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Editorial

Macho Neanderthals

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Tuesday 19th January, 2021

Some female local government members have come together to form a front against discrimination and harassment they face in their councils. They have called upon all female representatives throughout the country to sink their political differences and join forces to safeguard their rights, according to a news item we published yesterday. This initiative deserves encouragement and assistance from everyone.

It is heartening that female councillors have decided to go public with their grievances instead of suffering in silence. Such action is bound to have a deterrent effect on the shameless councillors who apparently make themselves feel important at the expense of their female counterparts. These elements, we believe, need the assistance of men in white coats.

A member of the female councillors’ collective against discrimination and harassment has told the media that not even their freedom of expression is respected at council meetings, which are dominated by overbearing, ill-tempered men who turn aggressive and abusive at the drop of a hat. Whenever women took the floor, they were greeted by catcalls and boos from men in kapati suit, she complained. This sorry state of affairs has curiously gone unnoticed by the political party leaders, who are full of praise for women when they make public speeches. All political parties have women’s wings and their manifestos contain pledges to safeguard women’s rights, but female local council members continue to suffer. Perhaps, this should not surprise anyone, given the sheer number of political dregs in the garb of people’s representatives; they are no respecters of fellow humans, much less women. It is doubtful whether they respect even their own mothers and sisters.

Women account for more than one half of Sri Lanka’s population, but sadly this is not reflected in the number of elected representatives. Politics remains a male-dominated field, and this may explain why it is rotten to the core and stinks. Perhaps, it is only in the Maharagama UC that women have received their due share of representation; out of its 47 members 24 are women, as our news item said, quoting a female councillor, who alleged that even in that institution, women’s rights were suppressed. Gender-based discrimination is a punishable offence, and it is puzzling how the misogynistic elements among the local government members have gone scot-free.

Parliament legislated for increasing female representation in local government institutions and introduced a new electoral system. It was no doubt a very progressive step. But what is the use of increasing the number of female councillors if their rights are not safeguarded or they cannot even have themselves heard at council meetings?

Meanwhile, in January 2016, some female MPs revealed to the media, on condition of anonymity, that they underwent sexual harassment in Parliament. They accused some randy male counterparts who were old enough to be their fathers of making advances and cracking dirty jokes at their expense. They stopped short of naming names, though. The then Speaker Karu Jayasuriya promised a probe and requested the victims to make formal complaints. But nobody came forward for fear of either reprisal or stigma, or both.

The alliance being forged against gender-based discrimination should be expanded to include female MPs as well if it is to evolve as a formidable force. Then only will its voice be heard in Parliament.

All those who abhor harassment and discrimination that female representatives suffer, in political institutions, at the hands of the spineless creatures who call themselves men must stand up and be counted. These misogynists must be named and shamed before being hauled up before courts. Let their victims be urged to make official complaints of instances of assault on human dignity and reveal the names of culprits to the media. Female electors must stop voting for these politicians by way of punishment.

Shame on the self-righteous political leaders who have given misogynists within the ranks of their parties quite a long leash! It is high time these macho Neanderthals were reined in.



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Editorial

Kings and eggs

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Thursday 8th December, 2022

King Charles III is known for his affability, which has won him many admirers across the globe. But some people do not seem well disposed towards him. Well, it takes all sorts to make a world. Within the first few weeks of his accession and months ahead of his coronation, he seems to have realised how uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. He has already come under two egg attacks; the second one occurred in Luton, on Tuesday. An egg thrown by a youth flew by him, but his walkabout continued, according to media reports. The King is said to have a predilection for going among the people.

By no stretch of the imagination could the egg attacks at issue be considered a sign of public disapproval of the reign of King Charles III, which has not yet begun in earnest. Instead, they seem to be symptomatic of an odd trend that is catching on. The King is lucky that he has had to duck only eggs. In 2008, the then US President George W. Bush had a pair of leather oxfords whizzing past him, at an Iraqi press briefing.

