What’s the Best Way Out from the War in Ukraine?

5 mins read

In view of the recent geopolitical upheavals, and particularly the war in Ukraine, it does not make sense (and does not promise much success) to build a new global security architecture based on the logic of a bipolar confrontation for several reasons…

Firstly, a principal prerequisite for success of a confrontational “conflict strategy”—a far-reaching identity of interests with politically aligned conceptions—is not given in the Western, democratic camp.

As long as the USA is deeply divided, it is difficult for the European partners to fully rely on it. And despite the rapid joint reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian war of aggression, the cohesion of the EU is by no means assured.

Differing levels of concern and different opinions as to what action to take with regard to economic consequences of the war—as well as the large-scale energy crisis in Europe illustrate the potential for conflict rather than agreement within Europe.

Secondly, a lasting “conflict strategy” is inherently dangerous because of its potential for military escalation. Even the use of nuclear weapons has become a real risk as a result of Putin’s threats and increasing American involvement in the conflict.

And finally, coping with climate change (which will pose an existential threat to many people) and significantly reducing global poverty (which will increase in the coming years as a result of climate change and war) are much more difficult problems to solve in a confrontational bipolar environment.

Cornerstones of a Modern Policy of Détente

Instead of global confrontation (now often said to be underway between the world’s democracies and authoritarian regimes), it is important to develop an alternative international policy that, on the one hand, counters the new military threats, and on the other hand, enables a new quality of global cooperation to combat climate change, global poverty and the expected large-scale famines.

The détente policy of Willy Brandt and Egon Bahr is by no means outdated in this context. On the contrary, it offers important lessons learned for the new policy of global cooperation that needs to be developed.

The policy of détente which overcame a system of confrontation was never based on a naïve belief—such as those embedded in Democratic Peace Theory—that mutual benefits of economic cooperation would create interdependencies that would make it pointless for the states involved to wage wars against one another.

The policy of detente was not based on a belief in the peaceful nature of the Soviet Union. Rather, détente required a realistic picture of the interests of the states involved.

At the same time, it was anchored in an age of nuclear weapons, and the assessment, because of that, that a war between the Communist and Democratic systems could have no winner and must be prevented at all costs.

This was linked to efforts to enshrine the maintenance of the territorial integrity of all states in international law. The strength of the law would replace the ancient view that, as Thucydides wrote, “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

International organizations such as the UN or the OSCE were given central importance. Militarily, the policy of détente was based on sufficient deterrence capabilities and the need for mutual arms control and disarmament agreement to be binding.

This was based on the realization that security can only be guaranteed in the long term if we work with rather than against each-other, as Bahr noted in the Palme Report 1982: ‘Doctrine of Common Security.’

Economic cooperation between the two blocs, which intensified over time, served to strengthen the mutual benefits of working together. The policy of détente did not develop its effectiveness overnight, but was able to assert itself in a lengthy diplomatic process.

Incidentally, the starting point was the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was the result of a previous phase of confrontational politics between the USA and the Soviet Union, and which led the world to the nuclear abyss. These elements were joined in the 1980s by the concept of comprehensive security. This was based on the simple realization that lasting peace can only be achieved if important causes of conflict such as environmental damage and hunger are fought at the same time.

Certainly, in today’s multipolar world, it will be more difficult to conceive a modern policy of detente in detail. In addition, there are no undisputed hegemonic powers in their respective camps today; on the contrary, there is a dispute over global hegemony between the USA and China.

But solving these conflicts requires taking into account the changes of the international community in the last few decades, even if these are not yet underpinned by adequate political implementation strategies.

With the adoption of the Paris climate agreement, the international community recognized that climate change can only be stopped if all states give climate protection a top priority. And the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN, which are repeatedly emphasized, also show that development must benefit everyone.

Current Fields of Action

In relation to the current situation, this results in the following fields of action from my point of view:

Certainly, military, political and economic support for Ukraine will have to continue. However, it must be ensured that neither the EU states nor NATO become a war party.

That sets limits on arms deliveries.

It is also important that parallel diplomatic initiatives are repeatedly taken in order to avoid devastating escalations of the war, to make humanitarian aid possible and to achieve a ceasefire as a starting point for peace negotiations. The negotiations on grain exports and the efforts to ensure the safety of the nuclear power plant in Zaporizhia show that diplomacy can be successful.

And at the last UN General Assembly in December, important countries in the world community such as China and India spoke out in favor of diplomatic initiatives to end the war.

The decision to significantly improve the defense capabilities of the European nations is another step in the right direction.

However, this must not be the beginning of a permanent spiral of military rearmament. Abstract stipulations that the defense budget of the NATO countries should permanently be two percent of GDP are nonsense, especially since the European NATO countries already spend three times as much money on armaments as Russia.

Attempts that the European states should also engage militarily in the Indo-Pacific region should also be rejected.

And efforts must be stepped up today to reach international agreements on disarmament and arms control both in Europe and globally.

