In recent days, two pieces of news related to China have widely caught the eyes in Sri Lanka. Early this month, after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s sneaky visit to China’s TaiwanMore
The manoeuvrings of the president of Sri Lanka who came to power abusing a constantly hackneyed and worthless paper called the constitution have made the election commission postpone the local government elections. I view this postponement as a grand opportunity for the NPP to regroup and battle it out better prepared or as at least an opportunity to turn the presumed disadvantage into an advantage. Ranil’s ascendancy to the throne is unconstitutional and unethical. When the Pohottuwa and the UNP fought the general election, they promised people different policies. Ranil was defeated. People celebrated the defeat of Ranil’s campaign and consequently his policies could not be implemented. Suddenly he becomes the president and starts implementing his policies that were rejected by people en masse. Perhaps some legitimacy could have been attached to his appointment, at least if he declared that he left the UNP and joined the PJP to be nominated for the presidency. The opposition missed this point, that they should have argued that he had not been elected by people, but he could join PJP and be elected to be the president by their vote. Ranil could have been trapped in his own trap.
Regroup with higher sophistication, better technology, and much vigour.
Until the ‘Aragalaya’ opened the eyes of everyone to see that the country is ready for a significant political change, even NPP had not believed that they could lead this change of power with just three members in the parliament. Since then, until now, they, encouraged by the new belief have worked hard to turn the tide to their side. The results are visible everywhere in the country. The undemocratic actions of the government in fear and agitation of a possible victory of NPP is proved by the hideous manoeuvrings aimed at a postponement or a cancellation of local government elections. While it is imperative to win the demand for holding elections, NPP cannot undervalue the opportunity offered them by the grace of God.
Election speeches should not be restricted to the well-known speakers. People have seen them and heard them time and again. There is a plethora of educated, experienced and skilled speakers in their ranks to go on stage and speak, reserving the veterans behind the scenes to appear at peak times. Speeches must refrain from traditional attacks on opponents and show a sophisticated trend of oration that should show points of facts, make counter arguments, and raise hopes for a disciplined rule and a bright future.
The use of modern technology in the election rallies would be a much more effective weapon than a speaker screaming from the back of his throat with damaged vocal cords. If NPP can focus an old picture onto a screen on stage with severed heads that were placed on the culverts of the University of Peradeniya, it would be much more effective than someone telling the people that Premadasa murdered sixty thousand youth who were not necessarily JVP supporters but political opponents of the then ruling UNP and dragged this country backword by at least twenty years. Photos, video clips and other visual or auditory aids can be used to remind people what others have said and done in the past.
NPP must use its supporters to work individually more vigorously. Train them to go from house to house highlighting that this is the last chance for people to make the system change that people were clamouring for throughout the aragalaya. They must target still loyal traditional voters who have been constantly deceived by both the UNP and the SLFP and their splinter parties.
Now, time is on their side to prepare better counter arguments backed by some proof. For example, when interviewed, a toothless man said “JVP has no Jathyantharaya”. He meant to say that NPP does not have internationally recognised people in its ranks. In fact, the man has no understanding of what is meant by the term international. He just repeated something he had heard from another uneducated person. This is where the raising of awareness takes centre stage.
What is international support? Most people think that international collaboration can be drawn by people who wear suits and speak some English. For example, Ranil and Sajith. NPP should dispel that myth and make people understand that NPP is not a one-man party but a consortium of people and in that they have numerous people who can speak better English than what Ranil speaks.
None of the Sri Lanka’s current politicians have international recognition. To achieve international recognition, they should have raised the living standards of people and the reputation of the country. On the contrary SL politicians have sent what was once a relatively prosperous country of Asia to the bottom of the world ranking of every possible index and impoverished its people beyond recognition with the sole hope of getting their votes by offering metaphorical two measures of rice. Only to a beggar two measures of rice is a lottery drawn.
In the United Kingdom for example, all British citizens are proud of their individual and collective status on the world stage and no politician would imagine bringing that status down even by a shred. With their knowledge of what the current SL politicians have done to their own country and people, if a British politician privately meets one SL politician, he will get a fat spit on the face let alone international recognition.
NPP can turn the appearance of Hirunika the loose cannon on stage who screamed that Anura cannot resist but wants to shoot them down when he sees people and wants to burn them when he sees buses, to their advantage. Newly baptised Damitha who said she wanted to help the son of a man who crushed the JVP in the 1980s. She forgot that she was inadvertently highlighting a mass murderer whose son is promising buses in place of his father’s promise of a coconut not half a coconut. Instead of delivering coconuts, Premadasa delivered bullets indiscriminately.
Buddadasa Vithanachchi explained that none of the modern rulers descend from real prabhus except Sirimavo Ratwatte. They were wannabe prabhus. It is true that those families earned wealth by obeying Western rulers. In other words, by betraying locals and licking the foreigners’ boots. Ranil is the epitome of cunning, deceit, shamelessness, and lowliness that their ancestors possessed. The young generation should stop promoting them as prabhus or radalas. Prabhus must have dignity, respect, honour, and the sense of shame on the forefront of their personality. Ranil clan has none.
February ended as a month of discontent for the public after the government raised power tariffs for a second time on February 15. It was said to be the last of 15 conditions to be met for the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Extended Fund Facility (EFF) of $2.9 billion. But the uncertainties over the EFF are not over as the IMF is yet to receive assurance from China as India and the Paris Club have done. China has offered only a two-year moratorium on its debts.
Opposition SJB MP and economist Dr Harsha De Silva, while strongly condemning the raising of power tariffs for a second time, said Sri Lanka could technically still receive IMF support. He said it can be done through Lending into Official Arrears Policy (LOAP) with support from the US, if 50% of debtors have agreed to restructure their facilities. He suggested that if loans from the China Development Bank can be moved under commercial loans instead of bilateral loans, this could be achieved.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe speaking at various forums has focused on economic recovery. While addressing a Rotary gathering on February 18, he emphasised the importance of economic recovery and improving citizens quality of life. He said democracy depends on the maintenance of public order which requires law and order. Following the country’s economic recovery, next year it would be able to decide on the future it wants, with the use of the ballot (italics added), clearly indicating he was against the LG election.
Addressing Tax Forum 2023 on February 21, he strongly defended the current tax policy, as a rescue operation and not a normal tax policy. If the policy is disrupted, Sri Lanka will not be able to join the IMF programme and lose the opportunity to do business with foreign countries.
The President is applying his masterly skills at obfuscation to handle questions on the long overdue LG elections. The election scheduled for March 9 stands postponed as the Election Commission had been facing a number of structural and financial issues to conduct the elections. The air has been thick for the last two months with questions on LG elections from all sides, ranging from semi literate politicians, sensationalising paparazzi, sanctimonious but erudite civil society leaders and sermonising do-gooders who shun responsibility.
The President’s speech on the LG election issue in parliament on February 23 is an eloquent example of obfuscation. He said “There is no election to be postponed. I have so far not got into this debate on elections as I kept out of it on the grounds that I will not get involved in politics. However, today, we hear the Election Commission will inform Courts that the election cannot be held since an affidavit has been submitted. I will speak on it, as otherwise it will be unfair on the part of the Treasury Secretary. The Commission has been informed by the Treasury Secretary that they are unable to provide necessary funds to conduct the elections. That is not true. It was I who first informed the Election Commission in December that due to the economic situation, it was not possible to hold the elections.
President Wickremesinghe appears to be a votary of 50s British humourist Stephen Potter who authored Lifemanship series of books. In that era of self-help manuals of the Dale Carnegie variety, Potter focused on books with less exalted goals of survival issues like: “winning without actually cheating (Gamesmanship), “creative intimidation (One-Upmanship)”, and “making the other man feel that something has gone wrong however slightly” (“Lifemanship”). The President seems to be using all the ploys of Potter to confuse the nation reeling under unmanageable price rise of daily necessities. Obfuscation is the erudite man’s quibbling in action. Oxford Languages explains it as “the action of making something obscure, unclear or unintelligible, when confronted with sharp questions they resort to obfuscation.”
