Sri Lanka: Politics beyond 22

“You are in the end – what you are.” ~ Goethe (Faust) 22 is not perfect. Far from it, perhaps light-years far. Yet, in a season of defeats and setbacks, it is a win for Lankan democracy, and for those


The Pitfalls of US Democracy Promotion: A Call for Change



“The United States needs to be humble if it wants to be a force for good in the world. It needs to recognize that its democratic values and practices are not perfect and that it has much to learn from other countries.” – Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations.

The upcoming democracy summit being organized by the United States has been criticized by many as a self-serving event that is unlikely to help any country other than the US itself. Some have even gone so far as to call it a laughable event that will not benefit even the US’s closest allies. It is certainly true that the US has had a complicated history with many countries around the world. Some have accused the US of instigating conflicts and promoting division. And it is also true that the pursuit of global dominance has led the US to take actions that have harmed many people and countries.

The US has a long history of intervening in the affairs of other countries in the name of promoting democracy and human rights. However, these interventions have not always been successful or well-received, and some have argued that they have actually undermined democracy and governance in the affected countries. One example of this is the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The stated reason for the invasion was to rid the country of weapons of mass destruction and to promote democracy in the region. However, the invasion ultimately led to the toppling of the Iraqi government and the subsequent power vacuum created a destabilized environment in the country. This situation ultimately contributed to the rise of extremist groups like ISIS, which further destabilized the region and caused significant human suffering.

Similarly, in many Latin American countries, the US has supported authoritarian regimes in the past in the name of promoting stability and democracy. These policies have often resulted in human rights abuses, corruption, and a lack of democratic governance. Some argue that the US has been hypocritical in its promotion of democracy, as it has often supported authoritarian regimes when it suited its interests, while actively working to undermine democratically elected governments that were not aligned with US interests.

In addition, the US itself has struggled with issues such as systemic racism, voter suppression, and a lack of representation for marginalized groups. Therefore, there is a growing recognition that the US needs to take a hard look at its own democratic values and practices, and work towards improving them both domestically and in its interactions with other countries.

One important step towards this goal is for the US to acknowledge its own flaws and work towards addressing them. This includes addressing issues such as systemic racism, promoting fair and free elections, and working to ensure that all citizens have equal representation in government. Another important step is for the US to re-evaluate its approach to promoting democracy in other countries. Instead of using military force or other interventions to try to impose democratic values on other countries, the US should work to promote democracy through peaceful means, such as diplomacy, support for civil society, and aid for the development of democratic institutions.

Moreover, the US needs to work towards promoting democratic values in a way that respects the sovereignty and agency of other countries. This means engaging in genuine dialogue with other countries, listening to their concerns, and working together to promote democracy and human rights in a way that is respectful and collaborative.

It is high time for the US to re-engineer its democratic values and practices, both domestically and in its interactions with other countries. By acknowledging its own flaws and working towards addressing them, promoting democracy through peaceful means and engaging in respectful dialogue with other nations, the US can play a positive role in promoting democratic values and institutions around the world. As Vaclav Havel, former President of the Czech Republic, once says, “the promotion of democracy is not a matter of removing dictators and holding elections, but of empowering people to govern themselves.”

However, the reality is that asking the US to genuinely work on democratic values is akin to asking a wild elephant to fly – it is a difficult task to achieve. This is because hypocrisy seems to be a driving force behind the US’s exercise of power. After causing significant harm to humanity, it seems nonsensical for the US to stage dramatic displays of democracy in Washington.

Sri Lanka: Why This IMF Deal is a Disaster Waiting to Happen


Sri Lanka’s seventeenth IMF agreement sealed last week may well prove to be the most devastating one of them all. The reason is that the agreement comes along with Sri Lanka having defaulted on its external debt for the first time in its history. The IMF amounts to being the arbiter of the debt restructuring process with Sri Lanka’s external creditors, which will provide considerable leverage for Sri Lanka to be held accountable to IMF conditionalities.

