Connect with us

Opinion

Vacant seat in Parliament

Published

on

by Harim Peiris

One of the more interesting features about the current Parliament of Sri Lanka, is that it has the highest number of parties with representation in that august Assembly, mostly through a plethora of small parties, which have been elected with one or two members to Parliament. Most of these parties are regional in scope and represent specific communities, often ethnic or religious minorities from the Northern and Eastern provinces. Generally colourful almost quixotic political characters have been elected from these single ticket parties, with a couple of them, including the EPDP and the ACTC securing two seats each. They certainly add colour and a vibrant diversity to the composition of the legislature.

Also falling into this same category of a single seat party, from among the minor parties, is the former governing United National Party (UNP), which rather fortuitously through its vote tally in all districts, managed to qualify for a single National List seat in Parliament. The UNP is a small party with a big party mentality and blessed with close links to major national newspapers, its unelected office-bearers and defeated candidates, manage to make the news daily, if rather irrelevantly.

The UNP has rather unusually been unwilling to fill its single seat, making the current Parliament a full house at 224 members, rather than its complete complement of 225. However, political circles are abuzz with talk that finally its longest serving and possibly leader for life, former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, will have himself nominated to the UNP’s solitary seat in Parliament. It has to be a record in any country with a proportional representation electoral system, for a party to fall from a governing party with 106 seats, to a solitary parliamentary seat in the ensuing election. Leaving that grand old party with a nice head office, a proud history, and some political personalities who made a serious error in political judgement, when they denied its longtime deputy leader and presidential candidate, the party leadership, resulting in the formation of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) party.

Just over a year since nominations for the parliamentary elections closed on 20th March 2020 and the UNP thinks about finally getting its act together, to nominate Mr. Wickremesinghe to its solitary seat, and the SJB celebrated the first year anniversary of its formation; it is worth examining the implications to politics and national governance, created by the Rajapaksa political vehicle of the SLPP supplanting the SLFP, and on the Opposition side of the House, the even newer Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) of Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, taking over the constituency, the younger generation leaders and the political leadership of the non SLPP/Rajapaksa socio-political forces in the country. The SLPP created its own history in the August 2020 parliamentary elections becoming the most electorally successful political party under the 1978 constitution, securing 145 seats in Parliament, bettering its predecessor UPFA’s result of 144 seats won in the euphoria of the war’s ending in 2010. The SJB also performed approximately comparative to its parent UNP’s 2010 post war performance, securing 54 seats in 2020.

However, the SJB has also made its own mark on the political landscape of the country in its relatively short history. Firstly, by comprehensively wiping its predecessor UNP off the electoral map, and firmly capturing the Opposition political space. It has faced the juggernaut of an SLPP Administration with a super majority in Parliament. In response, the SJB and the Opposition Leader’s approach has been measured, thoughtful and calibrated. Occupying the moral high ground, by claiming that the Opposition should oppose but not obstruct, it has permitted some leeway to the Rajapaksas to implement their mandate; but has been a moral conscience, as well as a check and balance on the government. As a new party it has focused on building up its grassroots capability, and the indefatigable Opposition Leader has been mirroring the President’s own dialogue with the village, by having numerous grassroots level consultations and discussions, albeit without an attendant media circus.

Politically as well, the focus of the SJB has been to bring to sharp focus the shortcomings of the Administration, and accordingly it has been the inspiration for the “sir fail” political concept; a rather direct assault on the performance or alleged lack thereof by the Government and the President, elected as he was among other things as a technocrat who would get things done. Astutely Sajith Premadasa has been careful to refrain from an overly negative assault on his successful rival in the presidential election, focusing instead on the issues and avoiding the personal mudslinging which has been the sorry hallmark of Sri Lankan politics in more recent times. The SJB and the Opposition Leader have sought to adopt a more principled and issue-based politics, rather than on pure personalities and one that is non-sectarian, both distinctions of which are an unusual departure from the norm in mainstream Sri Lankan politics. As the politics of the UNHRC process in Geneva and the cremation issue of the Covid deceased for the Muslim community dominated the political debate in the past few months, the SJB demonstrated remarkable political maturity in taking a principled position opposed to forced cremation based on the WHO guidelines, and then rolling out a newly minted and credible reconciliation policy on the cusp of the Geneva vote, which differentiated it clearly from the Government, arguing that national unity was the best guarantor and contributor to national security.

