by Vijaya Chandrasoma
The Republican National Convention kicked off on Monday, August 24 in the backdrop of racial violence, when yet another unarmed black man was shot in the back by policemen, in front of his three children in Kenosha, Wisconsin, provoking a further series of violent protests; a grim Coronavirus death toll of 177,000 and climbing; firefighters battling raging wildfires in California; and a Category 4 hurricane, threatening havoc and evacuations for portions of the Texas and Louisiana coasts.
The Convention had as its theme the concept of an Alternative Reality, with America enjoying a period of economic prosperity; a pandemic firmly under control; a continuing era of social and racial justice; and the effects of natural disasters minimized, thanks to the competent leadership of the Trump administration.
This parade of blatant lies and the pageant of criminal hypocrisy were the features of the Convention, absent any sense of responsibility or shame.
The four days of the Convention had their own themes:
Land of Promise –
Day 1 of the Convention included speeches from Donald Jr. and his girlfriend, Kimberley Guilfoyle, Ambassador Nikki Haley and Senator Tim Scott.
Two family members who were not invited to speak at the Convention were niece, Dr. Mary Trump, who recently published a tell-all book, the title of which was: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man; and older sister, retired Federal Judge, Maryanne Trump Barry. An audio was released last week in which Ms. Barry was heard bitterly excoriating Trump, saying “Donald’s out for Donald, period…. He has no principles. None.….It is the phoniness of it all and this cruelty. Donald is cruel.”
It is not known whether President Putin will attend the Convention to deliver his instructions for the next four years after he helps rig Trump’s re-election.
Donald Trump appeared on numerous occasions, introducing various “ordinary folks”, frontline workers battling the Coronavirus. They all confirmed that Trump was doing a wonderful job in controlling the virus. Their adulation was matched only by their hypocrisy and dishonesty.
Donald Trump Jr.’s speech proved, yet again, that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. He had a lie in every sentence, warning of the dire future America faces under a Biden administration, saying, “this election is about church, work and school versus rioting, looting and vandalism.”
Rioting, looting and vandalism all initiated during the watch of the Trump administration.
Ambassador Nikki Haley and African-American Senator Tim Scott gave the only speeches approaching sanity. They talked of their backgrounds, Haley about her traditional Sikh immigrant parents, and “the promise of America”; and Scott who said that his family had gone “from cotton to Congress in one lifetime”.
Quote of the day goes to Tim Scott: Biden and Harris will turn our country into a socialist Utopia.
Either Scott doesn’t know the meaning of the word “Utopia” or he’s a Democrat in Fox’s clothing.
Land of Opportunity
– Day 2 of the Convention continued in the face of deadly crises of protests against police brutality, ravages of the pandemic and natural disasters caused by climate change and a collapsing economy,
The ubiquitous Trump was joined at the podium by First Lady Melania, Trump’s children, Eric and Tiffany, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Senior Economic Adviser, Larry Kudlow, Senator Rand Paul and former Florida Attorney General, Pam Bondi.
Pompeo raised an ethical and legal conundrum by his decision to send a taped statement to the Convention in support of the Trump agenda. Cabinet officials are barred from indulging in political activity when they are on state business, as Pompeo currently is, in Jerusalem. Sadly, ethical and legal rules are observed more in the breach by this administration.
White House Chief Economic Adviser, Larry Kudlow lied in his speech, “There is an economic boom, a housing boom”, created entirely by the magnificent leadership of our Fuhrer, Donald J. Trump. A boom in the context of an economic recession and unemployment rates near the depths of the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Besides, Trump did not “create the pre-pandemic economy”. He inherited a booming economy from the Obama administration and merely helped himself from an already well-stocked buffet.
Pam Bondi lied of the corruption of the Biden family, in Ukraine and China. The same Pam Bondi who, as Attorney General of Florida, accepted a $25,000 bribe from the Trump campaign in 2016, for dropping a lawsuit against the fraudulent Trump University. Accusing Biden of nepotism and corruption, as Bondi did, is like the pot calling the kettle orange.
