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Opinion

Reaching out to unify the nation

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by Jehan Perera

Much is hoped for from the new government which triumphed with an unprecedented 2/3 majority. The fate of the country at this critical juncture depends on the government’s sagacity when the Covid virus continues its rampage throughout the world and the world economy is in decline. There was an expectation of new faces in the cabinet equal to this task and equipped with the professional orientation that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has brought to the fore. However, the exigencies of competitive politics, the need to reward loyalty and those who can bring in the votes appear to have prevailed over the demands of professional competence.

Most of the ministers selected are those from the past, including those accused of various offences and have cases in the courts against them. Particularly disappointing has been the failure to appoint women, with only one of the 27 cabinet ministers being a woman. The equal representation of women at all levels of society is a modern ideal. Those who seek international legitimacy, whatever other failings, would tend to improve the status of women. However, in a rather unfortunate turn of events, the subject minister of women’s affairs is a man, and one who is not known to be a specialist in the field of gender equity.

On the plus side, there are silver linings in the appointments of ministers. The main one has been the government’s discipline in keeping the number of cabinet ministers limited to 30 and under as mandated by the 19th Amendment. This is an act of restraint, as less restrained governments have reached the 50 mark in terms of cabinet ministers in the past. Another encouraging action has been the appointment of Mohamed Ali Sabry as Minister of Justice despite criticism that he has been President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s lawyer in a number of cases in the past few years and also on account of his community. By doing this the government has ensured that the cabinet will be multi ethnic and multi religious in its composition as befits a multi ethnic and multi religious polity.

FILLLING LACUNA

For the past six years at least since the anti-Muslim riots took place in Aluthgama, the Muslim community has been the target of a hate and vilification campaign by extremists mainly from the Sinhalese community. Anti-Muslim sentiment got a further boost after the Easter bombings by extremists from the Muslim community. The presidential election of November 2019 saw anti-Muslim sentiment being stoked to fever pitch by members of the current ruling party and its allies which resulted in the Muslim community voting in unison for the losing presidential candidate. In this context, the appointment of Ali Sabry as Minister of Justice can be considered as an act of political reconciliation which will perhaps give the Muslim community the expectation that they can engage constructively with the government.

There is a lacuna in today’s national politics with regard to national politicians who can reach out to the ethnic and religious minorities to make them feel included in the governance of the country and Sri Lankan in their identity. The recently held elections were notable for not having any of the major political parties proposing how they would bridge the ethnic and religious divides. The last of the champions of non-racist politics, former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, is now battling for his political life partly on account of having been identified with being over-sympathetic to the demands of the Tamil and Muslim minorities. Previous champions, such as former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and former Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera are presently out of the political centre stage.

The disintegration of the UNP which Ranil Wickremesinghe leads created a vacuum at the recently held general election which resulted in more than two million voters either not voting or spoiling their votes. There is a possibility of the ruling party claiming a part of these votes. This would require new strategies of reaching out to the minorities. The promise of economic development on an equitable basis and regardless of ethnicity or religion can be a powerful motivating factor at elections. Indeed, the recent elections saw a significant shift in the pattern of ethnic and religious minority votes in relation to the presidential election held nine months earlier. In both the North and East and in the central hills which have large populations of minority voters, the ruling party was able to make inroads both directly and through its political allies.

ENSURING BALANCE

The government’s relative success in wooing the minorities at this election is noteworthy as it has rejected the reconciliation process initiated by its predecessor as unsuitable to the country’s ethos and damaging to national sovereignty. However, the need for national reconciliation continues to remain. Despite the gains achieved electorally by the ruling party and its allies, the electoral map that emerged after the elections continues to show signs of this division. The big majority of seats in the Northern and Eastern provinces went to Tamil and Muslim parties in contrast to the voting pattern in the rest of the country. However, the victory of government allies who promised economic development in parts of the North and East suggests that the ethnic and religious minorities are no different from those in the majority community in seeking to improve their economic situation.

It is significant that several key institutions that were set up by the government as part of its national reconciliation process have been newly allocated to the Ministry of Justice. These are the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR), formerly headed by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, the Office on Missing Persons (OMP), the Office for Reparations and the National Authority for the Protection of Victims of Crimes and Witnesses. Both ONUR and the OMP were engaging in pioneering work at the time that the government changed. ONUR had just embarked upon a mass programme of peace education at the community level and the OMP was beginning to find ways to ease the material sufferings of families of those who had gone missing during the war and its aftermath. These are both worthy causes that need to be supported and for which there was significant international goodwill and support.

The government has indicated that its approach to national reconciliation will lie through economic development which requires both political stability and assurance that those who invest will be protected by the law. Apart from the reconciliation mechanisms set up by the previous government, the Ministry of Justice will be responsible for overlooking the Attorney General’s Department and other institutions which play key roles in ensuring the rule of law. Ensuring a balance between the imperatives of justice, rule of law and national reconciliation are the prerequisites for economic development if Sri Lanka is to live up to its potential in a way that it never did in the past.

