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May Day in the Middle of a Protest Upheaval



by Rajan Philips

May Day this year arrives in the middle of an already month long political protest. The confluence of the two is a historically fascinating coincidence. The political implications of the current protests have proved to be quite consequential so far, but while their direction is clear there is no certainty as to when and how they will end. To be sure, there is no end game or end state in politics. Politics is always work in progress, a perpetual quest for something more perfect. To be sure, as well, the current protests in Sri Lanka are more a revolt against too much and too unbearable imperfection than it is for than anything identifiably more perfect.

There are still suggestions that the current protests calling for the resignation of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa regime are irresponsible because they don’t have a post-Gota plan. The reality is that the only plan that can be before the country now is to get the incumbent President out of the way so that a new interim government can start planning and acting to find a way out of the crisis that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has single handedly led the country into. Before asking the protesters on the Galle Face Green for their post-Gota plan, it would fair ask the President the same question.

What is the President’s plan for the post-protest period? What plan or process has he been showing for one whole month after the protests began? Except taking one more wrong step forward and four hasty steps in retreat. He has all the powers under the 20th Amendment and an elder brother, who is also a former President, for Prime Minister. What plans are the two showing jointly or severally? The two brothers have come to such a pass that each wants the other one to quit.

Needless to say, the President, the Prime Minister and whoever is running the government with them have tried every trick to appease the protesters and hold on to power, but nothing is working. They are incapable of imposing anything punitive on the protesters, and there is nothing that they can do that will satisfy the protesters except their resignations. They are contributing nothing to either the talks at the IMF or the tasks of providing essential supplies at home. Neither of them nor anyone else on their political entourage has any credibility with the IMF. In Washington, at the IMF, it is left to India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to make special pleading on behalf of Sri Lanka for urgent financial assistance, and even to lower Sri Lanka’s status as a middle-income country to a low-income country status to make it eligible for urgent financial assistance.

Conflicting reports of who is going to be in or out kept emerging on Friday. There were reports in the morning that the Prime Minister was able to show the support of 117 SLPP MPs at a meeting Government MPs held on Thursday at the President’s House. 109 reportedly attended the meeting while eight others apparently pledged support in absentia. By afternoon, there were other reports quoting Maithripala Sirisena that the President had a separate meeting with SLFP MPs to form an interim government with a new Prime Minister and cabinet of Ministers. This is what JRJ’s Executive Presidential system has devolved into after 44 years.

It is not clear whether the President met only with SLFP MPs, or whether the group of independents led by the infamous Wimal-Gammanpila-Vasu troika also attended the same meeting. Not that it matters if there is any clarity or not about what the so called independents are doing, until they rise on their hindlegs in parliament and show with whom they are standing – with the President, the current Prime Minister, or the people. They have mysteriously switched their allegiance from Mahinda to Gotabaya, but they have not at all aligned themselves with the people, the protesters.

These Protesters

In an exclusive interview with him, Jamila Hussain of the Daily Mirror (April 27) asked the Prime Minister, “But even now do you think your vote base is intact?” “Absolutely,” answered the PM. “These same voters,” he went on, “will vote for me again at the next elections, because they know who I am and what I am. I have that confidence. See, those masses are not protesting against me. Just because certain sections are calling on me to go, does not mean those hundreds of thousands who voted for us, want us to go. These protestors alone do not represent the entire population, although their views are also respected.”

“These protesters!”

TNA MP Sumanthiran got a little public caning from a very public intellectual for apparently calling the protesters, “These people!” Who is going to scold Mahinda Rajapaksa for his slight? Earlier in the interview, he offered this: “Only certain sections of the people are saying this (that he should resign). There are some groups within these sections who are those who were always against us. It is these people who are asking us to go.” What is interesting here is that the Prime Minister is being uncharacteristically cagey in not openly saying who he thinks the protesters are.

