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Politicians Play Survival Games while People Keep Protesting for Survival

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Rajan Philips

There is a massive disconnect between the political protests of the people and the survival games that politicians are playing. The President is playing hide and seek from the people and getting his handful of Ministers to say that their boss is ‘not going to budge.’ The Prime Minister, the family’s only communicator comes on television and cuts a sorry figure as a long-gone has-been. The PM says he is ready to meet with the young protesters, but the young protesters are saying there is nothing to meet about and the only thing the PM can do is go into sunset with the President.

The 11-party dissident alliance in the government is going dizzy as it tries every trick in the book to stay politically relevant and insure their seats in parliament. The shameless Maithripala Sirisena even tried a fast one to become interim PM elbowing out MR. The bulk of the SLPP MPs are rudderless without Basil who is powerless to do anything. The entire government formation, so to speak, has been thoroughly debilitated by the protests. But the government has been able to hold on to its SLPP MPs to maintain a bare minimum but precarious simple majority. The 41 MPs of the 11-party alliance are shuffling for a parking spot in parliament, but they have no connection whatsoever to ongoing politics outside parliament.

The opposition formation is not very much different, except that it is not as decadent as the government. Ranil Wickremesinghe, the lonely UNP leader still pretending to be on his high horse, has been opining that “what Sri Lanka needs today is not a change of government but a change of systems including vast economic reforms to avoid a revolution.” To that end, he is proposing “new legislation for Parliament to take over the finances,” and he is “preparing a set of reforms for this purpose.” Mr. Wickremesinghe went further: “One should understand the situation which prevails today. People who have been led by the youth want a new beginning and a complete change of the systems. Parliament at the moment is focusing on a change of government. Peaceful protests that are going on at the moment will turn into a revolution if we ignore people’s demands.”

Parliament and the People

Mr. Wickremesinghe’s statement is obviously more sophisticated than anything that Rajapaksas can put together. But he slips into sophistry when he says that “focusing on a change of government” is somehow tantamount to turning “a deaf ear to people’s demands.” How so, when the sole demand of the people is for the resignation of the President and the Prime Minister? Mr. Wickremesinghe is not only mute on the matter of resignations, but he is also not explaining how he will legislate “for parliament to take over the finances” while the government and the President who destroyed the financial system continue in office.

At least objectively, the former PM’s scheme would serve the same purpose as the 11-party alliance’s proposal to establish a ‘National Executive Council’ under the incumbent President, or the crazy constitutional amendment bill drafted by Lawyers Romesh de Silva and Manohara de Silva to allow cabinet ministers to be drawn from outside parliament. And that purpose is to find a way to keep the Rajapaksa presidency going while appearing to address the concerns raised by the protesting public. I call these political survival games by or on behalf of politicians whom the people want thrown out lock, stock and barrel.

The JVP is honest about calling for the resignation of the President and refusing to be involved in any interim arrangement that will include the incumbent. However, the JVP has not been able to connect itself, let alone give leadership, to public protests that are now getting into the third week after their start on March 31 in Mirihana. The JVP started by being cautious about the initiators of the protesters and their lack of ‘accountability.’ Later it warmed itself to the protests but has not been able to establish any linkages with them. For a Party and its leader, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, who last year declared that they were ready to give leadership to the country, have been nowhere near-ready to respond to the most spontaneous and sustained public protest that unfolded over the last fortnight.

More to the point of this article, the JVP and its leader have been totally ineffective about doing anything to align the business of parliament with the protests outside. This is quite a setback after AKD’s stellar performance in parliament exposing the innards of the controversial LNG deal with New Fortress Energy (NFE). While individual performances are great for image, you cannot achieve anything substantial in parliament unless you are able to work with others. Especially so for a party like the JVP that has only three MPs. And the JVP has been woefully wanting in striking cross-party alliances in parliament when the people are crossing boundaries to unite in protest against the government. Unless the JVP changes its approach it will lose its relevance despite its self-assured readiness.

In contrast to the JVP and its leader, Sajith Premadasa and the SJB have tried to take to parliament the momentum from outside. Like the JVP, the SJB has also refused to be involved in any interim arrangement unless the President resigns beforehand. But unlike the JVP, Mr. Premadasa has taken symbolic and practical steps such as a No Confidence Motion against the government and the abolition of the Executive Presidency. He has already signed the petition for a No Confidence Motion and the resolution for Impeachment. A bill for ‘abolishing’ the Executive Presidency is apparently in progress. Whether they will succeed or not will depend on how Mr. Premadasa is able to articulate parliament and the people and how he would be able to create voting alliances in parliament.

