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Govt. can make 13A more meaningful

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By Jehan Perera

The primary justification for the government’s campaign to replace the 19th Amendment with the 20th has been the need to strengthen the President’s hand to govern the country in the aftermath of the misgovernance that took place under the former amendment.  The argument that the strengthening of the presidency is needed for decisive action to be taken on behalf of the country spills over into other areas of governance.  As presently formulated the 20th Amendment seeks to weaken institutions at the level of the central government itself to the extent they will find it difficult to check and balance the presidency.  This includes weakening parliament and the cabinet and also institutions such as the judiciary, public services and the auditor general.

As the 20th Amendment will give the President the power to sack any minister at will, it is no cause for wonder that dissent from within the government ranks is mute. It has been left to those outside the government to make their objections known. The state auditors and the Bar Association have made strong arguments against the weakening of the audit function and the lack of accountability of the President that has been proposed.  The framers of the 20th Amendment have sought to capitalize on the high level of trust placed in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa by the general population.  As he is new to politics and not tainted by having been a politician but respected for being a public official as Defense Secretary the general population does not seem to be unduly troubled by the 20th Amendment and its potential for misuse.

Accompanying the attempt to weaken other institutions and to strengthen the presidency beyond the point of reasonableness is a parallel bid by nationalist and anti-minority sections of the polity to seek to weaken the institutions of devolved power, most notably the Provincial Council system.   There are calls from within and outside parliament to abolish the 13th Amendment which the majority of the population may be prepared to go along with.  Despite the benefits to the people of having devolved government and having their problems settled within the province, the provincial council system has not delivered on its potential and has been depicted as a white elephant. The problem with the 13th Amendment is its origins in the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord which the then government accepted due to the force of circumstance in 1987.  This has made it susceptible to criticism on account of being a foreign imposition.

 

INDIAN PRESSURE

The Provincial Council system is the nearest that the country has come to resolving the longstanding ethnic conflict between the state and the Tamil people on the issue of ethnic majority-minority power sharing. Prior to 1987, there had been several indigenous attempts to find a solution to the problem commencing with the Bandaranaike-Chelvanyakam Pact of 1957. But they failed to be implemented due to lack of support. The 13th Amendment has been the most lasting legacy of the Indo-Lanka Accord that sought to put an end to the internal war that had been gathering in intensity for a decade at that time.  It comprised three main features, to disarm the LTTE, to ensure that Sri Lanka’s foreign policy was cognizant of India’s security and a framework for political power sharing that provided for limited Tamil self-rule in those parts of the country they were in a majority.

So far the government has made no official pronouncement regarding its intentions regarding the 13th Amendment.  At the recent virtual summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan position was carefully articulated without any direct mention of the 13th Amendment.  This has increased speculation that the government is contemplating doing away with the Provincial Council system, at least as it exists at present. In the joint statement put out at the end of the meeting, it was recorded that “Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa expressed the confidence that Sri Lanka will work towards realizing the expectations of all ethnic groups, including Tamils, by achieving reconciliation nurtured as per the mandate of the people of Sri Lanka and implementation of the Constitutional provisions.”

However, in a separate statement put out by the Indian side, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was reported as having told Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister that implementation of the 13th Amendment was essential.  “He emphasised that implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution is essential for carrying forward the process of peace and reconciliation,” said an official Indian press release.  This Indian position needs to be seen in the light of India’s concerns to meet the expectations of its own Tamil population in the state of Tamil Nadu and its interest in maintaining its credibility with the Tamils in Sri Lanka. The Indian state is also conscious that over a thousand Indian soldiers died in Sri Lanka on account of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord which the LTTE refused to accept.

 

WELL ENTRENCHED

In this context, the government would be aware that any decision to repeal or downgrade the 13th Amendment would have major domestic and foreign policy implications. Within the country, the Tamil polity in Sri Lanka has been demanding self-rule in the areas in which they are a majority that includes both the Northern and Eastern provinces from the mid-1950s.  All Tamil parties are united on the issue of Tamil self-rule although they differ as to the quantum of power that they wish to have devolved.  Even the government’s main Tamil ally, Douglas Devananda of the EPDP, who enjoys ministerial status within the government, has been consistent in calling for the full implementation of the 13th Amendment as the way forward.

In addition, the Provincial Council system is now well entrenched in Sri Lanka.  The government may find it useful to utilise them to groom up-and-coming politicians from its own ranks who could not find places in parliament.  Interestingly, ruling party parliamentarian Akila Saliya Ellawala seconding a motion in parliament said, “Provincial Councils were beneficial to fulfill the specific needs of people living in those areas and to carry out economic development projects. The Provincial Councils were able to provide specified and customized service to people. Most of the recurrent expenditure of Provincial Councils is salaries for employees. Even if these employees are absorbed into the Government, the same payments should be made. So, abolishing PCs to cut costs is not a valid argument.”