For someone who publicly blamed India’s RAW and Sri Lanka’s minorities for his defeat in 2019, Mahinda Rajapaksa is trying to avoid saying what he really wants to say, and what he might have said without hesitation even three months ago. It is that the protestors are not Sinhala Buddhists. He is not saying that now because he knows that ship has sailed leaving the Rajapaksas stranded on an island of their own making. They tried it early on when they called the protest Sri Lanka’s “Arab Spring,” obviously to foment anti-Muslim backlash, but that went nowhere. Then they waited, hoping for someone else to beat the communal drum. No one did, but a panoply of cultural drums have come into play.

When the chorus from Les Misérables broke out, “Do you hear the people sing? Singing a song of angry men? It is the music of the people, who will not be slaves again!” on a Saturday evening (April 16) at the Galle Face Green, it came as a sign that Sri Lanka is taking a new socio-cultural turn in politics. The long reviled westernized middle class, the impotent agent of the failed project of the Ceylonese nation, has thrust itself to the forefront of the current struggle, and no one is screaming communal-foul. ‘Les Misérables’ chorus has not been the only cultural offering of the protest.

Art in every form seems to have become the face of politics among protesters. A bevy of performance artists, dancers, musicians and percussionists are mixing art and politics in creative ways. Even a traditional exorcism ritual comprising 18 dances to the beat of the drums, was performed apparently to rid Sri Lanka of the most superstitious political family it has had. There have been performances in memory of the Easter Sunday victims and the protest site is plastered with banners depicting the meaning and the moment of the protests.

To those who might be inclined to dismiss the art and music performances that are energizing protesters as middle-class fun and frolic, and not serious politics, here is an eyewitness account offered a monk from Anuradhapura, Pussiyankulame Sumanarathana Thera, as reported by Economynext: “I came all the way from Anuradhapura because I heard these protests were backed by NGOs and extremists. But what I saw was that the protesters are from all walks of life who are affected by the ongoing economic crisis. I don’t think the Sri Lankan people will let politicians steal in this manner again, or use racism as a tool to gain political power. People are enduring much hardship to be here, they sleep in tents, and the rain often leaks through, the ground gets muddy and it is mostly impossible to sleep. People who see me often offer a comfortable place for me to pass the night, but a revolution has to be done from the site of the struggle, and I and everyone else will be here until the end, enduring all the hardships.”

The truth of the matter is that, as spoken by the Monk from Anuradhapura, “the protesters are from all walks of life who are affected by the ongoing economic crisis.” The protests began more than a month ago in Mirihana. The focus shifted to Galle Face opposite the Presidential Secretariat 20 days ago and it keeps growing. A General Strike was successfully launched in solidarity with the protest by a thousand trade unions. The trade unions have warned that if President Rajapaksa and his entire cabinet, which includes the Prime Minister, do not resign immediately the unions sill launch an indefinite strike from May 6.

MPs or Potatoes in Parliament?

The real tragedy is that parliament has singularly failed to rise to the occasion by its failure to reach a consequential level of consensus among its MPs. For all practical effect and purpose, MPs are behaving as though they are, to recall a famous description in a different context, “formed by the simple addition of homonymous magnitudes, much as potatoes in a sack form a sack of potatoes.” You can understand why the collectively more intelligent protesters are calling for the sacking of the collectively moronic sack of 225 potatoes!

No one knows whether the government has majority support or not in parliament because no one is willing to test it. Not when the alleged going rate for allegiance is two million rupees per MP. No one in the opposition might be having that kind of money unless someone is stupid enough to advance cash now in anticipation of bond paybacks later. Is the government paying its way to show support in parliament in spite of the ongoing protests in the country? How long is the government going to pretend that it has a majority in parliament?

In any event a No Confidence Motion against the government is irrelevant now because that is not going to remove the President, and no one else in the opposition is going to join a new all-party government. The President has been waiting for a month to form an all-party government, but there are no takers. And there will be no takers unless the President resigns and a new interim President is appointed by parliament.

A No Confidence Motion against the President is constitutionally appropriate even though it will not be binding for the President to resign in compliance. But passing an NCM against the President is the only way by which parliament can align itself with the protesting people and keep itself relevant at the moment. Without it, parliament will become irrelevant and the prospect of containing the protest energies within constitutional possibilities will be seriously impaired if not irreparably damaged. There could be more replications of Rambukkana, and things can get out of control very quickly.