 

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Opinion

The care of good dentists

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I experienced an agonizing toothache for the first time in my right-hand upper jaw. On bringing it under control with native medicines, a couple of colleagues at my work place stressed me to see a dentist who could prevent any recurrence, and recommended a highly proficient doctor by the name Rini Mathew attached to a popular medical centre in Riyadh. After nearly five-days-wait I was successful in getting an appointment to consult her.

This highly pleasant lady doctor from Kerala, India, after seeing the set of teeth in my right-hand upper jaw recommended for a root canaling and requested to return in two-weeks-time. Having not undergone any sort of surgery in my whole life, I was a little confused as to what to expect. As I arrived prepared for the repair work on my teeth, the good lady told me to my pleasant surprise that I don’t need any further treatment for the moment and if I get the toothache back again to come and see her. I thanked God and praised her for her being frank and honest.

The history of dentistry records Hesy-Re, an Egyptian scribe, who lived around 2600 BC is recognized as the first dental practitioner. In ancient Greece, Hippocrates and Aristotle wrote about dentistry, specifically about treating decaying teeth, but it wasn’t until 1530 that the first book entirely devoted to dentistry – The Little Medicinal Book for all kinds of diseases and infirmities of the Teeth – was published.

You don’t want to feel like just another item on your dentist’s to-do list. The best dentists, like whom I consulted, have a way of letting their patients know they care about them personally. They are interested in their patient’s lives and are eager to become a part of their general care team. The best dentist always gives you the care that you deserve.

 

S. H. MOULANA

 

 

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Opinion

The Age of Animal Ministries

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The call by the government’s backbench MP Mr. Dilan Perera to be made the Rilav/Vanduru Amathi, or the Minister for Monkeys, in the Pohottuva Realm, certainly leads to plenty of interest.

This must do with the various divisions and breakup tasks that have been given to both Cabinet and State Ministers, in the current play of governance, by the Gotabaya strategies. 

The call for a Rilav Ministry may have come after the Minister for Coconuts, Arundika Fernando, tried to climb a coconut palm, in his estate, at Dankotuwa, and hold a press conference to tell the people about the shortage of coconuts and the cause of the high price of this essential food item. One was surprised that he did not blame the coconut price hike on the 19A to the Constitution, and give any assurance that the coming 20A will bring the nut prices to within the people’s reach. Such nutty thinking is possible from politicos today.

What was also interesting is how he did this climb, halfway to coconut heights, with some modern climbing gear, having nothing to do with the traditional coconut tree climbers, who used their feet and hands to move much higher, and also walk on ropes from tree to tree for coconut plucking and toddy tapping. He must be following the new thinking of the Rajavasala on Digital Development to raise this country to new heights of Rajapaksa Success.

Let’s get back to the hopeful Rilav Amathi – the Monkey Minister Dilan Perera. The dictionary meaning of ‘Rilava”, that comes from the Vaanarayas, is those who take the forest products. This certainly has much relevance to the huge forest destruction taking place today, with the clear political blessings of the Rajapaksa realm. It is the crooked, or rilav, thinking of the Pohottu politicians that is causing this huge destruction of nature, bringing disaster to the environment. Is it the hope of Mr. Dilan Perera that he would be put in charge of this chronicle of destruction, becoming the political gatherer of profitable forests products, and giving free forest land to the political catchers of 20A fondness?

Or, is he thinking of the romantic legends of the monkey Hanuman, that had so much to do with Rama and Sita, and brought so much of forest land from India and dumped in several parts of this country, giving much of the ayurvedic medicine to this day. Is the Pohottuva Dilan thinking of becoming the Phohottu Hanuman, to bring in new legends of politically powerful romances that will soon be part of the Hanuman Keli or Monkey Games of the Power Players? His recent defence of the 20A, against the 19A that he voted for, gives a good indication of the Rilav and Vanduru thinking that is the stuff of Pohottu politics.

 There is also a good opportunity for the call for a Nari/Hival Amathi, or Fox Minister, in this government. Why not have one of these foxy politicians, with their delight in political long-jumping, who have plenty of nari-thinking in their systems, as the new Nari-Hival Amathi. He or she will make some quick decisions on how the ‘Nari Tharjanaya’, the Fox Threat in the Kalutara, and now Horana areas, can be tackled; giving the Cabinet Minister of Health time to keep thinking of matters other than public health, and more on the political health of those who are in the bandwagon of power politics. 

A Nari-Hival Amathi will be one whose hoots will be heard loud and clear in support of 20A, and one who would have gladly hooted in support of both the 18A and 19A, and is ready to raise both hands, and even one’s legs, for the 20A.