All steps in this context should be taken in close consultation within the EU.

It is self-evident that Germany, as the largest and economically strongest EU member state, is of particular importance. Above all, however, this means that Germany must take the initiative.

However, this should not be confused with a German leadership role that some people are calling for. In the EU, for the foreseeable future there cannot and will not be leading countries on the one hand and being-led countries on the other.

The EU must not limit its engagement to the European continent. As a major civil and economic power, the EU is destined to play a prominent role in creating a multilateral order of justice that should focus on combating climate change and combating poverty and famine worldwide.

In light of the serious destabilization caused by the Russian war of aggression, such a modern policy of detente cannot in the short term lead to a new, stable peace order, neither in Europe nor globally.

Detente requires a systematic step-by-step, while possible setbacks will have to be coped with by efforts to de-escalate and solve the conflict even if there are no blueprints for steps to be taken. However, these steps should apply the lessons learned from détente rather than pursuing a policy of confrontation that may look simpler but would ultimately be devastating.

This article is distributed by Globetrotter in partnership with the American Committee for U.S.-Russia Accord (ACURA).

Sri Lanka: Still on the Rotten Bridge

8 mins read

by Tisaranee Gunasekara

“Homo Sapiens is prone to orgies of stupidity, brutality, and destruction.”
Martin Wolf (The crisis of democratic capitalism)

So back in the Chalk Circle, but this time play ends in Act 2. Grusha never gets across the rotten bridge. She is near the end when the Ironshirts, gathered on the other side, manage to inflame her with their insults. She turns around to give her own back. A battle of words ensues. The Corporal steps on to the bridge. Grusha stamps her foot. The soldiers join their leader. The rotten bridge breaks at both ends, plunging all on it into the abyss below. The play ends not in renewed life but in avoidable death.

Sri Lanka is still on the rotten bridge, precariously balanced between sensible economics and insensible politics. The freefall of the economy has been halted. But it can resume, and spiral into societal anarchy, if the political war of attrition between the President and the Opposition doesn’t end soon in a mutually-agreed ceasefire.

Sri Lanka has avoided collapse, for now. Hyperinflation has been reined in. A run on the banks has been averted. The rupee has stopped plummeting. Prices of essentials remain high, but the crippling shortages and killer queues are over. Tourism is booming, foreign remittances are increasing, and foreign reserves no longer look like Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard. These gains are not opinions, but facts. And most of the credit for those small but meaningful advances belongs to Ranil Wickremesinghe.

On May 9th, SLPP thugs attacked Gota-go-gama protestors. Angry Lankans responded with mob violence. For two days, the country burned. On May 11th, tanks rolled down deserted streets, occupying urban centres and rural towns with no public opposition. People, having exhausted themselves with an orgy of arson, had retreated into sullen silence and resentful inaction. Gota-go-gama remained but its power of intervention was limited to issuing not quite realistic statements. Mahinda Rajapaksa had resigned. There was no prime minister, no government; only a weak president, a strong military, a wearied public, and a deadly political vacuum.

Opposition leaders declined the premiership, using virtue as an excuse. Ranil Wickremesinghe accepted. Some kind of political normalcy was restored. The alternative was not a pure government of the people, but a Gotabaya-military regime or just military rule.

Ranil Wickremesinghe is no Saviour. But he saved much. Those achievements, while real remain fragile, easily reversible. As with Grusha on the rotten bridge, utter disaster is still one misstep away.

The President has claimed economic health to be his priority. But economic health and political health are interdependent states. One cannot be sustained without the other. The political health of a nation cannot be achieved through tear gas, repressive laws, and baton charges, but through understanding and consensus. As Karu Jayasuriya pointed out, a political ceasefire is the need of the hour, first in parliament, then beyond.

The deftness and the patience the President displayed in inching the IMF deal to the finishing line is absent in his political dealings. His ham-fisted reaction to any protest is indicative of how his political attitudes continue to be shaped and coloured by his acrimony against those who burnt his books. The anger is understandable. But translated into political attitudes and policies, it could create a socio-political inferno which consumes the economic good he has achieved.

Not intelligent self-interest but blinding rage has become the determining factor in oppositional politics. So they align with the anti-direct tax crowd, forgetting that progressive taxation is a sine-qua-non of any progressive economic strategy. Had the IMF refused to sign a deal with Ranil Wickremesinghe, the opposition would have been singing the praises of this Bretton Woods twin.

Meanwhile, the bottommost one third of people struggle to live, dependent for survival on inadequate charity. Their suffering is glossed over by the government and ignored by the opposition. Their anger, if it explodes, will be a flood that takes everyone and everything in its path.

The myth of authoritarian stability

According to media reports, the police are to get 500 SUVs under an Indian credit line. The first 125 fuel-guzzlers have already been delivered.

SUVs for the police are not a priority by any sane economic standards. That economically irrational loan is symbolic of how political insensibility can undermine economic sanity.