Nothing can or will happen until the President and the Prime Minister agree to resign and do resign. Once there is agreement over resignations, parliament can act to elect one of its MPs as interim President to succeed the incumbent upon resignation. It will not require much brainpower to figure the agenda for an interim government, for modifying the presidential system through a constitutional amendment, and for calling a timely parliamentary election.

In the makeup of the current parliament, SLPP is still the biggest bloc (and block), the SJB comes second, the new ‘independents’ come third but its leaders are notoriously self-serving, and the JVP has only three MPs to count for all the weight it carries. The Tamil and Muslim parties are mostly for the resignation of both the President and the Prime Minister, although a handful of them are disgraceful enough to be allegedly bought for money and/or co-opted into cabinet. As GG Ponnambalam used to say, that is their “itch.”

The catalytic role in breaking the current stalemate clearly falls on the SJB and JVP. For starters, they have to break the stalemate between them. The SJB cannot make any headway on any measure in parliament until and unless it is able to find common ground with the JVP. The same goes for the JVP and its aloofness from the SJB. The SJB needs the support of more MPs than it has to achieve anything in parliament. The JVP is good at punching above its parliamentary weight, but its punches will not be effective unless they are for a common initiative in parliament.

Without even limited co-ordination between them, the SJB and the JVP will not be able persuade rethinking and realignment among SLPP MPs and the so called independents. Once shifting and realignment starts, the positive infection will spread. A good majority of potatoes will become real MPs again. And parliament will come into greater alignment with the protesting people. Parliament must be able to assert itself against the dysfunctional incumbent President before it is able to abolish the mode of election and the powers of the Executive President. Up till then, the political stalemate will continue and the economic hardships will get worse.

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Lives of journalists increasingly on the firing line



Since the year 2000 some 45 journalists have been killed in the conflict-ridden regions of Palestine and senior Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was the latest such victim. She was killed recently in a hail of bullets during an Israeli military raid in the contested West Bank. She was killed in cold blood even as she donned her jacket with the word ‘PRESS’ emblazoned on it.

While claims and counter-claims are being made on the Akleh killing among some of the main parties to the Middle East conflict, the Israeli police did not do their state any good by brutally assaulting scores of funeral mourners who were carrying the body of Akleh from the hospital where she was being treated to the location where her last rites were to be conducted in East Jerusalem.

The impartial observer could agree with the assessment that ‘disproportionate force’ was used on the mourning civilians. If the Israeli government’s position is that strong-arm tactics are not usually favoured by it in the resolution conflictual situations, the attack on the mourners tended to strongly belie such claims. TV footage of the incident made it plain that brazen, unprovoked force was used on the mourners. Such use of force is decried by the impartial commentator.

As for the killing of Akleh, the position taken by the UN Security Council could be accepted that “an immediate, thorough, transparent and impartial investigation” must be conducted on it. Hopefully, an international body acceptable to the Palestinian side and other relevant stakeholders would be entrusted this responsibility and the wrong-doers swiftly brought to justice.

Among other things, the relevant institution, may be the International Criminal Court, should aim at taking urgent steps to end the culture of impunity that has grown around the unleashing of state terror over the years. Journalists around the world are chief among those who have been killed in cold blood by state terrorists and other criminal elements who fear the truth.

The more a journalist is committed to revealing the truth on matters of crucial importance to publics, the more is she or he feared by those sections that have a vested interest in concealing such vital disclosures. This accounts for the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, for instance.

Such killings are of course not unfamiliar to us in Sri Lanka. Over the decades quite a few local journalists have been killed or been caused to disappear by criminal elements usually acting in league with governments. The whole truth behind these killings is yet to be brought to light while the killers have been allowed to go scot-free and roam at large. These killings are further proof that Sri Lanka is at best a façade democracy.

