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The Tale of Two Presidents

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By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

“It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair” we had everything before us, we had nothing before us”. Perhaps, this line borrowed from the memorable opening paragraph of Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities”, one of the best-selling novels of all time, summarises that ill-fated political project, Yahapalanaya best. The President who initiated the train of events, after stabbing his leader in the back barely before the shared hopper-feed was digested, leading to the formation of Yahapalanaya and the President who crushed Yahapalanaya with defeat are in the fray together, albeit a distance apart. It is in a way understandable as the predecessor was spared a humiliating defeat not for lack of trying but because no party dared that ignominy! Is there anything in common between these two?

Strictly speaking, there are three Presidents involved, not two, but we can leave Mahinda Rajapaksa out as he has already earned his place in the history of Sri Lanka; as a leader who achieved the impossible by defeating a ruthless terrorist group considered invincible by international experts and politicians alike. Even the humiliating defeat at the hands of the betrayer did not put him off but used it to his advantage and has bounced back. What more he achieves is immaterial but most feel he should leave his Malli’s hands free, so that he may bask in reflected glory. But he is his own man!

Maithri started very well with a heartfelt acceptance speech which won the plaudits of the nation but in no time showed his true colours as an incompetent, unreliable head of state who agreed to do many things he knew were wrong, just to please those who used him as a front to achieve what they wanted. To his credit, he admitted that he did wrong and turned away from Yahapalanaya. In sharp contrast to his predecessor who defeated terrorism, he allowed a new type of terrorism to raise its ugly head with devastating consequences on Easter Sunday 2019. It was mostly due to his inaction and he refused to take any responsibility. He allowed a cover-up in the name of a Parliamentary Select Committee but, to his credit, set up a Presidential commission of inquiry, which is producing results, at last.

Towards the end of his term Maithri made the drug menace his top priority. He polished his sword, took out his Madu-walige, bought ropes for the gallows and hired executioners to execute drug lords. They, however were having a hearty laugh enjoying the high-life not only in Sri Lanka but also in places like Dubai. In sharp contrast, in a matter of a few months, energised by Gota’s drive and enthusiasm, authorities are fast getting at drug-lords. The daily detections are keeping elections news away from front pages. How corrupt some in the Police Narcotic Division has surprised many and a cynic may comment that they have lived up to their name. Surely, it should have been the Anti-narcotics division!

Politics is more about pleasing the electorate than getting the job done. This may be one of the reasons why these two Presidents contrast. Maithri is a professional politician who works for the benefit of politicians whereas Gota is no politician. He is an army man who has benefitted from the strict code of discipline imparted. He proved to be a capable administrator too and as his slogan during the presidential campaign stated, he accomplished what was assigned over and above expectations. His introduction to politics was through the presidential campaign but, so far, he has worked not as a politician but as an efficient technocrat serving the people, not politicians.

What Maithri should have done is retire gracefully on the completion of his term as he has reaped enough benefits. Instead, he opted to enter Parliament from the Polonnaruwa district and is fighting hard to get the highest number of preferential votes. If he does not get that, in spite of his claims of making a Tokyo out of Polonnaruwa, it would be utter humiliation. Would there be any circumstance under which Gota too suffer the same fate?

My scientifically orientated brain not comprehending the convolutedness of complex international relations, I have refrained in commenting on the MCC compact so far but have been closely following events and have been perplexed by what is happening. Pohottuwa vehemently opposed the MCC compact when in opposition. Now that they are in government, even though they are in caretaker capacity for the moment, clarity on this would have been most welcome. As those in strong support of the MCC compact claim it to be of significant financial benefit to the country, I can well understand Gota appointing a committee to study it. ‘Gunaruwan report’, which was not supportive, was released to the public on 23 June. It was stated that each minister would give their views in a week which was later extended to two weeks but there is an eerie silence since. I wonder why Gota cannot at least state that he is not prepared to sign it as it stands.

Of the many views expressed, the most considered and comprehensive was that by Dr Palitha Kohona. His presentation to the Ambassadors’ Forum titled “ACSA, SOFA, MCC Once concluded there is no walking away from treaties” was reproduced in ‘The Island’ of 13 July. He sounds a very strong note of caution, citing the main issue of concern:

“The land project, which has caused considerable disconcert, focuses on creating a parcel fabric map and inventory of state lands, digitizing the deeds registry, facilitating the ongoing work to move Sri Lanka from a deed registration system to a title registration system, digitizing key valuation information for properties in targeted districts, and establishing land policy councils to support the Government’ work on land policy and legislation.”