The government’s zero-tolerance response to peaceful protests is turning non-issues into issues. The over-the-top reaction to March 7th IUSF protest is a case in point. If the government did nothing, the protest would have come and gone. But the government opted for a course of action which was the mirror-image of protestors’ heedless extremism. Police tear-gassed Colombo University students and staff who were not part of the protest and followed it up by tear-gassing students from nearby schools. A puny protest was met with massive violence. This is the path not to social peace but to endless disharmony.

Authoritarian stability is a myth. By pursuing that myth, the president, knowingly or unknowingly, is placing Sri Lanka on the slippery slope of unending unrest. This unrest will not be limited to the streets but will creep into the very heart of the state, as the attempt to use the legislature to cow the judiciary indicate. If pursued any further, this attempt to neutralise the courts will open another front, with the legislature engaged in a no-holds barred war with the judiciary on the orders of the executive. The necessary balance between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, on which the health of the state rests, will be undermined to common peril.

The attempt by some state-sector trade unions to cripple the country through a continuous strike failed primarily due to the total absence of public support. The strike-leaders shelved their disruptive plans not because of government threats but because of public ire. If the government wants to avoid a repeat performance by state-sector unions, they should focus on propaganda; no hype would be needed; truth will suffice. Instead, according to media reports, the government in its PTA replacement has created a false equation between strikes and terrorism. Such dangerous dipping into tyranny are the inevitable fruits of pursuing the myth of authoritarian stability.  

As the World Bank reminded us recently, poverty in Sri Lanka doubled from 13% to 25% between 2021 and 2022 and will increase by 2% in 2023. This was Rajapaksa doing. And in that doing, the Rajapaksas had the uncritical backing of the likes of GL Peiris, Dulles Alahapperuma, and Wimal Weerawansa, not to mention the Viyath Maga cohort. Thanks to their collective economic insanity, people are eating less, both in terms of quality and quantity. The IMF seems to far more concerned about providing these poorest of the poor with a strong-enough lifeline than the government or the Opposition. The government, instead of focusing on an adequate poverty alleviation programme along the lines of Janasaviya (targeted and time-bound with consumption and investment components and add-ons like skills training), is picking political fights with all and sundry. The Opposition is more concerned with the taxes of the few than the hunger of the many.

The political war of attrition is not just consuming time, energy, and resources of both sides. It can also undermine President Wickremesinghe’s hard-won achievement, the IMF deal. Sri Lanka will not get the second tranche, if the targets of the first phase are not met adequately. Those targets can be best achieved not through repressive laws, riot police or club-wielding soldiers, but dialogue and consensus with stakeholders, starting with the Opposition. Economic moderation on the part of the Opposition in return for political moderation on the part of the government: that is a possible and necessary goal. Sri Lanka, still on the rotting bridge, need the unity of all moderates, a rational politico-economic understanding, to deprive political extremists of political oxygen.

Commenting on the uproar surrounding French president Emmanuel Macron’s plan to increase pension age by two years, The Economist warned “This could be a moment when social rebellion emerges.” If it does, the ultimate beneficiary, if there’s one, is likely to be Marine Le Pen rather than Jean-Luc Mélenchon.  

In Sri Lanka too the political war of attrition will deliver neither economic recovery nor greater democracy. The resultant turmoil will open the floodgates of either anarchy or tyranny or both.

The poverty of alternatives

The world’s first recorded labour strike was in ancient Egypt during the reign of Ramesses III when necropolis workers, tomb-builders and artisans, downed their tools and protested demanding their pay. Since that day in 1170BCE, strikes have often been the only recourse available to the powerless with no other means of making their voices heard.

In Sri Lanka, even that weapon is denied to millions of casual workers providing vitally necessary (even risky) labour in the industrial sector. Like the 2 million Manpower workers who labour in the FTZ garment factories. They are right-less and unprotected since they are not registered under the Labour Commissioner. According to media reports, about one quarter of their salaries go to agents and they are not entitled to bonuses or other facilities. Most of these Manpower workers are women and many suffer sexual harassment in workplace with no recourse to relief or justice (https://theleader.lk/news/16114-2023-03-17-08-20-48). And yet, about the suffering of these millions of Lankan workers, the injustices visited on them, the Opposition is silent.

Of the grade 3 students in government schools, only 34% are literate and 7% are numerate, according to a research by the Education Ministry covering the entire island, done between December 2021 and January 2022. This disastrous inability cannot be blamed on the pandemic alone since only 26% of students lacked online facilities. The fault also lies in the quality of the education and of the educators. If this trend continues, we will have a population that cannot read, write, or do a basic sum, and therefore unemployable except as soldiers, monks or Manpower workers. This too seems not to be a priority for the Opposition.

The SJB and the JVP who agree on very little are agreed on reducing taxes for highest income earners from the current 36% to 24%. This is their economic progressivism. In what sense is Ranil Wickremesinghe more neo-liberal than these opposition leaders who want to tread the same path as Gotabaya Rajapaksa and give tax breaks to those in the topmost bracket?