It is doubtful whether the true value of a committed journalist has been fully realized by states and publics the world over. It cannot be stressed enough that the journalist on the spot, and she alone, writes ‘the first draft of history’. Commentaries that follow from other quarters on a crisis situation, for example, are usually elaborations that build on the foundational factual information revealed by the journalist. Minus the principal facts reported by the journalist no formal history-writing is ever possible.

Over the decades the journalists’ death toll has been increasingly staggering. Over the last 30 years, 2150 journalists and media workers have been killed in the world’s conflict and war zones. International media reports indicate that this figure includes the killing of 23 journalists in Ukraine, since the Russian invasion began, and the slaying of 11 journalists, reporting on the doings of drug cartels in Mexico.

Unfortunately, there has been no notable international public outcry against these killings of journalists. It is little realized that the world is the poorer for the killing of these truth-seekers who are putting their lives on the firing line for the greater good of peoples everywhere. It is inadequately realized that the public-spirited journalist too helps in saving lives; inasmuch as a duty-conscious physician does.

For example, when a journalist blows the lid off corrupt deals in public institutions, she contributes immeasurably towards the general good by helping to rid the public sector of irregularities, since the latter sector, when effectively operational, has a huge bearing on the wellbeing of the people. Accordingly, a public would be disempowering itself by turning a blind eye on the killing of journalists. Essentially, journalists everywhere need to be increasingly empowered and the world community is conscience-bound to consider ways of achieving this. Bringing offending states to justice is a pressing need that could no longer be neglected.

The Akleh killing cannot be focused on in isolation from the wasting Middle East conflict. The latter has grown in brutality and inhumanity over the years and the cold-blooded slaying of the journalist needs to be seen as a disquieting by-product of this larger conflict. The need to turn Spears into Ploughshares in the Middle East is long overdue and unless and until ways are worked out by the principal antagonists to the conflict and the international community to better manage the conflict, the bloodletting in the region is unlikely to abate any time soon.

The perspective to be placed on the conflict is to view the principal parties to the problem, the Palestinians and the Israelis, as both having been wronged in the course of history. The Palestinians are a dispossessed and displaced community and so are the Israelis. The need is considerable to fine-hone the two-state solution. There is need for a new round of serious negotiations and the UN is duty-bound to initiate this process.

Meanwhile, Israel is doing well to normalize relations with some states of the Arab world and this is the way to go. Ostracization of Israel by Arab states and their backers has clearly failed to produce any positive results on the ground and the players concerned will be helping to ease the conflict by placing their relations on a pragmatic footing.

The US is duty-bound to enter into a closer rapport with Israel on the need for the latter to act with greater restraint in its treatment of the Palestinian community. A tough law and order approach by Israel, for instance, to issues in the Palestinian territories is clearly proving counter-productive. The central problem in the Middle East is political in nature and it calls for a negotiated political solution. This, Israel and the US would need to bear in mind.

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Doing it differently, as a dancer



Dancing is an art, they say, and this could be developed further, only by an artist with a real artistic mind-set. He must be of an innovative mind – find new ways of doing things, and doing it differently

According to Stephanie Kothalawala – an extremely talented dancer herself – Haski Iddagoda, who has won the hearts of dance enthusiasts, could be introduced as a dancer right on top of this field.


had a chat with Haski, last week, and sent us the following interview:

* How did you start your dancing career?

Believe me, it was a girl, working with me, at office, who persuaded me to take to dancing, in a big way, and got me involved in events, connected with dancing. At the beginning, I never had an idea of what dancing, on stage, is all about. I was a bit shy, but I decided to take up the challenge, and I made my debut at an event, held at Bishop’s College.

* Did you attend dancing classes in order to fine-tune your movements?

Yes, of course, and the start was in 2010 – at dancing classes held at the Colombo Aesthetic Resort.

* What made you chose dancing as a career?

It all came to mind when I checked out the dancing programmes, on TV. After my first dancing programme, on a TV reality show, dancing became my passion. It gave me happiness, and freedom. Also, I got to know so many important people, around the country, via dancing.

* How is your dancing schedule progressing these days?

Due to the current situation, in the country, everything has been curtailed. However, we do a few programmes, and when the scene is back to normal, I’m sure there will be lots of dance happenings.