Options before Parliament

At the same time, the onus of making parliament responsive to the people should not be on a single individual leader. It should be up to every MP to clearly show where she or he stands. Besides the SJB leader and MPs, Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam and his Tamil Congress MPs are also reported to have signed on to the two resolutions. This should double the onus on other Tamil and Muslim MPs. Especially the TNA and especially after its ill-timed meeting with the President after being stood up by him for over two years. Remarkably, while almost all Upcountry Tamil MPs have left the governing SLPP alliance, more than a handful of Northern and Eastern Tamil and Muslim MPs are still reluctant to break ranks with the government.

One would think the three JVP MPs will not shy away from supporting the SJB initiatives in parliament. The same goes for Ranil Wickremesinghe despite his rarefied musings about implementing financial reforms through parliament under the current government and its President. The key to any shifting of MPs and their numbers will be the 41 MPs of the 11-party alliance. They have indicated their non-agreement with the No Confidence Motion approach, but they cannot indefinitely remain non-aligned between the Rajapaksa regime and the Premadasa opposition. If the 41 MPs decide to vote against the government and if all Tamil and Muslim MPs count themselves against the government, then there will be a loosening up of the core SLPP contingent, assuming that there is something core about it.

All of this might enable passing a No Confidence Motion against the government, but launching impeachment proceedings against the President will still be a long shot. On the other hand, a more specific No Confidence Motion could be moved against the President. I alluded to this earlier as a parliamentary initiative. Since then, Dr. Nihal Jayawickrama has pointed out that parliament can, and in the current situation has the obligation to, pass a No Confidence Motion against the President under Article 42 of the Constitution which holds the President “responsible to Parliament for the due exercise, performance and discharge of his powers, duties and functions under the Constitution and any written law including the law for the time being relating to public security”

More than the government, it is the President who deserves a No Confidence Motion against him on account of his abject failure in the management of the economy through ill-chosen Secretaries and Governors, despite all the powers that he granted himself through the 20th Amendment. Even so, a No Confidence Motion can seemingly serve only a symbolic purpose as it cannot compel President Rajapaksa to resign from office. But actions in parliament can and do serve a substantive purpose, that of articulating protest politics with constitutional politics. Together they can bring pressure on the two remaining Rajapaksas to exit gracefully within an agreed upon time period. If parliament fails to act in response to protest politics, parliament itself and not just SLPP MPs will become irrelevant.

Nearly 400 years ago, Oliver Cromwell sacked a corrupt British parliament (the Long Parliament) and scolded away its MPs, “”You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go”. Sri Lanka has no Cromwell, but it has its people. They are not going anywhere. Only the President and/or the Parliament will have to go somewhere. The Parliament can go for reelection but not likely until the President goes through his resignation.



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BRICS emerging as strong rival to G7

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It was in the fitness of things for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to hold a special telephonic conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin recently for the purpose of enlightening the latter on the need for a peaceful, diplomatic end to the Russian-initiated blood-letting in Ukraine. Hopefully, wise counsel and humanity would prevail and the world would soon witness the initial steps at least to a complete withdrawal of invading Russian troops from Ukraine.

The urgency for an early end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which revoltingly testifies afresh to the barbaric cruelty man could inflict on his fellows, is underscored, among other things, by the declaration which came at the end of the 14th BRICS Summit, which was held virtually in Beijing recently. Among other things, the declaration said: ‘BRICS reaffirms commitment to ensuring the promotion and protection of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all with the aim to build a brighter shared future for the international community based on mutually beneficial cooperation.’

It is anybody’s guess as to what meanings President Putin read into pledges of the above kind, but it does not require exceptional brilliance to perceive that the barbaric actions being carried out by his regime against Ukrainian civilians make a shocking mockery of these enlightened pronouncements. It is plain to see that the Russian President is being brazenly cynical by affixing his signature to the declaration. The credibility of BRICS is at risk on account of such perplexing contradictory conduct on the part of its members. BRICS is obliged to rectify these glaring irregularities sooner rather than later.

At this juncture the important clarification must be made that it is the conduct of the Putin regime, and the Putin regime only, that is being subjected to censure here. Such strictures are in no way intended to project in a negative light, the Russian people, who are heirs to a rich, humanistic civilization that produced the likes of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, among a host of other eminent spirits, who have done humanity proud and over the decades guided humans in the direction of purposeful living. May their priceless heritage live long, is this columnist’s wish.