Lt. Governor of Florida, Jeanette Nunez spoke of the three Fs, Faith, Family and Freedom, being the credo of the Trump administration. Not the usual F words that come to mind when thinking of Donald J. Trump.
First Lady Melania broke from tradition by using her own words for the last speech of the day. A departure from 2016, when she plagiarized one of Michelle Obama’s previous Convention speeches.
In a moving and balanced address, a pleasant contrast to previous high decibel tirades lionizing Trump, she spoke of her own pursuit of the American Dream. She acknowledged the “invisible enemy”, Covid19, which has “swept across our beautiful country and impacted all of us”, and touched on racial reconciliation, 100 years of women’s suffrage and the opioid crisis.
Unfortunately, she reverted to the Convention theme of an Alternative Universe. She made the most preposterous statement in a Convention hardly lacking in absurdity, when she said, “We need Donald’s leadership for four more years, ….to bring us back to the greatest economy and strongest country ever seen. Donald doesn’t waste time playing politics!”
Quote of the day: Registered Nurse, Amy Johnson Ford: Donald Trump’s quick action and leadership saved thousands of lives during Covid19.
Land of Heroes –
Day 3 of the Convention saw Vice President Mike Pence take center stage as the keynote speaker. Second Lady Karen Pence, presidential daughter-in-law Lara Trump, Trump Senior adviser to the president, Kellyanne Conway, South Dakota Governor, Kristi Noem and Senator Marsha Blackburn were also among the speakers.
Karen Pence, Trump Press Secretary, Kayleigh McEnany and Kellyanne Conway all attempted to woo female voters by emphasizing Trump’s mythical treatment, respect and empathy towards women. A hard sell indeed, in the backdrop of Trump’s long history of misogyny and sexual assaults.
Pence accepted the nomination of the Vice Presidency of the Republican Party at Fort McHenry, a storied national monument, a coastal bastion which provided a defence against the British in the War of 1812.
In a hard-hitting speech, Pence described Biden as a Trojan Horse to the Far Left. He stated that Biden will not be able to provide the leadership needed to contain the continuing violence in the inner cities; that Trump will be best qualified to keep America safe against violence, again forgetting that all this violence has occurred during Trump’s watch. He provided a complete makeover of Donald Trump, replete with lies, misrepresentation and hyperbole. He described Trump as a Law and Order president, with exceptional leadership qualities, which saved thousands of lives by his prompt (?) action during the pandemic, and built the strongest economy the world has ever seen. He lauded Trump for his compassionate empathy for the welfare of all Americans, including minorities.
Trump and First Lady, Melania made a “surprising” appearance at the podium with VP Pence and Mother Pence, creating a photo opportunity while the Star Spangled Banner was sung by American Country singer, Trace Adkins.
Pence made a passing mention of the administration’s support of the police, but remained silent about the shooting of yet another unarmed black man by Kenosha cops and the subsequent murder of two peaceful protesters by a Trump supporter imported from Illinois. Or the escalating violence raging in Kenosha before he started his speech.
Quote of the day goes to Pence: You won’t be safe in Biden’s America.
We sure don’t feel safe in Trump’s America, the America Biden will inherit.
Land of Greatness –
The final day of the Convention belonged to the superstars of Greatness, Donald J. Trump and his Senior Adviser and daughter, Ivanka. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and former New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani also lied. An audience of 2,000 attended the proceedings in the South Lawn of the White House, ignoring medical guidelines of masks and social distancing. Also ignoring laws that prohibits the use of the White House for political purposes.
I am unable to continue reporting on the speeches of the Republican convention any longer except to say that Trump accepted the nomination for the Presidency with the supreme lie he has “followed the science” in his management of the pandemic and saved thousands of lives.
I am sick to my stomach, listening to three days of threats, stoking fears and shameless lies during this Convention. Lies that the nation is doing wonderfully well under the leadership of Trump, his cronies and his crime family.