If by this we are facilitating a land-grab by multinationals then whatever economic gains promised would be of no use. Wonder whether there are behind the scene negotiations to alter the compact to get rid of harmful projects as well as clauses.

I was taken aback, the other day, when one of my very close friends who is a ‘Gota can do no wrong’ type of admirer and always refers to Gota respectfully as ‘Gota-sir’ told me that he feels the MCC would be signed after the elections. This got me thinking. Afterall, Gota was a US citizen too till recently. The engine of the Rajapaksa juggernaut, Basil opted to retain US citizenship than contest the elections which he could have won from any district. Would this affect judgement? Hope not.

If Gota signs the MCC unaltered it would be an act of ultimate betrayal and he would surely follow the Maithri path of sunset. Worse still, it may be the end of Sri Lanka, as we know.

Gota-sir, please don’t let the country down!

 

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Development after the elections

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By Jehan Perera

Many years ago, former Government Agent of Jaffna, Dr Devanesan Nesiah, explained the northern sentiment when elections were taking place.  He said there was apprehension about the possible turn of events over which they had no control.  The minority status of the Tamil people would invariably mean that their future would be determined by the outcome of the power struggle in the south of the country.  I was reminded of these words of Dr Nesiah during discussions organised by the Civil Society Platform in the northern towns of Vavuniya and Jaffna on the democratic challenges arising from the forthcoming elections.

The main theme, at the present elections in the south, and most of the country, has been the need to elect a strong government and to give it a 2/3 majority to change the constitution, accordingly.  The response in Vavuniya and Jaffna, by the members of civil society, was that a strong government would not heed the wishes of the people. Like people in other parts of the country, they felt let down by the political leaders and said they did not know for whom to vote.  The issues that they highlighted as being their concerns were economic ones, such as the lack of jobs for youth and the harm to families caused by an unregulated micro credit scheme that made them vulnerable to the predatory actions of money lenders.

The civil society members, in the towns of Vavuniya and Jaffna, did not take up the issue of the 19th Amendment and the possible threat to civil society space that the speakers from the south put before them. This indicated a longer term need to have educational programmes on the importance of the rule of law and judicial independence, in particular, to ensure justice and non-discrimination.  But they also did not comment or discuss the manifesto put out by the main Tamil political party, the TNA, which addressed longstanding issues of the Tamil polity, including self-determination, federalism, the merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces or the newer post-war issues of missing persons and accountability for war crimes.

EXISTENTIAL ISSUES

The absence of public debate, at the civil society meetings in the north on the political dimension at the forthcoming elections, may reflect a wariness about speaking publicly on politically controversial matters. Civil society groups throughout the country have been reporting there is more police surveillance of their work. The fear of falling into trouble and being seen as anti-government may have restrained the participants at the civil society meeting in the north from expressing their true feelings. On the other hand, there is also the reality that existential issues of jobs, loans and incomes are of immediate concern especially in the context of the Covid-induced economic downturn. The short term concerns of people are invariably with economic issues.

One of the salient features of the present elections has been the general unwillingness of even the main political parties to address any of the issues posed by the TNA.  This would be due to their apprehension of the adverse fallout from the electorate. It could also be due to their lack of ideas regarding the way forward. Apart from the 19th Amendment, another impediment to a strong government, that is identified by its proponents is the 13th Amendment. In the run up to the elections, there have been calls for the abolition of the 13th Amendment, which created the devolved system of provincial councils, along with the 19th Amendment that directly reduced the power of the presidency and increased the independence of state institutions. The provincial councils have been emasculated by denying them of both resources and decision making power and are condemned for being white elephants.

It has been noted, by the political commentator D B S Jeyaraj, that the TNA’s choice of focusing on issues of transitional justice, in dealing with war time violations of human rights, led to the TNA aligning itself with Western powers. This did not yield the anticipated benefits as the previous government failed to implement many of its commitments in regard to transitional justice. It would have been better to have focused instead on getting the provincial councils in the north and east to engage in more development-oriented work which would have met the existential needs of the people.

PROVINCIAL COUNCILS

Jeyaraj has also surmised that if the TNA had chosen the path of utilising the provincial council system for development work, it could have obtained support from India, which had been the co-architects of the provincial council system, in 1987, along with the then Sri Lankan government. India has a moral obligation to contribute to developing the north and east of the country where the war raged in full fury and led to immense destruction. India’s role in destabilising Sri Lanka and enhancing the military capacity of the Tamil armed groups, including the LTTE, is a bitter and abiding memory which the journalist Shamindra Ferdinando has written extensively about.

