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REFLECTIONS ON THE LIFE AND TIMES OF LAKSHMAN KADIRGAMAR ON THE 16TH ANNIVERSARY OF HIS DEATH

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by Tissa Jayatilaka

From the time I was old enough to cultivate an interest in politics, I have familiarized myself with the life and times of those political personalities I took a liking to. The late Dudley Senanayake (who incidentally died in 1973 a day after Lakshman Kadirgamar’s 41st birthday) was the first I took to and I consider it my loss that I did not have the opportunity to get to know him personally. Of the several politicians that I have subsequently taken note of, there were two I got particularly close to and they were both, coincidentally enough, Oxonians who happened also to be presidents of the Oxford Union in their time. I refer to Lalith Athulathmudali and Lakshman Kadirgarmar. Athulathmudali did not attend a local university prior to going up to Oxford, as did Kadirgamar. The former’s cake, (to borrow a metaphor from Kadirgamar himself) was not baked at home, unlike that of the latter for whom Oxford was only the icing on his superlative, home-produced, academic confection.

Although Lakshman Kadirgamar and I belonged to two different generations, we shared certain commonalities. Though not of Kandy, we both had our early education in that city (he at Trinity, I at Kingswood) and we were both products of the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya. If memory serves, he was a resident of Arunachalam Hall, which was also where I resided during my undergraduate years. He maintained that he was a ‘citizen of the world’, a Sri Lankan and a Tamil. Likewise I, too, prefer to transcend narrow boundaries and take pride in being in that order, a member of the human race, a Sri Lankan, and then a Sinhalese.

I liked Kadirgamar’s academic bent of mind. If he and I were given to clichés, I would have called him ‘a voracious reader’. I should, instead, describe him as a man of books. And many were the times when we compared notes on books we both had read and enjoyed. Not infrequently he telephoned me to double check on a quotation from a Shakespearean play that he wished to include in a lecture or a speech he was writing up. He publicly denounced bribery and corruption in public office, a particular aversion of mine, which is not a safe or fashionable public stance for a politician to take and I admired him for his courageous stand. Furthermore he was unpretentious, charming, mellow-toned and possessed of a fine if often ironic sense of humour.

And there was something else he was proud to be– an outstanding sportsman. The last attribute meant, by definition, that he was by instinct and training, fair-minded. Could one possibly ask for more? My one regret is that I did not get to know Lakshman Kadirgamar as intimately earlier than I actually did. I console myself with the thought that quality ever trumps quantity when it comes to most good things of life. Ranil Wickremesinghe noted in the course of his posthumous tribute to Lakshman Kadirgamar in Parliament that a meal with the late minister offered food for the body as well as the mind. On most occasions, a mere chat over a drink with him provided such nourishment for the soul.

Apart from our regular meetings to talk of issues of the day, there were two key projects dear to his heart that brought us together and helped cement our friendship. Given the rich heritage we Sri Lankans are heirs to, Lakshman Kadirgamar was of the view that we should give to the world, as he so aptly put it, ‘something more than just tea, tourism and terrorism’. He thus had a long-term plan to enable Sri Lanka to continue to contribute to the world of culture and the arts as also to the further refinement of international relations and diplomacy.

It was his desire to have a book published on a Sri Lankan artist that would be ‘an ideal brand label for Sri Lanka, an image which may be projected all over the world as the face of Sri Lanka in all of its many forms’. The result of his endeavours in this regard is the monumental and exquisite The World of Stanley Kirinde (2005) authored by Sinharajah Tammita-Delgoda. Having initiated the book project, he next set his sights on the production of an academic journal for the study of politics and diplomacy via the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS) of which he was now chairman. He invited me to serve as editor and together we put in many hours to get International Relations in a Globalizing World (IRGW) off the ground.

Lakshman Kadirgamar’s last public act on the evening of that fateful August 12, 2005, was to preside over the ceremony to mark the release of the inaugural issue of IRGW. It was Kadirgamar’s expectation, through the regular publication of IRGW, to raise the level of Sri Lanka’s contribution to international politics and diplomacy. All these best-laid plans and goals were shattered on that dreadful August night in 2005. Unfortunately Lakshman Kadirgamar did not live to see (though he saw the finished product and admiringly flipped through its pages) the release of The World of Stanley Kirinde scheduled for August 18, 2005.

