Connect with us

Editorial

Marriage of Blues on the rocks?

Published

on

Wednesday 6th January, 2021

Speculation is rife in political circles that the relationship between the SLFP and the SLPP has turned sour, and their bickering could lead to a breakup. This has come about following a discordant note SLFP leader and former President Maithripala Sirisena struck in a recent interview with The Hindu newspaper; he hinted at the possibility of the SLFP going it alone at the next Provincial Council (PC) elections. Coalition partners usually issue such veiled threats to up the ante in negotiations over nominations, etc., but the SLFP seniors are said to be upset that the SLPP has shortchanged them. Some of them have even complained, in public, of what they call stepmotherly treatment at the hands of the SLPP.

There is no love lost between the SLPP leaders and their SLFP counterparts; theirs is an alliance of strange bedfellows; they are acting out of expediency rather than principle, as is public knowledge. The SLFP is aware that if it stays in the ruling coalition indefinitely, it will run the risk of going the same way as the traditional left. It will have to break ranks with the SLPP and shore up its support base if it is to prevent itself being dissolved in the SLPP-led coalition. However, such a course of action is not without high political risks. If it contests the next PC polls separately but fails to improve its electoral performance significantly, it will find itself in the same predicament as the UNP, which is now lying supine. A breakaway in a huff will also lead to a division in its parliamentary group with some of its MPs switching their allegiance to the SLPP. (Eight Opposition MPs have already voted with the government for the 20th Amendment.)

Founder and chief strategist of the SLPP Basil Rajapaksa issued a veiled warning to the SLFP, in an interview with Hiru TV, on Monday night. Denying the allegation that the SLPP had shortchanged the SLFP, he dwelt on the fate that had befallen the JVP, following its breakaway from the SLFP-led UPFA coalition in protest against the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s decision to share tsunami relief with the LTTE, in 2005. It backed Mahinda Rajapaksa in the presidential race in that year, but did not return to the government’s fold.

The JVP, which had 39 MPs in the UPFA administration, had never recovered, since its hasty breakaway, Basil said by way of a warning to the SLFP. He got it right; the JVP did not make that risky political parachute jump at the right altitude. Kumaratunga’s tsunami relief sharing mechanism was stillborn, and the JVP should have stayed in that government, made the best use of the key ministerial positions it had received to serve the public and muster enough popular support. Its exit from the UPFA caused it to suffer a debilitating split with a group of its MPs led by Wimal Weerawansa crossing over to the UPFA government, in 2007.

Prevarication is Sirisena’s forte. When he was asked by a journalist, at a recent SLFP function, whether his party had decided to go it alone at the next PC polls, he said the PC elections had been postponed, and, therefore, he did not want to field that query. He may have failed as a President, but he is blessed with an abundance of political acumen. He has outfoxed the foxes in Sri Lankan politics. He left the UPFA government in 2014 and closed ranks with Ranil Wickremesinghe to beat his former boss, Mahinda Rajapaksa in the presidential contest and became the President, the following year. He harassed the Rajapaksas to his heart’s content. Thereafter, he ditched Wickremesinghe and sided with the Rajapaksas to remain relevant in national politics after the expiration of his presidential term.

Sirisena cannot be unaware that it is too early for the SLFP to pull out of the SLPP coalition and go it alone at an election. He is likely to wait until the writing appears on the wall for the ruling coalition to vote with his feet. Sri Lankan governments with two-thirds majorities have had short lifespans. The United Front government, formed in 1970, had a two-thirds majority, collapsed in 1977. The JRJ government had to resort to a heavily-rigged referendum (1982) to secure a second term and retain its five-sixths majority in Parliament. The Mahinda Rajapaksa administration, which was formed in 2010, crashed in 2015 even before completing its first term although it had mustered a two-thirds majority. It looks as though the present regime with a steamroller majority were also busy ruining things for itself. Sirisena is adept at playing the waiting game that is politics, and, most of all, springing surprises for others.



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Editorial

Give And Take

Published

on

Sri Lanka heads into the Sinhala and Tamil New Year at a time of difficulty and hardship unprecedented in our contemporary history. Covid 19 has cost us much, as it has cost nearly all countries in the planet. There have been claims that the worst is over and we continue to hope that this is correct. But that is not something that can be said with certainty. However a semblance of normalcy has returned although sections of the community, such as those dependent on tourism, continue to suffer hardship. Nobody can claim that the economy is in good shape with the rupee plunging to a historic low of Rs. 200 to the U.S. dollar. This must reflect both on the import bill and on external debt servicing and repayment. But tea prices remain good and the weather has been fair. While we can take comfort that we have not yet defaulted on our massive debt servicing and repayment obligations, the situation is far from rosy with our ability to raise new loans at interest rates that are not exorbitant declining by the day.

