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Undemocratic moves abusing the ‘democratic’ constitution

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By Keith Noyahr

The 1972 Socialist Republic Constitution that was ushered in 50 years ago was replaced by a presidential constitution in 1978 after United National Party led by J.R. Jayewardene obtained a sweeping mandate and an unprecedented five sixth majority at the general election of 1977. He had carte blanche from the people to do whatever he wished. The Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka was promulgated in 1978 by Jayewardene who had long advocated a strong executive and included it in the UNP manifesto for that election. He became the first non-elected executive president of Sri Lanka. The charismatic leader went on to become the first elected executive president at the next presidential elections notwithstanding the anti-incumbency factor.

Jayewardene’s nephew Ranil Wickremesinghe, on the other hand, who lacks the charisma to win a presidential election, has become the acting President in the most undemocratic way, undermining the very democratic title of the supreme law of the land. Wickremesinghe contested the 2005 presidential election and lost to Mahinda Rajapaksa. He stood down from running for president as the UNP leader on three subsequent occasions. First, he backed Sarath Fonseka against Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2010. Then he backed Maithripala Sirisena as a common opposition candidate in 2015. Finally, he conceded his party’s presidential ticket to his deputy, Sajith Premadasa in 2019 retaining the UNP leadership.

Firstly, he wasn’t elected directly by the people at the last presidential election and did not run at successive presidential elections. Secondly, he was rejected by the people at the last general election. The catchall United National Party that he led for decades secured a meagre two per cent of the entire island-wide vote. Through a bonus seat, Wickremesinghe sneaked into parliament without making way for a younger member. He bided his time until he found an opportune moment to snatch the second highest position in the executive by offering an unpopular government a respite. This is despite holding that office previously on four occasions.

He secured the No. 2 position possibly with an eye on the plum job, sensing the writing was on the wall for the Rajapaksas. However, he took up the office of prime minister, ostensibly promising to deliver and alleviate the suffering of the people. He failed the people miserably. However, Wickremesinghe used this position in Machiavellian style to advance the exit of the president by openly suggesting the incumbent government brought about the country’s bankruptcy, making the IMF bailout a herculean task to secure. He did this in parliament in the presence of President Rajapaksa who was taken aback by the repeated “bankrupt” admission. In the face of opposition booing and a stab in the back by his prime minister (who by a single speech silenced the government benches), a crestfallen defeatist president made a hurried exit out of parliament, foreshadowing his exit from the presidency.

The constitution requires that the prime minister appointed by the president commands a majority in the House, making Wickremesinghe’s appointment as PM in the first place unconstitutional. In the past, we have had prime ministers commanding the confidence of the House with a wafer-thin majority, but never a solitary MP of a party becoming prime minister. That speaks volumes for the democratic nature of the constitution, famously dubbed a bahubootha constitution by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga. Many including Kumaratunga promised to repeal the constitution, but to no avail. Kumaratunga blamed Wickremesinghe for not cooperating as prime minister in the cohabitation government to end the executive presidency. That was a lot of work done on the abolition process that only required the tacit approval of Wickremesinghe. One may question whether he blocked this due to aspirations he had to the highest office, after failing to secure it at successive attempts.

It is never too late to abolish the executive presidency, the bane of the country, given its tendency to create constitutional dictatorships. In its present form, there are limited checks and balances on the all-powerful executive presidency guaranteed by the 20th Amendment. The same two-thirds majority must be used to wind down these powers for if the presidency falls into the hands of an authoritarian leader, it could prove disastrous. With the benefit of hindsight, the hybrid constitution was unwarranted as a bi-cameral parliamentary Westminster system suits the country best. After constitutional dictatorships by Ranasinghe Premadasa that led to an impeachment process and Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the mantle of acting presidency has fallen on Wickremesinghe, who has been gifted another feather in his political cap.

Ex-presidents can be a drain on the country’s coffers as they are entitled to a pension, a security detail befitting a president for life and an official residence and staff to boot. While many hail Wickremesinghe as a record holder five-times prime minister, little is spoken about the records he broke as the oft-defeated leader at the hustings. While it must be conceded that Wickremesinghe was one effective prime minister in the past (not in this recent stint), it could be said he was the most ineffective leader of the opposition in post-independence history.

