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The Rajapaksa Brothers’ Return is Not a Victory for All

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa however decided that he could still meet the challenges with the powers vested in him. True to his word, the infected clusters were quickly contained. Sri Lanka is yet to face the dreaded second wave that had engulfed most other countries. Though imports were severely controlled, his Administration ensured that there were no shortages of any essentials 

by Shivanthi Ranasinghe 

Sri Lanka is the first country to defeat “Regime Change”. The fact that this whole operation was reversed by the ballot makes this accomplishment irrefutable. It is after all in the guise of strengthening democracy that this “Regime Change” Operation was launched. Critics have tried to downplay this turn of events by claiming that the voter turnout was the lowest in the decade. With a voter turnout of over 71 percent however, the recently concluded general elections can hardly be considered to have been apathetic.

This election was held at a time that is trying for the whole world. There was an attempt within the country to postpone elections indefinitely and instead for the dissolved Parliament to be recalled. This would have allowed those politicians whose popularity that had nosedived to remain as decision-makers without a people’s mandate.

It is interesting that advocates of democracy found fault with President Gotabaya. They accused him of running the country without a Parliament. However, instead of taking the ground situation into account or exploring ways of safely conducting elections, their expectations were also for the dissolved parliament to be recalled and elections to be postponed. Surprisingly, it did not bother them that such an act would violate the people’s franchise.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa however decided that he could still meet the challenges with the powers vested in him. True to his word, the infected clusters were quickly contained. Sri Lanka is yet to face the dreaded second wave that had engulfed most other countries. Though imports were severely controlled, his Administration ensured that there were no shortages of any essentials.

The Supreme Courts agreed with the President that he had taken the right steps in dissolving Parliament and calling for general elections. Therefore, the onus of holding elections were with the Elections Commission.

The EC that had already postponed elections twice had no other choice but to proceed. By this time, since the Kandakadu cluster, not a single new patient had been identified from within the Island.

It is also noteworthy that independent observers have declared this election to have been both fair and peaceful. Therefore, no one can interpret the two third majority that the Gotabaya Rajapaksa Administration received as anything but a clear mandate from the people.

A healthy voter turnout, elections conducted in a peaceful environment despite the trying circumstances and a clear message from the people attests to the strength of the democracy in Sri Lanka. Yet, the silence from the so-called proponents of democracy is deafening.

Mandate Received in

2015n & in 2020

After the 2015 presidential and parliamentary elections, many international players as well as independent bodies applauded Sri Lanka for reestablishing democracy. Some even took credit for it. The then US State Secretary John Kerry revealed that nearly USD 800 million of American taxpayers’ money was invested to change the governments of four countries. Sri Lanka was one of them.

Yet, none of the countries that propelled the Yahapalana Government into power enthusiastically extended its support for the 2019 presidential elections. India’s lackluster approach is understandable. As far as India is concerned, the betrayal of leasing of the Hambantota Port to China for 99 years, which can be extended for another 99 years is equivalent to LTTE assassinating Rajiv Gandhi.

During the Mahinda Rajapaksa Administration, the ambitious Chinese-funded projects made India uneasy. The occasional visits from Chinese nuclear subs hardly compares though to the permanent residency Yahapalana Government granted to China with th leasing of the Port.

Absurd amounts of money were spent on the elections by all parties, especially on social media. However, it is not clear if the Yahapalana candidate, Sajith Premadasa received the same or similar support that Maithripala Sirisena did from external bodies.

In 2015, the Yahapalana Government came to power after receiving much support and assistance, especially in social media, from external sources. This was somewhat reminiscent to the LTTE days when the Government troops struggled without weapons comparable to those of the enemy. Likewise, the Mahinda Rajapaksa Administration too could not counter the social media onslaught.

Yet, the mandate the Yahapalana Government received in 2015 was not as clear as that received by the Gotabaya Administration in 2019-2020. By this time, the playing field in social media had leveled out. This allowed the Rajapaksa camp to effectively counter disinformation as well as carry out their own campaigns. Therefore, it is possible to surmise that the voters’ decision was less manipulated in 2019.

