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Reality of two-thirds power in parliament



Reading the articles published in The Island over the last few weeks, it seems that most of the political analysts, regardless of the party they support, agree on a few assumptions with regard to the upcoming general election and subsequent issues of governance. Firstly, that the current constitution needs some kind of reform if not a complete overhaul in order to at least facilitate a smooth process of governance. Secondly, that the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) will come into power. Thirdly, that the SLPP will find it difficult, if not impossible, to get a two-thirds majority – they are asking for- in order to make the necessary constitutional reforms. In fact most analysts, drawing from past experience, have argued against them being given a two- thirds majority; this view was supported by the editorial of this paper in the not too distant past.

With the election less than a week away, given the importance of constitutional reform and the necessary two-thirds to change it, what are the implications if the SLPP does not get the two-thirds it seeks?

Let us approach this matter from an ‘Anti-Rajapaksa’ point of view. The SLPP comes into power. The President is a Rajapaksa. The Prime minister is a Rajapaksa. The remaining brothers, family, relatives, acolytes command all the critical ministries/posts of the Government. They have an army of ‘ex-army’ to run the government administration the way they want, with the support of the army and other forces to get everybody in line. They have their own supporters from Viyathmaga, Yuthucama acting as spin doctors to justify their economic policy, political ideology, and so the country goes down the tubes.

So, do they actually need two-thirds to change the constitution to achieve whatever they intend to bring about to this country? Clearly not. They can achieve this whether they get two-thirds or not! And once they start ruling they can continue to rule regardless. We have seen this happen under the post-1977 UNP leadership, political intimidation, stuffed ballot boxes, recounting results till one gets the result one wants etc… Once again two-thirds is not required for a continuing Rajapaksa rule.

On the other hand from a ‘Pro Rajapaksa’ point of view, with the Rajapaksa clan in power one can trust them to deliver the country into prosperity, entrust the sovereignty of this country and safeguard its heritage. This would be achieved in spite of the current constitution – or any constitution for that matter. Furthermore, since it will be two brothers with the bond and trust that exists between brothers, the current division of power in discharging the executive that exists between the Presidency and the Prime Ministership will not matter in the governing of the country; deficiencies which we witnessed firsthand during the Yahapalanaya government. Once again we see that a two-thirds majority is not necessary to achieve this. The Rajapaksa’s will continue to rule the country into prosperity and splendor. If the people of this country do not like their rule they can be voted out. This has been done before – in 2015, and as witnessed the power was given up graciously.

Therefore, the question that needs to be asked is why does GR/SLPP need a two-thirds majority to change the constitution? As was illustrated from two opposite points of view it is not for them to rule or to rule continuously. According to my thinking the only reason to bring about a constitutional reform, is not for the sake of the current SLPP government, but to safeguard our country against future governments that could be manipulated and bullied by forces, within and without. This was a request we continually heard being made to GR in the run up to his Presidency- ‘Mae rata arakhsha karala denna’. From 1977 onwards the constitution of this country has been designed to keep those in power in power, and manipulated for personal agendas to decide who gets to rule, who cannot contest, how to get power, how to get minority support to remain in power etc… Therefore, it is quite reasonable for the voter to view this request for 2/3rds with total mistrust.

Thereby one arrives at a Catch 22. Power needs to be given to make a powerful constitution that cannot be abused by ‘power’. When it comes to the question of power, the unavoidable truth is that in the end, Power = Responsibility. For as we all know one cannot claim responsibility or be held responsible for events that one does not have the power to control; as was convincingly demonstrated by the Yahapalana government. Whether one likes it or not, if one wants a responsible system then one needs to restore its power. Do not lose sight of the fact that prior to 1977, we had a constitution which executed its power via a parliament and a prime minister, and then immediately after 1977 one that executed its power via a President. The issue is not in the power, but in the people whom we select to use this power.

SLPP needing a 2/3rds electoral majority to change the constitution is in its strictest sense a myth, if not an outright fallacy. What is required is a 2/3rds of the parliament voting in favor of a given proposal. What we need is a parliament of parliamentarians who have integrity, and will stand up for what they believe is for the good of the country, regardless of which party they belong to, i.e. men of the calibre of retired rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera, the only person to vote against the 19A.

Hence the solution is to vote for people you believe will stand up and do what is needed for the country, regardless of the party they represent. This will give a parliament that has the necessary two-thirds to do what is required and more importantly stop what is not. Ironically it is you and I who have the power/responsibility to do this! Vote the correct person in. So, if you believe in the statement that was expressed that all the 225 MPs should be relegated to the Diyawanna oya; it is within your power to make sure that this happens (in a sense). It is your responsibility.

I would like to draw your attention to one salient fact. Despite having the power to send whoever you want to the parliament, you and I, have no power over the national list entrants too. So, let us vary our selection. Make a conscious choice of which party we select our preferences from.