In countries like Australia when a prime ministerial candidate is defeated at the hustings, he/she steps aside to enable a new leader to take over the reins of the party. Labor Party leader Bill Shorten, who was narrowly defeated by Liberal Party leader Scott Morrison in 2019, made way for Anthony Albanese as the new party leader, who went on to defeat Morrison at the recently concluded 2022 general elections. Morrison, despite his hobnobbing with the global political elite, bowed to the wishes of the people and stepped aside from the Liberal Party leadership, making way for a former police officer Peter Dutton to become the new party leader and leader of the opposition.

This is democracy at the level of party. The United States goes further, requiring the successful presidential candidate to go through gruelling primaries or caucuses over a year. This is democracy at its height where grassroots party supporters determine their candidate of choice in the first place. Many are screened by the people until one prevails. However, that cannot be said of the routed UNP that had a life leader in Wickremasinghe. He failed to announce the party’s presidential candidate Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa well into the 2019 presidential campaign, giving Gotabhaya Rajapaksa an undue advantage and a convincing presidential victory and an ensuing landslide two-thirds majority. This led to many stalwarts deserting the grand old party and forming a the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) that became the largest opposition party.

The 2015 good governance coalition of Sri Lanka Freedom Party and United National Party led by President Maithripala Sirisena and a Ranil Wickremasinghe government failed to deliver on pledges to bring to justice corrupt politicians and officials of the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration, giving the Rajapaksas breathing space. The Rajapaksas returned with a vengeance under Gotabaya as president and Mahinda as Prime Minister and continued their corrupt practices unabated, running the economy to the ground. Finally, the people threw them out by a peaceful revolution in an act of direct democracy.

Rousseau’s social contract for legitimate political power has completely failed. The president has lost his legitimacy even after securing a two thirds majority and amending the constitution to do away with checks and balances to greedily wield unbridled power. This failed president, in the eyes of the people, has appointed Ranil Wickremesinghe as the acting president. Where is the legitimacy? The people’s slogan was enlarged from Go Home Gota to Maina Go Gama and finally Go Home Ranil. While the two Rajapaksas and their siblings were forced to flee politics and the country, Ranil dismisses the slogan in light vein, saying he has no place to go than Colombo. Let Wickremesinghe, who holds in high esteem the British parliamentary traditions, take a leaf from several British prime ministers from both major parties in recent years who bowed to the wishes of senior party members. The latest UK PM to resign is Boris Johnson over waning popularity from the fallout over violating Covid regulations by having a party. Mind you, Johnson had one great feat: he was able to ensure Brexit for his country after his predecessors failed. Our Wickremesinghe has no successes to show but will shamelessly dig in for the Guinness records.

Wickremesinghe and Sirisena have to both share the blame for the failed good governance term that brought in the Rajapaksas. Sirisena secured his seat in the legislature but failed the country as president. It was under his watch that the 2019 Easter bombings took place despite ample intelligence warnings. While the duo failed to cooperate, the Central Bank Bond scam rocked the government. Wickremesinghe’s Central Bank Governor nominee Arjuna Mahendran had interfered in a bond auction by leaking inside information to Perpetual Treasuries, owned by his son-in-law Arjun Aloysius, enabling the company to make billions of rupees.

This same Wickremesinghe has become the prime minister through the back door and now the acting president without even winning his parliamentary seat and not facing a presidential election. Mahendran domiciled in Singapore recently had the audacity to comment on the country’s current economic failure in an interview with CNN. Talking of Central Bank governors, Nivard Cabral easily ranks the lowest in post-independence history. On matters finance, the country has had ministers who have had no clue about handling that all-important cabinet portfolio. Some of them only knew how to empty the state coffers into their ever-deepening pockets.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was taken by surprise that the economy would crash during his innings. Otherwise, he would never have given effect to the unprecedented tax cuts. Today, the country is bankrupt, and we can’t even negotiate a loan with creditors as our credit ratings have plummeted.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa symbolically failed to complete 33 months as president after failing to get to the bottom of the 2019 mass slaughter of Christians, who were commemorating the resurrection of their leader Jesus Christ—the greatest non-violent revolutionary leader in history. He was assassinated at the age of 33. Gotabaya’s presidency ended in 32 months. Rajapaksa rode to power on a security plank, preying on praying Christians slaughtered at their shrines, but in the end could not even provide security for himself and was forced to flee the presidential secretariat on July 9 and the country in ignominy. People’s power prevailed and the strongman chickened out.

