostel. We called ourselves, ‘Iron Horses’. We commenced our trip on Thursday, May 17, 1973, which was the Vesak full moon religious holiday. We cut school on Friday and Monday.
We knew that during our trip, we would see many Vesak lanterns, decorations and pandals (thoran) illustrating selected stories from the 550 past life stories of the Gautama Buddha, erected islandwide at public places. During the trip, we planned to get free meals from many dansalas that offered food and soft drinks free to any visitor. These added color to our adventure and less stress on our pockets.
On the first day, having started early in the morning, we took the whole day to cycle 120 kilometers from Colombo to Galle. Having had no practice runs, it was tough at the begining of the trip. After about 50 kilometers our legs gradually got used to the rhythm of pedaling. I frequently led the group while, Udda, the best cyclist and cycle repairman of the lot rode last. He kept an eye on mates who were a bit unfit. We were not in a great hurry. We spent a lot of time sight-seeing, toddy-drinking, sea-bathing, joking with village girls and resting under large trees in between. In Galle we spent the first night in the home of a CHS colleague from the junior batch who was not given much notice about our arrival.
While cycling, this student, Sumithra waved at us from a CTB bus going towards Galle. Knowing that his home was in Galle, we quickly shouted at him, “Machang, can we stay at your place tonight?” I think that he had doubts that we will ever make it to Galle on those old, rusted and badly maintained bicycles. He quicky shouted back at us from the moving bus, “OK, please come!” When 12 of us showed up at his doorstep that evening, he and his mother were most surprised. However, they were most hospitable and with the help of their servants they quicky prepared a good dinner for us. We roughed out and slept on mats in their large living room.
The second day, we covered much less distance, only around 30 kilometers. The reason for this was that we had free accommodation pre-arranged in Weligama in a large house of a very generous CHS student one year senior to us, Chandralal. On the way, we had a sumptuous lunch in the home of the grandmother of an Iron Horse (Kotte). As this house was by the beach, a before lunch sea-bath whetted our appetite for a sumptuous home-cooked lunch with many Southern specialties.
On the third day, we covered the longest distance, over 160 kilometers passing the Nonagama Junction and going towards Udawalawe in the middle of a thick jungle. The villagers warned us about wild elephants in that remote road which we cycled hours after sunset. At that time Sri Lanka had no highways or street lights outside the main cities. Only Udda’s bicycle had lights and proper brakes. All others were fairly old. That added to the spirit of our adventure. Finally, we managed to arrive at our destination, a large ancestral home (walawwa) in Godakawela, owned by the famiy of Sunil, a memer of our group. This house was surrounded by a large estate and had a beautiful pond well covered with tall trees. Before dinner, 12 of us had a refreshing skinny dip in that pond in the moonlight. A few of us did not spend too much time in the water for fear of snakes. The rest were a little too drunk and stupid to think of such dangers.
On the fourth day, we were drenched by heavy monsoon rains. This was an excuse for us to make several stops at dansalas for free vegetarian lunches. Riding in the rain was fun, but we were soaked without any dry clothes to change into. Finally, just after 40 kilometers of riding we arrived at our final night stop. It was the home of one of our CHS lecturers (Mr. Kumar Thambyah) and his younger brother (Lalith) who was one year senior to us at CHS. Their home was in the beautiful hilly suburbs of the City of Ratnapura. That evening, after dinner, we celebrated our adventure with a long baila singing session. With the help of some Gal and Pol arrack, our singing became louder and more out of tune towards midnight.
The fifth and last day was a race to see who would return to Colombo first. It was a ride of around 110 kilometers From Ratnapura to our hostel. We were able to finish the race before sunset. At the CHS hostel we were given a rousing hero’s welcome by fellow hostellers. Returning first, I finally felt like Morris Coomarawel although we took five days to cover a distance of 460 kilometers, which Morris used to do in a single day. Nevertheless, we were pleased that we completed our adventure without any major problems.
Soon we heard the bad news about a looming major problem. The Principal and the Vice Principal were very disappointed that nearly half the students in my batch, were absent from CHS for two days. The next morning, we realised how furious Herr Sterner, the Germa
n Principal of CHS, was about the ‘can’t care less’ attitude of the Iron Horses. We were not allowed to attend classes and a full inquiry set up. First it was a meeting with 12 of us together with the principal and vice principal. We were ready for that meeting and narrated the same lies. We told them that we planned to return on Sunday night, but unforeseen challenges like some urgent cycle repairs prevented us from doing that. As all the repair shops were closed during the long weekend we were compelled to extend the trip by a day. They did not buy this cock and bull story.
