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Sajith and Ranil are clones of the same stable

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Same-ingredient ice-creams, but two different toppings

by Kumar David

Outside the Tamil areas there are just three alternatives to choose from – the government (SLPP), the JVP led NPP alliance and the UNP-twins which are the same in content but come in two toppings; traditional or youthful. The purpose of this relatively short piece today is not to canvass for the NPP (I am on the National List) nor to elaborate in any detail why the SLPP is dangerous – I have done that a few times on previous occasions – but to emphasise something that has gone under the radar. That is that intrinsically and essentially there is no substantial difference between the Ranil-UNP and the Sajith-UNP now mustering under the acronym SJB. The two ice creams are made of the same ingredients, just flavoured with different toppings, Maharaja Melt or Elephant Ecstasy.

For decades Ranil and Sajith were comrades in arms and fellow travellers in the UNP, even now they argue about who the real UNP is. For decades upon decades they shared the same ideology and the same political programmes, they endorsed the same economic policies, they loved the IMF and the global right with equal fervour. I cannot drive it in hard enough that they are programmatic and policy clones; the same breed sharing the same genes. In ideology, history and political ethos they are siblings. What has surfaced in the UNP in recent months is a dispute about who can pull more votes; that’s all, essentially that’s the bottom line. Zeitgeist is a German word that denotes the spirit of the times, trends of thought and feeling, the characteristics of an ethos. The Ranil-UNP and the Sajith-UNP mustering as SJB are manifestations of a shared Zeitgeist.

There is NO difference in ideology, economic outlook, political philosophy, tradition, evolution or historical role between these two wings of the UNP. Of course, as in any power struggle the abstract parallelism is marinated by personal ambitions – the ambitions of the young-pretender, the reluctance of the old-fart to bow out, and more spicy, the thannaha of courtier Navin to foil the return of the young-pretender, and on the other side sly-prince Champika who knows full well that his IQ is way higher than Sajith’s and is sharpening a gritty blade in readiness for 2025.

To return to the big picture, the only, the sole, only and unique dispute between the two branches of the UNP before the divorce was who will be the better vote puller. Of all I have asked “Why are you for Sajith or why are you for Ranil” – I know dozens of UNPers – the conversation universally and without exception settles down to who will bring in more votes. I have never ever in these conversations heard any reference to policy, ideology, foreign affairs, debt, budget or programme except trivia like undergarments or cons about increasing allowances and wages by undoable amounts – election gundus! Usually even then, both sides fake up exactly the same gundus with a different number of zeroes at the end.

The hottest topic of disputation between UNP faction relates to issues such as: Ranil is old, tired, jaded and unfriendly, Sajith is young, energetic and bouncy. Or on the other side; Ranil is shrewd and knows to play the game, Sajith is an inexperienced bull in a China shop, or the Rajapsksas will use Sajith if needed and put him out in the cold and out of business. The sole dispute among UNPers is who can win more votes. “Policy! What’s that? Don’t muddy our waters with terms we care little about”, that’s the mentality that animates UNPers of both hues today.

What conclusively proves the shared nature of the genes of the twins is the question “Where are all the natural-Ranilists, the old Royalists and Thomians? Ranil’s natural and habitual retinue, Malik, Harsha, Eran, Fowzie and such like acolytes of neo-liberals, where are they today? All lined up in flank upon flank behind Sajith. Can you believe it, all the forces of right-wing social and economic reaction, all Lanka’s neoliberal baggage, has deserted the grandson of DRW and embraced the son of Prema-machang who the baggage much despised! They walked out of the habitual stables and lined up on the side of the “Lad born to be king” who hopefully will win them the steeplechase. Their Bonny Prince Charlie refrain “Oh boatman row like a bird on the wing” towards polling date.

I have used up more than half my permitted words driving home the ‘No real difference between the two outfits’ message because few people sit back and think about it. If the UNP is hopeless at this point in time, then both the Ranil version and the Sajith version are useless. If you do insist on voting UNP I don’t think it matters much which bunch you choose. My meaning is this; if you are voting against the government most likely it is because you believe that the authoritarian and militaristic trend of the Gotabhaya Presidency is dangerous. Presumably you see a period ahead which will be hazardous for the democratic freedoms that we have become accustomed to. I am not going to argue this point because I have done so often in this column and if you don’t agree you are unlikely to change your mind at this last moment.

I am targeting those of you who do agree with me on this point but imagine that voting Ranil or voting Sajith could be a way of resisting the drift to an autocratic executive. My case is that this is an illusion because neither twin will take a firm stand and oppose these dangerous trends when, or if as surely will be more likely, the peril materialises in concrete form.

Liberalism at home and abroad is facing its worst crisis in decades therefore it is necessary to mobilise a more determined leadership and inspire more forces than our UNP liberals of either flavour are capable of to meet of the threat.