Manipulations for a

Democratic Majority

After Maithripala Sirisena won the 2015 Presidential Elections, he took control of the SLFP. This was a bizarre situation as the SLFP was the main party of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). As such, backed by the UNP, Maithripala Sirisena contested against the UPFA. Thus, when he took over the SLFP, he effectively became the Head of the Government as well as that of the legitimate Opposition.

Sirisena came to power on the UNP vote base on an “apolitical” platform. Hence, the UNP voter was rather taken aback when he become the leader of their arch rival. They however calmed as Sirisena was then able to exert influence over the UPFA, enabling Ranil Wickremesinghe’s minority government to plough ahead unhindered. This allowed the minority government to even tinker with the Constitution.

Except for Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara, the new Opposition was in a confused daze and somewhat cowered by Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat. Therefore, they offered zero resistance. Their failure resulted in the 19th Amendment which they too supported. In the course of the next four years, the country was to suffer immensely because of an amendment without due democratic process.

To overcome the failure of obtaining a majority at the 2015 General Elections, Ranil Wickremesinghe formed a National Government. Maithripala Sirisena too helped in this manipulation by convincing about 40 UPFA MPs to join this union. He even replaced the names of those on the list placed before the electorate as National List nominees with defeated candidates who were loyal to him.

This violated the people’s mandate. Candidates rejected by the people do not have the moral right to represent them. Moreover, the National List is a means to bolster the intellectual capacity of the Parliament by inviting highly respected personalities and subject experts with a proven track record. It is most definitely not for candidates scorned by voters. The voters were in effect cuckolded twice because the promised National List was not the one that eventually materialized.

Maithrpala Sirisena’s actual motive was self preservation. Had he not got his own team, he would have been a mere puppet of the UNP. Yahapalana Government supporters argued that this as a progressive move that would end the era of divisive politics with both main parties on the same side.

In reality however, Maithripala Sirisena fortified with a team of his own began to assert his own independence. As a result, the two factions – one led by Sirisena and the other by Wickremesinghe – could not agree on many issues. This indecisiveness led to nine different economic policies within three years. By the fourth year, a Cold War of sorts had set in between the two camps, which led to the catastrophic Easter Sunday massacres.

Before this fission became apparent, the extraordinary lengths the Yahapalana Government went to ensure its dominance in Parliament were heralded as democratic. The various western agents who “dropped in” heaved a sigh of relief “that the era of Mahinda Rajapaksa authoritarianism is over”. It was only after Donald Trump became the US President that ended these visits, which in reality were a trespassing of our sovereignty.

These agents who “oohed” and “ahhed” over the “democratic reforms” ushered in with the Regime Change Operation, refused to see just how much the democratic norms were been violated. Maithripala Sirisena was able to lure only about half of the UPFA MPs. The corruption charges against these MPs miraculously disappeared. Despite the lure of power and perks, 55 MPs refused to be part of the Yahapalana Government. They continued to be persecuted by a special criminal investigation division directed by the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

This group presented themselves as the Joint Opposition (JO) as they contested against the Yahapalana Government. As such, the mandate JO received from their voters was to oppose the Yahapalana Government. Therefore, none of the UPFA MPs had a right to sit with the Yahapalana Government.

JO was the largest group in Parliament as an opposition. Together, this group represented eight of the nine provinces. Yet, Maithripala Sirisena as the President and Karu Jayasuriya as the Speaker refused to acknowledge the JO as the Opposition. Instead, the TNA with its meager presence in the Parliament, representing only two of the provinces was appointed as the Opposition Leader.

While Karu Jayasuriya agreed to treat the ostracized group as a separate entity, he refused to acknowledge the large number in the group. As such, he refused to allocate a reasonable time for the JO to speak in Parliament.

An Opposition Protective of Its Government

The TNA, while accepting the prestige of the position of the Leader of the Opposition, never spoke on any of the National issues. In fact, they barely disguised their complicit partnership with the Government. They never raised an issue over the Central Bank bond scams, even as the interests rates began to rise as a direct rippled effect of these scams. The economic repercussions were enormous as businesses collapsed and cost of living soared. As imports increased while the export markets struggled, the rupee came under intense pressure. The sudden devaluation of the rupee by 31 percent was unprecedented. This in turn increased our debt burden, causing our interest rates to rise even more.