The reality is that the pandemic is raging unchecked by a president who cares more for his personal gain than for the safety and health of the American people. A president who will do anything, break any law, risk any life to win re-election, because defeat will mean exposure of the plethora of crimes he has committed.
Covid19 has now claimed over 180,000 lives. Trump has never had a national plan to control the virus, in fact makes matters worse with “happy talk” and ridiculous and dangerous medical advice. He keeps lying about the fatalities in the USA when every other developed nation has the virus contained to manageable levels, thanks to competent leadership.
America’s economy has been reduced to Depression levels, with over 30 million unemployed, and millions facing hunger and homelessness.
Category 4 Hurricane Laura is wreaking havoc in Texas and Louisiana and wildfires continue to rage in California. Both disasters caused by Climate Change, dismissed by Trump as a hoax.
In Kenosha, Wisconsin, protests against the shooting in the back of unarmed black man, Jacob Blake by cops, escalated when two protesters were shot and killed by a 17-year-old vigilante, Kyle Rittenhouse, a Trump supporter imported from Antioch, Illinois. Rittenhouse has been identified sitting in the front row of a Trump rally in January. Many other white men, calling themselves an “armed militia” have descended on Kenosha from neighbouring states, ostensibly to “safeguard the businesses in Kenosha”; their real intent is the escalation of the violence against peaceful protesters. The Kenosha police has implicitly encouraged this extra-military action, justifying the murders of protesters by stating that “they should not have been breaking the curfew” while ignoring the imported militia also guilty of the same “crime”.
Trump’s efforts to suppress voters, cast doubts on mail-in voting, while encouraging Trump appointee Postmaster General to impede the system, and again seeking help from Russia to help him rig the election, are perhaps the greatest threats to the oldest democracy in the world.
It is obvious where Republican policies are leading the people of Trump’s America. I have lived in Colombo long enough to recognize the makings of a police state. I have read enough about the Third Reich in Germany to see Fascism and White Supremacy raising their ugly heads.
What amazes and frightens me most is that educated and prosperous people of the most powerful nation in the world are willing to believe in a pack of lies, to sacrifice their long-fought for democracy …. For what? To appease the voracious ego of a madman and the insatiable greed of a band of racist crooks?
The old maxim that you get the leaders you deserve has never been more amply demonstrated.
Ways to shed pounds after 40
By Dr Ramisha Maliha
It might be difficult to lose weight after the age of 40. Slowing metabolism, and a decrease in daily physical activity, can lead to weight gain if these biological changes are not matched with a corresponding reduction in dietary calories. Still, shedding pounds, after age 40, is not a hopeless endeavour. Here are a few ways to tackle mid-life weight loss.
Over 40s, may find it easier to gain weight and harder to lose it. Changes in activity, diet, hormones and fat storage can all have a role. But a few simple steps may help you slim down.
Eat your fruits and veggies
Halve your plate at each meal. Green produce has more nutrients and less fat and calories than meat, dairy, or grains. It may help you feel full when eating less. Apples and berries replace high-fat or high-sugar snacks.
Do not skip breakfast
Oatmeal or whole wheat toast, with fruit, is recommended for breakfast. It can curb midmorning hunger that leads to unhealthy grab-and-go or lunch overeating. Small meals, or snacks, every few hours, can control your appetite.
Eat less at night
If you consume most of your daily calories before 3PM, you may lose more weight than if you eat a large meal later. But what you eat is still more important than when you eat it.
Cook healthy meals
A lot of extra fat and calories can come from the way you prepare food. Instead of frying, baking, or broiling food. Avoid indulging in fried and creamy foods.Do not make a second tripAs you age, you become less active and need fewer calories. To lose weight, reduce your calorie intake. A food diary or app can help you track calories and eat less.
When you are busy with work, children, and life, you may be tempted to eat on the go or multitask. If you do not focus on your food, you will soon overeat and be hungry again. At mealtime, focus on your plate, not your TV or computer. This helps your brain recognise fullness.
Lay off the soda
Switch to water if you drink sugar-sweetened coffee, tea, soft drinks, or energy drinks. Your sugary drinks can cause weight gain and diabetes.