The fallout of the IMF package will be wide and deep, greater than the Structural Adjustment Programm e with the IMF in the late 1970s, when our cherished social welfare system came under attack. In this Kuppi column, I address some of the dangers facing our education system. Education is inextricably linked to welfare and democracy, and in the years ahead the nexus of the IMF and the current avatar of the neoliberal state are likely to impose an authoritarian regime of dispossession. The future of Free Education in our country now depends on tremendous resistance by our students and teachers along with solidarity from all quarters of the working people.

Welfare and democracy

Social welfare in Sri Lanka reaches back to the 1940s. It included food subsides, free education and free healthcare, which were all universal schemes. The IMF packages and the World Bank programmes since the neoliberal turn in the late 1970s have consistently attempted to weaken such universal social welfare programs in the interest of creating a market economy, including through the commercialisation of education and healthcare. Neoliberal ideology privileges the individual, and by the same token places the entire burden of wellbeing on the individual. As the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher—who, along with US President Ronald Reagan, initiated the neoliberal age on a global scale—famously said, “there is no such thing as society”.

This rejection of society is at the heart of the attack on social welfare, as the IMF and World Bank are now in the process of changing the very idea of social welfare itself into a narrow concept of targeted cash transfer programmes. This attack on the social aspect of welfare entails both granting enormous discretionary power to those in power to determine which individuals can obtain minimal support, in addition to the monetisation of such entitlements, which over time would likely be reduced or inflated away.

Historically, universal social welfare came after the policy of universal adult franchise in 1931. Furthermore, universal free education policies, as they emerged in the mid-1940s, were framed in terms of strengthening the ability of Sri Lanka’s citizens to exercise power through their democracy. In this context, today’s attack on universal social welfare is a key part of the agenda of an illegitimate and undemocratic regime in power. Moreover, the regime’s vision of the education system derives from the IMF’s technocratic assumption that the goal should be to create subservient employees for a market economy, rather than democratic-minded people who can become agents of social, economic and political change.

Austerity, dispossession, and resistance

The attack on education is not only ideological, in terms of the neoliberal emphasis on individualism. The austerity measures that are inherent to the current IMF programme are also material. They are bound to reduce the allocations for education. The Government is being forced to find avenues to create a primary budget surplus by next year. This will further lead to initiatives for the commercialisation of education; for example, the expansion of fee-levying programs in the state university system, loan schemes for education, and the initiation of private educational institutions, including private universities.

The logic of the IMF programme and the unfolding developments will dispossess people of one of their most important social welfare entitlements: education. There is already evidence of rising school dropouts, of children not being sent regularly to school, children fainting at school due to the lack of food, and children having to labour for their existence. University students are finding transport costs unaffordable and even lunch packets are becoming out of their reach. These are the consequences of a contracting economy due to the austerity measures that have been imposed. Indeed, our economy has contracted by as much as a fifth over the last few years. The critical gains of social welfare made after the Great Depression of the 1930s in our country are now in danger of being completely rolled back because of the ongoing economic depression along with the IMF programme making it worse.

The dismal prospects for our country can only be addressed by solidarity and resistance. We need to regain our sense of social belonging, which was undone through the very attack by neoliberalism on the idea of society, while taking forward the struggle for democracy. The great struggles last year that dislodged an authoritarian populist president provide hope that despite decades of neoliberal policies, working people’s capacity to envision society, solidarity, and resistance are very much alive.

We are going through the most painful period of our postcolonial history. It is a moment in which, even as our economy is collapsing, our elite are working in cahoots with the IMF and global finance capital, which have achieved a stranglehold on us by leveraging the default and the bankrupt state of our country. In the context of this existential danger, for those of us concerned about safeguarding free education and, for that matter, any meaningful system of education, this time around that struggle must begin from a broader defence of social welfare and democracy.

