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Lets consider lesser known candidates

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by Malinda Seneviratne

Towards the end of the year 2018 in the heady days of the parliamentary crisis there was a slogan bandied about in social media and elsewhere by well-meaning liberals (read, yahapalanists) ostensibly sick of the prevailing political culture. They screamed 225+1 OUT

The sickly recovered less than a few months later to support the candidate of the United National Party (UNP), Sajith Premadasa. No apologies were offered. Today the 225+1 OUT slogan is out. Thats not a bad thing. There are probably a few (less than a handful perhaps) who deserve to be re-elected. However, most of our parliamentarians have been marked by corruption, incompetence, greed, self-interest, treachery and outright imbecility, typically endowed with more than one of these characteristics. Saying ta-ta to them would not necessarily coincide with saying hi to their polar opposites of course for the system is skewed against the election of the good and incorruptible. Nevertheless the knowledge that it is possible to goodbye such people itself is empowering.

Now there were over 70 persons in the last parliament who could be called Dynastic Politicians. Their political success is at least in part attributable to the fact of being sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, spouses and other close relatives of known-name politicians. We could do without that kind of feudalism, I believe.

As mentioned, there could be some decent folk seeking re-election. However, it might be worth giving the lesser known a chance, especially since they dont exactly have the inside track in the races theyve chosen to run.

So yes, there are the easily recognized names on the ballot. In every district. There are dozens of registered political parties and hundreds of independent groups in the fray. There are thousands of candidates vying for 225 seats. The law of averages say that theres more than a handful among the lesser known candidates who would probably perform better than most who have already been in parliament. Well, some would argue that they couldnt do worse a bit like the Anyone but Ranil argument within the UNP that made Sajith the ideal candidate in some peoples view.

This is then an invitation to consider others. The lesser known or even known to just a few. They may not be on the same page ideologically especially since they contest from different parties or independent groups, but perhaps those who pick the party would do well to consider names such as these when they mark preferences.

Wimal Ketapearachchi is a journalist by profession. He worked in various newspapers and television stations. He was appointed as a Working Director of ITN by the Yahapalana regime but resigned during the parliamentary crisis in 2018. Unlike others who resigned and gladly accepted the same positions after the old order was restored, Ketape chose to remain resigned. He authored three novels, Doovili Sela (Fabrics made of dust), Navaye Kathava (The story of the number nine) and Nelavena Gee Meda Ovilla (The swing amid lullabies). Hamuvenna thavama heki comrade (We can still meet, comrade) was his debut poetry collection. Ketape is much loved by the Sinhala literary community, especially those of his generation and including those who would not agree with him ideologically or oppose his political choices. He has always considered himself a leftist and a champion of the poor, dispossessed, insulted and humiliated. A decent man. Hes contesting on the Samagi Jana Balavegaya ticket from the Colombo District.

Priyantha Pathirana hails from Kamburupitiya but has spent many years in the Trincomalee District. His passion is agriculture and he has worked tirelessly to rehabilitate village tanks and develop agricultural cooperatives for women. He was in the Eastern Provincial Council but was denied nomination for the General Election by the UPFA in 2010 and 2015. He was literally assaulted within an inch of his life by rival politicians in the party. He is absolutely generous with his time and energy when it comes to friends and political associates but more important in the case of anyone in any kind of distress, regardless of political affiliation. He has always considered himself a nationalist and a champion of sustainable development. He contests on the Pohottuwa ticket from Trincomalee.

One day in the early 1990s, members of the Independent Students Union, Colombo University stormed into the library. They were in a foul mood. They found a student in the library, sitting with his girlfriend. They assaulted him mercilessly. Had not some of his friends broken a window and come to his aid, Anupa Pasqual would have died that day. Being at the receiving end of brutality is not reason enough to get a free ride to parliament. Sure. Paska was a lone, strident and effective voice against those who were at the time apologists of the then regime. He was and still is an unrepentant environmentalist and nationalist. He is on the Pohottuwa ticket in the Kalutara District.

There are no doubt such individuals in the UNP and the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), but I do not know any. I would urge those who vote for the elephant or the telephone to give a thought to such people when they have to mark their preferential votes.

Lets not forget the independent groups. They have very little chance in the current electoral system. While some of them are essentially nominated by established political parties as insurance (in the event nomination lists get rejected) and/or to boost presence at polling and counting stations, some do stand for something, regional or national.

