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Opinion

UNP at 75, SLFP at 70

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By Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

From a party that made history, today the UNP is history. The last chance it had, it blew. That was in 2019 when it had the chance to do what it had done in 1988: give the Presidential candidacy and the party’s leadership to the party’s Deputy Leader Premadasa.

Instead, his son and UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa was grudgingly given the candidacy weeks after Gotabaya Rajapaksa had started campaigning, Ranil retained the UNP leadership, put it about publicly that he would be the PM if Sajith won, let it be said that a UNP government would sign the controversial MCC.

Unlike his father who narrated his own manifesto, based on his distinctive ideas as contained in publications, dating back to 1957, to Susil Sirivardhana, who produced eight drafts, Sajith Premadasa had to set aside the bulky policy dossier prepared during 2019 by a group comprising 50 PhDs in a process of deliberation, chaired by Sajith and convened by Dr Mahim Mendis, a committed social-democrat.

Instead, he ran on a UNP manifesto which was not bespoke-tailored to fit the (Sajith) Premadasa candidacy, was asymmetrical with his style and discourse on stage. It was a UNP straitjacket; technocratic and tepid, when it wasn’t tripping-out or frilly.

Ranasinghe Premadasa’s winning UNP manifesto of 1988 represented studied discontinuity, conscious rupture, with the profile and discourse of a discredited UNP administration besieged by Sinhala nationalism. Sajith’s UNP manifesto of 2019 represented its opposite: more continuity than discontinuity with the disastrous discourse and policies of a UNP administration and leadership on the verge of electoral extinction.

Personally, I think Sajith would have clocked 45%-48% as untrammeled UNP candidate and leader, running on his own, robust policy platform.

The UNP establishment probably thought that Sajith’s defeat, which it worked towards, was affordable, far more so than his victory. It wasn’t. Sajith didn’t do badly the first time out against a Rajapaksa presidential candidate with a strong nationalist wind in his sails. He got only 10% less than Gotabaya and 8% less than the required 50%. However, without Sajith as UNP leader, the UNP didn’t get a single elected representative into parliament.

SLFP

The SLFP led the country for 20 years or 25, depending on how you count, because President Sirisena was also the former General-Secretary of the party and officially the SLFP leader in 2015-2019. How then did the SLFP, in a coalition government and holding the presidency, get beaten by a new party of its own members in February 2018? Why, after a quarter-century, is it now miniaturised?

As Mao originally said and Deng made world-famous, “seek truth from facts”. The fact is that the UNP, an SLFP defector, and a faction of his party entered the Yahapalanaya coalition government unofficially backed by the TNA and the JVP. When the experiment was over and elections held, the TNA and JVP had shrunk, the SLFP had shrunk and been crippled, and the UNP evaporated electorally.

Obviously, the Yahapalanaya project was a terrible idea at several levels. A bipartisan pact opened space for a new alternative. That alternative was quick to form and gathered mass and momentum because of the minoritarian charter of the Yahapalanaya agenda. The SLFP was saved, though reduced to a shard, because Maithripala Sirisena distanced himself and the SLFP splinter he led, belatedly but barely sufficiently, from the kryptonite that was the Ranil Wickremesinghe Prime Ministership.

Yahapaalanaya

The one way the Yahapalanaya project might have worked is if Chandrika Kumaratunga had recalled her dreadful experience of 2000-2004 with Ranil Wickremesinghe and insisted that Karu Jayasuriya either be the candidate in 2015 or Maithripala Sirisena’s Prime Ministerial partner. She didn’t.

Thus, the SLFP founded by her father, defended by her mother, and revitalised by herself, was led into a trap of toxicity from which it barely escaped, dreadfully wounded and minus an arm and a leg.

Hence, the situation of the SLFP at 70. If it is to re-grow (rather than remain like the later Groot), it must break from the Gotabaya government soon, most glaringly obviously over the issue of the suffering peasantry.



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Opinion

Yohani – not our Manike?

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It is very heartening to hear that both the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader of India have expressed their appreciation of the song Manike mage hithe, sung by the local artiste Yohani de Silva, which had gone viral in this part of the world.

Sadly, neither the government nor the Opposition bigwigs of Sri Lanka have congratulated her in the media, taking into consideration the vast amount of foreign exchange she is bringing into this country.

Indrasena Samaratunga

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Opinion

Must give way to ambulances

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The introduction of the Suwa Seriya free ambulance service has helped many patients, afflicted with serious illnesses, to get to the hospital in double quick time, saving the lives of many people who would otherwise have succumbed to serious ailments such as heart attack, or grave injury resulting from serious accidents. We have to thank Dr. Harsha De Silva for all he has done to see this very important service established with the help of the Indian Government.

There have been a few people trying to take credit for getting this ambulance service from the Indian government, but it was the sole effort of Dr. De Silva that saw this through. The Suwa Seriya ambulance comes to the location where the patient is, very quickly. Now the Suwa Seriya ambulance service is available throughout the island, a boon to people who cannot afford to pay for an ambulance to get to a hospital.

Along with the Suwa Seriya, there are a large number of ambulances attached to government and private hospitals. We hear the sirens of ambulances throughout the day. When an ambulance is rushing to a hospital, it is absolutely necessary that motorists give way. It is noticed that most older motorists try to move their vehicles to make way for the oncoming ambulance to proceed without a hassle. But some younger motorists, driving expensive SUVs, and some private bus drivers, who think they own the road, do not give way for the ambulance to proceed.