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Strong on vocals



The group Mirage is very much alive, and kicking, as one would say!

Their lineup did undergo a few changes and now they have decided to present themselves as an all male group – operating without a female vocalist.

At the helm is Donald Pieries (drums and vocals), Trevin Joseph (percussion and vocals), Dilipa Deshan (bass and vocals), Toosha Rajarathna (keyboards and vocals), and Sudam Nanayakkara (lead guitar and vocals).

The plus factor, where the new lineup is concerned, is that all five members sing.

However, leader Donald did mention that if it’s a function, where a female vocalist is required, they would then feature a guest performer.

Mirage is a very experience outfit and they now do the Friday night scene at the Irish Pub, in Colombo, as well as private gigs.



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Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year



Ushered in by the ‘coo-ee’ of the Koel and the swaying of Erabadu bunches, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year will dawn in the wee hours of April 14. With houses to clean, preparation of sweetmeats and last-minute shopping, times are hectic…. and the streets congested.

It is believed that New Year traditions predated the advent of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. But Buddhism resulted in a re-interpretation of the existing New Year activities in a Buddhist light. Hinduism has co-existed with Buddhism over millennia and no serious contradiction in New Year rituals are observed among Buddhists and Hindus.

The local New Year is a complex mix of Indigenous, Astrological, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. Hindu literature provides the New Year with its mythological backdrop. The Prince of Peace called Indradeva is said to descend upon the earth to ensure peace and happiness, in a white carriage wearing on his head a white floral crown seven cubits high. He first plunges, into a sea of milk, breaking earth’s gravity.

The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. Astrologically, the New Year begins when the sun moves from the House of Pisces (Meena Rashiya) to the House of Aries (Mesha Rashiya) in the celestial sphere.

The New Year marks the end of the harvest season and spring. Consequently, for farming communities, the traditional New Year doubles as a harvest as well. It also coincides with one of two instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. The month of Bak, which coincides with April, according to the Gregorian calendar, represents prosperity. Astrologers decide the modern day rituals based on auspicious times, which coincides with the transit of the Sun between ‘House of Pisces’ and ‘House of Aries’.

Consequently, the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new year occur several hours apart, during the time of transit. This period is considered Nonegathe, which roughly translates to ‘neutral period’ or a period in which there are no auspicious times. During the Nonegathe, traditionally, people are encouraged to engage themselves in meritorious and religious activities, refraining from material pursuits. This year the Nonegathe begin at 8.09 pm on Tuesday, April 13, and continues till 8.57 am on 14. New Year dawns at the halfway point of the transit, ushered in bythe sound of fire crackers, to the woe of many a dog and cat of the neighbourhood. Cracker related accidents are a common occurrence during new year celebrations. Environmental and safety concerns aside, lighting crackers remain an integral part of the celebrations throughout Sri Lanka.

This year the Sinhala and Tamil New Year dawns on Wednesday, April 14, at 2.33 am. But ‘spring cleaning’ starts days before the dawn of the new year. Before the new year the floor of houses are washed clean, polished, walls are lime-washed or painted, drapes are washed, dried and rehang. The well of the house is drained either manually or using an electric water pump and would not be used until such time the water is drawn for first transaction. Sweetmeats are prepared, often at homes, although commercialization of the new year has encouraged most urbanites to buy such food items. Shopping is a big part of the new year. Crowds throng to clothing retailers by the thousands. Relatives, specially the kids, are bought clothes as presents.

Bathing for the old year takes place before the dawn of the new year. This year this particular auspicious time falls on April 12, to bathe in the essence of wood apple leaves. Abiding by the relevant auspicious times the hearth and an oil lamp are lit and pot of milk is set to boil upon the hearth. Milk rice, the first meal of the year, is prepared separate. Entering into the first business transaction and partaking of the first meal are also observed according to the given auspicious times. This year, the auspicious time for preparing of meals, milk rice and sweets using mung beans, falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 6.17 am, and is to be carried out dressed in light green, while facing east. Commencement of work, transactions and consumption of the first meal falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 7.41 am, to be observed while wearing light green and facing east.

The first transaction was traditionally done with the well. The woman of the house would draw water from the well and in exchange drop a few pieces of charcoal, flowers, coins, salt and dried chillies into the well, in certain regions a handful of paddy or rice is also thrown in for good measure. But this ritual is also dying out as few urban homes have wells within their premises. This is not a mere ritual and was traditionally carried out with the purification properties of charcoal in mind. The first water is preferably collected into an airtight container, and kept till the dawn of the next new year. It is believed that if the water in the container does not go down it would be a prosperous year. The rituals vary slightly based on the region. However, the essence of the celebrations remains the same.