If the SJB sounds clueless on economic issues, it is because the party is trying to run with the hare and hunt with the hound on contentious issues. The JVP’s cluelessness seems genuine, its ignorance of economic basics as total as Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s. The best evidence is a recent statement by Sunil Handunnetti, who will be the finance minister if the JVP/NPP forms a government. Questioned about the recent appreciation of the rupee against the dollar, his response was: “Do you think if the rupee becomes stronger than America, America will let us be? Eh? If so America will bomb us. That rupee is becoming stronger than the American dollar.” His NPP counterpart, an economics lecturer in a university, did not dare to correct him, proving once again that the NPP is a mere cover for the JVP.

Utopia is not an alternative to reality. It is a form of escapism and must be understood as such. There are no painless paths out of this crisis. The Opposition should be focused on minimising the burden on the poorest one-third of the population, the 3.4million people identified by the World Food Programme as suffering from hunger. Instead, opposition parties are vying with each other to curry favour with disgruntled doctors and relatively high earning state sector workers. They criticise President Wickremesinghe, but are yet to provide a rational alternative to the path he is charting.

The JVP might be too like the frog-in-the-well to know it, but the SJB and some SLPP break-offs would know that we are not in a position to impose conditions on anyone, starting with the IMF. They would also know that the IMF today is not quite the IMF of yesteryear and that most of the conditions in the agreement with us are helpful, necessary or both. There is no austerity for the poor in the agreement, only some belt-tightening for the rich and the middle class.

If direct taxes are lowered, indirect taxes will have to be increased, hurting the poor more. If the rich and the middle class do not share the burden of recovery, the poor will have to shoulder an even greater load. If we keep on pumping money into loss-making state enterprises like Sri Lankans, there will be less money for education and health. Those are the real choices any future government will have to make. All the rest, like making good the income-expenditure gap through less corruption or bringing back the stolen money, is rhetoric. Both are worthy and necessary goals. But neither can be realised fast enough to make a difference in the here and now, given how endemic corruption has become and how much legal and paper work will be involved in getting stolen money back.

When Gotabaya Rajapaksa failed, the country paid the price. It will be no different if Ranil Wickremesinghe’s gains are reversed and he too fails. When the healthy difference between opposing political parties descends into an endless war, there can be no winners; only losers.

Chinese-style democracy at the 2023 “two sessions”

5 mins read

 by Robert Lawrence Kuhn

The 2023 National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s highest body of state power, looks back to review and report, while looking ahead to formulate and implement. Although this is an annual event, it has special significance this year, setting in motion policies and programs of the 20th CPC National Congress, which provides the blueprint for the next few decades. The grand vision, as President Xi Jinping states, is “building China into a modern socialist country in all respects and advancing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation on all fronts.”

Essential is China’s commitment to enhance its form of democracy, which it calls the “Whole-Process People’s Democracy.” China’s democracy is no verbal mirage: it is one of the six aspirational adjectives that President Xi Jinping proposes to describe China’s goal of great rejuvenation. Democracy in the Party-led system involves various feedback and interactive mechanisms, especially people’s congresses at various levels, and it also entails ensuring adequate standards of living for all Chinese citizens.

A primary view of Chinese-style democracy is through the formal processes of the people’s congresses, culminating with the NPC. Empowered to enact laws, the NPC as a whole meets every March, but its various committees, especially its Standing Committee, meet throughout the year to plan and prepare various pieces of legislation that set the political agenda for the year.

Deputies of people’s congresses are elected according to the Chinese system, which is always under the leadership of the Party, of course. As of 2022, there were more than 2.6 million deputies to China’s five levels of people’s congress: state, provincial, municipal, county and township, with all deputies of congresses at the level of county and township elected directly by voters.

The election of NPC deputies is called the basic premise for the people to be the masters of the country, to exercise state power and manage state affairs. It is the first link in the whole chain of people’s democracy throughout the whole process.

Candidates for deputies recommended jointly by more than ten voters have the same legal status as candidates recommended by various parties and people’s organizations, according to the Electoral Law of the National People’s Congress and local people’s congresses. It may surprise some that the Party promotes competitive elections so that voters and representatives have more choices; Party-led committees are responsible to vet or verify qualifications of candidates and deputies before and after elections.

To facilitate fair voting, election funds for people’s congresses at all levels are provided by the state treasury; secret ballots ensure free choice of voters; and behaviors that undermine elections are punished severely.

Supervision by voters over deputies can take various forms, such as listening to deputies’ reports, making criticisms, offering opinions and suggestions, and even by recalling deputies.

The election of NPC deputies must adapt to the times. The ratio of rural and urban representatives has shifted from 8:1 in 1953 to 1:1 today, ensuring equality between urban and rural areas. Adjustments are made to ensure an appropriate number of representatives from all regions, ethnic groups, social strata, industrial sectors, and government and military services.