If you abhor dictatorship your first priority is to defeat government attempts to grab two tirdsrds on August 5. The outcome anyway will probably be no-two thirds. However, not only cynics but everyone I meet says the government will buy MPs to make up the shortfall. If it’s a small number a simple cash transaction is envisaged but if 20 or more are needed Sajith’s or Ranil’s cross-over proclivities will be deemed worthy of pursuit. If the shortfall is less than 10 the purchase can be transacted on the ever-popular MP free-trade market. With a larger shortfall a bulk purchase wholesale deal has to be struck and it will have to be an auction for either the Sajith/SJB or the Ranil/UNP livestock herds. There is not much difference between sellers on the supply side; it only depends on price and sinecure.

When it comes to crunch time there is little that will stand in in the way of Ranil or Sajith in fashioning a deal with Gota to repeal 19A and/or to enact an altogether new constitution? The Wickremesinghes and the Rajapksas have had a good working relationship, not prosecuting each other’s households and giving way to each other on vital issues. As for Sajith, his manifesto is as silent as the tomb on constitutional issues; it is fair game to surmise that his door is open to a Gota seduction bid. The Constitution is the hottest topic in the election arena so Sajith’s silence is deafening and is it more reasonable to conclude that he is open to a love-in with Gota than to give him benefit of any doubt. There is nothing in his life story, his temperament or his campaign utterances to make one think otherwise; being an invertebrate he will go with the Sinhala-Buddhist populist flow.

Actually, today’s column is not intended to be an anti-Ranil or anti-Sajith diatribe but a genuine expression of anxiety. If you are a UNPer who longs to pension off jaded Ranil and date Sajith, that’s up to you and good luck if you have faith that he will stand tall against Gota. If on the other hand you imagine Ranil will mobilise to push back against authoritarianism good luck to your daydreams. Still, I would like to suggest that you should not stop half way, you should move all the way to link up with those who can be trusted to stand firm.

 

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Development after the elections

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By Jehan Perera

Many years ago, former Government Agent of Jaffna, Dr Devanesan Nesiah, explained the northern sentiment when elections were taking place.  He said there was apprehension about the possible turn of events over which they had no control.  The minority status of the Tamil people would invariably mean that their future would be determined by the outcome of the power struggle in the south of the country.  I was reminded of these words of Dr Nesiah during discussions organised by the Civil Society Platform in the northern towns of Vavuniya and Jaffna on the democratic challenges arising from the forthcoming elections.

The main theme, at the present elections in the south, and most of the country, has been the need to elect a strong government and to give it a 2/3 majority to change the constitution, accordingly.  The response in Vavuniya and Jaffna, by the members of civil society, was that a strong government would not heed the wishes of the people. Like people in other parts of the country, they felt let down by the political leaders and said they did not know for whom to vote.  The issues that they highlighted as being their concerns were economic ones, such as the lack of jobs for youth and the harm to families caused by an unregulated micro credit scheme that made them vulnerable to the predatory actions of money lenders.

The civil society members, in the towns of Vavuniya and Jaffna, did not take up the issue of the 19th Amendment and the possible threat to civil society space that the speakers from the south put before them. This indicated a longer term need to have educational programmes on the importance of the rule of law and judicial independence, in particular, to ensure justice and non-discrimination.  But they also did not comment or discuss the manifesto put out by the main Tamil political party, the TNA, which addressed longstanding issues of the Tamil polity, including self-determination, federalism, the merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces or the newer post-war issues of missing persons and accountability for war crimes.

EXISTENTIAL ISSUES

The absence of public debate, at the civil society meetings in the north on the political dimension at the forthcoming elections, may reflect a wariness about speaking publicly on politically controversial matters. Civil society groups throughout the country have been reporting there is more police surveillance of their work. The fear of falling into trouble and being seen as anti-government may have restrained the participants at the civil society meeting in the north from expressing their true feelings. On the other hand, there is also the reality that existential issues of jobs, loans and incomes are of immediate concern especially in the context of the Covid-induced economic downturn. The short term concerns of people are invariably with economic issues.

One of the salient features of the present elections has been the general unwillingness of even the main political parties to address any of the issues posed by the TNA.  This would be due to their apprehension of the adverse fallout from the electorate. It could also be due to their lack of ideas regarding the way forward. Apart from the 19th Amendment, another impediment to a strong government, that is identified by its proponents is the 13th Amendment. In the run up to the elections, there have been calls for the abolition of the 13th Amendment, which created the devolved system of provincial councils, along with the 19th Amendment that directly reduced the power of the presidency and increased the independence of state institutions. The provincial councils have been emasculated by denying them of both resources and decision making power and are condemned for being white elephants.

It has been noted, by the political commentator D B S Jeyaraj, that the TNA’s choice of focusing on issues of transitional justice, in dealing with war time violations of human rights, led to the TNA aligning itself with Western powers. This did not yield the anticipated benefits as the previous government failed to implement many of its commitments in regard to transitional justice. It would have been better to have focused instead on getting the provincial councils in the north and east to engage in more development-oriented work which would have met the existential needs of the people.

