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Save Democracy from a two-thirds disaster

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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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Features

Mindset changes and the dangerous ‘Religious War’ rhetoric

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Israeli border police on patrol at the Damascus Gate in occupied East Jerusalem (Pic courtesy Al Jazeera)

Nothing could be more vital at present in the conflict and war zones of the world than positive mindset changes and the wish of the humanist is likely to be that such momentous developments would quickly come to pass in particularly the Middle East. Because in the latter theatre almost every passing hour surfaces problems that call for more than average peace-making capabilities for their resolution.

For instance, the Islamic Supreme Fatwa Council in Palestine has reportedly warned of a ‘Religious War’ in the wake of recent allegations that Israel is planning to prevent the Muslim community from having access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem in the month of Ramadan. If true, this development is likely to further compound the Gaza violence and take it along an even more treacherous track. This is on account of the fact that religious passions, if not managed effectively, could prove most volatile and destructive.

As pointed out in this column previously, peace movements on both sides of the main divide in the region would need to quickly activate themselves, link-up and work as one towards the de-escalation of the conflict. What the Middle East and the world’s other war zones urgently need are persons and groups who are endowed with a pro-peace mind set who could work towards an elimination of the destructive attitudes that are instrumental in keeping the conflicts concerned raging.

This could prove an uphill task in the Middle East in particular. For, every passing minute in the region is seeing a hardening of attitudes on both sides in the wake of issues growing out of the violence. Accordingly, if peace-making is to be contemplated by the more moderate sections in the conflict, first, we need to see a lull in the violence. Achieving such a de-escalation in the violence has emerged as a foremost need for the region.

Right now, the Israeli state is showing no signs of climbing down from its position of seeing a decisive end to the Hamas militants and their support bases and going forward this policy stance could get in the way of de-escalating the violence even to a degree.

On the other hand, it would not be realistic on the part of the world community to expect a mindset change among Israeli government quarters and their supporters unless and until the security of the Israeli state is ensured on a permanent basis. Ideally, the world should be united on the position that Israel’s security is non-negotiable; this could be considered a veritable cornerstone of Middle East peace.

Interestingly, the Sri Lankan state seems to have come round to the above view on a Middle East peace settlement. Prior to the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime taking this stance, this columnist called repeatedly over the past few months in this commentary, in fact since October 7th last year, for the adoption of such a policy. That is, a peace settlement that accords priority to also the security needs of the Israelis. It was indicated that ensuring the security and stability of the Palestinians only would fall short of a comprehensive settlement of the Middle East imbroglio.

However, in the case of the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime, the above change in policy seems to be dictated almost wholly by economic survival considerations rather than by any well thought out principle or a sense of fairness to all relevant stakeholders.

For example, close on the heels of the regime playing host to the Israeli Transport Minister recently, it accorded a reverential welcome to the Iranian Foreign Minister as well. From the viewpoint of a small country struggling to survive, this is the way to go, since it needs every morsel of economic assistance and succour.

However, if permanent peace is to have a chance in the Middle East it would need to be based on the principle of justice to all the main parties to the conflict. Seen from this point of view, justice and fairness should be accorded to the Palestinians as well as the Israelis. Both parties, that is, should live within stable states.

The immediate need, though, is to at least bring a lull to the fighting. This will enable the Palestinian population in the Gaza to access humanitarian assistance and other essential needs. Besides, it could have the all-important effect of tempering hostile attitudes on both sides of the divide.

The US is currently calling for a ‘temporary ceasefire’ to the conflict, but the challenge before Washington is to get the Israeli side to agree to it. If the Israeli Prime Minister’s recent pronouncements are anything to go by, the US proposal is unlikely to make any impression on Tel Aviv. In other words, the Israeli Right is remaining an obstacle to a ceasefire or even some form of temporary relief for the affected populations, leave alone a political solution. However, changing their government is entirely a matter for the Israeli people.

Accordingly, if a stable peace is to be arrived at, hostile, dogmatic attitudes on both sides may need to be eased out permanently. Ideally, both sides should see themselves as having a common future in a peacefully shared territory.

Peace groups and moderate opinion should be at centre stage on both sides of the divide in the region for the facilitation of such envisaged positive changes. The UN and democratic opinion worldwide should take it upon themselves to raise awareness among both communities on the need for a political solution. They should consider it incumbent upon themselves to work proactively with peace groups in the region.

