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The crisis at the southern border

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by Vijaya Chandrasoma

Returning violence for violence only serves to multiply violence, adding darkness to a night already devoid of stars.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

Today, the United States is shrouded in darkness, fighting crises on several fronts: a global pandemic which has already claimed 175,000 lives; a national plague of incompetent, immoral and ignorant leadership; an economic recession with unemployment at levels of the Great Depression; and an immigration crisis at its Southern border, the consequence of centuries of aggressive European colonization.

This humanitarian crisis at the Southern border no longer makes news. The American people have become inured to this injustice, this cruelty, just like the German people became inured to the Nazi treatment of the Jews.

The US will continue to wallow in this darkness with four more years of Trump. As Michelle Obama said at the Democratic National Convention last Monday, “If you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can; and they will if we don’t make a change in this election.”

Were there only one light to illuminate the darkness that envelopes the nation today, that will be the election, on November 3, of competent, civil leadership we have not enjoyed since January 21, 2017.

The United States is hardly the only country to have made its fortunes on the backs of “uncivilized” peoples. Wealth creation in many of the richest countries of the world today has been achieved through invasion, genocide, slavery and continuing violence.

Harping on history is a futile exercise. What matters is today. The developed nations in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States act as magnets for those seeking escape from political and ethnic strife which continues to plague many of these former colonies. The US is still the lodestar beckoning seekers of opportunity and prosperity for themselves, and education and a bright future for their children. The melting pot, the nation of immigrants, where 98% of its citizens are immigrants.

The conviction of European superiority has never been in doubt, especially in the minds of Europeans. As Cecil Rhodes wrote in his last will and testatement, referring to the Anglo-Saxon race: “I contend that we are the first race in the world, and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race”.

Echoes of Hitler’s fascism in the Germany of the 1930s, when he promulgated the concept of the Master Race, the purity of Nordic or Aryan races among Germans and other Northern European peoples.

The Germans made a straightforward move towards the achievement of a pure race in the 1930s. They decided that the inferior, or impure races, like the Jews, Romanians (Gypsies) and the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe, should be eliminated to hasten the evolution of a perfect race. Jews took pride of place as a particularly venomous race, parasites who enervated the purity of humanity. So the Nazis devolved the Final Solution, and just murdered them. If not all, then at least six million of them.

The colonizers of the Americas were perhaps the cruelest of an abysmal lot. In the years after systematic European colonization of the Americas began in 1492, they provided the blueprint for white supremacy, the precursor to Hitler’s Final Solution. They murdered the indigenous peoples to the point of near extinction. They forcibly kidnapped Africans and brought them to work in the cotton plantations in the Southern states of the US and the pineapple fields in the Caribbean. These unfortunates were treated as a species closer to animals than humans, against whom the most despicable forms of abuse and torture, rape, even murder for sport were considered moral, lawful, even expected of them. Indeed, it was the contention of some white Christian Americans that such abuse is mandated by the Bible. Unfortunately, after 250 years since Emancipation, this contention is still shared by some Americans, notably the KKK, White Supremacists, Neo-Nazis and the Trump “Base” of the US.

The English put a unique spin on subjugation and slavery. They proved themselves to be at least as equal to other Europeans in their physical cruelty to the inhabitants of the nations they colonized, but they tempered it with a distinctive brand of psychological cruelty which was far more effective. A brand which, while plundering the resources of the colonies, they made the natives feel that they should be grateful for being the recipients of a great and superior culture. The genius of the English colonizers in the Indian subcontinent and Africa is that they made their victims feel ashamed of their nationality. They questioned their culture, mocked their attire, and ridiculed their languages and religions. They made us ashamed of our darker, richer skin colours, proved even today by the fact that the best-selling cosmetic east of Suez is skin-whitening cream.

The native ruling classes in Ceylon before independence were more British than the British themselves. They wore three-piece suits with a tie in the scorching heat; they went to church every Sunday; they knew their Shakespeare and Chaucer and spoke with an Oxford accent; resplendent in cream flannels, they played cricket in the midday sun, like Noel Coward’s mad dogs and Englishmen; and their drink of choice was whisky with a splash.

I remember when I was in secondary school, it was almost a boast to say, “I say, my Sinhalese (or Tamil) is very poor”. Failing an examination in the vernacular (I am reluctant to say “mother tongue” because, in the ruling elite, our mothers spoke English) was almost a badge of honor. Knowledge of the English language is the kaduwa (sword) that keeps the lower orders ostensibly content with their lot even today.