This may be why the government is talking about Provincial Council elections in the near future.  Recent actions of the government, such as the ties it is seeking to rebuild with the Muslim political parties, indicates that it seeks to follow an inclusive and pragmatic strategy with the intention of securing a 2/3 majority in parliament to ensure the success of the 20th Amendment.  Similarly, it can be expected that the government would not wish to alienate the Tamil political parties, but would instead prefer to obtain their support to govern the country according to its vision.  Accordingly any changes to the provincial council system will need to be done in consultation with the ethnic minority parties. The land and police powers in the Provincial Councils has still not been devolved even after the passage of 33 years. A law that is implemented can be formulated in consultation with the affected parties.

 



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Features

Mindset changes and the dangerous ‘Religious War’ rhetoric

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Israeli border police on patrol at the Damascus Gate in occupied East Jerusalem (Pic courtesy Al Jazeera)

Nothing could be more vital at present in the conflict and war zones of the world than positive mindset changes and the wish of the humanist is likely to be that such momentous developments would quickly come to pass in particularly the Middle East. Because in the latter theatre almost every passing hour surfaces problems that call for more than average peace-making capabilities for their resolution.

For instance, the Islamic Supreme Fatwa Council in Palestine has reportedly warned of a ‘Religious War’ in the wake of recent allegations that Israel is planning to prevent the Muslim community from having access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem in the month of Ramadan. If true, this development is likely to further compound the Gaza violence and take it along an even more treacherous track. This is on account of the fact that religious passions, if not managed effectively, could prove most volatile and destructive.

As pointed out in this column previously, peace movements on both sides of the main divide in the region would need to quickly activate themselves, link-up and work as one towards the de-escalation of the conflict. What the Middle East and the world’s other war zones urgently need are persons and groups who are endowed with a pro-peace mind set who could work towards an elimination of the destructive attitudes that are instrumental in keeping the conflicts concerned raging.

This could prove an uphill task in the Middle East in particular. For, every passing minute in the region is seeing a hardening of attitudes on both sides in the wake of issues growing out of the violence. Accordingly, if peace-making is to be contemplated by the more moderate sections in the conflict, first, we need to see a lull in the violence. Achieving such a de-escalation in the violence has emerged as a foremost need for the region.

Right now, the Israeli state is showing no signs of climbing down from its position of seeing a decisive end to the Hamas militants and their support bases and going forward this policy stance could get in the way of de-escalating the violence even to a degree.

On the other hand, it would not be realistic on the part of the world community to expect a mindset change among Israeli government quarters and their supporters unless and until the security of the Israeli state is ensured on a permanent basis. Ideally, the world should be united on the position that Israel’s security is non-negotiable; this could be considered a veritable cornerstone of Middle East peace.

Interestingly, the Sri Lankan state seems to have come round to the above view on a Middle East peace settlement. Prior to the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime taking this stance, this columnist called repeatedly over the past few months in this commentary, in fact since October 7th last year, for the adoption of such a policy. That is, a peace settlement that accords priority to also the security needs of the Israelis. It was indicated that ensuring the security and stability of the Palestinians only would fall short of a comprehensive settlement of the Middle East imbroglio.

However, in the case of the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime, the above change in policy seems to be dictated almost wholly by economic survival considerations rather than by any well thought out principle or a sense of fairness to all relevant stakeholders.

For example, close on the heels of the regime playing host to the Israeli Transport Minister recently, it accorded a reverential welcome to the Iranian Foreign Minister as well. From the viewpoint of a small country struggling to survive, this is the way to go, since it needs every morsel of economic assistance and succour.

However, if permanent peace is to have a chance in the Middle East it would need to be based on the principle of justice to all the main parties to the conflict. Seen from this point of view, justice and fairness should be accorded to the Palestinians as well as the Israelis. Both parties, that is, should live within stable states.

The immediate need, though, is to at least bring a lull to the fighting. This will enable the Palestinian population in the Gaza to access humanitarian assistance and other essential needs. Besides, it could have the all-important effect of tempering hostile attitudes on both sides of the divide.

The US is currently calling for a ‘temporary ceasefire’ to the conflict, but the challenge before Washington is to get the Israeli side to agree to it. If the Israeli Prime Minister’s recent pronouncements are anything to go by, the US proposal is unlikely to make any impression on Tel Aviv. In other words, the Israeli Right is remaining an obstacle to a ceasefire or even some form of temporary relief for the affected populations, leave alone a political solution. However, changing their government is entirely a matter for the Israeli people.