This 16th year after his death is as good a time as any, to assess dispassionately the late foreign minister’s contribution to Sri Lanka and the world, and to imagine the kind of role he might have played had he lived beyond his 73rd year. I consider Lakshman Kadirgamar to be one of the finest twentieth century Sri Lankans and far and away the best foreign minister Sri Lanka has had to- date. He was, as noted above, widely read, intelligent and, at the same time, hard-working and disciplined. He had the courage of his convictions and the inner strength to hold fast to his ideals from his entry into the fickle world of politics in 1994 until his tragic end in 2005.

I tend to view Lakshman Kadirgamar’s performance on the domestic political front less enthusiastically than that of his on the international stage. It is entirely possible that my lukewarm view has less to do with any inadequacy of Kadirgamar’s and more to do with my aversion to realpolitik, especially to its Sri Lankan variety. As I have asserted in an earlier tribute to him (2005), Lakshman Kadirgamar was the quintessential Sri Lankan. Almost a year before his death, in September 2004, he made a profound statement on Japanese National Television (NHK) that encapsulated his credo:

I am first and foremost a citizen of Sri Lanka. I do not carry labels of race or religion or any other label. I would say quite simply that I have grown up with the philosophy that I am a citizen of the world. I do not subscribe to any particular philosophy; I have no fanaticism; I have no communalism. I believe there should be a united Sri Lanka. I believe that all our peoples can live together, they did live together. I think they must in the future learn to live together after this trauma is over. We have four major religions in the country: Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Christianity. All these religions exist very peacefully. They get on very well. I see no reason why the major races in the country, the Tamils and the Sinhalese, cannot again build a relationship of confidence and trust. That is my belief.

It is this fervent belief in the essential goodness of his country and fellow citizens that form the cornerstone of his diplomatic labours. It was also the driving force behind his spellbinding performance as our foreign minister. I relished in particular the manner in which he finessed the challenge of LTTE terrorism. To say it was primarily Lakshman Kadirgamar’s powers of persuasion and skillful handling of domestic issues and their international ramifications that redeemed Sri Lanka’s sullied image is surely no exaggeration. Needless to say, then President Chandrika Kumaratunga , the Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickemesinghe and several dedicated, experienced and effective Sri Lankan Foreign Service personnel played their part in this restoration process, but the helmsman was clearly Lakshman Kadirgamar.

In their measured tributes to a book published in honour of Lakshman Kadirgamar (Roberts: 2012), three seasoned American diplomats I know intimately, Karl (Rick) Inderfurth, Peter Burleigh and Shaun Donnelly who interacted closely with Kadirgamar have testified to the latter’s major successes on the international stage, during his lifetime and even posthumously. Chris Patten, the British politician, reinforces this fact when he notes in the same publication that:

Lakshman Kadirgamar spent much of his diplomatic energy and his formidable eloquence in attempting to persuade foreign governments to proscribe the LTTE in their own countries and stop the raising of funds for terrorism in Sri Lanka. He scorned the ‘Nelsonian’ attitude to terrorism of some countries. He was particularly active in supporting the drafting of the 1997 UN Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings. The respect he enjoyed internationally meant that his assassination nudged some foreign governments into taking a tougher line in prohibiting active support for the LTTE in their own countries.

Peter Burleigh in a recent personal communication reiterated this crucially important aspect of Kadirgamar’s achievement when he noted:

I personally believe that his efforts to get important governments like Australia, the UK and the US to ban money transfers to the LTTE was a key contribution to the long-term effort to defeat the group. And his personal efforts, and effectiveness, in that regard were essential to that success.

Although I recognize that politics may well be the art of the possible, my limited experience of it as a practitioner and deeper awareness of it as student, make me conclude that politics is a murky and dismal business. I have often wondered why men of the sensitivity of Neelan Tiruchelvam and Lakshman Kadirgamar ever took to politics. In a statement over national television in 1994, Lakshman Kadirgamar spelt out his reasons for doing so. I quote below the operative paragraph of that statement:

I have had a privileged life by birth, by education, by access to opportunities, and I have always felt that a time must come when you must give something back to the society in which you have grown up and from which you have taken so much. So-called educated people must not shirk responsibilities in public life. I have reached that stage in life when, without being heroic about it, I feel I should participate more fully in public life.