Anointing of oil is another major ritual of the New Year celebrations. It falls on Saturday, April 17 at 7.16 am, and is done wearing blue, facing south, with nuga leaves placed on the head and Karada leaves at the feet. Oil is to be applied mixed with extracts of Nuga leaves. The auspicious time for setting out for professional occupations falls on Monday, April 19 at 6.39 am, while dressed in white, by consuming a meal of milk rice mixed with ghee, while facing South.

Traditionally, women played Raban during this time, but such practices are slowly being weaned out by urbanization and commercialisation of the New Year. Neighbours are visited with platters of sweetmeats, bananas, Kevum (oil cake) and Kokis (a crispy sweetmeat) usually delivered by children. The dichotomy of the urban and village life is obvious here too, where in the suburbs and the village outdoor celebrations are preferred and the city opts for more private parties.



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New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations



Food, games and rituals make a better part of New Year celebrations. One major perk of Avurudu is the festivals that are organised in each neighbourhood in its celebration. Observing all the rituals, like boiling milk, partaking of the first meal, anointing of oil, setting off to work, are, no doubt exciting, but much looked-forward-to is the local Avurudu Uthsawaya.

Avurudu Krida or New Year games are categorised as indoor and outdoor games. All indoor games are played on the floor and outdoor games played during the Avurudu Uthsava or New Year festival, with the whole neighbourhood taking part. Some of the indoor games are Pancha Dameema, Olinda Keliya and Cadju Dameema. Outdoor games include Kotta pora, Onchili pedeema, Raban geseema, Kana mutti bindeema, Placing the eye on the elephant, Coconut grating competition, Bun-eating competition, Lime-on-spoon race, Kamba adeema (Tug-o-War) and Lissana gaha nageema (climbing the greased pole). And what’s an Avurudhu Uthsava sans an Avurudu Kumari pageant, minus the usual drama that high profile beauty pageants of the day entail, of course.

A salient point of New Year games is that there are no age categories. Although there are games reserved for children such as blowing of balloons, races and soft drinks drinking contests, most other games are not age based.

Kotta pora aka pillow fights are not the kind the average teenagers fight out with their siblings, on plush beds. This is a serious game, wherein players have to balance themselves on a horizontal log in a seated position. With one hand tied behind their back and wielding the pillow with the other, players have to knock the opponent off balance. Whoever knocks the opponent off the log first, wins. The game is usually played over a muddy pit, so the loser goes home with a mud bath.

Climbing the greased pole is fun to watch, but cannot be fun to take part in. A flag is tied to the end of a timber pole-fixed to the ground and greased along the whole length. The objective of the players is to climb the pole, referred to as the ‘tree’, and bring down the flag. Retrieving the flag is never achieved on the first climb. It takes multiple climbers removing some of the grease at a time, so someone could finally retrieve the flag.

Who knew that scraping coconut could be made into an interesting game? During the Avurudu coconut scraping competition, women sit on coconut scraper stools and try to scrape a coconut as fast as possible. The one who finishes first wins. These maybe Avurudu games, but they are taken quite seriously. The grated coconut is inspected for clumps and those with ungrated clumps are disqualified.

Coconut palm weaving is another interesting contest that is exclusive to women. However men are by no means discouraged from entering such contests and, in fact, few men do. Participants are given equally measured coconut fronds and the one who finishes first wins.

Kana Mutti Bindima involves breaking one of many water filled clay pots hung overhead, using a long wooden beam. Placing the eye on the elephant is another game played while blindfolded. An elephant is drawn on a black or white board and the blindfolded person has to spot the eye of the elephant. Another competition involves feeding the partner yoghurt or curd while blindfolded.

The Banis-eating contest involves eating tea buns tied to a string. Contestants run to the buns with their hands tied behind their backs and have to eat buns hanging from a string, on their knees. The one who finishes his or her bun first, wins. Kamba adeema or Tug-o-War pits two teams against each other in a test of strength. Teams pull on opposite ends of a rope, with the goal being to bring the rope a certain distance in one direction against the force of the opposing team’s pull.

Participants of the lime-on-spoon race have to run a certain distance while balancing a lime on a spoon, with the handle in their mouths. The first person to cross the finish line without dropping the lime wins. The sack race and the three-legged race are equally fun to watch and to take part in. In the sack race, participants get into jute sacks and hop for the finish line. The first one over, wins. In the three-legged race one leg of each pair of participants are tied together and the duo must reach the finish line by synchronising their running, else they would trip over their own feet.

Pancha Dameema is an indoor game played in two groups, using five small shells, a coconut shell and a game board. Olinda is another indoor board game, normally played by two players. The board has nine holes, four beads each. The player who collects the most number of seeds win.

This is the verse sung while playing the game:

“Olinda thibenne koi koi dese,

Olinda thibenne bangali dese…

Genath hadanne koi koi dese,

Genath hadanne Sinhala dese…”

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