Even after they granted self-rule and independence to the natives, the Europeans retained economic and emotional control in many of the colonies, some until the 1970s. It took a few decades for the natives to rid themselves of the manacles of colonial subjugation. But for a few notable exceptions like Singapore, this refreshing change gave the natives unfettered freedom and licence to ruin their own countries without any foreign help. At least their wealth and resources were stolen by their own.

Sadly, the inferiority complex and self-flagellation of their hateful black and brown pigmentation persist to the present day among some colonials. There are brown-skinned natives in sovereign nations who yearn for the “good old days”, when they were ruled by the superior white man.

Perhaps this is the reason, this sense of inferiority, that significant numbers of coloured peoples, who hail from Trump’s notion of “shithole countries”, support the white supremacist policies of the Trump administration. As do even some Sri Lankans living in the USA, where overt governmental racism discriminates against their own best interests.

As I said, harping on the past is an exercise in futility. Complaining about the evils of colonialism, after several decades of ruining our countries all by ourselves without any foreign help, is like a middle-aged man blaming his parents for the crimes he has committed.

The immigration laws of the US and other countries of the First World were liberal enough after World War II to invite immigrants to the “mother country”, in the face of a labour shortage in Europe and the Americas after World War II.

 

The influx of refugees is the greatest problem facing the First World today. There is a reluctance, even a fear, to welcome these refugees, fleeing from poverty, violence and strife often initiated, paradoxically, by the very countries to which they are appealing for refuge.

Applications for asylum to the US have exploded and reached a breaking point, threatening its prosperity. An invasion of brown refugees also feeds the threat to its white majority and white privilege, a fear that is being strategically exploited by the Trump administration.

According to current US immigration laws, anyone seeking asylum in the United States has to be accepted until his case for asylum is heard by an immigration judge. These hearings are delayed, causing a backlog and a waiting period for asylum cases, during which the asylum seeker was allowed to remain and legally work in the country until his case is called. The problem is, many asylum seekers never appear for the immigration hearing, often scheduled months after arrival. They disappear into a twilight zone, creating a vast community of undocumented immigrants, who numbered an estimated 11 million in 2017.

This problem was addressed by the Trump administration with typically inhuman measures. Trump has been stoking the white American fear of illegal immigration from Mexico and other Hispanic countries. He made it the core of his successful 2016 election campaign.

Asylum seekers are now not released pending hearing of their cases for asylum, as mandated by law; they are either deported indiscriminately, or detained at the border in the most inhumane conditions, in Nazi-style concentration camps. Children are separated from their parents, and either caged in terrible conditions in camps at the border, or worse, become prey to a thriving business of sexual trafficking and slavery. Many of these kids simply disappear, and the administration, in whose custody they were, has no idea of their whereabouts.

The American Dream is farthest away from the aspirations of these tortured souls. Their only goal is survival, which they will not achieve if they are deported to their own countries and/or are denied asylum by the inhuman immigration policies of the Trump administration. Unless, of course, you are an aspiring white immigrant from Europe; then the rules change dramatically. As Trump once famously wailed, and I paraphrase, “why can’t we get immigrants from countries like Norway, (the whitest nation in the world) instead of people from shithole countries in Africa and Asia?”

Trump longs for the USA to be nation of whites like the Scandinavian countries, with economic, racial and social prosperity. He does not understand that these countries have no history of colonial and racial cruelty caused by invasion and colonization. Immigrants to these nations are few, and largely welcomed regardless of pigmentation. As an example, Sweden has under 400,000 immigrants from Asian and African nations in a total population of 10.23 million (4%) in 2019, compared to the 90 million (28%) immigrants from Asia and Africa in the USA, also in 2019.

If Trump is allowed to continue his racist policies, the US will not end up like a democratic, socialist nation of Scandinavia. He will transform the greatest democracy in the world to an authoritarian dictatorship like Russia.

For Trump, the secret of a prosperous nation is in the blending, as long as the main ingredient in the recipe is vanilla.