Accordingly, if a stable peace is to be arrived at, hostile, dogmatic attitudes on both sides may need to be eased out permanently. Ideally, both sides should see themselves as having a common future in a peacefully shared territory.

Peace groups and moderate opinion should be at centre stage on both sides of the divide in the region for the facilitation of such envisaged positive changes. The UN and democratic opinion worldwide should take it upon themselves to raise awareness among both communities on the need for a political solution. They should consider it incumbent upon themselves to work proactively with peace groups in the region.

The world is a vast distance from the stage when both parties to the conflict could even toy with the idea of reconciliation. Because reconciliation anywhere requires the relevant antagonists to begin by saying, ‘I am sorry for harming you.’ This is unthinkable currently, considering the enmity and acrimony that have built up over the years among the volatile sections of both communities.

However, relevant UN agencies and global democratic opinion could begin by convincing the warring sections that unless they cooperate and coexist, mutual annihilation could be their lot. Mindset changes of this kind are the only guarantors of lasting peace and mindset changes need to be worked on untiringly.

As this is being written, the ICJ is hearing representations from numerous countries on the Middle East situation. The opinions aired thus far are lopsided in that they do not present the Israeli viewpoint on the conflict. If a fair solution is to be arrived at to the conflict Israel’s concerns too would need to be taken into account expeditiously.

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Dubai scene brightening up for SL fashion designers

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Sri Lankans are lighting up the scene in Dubai, not only as musicians, but in other fields, as well.

At the recently held Ceylon Food Festival, in Dubai, a fashion show was held, with Sri Lankan designers doing the needful.

The fashion show highlighted the creations of Pubudu Jayasinghe, Tehani Rukshika and Peshala Rasanganee Wickramasuriya, in three different segments, with each designer assigned 10 models.

The fashion show was choreographed by Shashi Kaluarachchi, who won the Miss Supermodel Globe International 2020, held in India, and was 1st runner-up at the Mr., Miss and Mrs. Sri Lanka, in Dubai.

Shashi says she was trained by Brian Karkoven and his know-how gave her a good start to her modelling career.

She has done many fashions shows in Sri Lanka, as well as in Dubai, and has worked with many pioneers in the fashion designing field.

The designers involved in the fashion show, in Dubai, were:

Pubudu Jayasinghe,

a 22-year-old creative and skilled makeup artist and nail technician. With a wealth of experience gained from working in various salons and participating in makeup and fashion projects in both Dubai and Sri Lanka, he has honed his talents in the beauty industry. Passionate about fashion, Pubudu has also acquired knowledge and experience in fashion designing, modelling, and choreography, showcasing his multifaceted expertise in the dynamic world of fashion.

Tehani Rukshika,

who studied at St Joseph’s Girls School, Nugegoda, says she went to Dubai, where her mom works, and joined the Westford University in fashion designing faculty for her Masters. Her very first fashion show was a Sri Lankan cultural event, called ‘Batik’. “This was my first event, and a special one, too, as my mom was modelling an Arabic Batik dress.”

Shashi Kaluarachchi

Peshala Rasanganee Wickramasuriya

has been living in Dubai for the past 21 years and has a batik shop in Dubai, called 20Step.

According to Shashi, who is on vacation in Sri Lanka, at the moment, there will be more Sri Lankan fashion shows in Dubai, highlighting the creations of Sri Lankan designers.

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Features

A mask of DATES…

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Yes, another one of my favourites…dates, and they are freely available here, so you don’t need to go searching for this item. And they are reasonably priced, too.

Okay, readers, let’s do it…with dates, of course – making a mask that will leave your skin feeling refreshed, and glowing

To make this mask, you will need 03-04 dates, and 02 tablespoons of milk.

Remove the seeds and soak the dates, in warm milk, for about 20 minutes. This method will soften the dates and make them easier to blend.

After the 20 minutes is up, put the dates in a blender and blend until you have a smooth paste. Check to make sure there are no lumps, or chunks, left.

Add the 02 tablespoons of milk to the blended date paste and mix well.

Okay, now gently apply this mixture to your face, avoiding the eye area. Use your fingertips, or a clean brush, to evenly distribute the mask all over your face.

Once the mask is applied, find a comfortable place to sit, or lie down. Relax for about 15-20 minutes, allowing the mask to work its magic on your skin.

After the mentioned time has passed, rinse off the mask with lukewarm water. Gently massage your face while rinsing to exfoliate any dead skin cells.

After rinsing off the mask, pat dry your face with a soft towel, and then follow up with your favourite moisturizer to lock in the hydration and keep your skin moisturized.

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