Cut back on alcohol
Not all beer bellies are alcohol-related. Alcohol can contribute to middle-age “spare tires.” A glass of beer or wine has 150 calories, which adds up quickly. Plus, alcohol makes you hungry, so you may eat more.
Make time for exercise
Many 40-somethings don’t have time to exercise between desk jobs, commuting, and family activities. At least 2½ hours of moderate physical activity (such as brisk walking or light yard work) is crucial for weight and health. Prioritise calendar times.
Following age 40, people lose muscle naturally, especially women after menopause. Because muscle consumes more calories than fat, it can decrease your metabolism and make losing weight more difficult. Lifting weights or performing body-weight workouts such as push-ups and squats at least twice a week might help you keep those muscles.
Relax, do not stress
Stress might increase your tendency to overeat unhealthy foods and make it more difficult for your body to break down fat. Yoga, deep breathing, meditation, going on a stroll, or reading a good book are all good options. Everyone’s stress reduction needs are different, so figure out what works best for you.
Get good sleep
After the age of 40, a variety of factors can disrupt your sleep, including health issues, stress, drugs, and, for women, menopause. On the other hand, people who do not get enough sleep are more prone to acquire weight. If you do not get enough sleep because you are too busy or anxious, attempt to adjust your behaviours and get into a pattern.
Have your thyroid checked
If you eat well and exercise consistently but still cannot lose weight, your thyroid may be malfunctioning. This affects roughly five percent of the population, with women and persons over 60 being the most vulnerable. It can induce weariness, joint or muscular discomfort, and depression, in addition to weight gain. Medications can assist, so get it tested if you suspect there is a problem.
Many people find that losing weight with others is easier than losing weight alone. For example, you may enter a weight-loss contest at work, join a social media group, or invite a friend to join you for early-morning walks or gym courses. Other people who share your goals can hold you accountable and encourage you as you improve.
If you are having trouble meeting your weight-loss goals after age 40, a careful observation of lifestyle and consideration of the above list can help towards losing weight in your 40s.
(The Daily Star/ANN)
National Defence College of Sri Lanka
I was invited to deliver a lecture at the Diners Club of the National Defence College (NDC), the highest Defence learning establishment of Sri Lanka, by its Commandant, Major General Amal Karunasekara, highly decorated officer from the Sri Lanka Light Infantry. Our inaugural NDC course started on 14 November, 2021, and 14 senior officers from the Army, seven from the Navy, six from the Air Force and four from the Police took part in the one-year-long course.
I was very happy about the invitation, as the Chief of Defence Staff, in 2017 to 2019, I was involved in securing this mansion, known as ‘Mumtaz Mahal,’ Colombo 03 the former official residence of the Speaker of Parliament, from 1948 to 2000, until a new official residence for the Speaker was built, close to the Parliament. From year 2000, this mansion, located on a land extending up to the Marine Drive, from the Galle Road, had been neglected, and when the Defence Ministry acquired it for establishing the NDC, it was badly in need of repairs. Further, the once beautiful garden had been used as a junk yard of the Presidential Secretariet, which owns the property.
It was great an achievement by the Defence Secretary and the CDS, at that time (2016), to secure this invaluable property, in the heart of Colombo’s residential area, especially when all three services were losing their prime land, in Colombo, and moving out of Colombo, to Akuregoda, including their Headquarters.
The task of repairing the building, and to bring it back to the previous glory, was vasted upon the Navy Civil Engineering Department and they did a wonderful job, in spite of the work getting delayed, due to lack of funds. The Air Force took the responsibility of landscaping.
‘Mumtaz Mahal’ was built by Mr Mohomad Hussain, well known businessman, in 1928. He commissioned well known architect, at that time, Homi Billimoria, who designed the Colombo Town Hall. This was an Italian design house where Count de Mauny was commissioned to the design garden and furniture.