Successful politicians develop their skills at the art of obfuscation to difficult questions from the paparazzi, awkward questions from the informed audience and perhaps, to handle embarrassing moments with their girlfriends. If there is an award for obfuscation in politics, President Wickremesinghe will win a platinum award. Perhaps, he can’t be faulted for it because probably that came, when he earned the President’s chair without a popular mandate after a severe drubbing in the general elections.
But time may be running out for such gamesmanship, if we go by the mood of the people in the thousands who had gathered in protest in Colombo on February 26. The National People’s Power (NPP) led by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) held a massive protest against the postponement of the LG elections by the government in Colombo. NPP and JVP leaders including MP Anura Kumar Dissanayake and NPP MP Vijitha Herath had joined the protest. Prior to the protest, magistrate courts concerned had issued orders preventing the protests. Orders were also issued against 26 persons including Dissanayake from marching towards Galle Face Green and the Presidential Secretariat. When the protestors gathered in strength and wanted to march towards Colombo Fort area they were stopped by the police. Meanwhile, reinforcements of police in riot gear and army personnel joined the police.
Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the restive crowd which were shouting anti-Wickremesinghe slogans. In the melee that followed more than 20 persons were hospitalised. One of the NPP candidates for LG election who was hospitalised succumbed to his injuries. Police action in crushing the public protest has been condemned by civil society and even political parties not supporting the NPP-JVP combine.
Meanwhile 15 unions of the Ceylon Electricity Board employees are already protesting against the structural changes and tariff revisions. Trade unions of several sectors are scheduled to go on strike on March 1 against the recently introduced tax policy. Meanwhile, President Wickremesinghe has signed a gazette notification declaring several services related to ports, airports and passenger transport services as essential services.
Clearly the President faces Hobson’s choice.
Tailpiece: Resurrection of Prabhakaran on February 13, 2023, Tamil nationalist movement leader Pazha Nedumaran resurrected the ghost of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the LTTE leader who was slain on May 19, 2009 towards the end of the Eelam War. The aging former Congress leader from Tamil Nādu claimed Prabhakaran was still alive and would appear in public shortly. He said the LTTE leader was “hale and robust” and urged the Tamil people to rally behind him. The news failed to animate anyone.
by Our Political Affairs Editor
“The price of greatness is responsibility.” – Winston Churchill
Today, February 27th, Sagala Gajendra Ratnayaka celebrated his 55th birthday. As a Senior Advisor to the President on National Security and Chief of Staff to President Wickremesinghe, he is a man of commitment and dedication, hailed from the deep South of Deniyaya and was educated at Royal College Colombo. Before entering politics, he had a career in banking following his completion of an Economics degree from Lewis & Clark College in the USA. But Ratnayaka is not just any politician; he is a rare kind of politician who stands out in a sea of politicians who play the race card, are more interested in pandering to the public, and manoeuvre the country towards bankruptcy.
Sagala Ratnayaka is not a pseudo-nationalist; rather, he is an internationalist who tries his best to think outside of the box. He does not play racial elements to climb up to power. Instead, he is a politician who understands the importance of building a united and prosperous Sri Lanka. He is not a usual actor who cuddles infants in front of the public for photo opportunities, but someone who works tirelessly behind the scenes to navigate the country out of national calamities. He is a navigator who has the ability, courage, and skill to transform the country for a better future.
In today’s political climate, it is rare to find politicians who have a genuine interest in the well-being of the country and its people. Ratnayaka is one such politician. He understands the tribulations facing the country and is working hard to find solutions. His dedication to his work is admirable, and he has proven himself to be a man of integrity.
Sagala Ratnayaka’s journey from banking to politics is a testimony to his commitment to the people of Sri Lanka. He realized that he could use his knowledge and expertise to make a difference in the lives of the people. His willingness to put his skills to work for the betterment of the country is a reflection of his selflessness.
In times of social upheavals, it is crucial to have politicians like him who work silently for the betterment of the country as the country needs leaders who can navigate these challenges and come up with sustainable solutions. His ability to work silently for the betterment of the country is a quality that is much needed in today’s political climate. Often, politicians are more concerned with their public image and how they are perceived by the public. This leads to a lack of action and solutions to the problems facing the country. Sagala, on the other hand, focuses on finding solutions to problems, regardless of whether or not it benefits his public image.
Furthermore, Sagala’s dedication to his work and his commitment to the country are qualities that inspire trust and confidence in the people. His work ethic and his ability to navigate the country through difficult times have made him a respected figure in Sri Lankan politics. His contributions to the country have not gone unnoticed, and he is seen as a valuable asset to the country.
Sagala’s success as the Senior Advisor to the President on National Security and Chief of Staff to President Wickremesinghe is not only due to his dedication and commitment to the country but also his thoroughness as a reader and keen observation skills. These qualities have enabled him to stay informed and aware of the events and people that shape Sri Lankan society, politics, and economy. In this turbulent time, he navigates the country’s top forces and intelligence agencies towards new dimensions where national security strengthens and social order is maintained. His focus on economic revival as a means of keeping social order intact is a testament to his ability to think strategically and address multiple challenges facing the country simultaneously.
Sagala’s ability to navigate complex issues, his dedication to the country, his thoroughness as a reader, and his keen observation skills make him an exemplary leader who Sri Lanka needs. His contributions to the country and his efforts to strengthen national security and revive the economy should be celebrated and recognized on his birthday.
To conclude, Sagala Ratnayaka is a unique politician possessing qualities essential for tackling the obstacles confronting Sri Lanka. His astute awareness of events and people, unwavering commitment to the nation, and strategic mindset exemplify his leadership abilities. As he celebrates his 55th birthday, let us extend our warmest wishes and continue to acknowledge and endorse his contributions to Sri Lanka. His noteworthy accomplishments warrant our recognition and appreciation, and it’s incumbent upon us to create a conducive environment for more politicians like him to thrive.
“…we emphasise that we won’t hesitate at all to unite with all health workers and take tough measures which can paralyse the entire hospital system against this unfair wage cut.”
Statement by the GMOA (23.2.2023)
Sri Lanka’s poorest of the poor, their lives devastated by economic collapse, may face a killer blow soon: a crippling of the public health system.
That GMOA is planning to ‘paralyse the entire hospital system’ in protest against a government decision to institute a ‘wage cut’. Needless to say, ‘the hospital system’ they are planning to paralyse is the public one, used by those Lankans who constitute the bottommost layers of the income totem pole. The fee-levying private health care system, used by middle and upper layers of society, including politicians, will function smoothly. The very doctors who refuse to treat patients in government hospitals will attend to their private practices with usual assiduity.
Hippocrates and our own physician-king Buddhadasa, who, according to legend, stopped a royal progress to treat a sick cobra, would turn in their graves at the conduct of these medical merchants.
We excoriate politicians, and rightly so, for their unconscionable and irresponsible conduct, for their greed and their willingness to risk the safety and wellbeing of citizens who sustain them. Are the doctors, who threaten to hold the poorest of the poor hostage to win a wage demand, any better?
The UNP president and the SLPP government will probably condemn the doctors’ strike because they are in power. Had they been in opposition, they wouldn’t have.
Will the SJB, the JVP, and sundry opposition parties have the moral and political courage to ask the doctors not to penalise the already pulverised poor in order to win a wage demand? Will Sajith Premadasa, Anura Kumara Dissanayake or Dulles Alahapperuma possess the decency to tell the doctors to find another weapon to attack the government with?
The doctors’ demand may be just. But their tactic is supremely unjust. Weaponizing poor patients is heartless and malicious at any time, doubly so in the midst of a calamitous economic crisis. The strike won’t hurt politicians. It will hurt the fiscally impoverished 36% of the population who are missing meals and missing school, the 600,000 families who might lose access to power thanks to the recent electricity hike. The very people, who through indirect taxes, helped fund the medical education of these doctors.
