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Ruwan Wijewardena UNP leader-in-waiting

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By Harim Peiris

Former MP and State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardena, was recently elected UNP Deputy Leader and consequently the leader-in-waiting, by that besieged party’s working committee. For a party, which has only a single National List seat in parliament, on which it cannot agree who should be nominated and which received less than half the votes, the fourth placed JVP did, the rather long drawn out process of finally replacing its leader, has begun. That this leadership transition only formally began once the party had been all but wiped off the electoral map, is a testament to the anachronistic nature of the UNP’s internal decision-making processes. The UNP’s only contribution to current politics was to weaken the opposition and enable the SLPP to secure a two-third majority in parliament.

Wijewardenas replace Senanayakes as UNP’s first family

The electoral defeat of the UNP, in the 1970 general election, witnessed the end of the domination of that party’s leadership by the Senanayake family and saw a transition to the Wijewardena family, the maternal wing of both JR Jayawardena and Ranil Wickremesinghe, with a brief interlude for the leaderships of Ranasinghe Premadasa and DB Wijetunga.

A similar situation was also witnessed in the UNP’s arch rival, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) which was dominated, since inception, by that party’s founding family, the Bandaranaikes’, which domination ran its natural course for over half a century, since 1951, and witnessed a more natural and dignified transition to a fellow founding member’s clan, the Rajapakse family, in 2005.

The Wijewardena clan can also celebrate a half century, since 1970, of dominating the United National Party (UNP) leadership, even at the expense of finally running the party to the ground. The clan’s control and near dominance of the party leadership has certainly not run its course. Accordingly, it was no surprise, at least to this analyst, that from a crowded field of pretenders to the UNP throne, ranging from Karu Jayasuriya to Naveen Dissanayake and including such colourful figures as Ravi Karunanayake and Arjuna Ranatunga, that the soft spoken and relative new comer to politics, Ruwan Wijewardena, would receive the nod from his near kinsman and by extension the rest of the handpicked working committee, to take over the now nearly defunct party.

The SJB option or perish

Ruwan Wijewardena, the UNP leader-in-waiting, whom media reports state has to wait, yet still more, till next year, to take over the party, has only one realistic course of action open to him. It is the only viable option for a party with a grand history but no future. That option is for the UNP to become a constituent party of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), rather like the JHU and the other regional parties. However, for this option to take place, Mr. Wijewardena must be prepared to accept, or enforce, the easing upstairs or retirement from politics of some of those, whom the SJB correctly believes to be liabilities rather than assets in its attempts to be a credible check and balance and eventually a viable alternative to the Rajapaksa led SLPP government. The UNP’s only hope for survival, even as a shadow of its former self, is in the shade and as a part of the Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa-led Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB). This option is similar from the other side of the aisle, most obviously to the course taken by the SLFP under former President Maithripala Sirisena or even the Dinesh Gunawardena-led Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) – both parties with proud histories, but with no future on its own.

However, the odd thing with the UNP leadership contest is that despite having no real option than join the SJB, the UNP leader-in-waiting has to parrot the mantra, that he will be rebuilding the party to its grand old days. There were breakaway parties that believed that having the party nameboard, the head office premises, and the symbol, was what popular or public support was all about and were rudely surprised to realize that this is in fact not so. In the Tamil polity, the best example would be the TULF, still around under veteran leader V. Anandasangari, but despite fielding candidates, under its well-known rising sun symbol, which was in 1977, the second largest party in parliament, is now existent, only in name.

A second decimation in the PC polls

There is a significant preference, within the SLPP, to have the provincial council polls. This preference comes mainly from the compelling internal need to provide secondary positions to party loyalists and activists who were unable to enter parliament. Doing so sooner rather than later, will help keep the opposition off balance. Having the PC polls, will also remove a potential irritant in the relationship with India. However, for the UNP, a pending PC polls, sans a tie up with the SJB, spells near doom. Superficial analysis which assumes that the UNP will retain the 2% of the national vote, or 250,000 votes country wide, which it garnered in the August parliamentary elections, is naïve. The UNP, if it contests alone, will be again wiped out, but worse. At the general election, there was some doubt, however small, about whether it would be the SJB or the UNP which would emerge on top, in the battle to be number two. Now that doubt not only no longer exists, but the UNP has such weak public appeal, that it polled less than half the JVP vote and failed to secure a single district seat in parliament. UNP support or the famed party machinery, has conclusively and permanently moved lock, stock and barrel to the SJB. Should young Mr. Ruwan Wijewardena seek to roll back the clock and have a rematch on the fight with the SJB, he would fare far worse than his cousin Ranil Wickremesinghe did. If on the contrary he accepts the political leadership of Sajith Premadasa and crafts a course for the UNP, which challenges the SLPP Government and is steadfastly a part of the opposition, he will generate for the UNP, a new lease of life and a new path, not as a leading party, whose heyday is over, but as an appendage to the SJB, in much the same way as the SLFP and the MEP are within the SLPP.



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Features

Strong on vocals

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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

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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

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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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