As a slew of highly charged political issues ranging from exonerating various accused persons from ongoing court cases through a presidential commission, to the controversial proposals for the autonomous Port City Commission come to dominate the political debate in the near future, the SJB will be tested. But Sajith Premadasa took on the Rajapaksas in their home turf of Hambantota for years, and did not flinch from a tough political ask in a local constituency setting. The current challenges are bigger and the setting is the national political stage. One year on, in a game with a five-year cycle, the SJB can take solace and some credit that while the beginning of the end may not have begun for the current Administration, the end of the honeymoon period with the public for the Administration, has clearly already occurred.

 

 



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Opinion

Farewell to Angela Merkel

Published

on

 

With six minutes of continuous, warm and heartfelt applause; out on the streets, on balconies, through the windows, and from all portals imaginable, the whole country of Germany applauded, irresistibly, a woman who is a spectacular example of leadership and a stickler for the defence of human dignity, when she stepped down from her position of Chancellor/Prime Minister of Germany.

Around 18 years ago, the Germans elected Angelica Merkel to lead them, and she led 80 million Germans for 18 years with competence, skill, dedication and sincerity. She did not generally utter nonsense and there was no meaningless political rhetoric. She did not appear in the alleys of Berlin to be photographed. She was dubbed “The Lady of the World” and even graphically described as the virtual equivalent of six million men!!!!

During these 18 years of her leadership authority in her country, no transgressions of political power were ever recorded against her. She did not assign any of her relatives to a government position. She did not claim that she was the maker of glories. She did not get millions of euros in commission payments, nor did she hire or compel anyone to cheer her performance. She did not receive charters and pledges and, she did not fight those who preceded her. In 2021, Merkel elected to step down, not attempt to get a fifth term as the Chancellor of Germany, left the party leadership position and handed it over to those who came after her, with Germany and its German people in the best condition ever.

The reaction of the Germans was unprecedented in the history of the Country. The entire population went out to their balconies of their houses and clapped for her spontaneously for six continuous minutes. A standing ovation nationwide. Germany stood as one body bidding farewell to their leader, a chemical physicist who was not tempted by the fashions or the fancy lights and who did not buy real estate, cars, yachts and private planes. She was always well aware of the fact that she is from former East Germany.

She graciously elected to step down from her post while leaving Germany at the top. She left and her relatives did not claim any advantage. Eighteen years and she never changed her wardrobe. At a press conference, a female journalist asked Merkel “We notice that you’re wearing the same suit, don’t you have any other?” She replied “I am a government employee and not a fashion model”. The entire German populace prayed that God be upon this silent leader.

At another press conference, they asked her “Do you have housemaids who clean your house, prepare your meals and so on?” Her answer was “No, I do not have servants and I do not need them. My husband and I do this work at home every day”.

Mrs. Merkel lives in a normal apartment like any other citizen. She lived in this apartment before being elected Chancellor of Germany. She did not leave it and does not own a villa, servants, swimming pools or gardens. Once a journalist asked “Who is washing the clothes, you or your husband?” She answered “I arrange the clothes, and my husband is the one who operates the washing machine, and it is usually at night, because electricity is available and there is no pressure on it. The most important thing is to take into the account the possible inconvenience for the neighbours. Thankfully the wall separating our apartment from the neighbours is thick”. Then she followed it up with the quip, “I actually expected you to ask me about the successes and failures of our work in the government?”

After losing a devastating World War II, in the early 1940s, Germany was slowly built on the ashes of the Nazi Regime of Adolf Hitler by very many statespersons, the latest of whom is Angela Merkel. They showed a dedicated commitment to the welfare of that country and its people. Their untiring efforts made Germany to be the one it is now; the largest economy of the whole of Europe.