On a suggestion made by Hubert Sri Nissanka,QC ( a founding member of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party), a close friend of Mr Hussain, the mansion was named, under the name of his youngest daughter Mumtaz. History says the overseas business of Mr Hussain was badly affected, during the Great Depression, and he hired the mansion to the French government, in 1943, and the French Consul occupied it till the start of the Second World War. During War, the mansion was sold to the government and, in 1943, the Governor General of Ceylon at that time, Vice Admiral Godfrey Layton, Commander-in-Chief, occupied it as his residence, fearing that the Japanese may bomb the Governor General House, in Fort.
During interactions with our new President, at Security Council meetings, when he was PM and I was CDS, he mentioned some of these historical details ,and the War Cabinet, during World War Two, under Vice Admiral Layton, has met in this Mansion, in the room which is the present day auditorium.
My lecture heading was Sri Lanka and Indo-Pacific Maritime Strategies and extracts from the lecture are given below.
The former U.S. Indo-Pacific Commander, Admiral Harry Harris, delivering his keynote speech at the Galle Dialogue 2016, attributed Sri Lanka’s strategic importance to the US on three factors; “Location, location and location”.
Book cover by Shivshankar Menon
These words by Admiral Harris amply highlight the geopolitical importance of Sri Lanka in the Indo-Pacific region and in the global context. Former Indian National Security Adviser (NSA) and Foreign Secretary, Shiv Shankar Menon, in his book Choices, described Sri Lanka as a permanent aircraft carrier for India, in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Though this claim could politically be contentious, it transpires a geopolitical reality of the region. It is no secret that other global powers, like China and Russia, also look at Sri Lanka through a similar geopolitical lens. On the other hand, this island nation is also located amidst major sea routes in the world; just a few miles South of the Dondra head lighthouse, over 120 ships pass daily, carrying goods upon which the health of global markets depend.
In this context, it is essential for Sri Lanka to hold a pragmatic policy on strategic defence diplomacy engagements with regional and global superpowers while ensuring its sovereignty and integrity is preserved all the while respecting the national foreign policy stance of remaining non-aligned and neutral. Thus, defence diplomacy should be a considerable concern of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy.
What is Defence Diplomacy? It refers to the pursuit of foreign policy objectives through the peaceful deployment of defence resources and capabilities.
In the post-Cold War period, western defence establishments, led by the UK, created a new international security arrangement, focused on defence diplomacy. Although it originated many centuries, before the world wars, defence diplomacy is now used successfully by both the global West and the developing South to further national strategic and security interests.
The work of defence diplomacy is not limited to ‘track-one diplomacy’ (official government-led diplomacy) engagements such as defence / military attaches/ advisors at diplomatic missions abroad. Engagements, such as personnel exchanges, bilateral meetings, staff talks, training, exercises (air, land and naval), regional defence forums and ships / aircraft visits are also key in fostering track-II diplomatic engagements to bolster defence diplomacy.
Some experts note these extended engagements can be considered one of the best strategies in regional and global conflict prevention, since these interactions would enhance understanding, while diluting misconceptions between nation states.
Sri Lanka’s position at the centre of the Indian Ocean makes it an important maritime hub. The island nation’s deepwater harbours, relatively peaceful environment and the democratic governing system, have been the main attractions for many countries with strategic interests in the Indian Ocean.
Empty oil tankers sail from the East to the West to replenish, while the products from Japan, China and South Korea sail to Europe, the Gulf and Indian markets, through the major maritime routes across which Sri Lanka falls, thrusting this island nation into the heart of the global economy. But the importance of the location is not limited to economic gains; the strategic significance of Sri Lanka’s ports, due to their access to some of the key regions of the world, has garnered the attention of the world.
The popular belief is that China may soon become the most powerful global superpower. But I argue otherwise mainly due to four main factors.
·USA is still the global economic giant; its GDP still exceeds that of China by a marked difference
=The USA still dominates in terms of global military strength ranking – China comes in third
=The USA is the only country that has actively engaged in strategic areas of the six regions in the world, with its Army, Navy, Airforce and Marines deployed in all these six regions. No other country has that capability of already deployed combating forces.