Nobody will approve of the practice of throwing eggs, or any other objects for that matter, at anyone by way of protest, which could be registered in a more civilised manner. But something that the first egg thrower said in Yorkshire, last month, is of significance. “This country was built on the blood of slaves,” he shouted as he threw eggs at the King. Supposing his reference was to Britain’s past sins against its colonies, one can say that better ways are available for the present-day British public, who must be feeling pricks of conscience, when they enjoy the fruits of colonialism and neo-colonialism, to make amends. They could urge their leaders to return the wealth plundered from the British colonies, and make substantial financial reparation to the victim nations. One may argue that the UK has granted tangible development and humanitarian assistance to its former colonies since they became independent. But much more needs to be done by way of atonement, and throwing eggs at the current monarch is certainly not the way to set about it.

Perhaps, the ruthless western colonialists’ sins against this country pale into insignificance in comparison to the grave crimes our ‘patriotic’ leaders have perpetrated during the past several decades; they include mass murders and the plunder of national wealth.

UNICEF’s Sri Lanka Appeal could be considered an indictment of the incumbent regime, which is heaping unbearable economic burdens on the public. It has said: “An acute economic crisis since early 2022 has caused severe food insecurity in Sri Lanka … An estimated 6.2 million people (28 per cent of the population) are moderately acute food insecure, while 66,000 people are severely acute food insecure. Two in five households (41.8 per cent) spend more than 75 per cent of their expenditures on purchasing food, leaving little to spend on health and education. Many families have exhausted their savings and are struggling due to crippling inflation.” This, we believe, is the truth although the government has come out with some cock-and-bull arguments to challenge it. People usually do not believe anything in this country unless it is officially denied!

Our potentates who consider themselves to be the reincarnations of native warrior kings and even foreign megalomaniacs like Hitler, and obviously are a few eggs short of a dozen, are lucky that eggs are too expensive here to be wasted. So, they can rest assured that they will have no eggs flying at their nuts, but they had better watch out for hard objects; the resentment of the public knows no bounds, as sure as eggs. They should consider what they suffered at the hands of angry protesters, a few moons ago, as just a foretaste of what is to come. Unless they stop lining their pockets at the expense of the country, refrain from testing the patience of the irate public, apply themselves earnestly to cleaning up the economic mess of their own making, and respect the people’s franchise by holding the Local Government polls, perhaps, they will have to brace for far worse things than mere egg attacks.

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Editorial

Law and duplicity

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Wednesday 7th December, 2022

The government has gained the upper hand over its political rivals by ruthlessly invoking some draconian laws such as the Offences against Public Property Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act. It is ready to do everything in its power to consolidate its hold on power. A few months ago, the ruling party politicians were running as fast as their legs could carry them to escape from the Aragalaya activists, but today the boot is on the other foot.

The government has succeeded in turning the Aragalaya agenda on its head, to all intents and purposes, and making its political opponents opt for defensive action. Earlier, the Aragalaya protesters staged street demonstrations in a bid to bring about a ‘system change’, and succeeded in ousting President Gotabaya Rajapaksa himself, but, today, they have had to fight to secure the release of their leaders languishing in remand prisons!

Two leaders of the university students’ movement—Galwewa Siridhamma Thera and Wasanatha Mudalige—who were arrested and remanded for damaging the main gate of the Education Ministry, Battaramulla, during a protest, were bailed out yesterday. Mudalige was however taken back to remand prison over another case, according to media reports.

Protesters have no right to inflict damage on properties, public or otherwise, and those who violate the law have to be severely dealt with. But the problem is that the Offences against Public Property Act is enforced selectively. It does not apply to the so-called lawmakers, who therefore can destroy public property with impunity.

One may recall that in October 2018, a large number of UPFA MPs, who had banded together as the Joint Opposition, went berserk in Parliament, and smashed up electronic equipment and furniture there. No action was taken against them, and most of them are in the current Parliament. Even more shocking is Cabinet Spokesman and Minister Bandula Gunawardena’s claim that such incidents cannot be dealt with under the regular laws of the country! He reportedly said so at a media briefing in August. Does this mean that the legislature is above the law simply because it makes laws?