Angela Merkel is the exact opposite of most of our politicians in the Paradise Isle. The latter lot have all the qualities and attributes which are those of precise antipathy to the admirable and fabulous characteristics of former Chancellor Angela Merkel. It is most lamentable that this resplendent isle has so far not seen the arrival of a person of such commendable talents, abilities and statesmanship to guide us out of a 73-year long abyss of perpetual self-destruction. —

Connoisseur

 

(Extracted from https://sgtalk.org/mybb/Thread-Germany-bid-farewell-to-Merkel-with-six-minutes-of-warm-applause)

 

Continue Reading

Opinion

COVID-19 lockdown: Too little, too late

Published

on

After dragging its feet to heed the advice of medical professionals, starting well before the Sinhala New Year, the government has finally clamped down on a lockdown, banning movement of people, from province to province. The argument, on the government side, is that a full lockdown affects the economy, but this does not take into account increasing Covid patients and the resulting increased health costs incurred by the Government to treat these patients. It is a case of choosing between death or hunger. People are accustomed to complete lockdowns, as it happened last year, about this time. The question remains whether such a partial lockdown is effective in controlling the spread of Covid. My own suggestion is to go for a complete lockdown of the country, for at least two weeks. Imposing night time curfew is ineffective since people to people transmission takes place during day time when people flock to do shopping and to attend to various other chores.

People in this country are not disciplined to wear face masks and practice social distancing. They wear the mask, only at the sight of a policeman. The enforced partial lockdown, at present, will not curb the spread of the disease, especially in the provinces where people attend to their business as usual. In crowded market places, in particular, there is scant regard for health guidelines. It may be appropriate to include someone uthorized in human behavior, in the COVID task force. The Health Ministry epidemiologist has gone on record saying that the present escalation of Covid patients is mainly due to the Sinhala aurudhu season where people were travelling all over the country, specially to places such as Nuwara-Eliya and Kataragama. Media were reporting uthoriz frolicking in Nuwara-Eliya without any consideration of health guidelines and where the Mayor, himself, was involved in uthorized a festival for holidaymakers. The result is all the traffic policemen, on duty, in Nuwara-Eliya, got Covid and they had to be replaced by officers from other stations. Similar incidents have taken place at Kataragama where large crowds gathered. It is a well-known habit that people travel to these places during the New Year period. Had the government listened to the health professionals, instead of its own advisors, this could have been avoided.

In India, which is facing a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions, ignorance of people is the main cause in spreading this virus, just like here. Political consideration takes precedence over health and even some provincial elections were held during the pandemic. Also, religious activities, such as mass poojas, with complete disregard to health guidelines, are another main reason for the spread of Covid in India. Even in Jaffna there was a pooja attended by a large crowd where none wore face masks. . The famous Indian writer, Aurunditha Roy, was blunt in venting her anger and frustration, even asking Prime Minister Modi to step aside. Similarly, Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the Covid Task Force, in the USA, urged Prime Minister Modi to go for a total lockdown, at least on two occasions. This Indian variety is the most contagious and a WHO official said on Monday (May 10) that it is reclassifying the highly contagious triple mutant Covid variant spreading in India as a “variant of concern” at the global level. This is known as B.1.617, which has been found to spread more easily than the original virus and there is evidence that the currently available vaccines are ineffective against this virus mutant. Recently an Indian Professor from the Rutgers University, USA, who was an expert on infectious diseases, who travelled to India, died of the corona virus and this was after getting both vaccines in the USA. This is alarming because this virulent Indian variety was found in Sri Lanka from an affected Indian citizen. How many Indians came to Sri Lanka in recent weeks should be investigated and they should be properly isolated and quarantined. The question arises as to who uthorized the entry of Indians to our country when most governments have banned the entry of Indians into their countries. In April alone, statistics of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Board (SLTDB) reveal that a total of 4,168 international tourists have arrived in Sri Lanka during and most of these arrivals were from India followed by China and Kazakhstan.   It is shocking to see some ministers still talking about a tourist bubble to bring in Indian tourists. Doctors at the Sri Jayawardenapura University also reported that the British variety of the virus originated from the tourist bubble of Ukranian tourists. This was first revealed on April 8th by the same group and despite this warning the government thought it fit not to go for a complete lockdown during the New Year period.

Health professionals, too, has a role in taking a more positive stand, instead of talking vaguely about provincial lockdowns which are not going to work. Why cannot they ask the President to completely lockdown the entire country? Recently, Malaysia enforced a complete lockdown of the country to tackle the problem. New Zealand controlled the pandemic by strictly enforcing lockdowns, even when one positive case was found. The USA has been able to control the pandemic through mass vaccinations and over 50% of the total populations has been vaccinated so far, as opposed to 3% in Sri Lanka. It is the only way to fight this invisible enemy. There is no other alternative but to enforce a total lockdown if we have to come out of this dire situation.

