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GR’s opportunity to remint Sri Lanka

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SLPP wins in mother of all landslides

13 year conspiracy torn to shreds by the people

 A second chance for reform after 2010

by C.A.Chandraprema

With the seats won by the SLPP on its own, together with the seats of allied political parties like the EPDP, TMVP, and the SLFP (Jaffna) the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government easily crosses the 150 seat mark to obtain a two thirds majority in Parliament. This writer still remembers listening to the results of the 1977 election over the radio as a 13-year old. The results of every electorate as they were read out seemed to go to the UNP. At that time, what constituted a landslide was for one party to come out on top in a large number of electorates. However, as a proportion of votes, the J.R.Jayewardene led UNP got only a modest 50.89%. To a generation used to the proportional representation system, that would seem almost disappointing. However at that time, it was an epoch making victory because no political party had ever got more than 50% of all valid votes since Independence. Until 2010, the UNP’s victory of 1977 was what was referred to as the mother of all electoral landslides.

The Mahinda Rajapaksa led UPFA got 60% of the popular vote and 144 seats at the Parliamentary election of 2010, thus eclipsing 1977. Now, the Parliamentary election of 2020 eclipses both 1977 and 2010 as the mother of all electoral landslides. The yahapalana conspirators presented the political divide in this country to the people as ‘everybody else’ against the Rajapaksas. Now the people treat ‘everybody else’ as one party and the Rajapaksas as another party. As the results were rolling in on Thursday evening one thing that was glaringly obvious in almost every polling division, was that the total number of votes polled by the ‘everybody else’ political formation was less than half of that of the Rajapaksa led SLPP.

Rajapaksas emerge

stronger than ever

This marks the conclusion of a remarkable journey that began in January 2015 at the point that the Rajapaksa triumvirate led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa was literally thrown out onto the street by means of a well-orchestrated conspiracy hatched by elements both local and foreign. This is a story straight out of the history books. A successful and popular government ousted from power by foreign conspirators and local traitors with the people rallying around their fallen leaders to restore them to power is a recurring theme in the history of politics, not only in this country but worldwide. We have just seen this historic theme being played out in Sri Lanka to a picture perfect finish.

The Rajapaksas were defeated not once but twice in 2015 through underhand and unfair stratagems, but their support base never wavered. In three mighty bounds, the local government election of 2018, the presidential election of 2019 and now the parliamentary election of 2020, the Rajapaksa triumvirate, this time with Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the helm, has been restored to power. Uncannily, they now have the same or even more support in Parliament than they had at the point they were ousted in 2015. The result of the 2020 parliamentary election was clearly a ringing endorsement of the nine months of rule by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa led SLPP minority government. The success that the new government showed in controlling Covid-19 seen in the backdrop of the previous achievements of this same government between 2005 and 2015 could not have left any doubts in the minds of the people as to whom they should vote for.

The conventional wisdom was that a parliamentary election that is held on the heels of a presidential election will be won easily by the party that won the presidential election but with each passing month, week and day, the popularity of the government will decline. We saw that happening in 2015. Despite the shock of seeing the Rajapaksa government ousted and the persecution that followed, the UPFA led by Mahinda Rajapaksa was able to obtain 95 seats because the election was not held immediately after the presidential election and there was a gap of eight months between the elections during which the yahapalana govt. lost support. The UNP/SJB opposition was hoping for a replay of that situation at the present parliamentary election which was held more than nine months after the Presidential election.

They never missed an opportunity to demand that the election be postponed on account of Covid-19 even making the accusation that the SLPP government was trying to hold the parliamentary election early despite Covid 19 so as to secure a two thirds majority over the dead bodies of the voters. None of that worked. At the last presidential election and this parliamentary election, the people clearly showed they can see beyond the lies and deception of the yahapalana propaganda machine.

The people may not have had a technical understanding of the manner in which the economy of the country had been run down by yahapalana mismanagement and then brought down further by the Easter Sunday bombings but they knew that the circumstances under which this country had successfully controlled Covid-19 had been exceptional. The yahapalana political parties have now reaped the whirlwind after engaging in unprincipled politics by ganging up for no other objective than to defeat the Rajapaksas. The UNP and JVP had met US Ambassador Patricia Butenis on several occasions during the conspiracy to field Sarath Fonseka as the common candidate in 2009/10 and she had written to Washington about those meetings describing both the JVP and the UNP as ‘opportunists’.