For almost a decade, I have been focusing on understanding China’s concern for its poorest citizens, and how, especially under President Xi Jinping’s leadership, the CPC has prioritized its overarching commitment to enhancing the standards of living — to improve the livelihood — of all sectors of the country’s vast and diverse population, especially through the CPC’s “targeted poverty alleviation campaign.”

As an example of the absence of understanding, when a rather sophisticated American watched a documentary I presented and wrote on China’s poverty alleviation campaign, he remarked, “I didn’t realize China’s leadership cared at all for its poor.”

That documentary, “Voices from the Frontline: China’s War on Poverty,” showed how the CPC’s five levels of local organization (provincial, municipal, county, township, village) carried out directives of the leadership. The documentary opens with my stating, “To President Xi Jinping, ending poverty is his most important task,” and the documentary concludes by quoting President Xi making the remarkable statement, “I have spent more energy on poverty alleviation than on anything else.” To my knowledge, no other national leader has made such a commitment, and such a declaration, to alleviate poverty.

When historians of the future write the chronicles of our times, a feature story may well be China’s targeted poverty alleviation.

To President Xi, China could not have achieved its goal of becoming a moderately prosperous society in 2020 if any of its citizens had remained in extreme poverty.

Although China declared the eradication of all extreme poverty at the end of 2020, relative poverty remained a major problem, with large disparities between urban and rural, coastal and inland areas. Thus, as 2021 began, President Xi without hesitation or much time to celebrate or rest transitioned from poverty alleviation to rural revitalization. Moreover, later in the year, Xi prioritized “common prosperity” as an overarching policy guideline for China to achieve a fully modernized socialist country by mid-century, 2049, the 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.

While common prosperity covers diverse policies, its unalloyed purpose is to improve the lives of rural citizens, farmers and workers, including migrant workers.

China rightly celebrated the success of its poverty alleviation campaign, which had brought about 100 million of the intractably poor out of extreme poverty. For China to achieve The Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation, eliminating extreme poverty was necessary — but it was not sufficient. China must continue to fight poverty by reducing the still-substantial relative poverty and close the still-excessive wealth gap, primarily between rural and urban areas.

Enhancing rural standards of living exemplifies China’s long-range vision to the years 2035 and 2050 to become a fully modernized, socialist nation, which is defined by those six aspirational adjectives: prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful. Actualizing these adjectives depends on the success of rural revitalization. Without the revitalization of the countryside, there can be no social stability, no national prosperity, no national rejuvenation.

While grand visions are formulated by central leadership, they must be implemented by local, grassroots officials who implement the programs — officials whose challenges include being constantly on the road, little rest, low welfare, minimum opportunities for promotion — plus to-be-expected complaints from villagers below and not-infrequent pressures from officials above. That’s why new policies promote the care of grassroots officials: easing their burdens by fighting pointless formalities, reducing the number of meetings, providing incentives for serving the people including salary guarantees and opportunities for career advancement.

Grassroots problems impeding the building of a prosperous countryside also include the quality of rural industries, infrastructure, public services, civilized culture, ecology and governance. Moreover, senior officials warn against promoting benefit-induced indolence, requiring officials to promote low-income people’s “will” and “intellect” to improve their own lives.

It has become a meaningful tradition in China that the first document issued by the CPC Central Committee and the State Council each year, dubbed the “No. 1 Central Document” (indicating policy priority), concerns modernizing agriculture, building rural areas, and improving the lives of farmers. Document No. 1 exemplifies China’s concern for its poorest citizens.

This year, 2023, Document No. 1 again emphasizes how to advance the modernization of three rural work categories: agriculture, rural areas, farmers. The Document stabilizes production and ensures the supply of grain and other critical agricultural products; enhances the construction of agricultural infrastructure; increases support for agricultural science, technology and equipment; consolidates the achievements of poverty alleviation goals and expands the process; and promotes high-quality development of rural industries.

Looking back and looking forward is always the framework for annual NPC sessions, but this year, it is a milestone on China’s intended march to great rejuvenation. In doing so, it heralds a new slate of government leaders — premier, vice premiers, ministers — charged with the Herculean task of making it real.

Their challenges, domestic and international, are no state secret.

It is a grand vision. But a tall order.

Editor’s note: Robert Lawrence Kuhn, a public intellectual and international corporate strategist, won the China Reform Friendship Medal (2018). He is also chairman of the Kuhn Foundation.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Sri Lanka Guardian or our news syndicator Xinhua News Agency.

Sri Lanka: President should be Responsible!

5 mins read

Reading news from Sri Lanka is depressing. Suffering of the people due to cost of living, loss of employment or small businesses, breakdown of welfare assistance from the government are some of the reasons. News from daily life of the people is also disheartening with full of crime, family violence, cheating, drug use, and stealing. All these are symptoms of a deeper crisis in society and a breakdown of a value system.