(The writer is the second son of Tissa Chndrasoma, a well-known Civil Servant of his day, and Mrs. Gertie Chandrsoma. He emigrated to the US at age 49 as his elder boy had won a scholarship to Yale and he decided to get the rest of the family to the US after the 1991 explosion at the Joint Operations Command. Then working for the late Gamini Dissanayake, who had lost favour with the Premadasa government and had himself taken a sabbatical at Cambridge, Dissanayake’s trusted aides, like their boss, thought it best to duck out of sight for a while. A Mahaweli colleague helped him to get started in Los Angeles where he and his wife first did low level jobs. He thereafter lived in Phoenix when his company relocated there and worked on the Clinton campaign in LA and Obama’s in Phoenix. His children seized the opportunities America offered and did very well. He has not regretted his decision to retire to Sri Lanka when peace returned in 2009. He says “I have always loved writing, but my raw hatred of Trump, who is ruining what was a beautiful, compassionate nation which gave me  second chance in life, has give me an incentive to vent and expose him as best I can.”)



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Ways to shed pounds after 40

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By Dr Ramisha Maliha

It might be difficult to lose weight after the age of 40. Slowing metabolism, and a decrease in daily physical activity, can lead to weight gain if these biological changes are not matched with a corresponding reduction in dietary calories. Still, shedding pounds, after age 40, is not a hopeless endeavour. Here are a few ways to tackle mid-life weight loss.

Age matters

Over 40s, may find it easier to gain weight and harder to lose it. Changes in activity, diet, hormones and fat storage can all have a role. But a few simple steps may help you slim down.

Eat your fruits and veggies

Halve your plate at each meal. Green produce has more nutrients and less fat and calories than meat, dairy, or grains. It may help you feel full when eating less. Apples and berries replace high-fat or high-sugar snacks.

Do not skip breakfast

Oatmeal or whole wheat toast, with fruit, is recommended for breakfast. It can curb midmorning hunger that leads to unhealthy grab-and-go or lunch overeating. Small meals, or snacks, every few hours, can control your appetite.

Eat less at night

If you consume most of your daily calories before 3PM, you may lose more weight than if you eat a large meal later. But what you eat is still more important than when you eat it.

Cook healthy meals

A lot of extra fat and calories can come from the way you prepare food. Instead of frying, baking, or broiling food. Avoid indulging in fried and creamy foods.Do not make a second tripAs you age, you become less active and need fewer calories. To lose weight, reduce your calorie intake. A food diary or app can help you track calories and eat less.

Pay attention

When you are busy with work, children, and life, you may be tempted to eat on the go or multitask. If you do not focus on your food, you will soon overeat and be hungry again. At mealtime, focus on your plate, not your TV or computer. This helps your brain recognise fullness.

Lay off the soda

Switch to water if you drink sugar-sweetened coffee, tea, soft drinks, or energy drinks. Your sugary drinks can cause weight gain and diabetes.

Cut back on alcohol

Not all beer bellies are alcohol-related. Alcohol can contribute to middle-age “spare tires.” A glass of beer or wine has 150 calories, which adds up quickly. Plus, alcohol makes you hungry, so you may eat more.

Make time for exercise

Many 40-somethings don’t have time to exercise between desk jobs, commuting, and family activities. At least 2½ hours of moderate physical activity (such as brisk walking or light yard work) is crucial for weight and health. Prioritise calendar times.

Build muscle

Following age 40, people lose muscle naturally, especially women after menopause. Because muscle consumes more calories than fat, it can decrease your metabolism and make losing weight more difficult. Lifting weights or performing body-weight workouts such as push-ups and squats at least twice a week might help you keep those muscles.

Relax, do not stress

Stress might increase your tendency to overeat unhealthy foods and make it more difficult for your body to break down fat. Yoga, deep breathing, meditation, going on a stroll, or reading a good book are all good options. Everyone’s stress reduction needs are different, so figure out what works best for you.

Get good sleep

After the age of 40, a variety of factors can disrupt your sleep, including health issues, stress, drugs, and, for women, menopause. On the other hand, people who do not get enough sleep are more prone to acquire weight. If you do not get enough sleep because you are too busy or anxious, attempt to adjust your behaviours and get into a pattern.

Have your thyroid checked

If you eat well and exercise consistently but still cannot lose weight, your thyroid may be malfunctioning. This affects roughly five percent of the population, with women and persons over 60 being the most vulnerable. It can induce weariness, joint or muscular discomfort, and depression, in addition to weight gain. Medications can assist, so get it tested if you suspect there is a problem.