Although the ever-rising cost of living continues to impose hardship on both the poor and the middle class, this has been something that has been always with us for a very long time. Although incomes have grown, prices have grown much faster and we know too well that the value of money is now a fraction of what it was. This has particularly hurt savings and the prevailing low interest rates have dealt a kidney punch to large numbers of retired people dependent on interest income for their livelihood. While grumbling continues, people have learned to cope as best as they can. Despite all the negatives, the rulers continue to project a bold front. But there is no escaping the reality that the government has rapidly lost popularity since the last elections, both presidential and parliamentary.

No ban on New Year travel has been imposed although there are inherent risks, in the covid context, of large numbers of people going home to their villages from crowded urban centers they work in. This has been a long-held tradition and it would be a brave government that would interfere however much prudence dictates otherwise. While most people wear masks while moving around in public places, enforcing social distancing in crowded public transport will be next to impossible. Thus the powers that be have resorted to the easier way of leaving the choice to the good sense of the people rather than enforcing strict rules controlling movement. Although other countries have seen spikes of infection by being lenient on holiday travel, Sri Lanka will hopefully have better luck post avuruddhu.

We run on this page today a contribution from the Pathfinder Foundation of Mr. Milinda Moragoda, our High Commissioner-designate to New Delhi cautioning the government against taking too strong a stance on import substitution – a direction in which it is clearly moving. Given Moragoda’s political orientation, Pathfinder may be seen to be sticking its neck out by advocating a hemin hemin policy. Nobody would reasonably object to government imposing certain import bans to encourage local production as in the recent case of turmeric. There is no debate that we must grow crops that we can rather than import them. But governments must always strike the right balance between the interests of producers and consumers. When Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake pushed a massive food production drive during his 1965-70 government, he used to say at public meetings in agricultural areas that enormous foreign exchange expenditure was being incurred for the import of potatoes that some foreign experts had once-upon-a-time said cannot be economically grown here.

But Welimada farmers disproved them. Thereafter potatoes have been successfully grown even in Jaffna although we have not achieved self-sufficiency. “Why should we pay farmers in potato growing countries for their produce when we can pay that money to our own farmers?,” the prime minister used to ask. “But when we enforce a policy to ensure that our cultivators got the money flowing abroad, our opponents accuse the government of kicking the poor man’s ala hodda.” This was also true of chillies and onions where import substitution policies worked to benefit local farmers although at a cost to consumers. Jaffna farmers garlanding one-time Agriculture Minister Hector Kobbekaduwa with onions and chillies when he ran for president against J.R. Jayewardene was testimony to this policy. But it has not worked as successfully as it might have where local sugar production was concerned. Despite this country being endowed by conditions enabling sugar cane growing, we are nowhere near self-sufficiency although different governments have used tariff barriers to ensure better prices to domestic cane growers. Unfortunately we have a local sugar industry which makes more money out of its potable alcohol byproduct than from its sugar.

We have to be always conscious of the trade balance and cannot forget that Europe and the USA are the biggest markets for our garment industry. The ongoing restrictions on motor vehicle imports has no doubt saved us much foreign exchange but we cannot butter our bread on both sides by adopting one sided trade policies. That there must be give and take is a fact of life and it would be useful for the concerned authorities to take note of the Pathfinder perception that “openness to trade improves the tgrowth, employment and income trajectories of economies.”

Continue Reading

Editorial

A tall tale told by cops

Published

on

Saturday 10th April, 2021

Thousands of military personnel who died in the line of duty to make this country safe would turn in their graves if they knew the way the state is treating their loved ones. Their widows and mothers were seen recently staging street protests in a bid to have some grievances redressed. On Thursday, while they were conducting a peaceful march from the Fort Railway station to the Presidential Secretariat, demanding that they be paid their spouses’ salaries instead of pensions until the time when their husbands would have reached the retirement age. Ven. Jamurewela Chandrarathana, described as the chief organiser of the event, and another person were arrested and subsequently granted police bail. The police claimed that the arrests had been made over a stone attack on two of their vehicles. This, we believe, is a tall tale.

No one in his proper senses dares to hurl stones at a police vehicle in full view of heavily armed cops, and run the risk of having to keep staring at the ceiling of an orthopaedic ward for weeks, if not months. There have been instances where even protesting students had their limbs broken and skulls cracked at the hands of the police riot squads. So, only agents provocateurs working for the government will carry out a stone attack on the police.

Two stone throwers, caught by some members of the public and handed over to the police, on Thursday, vanished while in police custody, only Chandrarathana Thera and another person were taken to a nearby police station, according to the organisers of the protest. This is a very serious allegation, which must not go uninvestigated. One of the attackers is seen in the CCTV footage of the incident, and the bold manner in which he threw stones in a place swarming with police personnel in uniform and civvies suggests that he was confident he would not have to face the consequences of his action. If the police cannot do their job properly, they must, at least, learn how to lie convincingly!