The day-to-daylanguage (yako, uba, thopi, thow) that people use, as evident from some teledramas,and social media is also clear of a social degeneration. Under these circumstances no one can blame the young people and the educated who try to migrate to other countries for living or for work.

The behavior, the actions and the explanations of the politicians are a deeper reflection of the above situation who are also mainly responsible for the country’s deepening crisis. Take the example of the President. It is the duty and the responsibility of a country’s leader to reveal and explain his or her positions to the country, and even to the international community, about important policy matters.

Elections and Jokes

In a democracy, there is nothing more important than elections. It was well known that local government elections were due in March. First, the President was obliquely silent. Then he started joking about it saying, ‘there is no elections to be postponed!’

There is no problem to the people that this President is a jovial man. But there should be a limit. He should not repeat his Royal Collage jokes especially when the country is in dire straits. It is good that he often appears in Parliamentary debates. But his behavior, arguments and jokes in those debates are reprehensible.

When he was appointed as the Prime Minister by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, he even joked about the economy. He said ‘We invite tourists. They even can join the Protests!’ The above photo is by the BCC on this matter showing his jovial gestures. He even joked about the former British Queen just two days before her death which became condemned by many international journalists. What a Joker! It is difficult to believe that he is serious bout democracy or the economy. It is more difficult to believe that he will be trusted by the IMF although they might give priority to the country.

There is no doubt that compared to many other political leaders of the country he has some economic knowledge and experience. As a Minister (Finance or in charge of the economy) he can be good. But as the President of the country, he has so far proved to be hopeless,useless, and intolerable.

Importance Local Government

The local government system in Sri Lanka has a long history as Gam Sabha (village councils). It is not something just introduced by the British. Both the Colebrook Commission and the Donoughmore Commission acknowledged their importance. However, it was the British who introduced franchise to the system now under threat from the present President. It is difficult to believe that Philip Gunawardena’s son, as the Prime Minister, would oppose the elections. President undoubtedly is the culprit. From what heritage has he got this undemocratic orientation?

Of course, there are some weaknesses within the local government system. But who havecreated them? Present day politicians have done so. One of the major weaknesses of the present day politicians is their rigmarole manner in addressing crucial economic, political and social problems. They appoint committees (or commissions)and committeesand produce reports and reports. They are in the absence of commonsense, principles and practicalities. They change positions very easily and forget what they have said or promised even the last week! The reason is that they have come to politics for opportunistic purposes. Under the present ‘preferential voting’ system,it is difficult for the ordinary, the educated and genuine people to come into politics unless they go behind the opportunistic leaders.

The Heritage?

The present President has a more precise heritage. It is not directly related to his family except they all were rich and cherished personal wealth directly and indirectly. Wickremesinghe’s heritage is more of something created by him. It is about power, glory and perhaps fun! He has been the Prime Minister for five timesin the past without delivering much, except creating crisis from crisis. Can he deny that he was involved in Batalandatorture and violence? This was revealedby a commission, although no action was taken against him.

It appears that Ranil Wickremesinghe particularly has a hatred against youth from lower social classes.

Of course, no one can condone what the JVP has done in the past. Even at present they should be more careful not to ignite violence or unnecessary trouble in the country. But there are/wereindications that they are at a reform path, and this is something that should be strengthened without condemning all their actions and policies. Even in genuinely creating good governance (Yahapalanaya) they tried their best to support and participate. These principles also should apply to former LTTE supporters and even remaining sections.

There is a major task in the country to reform and reorient the youth for democratic processes and encourage them for positive, creative, and responsible activities. This cannot be done unless the establish political parties and leaders like Wickremesinghe, Kumaratunga or Premadasa take a positive attitude towards the JVP or the NPP. The universities, academics,and civil society organizations (NGOs) also can play a pivotal role in this endeavor if they free themselves from narrow party politics or similar orientations. A constructively worked out strategy is necessary.

Violence and Non-Violence

During the Aragalaya(struggle) last year, incursion and occupation of Presidential Office and Presidential House were perhapsinspired by what happened in America after the last elections. However, the invasion and damaging of Wickremesinghe’s private home was different and cannot be condoned by any means. Likewise, the attacks and burning of over 60 houses belonging to the government MPs also were despicable. If (or As) the JVP was involved, there is a necessity of soul searching in the country. Otherwise, the country would soon drag into the situation of 1980s.

Even if the JVP (or NPP) was involved inthese violence and violations, the President should not behave in the same manner. That is not expected from a democratic leader. This is not merely a defect of the presidential system. This is about the broader political system and qualities of the political leaders.

In coming straight to the recent situation, the way the police handled the protest march organized by the JVP and the National People’s Power(NPP) on 26Februaryin Colombo was reprehensible. Who was behind it? There cannot be any doubt that it was the President. Those parties and others have every right to protest over the virtual sabotage of the local government elections by the President. One has died and 28 others were hospitalizedbecause of police attacks at these protests. Although only water and teargas were used, those were enormous and brutal.