When President Gotabaya and PM Mahinda Rajapaksa reduced health expenditure in the midst of a pandemic, the GMOA doctors remained mute. They were too busy enjoying the rich fruits of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s 2019 tax cut, the first step in Sri Lanka’s fast-track to bankruptcy. The GMOA bosses were probably among those who whispered sweet lies about tax cuts and instant growth into the ignorant ears of the former Lt. Colonel.
In Sri Lanka’s avoidable tragedy, the only bad guys are not the politicians. The rot in the political class is a reflection of a widespread and deep-going societal malaise. The politicians are the most culpable. But none of us voting age citizens are completely innocent. If any solution is to work, if any change is to be effective, it must move beyond the simplistic formula of bad politicians and good everyone-else and confront special and vested interests, from monks and military to professionals and privileged trade unions.
Are there other predators apart from politicians?
According to the latest IHP survey, while no political leader has a net favourability rating, in a general election, the NPP/JVP and the SJB will win a plurality.
Stirring oratory and pie-in-the-sky promises apart, how will a NPP/JVP or SJB government apportion the economic and social costs of recovery? The answer will depend mostly on how the tax burden is distributed. And on this seminal matter, the SJB and the NPP/JVP fudges at best. The SJB talks about reducing direct taxes for the uppermost bracket, while remaining silent about which income segment/s will have to pick the extra tab for that tax break. The NPP/JVP criticises the current imbalance between direct and indirect taxes, promises to correct it, but says nothing about how.
The reason is obvious. Neither party wants to anger those professional groups who are demanding tax cuts for themselves.
The demonstrating professionals are not saying they don’t want to pay higher taxes to fund such government waste as the silly Janaraja Perahara or the huge stable of cabinet, deputy, and state ministers. The government – any government – must be held to account about how public funds are used. But that is not what the protesting professionals are doing. They don’t want to pay higher taxes, period; irrespective of the identity of the president or the hue of the government. Their reasons have nothing to do with how government borrow and spend and everything to do with how they themselves have lived beyond their means. They too, like successive governments, have borrowed heavily to sustain an unsustainable lifestyle. They want to continue that lifestyle, even as the poorest of the poor are starving. That is the burden of their tax-song. And their tax song will remain unchanged irrespective of who sits in the president’s chair and who forms the government. What is Ranil’s headache today could be Sajith’s or Anura’s headache tomorrrow, if either leader achieves his presidential ambitions.
The Australian TV channel, ABC News did a feature on Finland’s education system. Arguably the best in the world, it is completely free. Not just the teaching, but also lunches, books, and excursions. Teachers are highly paid; teaching is one of the most sought after professions, and one of the hardest to get into. As a school principal told the interviewer, “Schools can’t raise private funds or to charge fees from parents. All schools are equitably funded from taxation” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xCe2m0kiSg).
Finland has one of the highest direct tax rates in the world. And this high rate came into being not after the country became developed but before. From 1945 to 1951, when Finland was dirt-poor and war-devastated, about one third of public revenue was generated through income and wealth taxes. (https://helda.helsinki.fi/bitstream/handle/10224/3553/pihkala26-47.pdf?sequence=1). That money was used to build free health and education systems of the highest quality, which in turn helped the country to escape poverty without falling into the debt trap.
Taxation, argues Thomas Picketty, in Capital and Ideology, played the leading role in West’s economic triumph over the East. Based on a wealth of data, he points out that by the end of the 15th Century Oriental and Occidental powers were evenly balanced. The West took its great leaps upwards firstly from 1500 to 1800 and secondly from 1930 to 1980. Both were enabled by increases in tax income. Chinese and Ottoman empires declined because their tax revenues remained low. Japan was the only exception, Prof Picketty points out, with higher taxes being a major pillar of its Meiji reforms.
Taxation is not the only issue. The recent electricity hike which disproportionately burdens the poor was caused not only by political corruption but also by the wasteful way in which the CEB was run for decades. Wages for excess workers, bonuses despite huge annual losses, and other privileges all added up to push the unit cost of electricity sky high. Now more than half a million poor families might be pushed back into the kuppi lamp era in consequence.
State owned enterprises (SOEs) were supposed to rescue consumers from exploitative practices of private entrepreneurs. But in Sri Lanka, SOE officials and trade unions have themselves turned predator, preying on citizens. Several recent directives provide examples of how these groups battened themselves on public funds. One ended the practice of top government officials taking their official vehicles home at retirement. Another prevented officials from holding their retirement parties at state expense. A third directed all officials to travel economy class and not business. Are these unearned and unjust privileges only the tip of the iceberg? How come no trade union screamed about these high-way-robbery type practices? Is their silence indicative of a mutually beneficial understanding of the plunder-and-let-plunder variety?
] When rulers are hegemonic, they transplant their own values and beliefs on to the society they rule; and by doing so successfully, they manage to maintain their moments of hegemony longer. From an addiction to unearned privileges to tax phobia, from anti-compassion to indecency, we are still Rajapaksa children.
During a recent parliamentary debate, when MP Rohini Wijeratne was speaking, a parliamentarian was heard scolding her in filth. The Speaker remained silent, during and after. Not a single opposition parliamentarian intervened to defend their colleague. This is what the Rajapaksas have brought the country down to. Unless the President orders the miscreant to apologise publicly (and removes him from his ministry if he happens to be the education minister), unless the opposition in one voice demands such action, then, even if the last member of the Rajapaksa clan departs politics, Sri Lanka will remain a Rajapaksa land.
Mahinda Rajapaksa is correct, for once. The real reason President Wickremesinghe scuttled the local government election was not economics but politics.
In 2020, the timing of the general election became a bone of contention between the Rajapaksa government and the Opposition. The government, knowing it was on a winning streak, wanted to hold elections as soon as possible, despite the pandemic. The Opposition, citing the pandemic, wanted the election to be postponed. The Opposition’s argument was more factual; having an election in the midst of a pandemic was risky. But the real reason the Opposition wanted a postponement was the fear of losing.
Now the opposition wants an immediate local government election because it believes it is ahead politically. The wisdom of spending so much money on an LG election in the midst of an economic devastation is not even considered. In truth, their much shouted fidelity to democracy is but a cover for power. If the SJB was clearly ahead and the NPP/JVP trailing way behind, the latter wouldn’t have been so averse to a postponement and vice versa. And Ranil Wickremesinghe would have found the money for the election somehow, if he thought the UNP could come first. This is how real priorities are decided. This is why Sri Lanka is unlikely to do better in the future than it did in the past.
Elections are necessary for democratic health. But democratic health cannot be reduced to periodic elections. Moreover, if there are powerful groups with vested interests who claim that they have the ultimate right in deciding how a country is run, a democracy’s health becomes precarious, with or without periodic elections. In many countries, it is the military which arrogates unto itself such political veto powers. In Sri Lanka, so far, it is the Buddhist clergy.
During their anti-devolution demonstration outside parliament, several monks argued that the president should not implement the 13th Amendment in full because the chief prelates are opposed to it. In a subsequent interview with a You Tube channel, two leading political monks, Ulapane Sumangala thero and Akmeemana Dayaratne thero reiterated the argument. The former said, “Even if the entire parliament agrees we won’t allow the 13th to be implemented. If 13th is given the country will become a lake of blood.”
Sri Lanka’s bloated military might become a threat to democracy in the future (especially if politicians continue their constant bickering, making an exhausted public turn to the Uniformed Man for salvation). The Buddhist clergy is an actual threat to democracy now. They insist on having the final say in every matter, from how much devolution Tamils should be given to how much sex education children should be taught. (The answer to both is none; no devolution, no sex-education, we are Sinhala Buddhists). The monks obviously think Sri Lanka is a Sinhala-Buddhist Iran and they are the Sinhala-Buddhist ayatollahs. If every measure needs saffron sanction, why bother with elections or parliaments? Why not save a lot of money by asking the chief prelates to run the show?