Get support

Many people find that losing weight with others is easier than losing weight alone. For example, you may enter a weight-loss contest at work, join a social media group, or invite a friend to join you for early-morning walks or gym courses. Other people who share your goals can hold you accountable and encourage you as you improve.

If you are having trouble meeting your weight-loss goals after age 40, a careful observation of lifestyle and consideration of the above list can help towards losing weight in your 40s.

(The Daily Star/ANN)

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National Defence College of Sri Lanka

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I was invited to deliver a lecture at the Diners Club of the National Defence College (NDC), the highest Defence learning establishment of Sri Lanka, by its Commandant, Major General Amal Karunasekara, highly decorated officer from the Sri Lanka Light Infantry. Our inaugural NDC course started on 14 November, 2021, and 14 senior officers from the Army, seven from the Navy, six from the Air Force and four from the Police took part in the one-year-long course.

I was very happy about the invitation, as the Chief of Defence Staff, in 2017 to 2019, I was involved in securing this mansion, known as ‘Mumtaz Mahal,’ Colombo 03 the former official residence of the Speaker of Parliament, from 1948 to 2000, until a new official residence for the Speaker was built, close to the Parliament. From year 2000, this mansion, located on a land extending up to the Marine Drive, from the Galle Road, had been neglected, and when the Defence Ministry acquired it for establishing the NDC, it was badly in need of repairs. Further, the once beautiful garden had been used as a junk yard of the Presidential Secretariet, which owns the property.

It was great an achievement by the Defence Secretary and the CDS, at that time (2016), to secure this invaluable property, in the heart of Colombo’s residential area, especially when all three services were losing their prime land, in Colombo, and moving out of Colombo, to Akuregoda, including their Headquarters.

The task of repairing the building, and to bring it back to the previous glory, was vasted upon the Navy Civil Engineering Department and they did a wonderful job, in spite of the work getting delayed, due to lack of funds. The Air Force took the responsibility of landscaping.

‘Mumtaz Mahal’ was built by Mr Mohomad Hussain, well known businessman, in 1928. He commissioned well known architect, at that time, Homi Billimoria, who designed the Colombo Town Hall. This was an Italian design house where Count de Mauny was commissioned to the design garden and furniture.

On a suggestion made by Hubert Sri Nissanka,QC ( a founding member of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party), a close friend of Mr Hussain, the mansion was named, under the name of his youngest daughter Mumtaz. History says the overseas business of Mr Hussain was badly affected, during the Great Depression, and he hired the mansion to the French government, in 1943, and the French Consul occupied it till the start of the Second World War. During War, the mansion was sold to the government and, in 1943, the Governor General of Ceylon at that time, Vice Admiral Godfrey Layton, Commander-in-Chief, occupied it as his residence, fearing that the Japanese may bomb the Governor General House, in Fort.

During interactions with our new President, at Security Council meetings, when he was PM and I was CDS, he mentioned some of these historical details ,and the War Cabinet, during World War Two, under Vice Admiral Layton, has met in this Mansion, in the room which is the present day auditorium.

My lecture heading was Sri Lanka and Indo-Pacific Maritime Strategies and extracts from the lecture are given below.

The former U.S. Indo-Pacific Commander, Admiral Harry Harris, delivering his keynote speech at the Galle Dialogue 2016, attributed Sri Lanka’s strategic importance to the US on three factors; “Location, location and location”.

Book cover by Shivshankar Menon

These words by Admiral Harris amply highlight the geopolitical importance of Sri Lanka in the Indo-Pacific region and in the global context. Former Indian National Security Adviser (NSA) and Foreign Secretary, Shiv Shankar Menon, in his book Choices, described Sri Lanka as a permanent aircraft carrier for India, in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Though this claim could politically be contentious, it transpires a geopolitical reality of the region. It is no secret that other global powers, like China and Russia, also look at Sri Lanka through a similar geopolitical lens. On the other hand, this island nation is also located amidst major sea routes in the world; just a few miles South of the Dondra head lighthouse, over 120 ships pass daily, carrying goods upon which the health of global markets depend.

US Commands

In this context, it is essential for Sri Lanka to hold a pragmatic policy on strategic defence diplomacy engagements with regional and global superpowers while ensuring its sovereignty and integrity is preserved all the while respecting the national foreign policy stance of remaining non-aligned and neutral. Thus, defence diplomacy should be a considerable concern of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy.