If what the Cabinet Spokesman has said about Parliament and its property is true, then the government MPs can even set Parliament on fire and get away with it, provided the Speaker, who represents their party, refrains from taking action against them. The ruling party troublemakers can get together and oust the Speaker if he tries to bring them to book! In other words, the government MPs enjoy legal immunity and can do anything in Parliament. This is a very serious situation. Let the Opposition be urged to take up this issue in the House and seek a clarification from the Speaker. If such a culture of impunity prevails in Parliament, new laws must be brought in forthwith to do away with it and ensure that the MPs are not ‘more equal than others’ where the law of the land is concerned.

The UNP let out a howl of protest when the then Opposition unleashed violence and damaged parliamentary property following the latter’s abortive attempt to grab power in 2018. It even lodged a complaint with the police against the troublemakers. Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was the Prime Minister at the time, is the President today; ironically, he is backed by the very MPs who ran amok in the House and even tried to harm Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, who courageously stood up to them, and frustrated their attempt to capture power and then dissolve Parliament. The incumbent government consisting of such rowdies has had some protesters arrested and prosecuted for damaging the gate of a ministry!

Worse, while protesters are being pursued relentlessly, arrested and prosecuted for damaging gates, etc., the rogues who have ruined the economy, and carried out mega scams, causing staggering losses to the state coffers are given police protection! No wonder the people have lost faith in the legal system, and the country is descending into lawlessness.

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Editorial

Towards ‘No-Election Commission’?

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Tuesday 6th December, 2022

NPP MP and JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake has fulminated against the Election Commission (EC), and with reason. Speaking in Parliament, he has demanded to know why the EC ever asked for an opinion from the Attorney General anent the Local Government (LG) elections instead of exercising its powers to initiate the process of conducting the much-delayed polls. He sought to cast a doubt on the impartiality of the EC, and took a swipe at its Chairman Nimal Punchihewa.

Some independent legal experts maintain that the EC is now constitutionally empowered to hold the LG elections. The PAFFREL (People’s Action for Free and Fair elections) has reportedly written to EC Chairman, urging him to announce the date of the LG elections without further delay as there is no legal barrier for him and his outfit to do so. The EC has chosen to remain silent, but its silence will not do.

There is a misconception that all it takes to ensure the independence of key public institutions is to put in place constitutional mechanisms to depoliticise them. Hence, the creation of the Constitutional Council (CC) and the Independent Commissions (ICs) has been acclaimed as a surefire way of strengthening the state institutions. The 21st Amendment has restored the CC, which is believed to have strengthened the ICs, scilicet (a) the Election Commission (b) The Public Service Commission (c) the National Police Commission (d) the Audit Service Commission (e) the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (f) the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (g) the Finance Commission (h) the Delimitation Commission, and (i) the National Procurement Commission.

Essential as such legal mechanisms may be, the CC and the ICs will become ineffective again if their heads and members stoop so low as to pander to the whims and fancies of the political authority, the way some of their predecessors did during the Yahapalana government. Under that regime, the CC became a mere rubber stamp for the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who had most of its members on a string. Constitutional provisions cannot make the spineless stand upright.

National Police Commission (NPC) Chairman Chandra Fernando’s presence at a recent ceremony at the BIA, where former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa was given a rousing welcome by his hangers-on, has called the independence of the NPC into question. Fernando has claimed that he happened to be at the BIA over some other matter and his meeting with Basil was not preplanned. But he should have known better than to be present at a political event.

It is unfortunate that the EC has got embroiled in a controversy, especially at this juncture. There has been a severe erosion of public trust in the electoral system, and anti-politics is manifestly on the rise, eating into the vitals of all public institutions. The task before the CC and the ICs is to restore public faith in the democratic process and arrest what is widely thought to be the country’s slide into anarchy.

Who guards the guards, or quis custodiet ipsos custodes? This is the question the denunciation by the Opposition of the EC has prompted us to ask.

If the EC baulks at exercising its powers to safeguard the people’s franchise, it will forfeit its raison d’etre and be dubbed ‘No-Election Commission’. One can only hope that the EC will try to prove its critics wrong by plucking up the courage to grasp the nettle so that the people will have the pleasure of letting the government have a mega electoral shock, which it richly deserves.

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