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Editorial

The games people play

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A ‘Great Game,’ if we may borrow a term from the history of British military strategy to retain the Empire’s stranglehold of India, is clearly afoot in this island of ours. This relates to the local elections that must be completed by February according to the present law. But government politicians who are obviously afraid, nay terrified, of facing any election while memories are yet fresh of the agony people faced during what we called our annus horribilis in this space the previous Sunday, keep making statements suggesting that this election may not be held. This despite the election process now begun and the necessary wheels rolling. The executive, both in the presidency and in the legislature, are very well aware that any electoral test of their popularity at this time will at best be near fatal. Hence the jiggery-pokery we’re seeing now.

There is no question in anybody’s mind that the SLPP has clearly lost its mandate with Gotabaya Rajapaksa fleeing in disgrace and Mahinda forced out of the prime ministry. But all things are impermanent as the Buddha said and we have been treated recently to images of GR enjoying himself at an animal park in Dubai, MR making the odd statement in parliament and outside and Namal baby showing his face in public now and then. Basil Rajapaksa, of course, is very much in the thick of things running the affairs of the pohottuwa party behind the scenes. This has to do with ongoing arrangements between between the SLPP and the UNP relating to the local elections. Though nominations have been called and some deposits made, “it ain’t over until the fat lady sings” as The Island editorially commented a couple of days back.

The people, busy as they are in the struggle to survive today’s cost of living, are not wildly enthusiastic about any election. Their disgust with the system is explicit. They have scant respect for the various local authorities rendering them little services in return for the rates they pay. No doubt the president’s recent pronouncement that the number of councilors from the municipalities down to the humblest pradeshiya sabhas must be reduced from about 8,000 at present to 4,000 has struck a responsive chord. The public are resentful of the paid leeches sitting in the various councils, many of them fattening on corruption, and would dearly love to see their numbers slashed if we must have them at all. But all ruses to put off the elections for reasons of costs – most logical in the context of today’s cash strapped economy – and youth representation etc. are altogether suspect.

The opposition, be it the JVP-NPP widely perceived to be gaining increasing electoral support, or the main opposition SJB of Sajith Premadasa, are all too well aware of the government’s discomfiture over holding the local elections. Hence their effort to ensure that the due elections are held in time and forestall any attempt to the contrary. President Ranil Wickremesinghe met the Elections Commission last week and asked its members “to unite,” it was reported on Friday. This obviously relates to the local elections and the request made strongly suggests the existence of two points of view within the commission on whether the elections are to be held as required or not.

Any statement from the president clarifying that the elections will be held come what may will clear the air and nail any ambiguities. But as recently as last week, we had UNP Chairman Wajira Abeywardene saying the country had no money to fund the election, reportedly Rs. 10 billion, and that money will have to be printed to pay for it. Such a statement from the UNP chairman would not have been made without his party leader’s authority. Agriculture Minister Mahinda Amaraweera went on record asking the government and the finance ministry to immediately provide funds for the purchase of farmers’ paddy before spending on elections for the “sake of the rice-eating people of the country.” Other government functionaries have also thrown their own two cents worth. So what is the people to make of all this?

The president last week made very clear that he will not be part of any local government poll. In any vigorous democracy, an elected leader whether he be a president or prime minister, must be the leader of the whole country and not just of his own party. Thus the president’s assertion is most welcome. If the election is in fact held – and the country is still in doubt of whether this will be so or not – Wickremesinghe’s statement indicates that he will not be campaigning either for his own UNP or the SLPP which elected him head of government and head of state a few months ago. The state-controlled Daily News quoted him on Thursday saying his “mandate” (such as it was) was not to go for an election but pull the country out of the abyss into which it had fallen. He told senior leaders of his party on Wednesday that he will chair the UNP Working Committee meeting which will decide on running at the elections “only as a tradition.”

All this only makes the confusion most confounded. Adding to this is the court action filed by a retired colonel that a section of the media called a GR confidante, challenging the holding of the election. It seems clear that the people will only know whether the election will be held or not, not even when nominations are received, but only when they walk up to the ballot boxes.



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Editorial

Umpire hora!

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‘Umpire hora’ is a famous cry in this country whether be it at backyard cricket after school, soft ball games played on the Parliament grounds during the weekend, inter-school fixtures or even during international games. Some 25,000 ardent cricket fans were yelling the same on Wednesday night as Sri Lanka lost a tense game against Afghanistan at Dambulla by a mere three runs.

Not just those fans who witnessed the game at the Dambulla stadium but the majority of the hundreds of thousands who saw it on television seemed to be convinced that Umpire Lyndon Hannibal, a Sri Lankan and no foreigner, got it awfully wrong that night. His fault was that he didn’t call a no ball after Wafadar Momand sent down a high full toss. A waist high full toss is called a ‘no ball’ and a free hit given according to playing conditions. This contentious delivery was not just waist high but a chest high full toss and should have been called a no ball. Did Hannibal cost Sri Lanka the game? Well, we will never know.

