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SLPP drops election threat. How will rival parties respond?



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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Lingering world disorder and the UN’s role



The 9/11 Twin Tower horror in New York.

Russia could very well be questioning the legitimacy of the UN system by currently challenging the right of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to arbitrate in the conflicting accusations of genocide brought against each other by it and Ukraine. Russia has countered Ukraine’s charge of genocide, occasioned by its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, by accusing the latter of perpetrating the same crime in the rebel region of Eastern Ukraine, which is seen as being within the Russian sphere of influence.

As is known, when Russia did not participate in a hearing sanctioned by the ICJ on the charge of genocide brought against it in March 2022, the ICJ called on Russia to halt the invasion forthwith. Russia, however, as reported in some sections of the international media, reacted by claiming that the ICJ has ‘no jurisdiction over the case since Ukraine’s request does not come within the scope of the Genocide Convention.’ The main sides to the Ukraine conflict are at present reportedly stating their positions in the ICJ with regard to the correctness of this claim.

Whereas, the law-abiding the world over would have expected the ICJ’s word to prevail in the Ukraine conflict, this does not seem to be the case. More precisely, it is the moral authority of the UN that is being questioned by Russia. Given this situation, the observer cannot be faulted for believing that Russia is ‘sticking to its guns’ of favouring a military solution in the Ukraine.

Considering the foregoing and the continuing lawlessness in other geographical regions, such as South-West Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa, the commentator is justified in taking the position that little or nothing has been gained by the world community by way of fostering international peace over the decades.

Most distressing is the UN’s seeming helplessness in the face of international disorder, bloodshed and war. The thorny questions from the 9/11 New York twin-tower terror attacks, for instance, are remaining with humanity.

One of the most dreaded questions is whether the UN Charter has been rendered a dead letter by the forces of lawlessness and those wielders of overwhelming military might who couldn’t care less for moral scruples. Those state actors who display these traits risk being seen as destruction-oriented subversives or terrorists who are impervious to civilizational values.

Commentators are right when they point to the need for UN reform. This is, in fact, long overdue. Of the original ‘Big Five’ who went on to constitute the permanent membership of the UN Security Council (UNSC) at the end of World War 11 and who oversaw the establishment of the UN, only the US and China retain major power status in the true sense of the phrase today.

The rest of the original heavyweights cannot be considered ‘spent forces’, but there are other powers of more recent origin who could easily vie for their positions. Some of these are India, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey and Indonesia. Inducting some of the latter into the UNSC could help constitute a more globally representative UNSC. That is, they will help put together an UNSC which is more faithfully reflective of the current global power distribution.

Theoretically, a more widely representative and inclusive UNSC could be a check against the arbitrary exercise of power by the more ambitious, expansionary and authoritarian members of the UNSC but a foremost challenge facing the UN is to induce such new members of the UNSC into representing the vital and legitimate interests of the ordinary publics within these states and internationally. Minus such representation of the world’s powerless UN reform could come to nought. In fact, this could be described as a prime challenge before the UN which could decide its enduring relevance.

Admittedly, the challenge is complex and defies easy resolution. Not all the countries that are seen as prospective UNSC members are democratic in orientation. That is, they would not be people-friendly or egalitarian. Most of them are governed by power elites that are part of what has been described as the ‘Transnational Capitalist Class’ and could be expected to be repressive and parasitic rather than caring or egalitarian. How then could they be expected to be committed to re-distributive justice within their countries, for example?

In the short and medium terms, the UN system could bring into being systems and institutions that could make it comparatively difficult for the power elites of the world to be parasitic, exploitive, self-serving and unconscionable. Strengthening and giving added teeth to systems that could prove effective against money-laundering and allied practices of self-aggrandizement is one way out.

Ironically, it is perhaps the UN that could lay the basis for and provide these mechanisms most effectively and non-obtrusively. It would need to work more with governments and publics on these fronts and lay the foundation for the necessary accountability procedures within states. It should prepare for the long haul.

In the longer term, it’s the coming into existence of democracy-conscious governments and ruling strata that must be sought. Here too the UN could play a significant role. Its numerous agencies could prove more proactive and dynamic in inculcating and teaching the core values of democracy to particularly poor and vulnerable populations that could fall prey to anti-democratic, parochial political forces that thrive on division and discord.

UN aid could be even directly tied to the establishment and strengthening of democratic institutions in particularly impoverished countries and regions. Thus will the basis be laid for younger leaders with a strong democratic vision and programmatic alternative for their countries. Hopefully, such issues would get some airing in the current UN General Assembly sessions.

Accordingly, the broad-basing of the UNSC is integral to UN reform but the progressive world cannot stop there. It would need to ensure the perpetuation of the UN system by helping to bring into being polities that would respect this cardinal international organization which has as its prime aim the fostering of world peace. Democracy-conscious populations are an urgent need and systems of education that advocate the core values of democracy need to be established and strengthened worldwide.

The coming into being of rivals to the current Western-dominated world order, such as the BRICS bloc, needs to be welcomed but unless they are people-friendly and egalitarian little good will be achieved. Besides, undermining the UN and its central institutions would prove utterly counter-productive.

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Country Roads …concert for children



Sponsors and Country Music Foundation officials - from left: Dmitri Cooray (Jetwing), Maljini Jayasekera (Cargills), Feizal Samath (President CMF), Susaan Bandara (LOLC), Deepal Perera (SriLankan Airlines) and Spencer Manualpillai (Dilmah)

I’ve always wondered why those who have hit the big time in their profession, as singers, have not cared to reach out to the needy.