* What are your achievements, in the dancing scene, so far?

I have won a Sarasavi Award. I believe my top achievement is the repertoire of movements I have as a dancer. To be a top class dancer is not easy…it’s hard work. Let’s say my best achievement is that I’ve have made a name, for myself, as a dancer.

* What is your opinion about reality programmes?

Well, reality programmes give you the opportunity to showcase your talents – as a dancer, singer, etc. It’s an opportunity for you to hit the big time, but you’ve got to be talented, to be recognised. I danced with actress Chatu Rajapaksa at the Hiru Mega Star Season 3, on TV.

* Do you have your own dancing team?

Not yet, but I have performed with many dance troupes.

* What is your favourite dancing style?

I like the style of my first trainer, Sanjeewa Sampath, who was seen in Derana City of Dance. His style is called lyrical hip-hop. You need body flexibility for that type of dance.

* Why do you like this type of dancing?

I like to present a nice dancing act, something different, after studying it.

* How would you describe dancing?

To me, dancing is a valuable exercise for the body, and for giving happiness to your mind. I’m not referring to the kind of dance one does at a wedding, or party, but if you properly learn the art of dancing, it will certainly bring you lots of fun and excitement, and happiness, as well. I love dancing.

* Have you taught your dancing skills to others?

Yes, I have given my expertise to others and they have benefited a great deal. However, some of them seem to have forgotten my contribution towards their success.

* As a dancer, what has been your biggest weakness?

Let’s say, trusting people too much. In the end, I’m faced with obstacles and I cannot fulfill the end product.

* Are you a professional dancer?

Yes, I work as a professional dancer, but due to the current situation in the country, I want to now concentrate on my own fashion design and costume business.

* If you had not taken to dancing, what would have been your career now?

I followed a hotel management course, so, probably, I would have been involved in the hotel trade.

* What are your future plans where dancing is concerned?

To be Sri Lanka’s No.1 dancer, and to share my experience with the young generation.

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Responding to our energy addiction



by Ranil Senanayake

Sri Lanka today is in the throes of addiction withdrawal. Reliant on fossil fuels to maintain the economy and basic living comforts, the sudden withdrawal of oil, coal and gas deliveries has exposed the weakness and the danger of this path of ‘development’ driven by fossil energy. This was a result of some poorly educated aspirants to political power who became dazzled by the advancement of western industrial technology and equated it with ‘Development’. They continue with this blind faith even today.

Thus, on December 20th 1979, an official communiqué was issued by the Government and displayed in the nation’s newspapers stating, “No oil means no development, and less oil, less development. It is oil that keeps the wheels of development moving”. This defined with clarity what was to be considered development by the policy-makers of that time. This fateful decision cast a deadly policy framework for the nation. The energy source that was to drive the national economy would be fossil-based. Even today, that same policy framework and its adherents continue. Everything, from electricity to cooking fuel, was based on fossil energy.

The economics of development, allows externalizing all the negative effects of ‘development’ into the environment, this being justified because, “industrialisation alleviates poverty”. The argument, is that economies need to industrialise in order to reduce poverty; but industrialisation leads to ‘unavoidable emissions. Statements like, ‘reduction in poverty leads to an increase in emissions’ is often trotted out as dogma. Tragically, these views preclude a vision of development based on high tech, non-fossil fuel driven, low consumptive lifestyles. Indeed, one indicator of current ‘development’ is the per capita consumption of power, without addressing the source of that power.

A nation dependent on fossil fuel is very much like an addict dependent on drugs. The demand is small, at first, but grows swiftly, until all available resources are given. In the end, when there is nothing else left to pawn, even the future of their children will be pawned and finally the children themselves! Today, with power cuts and fuel shortages, the pain of addiction begins to manifest.

The creation of desire

This perspective of ‘development’, the extension of so-called ‘civilised living’ is not new to us in Sri Lanka, Farrer, writing in 1920, had this to say when visiting Colombo:

“Modern, indeed, is all this, civilised and refined to a notable degree. All the resources of modern culture are thick about you, and you feel that the world was only born yesterday, so far as right-thinking people are concerned.