If that delivery had been called a ‘no ball,’ Sri Lanka would have got a free hit, an additional run and would have needed 10 runs in three balls to win the game and sweep the series. Could Kamindu Mendis have pulled it off? Quite possible. But here’s what we do know though. Sri Lanka have never successfully chased more than 200 runs to win a T-20 International

It’s a Sri Lankan trait to blame all else but themselves when things don’t go our way. The team didn’t lose the game because of Hannibal. They lost the game because they gave Ramanulah Gurbaz two lives when he was on 22 and 55. Their poor ground fielding conceded more than 10 runs. Kusal Perera, Nuwan Thushara and Akila Dananjaya are past their best as they are a liability on the field.

Another reason why Sri Lanka lost was that Matheesha Pathirana gave away 10 wides. You can even hold Pathum Nissanka responsible for the loss. His fitness standards were below par and he was forced to retire having made a terrific 60 off 30 balls. But we don’t talk about any of these reasons. Despite so many flaws within the team, the Sri Lankan captain found a scapegoat by calling ‘umpire hora’ loud and clear. Hasaranga was the Pied Piper and Sri Lankan fans blindly followed him.

Many people who have played the game at grassroots levels have been taught the golden rule never to question the umpires’ authority. Late Lionel Mendis had a rule that a dismissed batsman had to put his head down and walk back to the pavilion faster than he had walked in whether he agreed with the umpire’s decision or not. Late Bertie Wijesinha had got his players to ‘sir’ the umpires and some of his schoolboys greeted umpires that way even when they had moved on to the international stage.

Vernon Senanayake, another reputed cricket coach, taught his players ‘unquestioned obedience’ for he believed that when players moved on from schoolboys to adults, the trait would stand them in good stead in their workplace. Sadly, these values are not taught by coaches anymore. Now it’s all about win at any cost. The fault is not with Hasaranga but the people who have coached him.

It was an ugly scene as Hasaranga argued with the umpire. Then he walked into the media center and tore apart the umpire calling him a ‘misfit’. When questioned what exactly he told Hannibal after the game, Hasaranga revealed that he had asked the umpire whether he was a Sri Lankan. Sensibly, Sri Lanka Cricket deleted that part when posting the press conference in their social media platforms. It is clear indication that SLC did not agree with their captain.

On SLC’s part it needs to be asked why they opted for Hannibal as the on field umpire and Ruchira Palliyaguruge as television umpire. Palliyaguruge is Sri Lanka’s most experienced and decorated umpire after Kumar Dharmasena and he should have been on field and not sitting in the comfort of an air conditioned enclosure. Overall, it must be said that Hannibal or his colleague Ravindra Wimalasiri lost control of the game. Quite surprising for someone of Wimalasiri’s stature for he is a Chief Inspector of Police.

Even at school level, many facets of a player are looked at before making him captain of the team. At national level we seem to look at performance and seniority only. A captain is the ambassador of a country. He cannot behave like a bull in a China shop.

We have had players who have taken umpiring decisions on the bump. Kumar Sangakkara was batting like a king in Hobart in 2007 when umpire Rudi Koertzen gave him out wrongly. Sanga was on 192. The umpire realized the error and visited the Sri Lankan dressing room to apologize to Sanga. They buried the hatchet by visiting one of the best bars in Tasmania with Rudi paying the bill. That’s the way it should be.

Had Sanga scored that double hundred, he would have ended on par with a certain Sir Don Bradman’s tally of double centuries. Furthermore, no one was complaining when Umpire Kumar Dharmasena let Dinesh Chandimal off the hook in Galle in 2022. Chandimal was on 20 and was clearly caught behind off Mitchell Starc. Chandimal went on to post a stunning double hundred. Sri Lanka won the Test match and drew the series. Australia were feeling the pinch but didn’t make a hue and cry.

Cricket is a great leveler. There are some decisions that go your way and some that go against you. It’s the same with life. In both games, gentlemen should not get carried away and need to remain with their feet firmly planted on the ground.

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Editorial

Duplicity of human rights champions

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Saturday 24th February, 2024

The West has taken upon itself the task of protecting human rights and democracy in the world and meting out punishment to those who violate them. It has thus been able to weaponise human rights to compass its geopolitical interests. It manipulates the UN, especially the UNHRC, for that purpose. The western governments readily confer pariah status on the countries which they consider human rights violators; they even resort to extreme measures such as imposing economic sanctions and resorting to military action in the name of their human rights crusaders.

They went so far as to plunge Iraq and Libya into anarchy to oust Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, respectively, for human rights violations and endangering democracy, among other things. Strangely, they have done precious little to prevent genocidal violence Israel is unleashing against Palestinians in Gaza, where about 30,000 lives are reported to have already been lost due to Israeli attacks since 07 Oct. 2023.

