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The RADICAL CENTER: an agenda for True Patriots

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by Mangala Samaraweera

It is a propitious moment to reflect on Sri Lanka’s democratic credentials and the future of democracy as we prepare for yet another general election on 5 August – to select the 13th Parliamant since 1947.

Since the introduction of the executive Presidency and the provincial council system combined with the parliamentary and local government elections, hardly a year passes without a poll of one kind or another; if elections are the yardstick to measure a country’s democratic credentials, Sri Lanka will undoubtedly come on top as one of the most democratic countries in the world. However in the 2019 Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy index, Sri Lanka is listed as ‘a flawed democracy’ at no. 69; with the rapid militarization of the civilian administrative structures over the last several months since the 2019 Presidential election, it should not surprise us if Sri Lanka is downgraded in 2020 to the ‘hybrid regime’ status and well on the way to the .‘authoritarian’ category.

In the twentieth century many democracies died as a result of coups d’état led by men with guns and tanks through military power and coercion. Democracies in Argentina, Chile, Pakistan, Thailand and Ghana died this way. Today democracies may die at the hands not of generals but of elected leaders, who subvert the very process that brought them to power. In fact many democracies erode slowly in barely visible steps and democratic backsliding begins at the ballot box. The paradox of the electoral route to authoritarianism is that democracy’s assassins use the very institutions of,democracy – gradually, subtly and even legally – to subvert and kill democracy.

The subversion and the slow strangulation of the democratic process and institutions in Sri Lanka has now been accelerated by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and may have to be administered the final rites if he receives the two-thirds majority he is seeking; but he is not the sole cause of it. Sri Lanka’s democratic institutions have been severely encroached by autocratic leaders since the 1970s and many of the checks and balances essential to a modern democracy have also been ruthlessly manipulated and undermined especially since the executive presidential system was created in 1978.

The Constitutional Council which was revived under the 19th amendment is now in a near state of paralysis and the separation of powers between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary is becoming increasingly blurred. The President has publicly declared that the independent commissions are a nuisance to his style of governance and seeks a mandate to roll back the 19th amendment.

Racism, hate speech and ethnic and religious extremism allowed free rein with the law being applied selectively to curtail freedom of speech and expression instead, has become the order of the day exerting further pressure on democracy in Sri Lanka which is essentially a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual society. Sri Lanka’s inability as a nation to celebrate its diversity, upholding the rights of all its citizens is the single most important factor which has held back Sri Lanka’s sustainable progress and development. Today majoritarianism and chauvinism, disguised as nationalism, has become state policy.

Corruption, steadily rising since independence has now become a cancer eating into the very fabric of our society. Opening the economy in 1977 without the reforms and regulations and the level playing field essential for a dynamic market economy, has led to a corrosive form of crony capitalism. In short, corruption, recurring authoritarianism and resultant blows to civil, political and human rights have weakened Sri Lanka’s body politic and today the country is experiencing a menacing slide towards an autocratic state with a sinister convergence of the executive, the military and the clergy.

In fact, a new draft majoritarian ‘constitution’ for Sri Lanka prepared and spearheaded by some members of the Buddhist clergy and other Sinhala chauvinist groups has already been handed over to the President with much fanfare in the pro- government media ‘to be approved outside Parliament.’ Without precedent, the Gotabaya presidency if given a strong mandate on August 5, will drag the country into the abyss of prolonged militaristic authoritarianism disguised in pseudo-democratic icing. With an unprecedented economic crisis also in the offing and rising unemployment, repression and authoritarianism may well be the preferred option for the Rajapaksa mindset. This could prove catastrophic for a country often described as “Asia’s oldest “democracy.”

