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SLPP drops election threat. How will rival parties respond?

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by Rajan Philips

The first off the blocks was the JVP. It declared its readiness to lead and presented a basic program as its “Rapid Response to Overcome Current Challenges.” It pulled no punches in its opening salvo: “We do not need a sophisticated grasp of statistics or politics to understand the socioeconomic catastrophe that has befallen our country due to the misguided economic and social policies pursued by various governments since independence.”

This is a sweeping denunciation of any and all governments that almost sounds like Donald Trump’s inaugural rant on the “American carnage.” But the point here is about the current “socio economic catastrophe,” which is the handiwork of the present government and no one else. Of that there is no doubt or disagreement. There is nothing either, for anyone to understand. The people are hurting and feeling it in their bellies and in their bones.

The JVP’s splash put the onus on the government and the main SJB opposition to take notice and respond. The government’s response has been mixed. The first response was to throw rotten eggs targeting the JVP leader in his car. After rotten eggs came street thugs, all low-level and quite remote from even O-level or A-level, who invaded university hostels to earn their degrees in bully violence. The Independence Day speech came and went, but left nothing to write home about. There was no mention of foreign exchange, debt, IMF, or food shortages. Only preachy, presidential, hectoring.

In elections they excel

Five days later, on February 9, in Anuradhapura, the family, the Party and the government gathered their wits and delivered their Plan: the government will have an election. Come for an election fight if you want! The Prime Minister has challenged the Opposition. The President harangued about internal and external threats who are apparently trying to undermine his government and sabotage his Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour. Again, not a word about any of the current crises and what the people can expect the government to do immediately.

Election campaigns and manipulations are the only thing that Rajapaksas feel they are good at. None more so than Basil Rajapaksa. With elections he can hit two birds with one stone. First, an election campaign will give him the opportunity to do something he likes, and something he believes he is good at. And he can turn the Finance Ministry into an SLPP election office. Second, elections would be a godsend excuse to stop pretending that he is serious about his responsibilities as Minister of Finance. He has no clue about the ministry or the economy and the only reason he would have wanted the job is to make deals with American companies. He is not at all the example of a dedicated Minister of Finance who would be pre-occupied and worried about rescuing the economy from its current morass.

Basil Rajapaksa has already made it clear that the upcoming election would be a local government election and not a parliamentary or presidential election. Both are more than three years away while the local elections are now overdue. No one cares about provincial council elections, and no one cares to write to New Delhi about them. But the point about having local elections is that they are not going to make any difference to what could or should be done to deal with the country’s current predicaments. In normal times, local elections serve as a barometer for the national political mood in addition to replenishing local bodies to attend to local matters. Sri Lanka is not in normal times. Whoever wins or loses the local elections is not going to help Sri Lanka find more foreign exchange, pay back its debt, grow more food without fertilizer, and bring in imports to turn into exports. Local elections will not help with any of them.

They will only serve as diversionary route for the government. And if Basil Rajapaksa could pull half as much as his magic in February 2018, the President (who safely chose to abscond from the 2018 election by visiting his step-country) will be emboldened to brag twice as much as the SLPP did in 2018. And the hole the country is in will go twice as deep. I am not suggesting that the local elections or any other election should not be held. Only that they will not make any difference to the catastrophic situation that the country is in. One safe aspect of Rajapaksas focusing on elections, any election, is that they are diverted from looking at some military option as quite a few observers fear.

In Anuradhapura, the family and the SLPP put on a bold front. But that did not cover the cracks behind. None of the minor constituent partners – the SLFP and an assortment of old school leftists and new school nationalists – were not in attendance in Anuradhapura. The frontline ministers who took to backbench tactics were also conspicuous by their absence. Whether it is bluff and bluster or calculated confidence, the signs from Anuradhapura are that the SLPP is prepared to fight back, not by providing a better and improved governance, but by contesting and winning elections. There have also been suggestions that the SLPP is looking ahead to 2024 and a different presidential candidate instead of the incumbent. There is a reason why the family and the SLPP could feel confident about their electoral chances and political salvation. The reason is the disunity, if not disarray, in the opposition.

Unlikely Allies

Whether smart or not, the SJB’s talkative MP Mujibur Rahuman has already accepted the election challenge dangled by the Prime Minister in Anuradhapura. But to his credit, Mr. Rahuman has pointed out the government’s flipflop now in insisting on local elections after gazetting them out from their due date in March 2022. In any event, opposition parties have no say in the timing of any election (except to prevent premature dissolution, one of the legacies of the short-lived 19th Amendment). And they have no political option of boycotting an election after the government calls one. The question is what effect there will be on the political dynamic if the government were to act on its Anuradhapura challenge and call the local government elections.