They generally glorify themselves, especially on social media, not only with their achievements, but also with their outfits, etc. – all status symbols.

I’m still to see some of the big names grouping together to help the thousands who are suffering, at this point in time – children, especially.

However, I need to commend the Country Music Foundation of Sri Lanka for tirelessly working to bring some relief, and happiness, to children, in this part of the world.

Country Roads is said to be Sri Lanka’s and South Asia’s longest running charity concert for children, and this year, they say, the show will be even better.

This concert has consistently donated 100% of its proceeds to children’s charities in Sri Lanka. Over the past 35 years, this has resulted in several million rupees worth of aid, all of which has contributed directly to addressing the most pressing issues faced by children in Sri Lanka, a common practice since the concert’s first edition was held in 1988.

In 2014, the concert contributed Rs. 500,000 to Save the Children Sri Lanka, to support its mother-and-child programme for local plantations. During the same year, another Rs. 100,000 was given to the Oxonian Heart Foundation, to help treat impoverished and destitute children suffering from heart disease, while a further Rs. 100,000 was donated to a poor family caring for a special needs child. In commemoration of its landmark 25th anniversary concert in 2013, CMF donated a million rupees to aid in a special UNICEF project.

Astrid Brook from the UK

The 2023 musical extravaganza will feature the bright lights and panoramic cityscape of Colombo, as its backdrop, as it will be held at the picturesque Virticle by Jetwing, which is situated high above the city, on the 30th floor of the Access Towers building, in Union Place, Colombo 2.

The 35th anniversary Country Roads concert for children will take place on Saturday, 7th October, 2023.

Feizal Samath, President of the Country Music Foundation (CMF), the concert organisers, commented: “We are very much looking forward to this event as it’s being held after a lapse of five years, due to unavoidable circumstances.”

Fan favourites the Mavericks from Germany and Astrid Brook from the UK will once again return to headline the 2023 concert, and joining them on stage will be local outfit Cosmic Rays, as well as the Country Revival Band, with Feizal and Jury.

Dirk (from the Mavericks) has this to say to his Sri Lankan fans: “2018 was the last time we were in your beautiful country with the Mavericks band. Then Corona came and with it a long break. I missed you very much during this time.

“It has now been five years since my last visit to Sri Lanka. A lot has changed. The sponsorship that has always made this trip possible for us is gone. But we didn’t just want to end this tradition, which we have learned to love so much since 1992. That’s why we’re travelling to Sri Lanka this year entirely at our own expense, because it’s an affair of the heart for us.

Mavericks from Germany

“We very much hope that it won’t be the last Maverick performance in Sri Lanka. We hope that this unique journey will continue, that there will also be a Country Roads concert in the years to come.”

The 35th anniversary edition of the Country Roads concert for children will be supported by Official Venue Virticle by Jetwing, and Official Airline SriLankan Airlines, as well as its other partners, Jetwing Colombo Seven, Cargills, LOLC, and Firefly.

Tickets are currently available, for a charitable donation of Rs 2,000 each, at Cargills Food City outlets at Kirulapone, Kohuwela (Bernards), Majestic City, Mount Lavinia (junction) and Staples Street.

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Healthy, Glowing Skin



Give your skin a boost by including the following into your diet:

* Avocados:

Avocados contain healthy fats which can help your skin stay moisturised and firm.

They also contain vitamin C and E – two important nutrients that your body need to support healthy skin and fight free radical formation.

Avocados are also rich in biotin, a B vitamin that some nutritionists believe can help promote healthy skin and hair. A deficiency of biotin can lead to skin problems, such as rashes, ache, psoriasis, dermatitis and overall itchiness.

* Carrots:

Carrots are rich in vitamin A, which fights against sunburns, cell death, and wrinkles. Vitamin A also adds a healthy, warm glow to your skin.

You can get vitamin A by consuming provitamin A through fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based products. Your body then converts beta-carotene into vitamin A to protect your skin from the sun.

Provitamin A can also be found in oranges, spinach, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, bell peppers, broccoli and more.

* Dark Chocolate:

Dark chocolate is beneficial for your skin because cocoa powder boasts a bunch of antioxidants. These antioxidants hydrate and smoothen your skin, making your skin less sensitive to sunburn and improves the blood flow of your skin. Make a healthy choice by opting for a bar of dark chocolate with 70% cocoa for more antioxidants and lesser added sugar.

* Green Tea:

Green tea has been said to protect the skin against external stressors and ageing. This is because it is antioxidant-rich and contains catechins that protect your skin, reduce redness, increase hydration, and improve elasticity.

A diet rich in antioxidants along with adequate hydration may even out your skin texture, strengthen your skin barrier and improve your overall skin health.

Avoid adding milk to green tea as the combination can reduce the effects of the antioxidants present in green tea.

Additional tips for healthy skin…

Don’t forget to stay hydrated because water plays a big part in the appearance of your skin. Water ensures your skin has enough moisture, which reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It also helps with nutrient absorption, removal of toxins and blood circulation.

Besides food and water, it is important to observe proper hygiene. This means no touching your face until you’ve washed your hands. Your hands carry more bacteria than you think and the occasional touch here and there can add up. After a long day out, cleanse your face thoroughly.

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