Ruchira Gunathilaka is contesting from Kalutara on the Independent Group 1 ticket (under the ‘kite’ symbol). This is a group led by philanthropist Mahinda Udawatte who has for 20 years gifted books to literally hundreds of thousands of school children. In December 2019 alone Rs 25 million worth of books were given to school children. No branding. Ruchira is an agriculture graduate who has always championed sustainable livelihoods. He once single-handedly grew 73 varieties of traditional rice to symbolize the theseththee (73) gnaana (wisdoms) of the Buddha. If memory serves me well, he harvested 70 of these varieties and invited 73 families/groups to prepare kiri-aahara for a special pooja at the ancient chaityaya in Mahiyangana. Indefatigable. A nationalist in word and deed.

I am sure there are dozens of Ketapes, Priyanthas, Ruchiras and Paksas contesting this election. I doubt that we will get rid of the 225, but if we want to have a better chance of not regretting our votes, then it wont hurt to consider such people. malindasenevi@gmail.com. www.malindawords.blogspot.com.

 

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Features

Development after the elections

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By Jehan Perera

Many years ago, former Government Agent of Jaffna, Dr Devanesan Nesiah, explained the northern sentiment when elections were taking place.  He said there was apprehension about the possible turn of events over which they had no control.  The minority status of the Tamil people would invariably mean that their future would be determined by the outcome of the power struggle in the south of the country.  I was reminded of these words of Dr Nesiah during discussions organised by the Civil Society Platform in the northern towns of Vavuniya and Jaffna on the democratic challenges arising from the forthcoming elections.

The main theme, at the present elections in the south, and most of the country, has been the need to elect a strong government and to give it a 2/3 majority to change the constitution, accordingly.  The response in Vavuniya and Jaffna, by the members of civil society, was that a strong government would not heed the wishes of the people. Like people in other parts of the country, they felt let down by the political leaders and said they did not know for whom to vote.  The issues that they highlighted as being their concerns were economic ones, such as the lack of jobs for youth and the harm to families caused by an unregulated micro credit scheme that made them vulnerable to the predatory actions of money lenders.

The civil society members, in the towns of Vavuniya and Jaffna, did not take up the issue of the 19th Amendment and the possible threat to civil society space that the speakers from the south put before them. This indicated a longer term need to have educational programmes on the importance of the rule of law and judicial independence, in particular, to ensure justice and non-discrimination.  But they also did not comment or discuss the manifesto put out by the main Tamil political party, the TNA, which addressed longstanding issues of the Tamil polity, including self-determination, federalism, the merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces or the newer post-war issues of missing persons and accountability for war crimes.

EXISTENTIAL ISSUES

The absence of public debate, at the civil society meetings in the north on the political dimension at the forthcoming elections, may reflect a wariness about speaking publicly on politically controversial matters. Civil society groups throughout the country have been reporting there is more police surveillance of their work. The fear of falling into trouble and being seen as anti-government may have restrained the participants at the civil society meeting in the north from expressing their true feelings. On the other hand, there is also the reality that existential issues of jobs, loans and incomes are of immediate concern especially in the context of the Covid-induced economic downturn. The short term concerns of people are invariably with economic issues.

One of the salient features of the present elections has been the general unwillingness of even the main political parties to address any of the issues posed by the TNA.  This would be due to their apprehension of the adverse fallout from the electorate. It could also be due to their lack of ideas regarding the way forward. Apart from the 19th Amendment, another impediment to a strong government, that is identified by its proponents is the 13th Amendment. In the run up to the elections, there have been calls for the abolition of the 13th Amendment, which created the devolved system of provincial councils, along with the 19th Amendment that directly reduced the power of the presidency and increased the independence of state institutions. The provincial councils have been emasculated by denying them of both resources and decision making power and are condemned for being white elephants.

It has been noted, by the political commentator D B S Jeyaraj, that the TNA’s choice of focusing on issues of transitional justice, in dealing with war time violations of human rights, led to the TNA aligning itself with Western powers. This did not yield the anticipated benefits as the previous government failed to implement many of its commitments in regard to transitional justice. It would have been better to have focused instead on getting the provincial councils in the north and east to engage in more development-oriented work which would have met the existential needs of the people.

PROVINCIAL COUNCILS

Jeyaraj has also surmised that if the TNA had chosen the path of utilising the provincial council system for development work, it could have obtained support from India, which had been the co-architects of the provincial council system, in 1987, along with the then Sri Lankan government. India has a moral obligation to contribute to developing the north and east of the country where the war raged in full fury and led to immense destruction. India’s role in destabilising Sri Lanka and enhancing the military capacity of the Tamil armed groups, including the LTTE, is a bitter and abiding memory which the journalist Shamindra Ferdinando has written extensively about.

