12 June, 2024

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Divergence Grows Between Appearance & Reality

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

For a country that experienced four months of mass protests that not only captured the attention of the world, but also led to the resignations of the president, prime minister and cabinet of ministers, Sri Lanka gives an impression of being remarkably peaceful and stable, at least on the surface a mere three months later. The credit for this transformation, if such a felicitous term is appropriate, needs to go to President Ranil Wickremesinghe. Those in the higher ranks of government at the time of the rise of the Aragalaya protest movement have reason to be grateful to him. For months they were afraid to come out of their hiding places for fear of encountering the wrath of people who had lost half or more of the value of their incomes and savings virtually overnight when the economy collapsed. They are back in the saddle as government ministers and those who still await their return are showing signs of impatience.

When President Wickremesinghe was elected to the supreme political office in the country through a majority vote in parliament three months ago, there was a chaotic situation in the country. The roads and public spaces were filled with people from around the country who were demanding a system change and they wanted the president, prime minister and entire parliament to go home though they did not say who should replace them. The presidential and prime ministerial offices and residence were all under occupation with parliament being the next target of the protest movement. The police and armed forces were on the defensive when it came to enforcing the law. The dramatic turnaround under President Ranil Wickremesinghe may explain why former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa who resigned at the height of the protests should have been complimentary towards the new president at the ruling party’s first public rally last week.

The election of President Wickremesinghe led to an immediate change in the situation with chaos on the streets being replaced with army-imposed order. The police and security forces have been strictly asserting the letter of the law on the protestors with their batons and handcuffs. The arrests and violence on the part of the security forces has continued to this day notwithstanding statements of condemnation and concern by local and international human rights groups, and even the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, all of which appear to have had little impact. The police attack on a protesting mother who had brought her child to one of the protest sites, and the justification by government spokespersons including the president that the protestors were using children as human shields is an indication of who has won the day.

Justifying Repression 

Underlying the reassertion of governmental power under President Wickremesinghe are two key factors. The first is the widespread recognition in the country that the protest movement was getting out of hand in taking physical control over state buildings that are central to the governance of the country. These buildings are the citadels of Sri Lankan power and ought to be as sacrosanct as the White House or Buckingham Palace are to the power centres of the US and UK. Temple Trees, for instance, has a venerable history and has been the abode of the prime ministers of Sri Lanka from the time of Independence. President’s House, where the protestors took a dip in the swimming pool, was originally called Queen’s House where the governors of the colonial period resided. The visuals of some of the protestors speaking insolently to senior members of the security forces who have traditionally been given a measure of respect on account of their guns and sacrifice during the war was also seen as excessive by many people. The question arose where might this leaderless and out-of-control protest movement stop.

The second reason has been that President Ranil Wickremesinghe, unlike his predecessor, has had less reason to be concerned about the international fallout on himself personally and being taken in by international courts for human rights violations that could constitute international crimes. In his previous spells in office as prime minister, the president always showed a commitment to the peace and reconciliation processes. During his tenure as prime minister in 2001-04 he fully participated in the Norwegian-facilitated ceasefire and negotiation process with the LTTE. During his last stint as prime minister in 2015-19 he gave his assent to the co-sponsored UNHRC resolution which his successors reneged upon to the country’s further detriment.

For the past four months since he obtained the biggest prize in Sri Lankan politics, President Wickremesinghe has been striving to stabilize the country both politically and economically. He has politically neutralised the protest movement by arresting its leaders and using the security forces to break up public protests. As a result the visible component of the protest movement has shrunk dramatically from the days when it could mobilise tens of thousands of persons from around the country. At the present time only the core group of political party members, university students and civil society activists are prepared to take the risk of engaging in public protest. Anyone who is rational will now think twice before going for a protest which the police can deem to be illegal and arrest the protestors.