At that point they stopped questioning us as group and proceeded with a one student at a time face-to-face investigation. The cat was out of the bag very quickly. We told the principal and the vice principal 12 different stories during the individual cross examinations. All 12 us were suspended for a month. It was indeed, a costly adventure!
Hiding at the Barberyn Reef Hotel
Considering my father’s disappointment about the last warning I received at the end of my first year at CHS, I decided to keep this one-month suspension a secret from my family. As suspended students cannot stay at the CHS hostel, I had to quickly find a place to hide in for a month. Thanks to the tip money I earned at the Mount Lavinia Hyatt Hotel working as a trainee waiter, I had enough for board and lodging for a month. I was considering the possibility of renting a relatively cheap room at the Central YMCA where I practised judo but unfortunately, they were full.
A batchmate, Manik Rodrigo, offered to speak to his father who owned a small resort hotel in Beruwala. Over the telephone I negotiated a part-time job for a month at that hotel, the Barberyn Reef. Manik’s father, Sudana Rodrigo, told me, “Putha (son), as our occupancy is low in May/June period, I cannot pay you a salary, but I can provide you free board and lodging for a month. In return you will work 10 hours a day without pay.” As beggars can’t be choosers, I agreed but managed to negotiate to keep tips for myself.
That afternoon, soon after we were suspended, I took a CTB bus to Beruwala and commenced working at the hotel the same evening. I was grateful that Mr. Rodrigo helped me to keep news of my suspension away from my family. That was my fourth of 10 part-time jobs during my three years at the CHS. I realised then that every problem has a solution. I also learnt that every challenge can be turned to an opportunity by thinking out of the box.
United Action Design or Alternative-Government Manifesto?
by Kumar David
This column will argue today that the opposition to the current regime – political parties, trade unions, religious institutions and non-governmental organisations – should collaborate in a unified action plan to stall, pushback and defeat the authoritarian project, and it will dispute efforts to foster or formulate common-programmes for an alternative (future) government, yet. Let’s focus on the first and eschew the latter; that’s my refrain. Before getting my teeth into this I wish to suggest that the regime seems to have retreated a little. There has been some mobilisation; not formally but on the trade union side and on the streets. Protest movements are more numerous than the formal media cares to report. Be it farmers’ fertiliser anguish, protests against the Kotalawela Academy Bill, piloerection at elevation of prodigal Duminda into the stratosphere, nurses’ defiance, anger of the Catholic Church and petitions against the persecution of Muslims by the state, these manifestations of public ire have thrown the would-be Palace Junta on the back foot. Or so it seems to me. And the big ones are yet to come – widespread mass unrest about shortages and prices and the final showdown, a General Strike. The expression of outrage by all opposition entities (except pissu-Sira’s SLFP) against authoritarianism and abuse of power has been a big help to protesters. That’s the good news for now; I need to go on.
There are indeed powwows among the like minded – the Left, Sajith-Champika-Ranil-TNA like Liberals, NPP (including the JVP) arranged discussions, trade unions and reformist confessional bodies. These are either limited pandemic-restricted gatherings or by Zoom. There is however a disjuncture between the objectives of the different gatherings, or within them. If you strip to the core, the disjuncture is in three categories: Are we talking of (a) a programme/manifesto for the next or a future government, or (b) planning to pull together in common actions for defending democracy. And (c), in either case what are the terms on which we do (a) or (b), as the case may be. I will argue that (a) is counterproductive and will obstruct progress when the right opportunity arrives; (b) even on a limited scale has shown results and we must persist with it. So the more fruitful discussion is what are the does and don’ts, what are the (c)s, in respect of (b). Sectarian attacks against each other or within any of the aforementioned groupings at this time is stupid; let us focus on the common enemy.
Infeasible Alternative-Government Manifesto
Let me explain why doing (a) now will be a flop. Every one of us has been privy to one or other discussion or media report about some demand, suggestion, video or Zoom meeting. Consider what we have seen and also read between the lines. Some leaders, Champika and Sajith for example, are actually advancing the case why they should be the Next Great Leader. They are quite entitled to put forward their CVs, that’s their right; but let’s face it, nobody else is going to climb down and accept another’s CV right now. What is emerging in some forums about objective (a) is plain shadow boxing. Each one says this or that but the hidden agenda is “Anoint me! Anoint me!” This renders ostensible programmatic discussions numinous. People talk through each other but the real show is in the corridors where back-biting flourishes. A stark recent example is Champika’s demand in an interview with Kelum Bandara that “The JVP should give up its ideology and team up with us”. Meaning bugger your philosophy and identity, back me for the top-job. I take this opportunity to say: “Ranawaka why not you discard your hard-earned racist credentials and team up with the NPP to advocate devolution and power sharing with Muslims and Tamils?” Strategy (a) will make no progress at this time since Champika, Sajith, even emasculated Ranil and voiceless SF will not lie down and play dead. All of them daydream. This is opposite to the serendipitous conjuncture in the 1970 United Front where it was incontestable that in the event of victory Sirima would be PM. The same was true of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in India’s 2019 election.