After Mahinda Rajapaksa was relieved from the duties of Prime Minister on May 9, the position should have been given to Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, in keeping with the Westminster parliamentary tradition, as the chief opposition party is deemed her Majesty’s Alternative Government. Wickremasinghe, who is an astute observer of parliamentary tradition, should have not hastily accepted the premiership but informed the president of the proper protocol and tradition.

The head of the official bar, Attorney General President’s Counsel Sanjay Rajaratnam, too has failed in his duty as the chief legal advisor. The head of the unofficial bar Saliya Peiris, PC, and the BASL stepped in to provide clarity on legal issues. When President Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated in 1993, Attorney General Tilak Marapana, PC, provided valuable guidance to the sitting Prime Minister D.B. Wijetunga, who was sworn in as the acting president in a smooth transition of power.

More than ever before, Sri Lanka needs this smooth transition if the country is to attract an IMF bailout as a bankrupt state to provide for basic essentials and restructure debts. The ruling SLPP has lost its legitimacy in the eyes of the people, who are sovereign. Currently an interim national government from existing MPs seems the prudent way out of the impasse. An early general election following a constitutionally valid dissolution is important to have a new social contract and legitimacy to govern. Those winning office must vow to recover lost monies and expose those involved in the Easter bombings and not let them go scot free as newly elected governments have done time and again.

Unlike previously, political parties, when drawing up manifestos, must factor in the wishes of the protesting masses for meaningful governance. Their voices for system change should be heard and incorporated. Politicking and false and unrealistic promises to capture power must be a thing of the past if we are to raise our heads as a nation. There is no place for religious and ethnic bigotry in post-Aragalaya Sri Lanka as the country has to build from scratch to survive as a nation or sink in the Indian Ocean.

(The writer, then Associate Editor of the Nation, was abducted and tortured by agents of the state in May 2008 but due to the efforts of his friends and colleagues was rescued in the nick of time. He now lives in Australia with his family)



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Politics

A brave new world

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By Uditha Devapriya

Divided from the Indian subcontinent, yet also deeply connected to it, Sri Lanka has never had an opportunity of forging and shaping a foreign policy of its own. The high point of its foreign relations, under the three Bandaranaike administrations over a period of 20 years, did signal an effort, and a sincere one, towards this end. Yet with the election of a staunchly pro-Western government in 1977, the emphasis on non-alignment that had been a hallmark of the island’s foreign policy ruptured, never to be regained or restored.

Of course, commentators would contend that Sri Lanka need not be non-aligned. They would also point out that non-alignment, in itself, doesn’t preclude making choices and siding with friends. The fact that the country lead the Non-Aligned Movement, at its peak years in the 1960s and 1970s, did not prevent it from privileging one set of interests over another: this is why, and how, while forging a close relationship with the Indira Gandhi administration, the United Front regime (1970-1977) was able to balance its ties with Pakistan vis-à-vis the 1971 War in Bangladesh and the West vis-à-vis the Soviet Union.

In actual fact, the former colonies of Asia and Africa did not, in the wake of decolonisation, explicitly ally themselves with either side of the Cold War. Ideologically many if not most of them adhered to a socialist economic system, or something that could pass for one. But this didn’t always mean they bandwagoned with the socialist bloc, or, conversely, alienated the Western front. Gamal Abdel Nasser’s attempts at obtaining American funding for the Aswan Dam, and Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s ability to enlist Western aid against the 1971 insurgency, showed that the indigenous elites in these ex-colonies did not [always] identify their foreign relations with one side of the Cold War to the exclusion of the other.

