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Secure legitimacy and credibility

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Ranil Wickremesinghe being sworn in as Prime Minister.

Open letter to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe

Dear Prime Minister,

As I watched you take oaths at the Presidential Secretariat, my mind was drawn to the last time you did so, on 16 December, 2018, on day 52 of the 52-day coup plot that was mounted against Lankan democracy. On that Sunday morning, you were flanked by your wife, Dr. Maithri Wickremasinghe and several senior opposition MPs in what still feels like the finest hour in the history of our constitutional democracy.

Several political parties rallied around you, putting the constitution before party politics and personal grievances. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that your side was the side of right, and the side of democracy.

On the three previous occasions when you took oaths as Prime Minister, you did so with a strong mandate, after conclusive electoral victories. Consequently, these swearing in ceremonies were celebrative affairs, accompanied by the air of hope your mandate deserved.

So, it was with a heavy heart I watched you being sworn in last week before President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in a dark, empty room. I imagined to myself how different it would have been if this sixth swearing in ceremony had better resembled your previous ones. There were no cheering crowds, because you had won no election, had received no mandate to govern.

Given the Rajapaksa family history of power hunger, bloodlust and greed, coupled with the demands of the national protest movement, Sajith Premadasa drew a line in the sand and refused the premiership under a Rajapaksa presidency. Whether he did so on principle, or out of fear of taking on such a great a challenge, I cannot say. The fact that you have risen to the moment and taken on the most difficult job in the country is thus admirable.

If you are to succeed, you can only do so by unifying and integrating, not by dividing and conquering. No one can minimise the series of political masterstrokes by which you navigated from a personal electoral defeat in your traditional bastion of Colombo, to entering Parliament on the UNPs single national list seat, to ascending to the premiership. However, you will be judged not on your personal achievement in ascending to power, but by what you do with that power to serve the country.

As it stands, your Cabinet is set to comprise primarily of members of the Podujana Peramuna alliance including the SLFP. I don’t need to remind you that these are the same people responsible for putting Sri Lanka into this mess in the first place.

Indeed, the majority of those who have come out in support of your premiership, to date, are the very same people who fought to make Gotabaya Rajapaksa President. They argued that the country needed to be saved by him, from you and your policies. For you to succeed, you will need to build a wider base of support that reaches beyond such self-serving hypocrites, who would be eager to sabotage you no sooner they need a fresh scapegoat.

This kind of inconsistency, hypocrisy and insincerity has ruled our politics for generations, and people are sick and tired of it. The people are closely watching, still trying to decide whether you were brought in to serve Sri Lankans or to serve the Rajapaksas. Although you may be tempted to peel off weak-willed opposition members to join you in exchange for ministries and perks, remember that if you weaken the Opposition, you will further strengthen the Rajapaksas.

To put the country right and establish the credibility and legitimacy of your premiership, you need the sharpest knives in the drawer, in particular Eran Wickremaratne, Harsha de Silva and Champika Ranawaka. You need the firm political foresight of veterans like Rajitha Senaratne, Thalatha Athukorale and Ranjit Maddumabandara, the fire of younger members like Rohini Wijeratne and Shankyan Rasamanikkam. You would benefit from the legal and constitutional prowess of M. A. Sumanthiran, and the discipline and organisational capabilities of Anura Dissanayake and others of the JVP.

But the support of such serious people cannot be secured through ‘deal’ politics. There is no doubting your mastery of such negotiations andjmaneuvering. For the sake of the country, you should use those skills to secure desperately needed relief for our people, and not wield them as a weapon against the parties in Parliament who are fighting on behalf of the people to defeat the Rajapaksas.

Now that the SJB has offered to support your government on the very reasonable condition that you not try to splinter their party from within, I would urge you to accept their offer gracefully, regardless of any rivalry between yourself and their leader. In asking you to do so for the sake of the country, I must remind you of our shared history. It was no secret that Sajith Premadasa was extremely unhappy under your leadership of the UNP. He had spoken openly against you, and your personal grievances were an open secret when the coup started in 2018. Despite that, you know as well as I do how ferociously and tirelessly Sajith Premadasa fought on your behalf during the 52-day coup. Sajith consistently refused overtures to become premier. Instead, he remained loyal to you and loyal to the UNP. He respected the constitutional requirement that a prime minister must command a majority in Parliament by the time of his appointment, and he refused to backstab you and try to coral a majority together using state office as an inducement.

