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Why the yahapalana project failed

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by C.A.Chandraprema

When one reads the anguished outpourings of some yahapalanites about the restoration of the Rajapaksas to power, one thing that becomes obvious is that they are blaming everyone and everything else but themselves for their present plight. In reality however, they have only themselves to blame for the failure of their carefully planned and executed project. Viz. the following.

It was never about good governance to begin with

The yahapalana project despite its name was never about good governance. It was a conspiratorial power grab disguised as a campaign for good governance so as to mislead the public. The conspiracy to grab power by the UNP, JVP, TNA, SLMC and other elements took shape originally as an attempt to defeat the Rajapaksa led UPFA government in Parliament in 2007. At that time, there was no talk of yahapalanaya. It was simply a case of using the divisions in Parliament to defeat the UPFA government at the budget that year. If the budget had been defeated, a parliamentary election may have been held and the UPFA may not have been able to obtain a clear majority which would have enabled everyone else to gang up to run the parliamentary government. Thus even as a far back as 2007, the tendency was for everyone else to get together to defeat the Rajapaksas and grab power for themselves. It was only in 2014, that the name yahapalanaya was appended to that project to make it look like a quest for good governance and less like the cynical power grab that it was.

Even though some people portrayed this as a struggle to abolish the executive presidency, once the yahapalana President was elected to power, the rhetoric about abolishing the executive presidency diminished. Towards the end, some yahapalana political parties were saying that the executive presidency should be retained because it gave the minority communities a say and it enabled them to win the presidency by combining the overwhelming majority of the minority vote and a certain proportion of the majority community vote. Yahapalana ministers were openly saying that the presidential election was the easiest election for them to win. In fact after the 2015 parliamentary election, no yahapalana political party wanted to hold any election except the presidential election. So despite the yahapalanaya slogan, what happened in January 2015 was a power grab, a coup pure and simple albeit effected through the ballot.

Over-involvement of foreign parties

Even though what started as an attempted parliamentary coup in 2007 was largely a local affair, foreign parties got involved after the end of the war in 2009. It was the Colombo embassies that insisted that Ranil Wickremasinghe should stand down and make way for a common candidate. The involvement of foreign parties would have brought in money and influence into the project but it proved fatal to the yahapalanites by generating unrealistic expectations of more foreign largess after they come into power. Some ill-conceived actions that the yahapalanites did in expectation of a massive influx of foreign aid to the country following the coup such as stopping all Chinese funded projects and promising massive handouts to the public, finally proved fatal to the yahapalana project.

No plan on what to do after capturing power

Nobody had the foggiest idea as to what they were going to do after they capture power. It was as if a band of illiterate, unwashed pirates had boarded a ship and found it to be full of treasure and damsels. Rapine and the enjoyment of the fruits of power was the only item on the agenda. The UNP for its part, had been so envious of the achievements of the Rajapaksas that their only aim in life was to prove that the Rajapaksas had not done as well as they claimed. They changed the figures published by the Central Bank in a flat footed move to prove that the economy had not grown as fast as claimed under the Rajapaksas. They stopped all work on the projects initiated by the Rajapksas, stored paddy at the Mattala airport and stopped bunkering operations at the Hambantota harbor on the claim that it was making losses. If the UNP had taken over what the Rajapaksas had left and managed it judiciously, the story may have been different. But their inferiority complex over-determined everything else.

Pre-occupation with persecuting the vanquished

To say that the yahapalana government had an obsession with persecuting the Rajapaksas and their followers would be an understatement.  An Anti-Corruption Committee was set up under Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe along with a specialized police unit the FCID which existed for the sole purpose of carrying out investigations referred to them by yahapalana politicians. From 2015 till 2019, what the public heard most often from yahapalana politicians was the pledge to put the Rajapaksas behind bars. Even today, many yahapalana leaders think their present plight is because they failed to put the Rajapaksas behind bars and end their political careers. They don’t seem to realize that the public backlash would have been much worse if their schemes had succeeded. The public reacts very negatively to leaders who show themselves to be unhinjed and demented and that is exactly how the yahapalana leaders presented themselves to the public.