As Sri Lanka gazes into the abyss at the edge of the precipice, this truly is an existentialist moment for all Sri Lankans; each individual must make meaningful choices and the choice they make will define Sri Lanka’s future for generations to come. Are we to define a new future for our country based on our fears and prejudices? Or are we to define our future based on our hopes and aspirations for a better Sri Lanka for all? Are we going to allow the handful of religious and racial megalomaniacs and other fundamentalist zealots who monopolize the sensationalist media to define our future while we silently wonder if moderation and tolerance are becoming bygone values of a distant and more civilised era? The loud and violent sounds of extremism make better news than the democratic pronouncements of the silent majority. The silence of the majority in the face of extremism, intolerance, hatred and the pseudo patriotism of the vociferous few since independence has finally culminated in the massive crisis we face today as a nation. The root causes of the crisis we are facing today are economic, religious or socio-political in nature and an educational system which has totally failed to provide the knowledge and experiences and critical and analytical thinking as well as values needed to meet the challenges of a developing country like Sri Lanka.

As we slide towards open ended polarization and state sponsored political anarchy, a vigorous reiteration of liberal values is the need of the hour; a radical center should be home to a radical commitment to liberalism and centrist values. The need now is to create a new political culture based on reviving the value systems drawn from Lord Buddha’s middle path to Mahatma Gandhi’s path of non violence, from Nehru to Martin Luther King, from Nelson Mandela to Barack Obama.

Despite being one of the first countries to embrace the market economy in 1977, Sri Lanka still is, essentially a command economy bogged down by archaic legislation and a ‘socialist mindset’. The crony capitalist system practiced by this regime must be replaced by a caring and dynamic social market economy with the emphasis on an inclusive social safety net to protect the poor, the weak and the less fortunate. An all inclusive meritocracy is needed ensuring equality of opportunities for all and the culture of political patronage must come to an end. The rule of law is also an essential pre-requisite for a civilized society where no one – king, priest or soldier – is above the law. This is essential for Sri Lanka to achieve meaningful progress including winning investor confidence as well as the confidence and trust of our own citizens to participate meaningfully in the development of our nation.

As Sri Lanka hurtles towards an unprecedented political and economic crisis, a renewal of the consensual democracy that looks beyond the adversarial politics of the left and the right is an urgent necessity. Aristotle in his treatise “Politics” of 350B.C. writes about the ‘middling element’ as the substance that bridged the chasm between the rich and the poor echoing Siddhartha Gautama from a century before. Today, as Sri Lanka stumbles from one crisis to the other the middling element may prove to be our only alternative.

There are those who may think that the ‘middle path’ is a philosophy of weakness and impotence where ‘bleeding heart liberals’ will try to find excuses and justifications for any situation with an ‘anything goes’ attitude, where the rule of law is irrelevant. In fact many people confuse liberalism with the laissez faire attitude of libertarianism. The middle path or ‘Radical Center’ is based on the principles of democracy, freedom, equality and justice as the four pillared foundation for a just, caring and prosperous society. Although many may say that a radical center is a contradiction in terms, a radical recommitment to liberal democratic principles is an urgent necessity along with the courage of one’s convictions even to wage a non-violent struggle if and when necessary to protect and achieve these values. The Radical Center is a platform of moderation providing the silent majority to oppose and fight authoritarianism, racism and all other forms of extremism actively and vigorously.

The ‘Radical Center’ entails the creation of a centrist middle way where dissenting voices and opinions from every part of the political spectrum would have a place within a democratic framework of decentralized governance . It is a system where diversity in all it’s manifestations is celebrated ; the years of deep mistrust between the different communities must lose its sting within a non violent, democratic framework where pluralism and secularism flourish. The radical center should show the intolerant that those they hate are in fact, quite similar to themselves and have the same dreams and aspirations as well as the same fears and concerns as human beings. The radical center should be the point where all Sri Lankans can discover their common humanity going beyond the boundaries of race, creed and caste.

The outcome of the election on August 5 is irrelevant as neither Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the SLPP nor the divided opposition have a vision to solve this crisis of democracy and governance – culmination of several decades of bad governance and mismanagement. The return to centrist values is the only possible path to ensure the survival of democracy whose credentials are being pushed to the limits by the forces of political opportunism and extremism. The alternative is not an autocracy based on the convergence of the executive, military and the clergy as hinted by the President nor is it a ‘strong’ government with a 2/3 majority as pursued by the Prime-Minister. All governments which obtained 2/3 majority – in1970, 1977 and the bribe-induced 2/3 majority of 2010 – contributed to the rot and decay in governance we witness today.