A creative suggestion made during the civil society discussion in Jaffna was for the provincial councils to implement what governments have promised to implement but have failed to do. An example given was that of reparations to war victims. The previous government pledged to set up a system of reparations in terms of the UNHRC resolution in 2015. But, although an Office for Reparations was established, very little was done. The question was whether the provincial councils in the north and east could not have utilised their resources for the purposes of instituting schemes of reparations as it would be clearly within the policy framework of the government.

While the issues in the TNA’s manifesto will remain perennial ones to the Tamil polity, the people are looking for political leaders who will deliver them the economic benefits in the same way as in the rest of the country. The civil society meetings in the north suggests that the northern people are not showing priority interest in political issues as they believe these are non-deliverable at the present time. Instead of using its majority status in parliament and seeking to abolish the 13th Amendment, and the provincial council system, and creating a crisis with the Tamil polity and India, the new government would do better to work through them to meet the material needs of the people. They need to also realize limits of the constitution, and focus on social, economic and political pluralism and promote values of tolerance, pragmatism, cooperation and compromise, and consent of the governed.

 

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Features

A blazing story!

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The local showbiz scene is ablaze with a story about the members of a particular band, who indicated that they are undergoing a tough time, abroad, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It was a video, showing the members pouring forth their difficulties, and earnestly requesting the authorities concerned to bring them back home, that got others to move into action…and the truth has come out.

After having looked into their situation, extensively, knowledgeable sources say that the video contained a load of lies and, according to reports coming our way, the band has now been blacklisted by the authorities for lying about their situation.

These guys have, apparently, gone on Holiday Visas and have, thereby, contravened the Visa conditions.

The story going around is that they have had problems, within the band, as well.

The authorities, in Sri Lanka, are aware of the situation, in that part of the world, but there are many others who are waiting to get back home and, they say, musicians can’t get into the priority list.

So, it’s likely to be a long wait for these guys before they can check out their hometown again!

 

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Features

Top local stars to light up ARISE SRI LANKA

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Richard de Zoysa’s brainchild, ARISE SRI LANKA, is going to create an awesome atmosphere, not only locally, but abroad, as well.

This telethon event will feature the cream of Sri Lankan talent, said Richard, who is the Chairman of Elite Promotions & Entertainment (Pvt) Ltd.

Put together as a fund-raiser for those, in the frontline, tackling the coronavirus pandemic, in Sri Lanka, ARISE SRI LANKA will bring into the spotlight a galaxy of local stars, including Noeline Honter, Damian, Mahindakumar, Rukshan, Melantha, Jacky, Ranil Amirthiah, Mariazelle, Trishelle, Corinne, Sohan, Samista, Shean, Rajitha, Umara, April, Shafie, Dr. Nilanka Anjalee Wickramasinghe, Kevin, Ishini, and Donald.

Mirage is scheduled to open this live streaming fun-raiser, and they will back the artistes, assigned to do the first half of the show.

Sohan & The X-Periments will make their appearance, after the intermission, and they, too, will be backing a set of artistes, scheduled to do the second half.

The new look Aquarius group, led by bassist Benjy Ranabahu, will also be featured, and they will perform a very special song, originally done by The Eagles, titled ‘There’s A Whole In The World.’

The lyrics are very meaningful, especially in today’s context where the coronavirus pandemic has literally created holes, in every way, and in every part of the world.

Aquarius will be seen in a new setting, doing this particular song – no stage gimmicks, etc.

The finale, I’m told, will be a song composed by Noeline, with Melantha doing the musical arrangements, and titled ‘Arise Sri Lanka.’

The programme will include songs in Sinhala, and Tamil, as well, and will be streamed to many parts of the world, via TV and social media.

Richard says that this show, scheduled for August 29th, is in appreciation of the work done by the frontliners, to keep the pandemic, under control, in Sri Lanka.

“We, in Sri Lanka, can be proud of the fact that we were able to tackle the Covid-19 situation, to a great extent,” said Richard, adding that even the World Health Organisation (WHO) has acknowledged the fact that we have handled the coronavirus pandemic, in an exceptional way.

The team, helping Richard put together ARISE SRI LANKA, include Noeline Honter, Sohan Weerasinghe, Donald Pieries, from the group Mirage, Benjy Ranabahu, and the guy from The Island ‘Star Track.’

 

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