Over reliance on lies and deception

From the very beginning, the yahapalana campaign against the Rajapaksas was based on lies and falsehoods. A factor which contributed immensely to the yahapalana campaign of lies and deception was that the decade of Rajapaksa rule was the very period in which social media like facebook made their appearance and the use of smart phones and computers became commonplace. The lies propagated by the yahapalana cabal over the new media took a toll on the Rajapaksa government. The tactics used to manipulate public opinion over such media was new to Sri Lanka at the time. Today however people are more aware of such manipulation. Almost everybody knows now that there are paid internet activists who make posts for a fee. The yahapalanites spent a lot of time and effort on their army of internet activists. Even in the run-up to the presidential election and the just concluded parliamentary election, the posts on all websites were mostly against the Rajapaksas. But the result of the election shows that such tactics do not work any longer. The people now know how to distinguish a fake comment from a genuine one.

Buying votes with handouts

One of the most self destructive acts of the yahapalanites was to buy votes with huge salary increases for government servants and reduction of fuel prices. They lied their way into power at the presidential election but could not hope to repeat that at the parliamentary election. So they followed through with some of the main pledges they had given at the presidential election in order to win the parliamentary election. This was something the yahapalana government never recovered from. Having increased government expenditure and reduced  government revenue at the same time, at some point they had to start collecting the money to offset those losses. Thus 2015 became the year of government largesse and 2016 became the year of increased taxes.

The first yahapalana finance minister Ravi Karunanayake became popular when he increased salaries and reduced the price of fuel and certain essential foodstuffs and he became unpopular when taxes were increased to meet that additional expenditure. After he was forced out of the finance ministry, his yahapalana colleagues sold him down the river, claiming credit for the increase in salaries and reduction in the price of fuel while palming off the blame for the increases in taxes on Ravi K. It was every man for himself and may the devil take the hindmost.

Gross economic mismanagement

It was clear that the yahapalana leaders were expecting huge injections of foreign money into Sri Lanka after the defeat of the Rajapaksas. Given the enthusiasm shown by foreign powers to overthrow the Rajapaksas and the amount of money spent by foreign powers for that purpose, it was perhaps excusable for the yahapalanites to expect that billions in foreign aid was to follow. The foreign powers that backed the yahapalana project for their part would never have thought that Sri Lanka would turn into a basket case overnight. At the time of the regime change in January 2015, Sri Lanka was the fastest growing economy in Asia after China. All that the new government had to do was to carry on from where the Rajapaksas were forced to stop and there would have been no need to bankroll Sri Lanka from overseas.

Gross economic mismanagement led to plummeting growth rates, a plummeting exchange rate, a vast increase of debt as the yahapalana government struggled to meet the costs of all the handouts they gave to get themselves elected. One of the most deleterious effects of yahapalan misrule was the vast increase in foreign currency debt. When no foreign aid was forthcoming from their foreign masters, the yahapalana government resorted to foreign commercial borrowings. Since the market was prepared to give, the yahapalana government took, with all restraint thrown to the winds.

The Central Bank bond scam shows the yahapalana government at its incompetent worst. By what stretch of the imagination did they think they would get away with it, when so many officials of the Central bank saw them doing it? Furthermore, in order to carry out a crooked deal they embarked on a course of action which would drive interest rates upward and have a negative impact on the entire economy. What drove the economy into the ground during the yahapalana years was sheer incompetence and nothing else. All other countries including India, Bangladesh, Germany and the USA were doing very well throughout those years from 2015 to 2019 and only Sri Lanka was going downhill.