An urgent recommitment to democracy is the need of the hour. Democracy, despite all it’s flaws and shortcomings, remains the best system of governance as we move towards the second quarter of the twenty-first century. We have been paying lip service to democracy by having regular elections but almost all our democratic institutions along with the necessary checks and balances have been severely undermined over the years. Even the few steps taken in 2015 to strengthen such institutions are planned to be rolled back after the elections if the SLPP obtains a large majority.

All right thinking people across Sri Lanka must break their silence and unite to protect democracy. The tyranny of the few can only be defeated if the silent majority – the true patriots – wakes up from their somnambulist stupor to say ‘enough is enough.’ True to the saying by Samuel Johnson, patriotism in Sri Lanka has now become the ‘last refuge of the scoundrel’; patriotism as encouraged today is thinly veiled racism and over zealous chauvinism which has been the main cause of our downhill journey since independence.

Patriotism needs to be redefined to reflect the goals and aspirations of a modern Sri Lanka rejecting the feudal/tribal attitudes and ‘big frog in a small well’ mindset of the post ’56 era. While celebrating the diversity and glory of our respective ancient cultures and religions, the true patriots of Sri Lanka – nationalistic and cosmopolitan – must unite to march hand in hand with the rest of the world towards freedom, happiness and prosperity.

 



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Pernicious, ubiquitous strikes

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Railway strike

Local news on most TV channels is almost wholly about on-going strikes and preparations plus controversy on the to-be-held presidential election come October.

Political news is centered on this election. Chief protagonist, the present Prez, has said the election will be held at the correct time this year. UNP side-kicks and a maverick have countered this by saying it need not be held since at the present juncture it is best to postpone change by two years. The present incumbent has a further one year to serve according to the Constitution said the bright spark, who filed an application in the Supreme Court was roundly dismissed by it, with an implied but unsaid upbraiding for wasting the time of the Apex Court.

People surmised filing a case was with the approval of the Prez or his Secretariat if not actual promotion, but RW dismissed that suspicion; “I firmly believe that the President’s term is five years, and I support the Election Commission’s steps to hold the Presidential Election in 2024.”  So there! Three cheers! The Prez is on the side of the people who want an election. It is correct constitutionally too.

Political platforms are raucous with praise of their chosen candidates, with photographs of VIPs who have recently changed loyalties in the forefront, some giving shocks to viewers. They seem to have turned 180 degrees or even 360, now championing a candidate they tore into with sharp barbs of ridicule and criticism. To serve themselves to continue in the most lucrative job in the island, they will turn cartwheels and leapfrog from one party to another. Such are most visible in the meetings held to promote Ranil W, as our next president.

Karadara kara strikes

Strikes of varied nature and kinds are rampant so much so that half the time news is telecast we see crowds marching or standing around with police facing them. These strikers are three quarter responsible for the chaos the country is in at this juncture when all should be contributing their might to pull the country out of the morass it was pushed into by its leaders. Cass has so many epithets to express her revulsion at these spectacles that are a shame to the country at large. Don’t those sick note presenters, continuously striking non academics, utterly disgraceful and unethical, nay immoral, teachers know the country is still in the economic doldrums and unless everyone pulls his/her weight we will remain down in the sludge of bankruptcy, notwithstanding IMF assistance and nations having shown leniency in our debt restricting process.

The trade unions demand monthly increases of Rs 25,000 and even more. Don’t they have an iota of sensibility in them to know this is no time for strikes whose demands cannot be met and the strikes making worse the parlous state of the country with lost man hours? Many a striker deliberately loses man hours of work when  supposedly working in their jobs: teachers sit chatting in staff rooms, tea breaks are more than an hour long; leave is taken at their whim and fancy, never mind completion of syllabuses or school exams; least of all consideration of the students in their hands.

Cass heard of students who had completed their university degrees not being able to get their certificates due to the prolonged strike of non-academic staff. Thus, employment and even accepting scholarships from overseas universities have been thwarted.

