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Raja Wasala Balaya in a reeling Democracy

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We are now in the post-20 era of Non-democracy. Our elected parliament has given a huge approval for curtailing or even abolishing the principles and values of parliamentary democracy. It has voted for a presidential despotism, where the power of a widely expanding family will hugely burden the people and the country.

It is the Raja Wasala at power play, with the speedy rise of the Basil-Balaya.

Where else in the world has the need to give ruling power to a single citizen, who is determined to remain a US citizen with a motherland duality, led to such constitutional changes that threaten the very core of democracy? We don’t work in keeping with the norms and traditions of democracy any more. The democratic process built over 70 plus years, is now slammed for the benefit of the Raja Wasala – the Mansion of Family Power.

The 20A was largely seen as the revival of the JR Jayewardene era of autocracy. But this is certainly beyond the JRJ dominance that came in 1978, with a five-sixth majority in parliament. JRJ, wherever his aatma is today, must be reeling in shame at how the Rajapaksas have gone far beyond his own era of supremacy. We are now in the Gota-Basil era, with the loud cheers for the passage of the 20A, which was assured by its so-called critics, who pretended to be against dual citizenship.

Let’s look at the key mockers of democracy. Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Wimal Weerawansa, Udaya Gammanpila, Vidura Wickremanayake, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe. They were all against the move to restore the right for dual citizens to be elected to Parliament and move to the Cabinet, the office of Prime Minister and the Executive President. They all voted for the 19A, which removed this provision from the constitution. They were carrying on an empty show of protests with loud voices, but fell in line with the Gota Goal when the reality had to be revealed.

What is their escape?  It was ridiculing themselves!

President Gota has given an assurance that once 20A is passed the dual citizenry move will be removed in the ‘new Constitution’ to come very soon. G.L. Peiris says it will be seen in six months – which itself is a farce. 

The reality is that from today onwards, Basil R will have the right to be a nominated Member of Parliament. What is needed is the resignation of just one MP from the government, or even the Opposition, with loads of benefits in cash and kind no doubt; and for the Basil name to be gazetted as a Member of Parliament. The new Constitution, if and when it comes, may remove the dual facility, but one who is already appointed will not be removed.

We have other mockeries of the parliamentary process, too. The UNP has still not appointed the sole member it can to parliament. One more plus vote for the Gota team. While increasing voices of protest against the 20A were heard from the Maha Sangha, the only seat to which a member of the Sangha can be appointed remains vacant – another plus for the Raja Wasala.

The 20A was passed in a House that had one member – Rishad Bathiudeen, who is now in remand prison, come there clad in PPE – Personal Protective Equipment to save himself and all others in the House from Covid-19.  What will be needed very soon is for all MPs who have the courage to oppose Gota Rajya and the Raja Wasala, to wear Politically Protective Equipment, if they are to carry on some fight for the restoration of  Democracy in Sri Lanka.

The sudden release of Bathiudeen’s brother from official custody, and the four-day search for Rishad himself by six police teams, did raise considerable anti-Muslim feeling among the public, which was not curbed or put down by the authorities who prefer such divisions in society.

The final vote on 20A saw a huge Muslim vote for it. These votes helped raise the pro-Gota count to 156 – beyond the 150 needed for a two-thirds in the House. The votes came from  Bathiudeen’s  All Ceylon Makkal Congress and  the Rauff Hakeem-led All Ceylon Muslim Congress. The two party leaders did vote against 20A. Will we soon see a complete change in the Muslim-related politics in this country? 

Will the Pohottu players, led by Gotabaya and Mahinda start a new Allahu Akbar – God is Great – strategy in their politics, recognising that special Muslim support for the 20A? These are the twists and turns that will be seen in our politics,  where the power of a divinity will be seen as more important than the rational thinking of Buddhist and Christian monks and priests today. 20A Akbar – The Greatness of a Family Dictatorship.

One person has to be remembered by his absence at the voting in parliament on Thursday. It was former President Maithripala Sirisena. At least, he had the courage to keep away from opposing the 19A,- with the ban on dual citizen role in elections – which was brought to parliament by his own government. He has certainly done better by his absence than all those Vasudeva, Wimal, Udaya, Wijeyadasa, Viduras who all raised their hands for the 19A. 

The Raja Wasala Balaya  has now moved to the new, highly dangerous terrain in a reeling democracy.   



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Opinion

Buddhism and all beings’ right to life

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A large majority of human beings deny the right to life of animals and other sentient beings, including insects. Why? (Sentient being is a living being endowed with mind and consciousness). The late Venerable Narada Thera in his book titled, Manual of Buddhism, states as follows- “The tolerance of the Buddha was not only to men and women but to dumb animals as well. For it was the Buddha who banned the sacrifice of poor beasts and admonished the followers to extend their loving kindness (maithree) to all living beings. No man has the right to destroy the life of another living being, even for the sake of one’s stomach, as life is precious to all” He quotes from the Metta Sutta: “Whatever living beings there be, feeble or strong, long, stout or medium, small, large, seen or unseen, those dwelling far and near, those who are born and those who are to be born, may all beings be happy-minded, without exception. Just as a mother would save her own child, at the risk of her own life, even so let him cultivate boundless love towards all beings.”

Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi in his book, titled “The Noble Eightfold Path-Way to End Suffering” says: “The positive counterpart to abstaining from taking life, as the Buddha indicates, is the development of kindness and compassion for other beings. The disciple not only avoids destroying life, he dwells with a heart full of sympathy desiring the welfare of all beings. The commitment of non injury and concern for the welfare of others represents the practical application of the second path factor “Right Intention” in the form of goodwill and harmlessness. Abstaining from taking life (Panathipatha Veramani) – Herein someone avoids the taking of life and abstains from it. The intention of harmlessness, is a thought guide by compassion (karuna) aroused in opposition to cruel, aggressive and violent thoughts. Compassion has the characteristic of wishing that others be free from suffering; a wish to be extended to all living beings. It springs up by considering that all living beings, like ourselves, wish to be free from suffering.”

The Lankavatara Sutra of Mahayana Buddhism states: Quote: “For the sake of love of purity the Bodhisatva should refrain from eating flesh, which is born of semen, blood,etc., for fear of causing fear to living beings; let the Bodhisatva who is disciplining himself to attain compassion, refrain from eating flesh. It is not true that meat is proper food and permissible when the animal was not killed by himself. Meat eating in any form, in any manner and any place, is unconditionally and once for all prohibited”

 

The Surangana Sutra states: “In seeking to escape from suffering ourselves, why should we inflict suffering upon others? How can a Bhikkhu who goes to become a deliverer of others, himself be living on the flesh of other sentient beings? The Buddha forbade Buddhists from engaging in occupations that involve killing of animals, such as Butcher, Fisher, or Animal farmer.”

When it comes to small animals, like rats, and insects, the attitude of the large majority of humans is as if they do not have right to life.

According to Buddhism, they, too, have the right to life as human beings. While some human beings try to prevent cruelty to animals such as elephants, tigers, dogs, etc., I have never heard of any one talking of cruelty to insects. My opinion is that the first precept in Buddhism ( Panathipatha Veramani) applies to all animals, and insects, as well. They too feel pain.

I would like to obtain the observations of other readers of your newspaper on my opinions expressed above.

 

NEIL PERERA

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A Cabinet reshuffle needed

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By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

It looks as if the government did not realise the need to take drastic action to stem the tide of public disapproval. Even the most optimistic, who were overjoyed at the election of a non-politician President, followed by that of a government with an unexpected thumping majority, are sighing in despair! Although part of it is due to avoidable own-goals, there seems to be an extremely effective anti-government campaign directed by an unseen hand. Even when toxins are detected in imported coconut oil, rather than laying the blame on errant importers, attempts are made to tarnish the image of the government. All this is possible because the government seems to lack an effective communication strategy. One wonders whether the government has a lax attitude because the Opposition is blundering.

The fracas in the Parliament on the issue of Ranjan Ramanayaka losing his seat was the best illustration of a misguided Opposition not fit for purpose. Critics may argue that RR was given an unfairly harsh punishment but their criticism lacks moral authority because they opted to be silent when a Buddhist priest was given a much harsher punishment for the same offence: in fact, they were delighted! RR stated publicly that most judges were corrupt and defended his stance at every possible turn. He also refused all opportunities afforded for clarification. In spite of the Attorney General informing a while ago that RR’s seat should be declared vacant, to his credit the Speaker waited till RR’s petition for appeal was dealt with. Even though the facts were obvious, the Leader of the Opposition accused the Speaker of removing RR on the basis of non-attendance for three months, which he had to correct the following day! Those who blamed the SLPP for staging unruly protests in Parliament in October 2018, did the same on behalf of RR. Is this not laughable?

Once and for all, the question of the authority of the President was settled with the passage of the 20th Amendment and it is high time the President made use of his new powers. The most important thing he can and should do is a cabinet reshuffle, a mechanism often adopted by British Prime Ministers by way of a course correction. It need not be a major reshuffle but a minor one involving some ministers who are obviously underperforming. I have written in the past about the Minister of Health who demonstrated gross irresponsibility by partaking of an untested and unlicensed medicinal product. She is also responsible for not implementing the Jennifer Perera committee report on the disposal of bodies of unfortunate victims of Covid-19? Had this been implemented in December, much of the adverse publicity the country received could have been avoided. Perhaps, the voting during the UNHRC resolution also may have been very different. The Minister of Public Security talking of banning some face coverings did not help either. Pity he did not realize he was talking of this at the wrong time; during an epidemic when face coverings may be useful.

The Minister of Trade, who was an effective critic in the Opposition, has turned out to be totally ineffective. Even the government gazette has become a joke due to his actions. Perhaps, it is time for him to take a back-seat and allow someone else to have a go at the rice-mafia. etc. Perhaps, ex-president Sirisena may be given a chance to see whether brotherly love is more effective than the gazette in controlling the prices of rice.