As you know, on the several occasions that Sajith and I went to meet President Maithripala Sirisena, he argued with the President on your behalf. He did this not necessarily because he liked you. I believe he did so on principle, and that he did it because it was the right thing to do for democracy. Whatever bad blood exists between you, as the more senior politician and now as Prime Minister, you will be expected to rise above the temptation to keep playing chess against Premadasa. The people do not want you in combat with each other. They want all right-thinking MPs to alleviate their suffering, and ensure they are never again choked under the jackboot of Medamulana tyranny.

There were always three contenders to replace Mahinda Rajapaksa. They were Premadasa, Karu Jayasuriya and yourself. You can still bring legitimacy to your government by engaging with them, and the leadership of other opposition parties. You should share with them your plan to govern, to resolve our economic, political and humanitarian crises. As the Prime Minister, you can be the bigger person and get Premadasa and other key stakeholders into a room and chart the path forward, in a way that gives you the benefit of the expertise and judgment that you are unlikely to find in your Cabinet if it is comprised of the SLPP, SLFP and a few Opposition members who can be bought for perks. Even if you cannot meet personally, set up a mechanism to keep the opposition in loop. Keep them informed of what you are doing and get their feedback and opinions. Such a give-and-take is what the country needs, what you need in this fateful moment.

It is essential for the country that your government wins the legitimacy of Opposition support and is not seen as a Rajapaksa clone. The most tragic way for your sixth premiership to go down in history would be for it to be perceived as you having effectively done to Sajith Premadasa what Mahinda Rajapaksa did to you during the coup.

Your speech today (16/05), which was simple, direct and logical, made it clear that you understand that this will be the greatest challenge Sri Lanka and you have ever faced. Indeed, it is doubtful if anyone else would have had the knowledge and more importantly the compulsion to reveal to our people the true predicament of our country.  The likes of Cabraal would have on the other hand continued to hoodwink one and all. For this we have to thank the protesters. This is an important fact that everyone in the government must not forget. I hope all politicians would have by now clearly understood that deceit and arrogance will not be tolerated by the public anymore. It is time everyone realised that if we did the same thing over and over again we will get the same result.I hope you will do things differently.I hope and pray that you succeed in uniting the country and delivering the relief and reform that our people so desperately need and so richly deserve.

Krishantha Prasad Cooray



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Opinion

Our long-forgotten friend can help mitigate impact of fuel shortage

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The importance of the bicycle as a mode of transportation is seemingly re-emerging in Sri Lanka. This sudden drive is mainly attributable to the ongoing economic crisis the country is faced with. The forex crisis, together with ever increasing fuel prices, has made the Sri Lankans remember their long-forgotten friend––the bicycle.

We see more and more people taking to cycling today for their daily activities out of desperation more than anything else. However, this trend needs to be encouraged not only for its economic benefits but also for its health, environmental, social (and many other) advantages.

The benefits of promoting cycling

Economic

– The economics of transportation has become a major woe. The main energy source used today in transportation in Sri Lanka is fossil fuel. This amounts to 2,081 Mn USD (or 64 % of the total fuel cost of the country) a year. In terms of percentage spending of the total foreign imports, this amounts to a whopping 10.3 %. (Source: Kumarage AS, Repositioning Sri Lanka’s Transport and Logistics Sector to lead the Economic Recovery in Sri Lanka, Organization of Professionals’ Association Journal, April 2022). By promoting the use of bicycles, we can expect to reduce a sizable amount of this colossal expenditure.

Cycling is also known to be conducive to the small-scale trader, as he comes in contact with the cyclists more often than the motorists. Thus, cycling will positively influence the small-scale economy of the country as well.

Health

– A number of studies have shown that cycling reduces the risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as Acute Myocardial Infarction, Coronary Heart Disease, Cerebro Vascular Disease, Type 2 Diabetes, stress and many psychological diseases. Cycling, while improving the overall health of the people, will also reduce the healthcare costs, appreciably in the long term.

Environmental

– Increased use of fossil fuels for transportation has in turn become one of the leading causes of environmental pollution, global warming and climate change, the world over, three of the major calamities the world has come to be plagued with today. By cycling we can reduce air pollution by reducing the noxious gases, such as carbon oxides, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, benzene and particulate matter. It also reduces noise pollution, and helps in mitigating global warming and climate change.

Social

– Cycling is also known to promote social interactions among people by encouraging networking and collaborations between them. This will influence the social health of the community positively.