It is imperative that all motorists abide by the rule to give way to an ambulance as soon as the siren is heard. It is the duty of all motorists to enable an ambulance to reach the hospital soonest.

H.M. Nissanka Warakaulle

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Opinion

Mr. President, please let this be a turning point!

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By Rohana R. Wasala

When I pen these words, most Sri Lankans are still sleeping. I am ahead of them and awake. That is because of the time zone difference between where I live and Sri Lanka, my country of birth. As usual, as the first thing I do in the morning, particularly these days, I glanced at the headlines in The Island epaper, and was depressed to read the banner headline “Ratwatte remains a state minister despite resignation over running amok in prisons”, with the following underneath it:

“State Minister of Prison Reform and Rehabilitation Lohan Ratwatte yesterday told The Island that he had informed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa that he would step down immediately from his post as the State Minister of Prisons. However, he will continue to be the State Minister of Gem and Jewellery Industries”.

Having earlier read and heard over the media about Lohan Ratwatte’s alleged escapades in prisons on Sunday (12) night, I have been eagerly waiting to read a newspaper headline like “Deputy Minister remanded; a good start to meeting challenge to rule of law”, for I expect nothing less from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. As a disciplined and determined executive, with a military background, he, I assume, tries to handle the toughest cases with the strictest adherence to the law. He appears to rely on the ministers and the government servants, serving under him, to follow his perfectly lawful commands in a spirit of military discipline, mutatis mutandis, in the context of civil government. Whatever the likely or actual response to the extremely embarrassing deputy-ministerial episode (not the first involving LR), it should be of a kind that contributes to a restoration of the fast eroding public faith in the hoped-for Gotabaya rule. The Island editorial of Thursday (16) under the arresting heading “Arrest them” offers sound advice. I drew some solace from that. For I realised that there is at least another person of a like mind.

I was even more shocked and disappointed by the Commissioner General of Prisons Thushara Upuldeniya’s attempted absolution of the Deputy Minister. According to the online Lanka C News (September 16), the Commissioner has said that the Minister visited the prison to discuss pardoning some prisoners and that the he has the right to visit the prison to discuss with the inmates at any time of the day. The Commissioner might be technically right, but I am doubtful about the lawfulness of what the Minister has done, especially in his alleged inebriated state. Upuldeniya was handpicked by the President for the extremely demanding job. His coming to the defence of LR was a bolt from the blue to the innocent peace-loving law abiding citizens of the country who have been for decades persecuted by the persistent menace posed by the unholy alliance between criminals and some jailors and a handful of politicos providing together an impregnable bulwark for the first.

However, since the case hasn’t yet been verified or investigated, we don’t know for sure whether the Deputy Minister is guilty of going berserk under the influence of liquor as alleged. As a person embroiled in politics, he could be a victim of some calumnious effort of his detractors, and we must be cautious in passing judgement on him. But again, as he, who has a previous thuggish reputation, has virtually accepted guilt in this case by tendering his resignation, citizens are justified if they expect, as I do, a tougher reaction from the President.

At this moment we should anticipate a presidential response different from the mild rebuke “Anthimai!” (equivalent of a sarcastic “Great!”) that the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa greeted the hospitalised Labour Minister Mervyn Silva with, on December 27, 2007. (I eagerly hope that the President’s deterrent reaction would be known before this reaches The Island readers.) The latter was admitted to hospital after being given a taste of his own medicine following a rowdy interference he committed with the work of a news editor by the name of T.M.G. Chandrasekera at the state-owned Rupavahini TV station over not giving enough coverage as he alleged to a public event that he had organised in Matara the day before. Though very close to MR, he was not an elected MP; he was only a national list MP from the SLFP that MR led. In any case, it was inexcusable that he conducted himself the way he did, for what he did was bound to reflect badly on the President himself. The other employees of the TV station, angered by the uncouth highhanded behaviour of Mervyn Silva, forced him and his notorious sidekick, suspected drug trafficker Kudu Nuwan or Lal or someone (I am not too sure about these trivial details now) to a room and held them there, handling them roughly. Mervyn Silva was heard pleading : “I will tender an apology if you say I have done wrong”. He had. The workers were providing manual proof as best they could.

Mervyn Silva was beaten up right royally, and bundled into his prestigious ministerial Pajero and was briskly driven away to hospital safety. The state Rupavahini telecast the proceedings live for the whole world to see in repeated ‘news flashes’ most of the day that day, as my older readers might clearly remember. It was a sort of news carnival for the wrathful Rupavahini broadcasters and for the scandalised viewers. While watching the scenario live, I convinced myself that President Mahinda Rajapaksa would kick his you-know-what-I-mean within the hour, or at least after his discharge from hospital. To my utter disgust and disappointment, nothing like that happened. The fellow flourished for another eight years under MR’s wing until he betrayed him utterly in 2015, after having abused his well-known humaneness and his reluctance to abandon people who have helped him in the past. Lately, Mervin seemed to try to cozy up to the boss he so treacherously let down; but MR’s brothers have saved him from his erstwhile unequal friend.

I personally believe that we are not going to see such wretched characters protected under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa during the remainder of his term.

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