During the tenure of the Yahapalana Government, Sri Lanka experienced a number of tragedies. Droughts and floods are common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Apart from these, the Salawa explosion, the Meetotamulla garbage disaster and the massive Aranayaka landslide took place while the TNA sat as the Opposition. Not a single TNA MP visited any of these disaster sites, nor raised in Parliament the delay in compensating the victims. They did not even raise the issue faced by the Northern fishermen due to poaching by the South Indian fishing trawlers.

The TNA’s focus was holding the Sri Lankan Military accountable for alleged war crimes and gaining more autonomy. These were also the very objectives of the Yahapalana Government. As such, both the Yahapalana Government and the TNA were working in partnership.

While the Yahapalana Government co-sponsored the UNHRC Resolution 30/1, the TNA was formulating a new constitution with irreversible conditions to strengthen the provinces at the cost of the central government. They were thus working on the same project.

Even as the TNA were pushing for more autonomy, they failed to protect the powers they already have at hand. One by one the Provincial Councils became defunct as the PC elections were postponed indefinitely. The very reasons Provincial Councils were created was as a step to redress the grievances of the Tamils in the North and East. Yet, to date they have not expressed any distress over the fact that these councils are no longer functioning. It is ironic indeed that since the expiration of these councils, the provinces are being run by the Government.

It was indeed eyebrow raising when the TNA tried to protect the Yahapalana Government. As the popularity of the Yahapalana Government plummeted, a petrified TNA beseeched India to protect the government. By doing so, TNA must have become the first Opposition to want to protect the sitting government.

Democracy Advocators Break their Silence

Not a single West mentored entity was bothered by these vulgarities that shammed democracy. They continued to be relieved that the Rajapaksas were not at the helm. However, the people have voted with an overwhelming majority the Rajapaksa brothers back to power.

This is very alarming to the West-led foreign media as well as civil groups. They refuse to acknowledge any positive stride taken by the new Rajapaksa headed Administration. Even Sri Lanka’s superb management of the COVID-19 pandemic is met with countless criticism and without a single word of praise or acknowledgment of its remarkable successes. They worry that the “democratic reforms” introduced by the previous government will be rolled back.

Sri Lanka can be assured that the next four years will be a never ending complaint from these entities as they nitpick over isolated incidents and make mountains out of molehills. They may moan and groan, but it is the people in Sri Lanka who has to live with the situation. Therefore, it is the Sri Lankan citizen who must decide what is right and not for Sri Lanka.

(ranasingheshivanthi@gmail.com)

 



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Strong on vocals

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The group Mirage is very much alive, and kicking, as one would say!

Their lineup did undergo a few changes and now they have decided to present themselves as an all male group – operating without a female vocalist.

At the helm is Donald Pieries (drums and vocals), Trevin Joseph (percussion and vocals), Dilipa Deshan (bass and vocals), Toosha Rajarathna (keyboards and vocals), and Sudam Nanayakkara (lead guitar and vocals).

The plus factor, where the new lineup is concerned, is that all five members sing.

However, leader Donald did mention that if it’s a function, where a female vocalist is required, they would then feature a guest performer.

Mirage is a very experience outfit and they now do the Friday night scene at the Irish Pub, in Colombo, as well as private gigs.

 

 

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Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year

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Ushered in by the ‘coo-ee’ of the Koel and the swaying of Erabadu bunches, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year will dawn in the wee hours of April 14. With houses to clean, preparation of sweetmeats and last-minute shopping, times are hectic…. and the streets congested.

It is believed that New Year traditions predated the advent of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. But Buddhism resulted in a re-interpretation of the existing New Year activities in a Buddhist light. Hinduism has co-existed with Buddhism over millennia and no serious contradiction in New Year rituals are observed among Buddhists and Hindus.