The result of the 2019 Presidential election and the 2020 Parliamentary election will be a lasting reminder to all that any victory that can be achieved through conspiracies, subterfuges and deception is short lived. Every government that we know of came into power with the intention of ruling the country. But the yahapalana government of 2015 came into power only with one intention and that was to finish the Rajapaksas off. They made that fact clear to the public too. Every time a yahapalana leader opened his mouth, it would be to fulminate against the Rajapaksas and to promise to put them in jail. What we had was a near five year period of hate speech against one family and their supporters and that fact contributed in no small measure to this election result. The yahapalanites have had their snouts rubbed on the ground by the people, and how!

13 year conspiratorial

quest in tatters

This ganging up of everybody else against the Rajapaksas has been going on since 2007 when these elements tried to topple the Mahinda Rajapaksa led government in 2007 through a parliamentary conspiracy. That was at the height of the war and what prevented the plan from being carried through was the stiff resistance put up by the patriotic group within the JVP led by Wimal Weerawansa. The JVP’s contribution to that coup was crucial because they controlled 39 MPs in that Parliament and without their participation, the coup had no chance of succeeding. Even though this attempt failed initially, the political parties that had got together did not lose heart and immediately after the war against the LTTE had been won, they conspired once again to gang up to field Gen. Sarath Fonseka to defeat the Rajapaksas. That attempt also failed. Yet they persisted and finally succeeded in 2015. They were unprincipled, but tenacious.

For the past 13 years and more a group of political parties led by the UNP, JVP and TNA have been engaged in an attempt to oust the Rajapaksas from power for no other reason than that the latter were successful in what they did and they always tried to do what was right by the country. The Rajapaksas were doing well so they had to be brought down – that was the logic. Even worse than the politicians engaged in this exercise were the foreign funded NGO operators. They wanted every rule, every law violated to put the Rajapaksas behind bars and end their politics. They knew that the patriotic camp in this country was dependent on the Rajapaksa triumvirate for leadership and that the former would be vastly diminished in terms of popular appeal without Mahinda Rajapaksa and their leadership and operational ability seriously impaired without Gotabaya and Basil Rajapaksa, so for the past five years they were shouting themselves hoarse trying to get the politicians to bend the law and put the Rajapaksas behind bars.

Not one of the political parties that participated in the yahapalana conspiracy of 2015 has emerged unscathed. The main political party the UNP no longer exists in a viable form. The United National Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party – two political parties that have existed for more than seven decades and six decades respectively, have been eliminated from the scene and replaced by two new formations the Samagi Jana Balawegaya and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna. The JVP has been reduced to three seats in Parliament even though they have managed to increase their votes marginally from what they got at last year’s presidential election.

This parliamentary election and the Presidential election of 2019 clearly showed that the politics of promising handouts to win votes is over. The SJB contested the presidential election on the pledge of giving Janasaviya on top of the Samurdhi benefits, and free sanitary towels to women. Sajith Premadasa was hailed by yahapalana pundits who said that the people of Sri Lanka were poor and that Sajith’s approach had a certain attraction for the electorate. Even though he lost the presidential election resoundingly, he tried the same approach at the parliamentary election. This time pledging to provide a dole of Rs. 20,000 to each family and to refund the payments made for the electricity bills of the months of March April and May when the country was shut down due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Another pledge he gave was to reduce the price of fuel.

The SJB will have to rethink this style of campaigning. This is a relic from a bygone era when politicians won or lost elections on the pledge of half a pound of dried fish. This is not to say that people cannot be duped with such pledges. One instance when the voting public was duped with such pledges in recent times was when the yahapalana coalition pledged to increase the salaries of government servants by Rs. 10,000 in 2015. Usually, even if extravagant promises are made at election time, no government tries to follow through with all those pledges, because it’s simply not politically feasible to do so. However in the case of the yahapalana government that was formed in 2015, they had conspired and lied their way to victory at the presidential elections and were in a blind panic that they may lose the Parliamentary election and they made good on some of the most prominent the pledges they gave before the parliamentary election.