For its part the socialist Left went along with these trends. Throughout the Third World, particularly in countries like Sri Lanka, where traditional Marxist categories did not make sense, the [significantly non-Communist] Left advocated alignments with parties which were, from a Marxist perspective, hardly radical or revolutionary. The LSSP advocated no contest pacts and later agreements and alliances with the SLFP, while Nasser carried on a troubled, ambivalent relationship with the Communist Party. It was only logical to expect a similarly ambivalent stand on foreign policy from these formations.

It wasn’t just those groups, of course; even the strongholds and heartlands of the ideologies and tendencies they stood for often deviated from the orthodox line. Thus, the Maoists in Ceylon, while holding the line against the Sirimavo Bandaranaike government, could not quite withstand China’s decision to provide that regime with military aid against the 1971 insurrection. Internationally, it could not tide over or come to terms with the shock of Deng Xiaoping’s reforms. In foreign policy as in domestic policies, discretion frequently took the better part of valour; ideological abstractions did play a part, but they were often dispensed with in the interests of better relations with other countries.

The lines that had been drawn during the Cold War sharpened considerably in the 1970s and 1980s across Asia and America, often disrupting the political divisions that had been drawn for decades in these countries. In Sri Lanka the election of a leftwing government failed to prevent an uprising among radical Left university graduates. Four years later, that avowedly leftwing government splintered, leading to the expulsion of the two oldest Left parties in the country. Neoliberal authoritarianism, of the sort which had been installed via covert US support in Chile, became a fact of life in 1977. The rhetoric of non-alignment and neutrality, evoked so frequently once, became passe now.

In Sri Lanka, the first and second waves of neo-liberal authoritarianism – the two UNP administrations of J. R. Jayewardene and Ranasinghe Premadasa – would be followed by the election of a Clintonian Third Way Centrist regime, led by the daughter of the same lady associated with the country’s dalliance with socialism. Under Chandrika Kumaratunga Sri Lanka’s nonaligned credentials were restored, yet never to the same extent as before: it was under Kumaratunga, after all, that Israel established an Embassy in Colombo, more or less breaching Sri Lanka’s commitment to the Palestinian cause, which had been a hallmark and a motif of the Non-aligned Movement at its very inception.

It’s tempting to argue that none of these changes could have come about without the end of the Cold War. To say that is to assume that the end of the Cold War came about because of one set of forces triumphing over all others. For a brief time in history, from 1991 to 2001, the United States enjoyed its peak years: what Charles Krauthammer called, not unfittingly, the “Unipolar Movement.” For some it was the end of history, for others it was the victory of liberal democracy. In this brave new liberal world, we were told, power no longer had a say in international relations: hence the many calls, deplored by diplomats such as the late Gamani Corea, to do away with institutions like UNCTAD and NAM.

This argument has many pitfalls, not all of which deserve mentioning here. I would contend that the unipolar moment came to an end in 2001, when two planes rammed into the World Trade Center in New York, the capital of liberal internationalism. What began in 2001 more or less culminated in January 2022, when Vladimir Putin recognised two breakaway regions in Ukraine and kickstarted a war that continues to redefine the frontiers of geopolitics in the present century. Viewed for long as a dependable friend of the West, Putin has now turned into a symbol of the continuing relevance of power in geopolitics: a point which suggests the Cold War never ended, and the old lines and distinctions still linger.

By all accounts, the new Cold War is different from the old. The clash today is not between two superpowers, but between various powers vying over different interests. The world was simpler then. It is more complicated now. While major powers like India and China vie with each other for dominance over specific regions and interests, developments like the Russia-Ukraine War have brought them to the same table. Xi Jinping’s congratulatory missive to the new Indian President and Wang Yi’s meeting with Delhi’s Ambassador to Beijing should not be taken as mere formalities, nor should Indian Foreign Affairs Minister Jaishankar’s remarks be taken as ramblings of an annoyed government official. These episodes suggest clearly the complexities of geopolitics, where, more than the days when the world was divided into two warring halves, there are no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.