=The US Navy has 11 aircraft carriers for its power projection out of the world’s 43 active aircraft carriers, but China has only two in active service while a third is being manufactured. Therefore, China has a long way to go to become a global superpower even mainly from the defence perspective.
But, one could easily argue on the fact that China is also fast aspiring to become a global superpower through a different strategy. Its overseas investments, mainly on constructions of harbors and ports as well as also ship/submarine building programs are impressive new tactics in achieving maritime prowess mainly in the southern hemisphere of the globe. Being a heavy dependant on energy supply from the Gulf to keep its economy afloat, China has two strategies in dominating the Indian Ocean, which has now become its lifeline.
The first is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping in September 2013 while speaking to the Indonesian Parliament. The BRI has now become China’s ambitious foreign policy objective for the 21st century. It’s a vision encompasses over 60 countries with a combined population of over four billion people throughout Asia, Central Asia, Indian Ocean Littoral and Europe. Sri Lanka is a major stakeholder in this BRI initiative.
China’s second strategy is not announced by China but remains a geographical hypothesis projected by the US and other western researchers in 2004 – the ‘String of Pearls’. The term refers to the network of Chinese military and commercial maritime facilities (harbors and ports) along its sea lines of communication, which extends from mainland China to the port of Sudan in the Horn of Africa. The US and Indian strategists claim that the Colombo and Hambantota harbours where Chinese presence and investments are highly visible are major parts of this strategy. Of course, China denies this hypothesis and claims that those engagements are mere investments through bilateral arrangements and insists they have nothing to do with its military interests. Nevertheless, we noticed a concerning narrative even in Sri Lanka with regard to the Chinese military presence at Hambantota port during its initial stage which was vehemently denied by both governments of Sri Lanka and China.
In this context, one can notice several defence and maritime alliances are emerging in a bid to contain China, mainly due to its aforesaid two-pronged developments. One such regional collaborative defence response is the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) – a strategic dialogue between the United States, India, Japan and Australia. The leaders of these four nations met for the first time in Washington DC in September 2021. Among these four players, Australia has adopted a much more aggressive posture, a few weeks ago in signing the AUKUS (Australia, UK and US) pact, which allows Australia to develop nuclear submarines. Though it is not publicly announced, it is clear this move is to operate in the Indian Ocean against the Chinese presence. However, this AUKUS deal did not go well due to objections from many traditional allies like France and NATO.
On the other hand, the US, Japan and India have separate collective Indo- Pacific strategies to respond to China. , outlines a strategic plan for the country’s defence interests and has awarded a special place to Sri Lanka. Accordingly, a Defence Adviser to the Australian High Commission in Colombo was appointed three years ago. It shows that our Defence diplomacy with Australia is also becoming a higher priority in our bilateral diplomatic agenda.
In this context, balancing the existing supremacy of the US and the emerging powers such as China mainly through defence diplomacy has become one of the most important aspects of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy. We may learn from Singapore, which presently serves as a logistics hub for all US Navy ships. Providing logistic support to warship visits is also a very lucrative business. It is noteworthy to mention the fact that security and stability of a country is extremely important for foreign warship visits.
Another concerning factor is the influence by our neighbor India, which does not want Sri Lanka to become a playground for its rival superpowers. Furthermore, Colombo harbour is an extremely important venue to India where 60 percent of its containerized cargo transshipments are handled. Last week, we showed the World that even the largest container-carrying ship in the world can enter and load/unload at Colombo harbour, showing promise and capacity as one of the most important ports in the world.
The most important aim of India’s foreign policy is to become a permanent member at the UN Security Council. Indian Foreign policy is said to be influenced by the teachings of Kautilya’s Arthashasthra – a statecraft treatise written by the ancient Indian philosopher and royal advisor to Emperor Chandraguptha Maurya in the 4th Century BCE.