The government says it has sorted out the issue over which the widows of the slain military personnel took to the streets, and a gazette to that effect has been put out. If it is telling the truth, then the protesters had not been informed of what it had done. Why didn’t the defence top brass invite the protesters to a discussion and inform them that their problems had been solved? In fact, the government should have solved the salary issue much earlier.

The leaders of the incumbent dispensation never miss an opportunity to boast of having ended the country’s war on terror. They, no doubt, provided unwavering political leadership for the war effort, but the fact remains that it is the military, the police including the STF, and the Civil Defence Force that made the defeat of terrorism possible. One of the main election pledges of the present government was to look after the interests of the armed forces and police personnel. Its leaders, during their Opposition days, shed copious tears for the military and the police, the slain armed forces personnel and their families and gained a lot of political mileage. They, therefore, must not wait until the family members of the late military personnel stage protests, to act, and, most of all, ensure that the latter are treated with respect.

The government claims its political opponents were behind Thursday’s protest. This claim may be true. There is hardly any issue that does not get politicised in this country. Didn’t the SLPP politicise and exploit the Easter Sunday attacks to win elections? The problem of a bunch of bankrupt politicians and publicity-crazy elements including some priests exploiting the grievances of the family members of the slain warriors to compass their selfish ends would not have arisen if the government had cared to give the protesters a patient hearing instead of unleashing the police on them.

Damaging police vehicles is a serious offence, and the duo responsible for Thursday’s stone-throwing incident can be charged under the Offences against Public Property Act and denied bail. An investigation is called for to find out why the police allowed them to escape, as alleged by the protesters.

Continue Reading

Editorial

Dogs, donkeys, fools and lunatics

Published

on

Friday 9th April, 2021

A heated argument between SJB MP Sarath Fonseka and Minister Chamal Rajapaksa, yesterday, plunged Parliament into turmoil with the government and Opposition MPs freely trading insults and threats across the well of the house.

All hell broke loose while the SJB was staging a protest against the unseating of its MP Ranjan Ramanayake, who is currently serving a jail term. Protests will not be of any help to Ramanayake, who is languishing in prison. Only a presidential pardon could save him. Not that everybody has welcomed his sentence, but that is the way the cookie crumbles in courts. His colleagues should have asked him to act with restraint. He kept on tearing into the judiciary unnecessarily and asked for trouble. If the SJB actually believes that Ramanayake has not ceased to be an MP, can it allow anyone else from its Gampaha list to fill the vacancy created by his removal?

The MPs of both sides, yesterday, indulged in insulting some animals as well. They were heard calling each other dog, donkey, fool and lunatic, etc. Politicians may be called fools and lunatics, but why should poor animals be insulted in this manner? Animal lovers must be at a loss to understand why some MPs flew into a rage on being called dogs and donkeys, and even threatened their rivals.

Dogs and donkeys are far superior to politicians, in many respects, so much so that one cannot but wish all people’s representatives in this country behaved in such a way as to deserve to be called dogs and donkeys.

The dog is a wonderful creature. It is known for its courage, intelligence, faithfulness, gratitude and readiness to protect its master even risking its own life. What a nice place this country would be if our representatives also had these canine traits. Blessed is a country that has courageous, faithful and grateful politicians who fiercely protect the citizenry like guard dogs. If our MPs were as faithful as canines, they would never switch their allegiance for pecuniary benefits; the problem of crossovers would cease to be.

In this country, there have been several unfortunate incidents, where some wicked humans threw their aged parents into kennels and other such places, and sniffer dogs in their twilight years, needing special care, were thrown out of the police kennels, where they were auctioned instead of being looked after in appreciation of their outstanding contribution to crimebusting. Such shocking incidents come about as humans lack canine qualities; dogs never desert those who look after them.

Sri Lankan politics is characterised by a huge trust deficit. The trustworthiness of canines has never been in question. This must have been the reason why King Matthias of Hungary (1443-1490), trusted his dogs more than his palace guards. Historians tell us that the wise monarch, troubled by intrigue and treachery in his court, which was full of greedy, unfaithful noblemen, surrounded himself with some guard dogs.

The donkey is intelligent and has an incredible memory despite popular misconceptions, according to scientists. They are also known for their ability to carry heavy loads. They coexist with other creatures. So, why should politicians with shallow minds and deep pockets and are averse to shouldering the burden of serving the taxpaying public, who maintains them, be called donkeys that carry heavy loads, expecting nothing in return?

Will our honourable representatives be so considerate as to desist from insulting dogs, donkeys and other such critters?

Continue Reading

Trending