The more serious obstacle to (a) is not the greed of putative starry-eyed leaders/presidents. It is that the systemic obstacles to a joint Manifesto are insuperable. Yesterday I tuned into a Zoom presentation on Tik Tok on HiruNews. Sumanthiran held forth: “I have the backing of all Tamil parties to say that while we stand with the opposition against contraventions of democracy, the opposition when it comes to office cheats us. We have been cheated repeatedly. Unless you make a clear articulation of your position on the Tamil question and you tell it openly to the Sinhala people, we cannot travel far with you. Our people are willing to come on the streets for democratic rights and face the consequences, but unless you tell the country ‘This is our solution to the National Question’, count us out as long-term partners”. Will Champika, Sajith, Ranil or SF ever come before the Sinhala Buddhist masses and say “Devolution”? The sun will rise in the West before that day dawns. A common opposition governmental manifesto-programme is a chimera. Forget it for now. Maybe later, after restructuring the institutions of state power it can happen.
The National Question is not the only insuperable obstacle to a Common Manifesto. Another big one is the Executive Presidency (EP) and with it the writing of a new or substantially amended constitution. Neither Champika nor Sajith can subdue their greed for securing an all-powerful EP. Notwithstanding proclamations of fealty to Buddhism they are slaves to thanha (craving). That’s OK, as someone who disregards religion I don’t really care. My point lies elsewhere, it is that abolishing EP is another point on which agreement will not be possible until someone is chosen as leader; then all the rejected sour-grapes cases will come on board!
I have so far not mentioned the most intractable stumbling block, the socio-economic content of a presumed common programme. There are those who desire socialism but will compromise at social-democracy, there are the champions of free-market capitalism, entrepreneurial export-oriented enterprises and labour-market reforms (that is putting the working classes in their place) and there are dreamers hankering after an idyllic society akin to the long-gone village. How do you persuade Karl, Adam and Friedrich Hayek to sit round the same table and decide on a menu? Come on get real! Let’s pull together to do what can feasibly be done together, and that too is just what urgently needs to be done.
The intelligence to focus on what can be done
Citizens have the right to resist attempts to nullify the
Constitution when other remedies to do so are infeasible
(Article 20 of the German Constitution – A rough translation)
The common minimal plan that I believe the whole opposition (and a goodly part of government supporters and parliamentarians when the government splits) can agree on, consists of a few basics. Let me have a go at enumerating them. The dimension that will weld every decent activist into a united force is the need to constrain the Powers of the State. That is to resist excesses that reach beyond the rule of law. Closely allied to this is the protection of Fundamental Rights from infringement by the (Raja) Paksa regime and by the police and armed forces. Maintenance of Order and Security are vital, but this is a two-edged sword. It is in the name of order and security that the state and the establishment carry out the most egregious violations of human and democratic rights. Hence vigilance and intelligence must be exercised in monitoring the state.
Action must ensure that the next election cycle is held on schedule. I am not in a hurry to advance it for the somewhat perverse reason that that the Paksas are so adept at hanging themselves that I would like to give them rope and time to finish the job. The worry of course is that the integrity of future elections may be corrupted. A comment that I frequently encounter is that the regime will fix future elections and that fraud, bureaucratic, physical or digital will be rampant. The Elections Commission is already embroiled in controversial transfers. The danger is most real but it can be overcome; best done by sharpening public vigilance right from now and paying closer attention to domestic and international monitoring mechanisms. I guess this falls between Regulatory Enforcement and Civil Justice. The other major item for an action plan to concern itself with is the judiciary; preserving judicial independence in respect of Criminal Justice and Civil Justice.
I will not ask for more, I am a realist. So long as the Rajapaksa-clan regime stays in office I am not asking for the moon. Eliminating Corruption, winning transparency and Openness in Government and creating traditions of Informal Justice, that is a fair society, is too much to hope for in these times. No one can guarantee that the next government will be a bunch of angels, but right now the urgency is to stop repression. We cannot wait till a perfect option arrives to take steps to avert looming disaster. This is the minimal, if nothing else that January 2015 achieved. When a house is on fire, pull the entrapped children out first!
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