The Dragon Rises in the Middle East: China Emerges as a Major Powerbroker


by Jude

“If we want to make peace with the other, we must first make peace with ourselves.” – Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

With failing economic policies, a botched withdrawal from Afghanistan and impediments to peace in Ukraine, Joe Biden’s America is losing pieces on the great chessboard of global politics. A rising star of the East, Xi’s China rather seems to be gaining influential global momentum through classic political interventionism in global affairs. The latest being China’s role in the brokering of a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran where the two long-standing enemies-of-sorts have agreed to open diplomatic relations.

This recent deal could have far-reaching implications for the Middle East, particularly in the context of ongoing conflicts and tensions in the region. The divide between Saudi Arabia and Iran is largely driven by sectarian differences, with Saudi Arabia being predominantly Sunni and Iran being predominantly Shia. This divide has fueled conflicts in various parts of the region, including Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, with the latter often being characterised as a proxy war between the two countries. Despite this history of tension, the fact that both countries have agreed to reduce tensions and refrain from interfering in each other’s affairs suggests a willingness to move beyond the sectarian divide and focus on shared interests.

The Middle East has been wracked by conflict and instability for decades, with terrorism being a major driver of violence and instability in the region. Groups like the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and others have carried out attacks throughout the region, targeting civilians and government installations alike. The rise of Islamic State in particular was fueled by a number of factors, including the US intervention in Iraq and the subsequent destabilisation of the region. The US’s role in funding and arming various rebel groups against Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime further facilitated the creation of a chaotic and volatile environment in which groups like the Islamic State were able to thrive.

Proxy warfare has been a significant factor in fueling conflicts and instability in the Middle East. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran have often relied on proxy groups to pursue their influence and interests in the region, with these groups carrying out various influence operations and militancy on behalf of their sponsors. The ongoing conflict in Yemen is a particularly stark example of this, with Saudi Arabia and its Western allies backing the Yemeni government, while Iran supports the Houthi rebels, reeling the gulf nation into a spiral of instability and violence.

While the fact that China was able to play a role in brokering the Saudi-Iran deal is significant in itself, it further suggests that other countries are increasingly willing to look to China as a major power broker in the Middle East. China’s growing influence in the region is driven largely by its economic interests, with the country heavily dependent on oil imports from the region and working to expand its economic ties with countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran. By demonstrating its ability to play a constructive role in resolving conflicts and promoting stability in the region, China further enhances its reputation as a major power and a reliable partner in the eyes of countries in the Middle East.

However, China’s growing influence in the region is certainly not without its risks. As the Chinese Communist Party becomes more deeply involved in the politics of the Middle East, it could find itself drawn into conflicts or disputes that could prove difficult to resolve – as with the plethora of conflicts in modern time. It could also face backlash from other major powers, particularly the United States, which may see China’s involvement as a threat to its own interests in the region.

The Saudi-Iran deal brokered by China is a significant development that underscores the shifting balance of power in the Middle East. It suggests that countries in the region are increasingly willing to look beyond traditional power brokers like the United States and turn to other players like China to help resolve conflicts and promote stability. While there are risks associated with China’s growing influence in the region, the fact that the country was able to broker this deal suggests that there are opportunities for constructive engagement and diplomacy that could help address some of the most pressing challenges facing the Middle East today.

In addition to the sectarian divide, terrorism, and proxy warfare, there are several other factors contributing to instability and conflict in the Middle East. One of the most pressing is the ongoing refugee crisis, with millions of people displaced by conflict and violence throughout the region. The refugee crisis has placed enormous strain on countries throughout the region, and has also created significant political and social challenges for countries in Europe and other parts of the world.

Another significant factor contributing to instability in the Middle East is the ongoing struggle for political and economic power. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran have long sought to expand their influence and assert their dominance in the region, often at the expense of other countries and groups. This struggle for power has fueled conflicts and tensions, with countries like Qatar and Turkey seeking to challenge the dominance of Saudi Arabia and Iran in the region.