Given the key role political monks played in Ceylon/Sri Lanka’s downward trajectory right up to the re-election of the Rajapaksas in 2019 and 2020, their undiminished determination to interfere in governance poses a real danger to the prospects of recovery. If political and societal leaders lack the courage to stand up to rampaging monks and other vested interests (civilian and military), what hope for the future, irrespective of which party comes to office and which politicians hold power?
“The challenge of modernity is to live without illusions and without becoming disillusioned.” – Antonio Gramsci
President Wickemesinghe’s accidental presidency was seen by many as a solution to the deadliest crises in the country and a way to bring about normalization. However, several of the key initiatives he had promised are still in limbo, and rhetoric has surpassed reality. As a result, people are being forced to compromise in order to survive daily, while those responsible for the economic turmoil remain at large. It’s no exaggeration to say that Sri Lanka’s sovereignty is at risk, as various actors disguised as protectors are plotting to interfere with the country’s internal affairs.
Sri Lanka has a long history of democratic governance, with its citizens enjoying the right to vote and elect their representatives. However, in recent years, the country’s democracy has been in decline, with the government under President Wickremesinghe accused of manipulating state institutions for political gain, postponing elections, and failing to build consensus with other political parties. As Plato says, “the price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”
One of the key indicators of a functioning democracy is the holding of free and fair elections, which allow citizens to choose their leaders without any interference or manipulation. However, Sri Lanka’s government has been accused of postponing local and provincial elections, which has led to a democratic deficit in the country. This has also contributed to a lack of accountability and transparency, as government officials are not being held accountable for their actions. In addition to using every possible trick to postpone elections, President Wickremesinghe has been accused of manipulating government institutions to promote his own political agenda. This is constantly eroding public trust in these institutions and undermined the rule of law. The lack of checks and balances has led to a concentration of power in the hands of a few individuals, which is a dangerous trend for any democracy.
Another critical issue is the failure of the government to initiate a national consensus among political parties. Without a shared vision and common goals, it becomes difficult to make progress on important issues, such as economic growth and social welfare. The lack of consensus has led to a situation where the government is unable to build consensus with other parties, which has further contributed to a democratic deficit. Moreover, the current government lacks a people’s mandate as it has been accused of obtaining the consent of a few politicians who were themselves accused of plundering the country. This has further weakened the democratic institutions in the country.
The current situation in Sri Lanka, where the government is facing accusations of undermining democracy, could have serious consequences for the country’s stability. Sri Lanka has a history of social unrest and armed struggle, which was triggered by similar issues that are being faced today. In 1971, an armed uprising led by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) was launched against the government of Sri Lanka. The insurgency was fueled by economic and social grievances, as well as a lack of political representation for marginalized groups. The government’s response was brutal, with thousands of people being killed or imprisoned. The insurgency was eventually suppressed, but at a high cost to Sri Lanka’s social and political fabric. Similarly, in the late 1980s, Sri Lanka witnessed another period of armed struggle. The government’s failure to address the grievances of the Tamil minority led to the rise of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The insurgency lasted for over two decades and resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of people, as well as the displacement of many more. The LTTE was eventually defeated in 2009, but at a cost to Sri Lanka’s social and economic development.
These examples show how the failure of democratic institutions and the erosion of public trust can lead to social unrest and even armed conflict. If the current situation in Sri Lanka is not addressed, there is a risk of history repeating itself. The government must take urgent steps to restore trust in democratic institutions and engage with other political parties to build consensus on key issues. It is important to note that Sri Lanka’s history of social unrest and armed struggle has had a devastating impact on the country’s development. The conflict has left deep scars on Sri Lanka’s social fabric and economy, and it will take years to heal those wounds. Therefore, it is in the interest of all Sri Lankans to work towards a stable, peaceful, and democratic future, which can ensure that the country does not have to suffer through similar events in the future.
Sri Lanka’s democracy has been on a downward trajectory for some time now. The government’s failure to uphold democratic values and institutions has led to a decline in public trust and a democratic deficit. President Wickremesinghe’s days are numbered, and it is time for him to step down, if he is expecting an honourable existence, and allow for a democratic transition of power. Only then can Sri Lanka restore its democratic institutions and ensure that its citizens enjoy the rights and freedoms that are their birthright.
The Most Venerable Mahanayake theras of the Three Nikayas (Siyam, Amarapura and Ramanna) wrote to president Ranil Wickremasinghe admonishing him not to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution two weeks ago, on February 2, as reported in The Island (‘Mahanayakes tell President not to implement 13A’/February 3, 2023). The Buddhist prelates reminded the president that his predecessors did not implement 13A fully because of the devastating consequences this would have on the country, and that the executive presidency was established to safeguard the people’s sovereignty. The Mahanayake theras warned him of public anger rising against him if he carried out activities that tend to weaken the central government. It is evident that the senior monks are aware of the current economic crisis that the country is going through. They understand that Sri Lanka needs the assistance of global powers to overcome these difficulties. However, they correctly point out that proposals that undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country must be rejected. According to The Island report, the Mahanayakes also told the president that the country as a whole.. ….”faced many difficulties during the war. The government must do more to develop the North and East and uplift the livelihood of people who faced the most damage. Politicians who come from those parts hold Cabinet posts and can do a lot to develop these areas. At such a time, fully implementing the 13th amendment will create confusion….”
Is this dabbling in politics on the part of the Mahanayakes? Absolutely not. They are just attending to the hallowed duty assigned to the bhikkhus of our country by a tradition that began 2260 years ago with the official introduction of Buddhism: to come forward/usually to offer advice to the ruler when the country, the people and the Buddha Sasana are in jeopardy. Sri Lanka is a Buddhist majority country. Countries that possess such a long unbroken history of the same spiritual culture are extremely rare. Doesn’t that imply something about the dominant cultural background of the country and the people’s beliefs and ideas about the living of life, worldly happiness, social obligations, spiritual fulfillment, and so on? As the spiritual guides of at least 70% of the Sri Lankan population, they have a historic responsibility to advise the ruler when they realize that the interests of the people of the country (including non-Buddhists) are threatened as understood at present by a large majority of the population.
The Maha Sangha are arguably the most democratic community of clerical men and women on earth. They are averse to totalitarian control of any kind (something hinted at by the president in the Buddha’s admonition to his followers “Be a lamp unto yourself” with which pithy quote he ended his policy statement, though its appositeness in that context may be in question).
In their missive, the Buddhist hierarchs express their sincere concern about the need to address the current economic issues with special attention to the livelihood problems of the people of the North and the East who faced the brunt of the civil conflict. At the same, they urge the president not to carry out the full implementation of the 13th Amendment. (Though the Venerables didn’t mention it, the 13th Amendment was forcibly imposed on Sri Lanka grossly violating her sovereignty in 1987 in less than ideal, less than democratic circumstances as the older generation of Sri Lankans knew at first hand.)
While presidents, prime ministers, and governments come and go from time to time, changing their powers and policies as appropriate or otherwise, the Mahanayakes who are symbols of wisdom and compassion remain more permanent, like the sovereign state itself. However, hardly ever do they usurp a ruler’s role. The intrinsic secular nature of Article 9 (relating to Buddhism) of Sri Lanka’s existent republican constitution is something that Western observers, and even our own politicians including the nationalists among them do not or do not want to understand; the latter seem to be abysmally ignorant of the term ‘secularism’, and play havoc with it.
Contrary to what people expected, in his ceremonial policy statement from the Speaker’s chair in parliament on February 8, president Wickremasinghe did not seem to respond to the Mahanayakes’ earnest advice conveyed to him nearly a week previously, but he did so by implication, towards the end of his speech. Some of his utterances, probably, increased their apprehensions. He talked about having to take unpopular decisions. “I am not here to be popular!”, he said. Ranil Wickremasinghe can well say that since it was not because he was popular that he became executive president. He, as a would-be technocrat, can take unpopular decisions, as he thinks fit, in dealing with purely economic issues. But if his economic policies are based on wrong political decisions, it’s a different issue, where his personal moral values get tested (in spite of his indispensability at this juncture).