In sabotaging the local government elections,planned to be held on 9 March, the reason given was lack of funds. However, millions of funds were spent on Independence Daycelebrations for the armed forces. Instead of the military, school children should have been mobilized for the occasion.The election is not an ‘essential service,’ according to the President!The Speaker has agreed however now to allow the Parliament to put forward a resolution to allocate necessary funds for the local government elections. Parliament is supreme. If it is approved (no doubt) the elections could be held somewhere in April.

However, there are other matters to be considered. Majority of the trade unions are on (token) strike on 1 March against the new high taxation and coercion against the working class. The situation reminds the year 1980 where the present President’s ‘maha-guru’ (big teacher), J. R. Jayewardene took measures to attack the working people and the trade union movement as a measure of economic reform. This is again the trend today.

Under the present circumstances, it might be good for the country to go for an overall political change by holding both Presidential and Parliamentary elections together and look for a new economic agenda with the support of the international community and closely friendly countries like India, China, Japan, EU,and other countries. This will save money and possibly bring a new agenda for democracy and development.

Sri Lanka: Ranil Faces Hobson’s Choice

4 mins read

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

3 mins read

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.

Challenging the IMF’s ‘China Card’: Why Sri Lanka Doesn’t Need to Choose Between China and the West

4 mins read

by Our Diplomatic Affairs Editor

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. – Aristotle

China’s involvement in Sri Lanka’s economic development has been a contentious issue, with many alleging that China is engaging in “debt-trap diplomacy” to gain leverage over Sri Lanka. However, this allegation is baseless and is nothing but a story fabricated to defame China’s global image. Instead, China should be left alone to help Sri Lanka in its own way, without any interference or criticism.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has the ability to help Sri Lanka without China’s assistance, as other major creditors in the Western Bloc and India have already provided written assurances for debt restructuring. According to Shanta Devarajan, Professor of the Practice of International Development at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University and a top adviser to the Sri Lankan government for economic revival, Sri Lanka has already implemented all 15 demands made by the IMF. [Click here to read his interview with the Political Editor of Colombo Sunday Times published today, 25 February 2023] Prof. Devarajan told the newspaper that, the “Extended Fund Facility could be given even if China does not give financing assurance”. Therefore, it is now up to the IMF to show its generosity and sincerity in helping Sri Lanka without playing the China card.

This is a prime opportunity for the IMF to prove its neutrality and humanity, despite being accused of playing politics on behalf of the West. The IMF has been criticized for its actions in the past, with Sri Lanka having sought assistance from the organization 16 times without success. However, now is the time for the IMF to demonstrate that its actions are intended to help poor countries uplift the livelihoods of vulnerable communities, rather than benefiting cronies and corporations that plunder the assets of these countries and store them in the West.

It is important to recognize that China’s involvement in Sri Lanka’s economic development is not a one-way street. China has invested significant amounts of money in numerous developing countries, and if the West demands that China execute specific actions over Sri Lanka, it could have a ripple effect on other countries where China has lent financial assistance. This would ultimately impact China’s economic interests and global ambitions, and the West and India should be cautious not to demand too much from China.

Sri Lanka should not be used as a scapegoat to weaken China’s footholds in other countries from East Asia to Latin America. If the West and India attempt to cause a domino effect on China’s economy by using Sri Lanka, it will strongly impact the Global South, which may be the hidden truth behind the IMF’s China card. It is important to recognize that without China’s assurance, the IMF can still offer the requested financial assistance to Sri Lanka while China continues to help the island’s economic revival in its own way.

Therefore, it is crucial for the IMF and other Western creditors to be aware of the potential consequences of their actions and avoid demanding too much from China. Instead, they should focus on providing assistance to Sri Lanka in a manner that benefits the country and its people, without infringing on China’s interests. A balanced approach that takes into account the concerns and interests of all parties involved is necessary to ensure a positive outcome for Sri Lanka and the global community as a whole.

It is unfortunate that certain groups are attempting to damage China’s strong reputation by funding allocated money to specific groups of so-called “civil societies” and utilizing empty politicians to voice against China. Such actions are counterproductive and will not bring about any positive change in the island nation. It is important to recognize that China has consistently shown itself to be a country that is willing to help other nations in times of need, without any ulterior motives. Without China’s assistance in wiping out the fascist terrorists, Sri Lanka would likely still be embroiled in conflict. In fact, Sri Lanka remains indebted to China for its provision of defense hardware, including ammunition, which was critical in the fight against the Tamil Tigers and the rescue of Tamils from terroristic control. During a time when other nations attempted to exert control over Sri Lanka, it was countries such as China, Pakistan, Russia, and Ukraine that stood by Sri Lanka to help defeat terrorism.

Not only that, China has a long history of providing assistance to developing countries, and its Belt and Road Initiative is a testament to its commitment to supporting economic development and infrastructure projects around the world. What China pursued in its international relations is what exactly a Chinese proverb says, “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.” In contrast, certain Western countries and neighboring nations have been accused of interfering in the internal politics of other countries, often with disastrous consequences.