Sri Lanka so far has not been fortunate enough to benefit from these developments. It has been guided by a philosophy which died in 2001, a philosophy adhered to by the most zealous advocates of liberal internationalism: those who believe that Western rhetoric on human rights and democracy is what it purports to be and nothing else. As Rajiva Wijesinha has noted in Representing Sri Lanka, a book that deserves to be read closely, these groups make up a considerable part of our foreign policy establishment: a fact which has precluded the country from making some much needed choices in foreign relations.

In his book Wijesinha lambasts two tendencies within the foreign policy establishment in Sri Lanka: a line that hedges all bets for the country’s future on relations with the West, and a line that shirks and demonises the West and seemingly “Western” abstractions like human rights and democracy. As Dayan Jayatilleka has pointed out only too eloquently, the former line almost lost us the war, while the latter has line lost us a durable peace. The result has been a grand mess, where, in a never-ending cycle, we latch ourselves onto one or another major power, only to switch sides unceremoniously to another power while neglecting the concerns of our ex-partners. The recent fracas over the Chinese “spy” vessel is the latest in a series of faux pas that will, I suspect, continue for quite some time.

Stripped of all abstractions, foreign policy is but a manifestation of a country’s interests. Trapped in the past, Sri Lanka is yet to come to terms with this fact. But in the face of an unprecedented crisis, it cannot afford to think this way any longer. It must take stock of what is happening outside, and realise that what matters is what we need. And what we need now is a foreign policy that coheres with our interests.

The writer is an international relations analyst, researcher, and columnist who can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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Crime and Punishment In Sri Lanka – Where is the Equity ?

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By Anura Gunasekera

Recently, the Kegalle High Court Trial at Bar, on conclusion of the December 2018 Mawanella Buddha statue damaging case, conducted under the Prevention of Terrorism( Temporary Provisions) Act, has passed sentences of varying severity, on the accused who have admitted culpability. Three of the accused have been discharged and the cases against two fixed for further inquiry

Moving back to the period between June 2014 and March 2018, rioting Sinhala mobs, incited or led by Buddhist priests, destroyed or damaged hundreds of Muslim owned businesses, private homes, vehicles, and a couple of mosques, in Aluthagama, Digana and Panadura. Seven people were killed, six of them Muslims. The cost of the damage to assets, owned mostly by Muslims, would be, conservatively, in billions of rupees. Any forensic investigation of the Aluthgama carnage was pre-empted by forces personnel quickly cleaning up the scene of the crime, before investigations could begin, apparently on the orders of former President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, then Secretary of Defence.

As far as I am aware, not one person has been convicted for any of the above crimes, though much of the destruction is reported to have been caused, in full view of armed police and the forces. There have also been allegations of active assistance provided by uniformed police to the rioting mobs. Two Buddhist priests, Galagoda Athhe Gnanasara and Ampitiye Sumanarathana, publicly associated with the incidents, have been ignored by the law. In fact, in 2020, the Galagoda monk was appointed by then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, as the chairman of the “One Country, One Law” task force.

Amit Weerasinghe, leader of the “Mahason Balakaya”, a Sinhala-Buddhist extremist entity associated with the riots, was arrested and released. It is not clear whether any action was filed against him. More than a 100 individuals, all from the majority community, arrested in connection with the incidents of anti-Muslim violence described above, were enlarged on bail at the respective first hearings. However, 45 individuals, all Muslims without prior criminal records, arrested in connection with the Mawanella affair, were held in remand custody for forty two months, though there were no eyewitnesses to the related incidents.

Jude Jayamaha, convicted murderer sentenced to death in 2012, was pardoned in 2019 by then President Maithripala. Army Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake, sentenced to death for the torture/murder of a Tamil civilian family of eight, was given a “full presidential pardon” by former president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in 2020. Former member of parliament and close associate of president Gotabaya, Duminda Silva, sentenced to death for complicity in murder, benefited from a “special presidential pardon” , extended by GR in June 2021, which also included over a hundred other prisoners. However, Silva has been rearrested in May 2022, on a Supreme Court order suspending the pardon.