The involvement of external powers, particularly the United States, has also been a major factor in shaping the politics and dynamics of the Middle East. The US has historically played a significant role in the region, with its interventions and policies often exacerbating tensions and fueling conflict. This was particularly evident in the aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, which destabilised the country through the elimination of its political leadership and disbanding of the Iraqi military, which created a power vacuum that was quickly filled by various armed groups.

US support for various rebel groups in Syria also contributed to the chaos and violence in the country, with groups like the Islamic State emerging as a major force in the region as a result. The fact that the US has been unable to resolve the conflicts and tensions in the region has led to a growing sense of frustration and disillusionment among countries in the region, many of whom are now turning to other players like China to help broker deals and promote stability.

Overall, the Saudi-Iran deal brokered by China represents a significant shift in the balance of power in the Middle East – and perhaps the world at large. While there are risks associated with China’s growing involvement in the region, the fact that the country was able to play a constructive role in brokering this deal suggests that there are opportunities for other countries to engage in constructive diplomacy and help address some of the most pressing challenges facing the Middle East in the 2020s. This includes the ongoing threat of terrorism, the proliferation of proxy wars, and the need to address the root causes of conflict and instability ranging from racial, religious and political tensions.

It is clear that the traditional powers in the region, such as the United States, are no longer the dominant players. On the global stage, the bipolarity world of the Cold War shifted to a unipolar one in the 1990s with a preponderance of power and influence being held by the United States. The unipolar world is shifting into that of a multipolar dimension with strong players such as China and India rising to become heavily influential players on the global stage. The US’ previous policies of intervention and support for various rebel groups seem to have only served to exacerbate tensions and fuel conflict across the world. The emergence of China as a major player in the region may provide an opportunity for countries to engage in constructive diplomacy and work towards a more peaceful and stable future for the Middle East. Of course, this is not to say that China and the Chinese Communist Party are saviors of the region, but to simply offer a glimpse into the rise of a new player in Middle Eastern geopolitics.

It is now up to countries in the region to build on this momentum and work towards a more stable and peaceful future for the region.This will require a commitment to dialogue, compromise, and cooperation, as well as a willingness to address the root causes of conflict and instability in the region. With the fall of the Islamic State and mass withdrawal of foreign troops in recent years, there is reason to hope that nations in the Middle East will be able to overcome their differences and work towards a more peaceful and prosperous future for their people.

Jude is a political and security affairs analyst

Election Manoeuvring Is a Blessing in Disguise


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.

Better technology

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.

International recognition

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.

Mud attacks

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.

Prabhu class

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.

Sri Lanka: Ranil Faces Hobson’s Choice


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.

Sagala at 55: Navigating Complexity of Social Upheaval in Sri Lanka


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.

Sri Lanka: Taxing Times


“…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.

Why elections?

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?

Sri Lanka: Wickremesinghe’s “Accidental” Presidency — From Agile to Fragile Democracy



“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.

Sri Lanka: Is Mahinda Rajapaksa still bluffing?


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.

Interview: Postponement of Elections is the Problem, Not the Solution


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.

File photo of Dayan Jayatilleka as a senior lecturer on political science in the University of Colombo [Photo Credit: by Ravi Prasad Herath]

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. 

As the Ambassador of Sri Lanka Dayan Jayatilleka presented credentials to President Putin in a solemn ceremony bringing together the newly-appointed Ambassadors of 23 countries in St. Alexander’s at the Grand Kremlin Palace on October 11, 2018 [ Photo Credit: Twitter]

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.

Man with a winning formula: Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka as a country’s top diplomat in Geneva [Photo: Special Arrangement]

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!

Dayan is the author of Fidel’s Ethics of Violence: The Moral Dimension of the Political Thought of Fidel Castro [ Credit: Amazon]

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

DJ: Pleasure

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