And, up and down in the shade of glare, runs furiously the unresting tide of life. The main street is walled in by high, barrack like structures, fiercely western in the heart of the holy East, and the big hotels upon its frontage extend their uncompromising European facades. Within them there is a perpetual twilight, and meek puss-faced Sinhalese take perpetually the drink orders of prosperous planters and white-whiskered old fat gentlemen in sun hats lined with green. At night these places are visible realisation of earthly pleasure to the poor toiling souls from the farthest lonely heights of the mountains and the jungle.” The process goes on still …

Develop we must, but cautiously – with the full awareness of the long-term consequences of each process. Development must be determined by empowering the fundamental rights of the people and of the future generations. Clean air, clean water, access to food and freedom from intoxication, are some of these fundamental rights. Any process that claims to be part of a development process must address these, among other social and legal fundamental rights.

One problem has been that, the movement of a country with traditional non-consumptive values, into a consumerist society based on fossil energy tends to erode these values rapidly. Often, we are told that this is a necessary prerequisite to become a ‘developed country’, but this need not be so. We need to address that fundamental flaw stated in 1979. We need to wean ourselves away from the hydrocarbon-based economy to a carbohydrate-based economy. Which means moving from a fossil fuel-based economy to a renewable energy-based economy.

Fossil Fuels or fossil hydrocarbons are the repository of excess carbon dioxide that is constantly being injected into the atmosphere by volcanic action for over the last 200 million years. Hydrocarbons are substances that were created to lock up that excess Carbon Dioxide, sustaining the stable, Oxygen rich atmosphere we enjoy today. Burning this fossil stock of hydrocarbons is the principal driver of modern society as well as climate change. It is now very clear that the stability of planetary climate cycles is in jeopardy and a very large contributory factor to this crisis are the profligate activities of modern human society.

As a response to the growing public concern that fossil fuels are destroying our future, the fossil industry developed a ‘placating’ strategy. Plant a tree, they say, the tree will absorb the carbon we emit and take it out of the atmosphere, through this action we become Carbon neutral. When one considers that the Carbon which lay dormant for 200 million years was put into the atmosphere today, can never be locked up for an equal amount of time by planting a tree. A tree can hold the Carbon for 500 years at best and when it dies its Carbon will be released into the atmosphere again as Carbon Dioxide.

Carbon Dioxide is extracted from the atmosphere by plants and converted into a solid form through the action of photosynthesis. Photosynthetic biomass performs the act of primary production, the initial step in the manifestation of life. This material has the ability to increase in mass by the absorption of solar or other electromagnetic radiation, while releasing oxygen and water vapor into the atmosphere. It is only photosynthetic biomass that powers carbon sequestration, carbohydrate production, oxygen generation and water transformation, i.e., all actions essential for the sustainability of the life support system of the planet.

Yet currently, it is only one product of this photosynthetic biomass, sequestered carbon, usually represented by wood/timber, that is recognized as having commercial value in the market for mitigating climate change. The ephemeral part, the leaves, are generally ignored, yet the photosynthetic biomass in terrestrial ecosystems are largely composed of leaves, this component needs a value placed on it for its critical ‘environmental services’

With growth in photosynthetic biomass, we will see more Oxygen, Carbon sequestering and water cleansing, throughout the planet. As much of the biomass to be gained is in degraded ecosystems around the planet and as these areas are also home to the world’s rural poor, these degraded ecosystems have great growth potential for generating photosynthetic biomass of high value. If the restoration of these degraded ecosystems to achieve optimal photosynthetic biomass cover becomes a global goal, the amazing magic of photosynthesis could indeed help change our current dire course, create a new paradigm of growth and make the planet more benign for our children.

Instead of flogging the dead horse of fossil energy-based growth as ‘Economic Development’, instead of getting the population addicted to fossil energy, will we have the commonsense to appreciate the value of photosynthetic biomass and encourage businesses that obtain value for the nations Primary Ecosystem Services (PES)? The realization of which, will enrich not only our rural population but rural people the world over!

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