However, the invaluable civilization which the Russian people have inherited makes it obligatory on their part to bring constant pressure on the Putin regime to end its barbarism against the Ukrainian civilians who are not at all party to the big power politics of Eastern Europe. They need to point out to their rulers that in this day and age there are civilized, diplomatic and cost-effective means of resolving a state’s perceived differences with its neighbours. The spilling of civilian blood, on the scale witnessed in Ukraine, is a phenomenon of the hoary past.

The BRICS grouping, which encompasses some of the world’s predominant economic and political powers, if not for the irregular conduct of the Putin regime, could be said to have struck on a policy framework that is farsighted and proactive on the issue of global equity.

There is the following extract from a report on its recent summit declaration that needs to be focused on. It reads: BRICS notes the need to ensure “Meaningful participation of developing and least developed countries, especially in Africa, in global decision-making processes and structures and make it better attuned to contemporary realities.”

The above are worthy goals that need to be pursued vigorously by global actors that have taken upon themselves the challenge of easing the lot of the world’s powerless countries. The urgency of resuming the North-South Dialogue, among other questions of importance to the South, has time and again been mentioned in this column. This is on account of the fact that the most underdeveloped regions of the South have been today orphaned in the world system.

Given that the Non-aligned Movement and like organizations, that have espoused the resolution of Southern problems over the decades, are today seemingly ineffective and lacking in political and economic clout, indications that the BRICS grouping is in an effort to fill this breach is heartening news for the powerless of the world. Indeed, the crying need is for the poor and powerless to be brought into international decision-making processes that affect their wellbeing and it is hoped that BRICS’s efforts in this regard would bear fruit.

What could help in increasing the confidence of the underdeveloped countries in BRICS, is the latter’s rising economic and political power. While in terms of economic strength, the US remains foremost in the world with a GDP of $ 20.89 trillion, China is not very far behind with a GDP of $ 14.72 trillion. The relevant readings for some other key BRICS countries are as follows: India – $ 2.66 trillion, Russia – $ 1.48 trillion and Brazil $ 1.44 trillion. Of note is also the fact that except for South Africa, the rest of the BRICS are among the first 15 predominant economies, assessed in GDP terms. In a global situation where economics drives politics, these figures speak volumes for the growing power of the BRICS countries.

In other words, the BRICS are very much abreast of the G7 countries in terms of a number of power indices. The fact that many of the BRICS possess a nuclear capability indicates that in military terms too they are almost on par with the G7.

However, what is crucial is that the BRICS, besides helping in modifying the world economic order to serve the best interests of the powerless as well, contribute towards changing the power balances within the vital organs of the UN system, such as the UN Security Council, to render them more widely representative of changing global power realities.

Thus, India and Brazil, for example, need to be in the UNSC because they are major economic powers in their own right. Since they are of a democratic orientation, besides pushing for a further democratization of the UN’s vital organs, they would be in a position to consistently work towards the wellbeing of the underprivileged in their respective regions, which have tremendous development potential.

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Queen of Hearts

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She has certainly won the hearts of many with the charity work she is engaged in, on a regular basis, helping the poor, and the needy.

Pushpika de Silva was crowned Mrs. Sri Lanka for Mrs. World 2021 and she immediately went into action, with her very own charity project – ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

When launching this project, she said: “Lend a Helping Hand is dear to me. With the very meaning of the title, I am extending my helping hand to my fellow brothers and sisters in need; in a time where our very existence has become a huge question and people battling for daily survival.”

Since ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ became a reality, last year, Pushpika has embarked on many major charity projects, including building a home for a family, and renovating homes of the poor, as well.

The month of June (2022) saw Pushpika very much in action with ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

She made International Father’s Day a very special occasion by distributing food items to 100 poor families.

“Many are going without a proper meal, so I was very keen, in my own way, to see that these people had something to keep the hunger pangs away.”

A few days later, the Queen of Hearts made sure that 50 more people enjoyed a delicious and nutritious meal.

“In these trying times, we need to help those who are in dire straits and, I believe, if each one of us could satisfy the hunger, and thirst, of at least one person, per day, that would be a blessing from above.”

Pushpika is also concerned about the mothers, with kids, she sees on the roads, begging.

“How helpless is a mother, carrying a small child, to come to the street and ask for something.

“I see this often and I made a special effort to help some of them out, with food and other necessities.”

What makes Pushpika extra special is her love for animals, as well, and she never forgets the street dogs that are having a tough time, these days, scavenging for food.