The activities proposed

– The programme to promote cycling should be implemented, as a pilot project, with the participation of the state sector employees in some selected districts. Depending on the success thereof, it could be extended to the other sectors and districts.

1. As the first step towards promoting cycling nationwide, we propose that it be promoted among the state employees as their main mode of travel (to work). In this regard, we propose that they be paid an incentive in keeping with the distance they cover.

2. Bicycles could also be used by those who live far away from their workplace; they can cycle to the main bus or railway station. In both these situations, the cyclists should be paid accordingly.

3. Cyclists should be provided with facilities for bathing and changing at workplaces.

4. The government should take all measures aimed at making travel, safe and hassle free for cyclists. New laws should be made for this purpose, if necessary.

5. To lessen traffic congestion and increase safety of the cyclists, one-way traffic for the motorists in parallel roads should be encouraged wherever possible.

6. Cyclists should be provided with facilities to purchase bicycles, spare parts and accessories at discount rates.

7. Encourage production of bicycles, spare parts and accessories in Sri Lanka. Promote bicycle repair services countrywide.

8. Plant and maintain trees on the roadside for the benefit of cyclists. This will also help reduce air pollution and ambient temperature.

9. Liaise with major cycling associations in the world like the World Cycling Association, the Dutch Cycling Embassy, etc, in order to update knowledge and skills relating to promoting cycling in the country.

10. In keeping with the principle of “polluter pays” a dedicated tax could be imposed on motor vehicles, and the revenue therefrom used to promote cycling.

Dr. PRASANNA COORAY

President

Consumers & Customers Union

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Opinion

Catastrophe that has hit Ukraine

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The coup, or revolution, in Ukraine in 2014, as a result of the Maidan Square uprising, enabled extremist forces to take control of Ukraine. Many of them have Fascist ideology even to this day. In 1945, Russia had chased the German Nazis back to Berlin at a terrible cost in Russian lives. Now, people with this same mentality have taken power in Kiev with the devilish help of the American CIA – and they are hostile to Russians in Russia and even Russian-speaking Ukrainians, who number about a third of the total population of 60 million Ukrainians.

This minority of Russian-speaking people are mostly located towards the East of the country, with many centred in the towns and cities known as the Donbas. These people did not want to be subjected to Nazi, Fascist unpleasant treatment, so they agitated to be independent. They formed their own militias, men from the army defected and brought weapons from the army! The army and the militias fought each other to a standstill. In response, the Ukrainian army-built lines of trenches and other defences along the Donbas, especially near towns with important or vital industries.

Over time, relations deteriorated and the army started indiscriminately shelling the Donbas – they were killing their own people! This tragedy occurred for a period of eight years. About 14,000 civilians were killed by illegal random fire. No reporting on this in the “morally correct” west, and this story was ignored. Fascist thugs made Mariupol steelworks their headquarters in the Donbas. Early this year, 2022, the Ukrainian army was seen massing nearby for a full-scale attack on the rebels of the Donbas. Around 200, 000 of the best fighting men of all the Ukrainian army were to be used to finally crush the Russian-speaking rebels of the Donbas.

At the same time, the US was gearing up to take some land in the Donbas area – possibly in Crimea. The US considered Ukraine as their backyard, and they wanted to control the Black Sea and pin down Russian access to the sea – more devilish ideas to undermine and weaken Russia!

Russian ‘Special Military Operation

’:

But Russia was watching, and on 24 February, it launched its ‘Special Military Operation’ to counter the hostile actions in the Donbas. The first thing they did was to destroy all the ground radars, rendering the Ukrainian air force incapable of targeting accurately. Then came a great parade of propaganda and lies about Russian failures and losses, all fictions and distortions which were untrue, but were misleading to those without access to the facts. President Putin had so many ailments he alone could fill a hospital! All fiction. The west’s propaganda war is a remarkable feature of this military excursion.

At the outset of the Special Military Operation there were many similarities between the Russian and Ukrainian forces, and their equipment. But there were some glaring differences, too.

Russian forces were full time, professional soldiers, well trained in the specific tasks they were responsible for: they were a fully professional, competent army operating advanced equipment. They had high-tech equipment and knew how to handle it and use it to its fullest, to its best.

Each aircraft, battle tank, drone or radar station carries electronic equipment. This creates a node forming part of a computer network which exchanges information. The information fed into this network is processed by powerful computers. The result is that the targeting of enemy positions is exact, resulting in highly efficient warfare. It is efficient, not least because the Russian army wants to avoid targeting civilians. In the Donbas, all the people were related kinsfolk, being Russian speakers.