What is Defence Diplomacy? It refers to the pursuit of foreign policy objectives through the peaceful deployment of defence resources and capabilities.

In the post-Cold War period, western defence establishments, led by the UK, created a new international security arrangement, focused on defence diplomacy. Although it originated many centuries, before the world wars, defence diplomacy is now used successfully by both the global West and the developing South to further national strategic and security interests.

The work of defence diplomacy is not limited to ‘track-one diplomacy’ (official government-led diplomacy) engagements such as defence / military attaches/ advisors at diplomatic missions abroad. Engagements, such as personnel exchanges, bilateral meetings, staff talks, training, exercises (air, land and naval), regional defence forums and ships / aircraft visits are also key in fostering track-II diplomatic engagements to bolster defence diplomacy.

Some experts note these extended engagements can be considered one of the best strategies in regional and global conflict prevention, since these interactions would enhance understanding, while diluting misconceptions between nation states.

Sri Lanka’s position at the centre of the Indian Ocean makes it an important maritime hub. The island nation’s deepwater harbours, relatively peaceful environment and the democratic governing system, have been the main attractions for many countries with strategic interests in the Indian Ocean.

Empty oil tankers sail from the East to the West to replenish, while the products from Japan, China and South Korea sail to Europe, the Gulf and Indian markets, through the major maritime routes across which Sri Lanka falls, thrusting this island nation into the heart of the global economy. But the importance of the location is not limited to economic gains; the strategic significance of Sri Lanka’s ports, due to their access to some of the key regions of the world, has garnered the attention of the world.

The popular belief is that China may soon become the most powerful global superpower. But I argue otherwise mainly due to four main factors.

·USA is still the global economic giant; its GDP still exceeds that of China by a marked difference

=The USA still dominates in terms of global military strength ranking – China comes in third

=The USA is the only country that has actively engaged in strategic areas of the six regions in the world, with its Army, Navy, Airforce and Marines deployed in all these six regions. No other country has that capability of already deployed combating forces.

=The US Navy has 11 aircraft carriers  for its power projection out of the world’s 43 active aircraft carriers, but China has only two in active service while a third is being manufactured. Therefore, China has a long way to go to become a global superpower even mainly from the defence perspective.

But, one could easily argue on the fact that China is also fast aspiring to become a global superpower through a different strategy. Its overseas investments, mainly on constructions of harbors and ports as well as also ship/submarine building programs are impressive new tactics in achieving maritime prowess mainly in the southern hemisphere of the globe. Being a heavy dependant on energy supply from the Gulf to keep its economy afloat, China has two strategies in dominating the Indian Ocean, which has now become its lifeline.

The first is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping in September 2013 while speaking to the Indonesian Parliament. The BRI has now become China’s ambitious foreign policy objective for the 21st century. It’s a vision encompasses over 60 countries with a combined population of over four billion people throughout Asia, Central Asia, Indian Ocean Littoral and Europe. Sri Lanka is a major stakeholder in this BRI initiative.

China’s second strategy is not announced by China but remains a geographical hypothesis projected by the US and other western researchers in 2004 – the ‘String of Pearls’. The term refers to the network of Chinese military and commercial maritime facilities (harbors and ports) along its sea lines of communication, which extends from mainland China to the port of Sudan in the Horn of Africa. The US and Indian strategists claim that the Colombo and Hambantota harbours where Chinese presence and investments are highly visible are major parts of this strategy. Of course, China denies this hypothesis and claims that those engagements are mere investments through bilateral arrangements and insists they have nothing to do with its military interests. Nevertheless, we noticed a concerning narrative even in Sri Lanka with regard to the Chinese military presence at Hambantota port during its initial stage which was vehemently denied by both governments of Sri Lanka and China.

In this context, one can notice several defence and maritime alliances are emerging in a bid to contain China, mainly due to its aforesaid two-pronged developments. One such regional collaborative defence response is the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) – a strategic dialogue between the United States, India, Japan and Australia. The leaders of these four nations met for the first time in Washington DC in September 2021. Among these four players, Australia has adopted a much more aggressive posture, a few weeks ago in signing the AUKUS (Australia, UK and US) pact, which allows Australia to develop nuclear submarines. Though it is not publicly announced, it is clear this move is to operate in the Indian Ocean against the Chinese presence. However, this AUKUS deal did not go well due to objections from many traditional allies like France and NATO.