In the meantime, the loose-tongued MP, Ranjan Ramanayake, has so far spent one year of a four-year sentence for contempt of court. I am open to correction by those who know the law better but, as I understand it, his sentence is based on a provision of the Penal Code, which dates back to a 19th century statute. However, it is a fact that most mature democracies have moved on from such archaic legal provisions, and now permit robust and reasonable debate in regard to matters pertaining to the judiciary itself.

Also relevant is the case of Lasantha Wickrematunge, and the many other journalists and anti-government activists, featured in the list of the murdered regime-critics over the last three decades, now simply names in a long and sad litany of unsolved crimes. There are the thousands of civilians who disappeared during our long war, and in the course of the suppression of two consecutive Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna uprisings; over 700 Sri Lankan policemen were murdered by the LTTE, in June 1990, after surrendering to them on the orders of the then President, Ranasinghe Premadasa, conveyed through then Inspector General of Police, Ernest Perera. The absence of an in-depth investigation in to this incident is, perhaps, due to the fact that the alleged mastermind- according to Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka- Vinayagamoorthy Muralidaran of the LTTE, subsequently became a government ally.

In fact, a review of unsolved murders and extra-judicial killings since the beginning of the Eelam war, would require a separate volume. The land that the Buddha is supposed to have consecrated with several personal visits is, truly, very bloody, underfoot.

In more recent events, parliamentarian Prasanna Ranatunge, heavily fined and sentenced to a suspended sentence, for attempting to extort money under threat from a businessman, has been appointed Minister of Urban Development and Housing, by President Wickremesinghe. Nimal Siripala de Silva, who resigned his cabinet portfolio pending investigation in to a major bribery charge (reportedly conveyed to then president Gotabaya by Japan’s ambassador), has been “acquitted”- by a panel led by former High Court judge, Kusala Sarojini Weerawardane, on conclusion of what must be the speediest of such investigations conducted in decades; just one week! Within a day of this miraculous “acquittal”, he is reappointed to the cabinet by President Wickremesinghe, as Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation.

The two actions by the new president makes a mockery of a key assurance given by him regarding the elimination of bribery and corruption during his maiden address to parliament. How does one conflate that noble pledge with the elevation of two individuals, one patently corrupt and the other allegedly so? That situation is decidedly worse than the case of former state minister, Lohan Ratwatte, whose forcible entry in to Welikada and Anuradhapura prisons, was investigated- with no conclusive outcome- by the same lady.

All of the above is a preamble to the current situation. Wickremesinghe, immediately upon assuming the acting presidency, declared a state of emergency and enabled the arrest of a number of individuals seen as leaders of the “Aragalaya”, the movement which actually paved the way for his presidential appointment. Apart from Joseph Stalin (General Secretary, Ceylon Teachers’ Union), Fr Jeewantha Pieris, Wasantha Mudalige ( Convener, Inter-University Students’ Federation) Eranga Gunasekera( National Organizer for “Socialist Youth Union”) and Lahiru Weerasekera (National Organizer for “Youth for Change”), four protesters “loitering” around the Bandaranaike statue at Galle Face, and a few who have been identified as having entered the Presidential Secretariat and the President’s House, have also been taken in.

In the greater scheme of things the “crimes” attributed to these individuals are clearly low level misdemeanors. Proven damage to premises and content are crimes which must be punished, but relaxing on the president’s bed and sitting in the president’s chair are not major crimes, though the latter have been classified as ” terrorist acts”.

Compare the above with the events which took place in parliament , on November 15, 2018, when members of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s party physically attacked the then Speaker, Karu Jayasuriya. At the fore-front of the aggression were then ministers, Johnston Fernando and Mahindanda Aluthgamage, who attacked the police who tried to restore order. Arundhika Fernando occupied the Speaker’s chair and was seen being smilingly felicitated by MP Pavithra Wanniarachchi. All these events have been caught on video-film as indisputable evidence. Despite the desecration of the very seat of governance by the lawmakers themselves, no action was taken against those guilty. Let us also not forget the May 9 attack on unarmed activists at Galle Face, in which Mahinda Rajapaksa and Johnston Fernando were clearly complicit.