There are other animals who can have Cabinet or State portfolios in this politics of backward evolution. Why not have a Buffalo, or Meeharak Amathi? This could be a Pohottuva activist who will promise to give a good price to the curd made from buffalo milk, and also tell the public how much they can benefit by lying for hours in the mud found near their homes, without looking for government jobs or contracts for services that can only be given to the Pohottu catchers.

The Tamil Tigers were defeated more than a decade ago. But the politics of today is still seething with tiger threats to national unity. With what is happening to the leopards in this country, there is certainly a cause for a pohottu backbencher to ask for a Kotiya or Diviya portfolio. This can be a pohottu player who have the stripes of corruption on one’s body, with plenty of experience of grabbing the land of others, whether paddy fields or plantations, with the twisted politics of power, whether from the UNP, SLFP, UPFA or the Yahapalana travesty. A Koti Amathi will be roaring away, and leaping with great success on grabbing the property of other people, for the rising cause of Pohottu Balaya, the future power Dual Citizens, especially of the Washington-Medamulana alliance.

It is not likely that there will be any calls for a Bull or Cow – Harak Amathi – especially after the reigning silence over the plan to stop the slaughter of cattle. There are plenty of bulls in the huge pack on the government side, at Diyawanna Oya, we hear and also see their ‘gon talk’ and ‘harak keliya’ in the parliament so often today. They will be happy that cattle slaughter will remain a reality here, with no moves for the rise of a vegan society, which is certainly not the substance of the real Rajavasala thinking, with complete absence of kindness to animals.

There are many more animal or species ministries that can be offered to build up this Rajavasala Sathva Kattiya, once the 20A is passed, and the ministries can flow from the Rajapaksa pen. There is much space for more than one serpent or Sarpa Amathi – who will spread themselves all over the country, and crawl around and strike down with venom those who dare talk of the disasters that lie ahead post 20A. There can be many cockroach and mosquito ministers, too, who will help spread the Covid 20 — that can be far more dangerous than today’s Covid-19.

Let’s give a bow to the Age of Animal Ministries or Sathva Amathya Yugaya. 

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Opinion

Where is Sajith’s leadership?

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By Dr UPUL WIJAYAWARDHANA

The Leader of the opposition is a vital link in democracy and, as the name implies, is expected to give leadership. Unfortunately, the behaviour of Sajith Premadasa is casting doubts as to whether he is giving that leadership.

Even when he challenged Ranil for the leadership of the UNP, he was happy to put up a fight for some time and then give up. His disappearance into the wilderness after losing the presidential election and issuing a statement that he would devote the rest of his life to looking after leopards, perplexed many. Egged on by a coterie of Ranil-haters, he split the UNP but still wanted to grab the HQ of the party, an aspiration he quickly gave up after the last general election, probably because the UNP did unexpectedly bad.

There is no doubt that the biggest challenge he faces is opposing the introduction of the 20th amendment. If the ugly scenes in the parliament, when 20A was tabled, on 22nd September is anything to go by, many would be in for disappointment. “The ongoing campaign against 20A is characterised by a severe trust deficit, which the Opposition has failed to overcome.”: This forewarning in the editorial “Diyawanna Post Office” (The Island, 22 September) seems to ring true. I greatly doubt the opposition enhanced its image with this behaviour and the contempt of the voters towards Members of Parliament surely would increase.

What was displayed was not leadership but gang-leadership. Instead of obeying the rulings of the Speaker and forging a strong opposition in a democratic manner, what we saw was rowdy behaviour. To add insult to injury, they were demanding the cameras be aimed at them, so that the whole country could witness their rowdiness!

I too am against some aspects of 20A, like removing the limitation of Cabinet size and letting dual citizenship holders enter parliament, but have done so by just means; having voiced them through this newspaper.

In addition, Sajith failed miserably as a leader when he did not take any action against the national list MP Harin Fernando, who made a totally unsubstantiated allegation against Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith. He told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry investigating the Easter Sunday attacks that the Cardinal shifted the Sunday Mass to Saturday as he was aware of the terrorist attack. As a catholic himself, Harin should have verified facts before he made such a serious accusation. In spite of having had to admit his folly to the commission, on his way out, Harin made sarcastic remarks to journalists. It is impossible even to speculate what earthly purpose these insults are meant to serve. If it is to regain the support of the Buddhist voters, it certainly is an exercise in futility as most Sri Lankans hold Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith in high esteem for his exemplary leadership following the Easter Sunday attacks.

Sajith should have taken immediate action, as this is a repeat offence; having taken Harin to the Cardinal for an apology on the previous occasion. Instead, he said in high-brow Sinhala “abhyantara kathikawathaka yedenewa”, meaning an internal conversation is taking place. Sajith seems to be under the impression that using serious sounding words would satisfy the masses and solves problems.

Unfortunately, Sajith’s lack of leadership qualities are becoming more obvious by the day. Perhaps, there is a chance for Ruwan Wijewardena, if he plays his cards right!

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