The JVP and the SJB have both been calling for a parliamentary election, hoping for a change at least in the parliamentary branch of the government while the executive branch stays with the incumbent. The JVP at least would certainly have been hoping to use a parliamentary election campaign to take its “Rapid Response” message far and wide into every electorate. A local government election will not give the same platform and amplitude as a parliamentary election for a national policy campaign. However, the JVP could and invariably will turn the local election into a referendum on the government. It certainly has the political ammunition for it. The JVP’s focus on and exposures of government corruption and abuse of power will be powerful ammunition in any election.

But does the JVP have the delivery weapons to use its well-stocked ammos successfully, on a sufficiently large scale, and in every part of the country? How successful will it be in a local government election overall, in terms of total vote proportion, number of local bodies won, number of seats won, and the number of provinces with above average performance? If the results are not dramatically successful, the JVP will be left dramatically deflated and it will not be able to recover sufficiently for the parliamentary and presidential elections that will follow.

Sajith Premadasa and the SJB have the opposite problem. The SJB has a broader electoral base and network, but it doesn’t have a compelling message or penetrating ammunition. Mr. Premadasa is yet to have his breakout moment showing his readiness to lead and the direction he will take. There are plenty of people doing Mr. Premadasa’s bidding and filling up his vacuum of silence. There are others in the SJB, or rather one other, who has been itching to upstage Sajith Premadasa in providing an alternative to both the government and the JVP. And one of them has – that is Champika Ranawaka who has upstaged Mr. Premadasa from the right.

Upstaging with aplomb may seem to come naturally to Mr. Ranawaka, an ambitious lone ranger with some ability, but without a big stage of his own to strut from. To be fair, Mr. Ranawaka does have a stage of sorts, the 43 Brigade, a clever concept to politically embrace all the (so far only Sinhala) beneficiaries of Sri Lanka’s free education system introduced in 1943. And he has used that stage to launch a Manifesto, entitled “Rescue and Thrive,” which seems intended counter the JVP’s “Rapid Response.” But they both share a common premise even though it is articulated differently.

While the JVP has chosen to blame all governments since independence for the current catastrophe, the message of the 43 Brigade is crisp: “After independence, for the first time in history, Sri Lanka is under a very real threat of going into bankruptcy.” And it is not every government that bears the blame, only the present one. And rightly so. The fundamental difference between the JVP and the 43 Brigade is on evaluating the effects of the open economy. The JVP sees the open economy as the fount of all evils that have befallen Sri Lanka since 1977. To the whiz kids of 43 Brigade, Sri Lanka’s modern economic history began with the open economy and there is no future ahead without the open economy. The historical answer and the future lie somewhere in between. The open economy is neither a flawless success nor an unmitigated disaster.

In any event, the JVP and the 43 Brigade have at least started a debate that others can join. There is no one in the family, the SLPP, or the government who can credibly join this debate, or any thoughtful debate. The SJB has professional economists in its ranks who obviously support the open economy but will likely be rankled by Champika Ranawaka’s upstaging self-promotions. As well, serious debates over political economy are not among the most effective ways to conduct successful election campaigns. Especially, local elections. The JVP will have to find a way to capture the mood of the people and connect them to the theme of its message. SJB and Champika Ranawaka will have to find a way to co-exist for mutual benefits without over-upstaging one another.

There are others too – the parties representing the Tamils and the Muslims, who attest to irrefutable fact(s): that there is and there can be more than One Country within a single Sri Lankan State, that there is and there will be more than One Law, and that there is and there will be more than One People within the small Sri Lankan Island. For the government and the SJB, the JVP presents a political platform that challenges them (SLPP & SJB) to respond with alternatives. On the other hand, the Tamil and Muslim parties present a challenge to the JVP to demonstrate that it will be, and to what extent it will be, different from the broken records of its southern contenders for national power.

The bigger question for the JVP is, however, whether it can go on its own without alliances involving others. The NPP is not an alliance but an electoral convenience. For any significant leap from its 3% launching pad, the JVP will have to execute a historically impossible poll-vaulting. And historically, as well, no single party has won a parliamentary majority under the parliamentary system from 1947 to 1978, except in 1952 and 1977. Electoral success in all the other elections was predicated either on broad alliances of formal coalitions. After 1978, every election has been all about alliances with ever weakening commitments to political principles or programs and ever strengthening attachments to personal interests and mutual IOUs. IOUs became the organizing principle of Rajapaksa politics. The family and the SLPP are ready to cash in one more, or last, time.



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Features

Glimmers of hope?

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The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self-interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away.

Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?

What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.

‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.

‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.

‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.

‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.

‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.

Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.

Heartfelt hope of the many

The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”

Still utterly hopeless

Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.

Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.

Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.

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Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis

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By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)

There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.

The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.

FERTILISER ISSUE

1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.

2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.

3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!

4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.

Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains

We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened

1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.

2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.

3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.

4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.

Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.

Recommendations

1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.

2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible

3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:

Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.

Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.

Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.

Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.

Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.

Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.

Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.

Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.

1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers

All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.

The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of

India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and

There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 

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Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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