This required much caution in targeting, as the Ukrainian army was hiding among the civilians. The Russian army was obliged to advance slowly, so as to do as little damage as possible. This targeting efficiency also had the benefit of using ammunition economically. It was a progressive, brutal de-militarization of the Ukrainian army in Donbas using the combined military forces of Russia.

No-body knows when peace will arrive in Ukraine. It seems likely that, after going to all this effort, Russia will continue on and conquer the port of Odessa, and may even continue onwards to link up with Transnistria.

Note that this death and destruction could all have been avoided if Ukraine had implemented the Minsk Accords. They acted in bad faith and now suffer the consequences of that dishonesty.

Wild speculations are made in the West about the dangers of nuclear war. But these generals, colonels and western elites should know, as a matter of personal professional pride, that the official “Russian Military Doctrine” spells out in sections 26 and 27 the criteria for the use of nuclear weapons. This will happen only when outside actions pose an existential (real) threat to Russia. Russia will react with Nukes either: if Russia is hit by a nuclear explosion or if an army invades and approaches the centre, say, Moscow.

A Professional Army using High–tech Equipment:

For this success, Russian soldiers had to be well educated in maths and physics, and because of the extreme complexity of modern war, they must have a serious attitude. They had to know all about military science: operational art and planning, informational nodes, and net centric warfare. The Russian army engages in reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, surveillance, and targeting. Radar can give targeting information in 23 seconds, requiring defence alertness and readiness.

It is unlikely the Ukrainian army is so well educated and trained. Firing indiscriminately on the Donbas and killing people and the use of prohibited cassette munitions as seen on world news sites, does indicate a lack of discipline. This unprofessionalism has cost them dearly.

The Ukrainian army gives losses at approximately: 20,000 killed, 64,000 missing in action, and perhaps 30,000 men wounded. Russians give about: 5,000 men in special Russian holding camps and 2,500 men in Donbas holding camps.

Legal experts in Russia, and Donbas experts, are, even now sifting through all the cases of the detained men. Normal soldiers will be given trials and sentencing for any wrongdoing, but those with a background of supporting Fascism will be shipped to Siberia for further investigation. One of the stated aims of the Russian establishment is to de-Nazify the Ukrainian army.

The Role of Education in Development of a Country

: Throughout their lives Russian children get much more science, physics and mathematics (STEM) than schools in the west. The standard set by the best Russian college entrance examinations is high, putting the American schools and colleges in the shade. There are no multiple-choice questions, answers are either right or wrong. These best Russian schools are attended by many bright, thirsty minds, each waiting to drink up the education offered.

This careful selection and development of bright scientific minds has enabled Russia to develop really advanced weapons and rockets, way ahead of the USA. For example, it launched the orbiting Sputnik into space well before the Americans. This act alone sent the US administration into a panic. They, in response, developed the high altitude U2 spy plane to go and see what the Russians were up to! Recently, because the US Shuttle was out of service, Russia was providing the Americans with a shuttle service to the international space station. A group of young engineers, all under 30 years, designed the SU 57, a highly successful fighter. Russia has designed and successfully tested hypersonic weapons – which the USA is struggling to catch up with.

In truth, the main war between East and West is being played out at the school desk, and Russia is winning!

See Larry Johnson’s film on YouTube – in English

PRIYANTHA HETTIGE

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Opinion

Save us from our govt.!

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When watching daily news bulletins, on several local TV channels, one could observe two significant matters.

One is how Gotabaya Rajapaksa shamelessly meets foreign diplomats and officers of international organizations, who are well aware of the grave situation of the country, and also the prime reason for it.

Remember, as kids, how we hide from our parents, or teachers, when some small mistake happens – that is because we were ashamed, and afraid of punishment. And ther, too, it would have been only our own mistake, not by the whole family of ours!

Next is how the Police and armed forces are let loose on the men, women and children who have been waiting in queues for hours or days. The authorities are not finding ways to stop queuing or at least maintain some order at those places, but chastise the people, for electing as Basil Rajapaksa had said, a stupid, clueless president and an incompetent government.

The greatest disasters we have faced since Independence are the JVP insurrection, the LTTE war and the tsunami in 2004, and during those times the people were protected by then governments; now Sri Lankans have to struggle against the government, which is steadily throttling them to death.

BUDDHI PERERA

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