Whilst not taking anything away from his invaluable and splendid contribution as foreign minister, I remain convinced that he could have given more back to the society from which, by his own admission, he had taken so much by opting for a different if less glamorous public role than that of a high visibility politician. As with similarly gifted men as S.W.R.D Bandaranaike, N.M Perera, Pieter Keuneman, Colvin R. de Silva, Felix Dias Bandaranaike and Lalith Athulathmudali before him, I am left with the nagging feeling that his stint in politics somehow diminished Lakshman Kadirgamar in the end. Such diminution as occurred may well have been due to the corrosive nature of politics and not due to any inherent flaw in Kadirgamar’s character. Perhaps he permitted his colleagues and his party to exploit his standing in society and his professional stature when he decided ‘without being heroic about it. . . [to] participate fully in public life’.

Be this as it may, I remain disappointed by the narrow political role he played in the difficult and often acrimonious days of Sri Lanka’s French-style co-habitation government. This was the period between December 2001 and April 2004, when Kadirgamar’s party leader, Chandrika Kumaratunga, despite her party being out of power, was yet the constitutional head of government whilst Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister was in effective control of Parliament. Kadirgamar now was assigned the role of advisor to the president on international affairs, with Tyronne Fernando occupying the portfolio of foreign affairs.

On becoming prime minister in February 2002, Ranil Wickremesinghe entered into a Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The CFA was brokered by the Norwegians, who were at the time involved in Sri Lanka’s peace process, and Wickremesinghe presented his cabinet and his president with a fait accompli. Although initially Kadirgamar’s statement in Parliament in 2002 in response to that of the prime minister reflected a refreshing degree of constructive cooperation, a little over a year later in a speech in Parliament on May 8, 2003, doubtless on the authority of President Kumaratunga and the Parliamentary Group of the People’s Alliance, Kadirgamar attacked the CFA arguing that it was ‘a structurally flawed document’.

Clearly Kadirgamar was here being sucked into petty politics as borne out by a subsequent observation of General Satish Nambiar, the well-known Indian strategic expert whose advice Prime Minister Ranil Wickrmsinghe had sought informally. In a communication in January 2010 dealing with that fraught situation of 2003, Nambiar refers to a one-on-one lengthy meeting he had with Kadirgamar. This was during his last visit to Sri Lanka in 2003. In the course of that meeting Nambiar had told Kadirgamar that he was hurt by the suggestions made by some of Kadirgamar’s party members that he [Nambiar] was manipulating his report. Nambiar notes that:

[Kadirgamar’s] disarming response was typical of him: that I should allow for the politics of the situation where the parties will use any means to put the ruling dispensation on the defensive. [Roberts: p. 204]

When one reads Kadirgamar’s May 8, 2003 speech in hindsight, one clearly recognizes that his arguments against the CFA are not without merit. But the key point that needs emphasis here is that by being a willing party to political manipulation of something as highly sensitive as the CFA, Kadirgamar had begun to slip somewhat from the lofty pedestal of statesmanship he had been on hitherto. In the process, Kadirgamar and his political companions failed to give any credit whatsoever or even the benefit of the doubt to Wickremesinghe. We now know, though, that through the CFA the LTTE were led into a corner and to peace negotiations, with some even referring to it as ‘a peace trap’. Wickremesinghe’s CFA, for all of its ‘structural flaws’, was as much a ploy as was the Kumaratunga government’s 1998 decision to use the Norwegians as ‘facilitators’ in the unofficial conversations between the then government and the LTTE. And, yet, Kumaratunga and her party were now opposing, seemingly for the sake of opposition, the Norwegians (their ‘facilitators’) and Wickremesinghe, for the signing of the CFA with Kadirgamar lending his forensic debating skills for the cause in Parliament. A similar but less nationally harmful political misjudgement was Kadirgamar’s decision, despite sincere and pragmatic advice against the move from close associates, to contest the incumbent Secretary- General of the Commonwealth in 2003. He was roundly defeated by 40 to 11.

On balance, Kadirgamar’s overall achievement as politician and foreign minister, despite blemishes referred to above, is substantial. Unlike the average gifted person who tends to rest on his laurels, Kadirgamar was exceedingly hard-working from beginning to end. Like a good lawyer, he always studied his brief well and, like a good sportsman, he was ever thorough in his preparation. It is this careful preparation in combination with his ability and flair that made Kadirgamar who he was. He was consistent and relentless in his opposition to political violence which he saw as a threat ‘to the stability within and between states throughout the world’. Well before the cataclysmic ‘9/11’, he warned western governments of the dangers of terrorism and called for joint action to deal with the scourge.

