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Save Democracy from a two-thirds disaster



President Donald Trump, whose nonsense about the spread of Covid-19 in the US, is now using the major disaster it has caused, to get the coming presidential election postponed, with less than 100 days left.

In Sri Lanka that has so far tackled Covid-19 effectively, saw our Elections Commission postpone the General Election by more than three months, and is now moving to the polls – with just three days more.

Campaigning is fast moving to the close. The rival parties and alliances are readily violating the crowd control limits on the Covid threat, and rushing with the cheap parades of promises to the voters to grab a parliamentary majority. The issue that has become the core of electoral politics is the Two-thirds Majority.

The Podujana Peramuna – Pohottuva – campaign has the two-thirds as its demand from the voters. They want the victory that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa obtained in the Presidential Election last November, to be even bigger, to wholly manage the Parliament. Issues of a fast shrinking economy, rise of unemployment, fall of tourism and all related crises are ignored in the call for two-thirds in parliament.

With the main political rival of the Pohottuva – the UNP so hugely divided, as the Elephant trails hanging on to the wire of the Telephone. Ranil Wickremesinghe uses courtroom judgments to bolster a hugely weakened party, and the Sajith Premadasa team is twisted with a range of unreal promises. The JVP-led alliance of the NPP is much further behind in the overall national politics. This gives the Rajapaksas a clear lead — but their search for two-thirds is putting that lead into major doubt, in majoritarian politics.

The theme of the Rajapaksas is the Sinhala-Buddhist dominance, which saw the huge majority that Gotabaya Rajapaksa obtained to be President. The Sinhala-Buddhists are certainly more than two-thirds in the overall population and the electoral registers too. But, is this workable  in an election based on Proportional Representation or PR?

As the campaigns draw to a close there is the need to think more of Democracy, than any of the big players in this campaign are willing to allow. The electoral process is the fabric of democracy. We have seen a shift from ‘first-past-the-post (FPTP)’ to the PR system. And, we have also seen the major threats to Democracy from the two-thirds result.

The two last elections under FPTP in 1970 and 1977 saw the dangers of two-thirds power. Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike who led the United Left of the SLFP-LSSP-CP to power in 1970, used the two-thirds to extend the term of that parliament from five to seven years – with the next election coming in 1977 and not 1975. That was the two-thirds at play. The also saw the abolition of the Civil Service that did a lot for clean administration, and replaced it with the Administrative Service – which has led to the dominance of political (and even family related) appointees, with the current shift to those in current and retired uniforms to drive the government.

The 1977 election –  held two years later – saw the huge victory of JRJ-led  UNP, getting a five-sixth majority. JRJ would have benefitted much from the earlier polls delay. That huge majority brought the new Executive Presidency, which showed the dangers of such electoral majorities. JRJ used that majority to postpone the next general election by six years! The new constitution axed the powers of parliament, giving huge dominance to the President. It saw the enabling of cross-overs in parliament, and did away with the process  of by-elections.

These two results give sufficient proof of the dangers of a two-thirds result in electoral politics. The crude behaviour of MPs in parliament, the loading of allowances, luxury vehicles, and bill payments of MPs also followed the two-thirds result. Parliament was not the voice of the people, but the voice of those in power, and none other.

The issue before the voters in just four days time – is that of the two-thirds Majority and nothing else. To refuse it, is to give more strength to Parliament and Democracy.

The Pohottuva has big talk about removing the 19th Amendment – passed by a two-thirds obtained with inner-parliamentary understanding. The majority of those in the Pohottuva parliamentary team before dissolution, voted for it. There was only one opponent, with a few absentees. SLFP leaders and members , left party leaders and members, UNP leaders and members and the minority Tamil and Muslim party leaders and members all voted for it. Such understanding is the core value of a two-thirds parliamentary majority.

The 19A does need amendments – that will need two-thirds. But one must not forget that it was 19A that reduced the presidential term to five years from six, and importantly brought back the presidential terms of office to two – and not any number that Mahinda Rajapaksa brought in, after the victory over the Tamil Tigers.

Do the big callers for a Two-thirds want to bring back an unlimited term presidency? Just look at many African and Latin American dictatorships – with often violent elections. Should the independence of the Judiciary and the many Commissions such as Elections, Police, Human Rights, etc be removed and brought back under presidential dominance?

These are the issues of Two-thirds politics today. We must remove faults in 19A such as the so-called National Government mockery, and give more strength to the independence of commissions, as well as the Judiciary.  The need is to elect candidates, from whatever party or independent group, who will move in that direction, and not those who seek to undermine Democracy and People’s Power through a two-thirds grab.

Let us think of electing members to parliament who will be ready to cut or slash MP’s pensions; give them official vehicles, where necessary, not not duty free luxuries; cut down their holiday payments on so-called parliamentary necessity; stop those who will use privilege to seek medical attention abroad; stop giving spouses, children, nephews and nieces employment under parliamentary privilege…. The list goes on!

Fighting the call for a two-thirds majority is fighting for Democracy.

The fight to save and build Democracy is one that needs constant action. Let the coming election be one such big fight.


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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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