The president devoted the first half of his speech to dealing with strictly economic matters: Rebuilding the nation, foreign reserves, IMF negotiations, revival of tourism, economic reforms, etc. To properly handle these it will be helpful for him to keep in mind the concerns raised by the monks. For example, one of the worries of these leading monks, though not mentioned in the letter, relates to the preservation of the Buddhist archaeological heritage of the northern and eastern areas. The archaeological treasures connected with the history of Sinhalese habitation in the northern, north central and eastern parts of the island have been under threat for decades; some of them have been deliberately destroyed, reburied, built over or falsely claimed by non-Buddhists. There is history written on rock in the form of rock inscriptions right across the country from north to south and from east to west that bear witness to the presence of the Sinhalese throughout the island. Archaeological remains and sites are great tourist attractions, which means their preservation is economically very important, too.
Most of the other half is about establishing communal harmony. President Wickremasinghe takes great pains to convince the Tamil and Muslim minorities about his determination to solve their problems. He had discussed with R. Sampandan MP in 1977 (i.e., 45 years ago) about how to resolve the Tamil ethnic issue. The time has come at long last for them to achieve their goal. Ranil had been made aware of problems of the Muslims by minister A.C.S. Hameed, presumably in the latter 1980s, i.e., 35 years ago. All sensible Sri Lankans appreciate Ranil Wickremasinghe’s desire to resolve minority problems, but he should remember that no politician has a moral right to disregard the human rights interests of the majority community.
While listening to the policy statement streamed live on February 8th, I felt that the president displayed less enthusiasm in talking about the problems that the majority community suffer from. It looked as though he thought those problems were less substantive than the ones that the minorities faced. His single apathetic utterance in this regard was: “The Sinhalese community is also facing issues of their own which require open discussion. We expect to recognize the communities that are marginalized in society especially due to caste discrimination”. This is tantamount to associating the caste issue with the Sinhalese instead of the Tamils, particularly those in the North, who are persecuted by religion sanctioned casteism. The caste problem among the Sinhalese – historically borrowed from Tamil Hindu culture – is very mild, confined perhaps to party politics and matrimonial occasions, and is fast disappearing. Tamil civil society activist Arun Siddharthan often mentions this problem among Tamils. Rear Admiral (Retd) Sarath Weerasekera MP said in Parliament recently stated that blood needed for blood transfusion in Jaffna hospitals was in short supply due to (Hindu religion based) caste discrimination and had to be donated by Sinhalese soldiers. Of course, how seriously the particular form of social injustice affects the Tamil society can’t have escaped the president’s attention.
Paradoxically, though, in stark contradiction with basic Buddhist teachings, caste distinctions are still observed by Sri Lankan Buddhist monks, who have divided themselves into caste-based nikayas, something initiated by the Siyam nikaya in unalterable historical circumstances in the 18th century. It’s an evil that the Mahanayakes could have corrected, at least decades before, had they been less worldly, and more devoted to the Dhamma, and more dedicated to the welfare of the Buddhist laity, and the society in general. At least now, they must bury these undue divisions among themselves, and unite as a single body and realize and demonstrate to the world what the power of the Maha Sangha is. This is urgent for the survival of the Buddha Sasana.
President Wickremasinghe expressed his determination for bringing in maximum devolution of power within a unitary Sri Lanka (not united Sri Lanka as he used to say in the past). How he can secure this is yet to be disclosed. The people must be wary, for the devil is in the details. He says quite correctly that reconciliation alone will not bring about economic development: people’s attitudes must change. (Of course, this should apply not only to the majority, but also to the minorities.) This is perhaps a reference to his decision to get Tamil diaspora entrepreneurs involved in the development of the war-damaged North, for which he will create a separate department. We remember that, even months before, diaspora representatives indicated their readiness to bring in foreign funds to ease Sri Lanka’s dollar crunch, but that was with the proviso that those funds will be utilized exclusively for the economic development of the North.
During his closing words, president Wickremasinghe said:
“,,,,,,,We are all bound to protect the State of Sri Lanka. Any citizen has the opportunity to democratically change Governments through the elections. However, no one has the right to create anarchy in Sri Lanka. Not any political party. Not any group.
“We cannot allow our motherland to become an economic or social colony. Anarchy cannot be allowed. No one who truly loves the nation will allow such a situation. We all should stand on the side that supports the nation and not that which is bent to destroy the country..”.
That is a kind of assurance given that the sovereign Sri Lankan state will remain whole; there will be no division of the country. Governments will be changed democratically through elections. This means that the sort of annihilationist anarchy that the chaotic medley of leaderless directionless political and religious desperados of the foreign funded, anti national, conspiratorial ‘Aragalaya’ will not be allowed. The president promised that his proposals will be implemented through the National Assembly of the Parliament. What better guarantee can be given than this that the kind of undemocratic coercion that forced the 13th Amendment on a hapless Sri Lanka in 1987 under a dictatorial president who had succumbed to undue Indian pressure will not be applied in the present situation?
If the 13th Amendment must be implemented in full, let it be implemented in that democratic way. But we know that the present parliament doesn’t have a legitimate mandate to achieve that end. The SLPP was returned to power with a near two thirds majority, having fought elections on the platform of ‘One country, One law’. It is still an SLPP government. So they do not have the moral right to pass legislation that is entirely opposed to the original rallying cry that brought it to power. To cut a long story short, it is only Mahinda Rajapaksa MP who can persuade the unelected, president by default, Ranil Wickremasinghe from using the sitting parliament to enact 13A in its entirety without consulting the public regarding it through a referendum or a general election. Of course, in the past, Mahinda Rajapaksa used to repeat that he’d offer a 13A+. But I thought he was just bluffing then. Now Ranil seems to have called his bluff. Almost all members of parliament including Mahinda Rajapaksa, except a small splinter group who have left the SLPP alliance, have expressed agreement to the president’s decision to execute the full implementation of 13A. So, legally, there is no obstacle to his plan. But it is undemocratic and immoral.
It is the conscientious assertion of a nation’s dominant moral values by the three branches of government in a democracy – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary – in their activities that saves that nation from collapse and disaster. In the final analysis, Mahinda Rajapaksa, former president and prime minister, despite his, perhaps, unmatchable past achievements, is responsible for the present unprecedented crisis, especially, the ruinous political chaos. Only he can put an end to it by putting the country before himself, if possible. He used to say that his Priority Number One, Number Two, and Number Three was the same: the Motherland/the Nation. Let him redeem his lost honour and popularity, and also win back the love of the people he tried to serve.
Most Venerable Mahanayake Theros, I would like to beseech you Reverend Sirs, in all humility and with the deepest respect, to please write to Mahinda Rajapaksa MP or summon him before you Reverends, to demand that he explain to the nation why he now supports a measure that is likely to prolong the suffering and insecurity of the people and to endanger the survival of the Buddha Sasana, and, if it is something unavoidable at this stage, how he is going to make the proposed change harmless. Please remind him that he was a former prime minister, president, and a minister for Buddha Sasana.
by Our Political Affairs Editor
Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka is a renowned political scientist in Sri Lanka who has served as a diplomat in the country and the adviser to the Presidents. He is considered to be a foremost authority on the political situation in Sri Lanka, and has played a pivotal role in shaping the country’s political landscape through his expertise and advice. With a deep understanding of the complex and often deeply polarized political environment in Sri Lanka, Dr. Jayatilleka provides valuable insights into the current state of the country and its future prospects.
The editor of the Sri Lanka Guardian recently sat down with Dr. Jayatilleka for an in-depth interview to gain a clearer picture of the political situation in the country. During the interview, Dr. Jayatilleka provides a detailed analysis of the current political landscape in Sri Lanka, including the major players and the various political forces that are shaping the country’s future. He also discusses the challenges and opportunities facing Sri Lanka as it navigates a difficult and often contentious political environment. With his extensive knowledge and experience, Dr. Jayatilleka provides a nuanced and insightful perspective on the complex and deeply polarized political situation in the country.