Among his several notable speeches on the problems of terrorism, perhaps the most influential was that he made at Chatham House, London, on April 15, 1998 at a meeting held under the auspices of the Royal Institute of International Affairs and the International Foundation of Sri Lankans. ‘[A] terrorist act,’ Kadirgamar asserted at Chatham House, ‘is seen as an attack on society as a whole, on democratic institutions, on the democratic way of life. A terrorist attack is an act of war against society’. In similar vein was his lecture delivered on September 13, 2010 at The Potomac Institute of Policy Studies in Washington D.C., approximately a year before ‘9/11’. Kadirgamar was thus resolute in his principled opposition to the use of violence as a means of seeking political gain, both at home and abroad. At the same time, he recognized our need to address the underlying causes that lead communities to acts of violence. Hence much as he decried the political violence of the LTTE, he did recognize the need for social and political justice to those marginalized citizens in our midst. In this context, the following remarks he made during an interview he gave to Business Today (Colombo, March 1997, p.20) are most salutary:

[T]he ultimate, permanent, durable solution to this problem will not come from force of arms alone. It will not come from conquest or our vanquishing the LTTE. It has to come by acceptance of the people in their entirety, by the Sinhala and the Tamil people. That is a political settlement. And, a political settlement that is perceived by the communities, by the majority and the minorities, to be fair and just. It must be a settlement that is enshrined in law, and it must be enshrined in the hearts of the people.

Thus Kadirgamar’s opposition to violence was both principled and pragmatic. However, he did not allow his justifiable antipathy to violence to ensnare Sri Lanka’s collective future. In pursuing a solution to the crisis of nation-building in Sri Lanka, he did not take a partisan stance. He was Sri Lankan to the core.

Lakshman Kadirgamar was among those who had come to realize that achieving peace with the Tamil Tigers was almost impossible. At the same time, he wanted the inevitable struggle against them waged within the laws of war so as to ensure that international opinion did not turn against Sri Lanka. Had he lived to see the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers in May 2009, I am confident that he would have worked tirelessly to achieve an enduring political settlement in which the rights of all Sri Lankans were respected.

Lakshman Kadirgamar was ‘a scholar-statesman who was both a realist and idealist’. Despite the deleterious impact of politics on him, his years in our national legislature served to raise the level of political discourse, both at home and abroad, several notches higher. Sri Lanka could not at the time of his death by assassination, and cannot today afford to lose sons of his calibre. But, then, it is the tall trees that catch the wind. One hopes that Lakshman Kadirgamar will be remembered by future generations of Sri Lankans for the values and principles he lived and died for.

Tissa Jayatilaka



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Features

Why Small Farms will be the backbone of food security

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The ecological axiom that: ‘Energy flow through a system tends to organise and simplify that system’, is abundantly clear in agriculture. As farms moved from small interdependent units, bounded by fences and hedgerows, to large cropping fields to accommodate machine management, we lose the biodiversity that once existed on that landscape and the biomass that provided the Ecosystem Services. This sacrifice was rationalised through the invocation of economic profit. The economic ‘profit’ gained by subsidies on fossil fuel and uncontrolled extraction from the Global Commons. The ‘development’ of agriculture has become a race to control the commodity market. The farmer ceased to be a feature of the farm. In a telling statement, the farmers of Sri Lanka sent the following statement to the CGIAR in 1998 :

‘We, the farmers of Sri Lanka would like to further thank the CGIAR, for taking an interest in us. We believe that we speak for all of our brothers and sisters the world over when we identify ourselves as a community who are integrally tied to the success of ensuring global food security. In fact it is our community who have contributed to the possibility of food security in every country since mankind evolved from a hunter-gather existence. We have watched for many years, as the progression of experts, scientists and development agents passed through our communities with some or another facet of the modern scientific world. We confess that at the start we were unsophisticated in matters of the outside world and welcomed this input. We followed advice and we planted as we were instructed. The result was a loss of the varieties of seeds that we carried with us through history, often spanning three or more millennia. The result was the complete dependence of high input crops that robbed us of crop independence. In addition, we farmers producers of food, respected for our ability to feed populations, were turned into the poisoners of land and living things, including fellow human beings. The result in Sri Lanka is that we suffer from social and cultural dislocation and suffer the highest pesticide- related death toll on the planet. Was this the legacy that you the agricultural scientists wanted to bring to us ? We think not. We think that you had good motives and intentions, but left things in the hands of narrowly educated, insensitive people.’