On the other hand, the US, Japan and India have separate collective Indo- Pacific strategies to respond to China. , outlines a strategic plan for the country’s defence interests and has awarded a special place to Sri Lanka. Accordingly, a Defence Adviser to the Australian High Commission in Colombo was appointed three years ago. It shows that our Defence diplomacy with Australia is also becoming a higher priority in our bilateral diplomatic agenda.

In this context, balancing the existing supremacy of the US and the emerging powers such as China mainly through defence diplomacy has become one of the most important aspects of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy. We may learn from Singapore, which presently serves as a logistics hub for all US Navy ships. Providing logistic support to warship visits is also a very lucrative business. It is noteworthy to mention the fact that security and stability of a country is extremely important for foreign warship visits.

Another concerning factor is the influence by our neighbor India, which does not want Sri Lanka to become a playground for its rival superpowers. Furthermore, Colombo harbour is an extremely important venue to India where 60 percent of its containerized cargo transshipments are handled. Last week, we showed the World that even the largest container-carrying ship in the world can enter and load/unload at Colombo harbour, showing promise and capacity as one of the most important ports in the world.

The most important aim of India’s foreign policy is to become a permanent member at the UN Security Council. Indian Foreign policy is said to be influenced by the teachings of Kautilya’s Arthashasthra – a statecraft treatise written by the ancient Indian philosopher and royal advisor to Emperor Chandraguptha Maurya in the 4th Century BCE.

Under whatever circumstances, Sri Lanka should be cautious to ensure that its actions do not jeopardize the security interests of India. The closest neighbor is the most important player even in our domestic lives and that argument is even greatly applicable in a country’s foreign policy formation. Next door neighbor is the fastest respondent when you are in danger or in crisis than allies thousand kilometers away and recent incidents such as the Xpress Pearl disaster have taught us that. Therefore, it may be a lesson well-remembered by Sri Lanka in deploying its foreign policy and defense diplomacy strategies in the age of the Indo-Pacific.

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Azdak’s Justice: On governance, executive presidency and people’s democracy

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by Sivamohan Sumathy

The Aragalaya, Porattam, Struggle is a truly people-based movement. It is messy, diverse and hugely contradictory in the views expressed, positions held. It cuts across classes, and at the same time, represents the weakest and the most oppressed. It is truly representative, on a mass scale of people’s dissent and consent. The materiality and vocalness of the Aragalaya ask for the broadest possible representation in governance. It militates against the rule of a single person, the cult like figure of the Executive President, who has far reaching, arbitrary powers.

The Executive Presidency: History

In our 74-year history as a post-colonial country, we have been living with the Executive Presidency for far longer than the Westminster model of political structure. Yet, reform of the Executive Presidency or its abolishment has been one of the key issues at almost every election and attempts at constitutional reform. The key feature of the Executive Presidency is that arbitrary powers are centred on a single political figure, lending itself to authoritarianism, and as Jayampathy Wickramratne points out, Gaullism. What it means is the near creation of a cult like charismatic figure, with power vested in the aura, the demeanour and the political stamina of a single figure. Conversely, such a focus on a single figure, has also made that office, that position a relatively unstable one, a lofty but lonely office, without equals and at the same time, without friends. As Deepika Udagama stated in the Kuppi Webinar recently, the Executive President has no place like the parliament, or the company of other parliamentarians to parley, and finesse one’s moves, where discussion could take place, feedback enjoyed. The Executive Presidency in our country has made for the destabilisation of the same office which we seem to think is the strongest and the most powerful position. So, we are also looking at a paradox, one that is not uncommon, alas.

In his series of articles in The Island, Jayampathy Wickramaratne quite cogently argued the case for why the office should be abolished. It has to be said though that all the ills of state governance cannot be laid at the feet of the Executive Presidency. In fact, both Wickramaratne and Udagama argue that centralisation of the state commences with the first Republican constitution of 1972, and not with the ’78 second republican one. The unitary state, and the clause that grants Buddhism the foremost place and the enshrinement of Sinhala as the only official language sealing the pronouncement of “Sinhala Only”, as Wickramaratne argues, sets the constitution off on the path of the centralised state.