Excerpts of the interview;
Sri Lanka Guardian (SLG): Dr Dayan; Thank you for joining us after a long time. What fascinates us is that you never stop writing. You continued to write under any circumstances. Tell us, why should one write?
Dr Dayan Jayatilleka (DJ): I write to illuminate and to intervene; to shed light on a subject or a situation and to change it for the better or to prevent it from getting worse. If one has knowledge about a subject it should be shared. This is especially so if the subject is in the public interest but even if not there could be even a small group interested in it which could benefit. Writing is a form of education. I am a political scientist so I write about politics as an act of education as well as intervention.
In my case there is another, more personal reason for writing. The very first memory I have is of my father sitting at a typewriter, typing. I was in my playpen! My father’s last column appeared on the same day as his obituary. In that sense he is something of a role model for me.
SLG: But, we can see that there are many TV shows, and newspaper columns with too much politics but lack science. What is your take as an influential political scientist?
DJ: Well, I did my best to apply political science and scientific political analysis in the public discourse when I had a regular TV show in Sinhala and in English on a well-known TV station, but it was interrupted during my term in Moscow as ambassador and I was not given back the show on my return from Moscow in January 2020. As for the Sinhala language newspapers I used to be interviewed by them frequently, but that too has dropped off. I am happy to have my regular column, every Thursday, in the prestigious Daily FT.
SLG: Journalism is your home subject. Give us a gist of the reasons behind the decline in quality, credibility and authenticity of journalism in Sri Lanka.
DJ: Well, journalism is my home subject in that I was born into and raised by a journalist father, Mervyn de Silva, in whose name the pinnacle award of the annual journalism awards is named: the Mervyn de Silva Award for Excellence in Journalism. That award was not instituted by me or my father’s family but by the profession itself—the Editors’ Guild ( of which he was founder-Editor) and the Publishers’ Society. However, my mother was a teacher. So I suppose I tend to combine the two: while I am by no means a professional journalist unlike my father who rose to the top of his profession, I am a political analyst, critic, commentator and columnist who tries to educate, teach, through the medium.
I’m not sure I see a ‘decline’, but I see a definite change, and that’s natural. It is a different generation and different times.
SLG: As a person with deep roots and strong ties to this subject (journalism), do you have any recommendations you would like to give the country’s media outlets?
DJ: Well, I can only tell them what I saw of the best journalists of an earlier time. I was privileged to meet and interact with my father’s seniors too: Tarzie Vittachi and Denzil Pieris. What I know is that my father’s generation of journalists read widely and thought deeply. They read books and most importantly, the best of world journalism in the English-language. The quality of their discussions and presentations, including their conversations, was very high. They were always aware of the highest international standards in their profession, and of aspiring to and maintaining them. They had a broad education in the humanities which gave them a truly international outlook. While they were thoroughly westernized, they were also deeply committed to the emancipatory project of the Third World, the global South.
SLG: This year is a very interesting year not only for us, Sri Lanka but for many countries. Like us, our longstanding ally and friend Burma/Myanmar also completed 75 years as an independent nation. On the other side, Israel is also going to compete for 75 years of its establishment. Simultaneously, Palestine is commemorating 75 years of losing its statehood. More importantly, the document known as the “global constitution” UDHR is completing 75 years by December this year. Do you see any similarities between these events and do you believe there is a lot to learn from each other but yet to learn?
DJ: Yes, in the sense that all these anniversaries mark the post-World War II period where Nazism had been defeated; humanity had experienced the worst horrors in history at the hands of fascism; the Cold War had just commenced; Socialism had expanded offering humanity an alternative to capitalism; colonialism was breaking down and on the retreat. It was a very progressive time in the consciousness of the world.
SLG: Do you agree if I say that inability to learn from history is rooted in behaviour of Sri Lankans? How can we change this?
DJ: It is not the inability to learn from history but the inability to teach history and point out the correct lessons. It is inability to analyze history. That is why there is an inability to learn from history.
SLG: Well, let us talk about your area of expertise; recently Sri Lanka faced the UPR. More than three hours long live streaming video demonstrated the positive and negative sides of submissions and responses by the government. While watching this, I was recalling when you were in Geneva during one of the most difficult times, representing the country and telling the world what exactly happening on the ground. That was a real battle, isn’t it? What is the difference between then and now?
DJ: Then, 14 years ago, we succeeded in persuading the overwhelming majority of the UN Human Rights Council, through reasoned argumentation, of our case. We had a stronger, more credible narrative than our critics did. As a consequence, we were able to construct a very broad coalition of member-states to support us. However, a mere six weeks after we won that vote, getting more support than even the USA has managed to get in its resolutions critical of Sri Lanka at the UNHRC, the Rajapaksa regime removed our successful team and changed our discourse, stance and strategy. Our victory held for three years and then Sri Lanka began to lose serially because our vote base, including in the global south, had been eroded. We lost in 2012, 2013, 2014 under the Rajapaksas—though I was serving as Ambassador to France and they could have sent me back to Geneva after I had completed my assignment by January 2013.
Then we had the Yahapalanaya government with the UNP – Ranil and Mangala –handling foreign policy and they abjectly surrendered in Geneva, co-sponsoring a resolution which commended and was based upon UN Human Rights High Commissioner Zeid al Hussain’s Report which accused Sri Lanka of ‘system-wide’ i.e., not merely individual or aberrant, war crimes and crimes against humanity! Ranil and Mangala agreed to courts sitting in Sri Lanka with foreign judges, foreign prosecutors and foreign counsel!
Finally the Rajapaksas returned and we resumed our losing streak, getting dwindling support every time.
Now the two sides which ruined us in Geneva—the Rajapaksas and Ranil—are together, and the result is still a disaster.
What is radically different between Geneva 2009 and Geneva 2012-2023, is that in May 2009, the immediate aftermath of a long and bloody war and with massive demonstrations by the Tamil Diaspora in Europe including Geneva, outcries in the international media, and the signed intervention of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in support of the Western resolution against us (her April 4th cable disclosed by Wikileaks), Sri Lanka succeeded in the battle of arguments, because we had accumulated a sufficient stockpile of soft-power through our credible narrative, rational discourse and broad united front. In the decade 2012-2022, Sri Lankan Governments destroyed all that, beginning with my removal six weeks after our diplomatic victory of 2009, which was never repeated.
SLG: But, we have not seen any substantive presentation from the government side denying the so-called genocide charge of some parties. Why?
DJ: There should have been an internationally credible, domestic accountability mechanism and process as recommended by the LLRC, the Paranagama commission report – authored by Sir Desmond de Silva—but this was never done. Significantly, even Ranil and Mangala buried the Desmond de Silva report, which had an annexure authored by the former head of the British SAS which completely demolished the allegations of a policy of premeditated war crimes on the part of the Sri Lankan military.
SLG: Do you think we are losing the grips in the international community to certain elements in Tamil Diaspora?
DJ: Sure, but it is not just to, or mainly to, elements in the Tamil Diaspora. We have a considerable portion of world opinion against us. This is not due to the Tamil Diaspora; it is due to the ugly face of the Sri Lankan State under both the Rajapaksas and the Ranil presidency due to the latter’s repression of unarmed non-violent Aragalaya activists in a context when the Aragalaya restored Sri Lanka’s image in the global media and through it in the eyes of the world.
SLG: What should be the role of our diplomats and their subordinates to overcome prevailing challenges in the country?
DJ: Our professional diplomats are doing their best though some Gotabaya appointees especially in a crucial place like Geneva, presented an ugly, truculent image. Their personality and discourse were all wrong. The real problem is with our foreign policy. Without a correct foreign policy which I define as one that goes back at least to Lakshman Kadirgamar and then moves forward from there, you cannot sustain a successful diplomacy.
SLG: There was an interesting interview published by Indian media with Milinda Moragoda, the high commissioner of Sri Lanka to India, where he says, “New Delhi’s support to Sri Lanka was without “condition” and the package was “extremely flexible”. Any thoughts, can you offer us?