Elite Disenchanment

Stabilising the economy is proving to be more difficult than stabilizing the polity through repression. So far the government has focused on diverting resources away from the people by means of high inflation, indirect taxation and cut backs on subsidies. Subsidised medicine for kidney patients in Rajarata is harder to access and subsidized language training for translators in Batticaloa has been withdrawn. Children are dropping out of school to go to construction sites in Colombo. Such economic stabilization methods impact most heavily on the masses of disempowered people who cannot protest anymore and so take the reversals in silence. There is human suffering that is not immediately visible on the surface though it is present in the day to day life of the great majority of people. Surveys have shown that large sections of the population have cut back on their food intake

The government now appears to be under pressure from the IMF to widen its net to take in those at the higher income levels who have so far been willing to give the president and his team a chance to revive the economy. They have, by and large, been supportive of the government crackdown on the protest movement. However, the recent announcement that the government plans to tax them through direct taxation that will reach 36 percent has led to vocal protests by some of these business and professional groups. These are persons and companies that have been transparent and show their income. The irony is that by international standards a direct tax rate of 30 to 50 percent on the highest slab is not unusual. At the base of the indignation and outrage that is being felt by those who oppose the new tax policy is the feeling that the root cause of Sri Lanka’s economic collapse is not being addressed by the president and government. The same strict adherence to law that ended the protests should be there in the collection of taxes and those involved with corruption ought to be brought to the book. It is that could ensure that we are on the right path to real freedom and democracy and move towards development.

But the reality is that those who were in positions of power at the time of the economic collapse and who can be held primarily responsible for it are back at the helm of governmental affairs. They have already commenced their campaign for the next elections articulating their confidence in winning Local Government, Provincial or General Elections even if they are conducted forthwith. Stating that they have made some mistakes, like past administrations, there is no evident sign of repentance on their part, except for the determination to take off from where they last left. There are allegations of continuing and massive corruption in the procurement of essential commodities such as gas, coal and petrol. Massive new infrastructure projects are also reported to be on the pipeline as single source and unsolicited bids. Prior to demanding that the people, both the poor as well as the professional and business classes make sacrifices, there is a need to restore moral legitimacy of the government. In a democratic polity, this moral legitimacy comes through good governance and elections and not through arresting and silencing protestors.

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Latest comments

  • 10
    0

    Sri Lanka gives an impression of being remarkably peaceful and stable. – Jehan Perera.
    .
    I am not going to challenge Jehan Perera on his description of Sri Lanka. But, I would have worded it differently.
    Sri Lanka gives an appearance of being remarkably peaceful and stable.
    .
    You may wonder what’s the difference?
    Impression is a feeling formed without conscious thought and with little evidence. Appearance is simply the outward look.
    .
    We are past the stage of speaking without conscious thought. We are certain that the outward look is a sham!

    • 5
      12

      Come on Dr. JP! The Arab-Spring style, CIA funded and-staged Aragalaya with lots of local actors and actresses and drama Queens which capitalized on peoples’ GENUINE Grievances had no Economic Agenda! WHY??? Because the IMF has the Economic Agenda to colonize Lanka with ISB Dollar debt.
      The US-EUpJapanese NGO funded Aragalaya puppet show at Galle Face was a post-Covid 19 lockdown Beach party for Colombo’s bored Rich kids and to distract from the Staged Default and Washington’s Dollar Debt Trap Colonization program for Sri Lanka with US puppet Bondscam Ranil as their chosen Economic Hit Man to sell the IMF and Colonial Club of Paris Agenda.
      All sides, pro and con are gamed in the CIA Over the Horizon Hybrid War Chaos Strategy to set up Military Bases in Strategic Sri Lanka to fight their Third World War on China and Russia!

      • 5
        6

        BTW. foreign and local crooks are all swarming around the Ranil Rajapakse Regime and the infamous Donald Lu who did the regime change operation against Pakistan’s Imran Khan is in town!
        Norway’s politician Eric Solehiem who is good at weaponizing the Tamil Diaspora to promote Divide and Rule with BBS Ven Gnyanasara who was fired by the UN Environment Agency for corruption is now Ranil’s Environment Green Wash Advisor to advance the US Energy War in Sri Lanka to capture more power plants like the Yugadanavi that was sold to US New Fortress but now is owned by the Basil Rajapakse and his California crew!
        The Climate Hoax with UNDP’s Kanni Wignaraja’s Shell Oil funded “Debt for Nature swaps” to take over Marine areas and forests in Sri Lanka is the new Climate Green Wash colonization operation to set up Lily Pad Military US bases for its War Machine in the Indian Ocean! Long live the Miracle of Modayas!