The world is a vast distance from the stage when both parties to the conflict could even toy with the idea of reconciliation. Because reconciliation anywhere requires the relevant antagonists to begin by saying, ‘I am sorry for harming you.’ This is unthinkable currently, considering the enmity and acrimony that have built up over the years among the volatile sections of both communities.

However, relevant UN agencies and global democratic opinion could begin by convincing the warring sections that unless they cooperate and coexist, mutual annihilation could be their lot. Mindset changes of this kind are the only guarantors of lasting peace and mindset changes need to be worked on untiringly.

As this is being written, the ICJ is hearing representations from numerous countries on the Middle East situation. The opinions aired thus far are lopsided in that they do not present the Israeli viewpoint on the conflict. If a fair solution is to be arrived at to the conflict Israel’s concerns too would need to be taken into account expeditiously.

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Dubai scene brightening up for SL fashion designers

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Sri Lankans are lighting up the scene in Dubai, not only as musicians, but in other fields, as well.

At the recently held Ceylon Food Festival, in Dubai, a fashion show was held, with Sri Lankan designers doing the needful.

The fashion show highlighted the creations of Pubudu Jayasinghe, Tehani Rukshika and Peshala Rasanganee Wickramasuriya, in three different segments, with each designer assigned 10 models.

The fashion show was choreographed by Shashi Kaluarachchi, who won the Miss Supermodel Globe International 2020, held in India, and was 1st runner-up at the Mr., Miss and Mrs. Sri Lanka, in Dubai.

Shashi says she was trained by Brian Karkoven and his know-how gave her a good start to her modelling career.

She has done many fashions shows in Sri Lanka, as well as in Dubai, and has worked with many pioneers in the fashion designing field.

The designers involved in the fashion show, in Dubai, were:

Pubudu Jayasinghe,

a 22-year-old creative and skilled makeup artist and nail technician. With a wealth of experience gained from working in various salons and participating in makeup and fashion projects in both Dubai and Sri Lanka, he has honed his talents in the beauty industry. Passionate about fashion, Pubudu has also acquired knowledge and experience in fashion designing, modelling, and choreography, showcasing his multifaceted expertise in the dynamic world of fashion.

Tehani Rukshika,

who studied at St Joseph’s Girls School, Nugegoda, says she went to Dubai, where her mom works, and joined the Westford University in fashion designing faculty for her Masters. Her very first fashion show was a Sri Lankan cultural event, called ‘Batik’. “This was my first event, and a special one, too, as my mom was modelling an Arabic Batik dress.”

Shashi Kaluarachchi

Peshala Rasanganee Wickramasuriya

has been living in Dubai for the past 21 years and has a batik shop in Dubai, called 20Step.

According to Shashi, who is on vacation in Sri Lanka, at the moment, there will be more Sri Lankan fashion shows in Dubai, highlighting the creations of Sri Lankan designers.

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A mask of DATES…

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Yes, another one of my favourites…dates, and they are freely available here, so you don’t need to go searching for this item. And they are reasonably priced, too.

Okay, readers, let’s do it…with dates, of course – making a mask that will leave your skin feeling refreshed, and glowing

To make this mask, you will need 03-04 dates, and 02 tablespoons of milk.

Remove the seeds and soak the dates, in warm milk, for about 20 minutes. This method will soften the dates and make them easier to blend.

After the 20 minutes is up, put the dates in a blender and blend until you have a smooth paste. Check to make sure there are no lumps, or chunks, left.

Add the 02 tablespoons of milk to the blended date paste and mix well.

Okay, now gently apply this mixture to your face, avoiding the eye area. Use your fingertips, or a clean brush, to evenly distribute the mask all over your face.

Once the mask is applied, find a comfortable place to sit, or lie down. Relax for about 15-20 minutes, allowing the mask to work its magic on your skin.

After the mentioned time has passed, rinse off the mask with lukewarm water. Gently massage your face while rinsing to exfoliate any dead skin cells.

After rinsing off the mask, pat dry your face with a soft towel, and then follow up with your favourite moisturizer to lock in the hydration and keep your skin moisturized.

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