The diverse farm had to yield to production monoculture, which was made possible through the burning of fossil fuels. Ironically the burning of fossil fuels is the major reason for the current destabilised climate and threat to agriculture. One consequence of climate change is the predicted rise in global temperatures. If ambient temperatures exceed 40 degrees , which has become the reality in many places even today, food production will be compromised. All the food we eat originates with plants and plants produce using photosynthesis. Photosynthesis, or the capture of solar energy by plants, is done with chlorophyll, the thing that makes plants green and chlorophyll begins to break down after 40 degrees. Landscapes whose summer temperatures go beyond this limit will have smaller and smaller crops as the temperatures increase. The only solution to this oncoming crisis, is to begin introducing trees at strategic points on the landscape.

Trees and all other forms of vegetation cool the environment around them through the transpiration process, which takes place in the leaves. The water absorbed by the roots is sent up to the leaves which release it as vapor, cooling the air around it. Measurements on trees done by research institutions worldwide, indicate that an average large tree produces the cooling equivalent of eight room sized air conditioners running for 10 hours, a cooling yield 0f 1,250,000 Bthu per day. Plantations of trees have been recoded to have daytime temperatures at least 3 degrees below the ambient. This is an important aspect of Ecosystem Services that needs to be considered for adaptive agriculture.

Small farms which produce food with low external energy and maintain high biomass and biodiversity, are the models of food production that can face the climate compromised future before us. Capital, resource and energy expensive agricultural systems could fail in a high temperature future and threaten global food security, we need options. One would be to encourage a consumption and distribution system that facilitates small farmers to enter the market. Another would be to realise the value of the ecosystem services of a farm and develop systems to measure and reward. We are all aware of the future before us. Now is not the time to stand blinking like a deer facing the headlights.

But placing trees in and around cropping areas becomes a problem in large cropping fields designed to accommodate machine management. The management of such trees and hedgerows requires needs that cannot be provided without human management. Agricultural landscapes will need management that will be adaptive to the changing climate. An example would be; small interdependent units bounded by fences and that increase biodiversity and the biomass while providing Ecosystem Services.

Investment in food security, should take climate change seriously. All new agricultural projects should address the heat thresholds of the planned crops. The Sri Lankan country statement at COP 21 stated that :

“We are aware that the optimum operating temperature of chlorophyll is at 37 deg C. In a warming world where temperatures will soar well above that, food production will be severely impacted.”

And that :

“We are aware that the critical Ecosystem services such as; production of Oxygen, sequestering of Carbon, water cycling and ambient cooling is carried out by the photosynthetic component of biomass. This is being lost at an exponential rate, due to the fact that these Ecosystem Services have not been valued, nor economically recognised.”

These statements cry out for the recognition of the role that small farms will have to play in the future. In a temperature compromised future, small farms with high standing biomass, through their cooler temperatures will continue to produce food in heat stressed periods. If such Ecosystem Services can be given a value, it will strengthen the economy of small farms and ensure local, sustainable food production into the future.

Small farms which produce food with low external energy and maintain high biomass and biodiversity, are the models of food production that can face the climate compromised future before us. Capital, resource and energy expensive agricultural systems could fail in a high temperature future and threaten global food security, we need options. One would be to encourage a consumption and distribution system that facilitates small farmers to enter the market. Another would be to realize the value of the ecosystem services of a farm and develop systems to measure and reward. We are all aware of the future before us. Now is not the time to stand blinking like a deer in sheadlights.

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Encouraging signs, indeed!

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Derek and Manilal

Local entertainers can now breathe a sigh of relief…as the showbiz scene is showing signs of improving

Yes, it’s good to see Manilal Perera, the legendary singer, and Derek Wikramanayake, teaming up, as a duo, to oblige music lovers…during this pandemic era.

They will be seen in action, every Friday, at the Irish Pub, and on Sundays at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby.

The Irish Pub scene will be from 7.00 pm onwards, while at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby, action will also be from 7.00 pm onwards.

On November 1st, they are scheduled to do the roof top (25th floor) of the Movenpik hotel, in Colpetty, and, thereafter, at the same venue, every Saturday evening.

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Constructive dialogue beyond international community

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by Jehan Perera

Even as the country appears to be getting embroiled in more and more conflict, internally, where dialogue has broken down or not taken place at all, there has been the appearance of success, internationally. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be leading a delegation this week to Scotland to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). Both the President, at the UN General Assembly in New York, and Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris, at the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva seem to have made positive impacts on their audiences and, especially amongst the diplomatic community, with speeches that gave importance to national reconciliation, based on dialogue and international norms.