A creative suggestion made during the civil society discussion in Jaffna was for the provincial councils to implement what governments have promised to implement but have failed to do. An example given was that of reparations to war victims. The previous government pledged to set up a system of reparations in terms of the UNHRC resolution in 2015. But, although an Office for Reparations was established, very little was done. The question was whether the provincial councils in the north and east could not have utilised their resources for the purposes of instituting schemes of reparations as it would be clearly within the policy framework of the government.

While the issues in the TNA’s manifesto will remain perennial ones to the Tamil polity, the people are looking for political leaders who will deliver them the economic benefits in the same way as in the rest of the country. The civil society meetings in the north suggests that the northern people are not showing priority interest in political issues as they believe these are non-deliverable at the present time. Instead of using its majority status in parliament and seeking to abolish the 13th Amendment, and the provincial council system, and creating a crisis with the Tamil polity and India, the new government would do better to work through them to meet the material needs of the people. They need to also realize limits of the constitution, and focus on social, economic and political pluralism and promote values of tolerance, pragmatism, cooperation and compromise, and consent of the governed.

 

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A blazing story!

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The local showbiz scene is ablaze with a story about the members of a particular band, who indicated that they are undergoing a tough time, abroad, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It was a video, showing the members pouring forth their difficulties, and earnestly requesting the authorities concerned to bring them back home, that got others to move into action…and the truth has come out.

After having looked into their situation, extensively, knowledgeable sources say that the video contained a load of lies and, according to reports coming our way, the band has now been blacklisted by the authorities for lying about their situation.

These guys have, apparently, gone on Holiday Visas and have, thereby, contravened the Visa conditions.

The story going around is that they have had problems, within the band, as well.

The authorities, in Sri Lanka, are aware of the situation, in that part of the world, but there are many others who are waiting to get back home and, they say, musicians can’t get into the priority list.

So, it’s likely to be a long wait for these guys before they can check out their hometown again!

 

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Features

Top local stars to light up ARISE SRI LANKA

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Richard de Zoysa’s brainchild, ARISE SRI LANKA, is going to create an awesome atmosphere, not only locally, but abroad, as well.

This telethon event will feature the cream of Sri Lankan talent, said Richard, who is the Chairman of Elite Promotions & Entertainment (Pvt) Ltd.

Put together as a fund-raiser for those, in the frontline, tackling the coronavirus pandemic, in Sri Lanka, ARISE SRI LANKA will bring into the spotlight a galaxy of local stars, including Noeline Honter, Damian, Mahindakumar, Rukshan, Melantha, Jacky, Ranil Amirthiah, Mariazelle, Trishelle, Corinne, Sohan, Samista, Shean, Rajitha, Umara, April, Shafie, Dr. Nilanka Anjalee Wickramasinghe, Kevin, Ishini, and Donald.

Mirage is scheduled to open this live streaming fun-raiser, and they will back the artistes, assigned to do the first half of the show.

Sohan & The X-Periments will make their appearance, after the intermission, and they, too, will be backing a set of artistes, scheduled to do the second half.

The new look Aquarius group, led by bassist Benjy Ranabahu, will also be featured, and they will perform a very special song, originally done by The Eagles, titled ‘There’s A Whole In The World.’

The lyrics are very meaningful, especially in today’s context where the coronavirus pandemic has literally created holes, in every way, and in every part of the world.

Aquarius will be seen in a new setting, doing this particular song – no stage gimmicks, etc.

The finale, I’m told, will be a song composed by Noeline, with Melantha doing the musical arrangements, and titled ‘Arise Sri Lanka.’

The programme will include songs in Sinhala, and Tamil, as well, and will be streamed to many parts of the world, via TV and social media.

Richard says that this show, scheduled for August 29th, is in appreciation of the work done by the frontliners, to keep the pandemic, under control, in Sri Lanka.

“We, in Sri Lanka, can be proud of the fact that we were able to tackle the Covid-19 situation, to a great extent,” said Richard, adding that even the World Health Organisation (WHO) has acknowledged the fact that we have handled the coronavirus pandemic, in an exceptional way.

The team, helping Richard put together ARISE SRI LANKA, include Noeline Honter, Sohan Weerasinghe, Donald Pieries, from the group Mirage, Benjy Ranabahu, and the guy from The Island ‘Star Track.’

 

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