The local New Year is a complex mix of Indigenous, Astrological, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. Hindu literature provides the New Year with its mythological backdrop. The Prince of Peace called Indradeva is said to descend upon the earth to ensure peace and happiness, in a white carriage wearing on his head a white floral crown seven cubits high. He first plunges, into a sea of milk, breaking earth’s gravity.

The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. Astrologically, the New Year begins when the sun moves from the House of Pisces (Meena Rashiya) to the House of Aries (Mesha Rashiya) in the celestial sphere.

The New Year marks the end of the harvest season and spring. Consequently, for farming communities, the traditional New Year doubles as a harvest as well. It also coincides with one of two instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. The month of Bak, which coincides with April, according to the Gregorian calendar, represents prosperity. Astrologers decide the modern day rituals based on auspicious times, which coincides with the transit of the Sun between ‘House of Pisces’ and ‘House of Aries’.

Consequently, the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new year occur several hours apart, during the time of transit. This period is considered Nonegathe, which roughly translates to ‘neutral period’ or a period in which there are no auspicious times. During the Nonegathe, traditionally, people are encouraged to engage themselves in meritorious and religious activities, refraining from material pursuits. This year the Nonegathe begin at 8.09 pm on Tuesday, April 13, and continues till 8.57 am on 14. New Year dawns at the halfway point of the transit, ushered in bythe sound of fire crackers, to the woe of many a dog and cat of the neighbourhood. Cracker related accidents are a common occurrence during new year celebrations. Environmental and safety concerns aside, lighting crackers remain an integral part of the celebrations throughout Sri Lanka.

This year the Sinhala and Tamil New Year dawns on Wednesday, April 14, at 2.33 am. But ‘spring cleaning’ starts days before the dawn of the new year. Before the new year the floor of houses are washed clean, polished, walls are lime-washed or painted, drapes are washed, dried and rehang. The well of the house is drained either manually or using an electric water pump and would not be used until such time the water is drawn for first transaction. Sweetmeats are prepared, often at homes, although commercialization of the new year has encouraged most urbanites to buy such food items. Shopping is a big part of the new year. Crowds throng to clothing retailers by the thousands. Relatives, specially the kids, are bought clothes as presents.

Bathing for the old year takes place before the dawn of the new year. This year this particular auspicious time falls on April 12, to bathe in the essence of wood apple leaves. Abiding by the relevant auspicious times the hearth and an oil lamp are lit and pot of milk is set to boil upon the hearth. Milk rice, the first meal of the year, is prepared separate. Entering into the first business transaction and partaking of the first meal are also observed according to the given auspicious times. This year, the auspicious time for preparing of meals, milk rice and sweets using mung beans, falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 6.17 am, and is to be carried out dressed in light green, while facing east. Commencement of work, transactions and consumption of the first meal falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 7.41 am, to be observed while wearing light green and facing east.

The first transaction was traditionally done with the well. The woman of the house would draw water from the well and in exchange drop a few pieces of charcoal, flowers, coins, salt and dried chillies into the well, in certain regions a handful of paddy or rice is also thrown in for good measure. But this ritual is also dying out as few urban homes have wells within their premises. This is not a mere ritual and was traditionally carried out with the purification properties of charcoal in mind. The first water is preferably collected into an airtight container, and kept till the dawn of the next new year. It is believed that if the water in the container does not go down it would be a prosperous year. The rituals vary slightly based on the region. However, the essence of the celebrations remains the same.

Anointing of oil is another major ritual of the New Year celebrations. It falls on Saturday, April 17 at 7.16 am, and is done wearing blue, facing south, with nuga leaves placed on the head and Karada leaves at the feet. Oil is to be applied mixed with extracts of Nuga leaves. The auspicious time for setting out for professional occupations falls on Monday, April 19 at 6.39 am, while dressed in white, by consuming a meal of milk rice mixed with ghee, while facing South.

Traditionally, women played Raban during this time, but such practices are slowly being weaned out by urbanization and commercialisation of the New Year. Neighbours are visited with platters of sweetmeats, bananas, Kevum (oil cake) and Kokis (a crispy sweetmeat) usually delivered by children. The dichotomy of the urban and village life is obvious here too, where in the suburbs and the village outdoor celebrations are preferred and the city opts for more private parties.