In a recent interview to the media Prof Peiris affirmed the value of dialogue in rebuilding international relations that have soured. He said, “The core message is that we believe in engagement at all times. There may be areas of disagreement from time to time. That is natural in bilateral relations, but our effort should always be to ascertain the areas of consensus and agreement. There are always areas where we could collaborate to the mutual advantage of both countries. And even if there are reservations with regard to particular methods, there are still abundant opportunities that are available for the enhancement of trade relations for investment opportunities, tourism, all of this. And I think this is succeeding because we are establishing a rapport and there is reciprocity. Countries are reaching out to us.”

Prof Peiris also said that upon his return from London, the President would engage in talks locally with opposition parties, the TNA and NGOs. He spoke positively about this dialogue, saying “The NGOs can certainly make a contribution. We like to benefit from their ideas. We will speak to opposition political parties. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is going to meet the Tamil National Alliance on his return from COP26, which we will attend at the invitation of the British Prime Minister. So be it the NGO community or the foreign diaspora or the parliamentary opposition in Sri Lanka. We want to engage with all of them and that is very much the way forward”

INTERNAL FRAGMENTATION

The concept of a whole-of-government approach is indicative of a more cohesive approach to governance by government ministries, the public administration and state apparatus in general to deal with problems. It suggests that the government should not be acting in one way with the international community and another way with the national community when it seeks to resolve problems. It is consistency that builds trust and the international community will trust the government to the extent that the national community trusts it. Dialogue may slow down decision making at a time when the country is facing major problems and is in a hurry to overcome them. However, the failure to engage in dialogue can cause further delays due to misunderstanding and a refusal to cooperate by those who are being sidelined.

There are signs of fragmentation within the government as a result of failure to dialogue within it. A senior minister, Susil Premajayantha, has been openly critical of the ongoing constitutional reform process. He has compared it to the past process undertaken by the previous government in which there was consultations at multiple levels. There is a need to change the present constitutional framework which is overly centralised and unsuitable to a multi ethnic, multi religious and plural society. More than four decades have passed since the present constitution was enacted. But the two major attempts that were made in the period 1997-2000 and again in 2016-2019 failed.

President Rajapaksa, who has confidence in his ability to stick to his goals despite all obstacles, has announced that a new constitution will be in place next year. The President is well situated to obtain success in his endeavours but he needs to be take the rest of his government along with him. Apart from being determined to achieve his goals, the President has won the trust of most people, and continues to have it, though it is getting eroded by the multiple problems that are facing the country and not seeing a resolution. The teachers’ strike, which is affecting hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, is now in its fourth month, with no sign of resolution. The crisis over the halting of the import of chemical fertiliser is undermining the position of farmers and consumers at the present time.

EARLY WARNING

An immediate cause for the complaints against the government is the lack of dialogue and consultation on all the burning issues that confront the country. This problem is accentuated by the appointment of persons with military experience to decision-making positions. The ethos of the military is to take decisions fast and to issue orders which have to be carried out by subordinates. The President’s early assertion that his spoken words should be taken as written circulars reflects this ethos. However, democratic governance is about getting the views of the people who are not subordinates but equals. When Minister Premajayantha lamented that he did not know about the direction of constitutional change, he was not alone as neither does the general public or academicians which is evidenced by the complete absence of discussion on the subject in the mass media.

The past two attempts at constitutional reform focused on the resolution of the ethnic conflict and assuaging the discontent of the ethnic and religious minorities. The constitutional change of 1997-2000 was for the purpose of providing a political solution that could end the war. The constitutional change of 2016-19 was to ensure that a war should not happen again. Constitutional reform is important to people as they believe that it will impact on how they are governed, their place within society and their equality as citizens. The ethnic and religious minorities will tend to prefer decentralised government as it will give them more power in those parts of the country in which they are predominant. On the other hand, that very fact can cause apprehension in the minds of the ethnic and religious majority that their place in the country will be undermined.

Unless the general public is brought aboard on the issue of constitutional change, it is unlikely they will support it. We all need to know what the main purpose of the proposed constitutional reform is. If the confidence of the different ethnic and religious communities is not obtained, the political support for constitutional change will also not be forthcoming as politicians tend to stand for causes that win them votes. Minister Premajayantha has usefully lit an early warning light when he said that politicians are not like lamp posts to agree to anything that the government puts before them. Even though the government has a 2/3 majority, this cannot be taken for granted. There needs to be buy in for constitutional reform from elected politicians and the general public, both from the majority community and minorities, if President Rajapaksa is to succeed where previous leaders failed.

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