Prof. O. A. Ileperuma

 

 

Continue Reading

Opinion

Geographical Information Maps for Covid-19 control

Published

on

Around six months ago, the issue about lack of spatial information about the whereabouts of Covid-19 patients, came up, but, unfortunately, it has not been resolved yet. At that time the GMOA gave an ultimatum to the Ministry of Health that it will withdraw from the Technical Committee for Covid-19 control, if analyzed Geographical Information System (GIS) maps of Covid-19 patient-locations will not be made available. Although most don’t agree with the GMOA with some of their actions, on this matter I was more than 100% with them. The GMOA is an organization, which has many knowledgeable specialists in the areas of epidemiology, disease control and Information Technology, and I believe their knowledge, attitude and valuable inputs made it easy for the control teams to prevent the escalation of this epidemic.

The geographical maps are valuable tools to the MOHs, PHIs for their control work, and also to the general public to know of the locations of the patients, at least at the street level, so that they can avoid such areas. I think the Presidential Task Force also should be shown these maps, if they have not seen it yet, to make informed decisions. This week again, the President of the GMOA stated, over a private TV channel, that they, in fact, put up a GIS room next to the Director General of Health Services’ room, and that is a right move. He vented his frustrations when he came out with the difficulty in getting the maps done through the Epidemiology Unit to get this genre going. To fight a war there should be a central command and control room, and maps are a very important tool. Even 30 years ago, the officers in the field sent in the data about the spread of diseases, or they took samples, such as of stools of cholera patients, but they never got the analyzed reports, as someone was keeping them in the centre to write a paper to a journal.

Twenty years ago, when I was the Chief Medical Officer of Health of the CMC, realizing the value of GIS maps, I used them for dengue control in Colombo; and it provided great information to plan and implement control measures. We could see clusters of patients, and the gradual movement of the cluster into newer areas with time. My maps were used by at least the Peradeniya University to train Medical Officers in Health Mapping. I was also invited as the keynote speaker, by the Geographical Information Society. Many came to me from the Ministry of Health, KDU and other institutions to learn what we had done. Since then, the Ministry has trained some doctors who are now experts in GIS mapping, and they could be used to map the patient locations, show high, medium and low risk areas and also put in other information. The Public Health Department of CMC gave Geographical Position System-GPS training to Public Health Inspectors those days, to send in the information from the patient’s location to the GIS centre at the Town Hall, where all such information was collated. We then prepared the maps and sent them out to the MOHs and also discussed the situation at meetings.

I hope they have continued that work and, if so, they also should put out the maps of present patient locations in the CMC website, so that the people in Colombo will also know which areas in the city they should avoid. Colombo city was the centre of transmission of Covid-19 in the country a few months ago as nothing materialised. It is a pity that I can’t even get any information about Covid-19 patients in the CMC area, although I am the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Health and Sanitation at the CMC. The system I built up has come to a standstill, and sometimes even after eight months, I can’t get any answers to my questions given at Council meetings. Frustrated, I even wrote to the Epidemiology Unit asking for information about patient locations to better plan our prevention programmes, at least to prevent patients dying at home. But after listening to the GMOA President, yesterday, I now know it is a futile exercise. Information is power, but why not give it at a time of national crisis for the greater good of the people?

Technology should be used in disease prevention as much as possible, especially in this case, but the people in top positions are scared to use newer technology mostly because they don’t know about such technologies, or do not know how to use them. When PCR testing was started, a few leading private firms wanted to donate the latest automated PCR machine, but it was turned down by the people who were to use it, as they wanted a machine that could be used manually. That was my personal experience. There are other interests involved, too. Now I believe only the Sri Jayewardenepura University has an Automated machine which is 4-5 times faster in giving results.

Similarly, through GIS mapping we can put together a lot of information in a short time, and the analyzed information can be made available to the people who make decisions, and those in the field. Seeing the ground situation with one’s own eyes, is better than seeing some numbers. I hope the President, the Ministers and the Presidential Task Force will seriously take note of this, as this is very valuable public information that can be used to control this epidemic, at this critical juncture. For example, the information through maps could be used at least to know whether we should lock down a city or a district, or a province, or a few of them, etc., to prevent further escalation of this Covid-19 epidemic. There could be even a working sub-committee set up to do this work. Please do not put away this information in cold storage as someone’s private property. Let saner counsel prevail.

 

Dr. PRADEEP KARIYAWASAM

Former CMOH/CMC,

Chairman, Standing Committee on Health/CMC

Continue Reading

Trending