Since April this year six dead bodies have washed up ashore along the Colombo district coastline. The police have been very quick to attribute these incidents, and other recent murders in and around the Colombo district, to drug-related violence, though results of investigations have not been made public. Surprisingly, these incidents appear to have slid under the radar of routine news reporting, with minimal mention in the media.

One can also add the “Bond Scam” of 2015, involving the current president’s then Central Bank Governor appointee, Arjuna Mahendran, the “Sugar Scam” of 2020, the shambolic “Greek Bonds” affair of 2012, under the stewardship of then Central Bank Governor, Nivard Cabraal and the controversial settlement of International Sovereign Bonds in January 2022, again under the supervision of Cabraal in his second term as CB governor. However, Mahendran, hiding from the law in plain sight, is safely delivering profound statements on the economy of Sri Lanka to, international media, the profiteers from the sugar deal have not been dealt with despite recommendations by the National Audit Office, and Cabraal, still unscathed, is living in seclusion.

And what of the Rs 17.8 in cash, discovered in the President’s House by the Aragalists and handed over to the Fort Police on July 9, but produced in court by the police only on July 29? Where did the Fort OIC store this cash in the interim? Will former president Gotabaya, as head of the presidential household, be asked to explain the source of the cash and the reasons for its retention?

The point of this narration is to highlight the glaring inequity, in the application of the same body of law, in the context of social and economic position, proximity to those in power, personal political significance, and ethnicity. It would seem that the wheels of justice grind slowly, and selectively, subject to the above considerations.

President Wickremesinghe’s pious sentiments about combatting crime and corruption, are simply echoes of similar statements made by previous leaders of the country, in successive regimes, which have condoned colossal crimes and acts of corruption. Collectively, they have contributed to the present economic disaster, and the humiliating position of Sri Lanka in the global Human Rights Violation index. After 75 years of independence and “democratic” governance, Sri Lanka occupies the 112th position (in the 3rd quartrile), in the Global Freedom Index of 2022, behind Sierra Leone, Belarus, Kenya and Lebanon. The ongoing repressive measures being implemented by a supposedly liberal president, is likely to result in a further downgrading before long.

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PROPPING-UP THIS PRESIDENT IS A PRESCRIPTION FOR POLITICAL SUICIDE

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DR. DAYAN JAYATILLEKA

In one dimension, Sri Lankan politics is a tale of cross-party political collaboration that should have taken place but didn’t, and those that shouldn’t have taken place but did.The two varying yet intermittently intertwining story-lines have widely discrepant endings, though. Collaborations that should have taken place but didn’t are stories of what might have been and wasn’t. What might have been is often better than what actually was.By contrast, stories of collaboration that should not have taken place but did, are stories of disasters that were avoidable but weren’t.

Sometimes the collaborations that should have been preceded those that should not have been but were acted upon. These are particularly poignant because an alliance or political equation that had the potential of leading to something positive, was immediately substituted by an equation which culminated in catastrophe.

There is another, inner connection. It is the causal link between the alliances that should have been made and weren’t, that led to lost potential, which was then sought to be offset by alliances that should not have been entered into but were, with worse consequences than the stagnation sought to be avoided or offset by entering into them.

The Left was never as strong as it was after the General Election of 1947. If the discussion at H. Sri Nissanka’s residence ‘Yamuna’ succeed and a bloc had formed of the three left parties—the LSSP, CP and the BLP—and the independent progressives, Ceylon would have had a left oriented Government which would have taken the country on a Nehruvian or ‘left-Nehruvian’ path.

Having rejected that option, the same leftist parties were later reviled, and correctly so, for having clung to “Sirima’s sari pota” and electorally decimated where they remain to this very day. Just recently, and incredibly, their residues voted for Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Emergency under which the Aragalaya activists are being arrested.

After the magnificent Hartal of August 1953, the political parties that participated and supported it failed to unite in a single bloc. The result was that SWRD’s SLFP fell prey to the temptation of Sinhala Only, lobbied for by a civil society caucus led by Prof GP Malalasekara and the All- Ceylon Buddhist Congress he chaired, riding the surf of the Buddha Jayanthi and the ACBC report.