The biggest failure of this government is on the diplomatic front. What most diplomats consider to be the most important diplomatic assignment, the post of High Commissioner to India remains unfilled for almost a year. Whether we like it or not, India is fast gaining the status of a world power, and not having our representative to deal with officials acknowledged to be of top calibre is a shame.

The way the UNHRC resolution was handled showed total incompetence of the highest order. We withdrew but the Ambassador decided to take part; we lost and claimed victory! To cap it all, the Foreign Minister announced in Parliament that the resolution was illegal. All the time sinister forces are at work, relentlessly, to undermine the country and force the separatist agenda on us and if we are not sharp, we may end up in disaster. For reasons best known to themselves, the government failed to utilize fully the good offices of Lord Naseby. Statements made by the Foreign Secretary no doubt irked the Indian and US governments.

For all these reasons, the need of the day is a complete overhaul of our Foreign Affairs set up, starting with the Minister. It is high time we made use of our career diplomats, who are well trained for the job and stop sending political ambassadors. The practice of utilizing ambassadorial posts as parking lots for retired service chiefs is abhorrent, as it gives the false impression that Sri Lanka has a military government in all but name.

There is still a chance for reversal of fortunes, if the President decides to act swiftly after returning from Sinhala and Tamil New Year celebrations. If not, unfortunately, there may not be much left to celebrate!

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Opinion

Alleviating poverty, the Chinese way

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China has released a white paper on poverty alleviation which outlines the success of policies implemented, the methods employed and her desire to share the unique social experiment with other developing countries. Sri Lanka being a friendly international partner of China should make use of this opportunity to study the programme and plan a scheme and send a team to China to learn the activities conducted under the scheme so that Sri Lanka will be able to handle the fight against poverty, successfully.

“China achieved the largest scale battle against extreme poverty, worldwide, as 98.99 million people had been lifted out of absolute poverty, creating a miracle in human history.” These people were living in 128 ,000 villages all over in China. China through a sustained program was able to achieve its poverty reduction targets set out in UN 2030 agenda, 10 years ahead of its schedule.

A quote from a report released by the BBC outlines the success achieved by China.

:” In 1990, there were more than 750 million people in China, living below the international poverty line – about two-thirds of the population. By 2012, that had fallen to fewer than 90 million, and by 2016 – the most recent year for which World Bank figures are available – it had fallen to 7.2 million people (0.5% of the population). So clearly, even in 2016 China was well on the way to reaching its target This suggests that overall, 745 million fewer people were living in extreme poverty in China than were 30 years ago. World Bank figures do not take us to the present day, but the trend is certainly in line with the Chinese government’s announcement. (“Another large country, India, had 22% of its population living below the international poverty line in 2011 (the most recent data available) …:”}

The people living in extreme poverty suffer from the lack of extremely basic amenities, such as food. safe drinking water, sanitation, health, shelter, and education. It is a fact that those who come under this category are trapped in a vicious circle and for generations they cannot escape the deprivations.

Some of the policies followed by China in achieving the enviable outcome are discussed in the White paper. The most important condition to be fulfilled is the acceptance of the fact that governance of a country starts with the needs of the people and their prosperity is the responsibility of the government. “To achieve success, it is of utmost importance that the leadership have devotion. strong will and determination. and the ruling party and the government assumes their responsibilities to the people. play a leading role, mobilize forces from all quarters and ensure policies are consistent and stable’.

China has provided the poor with the guidance, direction and tools while educating them to have the ambition to emerge from poverty, Through farmers’ night schools, workshops and technical schools create the improvement of skills. The government identifies the economic opportunities in consultation with the people, then provides finances, loans for the selected projects, and strengthens the infra-structure facilities, including the marketing outlets.

While the macro aspects for the poverty alleviation is planned centrally, the activities are executed provincially and locally.

Sri Lankans living under the national poverty line was 4.1% of the population in 2016 (World Data Atlas). The impact of Covid-19 in 2020-21 has dealt a severe blow to the living standards in Sri Lanka and it is assumed that the people living under the poverty line would have reached approximately 8% of the population by 2021.

President Gotabaya Rajapakasa has realised this gloomy truth in his interaction with the poor in the villages on his visits to the remote areas in Sri Lanka. I would request him to study the success story of China and to work out a similar NATIONAL programme in consultation with China. In the White Paper, China says that she is ready to share her experience with other countries who desire to reduce the poverty levels. The President should appoint a TASK FORCE of capable and nationalist-minded individuals to steer the program with given targets as PRIORITY VENTURE. If Sri Lanka can plan a comprehensive programme for poverty alleviation and implement with determination under the capable, dedicated and willing leadership of the President, nearly two million Sri Lankans who live below the poverty line will benefit and would start contributing to the growth of the nation productively.

RANJITH SOYSA

 

 

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