Under whatever circumstances, Sri Lanka should be cautious to ensure that its actions do not jeopardize the security interests of India. The closest neighbor is the most important player even in our domestic lives and that argument is even greatly applicable in a country’s foreign policy formation. Next door neighbor is the fastest respondent when you are in danger or in crisis than allies thousand kilometers away and recent incidents such as the Xpress Pearl disaster have taught us that. Therefore, it may be a lesson well-remembered by Sri Lanka in deploying its foreign policy and defense diplomacy strategies in the age of the Indo-Pacific.
Azdak’s Justice: On governance, executive presidency and people’s democracy
by Sivamohan Sumathy
The Aragalaya, Porattam, Struggle is a truly people-based movement. It is messy, diverse and hugely contradictory in the views expressed, positions held. It cuts across classes, and at the same time, represents the weakest and the most oppressed. It is truly representative, on a mass scale of people’s dissent and consent. The materiality and vocalness of the Aragalaya ask for the broadest possible representation in governance. It militates against the rule of a single person, the cult like figure of the Executive President, who has far reaching, arbitrary powers.
The Executive Presidency: History
In our 74-year history as a post-colonial country, we have been living with the Executive Presidency for far longer than the Westminster model of political structure. Yet, reform of the Executive Presidency or its abolishment has been one of the key issues at almost every election and attempts at constitutional reform. The key feature of the Executive Presidency is that arbitrary powers are centred on a single political figure, lending itself to authoritarianism, and as Jayampathy Wickramratne points out, Gaullism. What it means is the near creation of a cult like charismatic figure, with power vested in the aura, the demeanour and the political stamina of a single figure. Conversely, such a focus on a single figure, has also made that office, that position a relatively unstable one, a lofty but lonely office, without equals and at the same time, without friends. As Deepika Udagama stated in the Kuppi Webinar recently, the Executive President has no place like the parliament, or the company of other parliamentarians to parley, and finesse one’s moves, where discussion could take place, feedback enjoyed. The Executive Presidency in our country has made for the destabilisation of the same office which we seem to think is the strongest and the most powerful position. So, we are also looking at a paradox, one that is not uncommon, alas.
In his series of articles in The Island, Jayampathy Wickramaratne quite cogently argued the case for why the office should be abolished. It has to be said though that all the ills of state governance cannot be laid at the feet of the Executive Presidency. In fact, both Wickramaratne and Udagama argue that centralisation of the state commences with the first Republican constitution of 1972, and not with the ’78 second republican one. The unitary state, and the clause that grants Buddhism the foremost place and the enshrinement of Sinhala as the only official language sealing the pronouncement of “Sinhala Only”, as Wickramaratne argues, sets the constitution off on the path of the centralised state.
Executive Presidency and political society
With the inauguration of the Executive Presidency, the key term of negotiation within political society shifted from a focus on Parties, characterised by lateral level relations, rank and file lobbying, distinctive ideological preoccupations, political constituencies, and mobilisation by activists with their strong ideological, familial and community based bonds TO a politics centred on figures, even at the lower levels. Firstly, it strengthened a politics of patronage (eclipsing other modes of mobilisation), a politics centred on individuals or a set of individuals known for their proximity to central authorities, secondly, instituted links between the centre and the periphery, or authority and the people, not through the MPs and political organisations, but organisations that undermined MPs, and other political bodies, such as Viyathmaga or Divi Neguma – Livelihood Upliftment programme, and thirdly, instituted a politics of disbursement of perks, favours and positions, and a simultaneous undermining of welfare measures. This shift helped create a group of people at the bottom beholden to those at the top. So, from Top to Bottom, lines of engagement between political figures and the people became lines of patronage, centred on individual figures, families of individuals. At its worst, and that’s what we have now come to experience with shock, is a total disconnect between the MPs, and members of local political bodies, and the people. So, while parties continue to function, they are stepping stones to power and the corrupting influence of governance, and not of building cohesive social groups at the village or town level. We also see a shift from understanding political governance as a democratic act to understanding governance as an abstract concept and as power sharing; not as devolution of power to the lower levels of political society. It is within this framework, the 13th Amendment, and the Provincial Councils, came to function and function rather badly. Patronage politics were further strengthened and devolution of power was never really about devolution.