Train strikes came unannounced. Wednesday morning Cass received a call from weekly domestic help: “No trains running and so I cannot come.” She was expecting very urgent financial help. She wakes up on these days of work at 4.00 am; cooks for her family; walks a mile; boards the train and is in my flat at 7.30 am sharp. Now she is never sure whether she will have to turn back with no trains running. When health sector workers strike, and even doctors of the recent past have resorted to this deplorable ruse, it is a matter of life or death to some. A person called Mudalige was seen smilingly distributing leaflets while protest marching, the cause of which Cass could not catch nor fathom. He thinks himself a saviour; he is a destroyer.

A silver lining appeared. Cass watched on TV news Prez Ranil chairing a meeting with financial secretaries. They expressed their opinion strongly and clearly that salary increases were impossible to give and money printing was now taboo with the IMF overseeing matters financially. And the Prez concluded that it was not possible to give in to strikers. That gladdened the heart immensely. We hope he will be of the same opinion regarding MPs’ demand for tax free luxury limos and life-long insurance for them and theirs in addition to the pensions they now receive after just five years of warming comfortable chairs in the Chamber.

The Editor of The Island of Wednesday July 10, has in his style of sharp and spot-on comment, criticism, blame laying and solutions to be taken dealt with this common bane of Sri Lankan existence. (We don’t ‘live’ now, the word connoting security, justified happiness and fairness to all; rather do we merely exist). He writes under the title Strikes, demand and harsh reality and points out the fact that there are about 1.5 million public employees, working out to about one state worker for every 14 citizens. Preposterous! Only possible in SL, a land like no other where politicians and their chits are to be mostly blamed for this imbalance. Culling or weaning of public servants should be started. Then strikers will not go by instigators of strikes who plan to destabilize the country, but cling to their paying jobs.

How the Iron Lady broke the back of strikes

Cass recollected how newly appointed Conservative PM, Margaret Thatcher, manoeuvered to stop strikes of coal miners and earned the hypocoristic of ‘Iron Lady’.

Cass surfed the Internet to refresh her memory. In 1884 –85, UK coal miners’ strike was a major industrial action in an attempt to stop closure of pits that the government deemed uneconomic; the coal industry having been nationalised in 1947. Arthur Scargill was a name remembered as instigator and leader of strike action. Some minors worked and so, starting in Yorkshire and Midland, the back of the year long strike was shaken and the Conservative government went to work and allowed closure of most British collieries.  Margaret Thatcher was credited with breaking up the ‘most bitter industrial dispute in British history.’ The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) strategy was to cause a severe energy shortage that had won victory in the 1972 strike. Thatcher’s strategy was to build ample stocks of coal; to retain as many minors as possible; and to get the police to break up strikes, which were ruled illegal in September 1984; they ended a year later. Miners suffered but the country gained.

It was heartening to hear that the railway has been made an essential service. Station masters said they would go on striking. Drastic measures have to be adopted to stop such anti-national activities.

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Why human capital development is essential for Sri Lanka

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by S. D. Gamini Jayasooriya
Wayamba University
gaminij2025@gmail.com


The development of human capital is of immense importance for the economic development of Sri Lanka. Thus, investing in education and skills training raises the overall productivity and effectiveness of personnel, spurring innovation and economic growth. Analysing the current situation in Sri Lanka, human capital development can be seen to be of particular importance for creating a competitive economy.

Levels of Human Capital Development

Human capital development in Sri Lanka can be categorised into three main levels: school-leaving level, higher education, and tertiary levels.

School Level: The primary and secondary level of education are indispensable at the basic level. Promoting quality education for children creates a pool of educated human capital in society. Special attention should be paid to raising the level of education, revising curricula, and integrating the use of new technologies in education processes.

Higher Education: In particular, specific skills and knowledge are cultivated at universities and colleges. Improving funding, research and industry linkages in higher education institutions help to produce ready-made graduates to suit the global market demand.

Tertiary Level: Vocational training and technical education are crucial in preparation of people for the job market with relevant skills. Thus, increasing and enhancing vocational training centers would provide solutions for skill deficiencies in different sectors, making the population fit for the actual needs of the economy.