Therefore, it is important to view China’s actions in a positive light and recognize its contributions to the global community. Rather than attempting to damage China’s reputation, it would be more productive to work towards building stronger relationships and partnerships that can benefit both China and other nations. This would require a shift away from outdated notions of competition and towards a more collaborative approach that seeks to address common challenges and promote mutual interests. After all, the power of balance will secure our common ambitions while respecting mutual sensitivities of each other’s.

It is time to move beyond the politics of division and focus on building a more positive and cooperative relationship with China. By working together, we can create a more prosperous and stable world that benefits everyone, regardless of nationality or political affiliation. The time has come for a new era of cooperation and partnership, based on mutual respect and understanding.

Yes, it is time to put aside baseless allegations and let China help Sri Lanka in its own way. The IMF should step forward and provide assistance to Sri Lanka without playing politics or favoring one country over another. The focus should be on uplifting the lives of the people of Sri Lanka, rather than serving the interests of a select few. This is an opportunity for the IMF to demonstrate its commitment to humanitarianism and make a positive impact on the lives of people in developing countries.

Sri Lanka: Is Ranil solving the Economic Crisis?

1 min read

It is widely acknowledged that the current economic problems in Sri Lanka are complex and multi-faceted, and will likely require a range of solutions and approaches to address effectively.

Whether or not President Ranil Wickremesinghe, as an individual politician, can solve these problems without a mandate from the people is a matter of debate. Some might argue that political leadership is an important factor in driving economic reform and progress and that a leader with experience and a track record of success could bring valuable insights and solutions to the table. Others might argue that, without a mandate from the people, a leader may struggle to secure the support and resources needed to implement their ideas and drive meaningful change.

Ultimately, the effectiveness of any political leader in addressing the economic problems of Sri Lanka will depend on a range of factors, including their ability to work with other key stakeholders, secure the support of the public, and effectively implement their policies and initiatives.

In order to address the current economic problems in Sri Lanka, political leaders might consider the following steps:

Forming a united front: One of the key challenges in addressing economic problems is political polarization and division. Leaders from different political parties need to work together in a united front to develop a common vision and approach to tackling economic issues.

Addressing corruption: Corruption has been identified as a major contributor to economic problems in Sri Lanka. Political leaders need to take a strong stand against corruption and put in place measures to tackle this issue effectively.

Implementing structural reforms: The economy of Sri Lanka needs structural reforms to become more competitive and attractive to investors. Political leaders need to work with stakeholders to identify the reforms required and implement them effectively.

Encouraging private investment: Encouraging private investment is key to driving economic growth and creating jobs. Political leaders need to create a favorable business environment that encourages investment and fosters innovation.

Promoting financial stability: Political leaders need to work with the central bank and other financial institutions to promote financial stability and restore confidence in the financial system.

Fostering inclusive growth: Political leaders need to ensure that economic growth is inclusive and benefits all segments of society, particularly those who are marginalized and disadvantaged.

It is important to note that these are complex and challenging issues, and there are no easy solutions. However, with the right leadership and a collaborative approach, it is possible to make progress and address the economic problems facing Sri Lanka.

Politicization of trade unions in Sri Lanka

1 min read

The politicization of trade unions in Sri Lanka has been a prominent issue in the country’s labour movement for many years. While trade unions are typically established to represent the interests of workers and negotiate for better working conditions and wages, the politicization of these organizations has often led to the use of union power for political gain rather than for the benefit of workers.

In Sri Lanka, political parties have historically used trade unions as a tool to advance their own agendas. Union leaders have been appointed based on their political affiliations, rather than their ability to effectively represent the interests of workers. This has resulted in a lack of accountability and transparency within the trade union movement, as union leaders prioritize political goals over the needs of their constituents.

The politicization of trade unions has also led to a fragmentation of the labour movement, as unions become divided along political lines. This fragmentation weakens the bargaining power of workers and undermines the effectiveness of the trade union movement as a whole. Additionally, the politicization of unions has created a hostile work environment, with workers who belong to opposing political parties often facing discrimination and marginalization.

Moreover, the politicization of trade unions has also contributed to a decline in the quality of representation provided to workers. Union leaders who are appointed based on political connections often lack the expertise and experience necessary to effectively negotiate for better working conditions and wages. This has resulted in a lack of progress in improving the lives of workers and has contributed to a decline in the overall status of the labour movement in Sri Lanka.

In conclusion, the politicization of trade unions in Sri Lanka has had a negative impact on the labour movement and has hindered the ability of workers to negotiate for better working conditions and wages. It is important for trade unions to remain independent and neutral in order to effectively represent the interests of workers and to negotiate for their rights. By breaking the connection between politics and trade unions, the labour movement in Sri Lanka can be reinvigorated and become a more effective advocate for workers.

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

13 mins read

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

1 2 3 6