They increased the salaries of government servants by Rs. 10,000 thus increasing government expenditure while at the same time drastically reducing the price of fuel and decreasing government revenue. This sent government finances into a tailspin from which it has never recovered. The people obviously did not know the theory and mechanics of all this, but they instinctively knew that Sajith’s schemes were unworkable and counter productive and that the people will finally have to pay for the honour of having an inefficient and incompetent yahapalana government ruling over them. The people have now come to recognize pledges of handouts as the mark of the political charlatan.

Reminting Sri Lanka

The reason why the SLPP asked the people for a two thirds majority is to institute Constitutional reform. In any discussion on constitutional reform the first thing that comes to mind is the 19th Amendment. The latter however, is not all that needs to be reformed. The Constitution that we have now was a disaster from the beginning. This writer has pointed out in previous columns that the system of elections in the 1978 constitution was changed twice before any election had ever been held under that system – that cannot be the hallmark of a successful elections system. When the elections system was changed by the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, the Parliamentary Elections Act of 1981 which had been designed to suit the original system of elections in the 1978 Constitution, was not amended, thus placing unreasonable restrictions on campaigning which was experienced by all candidates at this election.

The most important issue to be sorted out in the 1978 Constitution is the reform of the system of electing the President, Parliament, provincial councils and local government institutions. The US system of elections has many features that would work well in Sri Lanka including the concept of a ‘general election’ in the proper sense of the term whereby representatives to several tiers of government are elected on the same day and by the same ballot. The reduction in the term of office of the President and Parliament to five years makes it necessary to think seriously about combining elections so as not to have too many elections at short intervals adding to the cost and causing the disruption of day to day life.

In 2010, the UPFA did not make proper use of the two thirds majority they had. We can say with hindsight that they could easily have reminted Sri Lanka at that time but neglected to do so. However at that time, constitutional reform did not have the kind of immediacy that it has now. Apart from reforming the electoral system to all tiers of government, another top priority should be the protection of Sri Lanka from foreign interference. Given the ring of international enemies that Sri Lanka is confronted with, an indemnity clause for the Sri Lankan armed forces should be included in the Constitution after the fashion of the ‘Postamble’ of the South African Constitution of 1993. This would need to be combined with provisions similar to the American Service-Members’ Protection Act prohibiting any Sri Lankan citizen or institution from cooperating with any foreign party or institution in any investigation against the Sri Lankan armed forces or the political leadership during the war.

Sri Lanka also needs legislation to regulate NGOs and foreign funded political activism in Sri Lanka modeled on the 2010 Foreign Contributions Regulatory Act of India. Such a law does not need a two thirds majority but given the dicey position that Sri Lanka finds itself in, it’s always better to include provisions relating to this legislation in the ‘Postamble’ of the Constitution so that no subsequent government can change it at their whim. It was the Indira Gandhi government that first introduced the Foreign Contributions Regulatory Act in 1976. It was made tougher by a bi-partisan committee led by Sushma Swaraj of the BJP when the Congress government was in power in 2010. All Indian governments have seen the value of this piece of legislation and India would not exist in its present form today if not for this law.

This is a law to monitor and regulate funding coming from overseas to individuals and organisations in India. This act even monitors foreign trips and junkets given to individuals by foreign organisations and governments, to prevent such elements from acquiring influence over Indian citizens. The conspiracy of 2015, and many things that led up to it was a stark reminder how vulnerable Sri Lanka is to any foreign country or organization that’s willing to spend a few million US Dollars to influence politics in this country. This is clearly not a situation that should be allowed to continue.

The Elections Commission needs to be commended for taking a very professional approach to the timing of the election and cooperating with government functionaries in the health sector to decide when to fix the date of the election instead of being swayed by the yahapalana opposition’s rhetoric and their demand that the election be postponed further. The way this was handled is a triumph of the state sector bureaucracy working in different agencies. The two former public servants in the elections Commission Mahinda Deshapriya and N.A.Abeysekera saved the day for democracy in this country by not entertaining yahapalana conspiracies to bend and twist the elections law so as to torpedo Gotabhya Rajapaksa’s candidacy at the presidential elections and by not postponing the parliamentary elections any longer than was absolutely necessary.

 



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Politics

A brave new world

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By Uditha Devapriya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Anura Gunasekera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PROPPING-UP THIS PRESIDENT IS A PRESCRIPTION FOR POLITICAL SUICIDE

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DR. DAYAN JAYATILLEKA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TAMIL PARTIES

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

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

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

TODAY’S OPPOSITION

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

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

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

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

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

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