Sri Lankan Labor Market Overview 2023

The Sri Lankan labor market in 2023 has strengths and weaknesses as discussed below. Currently, unemployment trends are still elevated, especially within the youth bracket, while skills supply does not match the skills demand in the market. There is a lack of qualified workers in a number of fields including the IT, healthcare, and manufacturing industries.

A major part of the population is engaged in the informal economy and most of them may be in the low wage employment. This state of affairs requires proper human capital development policies and the enhancement of skill and formalization of the labor market.

Importance of a Skilled Workforce in Economic Development

Skilled workforce is one of the prerequisites for developing the economy of a particular country. Employment of specialized personnel leads to increased output, creativity, and effectiveness in many sectors. They can respond better to innovations in technology and fluctuations in the market thus promoting more economic growth and competition.

Human capital is also an element that enriches the stream of foreign investment. They are likely to be established in places where human capital is readily available to them in terms of skills. This can lead to the generation of employment, technology distribution and enhancement of the economy on a whole.

Recommendations

To enhance human capital development in Sri Lanka, several strategies should be implemented:

1. Improve Educational Infrastructure: Make sure that there is infrastructure development in schools, adequate provision for the needy student, and teachers are in a position to teach.

2. Strengthen Higher Education: Encourage partnerships between universities and industries to ensure the delivered curricula align with the market needs. Contribute towards the improvement of research and development.

3. Expand Vocational Training: Increase the number of vocational training centers and adjust the offered programs to suit the current employment market. Promote the actualization of vocational education as a worthwhile career.

4. Promote Lifelong Learning: Encourage continued learning through offered adult education and online classes.

5. Government and Private Sector Collaboration: Encourage government and private sector to work together and identify the areas that require skills and come up with relevant training needs.

Conclusion

That is why human capital investment must become a priority in Sri Lanka. Investing in education and skills training of the people at all levels will enable the development of a competent and versatile human resource pool. This will help spur economic development, encourage foreign direct investment, and build a stronger and more competitive economy. It is for this reason that the management of human capital should be done strategically to foster the future growth and stability of Sri Lanka.

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Sixty-five years after entry to university of Ceylon, Peradeniya

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University of Peradeniya

by HM NISSANKA WARAKAULLE

It was sixty five years ago, and that is very long time ago, on 29 June 1959 that a batch of 378 students from all parts of Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) entered the portals of the most beautiful university at that time, the University of Ceylon, situated in the salubrious surroundings in Peradeniya, just four miles from the historic city of Kandy, after having successfully passed the then University Entrance examination conducted by the university itself, to read for our varied degrees in Arts, Oriental Languages, Law, etc.

The atmosphere was filled with excitement and sometimes with dismal and gloomy feelings, varied feelings produced from a sense of uncertainty and new-found freedom. The drive through the campus from the Galaha Road junction through the picturesque setting, well maintained lawns and well-laid out flower beds (Sir Ivor Jennings and Mr. Shirley De Alwis together had done the selection of the trees and shrubs very meticulously to bring out the blending of colours), the imposing architectural marvels of Jayathilaka and Arunachalam Halls, the Arts Theatre, the Senate building, and Hilda Obeysekera Hall and the tree sheltered kissing bend and up the winding road to Marcus Fernando Hall( Mr. Shirley De Alwis had planned out the general scheme, landscaping which was his favourite and all other details), brought thoughts to one’s mind which were mixed with perplexity, bewilderment and abandonment. One was entering a make-believe land, very artificial but, at the same time, very fascinating.

There were two significant things in respect of our batch of 1959. Ours was the last all- English medium batch to enter the university. The second important thing is our batch was the first batch where all the students were admitted directly without a viva voce, as up to the previous batch the students were selected both directly and some after facing a viva voce.

Though sixty-five years have gone by, we have not forgotten the best experience we had during the three or four years we spent in the beautiful campus. It is sad that many of our batch mates are not with us now having left us and moved into another world and not being with us to reminisce the glorious time we spent as residential undergraduates.