Executive Presidency and political society

With the inauguration of the Executive Presidency, the key term of negotiation within political society shifted from a focus on Parties, characterised by lateral level relations, rank and file lobbying, distinctive ideological preoccupations, political constituencies, and mobilisation by activists with their strong ideological, familial and community based bonds TO a politics centred on figures, even at the lower levels. Firstly, it strengthened a politics of patronage (eclipsing other modes of mobilisation), a politics centred on individuals or a set of individuals known for their proximity to central authorities, secondly, instituted links between the centre and the periphery, or authority and the people, not through the MPs and political organisations, but organisations that undermined MPs, and other political bodies, such as Viyathmaga or Divi Neguma – Livelihood Upliftment programme, and thirdly, instituted a politics of disbursement of perks, favours and positions, and a simultaneous undermining of welfare measures. This shift helped create a group of people at the bottom beholden to those at the top. So, from Top to Bottom, lines of engagement between political figures and the people became lines of patronage, centred on individual figures, families of individuals. At its worst, and that’s what we have now come to experience with shock, is a total disconnect between the MPs, and members of local political bodies, and the people. So, while parties continue to function, they are stepping stones to power and the corrupting influence of governance, and not of building cohesive social groups at the village or town level. We also see a shift from understanding political governance as a democratic act to understanding governance as an abstract concept and as power sharing; not as devolution of power to the lower levels of political society. It is within this framework, the 13th Amendment, and the Provincial Councils, came to function and function rather badly. Patronage politics were further strengthened and devolution of power was never really about devolution.

The current juncture

We are in the midst of a revolution. We may not think so, but we need to understand it as a revolution. But like at all revolutionary times, there could be a pull- back, a roll- back. Only a few weeks ago, the violent and authoritarian political forces that were at bay, have regrouped at the top. Violent attacks on protestors and arbitrary arrests have recommenced. There are incipient signs of people being disappeared – again, after a hiatus of some years, post war. It is corrupt business as usual in the parliament. With shock we realise the scale of the powers of the Executive Presidency.

Two aspects of the political dominate our discussion and inform our anxieties. The economy and governance. Where governance is concerned, the Executive Presidency is what requires immediate and urgent attending to. It needs to be abolished. This call enables us, the people, to reconnect to the political, governance, authority at the deepest level possible today. It is a revolutionary call for democratic change.

Beyond the Executive Presidency and Parliamentary Democracy

It may be dangerous to stop at the call to abolish Executive Presidency. We need to assure ourselves and assume certain positions of power for ourselves in deliberate ways. For parliament to be truly representative, there have to be initiatives and processes that complement parliamentary deomocracy within both political and civil society. I flag some of the moves that could lead to participatory democracy in a more direct fashion.

To abolish the Executive Presidency, we need constitutional reform. However, we need to go beyond that and think of constitution-making as a simultaneous process. It is a process in which all peoples of Sri Lanka should be engaged at some level. At the moment, we are totally engulfed by the legalist understanding of the constitution, constitutional provisions and what is possible and not possible. Constitution making shall centre people’s concerns, not merely as rights, as we do now, but as polities and as direct participation in governance.

Modes of participatory democracy have to be explored in all seriousness. We have already experimented with independent councils and commissions, most of which have been abolished by the 20th Amendment. But even if they are to be brought back, and are to be supported by Expert Committees, as has been suggested elsewhere, they hardly represent subaltern agency. In addition to the commissions, we need to think about mechanisms like People’s Councils and a Shadow Government.

People’s council as an idea has gained much traction, but one is keenly aware that it is in practice, a messy, fuzzy one. Hasini Lecamwasam in her Kuppi Intervention in The Island, last month, outlined the way People’s Councils may be envisioned; as a tiered system that both supports and challenges the parliament’s acts.

A shadow government prepares the people for governance; to take up the challenge of holding all those in authority accountable to the people. A shadow government will run parallel and be outside of the constitutional structure. A shadow government is also shadowy; one may not know what it is. People’s councils and People’s shadow government should be envisioned as the twin mechanisms and processes of a truly democratic process.

People’s Justice

People’s participation in governance is democracy for all; and that democracy is what I would call People’s Justice. We should seize this revolutionary moment by its horns, and create an act that is not a parody of Grusha’s crossing the river, a metaphor for the agency of the subaltern, arrogantly appropriated by Ranil Wickramasinghe to justify his authoritarianism, but one that is truly revolutionary. It is Azdak’s justice: a quixotic moment of judicial order that empowers and underlies Grusha’s subversion of authority.

Interventions on the current political and economic crisis is a Kuppi Initiative

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