When SWRD tried to compensate by course-correction through the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam pact, the Left didn’t come forward to enter a bloc with him in support. Ironically the same left entered a united front with his far less progressive widow and enthroned Sinhala only in the 1972 Constitution.

The Left finally entered a United Front in 1963, accompanied by the unification of the left-led trade union movement. The united left won the Borella by-election that year. In 1964 the LSSP broke the left front and joined Mrs. Bandaranaike’s cabinet. In 1968, in place of a reunified Left, the CPSL joined the LSSP in a coalition with the SLFP, holding a joint rally in Bogambara.The resultant vacuum on the left permitted the birth and rapid growth of the JVP.

Fifteen years after the LSSP’s co-optation and nine years after the CPSL’s, the entire old left had been electorally wiped out, with Philip Gunawardena who had joined a UNP cabinet, having been electorally eliminated earlier in 1970.I could go on. The moral of the story is simple. Left unity is a good thing and left disunity is not. Left and the unity with progressive independents is a good thing and its absence is not. The Left uniting with a center party under left dominance is bad but doing so on an equal footing, isn’t.The Left uniting with a dominant center party, i.e., with the SLFP in 1964 and 1970-1975/’77, is a terrible thing.

A center-left or center party uniting with a rightwing or center-right party is a bad thing. President Sirisena and the SLFP learned that lesson the hard way and the current trend of the SLPP opting for Ranil Wickremesinghe over Dullas Alahapperuma, the SLFP and the 10-parties being drawn into President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s orbit, having voted for his draconian Emergency (the SLFP was absent), will prove electorally fatal.

TAMIL PARTIES

The Tamil parties have a sad history of supporting the rightwing UNP which inevitably winds up unpopular and the target of a huge backlash. The presence of the Tamil parties in a bloc with the UNP, unfortunately facilitates an utterly reprehensible entry of Sinhala chauvinism into the anti-government backlash.

It is utterly counterproductive for the Tamil parties to be in an elitist UNP bloc. It was the presence of those parties in the UNP-led seven-party national Government of 1965-1970 that facilitated the opportunistic or semi-spontaneous injection of Sinhala ethno-populism into the Opposition campaign of the second half of the 1960s, which even more horridly, culminated in the official Sinhala racism after it assumed office, e.g., media-wise and district-wise Standardization of university entrance, the hegemonistic status of Sinhala and Buddhism in the 1972 Constitution.

The Tamil parties should think twice before being enticed into an alliance, de jure or de facto, with the unelected, illegitimate president Ranil Wickremesinghe who will cause a further spike in unprecedentedly high social disaffection by his economic “shock therapy”. It could cause a toxic cocktail as Sir John’s Delft speech did.

TODAY’S OPPOSITION

What would have happened to any Opposition political party that joined, propped up or let itself be drawn into the orbit of the hawkish UNP administration of Sir John Kotelawala after the Hartal of August 1953?

What if SWRD Bandaranaike, having left the UNP in 1951, helped it in 1953, after chairing the Hartal rally on Galle Face Green, though the SLFP didn’t participate in the Hartal?

The answers of these counterfactual history questions are obvious. Any such party which became a de jure or de facto prop (“mukkuwa”) of the Hartal-hit Establishment which had a harder-line post-Hartal leader, would have been committing political suicide.Had SWRD Bandaranaike done so, he would not have been the beneficiary of the anti-Establishment tectonic shift caused or denoted by the Hartal and swept into office through the Silent Revolution of 1956.

Why then are the Opposition parties of today doing or contemplating something even more colossally stupid, of joining, supporting or collaborating with the UNP leader of the Aragalaya-hit Establishment? It is suicidal for two reasons:

Firstly, the leader in question is utterly unelected, totally devoid of a popular mandate, and is therefore a completely illegitimate (though not illegal) ruler.Secondly, he will drive through a controversial and polarizing economic program, which will sink any party associated with it.Meanwhile, the failure of the pro-Aragalaya parties, the JVP, FSP, SJB and TNA, to unite is a repetition of the failure of the pro-Hartal parties to do so in 1953-1956.

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