 

 

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New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations

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Food, games and rituals make a better part of New Year celebrations. One major perk of Avurudu is the festivals that are organised in each neighbourhood in its celebration. Observing all the rituals, like boiling milk, partaking of the first meal, anointing of oil, setting off to work, are, no doubt exciting, but much looked-forward-to is the local Avurudu Uthsawaya.

Avurudu Krida or New Year games are categorised as indoor and outdoor games. All indoor games are played on the floor and outdoor games played during the Avurudu Uthsava or New Year festival, with the whole neighbourhood taking part. Some of the indoor games are Pancha Dameema, Olinda Keliya and Cadju Dameema. Outdoor games include Kotta pora, Onchili pedeema, Raban geseema, Kana mutti bindeema, Placing the eye on the elephant, Coconut grating competition, Bun-eating competition, Lime-on-spoon race, Kamba adeema (Tug-o-War) and Lissana gaha nageema (climbing the greased pole). And what’s an Avurudhu Uthsava sans an Avurudu Kumari pageant, minus the usual drama that high profile beauty pageants of the day entail, of course.

A salient point of New Year games is that there are no age categories. Although there are games reserved for children such as blowing of balloons, races and soft drinks drinking contests, most other games are not age based.

Kotta pora aka pillow fights are not the kind the average teenagers fight out with their siblings, on plush beds. This is a serious game, wherein players have to balance themselves on a horizontal log in a seated position. With one hand tied behind their back and wielding the pillow with the other, players have to knock the opponent off balance. Whoever knocks the opponent off the log first, wins. The game is usually played over a muddy pit, so the loser goes home with a mud bath.

Climbing the greased pole is fun to watch, but cannot be fun to take part in. A flag is tied to the end of a timber pole-fixed to the ground and greased along the whole length. The objective of the players is to climb the pole, referred to as the ‘tree’, and bring down the flag. Retrieving the flag is never achieved on the first climb. It takes multiple climbers removing some of the grease at a time, so someone could finally retrieve the flag.

Who knew that scraping coconut could be made into an interesting game? During the Avurudu coconut scraping competition, women sit on coconut scraper stools and try to scrape a coconut as fast as possible. The one who finishes first wins. These maybe Avurudu games, but they are taken quite seriously. The grated coconut is inspected for clumps and those with ungrated clumps are disqualified.

Coconut palm weaving is another interesting contest that is exclusive to women. However men are by no means discouraged from entering such contests and, in fact, few men do. Participants are given equally measured coconut fronds and the one who finishes first wins.

Kana Mutti Bindima involves breaking one of many water filled clay pots hung overhead, using a long wooden beam. Placing the eye on the elephant is another game played while blindfolded. An elephant is drawn on a black or white board and the blindfolded person has to spot the eye of the elephant. Another competition involves feeding the partner yoghurt or curd while blindfolded.

The Banis-eating contest involves eating tea buns tied to a string. Contestants run to the buns with their hands tied behind their backs and have to eat buns hanging from a string, on their knees. The one who finishes his or her bun first, wins. Kamba adeema or Tug-o-War pits two teams against each other in a test of strength. Teams pull on opposite ends of a rope, with the goal being to bring the rope a certain distance in one direction against the force of the opposing team’s pull.

Participants of the lime-on-spoon race have to run a certain distance while balancing a lime on a spoon, with the handle in their mouths. The first person to cross the finish line without dropping the lime wins. The sack race and the three-legged race are equally fun to watch and to take part in. In the sack race, participants get into jute sacks and hop for the finish line. The first one over, wins. In the three-legged race one leg of each pair of participants are tied together and the duo must reach the finish line by synchronising their running, else they would trip over their own feet.

Pancha Dameema is an indoor game played in two groups, using five small shells, a coconut shell and a game board. Olinda is another indoor board game, normally played by two players. The board has nine holes, four beads each. The player who collects the most number of seeds win.

This is the verse sung while playing the game:

“Olinda thibenne koi koi dese,

Olinda thibenne bangali dese…

Genath hadanne koi koi dese,

Genath hadanne Sinhala dese…”

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