DJ: The problem I have is not with India’s support to us, which has been most valuable. It is what successive Sri Lankan administrations have sought to use and misuse India’s support for. For the last decade, Sri Lanka has not had a correct foreign policy, which crucially entails a correct India policy. Our India policy has to be the cornerstone of our foreign policy and diplomacy and must be guided by our national interest but it has not been so at any time in the postwar period. Instead, it has been guided by narrow, selfish factors. India rightly takes care of its interests, but we don’t similarly take care of ours.
SLG: A few incidents recently reported I would like to recall, first, arbitrary scraping of the tender of a project awarded to China due to India’s objection; second, for the first time in History India’s Minister urged Sri Lanka on an open platform to conduct the elections without any further due and ensure the rights of Tamil speakers; third, Indian mission in Colombo and Jaffna directly influenced the Universities especially the Jaffna University not to sign MOUs with Chinese University impacting the academic freedom. We find it quite contrary to what Mr. Moragoda tells. Your take, please.
DJ: We have lacked balance and a clear strategic vision of our national interest.
SLG: However, Sri Lanka is gearing up for much-delayed local elections. What do you think?
DJ: If the local election is not held on schedule there will be an uncontrollable chain reaction of social explosions. July 1983, two civil wars and a foreign intervention were all after and due to the postponement of imminent parliamentary elections through a fraudulent and coercive referendum in December 1982. Conversely, we began to emerge from that crisis through the Provincial Council, Presidential and Parliamentary elections of 1988-1989. Elections are the solution not the problem. Postponement of elections is the problem, not the solution.
SLG: 13A mantra again on the edge of politics. President Wickremesinghe reaffirmed his willingness to implement the 13th amendment fully. Is it the right time to do it? And do you agree with the way the President is going to implement this?
DJ: I have always supported the 13th amendment and its implementation, but the modalities, timing and sequencing of full implementation can only be deliberated upon in a triangular discussion between an elected President, a newly elected Parliament and elected Provincial Councils. It will be disastrous if it is undertaken by a president without a popular mandate, a Parliament that has forfeited its popular mandate by doing the exact opposite of that mandate, and a Provincial Council system put into a coma! What Ranil is attempting is like trying to perform brain surgery which requires a laser, with a rusty axe instead!
SLG: You are supporting Mr. Sajith Premadasa, and you were with his father too. What is the difference you see between the duo? And the mistakes of his father; Do you think Sajith can capture the people’s power? Why do you think he is the best man to run this country?
DJ: Firstly, as for the mistakes of President Premadasa, I see only one: he did not play the same guiding role in the war against the LTTE that he did in the war against the JVP. Though Ranjan Wijeratne and Sirisena Cooray played the directly leading role – the Ops Combine which defeated the barbaric JVP campaign in a few months reported ultimately to Sirisena Cooray—the guiding role, including the sincere search for peace, was Premadasa’s. He did not play the same role in the war against the LTTE and did not let Sirisena Cooray do so either. I lobbied hard for him to do so (and have my memos to prove it), but he said “Dayan, after all this is over the Tamil people must see the Presidency as being above the ethnic issue, so I do not want to be directly associated with this and I prefer to let the professional military handle the task without interference”. Sadly, he was wrong and I proved correct. That was his only real mistake.
The democratic system, open society and open economy was saved in 1989 by a Premadasa and Premadasa policies. That’s what it took. They will have to be saved again, this time, also by a Premadasa and Premadasa policies.
I support Sajith Premadasa because only he has the right mix of policies necessary to save the economy and democracy in this grave existential crisis. What is that mix? It is globally known as “Growth with Equity”. President Premadasa had unprecedentedly high achievements with that mix. Few leaders can do both together but he did so. In the Premadasa years we resumed high growth very swiftly, had high levels of foreign direct investment, rapid export-led decentralized industrialization, a very active Stock Market while simultaneously we had many programs of social upliftment such as Janasaviya, Free School Uniforms, Free Mid-day Meals for school children, and overall a reduction of absolute and relative poverty and income inequality.
The present government is for economic contraction, not expansion—that means low growth, which is disastrous.
The JVP-JJB’s policy manifesto is firmly opposed to the Open Economy and globalization – not just neoliberalism, which we should all oppose—and without the open economy and globalization you cannot have high growth.
The centre-right neoliberal economists are for high growth but reject simultaneous high equity as undesirable or impossible. If you have high growth but low equity you will have a revolution!
Throughout the world, ONLY a Social Democratic policy paradigm has a chance of ensuring high growth and greater social equity simultaneously. For 35 years I have been a convinced Social Democrat, even when I was an underground left activist.
In Sri Lanka, ONLY Sajith Premadasa – not even the JVP-JJB—has committed to a Social Democratic paradigm, and he has the advantage of having inherited and absorbed a proven success story of such a social democratic developmental paradigm, i.e., that of his father Ranasinghe Premadasa.
Sajith is a relatively young leader who has the best combination of a good Western education and exposure to the world, with compassionate interventionism on behalf of the majority of the people.
What is the difference between Sajith and his father, you asked; It is the same difference as between my father and me. That difference is best encapsulated in the reply given by the legendary business magnate N.U. Jayawardene (Dr Lal Jayawardena’s father and Milinda Moragoda’s maternal grandfather), at his daughter-in-law Prof Kumari Jayawardena’s home, to my father whom he regarded with some fondness. The question around the dining table had been, “how come NU Jayawardena was an acerbic personality who didn’t suffer fools gladly; a rough diamond – while his son Dr Lal Jayawardena was a polite, amiable, tolerant person?” N.U.’s replay had been “well, I am the son of a rest-housekeeper, while he [Lal] is the son of the former Governor of the Central Bank!”
My father Mervyn used to say the same thing when a similar question was asked about him and me. Prof Kumari Jayawardena asked him “Mervyn, see how objective Dayan as a boy, is even about you, his father. He is far more objective than you are. Why can’t you be that objective?’ Mervyn used to answer: “I am the son of an apothecary, while he [Dayan] is the son of the Editor of the Ceylon Daily News!”
Similarly, Sajith is the English public school and LSE-educated son of an assassinated populist President. Naturally, he and his great-father are somewhat different. Though, both in Sajith’s case and mine, vis-à-vis our respective fathers, something that Lee Kuan Yew said is very relevant. When he was asked on the record why he thinks his son can manage Singapore, Lee replied that in his retirement he had been reading a lot of science and that the evidence was conclusive: “80% of one’s makeup comes from genetics– transmitted from your parents”.
I know for sure that as a first-time diplomat, my successful performance as Ambassador/Permanent Representative in Geneva at a crucial and challenging time in my country’s history would not have been possible had I not been the son of Sri Lanka’s foremost expert on international affairs and travelled overseas with my parents even when my father covered the 2nd Nonaligned Conference in Cairo under Nasser in September 1964, and I was seven years old.
SLG: Dr Dayan, it is indeed great listening to you. Hope we shall continue this discussion
Two stalwarts of the JVP-led National People’s Power (NPP) alliance, Dr Harini Amarasuriya MP and Mr Tilvin Silva, JVP General Secretary, as reported in the media early February 2023, have made more or less clear the alliance’s stand on the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (suggested by the president): the NPP is broadly for it. But both Amarasuriya and Silva are not convinced of president Ranil Wickremasinghe’s actual commitment to his decision to fully implement the controversial amendment. They both express misgivings about president Wickremasinghe’s real intentions in bringing up the issue at this critical juncture.
Amarasuriya says he didn’t do it when he had ‘opportunities’ to do it in the past. Well, actually, to be fair by Wickremasinghe, he didn’t have any opportunity to make the decisive move. He neither became executive president nor got sufficient parliamentary power to do so before he ultimately got kicked out of parliament altogether for pursuing policies that tended towards the full implementation of 13A. But for the Rajapaksas’ perfidious betrayal of the nearly seven million patriotic Sri Lankans who voted in Gotabaya Rajapaksa as president and 140+ MPs on the SLPP ticket to defeat the yahapalanaya that he had controlled under Sirisena’s lame executive presidency, he won’t have entered parliament even as an ordinary MP, let alone be executive president. (The Rajapaksas’ treachery is a different matter.)