“These animals, too, need food, and are voiceless, so we need to think of them, as well. Let’s have mercy on them, too. Let’s love them, as well.”

The former beauty queen served a delicious meal for the poor animals, just recently, and will continue with all her charity projects, on a regular basis, she said.

Through her charity project, ‘Lend a Helping Hand,” she believes she can make a change, though small.

And, she says, she plans to be even more active, with her charity work, during these troubled times.

We wish Pushpika de Silva all the very best, and look forward to seeing more of her great deeds, through her ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ campaign.

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Hope and political change:No more Appachis to the rescue

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KUPPI on the current economic and political crisis: intervention 1

by Harshana Rambukwella

In Buddhist literature, there is the Parable of the Burning House where the children of a wealthy man, trapped inside a burning house, refuse to leave it, fearful of leaving its comfort – because the flames are yet to reach them. Ultimately, they do leave because the father promises them wonderful gifts and are saved from the fire. Sri Lankans have long awaited such father figures – in fact, our political culture is built on the belief that such ‘fathers’ will rescue us. But this time around no fathers are coming. As Sri Lankans stare into an uncertain future, and a multitude of daily sufferings, and indignities continue to pile upon us, there is possibly one political and emotional currency that we all need – hope. Hope is a slippery term. One can hope ‘in-vain’ or place one’s faith in some unachievable goal and be lulled into a sense of complacency. But, at the same time, hope can be critically empowering – when insurmountable obstacles threaten to engulf you, it is the one thing that can carry you forward. We have innumerable examples of such ‘hope’ from history – both religious and secular. When Moses led the Israelites to the promised land, ‘hope’ of a new beginning sustained them, as did faith in God. When Queen Viharamahadevi set off on a perilous voyage, she carried hope, within her, along with the hope of an entire people. When Martin Luther King Jr made his iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech, hope of an America where Black people could live in dignity, struck a resonant chord and this historical sense of hope also provided inspiration for the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.

This particular moment, in Sri Lanka, feels a moment of ‘hopelessness’. In March and April, this year, before the cowardly attack on the Gota Go Gama site, in Galle Face, there was a palpable sense of hope in the aragalaya movement as it spread across the country. While people were struggling with many privations, the aragalaya channeled this collective frustration into a form of political and social action, we have rarely seen in this country. There were moments when the aragalaya managed to transcend many divisions – ethnic, religious and class – that had long defined Sri Lanka. It was also largely a youth led movement which probably added to the ‘hope’ that characterized the aragalaya. However, following the May 09th attack something of this ‘hope’ was lost. People began to resign themselves to the fact that the literally and metaphorically ‘old’ politics, and the corrupt culture it represents had returned. A Prime Minister with no electoral base, and a President in hiding, cobbled together a shaky and illegitimate alliance to stay in power. The fuel lines became longer, the gas queues grew, food prices soared and Sri Lanka began to run out of medicines. But, despite sporadic protests and the untiring commitment of a few committed activists, it appeared that the aragalaya was fizzling out and hope was stagnant and dying, like vehicles virtually abandoned on kilometers-long fuel queues.

However, we now have a moment where ‘hope’ is being rekindled. A national movement is gathering pace. As the prospect of the next shipment of fuel appears to recede into the ever-distant future, people’s anger and frustration are once again being channeled towards political change. This is a do-or-die moment for all Sri Lankans. Regardless of our political beliefs, our ideological orientation, our religion or class, the need for political change has never been clearer. Whether you believe that an IMF bailout will save us, or whether you believe that we need a fundamental change in our economic system, and a socially and economically more just society, neither of these scenarios will come to pass without an immediate political change. The political class that now clings to power, in this country, is like a cancer – poisoning and corrupting the entire body politic, even as it destroys itself. The Prime Minister who was supposed to be the messiah channeling international goodwill and finances to the country has failed miserably and we have a President who seems to be in love with the idea of ‘playing president’. The Sri Lankan people have a single existential choice to make in this moment – to rise as one to expel this rotten political order. In Sri Lanka, we are now in that burning house that the Buddha spoke of and we all seem to be waiting for that father to appear and save us. But now we need to change the plot of this parable. No father will come for us. Our fathers (or appachis) have led us to this sorry state. They have lied, deceived and abandoned us. It is now up to us to rediscover the ‘hope’ that will deliver us from the misery of this economic and political crisis. If we do not act now the house will burn down and we will be consumed in its flames.

Initiated by the Kuppi Collective, a group of academics and activists attached to the university system and other educational institutes and actions.

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