PROVINCIAL COUNCILS

Jeyaraj has also surmised that if the TNA had chosen the path of utilising the provincial council system for development work, it could have obtained support from India, which had been the co-architects of the provincial council system, in 1987, along with the then Sri Lankan government. India has a moral obligation to contribute to developing the north and east of the country where the war raged in full fury and led to immense destruction. India’s role in destabilising Sri Lanka and enhancing the military capacity of the Tamil armed groups, including the LTTE, is a bitter and abiding memory which the journalist Shamindra Ferdinando has written extensively about.

A creative suggestion made during the civil society discussion in Jaffna was for the provincial councils to implement what governments have promised to implement but have failed to do. An example given was that of reparations to war victims. The previous government pledged to set up a system of reparations in terms of the UNHRC resolution in 2015. But, although an Office for Reparations was established, very little was done. The question was whether the provincial councils in the north and east could not have utilised their resources for the purposes of instituting schemes of reparations as it would be clearly within the policy framework of the government.

While the issues in the TNA’s manifesto will remain perennial ones to the Tamil polity, the people are looking for political leaders who will deliver them the economic benefits in the same way as in the rest of the country. The civil society meetings in the north suggests that the northern people are not showing priority interest in political issues as they believe these are non-deliverable at the present time. Instead of using its majority status in parliament and seeking to abolish the 13th Amendment, and the provincial council system, and creating a crisis with the Tamil polity and India, the new government would do better to work through them to meet the material needs of the people. They need to also realize limits of the constitution, and focus on social, economic and political pluralism and promote values of tolerance, pragmatism, cooperation and compromise, and consent of the governed.

 

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A blazing story!

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The local showbiz scene is ablaze with a story about the members of a particular band, who indicated that they are undergoing a tough time, abroad, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It was a video, showing the members pouring forth their difficulties, and earnestly requesting the authorities concerned to bring them back home, that got others to move into action…and the truth has come out.

After having looked into their situation, extensively, knowledgeable sources say that the video contained a load of lies and, according to reports coming our way, the band has now been blacklisted by the authorities for lying about their situation.

These guys have, apparently, gone on Holiday Visas and have, thereby, contravened the Visa conditions.

The story going around is that they have had problems, within the band, as well.

The authorities, in Sri Lanka, are aware of the situation, in that part of the world, but there are many others who are waiting to get back home and, they say, musicians can’t get into the priority list.

So, it’s likely to be a long wait for these guys before they can check out their hometown again!

 

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Top local stars to light up ARISE SRI LANKA

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Richard de Zoysa’s brainchild, ARISE SRI LANKA, is going to create an awesome atmosphere, not only locally, but abroad, as well.

This telethon event will feature the cream of Sri Lankan talent, said Richard, who is the Chairman of Elite Promotions & Entertainment (Pvt) Ltd.

Put together as a fund-raiser for those, in the frontline, tackling the coronavirus pandemic, in Sri Lanka, ARISE SRI LANKA will bring into the spotlight a galaxy of local stars, including Noeline Honter, Damian, Mahindakumar, Rukshan, Melantha, Jacky, Ranil Amirthiah, Mariazelle, Trishelle, Corinne, Sohan, Samista, Shean, Rajitha, Umara, April, Shafie, Dr. Nilanka Anjalee Wickramasinghe, Kevin, Ishini, and Donald.

Mirage is scheduled to open this live streaming fun-raiser, and they will back the artistes, assigned to do the first half of the show.

Sohan & The X-Periments will make their appearance, after the intermission, and they, too, will be backing a set of artistes, scheduled to do the second half.

The new look Aquarius group, led by bassist Benjy Ranabahu, will also be featured, and they will perform a very special song, originally done by The Eagles, titled ‘There’s A Whole In The World.’

The lyrics are very meaningful, especially in today’s context where the coronavirus pandemic has literally created holes, in every way, and in every part of the world.

Aquarius will be seen in a new setting, doing this particular song – no stage gimmicks, etc.

The finale, I’m told, will be a song composed by Noeline, with Melantha doing the musical arrangements, and titled ‘Arise Sri Lanka.’

The programme will include songs in Sinhala, and Tamil, as well, and will be streamed to many parts of the world, via TV and social media.

Richard says that this show, scheduled for August 29th, is in appreciation of the work done by the frontliners, to keep the pandemic, under control, in Sri Lanka.

“We, in Sri Lanka, can be proud of the fact that we were able to tackle the Covid-19 situation, to a great extent,” said Richard, adding that even the World Health Organisation (WHO) has acknowledged the fact that we have handled the coronavirus pandemic, in an exceptional way.

The team, helping Richard put together ARISE SRI LANKA, include Noeline Honter, Sohan Weerasinghe, Donald Pieries, from the group Mirage, Benjy Ranabahu, and the guy from The Island ‘Star Track.’

 

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