The current juncture
We are in the midst of a revolution. We may not think so, but we need to understand it as a revolution. But like at all revolutionary times, there could be a pull- back, a roll- back. Only a few weeks ago, the violent and authoritarian political forces that were at bay, have regrouped at the top. Violent attacks on protestors and arbitrary arrests have recommenced. There are incipient signs of people being disappeared – again, after a hiatus of some years, post war. It is corrupt business as usual in the parliament. With shock we realise the scale of the powers of the Executive Presidency.
Two aspects of the political dominate our discussion and inform our anxieties. The economy and governance. Where governance is concerned, the Executive Presidency is what requires immediate and urgent attending to. It needs to be abolished. This call enables us, the people, to reconnect to the political, governance, authority at the deepest level possible today. It is a revolutionary call for democratic change.
Beyond the Executive Presidency and Parliamentary Democracy
It may be dangerous to stop at the call to abolish Executive Presidency. We need to assure ourselves and assume certain positions of power for ourselves in deliberate ways. For parliament to be truly representative, there have to be initiatives and processes that complement parliamentary deomocracy within both political and civil society. I flag some of the moves that could lead to participatory democracy in a more direct fashion.
To abolish the Executive Presidency, we need constitutional reform. However, we need to go beyond that and think of constitution-making as a simultaneous process. It is a process in which all peoples of Sri Lanka should be engaged at some level. At the moment, we are totally engulfed by the legalist understanding of the constitution, constitutional provisions and what is possible and not possible. Constitution making shall centre people’s concerns, not merely as rights, as we do now, but as polities and as direct participation in governance.
Modes of participatory democracy have to be explored in all seriousness. We have already experimented with independent councils and commissions, most of which have been abolished by the 20th Amendment. But even if they are to be brought back, and are to be supported by Expert Committees, as has been suggested elsewhere, they hardly represent subaltern agency. In addition to the commissions, we need to think about mechanisms like People’s Councils and a Shadow Government.
People’s council as an idea has gained much traction, but one is keenly aware that it is in practice, a messy, fuzzy one. Hasini Lecamwasam in her Kuppi Intervention in The Island, last month, outlined the way People’s Councils may be envisioned; as a tiered system that both supports and challenges the parliament’s acts.
A shadow government prepares the people for governance; to take up the challenge of holding all those in authority accountable to the people. A shadow government will run parallel and be outside of the constitutional structure. A shadow government is also shadowy; one may not know what it is. People’s councils and People’s shadow government should be envisioned as the twin mechanisms and processes of a truly democratic process.
People’s participation in governance is democracy for all; and that democracy is what I would call People’s Justice. We should seize this revolutionary moment by its horns, and create an act that is not a parody of Grusha’s crossing the river, a metaphor for the agency of the subaltern, arrogantly appropriated by Ranil Wickramasinghe to justify his authoritarianism, but one that is truly revolutionary. It is Azdak’s justice: a quixotic moment of judicial order that empowers and underlies Grusha’s subversion of authority.
Interventions on the current political and economic crisis is a Kuppi Initiative
Herath: COPE dissolution must not hinder probe into economic crisis
JVP: Both President and ruling party MPs must be sent home
Stakeholders’ proposals to be made available
‘Dates have the highest sugar content to fight Coronavirus’
U.S. Congress to probe assets fleecing by US citizens of Sri Lankan origin
Sunday Island 27 December – Headlines
News3 days ago
The brother’s saga according to Mahinda
News3 days ago
FSP vows to fight back
News4 days ago
SJB challenges clearing of MP on the basis of committee report
News7 days ago
Sampanthan, Wimal, Champika ready to join all-party govt.
News6 days ago
How tax revision that caused revenue loss of Rs 500-600 bn triggered collapse …
News2 days ago
Ranil claims some TNA MPs “voted for me”
Editorial7 days ago
Hold your horses!
News6 days ago
Govt. retains two foreign firms to restructure ISBs