The UK is at the forefront of the western crusade against the nations responsible for large-scale human rights violations and attacks on democracy. Given Britain’s much-advertised concern for human rights, one would have expected the British Parliament to make a unanimous call for a ceasefire in Gaza, where a humanitarian tragedy is unfolding.

But the British lawmakers are far from united in protecting the Palestinians’ human rights. On Wednesday, many of them stormed out of Parliament over a vote on a ceasefire in Gaza, throwing the House into turmoil. Speaker Lindsay Hoyle came under fire for being partial, and subsequently he apologised for the decision to go for a vote.

The Labour leaders said they could not support the motion moved by the SNP (Scottish National Party) calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, because it sought to condemn ‘collective punishment’ of the Palestinian people, and did not specify that the ceasefire it was asking for had to be observed by both Israel and Hamas. This, we believe, is an absurd argument.

If what is being inflicted on the Palestinians in Gaza is not ‘collective punishment’ what is it? That all parties to a conflict have to observe a ceasefire goes without saying, and it defies comprehension why the Labour leaders made an issue of a non-issue. They should have mustered the courage to say that they did not want to antagonise Israel by supporting that motion.

Labour has been embroiled in an intraparty dispute over its policy towards the Israeli invasion of Gaza, and its MPs have been trying to serve self-interest rather than taking a principled stand and pushing for an immediate ceasefire to save lives in Gaza, where not even hospitals are safe. The Labour leaders, who are widely expected to win the next parliamentary election, are pandering to Washington, which is unflinchingly backing Israel to the hilt while paying lip service to human rights in Gaza.

Perhaps, the West has never been exposed for its duplicity in this manner, but it will not give up championing human rights and democracy, or rather using them as instruments to advance its geo-political agendas. It has no sense of shame.

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Editorial

Mystery Mansion of Malwana

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Friday 23rd February, 2024

The Mystery Mansion of Malwana is in the news again. Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe visited the supposedly ownerless palazzo, or rather the skeletal outlines thereof, the other day, and declared that it would be used to house a state institution after being renovated. The stately structure suffered an arson attack at the hands of violent protesters in 2022. The rebuilding project will be a drain on the public purse.

The story of the Mystery Mansion has all the ingredients for detective fiction. The imposing structure stood majestically on a 16-acre land almost overlooking the Kelani Ganga at the time of the 2015 regime change. The architect who designed the mansion and the person who paid for its construction are known, but its owner remains a mystery. The general consensus, however, was that it belonged to Basil Rajapaksa, who vehemently denied having anything to do with it.

The Yahapalana government did its best to trace the ownership of the manoir to Basil, but all its efforts were in vain. Not even the CID investigators handpicked by the Yahapalana leaders could prove that it was owned by a member of the Rajapaksa family. A case filed against Basil collapsed, and the ownership of the unclaimed mansion was vested in the state.

The news about nobody’s Mansion, as it were, could not have resurfaced at a more appropriate time, for it has evoked the people’s memories of the Yahapalana campaign against bribery and corruption and abuse of power by the Mahinda Rajapaksa government. The Malwana chateau became a symbol of the acquisition of ill-gotten wealth, an issue that Yahapalana leaders, especially Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe, flogged very hard in a bid to sway public opinion against the Rajapaksa family. Their efforts bore fruit; Sirisena became President and Wickremesinghe Prime Minister in 2015.

Those who voted the Yahapalana politicians into power, expected Sirisena, Wickremesinghe and their allies, including the JVP, to have the Rajapaksas punished for corruption, etc. But nothing of the sort happened, as is public knowledge, and the Yahapalana regime became corrupt instead and was exposed for the Treasury bond scams. The JVP continued to back the UNP-led government despite the latter’s corruption; it helped PM Wickremesinghe retain a parliamentary majority vis-à-vis attempts by President Sirisena to wrest control of Parliament with the help of the Rajapaksas.

Today, Sirisena, Wickremesinghe and the Rajapaksasa are in the same government, savouring power and living the high life while the people are undergoing untold hardships. The JVP, which controlled the Yahapalana government’s anti-corruption committee to all intents and purposes but failed to fulfil its promise to have the Rajapaksas and their cronies thrown behind bars, is seeking a popular mandate to fight corruption! The SJB seems to think the public has forgotten that its leaders were Cabinet ministers in the UNP-led Yahapalana government and had no qualms about defending the Treasury bond racketeers and supporting PM Wickremesinghe.

The Mystery Mansion of Malwana, in our book, is a monument to the duplicity of the leaders of the current regime and the self-proclaimed champions of democracy, who denounce violence during the day but unflinchingly engage in it at night, and above all, the stupidity of the Sri Lankan public, who voted the Rajapaksas into power again in 2019/2020. Going by the barbaric manner in which an organised group of violent elements in the garb of democrats unleashed retaliatory violence countrywide in 2022, following an SLPP goon attack on Aragalaya protesters, one can imagine how aggressive they would turn in protecting their extremist interests if they succeeded in capturing state power by infusing the desperate public with false hope.

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