Tilvin Silva sees the main parties (presumably, the UNP and SLFP rumps and their utterly disoriented new manifestations) as arousing communal passions through the debate on 13A. Those that he calls ‘diehard racists…’ (who, according to him, had been hiding these few months) are coming out of the woodwork. Who are these so-called ‘racists’? They are, of course, those who are opposed to 13A, the patriots who are opposed to the division of the country into nine virtually independent units, resulting in the disintegration of the unitary state.
Tilvin Silva said that what people in the North and the South are asking for are food, fuel and medicine and so on; but the Northerners have problems. “We do not think that any other party except a government of the JVP-led NPP can give real solutions to the problems of people in the North. We would form an NPP government and bring in a new constitution with a mechanism to solve the problems of Tamil people. We get it passed with people’s approval and provide solutions for the problems of the Northerner. Until such times, provincial councils will have their existence,” Silva said, as reported in one national English daily.
It is not clear how the NPP is going to deal with the 13A issue. But if it is hoping to wangle the support of the Sinhala Buddhist masses, who are always at the receiving end, while horse-trading with the federalists, Anura’s chances of becoming president will evaporate soon. As he has already apparently indicated that his prime minister will be Sumanthiran (I am not sure of the authenticity of this piece of information, though) in case he becomes president, the voters in the South will be even more sceptical about voting for him. Sumanthiran is the exact opposite of Lakshman Kadirgamar, whom the Sinhalese universally loved and honoured above all other politicians, but whom the LTTE assassinated as a traitor to the separatist cause.
The truth is that the majority of ordinary Tamils in Jaffna do not want to live in a separate state. They want to live in peace with the other communities of the country. According to Arun Siddharthan, the convener of the Jaffna Civil Society Centre, the proposed full implementation of 13A is a conspiracy of the casteist TNA. People in the North actually suffer from casteism, not from any political discrimination or human rights violations by the Sinhalese majority. Tamils deemed to belong to low castes like himself (but he doesn’t accept casteism; he is a much more honourable man than his racist, casteist opponents) have no human rights. He says he is not allowed to have a press conference in Jaffna. Hence he holds his news briefings in Colombo. At this briefing, Arun Siddharthan refers to the non-implementation in Jaffna of the Prevention of Social Disabilities Act No. 21 of 1957 adopted by the S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike government of the day amidst opposition from casteist Tamil MPs. Arun Siddharthan warns that if the government tries to implement 13A, there will be a communal uprising against it in Jaffna, which, though, in my opinion will be counterproductive. It might provide an opportunity for India to intervene militarily, and make matters worse.
Leaders of the NPP, please stop being misled by your ‘friends’, certain Colombo-based crafty Tamil lawyers and moribund political counsellors who, unlike you, are out and out misanthropic, racists. Trust young Tamil leaders like Arun to befriend the Tamil polity in the North as well as in the South. To increase your appeal among the Sinhalese, please enlist the support of JVP founder Rohana Wijeweera’s son Uvindu wherever he is and young grassroots level nationalist activists like Amith Weerasinghe, who is already doing much to relieve the suffering of the poor of all communities around Kandy in central Sri Lanka (hence disliked by traditional politicians as a threat to their political existence).
What is the point of your insisting on the holding of local government elections? There is no meaning in having elections at this time. Even if they are held, you will not stand to win. You hardly won any seats at the last local government election in 2018, don’t you remember? You will not do better this time if you stick to your purblind policy of cozying up to the casteist elite of the Tamil society in the North, while ignoring the populace suffering at their hands, and while taking the support of the Sinhalese majority for granted. As it is clear to the intelligent voters that you have swallowed the TNA cajolery hook, line, and sinker, people will not trust you enough to vote for you. What you can do instead is to use the next two years to educate the young people of today about the JVP’s heroic past, with a genuine analysis of its costly errors (Uvindu has an idea about that) and organise the multiethnic electorate (dominated by the lower middle and working classes) across the country for a resounding victory at the next presidential and parliamentary elections. Until then, try to help prevent Ranil Wickremasinghe from doing anything really detrimental to the country that is irreversible.
As I wrote in my previous writeup “Is 13A PANACEA? Cynical irony of……….” (Sri Lanka Guardian/February 2, 2023) “We need statesmen/women, not mere politicians. People are fed up with the latter. Anura is not likely to turn out to be a real statesman, even if he gets the chance to do so one day, if he pursues his proven hypocrisy. However, compared to the leading buffoons of the two traditional parties (the UNP and the SLFP/or their ghostly modern reincarnations), Anura Dissanayake would be someone that the people can look towards as an alternative leader, provided he does not forfeit the trust of the majority Sinhala Buddhists in his attempt to win the loyalty of the traditional minority leaders, who will never ever change their spots, though they may change their hunting grounds”.
Let me end this piece with the last paragraph of an essay I wrote four years ago (‘JVP at a crossroads’/The Island/March 5, 2018):
“The JVP must take a good hard look at its wasteful past and subject itself to serious reform as a party. It must get rid of its outdated ideologies and outmoded leaders. It must not condemn the voters as idiots for not voting for them. Most important, the JVP’ers must find political allies with whom they can coexist and serve the nation.”
Sri Lanka is a country that has often been viewed as a victim of hegemony, or the dominance of one country or group of countries over others. This has been a result of a long history of foreign influence and intervention, dating back to the colonial period and continuing through to the present day.
During the colonial period, Sri Lanka was ruled by the Portuguese, Dutch, and British, each of whom imposed their own cultural, political, and economic systems on the island nation. The colonial powers exploited Sri Lanka’s resources and labor, and imposed a social and economic structure that was designed to benefit the colonizers and marginalize the native population. This legacy of colonialism has had a lasting impact on Sri Lanka, and has contributed to the country’s status as a victim of hegemony.
In more recent years, Sri Lanka has continued to face the challenges of foreign intervention and domination. The country has been the target of geopolitical struggles between major global powers, and has often found itself caught in the crosshairs of competing interests. For example, during the Cold War, Sri Lanka was viewed as a strategically important country due to its location at the crossroads of the Indian Ocean, and was a target of influence by both the United States and the Soviet Union.
Additionally, Sri Lanka has faced the challenges of economic hegemony, as multinational corporations and international financial institutions have sought to exploit the country’s resources and labor. This has often led to the exploitation of workers and the depletion of the country’s natural resources, and has contributed to a growing inequality between the wealthy and the poor.
In conclusion, Sri Lanka is a country that has long been a victim of hegemony, both during the colonial period and in more recent years. The country has faced challenges from foreign powers seeking to impose their will, as well as from multinational corporations and international financial institutions seeking to exploit its resources and labor. To overcome these challenges, Sri Lanka must work to assert its independence and sovereignty, and to protect its people and resources from exploitation by foreign interests.
“Despite extreme political polarization in Sri Lanka, I have become the common enemy of the country’s all political fronts,” leader of the Marxist JVP, Anura Kumara Dissanayaka says in an interview with Sudewa Hettiarachchi, a well-known TV journalist, who broke the silence after two years of silence.
Describing several political and structural failures in the country, the JVP leader did not hesitate to admit the party’s responsibilities of involvement in those events with several parties including former President CBK and Mahinda Rajapaksa.
“Those were mistakes, but still, I believe, certain positive achievements like ending the war are there on records,” Dissanayaka said.
“Ranil Wickremesinghe is rude, but by contrast, Sajith Premadasa is a farce,” Dissanayaka describe his main political rivals.
While talking about the major policy decisions that he is going to implement if he becomes the President, Mr Dissanayaka says that he will turn all ministerial residences and President’s palaces outside Colombo into tourist hotels.