Cynical disregard for propriety

The yahapalana government had little or no regard for the optics of what they were doing. They put off the local government elections for three years, regardless of the negative impression that such postponement of elections creates in the minds of the public. In 2017, just as the provincial councils were to stand automatically dissolved, they suddenly brought committee stage amendments to a Bill that had been introduced in Parliament earlier to increase women’s representation in the PCs and changed the system of elections to the provincial councils for no other reason than to avoid holding the elections. So desperate were they to prevent PC elections from being held that when the Attorney General said that the Bill had to be passed with a two thirds majority, the government bargained with the smaller political parties in the corridors of Parliament and agreed to increase the proportional representation quota from 40% to 50%.

Thus the local government elections system which was passed just weeks earlier, has a  40% PR quota while the PC elections system has a 50% PR quota. The system of elections to the local government institutions was also changed by committee stage amendments brought to a Bill that had been introduced in Parliament earlier, to correct some technical errors in the Local Government Elections Act. When President Sirisena dissolved Parliament, instead of taking on the challenge of an election head on, as any self respecting political party would have, the yahapalana government and their partners in the yahapalana opposition went to courts and got the dissolution annulled and hailed that as a triumph for democracy. They were oblivious to the fact that the people were watching all this. The people take a very dim view of the postponement of elections as was seen in 1977. Little wonder that every election held after 2015 was a landslide for the SLPP.

Gross abuse of the minority communities

From the very beginning, the entire yahapalana regime change project was predicated on organizing block votes against the Rajapaksas combining the vast majority of the minority vote with a minority of the majority community vote. The Tamil vote block was organized by giving them unrealistic pledges to the effect that if Sirisena is elected to power all Tamil aspirations will become a reality overnight. This was akin to the TULF slogan of 1977 – If you vote for the TULF today, you will have Eelam tomorrow! Until around 2012, many Muslims were with the Rajapaksa camp and they had to be got out of that marriage and lined up against the Rajapaksas. In 2012, a group of monks were taken to Norway at the expense of the Norwegian government and six months after they returned, an anti-halal movement materialized out of nowhere and transmogrified over time into a generalized anti-Muslim campaign which culminated in the Aluthgama clashes of 2014.

Former JHU activist Asoka Abeygunasekera in his book titled ‘Yuga Peraliya’ on the 2015 regime change project recounted how the JHU had sent Ven Hedigalle Wimalasara Thera into the Bodu Bala Sena to act as Gnanasara Thera’s handler and to get what they wanted done by the BBS. If the Tamil voters were deceived and organised, the Muslim voters were flogged and organized. One strategically taken photograph was used to convince the Muslim voters that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was in league with the monks formenting anti-Muslim sentiments. The Mulsim political leaders knew fully well what was going on, but for their own parochial interests, they went along with the yahapalana project. The Tamils and Muslims were thus lined up for a power project and used for the purposes of others. Five years later, the end result of all this has been that the majority Sinhalese have consciously lined up to prevent such manipulation.

Lack of proper leadership

All of the above indicates that the yahapalana project did not have proper leadership. It was just a collection of unprincipled opportunists who got together to overthrow a successful government and grab power for themselves. No self respecting political leader would have engaged in the kind of underhand manoeuvers and charlatanism that led to the regime change project of 2015. Once they had grabbed power through various subterfuges, they thought they had discovered the way to remain in power for ever by combining the vast majority of the minority vote with a minority of the majority vote to win presidential elections.

The reason why some yahapalana ministers and leaders went out of their way to insult the Sinhalese and the Buddhists was to show the minority communities that they were with the minorities and against the majority community. When the Easter Sunday bombings took place in such a backdrop, that was the clearest sign to the people that the yahapalana government because of its politics was in no position to deal with any threat coming from within the minority communities or from overseas. The five years of the yahapalana nightmare were by far the blackest chapter in Sri Lankan politics. We may have faced adversity in earlier times due to world crises such as the food and fuel crises of the 1970s or the terrorism of the LTTE and the JVP, but never has the country suffered like this due to bad politics.

 



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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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