To all those who entered the Peradeniya campus before us and to our batch, that university will remain in our minds as the one and only university in then Ceylon as the University of Ceylon, which had been established by the Ordinance No. 20 of 1942 and situated in Colombo. It was in the early nineteen fifties that the campus of the University of Ceylon was established in Peradeniya.

The single university continued until 1959. It was only in 1959 that two other universities were created, namely the Vidyodaya University (now known as the University of Sri Jayewardenepura) and the Vidyalankara University (now known as the University of Kelaniya) which were established by the Vidyodaya University and Vidyalankara University Act No. 45 of 1958.These two universities were created by upgrading the two famous Pirivenas (Vidyodaya and Vidyalanakara) that were functioning at that time.

That period we spent at Peradeniya was one of the most unforgettable periods of our lives. The friendships that we cultivated while in Peradeniya remain and will not be erased from our minds.

It would be of interest to those who followed us much later to read for their degrees how the undergraduates were selected in our time. We sat the University Entrance examination conducted by the University of Ceylon in four centres, namely, Colombo, Kandy, Jaffna and Galle with the Department of Examinations having nothing to do with it. Thank God! However, if any candidate wanted to obtain the Higher School Certificate (HSC) such candidate had to sit the extra paper at the same examination and if successful received the HSC certificate from the Department of Education.

The results of the examination were not sent either to the schools or the candidates’ homes. The results were published in the daily newspapers. As such, the results of our batch were published in the The Ceylon Daily News of Wednesday March 11, 1959. Thereafter, after a lapse of a certain period of time, the successful candidates received letters from the university informing of the date of commencement of sessions of the academic year, the Hall of residence allotted and the date to report at the allotted Hall.

There was also a document indicating what we had to take, such as a raincoat and cape, etc. and the things that should not be done in which there was one item which stated that ceiling walking was prohibited. This was a little puzzling to us, but we understood what it meant later when we were on the campus. All undergraduates who were privileged to be in Peradeniya at the commencement of the campus and may be about four batches after ours had the best of time in a university in Sri Lanka.

During that time all undergraduates resided in the halls of residence throughout their undergraduate carrier, even if a person’s residence was abutting the campus premises. All those who entered from schools in and around Kandy could have easily travelled from home. But the university rules and regulations did not permit us to do so. Anyway, when reminiscing, we think that it was good that all had to be resident within the campus as we would never have got that experience otherwise.

On the occasion of the EFC Ludowyke Centenary at Peradeniya in 2006, Prof. Yasmin Gooneratne, a distinguished alumnus stated thus:

“Of the terms most frequently heard in connection with the life that we experienced there, one is “A Golden Age”’ another is “Arcadia”. 2It was a magical time” says one classmate.” It was idyllic” says another. Our companions-some of them husbands, wives, or children who did not share the Peradeniya experience, and who now have to hear us talk about it ad infinitum, look skeptical. They don’t believe us.”

“Peradeniya? Three years in Paradise” a classmate said once. “And at the end of it, they even gave us a degree”

“It was as if all the intellectual brilliance in our country had been concentrated in one spot. If the university had been a stage, we students would have been witnesses to the performances of a stellar cast”

During our time in Peradeniya the halls of residence for males were Arunachalam, Jayathilaka, Marrs, Ramanathan and Marcus Fernando. The female undergraduates had as their halls, James Peiris, Sangamitta and Hilda Obeysekera (with Mrs. Cooke, Dr. (Mrs.) Ram Aluvihare and Miss Mathiaparanam as the respective Wardens). During our final year in 1961-62(third year in the case of those who had opted to do a special degree course), a new hall was opened, which had been named after D.R. Wijewardena close to the Kandy-Colombo railway line. With this building being opened, there was a change in respect of occupants of some halls. Ramanathan was converted into a women’s hall and James Peris was made a hall for male undergraduates. The newly opened Wijewardena Hall became a men’s hall. With this change, the male undergraduates who were in Ramanathan Hall were transferred to James Peiris and Wijewardena Halls. (To be continued)

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