    • 3
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      Thanks, Nathan for your comment.
      .
      No, I didn’t start with your comment; I tried to read the article, and realised that Jehan Perera who has been writing reasonably well, has got back to his old style (which is unreadable), and t

      • 5
        7

        Please forgive my clumsiness. I have now read the entire traditional style Jehan Perera article, and find my fears confirmed. Only the last two sentences of his article are acceptable.
        .
        Why the devil did he write all that preceded it? Jehan gives credit to our illegitimate (legality granted) unelected Dictator for restoring an appearance of order. Done by terrorising citizens with some comparison of President’s House to the White House and to Buckingham Palace. Ranil has been to London recently for the funeral of the Queen, who died (shall we say?) as a result of meeting her new Prime Minister.
        .
        The situation there, in the land of “Latimer House:
        .
        Terminal for the Tories: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OM6OvxNbO6I 6 minutes
        .
        New Statesman Podcast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWDkyfPmU5U 19 minutes
        .
        Nobody elected from one Party (i.e. mandated) has crossed over to another, or sits as an Independent – bar Jeremy Corbyn, “sacked” by the Labour Party, and this is 7 minutes of him, ten days ago:
        .
        Seven minutes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5Uhqyfk1pY Jeremy Corbyn on 10/10/2022
        .
        No betrayal of principles by him.
        .
        Contrast with our Parliament which has a true opposition of only three:
        .
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFRQXN3dhiA – Vijitha Herath in Parliament yesterday. Eight minutes in Sinhalese.
        .
        Stop being polite, Jehan. Put pressure on our Tyrant to face elections, and see if he is wanted.

        • 3
          1

          SM. I cannot respond to the last comment you made about me in response to my comment on Dr. HA. The CT cutoff time has elapsed. I am challenging you to publish your crap. You are a psychopath. Your level of comprehension is abysmal. The underlining principle of a justice system is: the establishment of the truth, only the truth and nothing but the truth. In my case it was The Establishment of LIES, only LIES and nothing but LIES. None of the people you have named displayed any recognition of it especially Dr. HA, which is detrimental to the entire human race. It is obvious that you are a misfit within this community by noting the “thumbs down” you are credited with.

          • 3
            1

            You may be right HP. We were unfair to you at the begining. Now we are realizing who is who. If the kind of men would be put in Mulleriyawa, no doubt, all the psychiatrists will turn out to be mentally ill. No doubt, he has been suffering from ” perception disorder”.

            • 1
              1

              Dear LM. I am pleased that you eventually sized up the man correctly. If you study the details of this Case you will cry out loud: the judge who sentenced Mr. Ranjan Ramanayaka for 4 years imprisonment with hard labor, should in turn be given 8 years imprisonment with hard labor. I can vouch based on my own experience the Srilankan judiciary is corrupt to the core putting the unassuming litigants at great peril. It is a double jeopardy for the poor victim ending up as they say loosing both the branches: the one you set the foot on and the one clung on to. It is very tragic. It is certainly beyond an idiot like S_M to grasp.

    • 1
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      If you take a good look around it would affirm and confirm the prophetic words of Late Hon. Sir Winston Churchill who warned the Hon. Members of House of Commons: by granting independence to India (the sub continent) that political power would fall into the hands of Men of straw who will tax not only the water you drink but the air as well.

    • 1
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      “Impression is a feeling formed without conscious thought and with little evidence.”
      N,
      An impression is not necessarily the outcome of a thoughtless process.
      When someone says that ‘I have the impression that this is possible’, is one claiming that the idea dropped from the sky?

  • 11
    0

    Again, “chaos on the streets being replaced with army-imposed order’.
    I see some chaos in the wording.
    What is ‘ army-imposed order’? Is there anything called ‘imposed order’? Shouldn’t it be called army-suppressed chaos!
    .
    I am only seeking your input to correct myself.

  • 11
    1

    The president always showed a commitment to the peace and reconciliation processes. During his last stint as prime minister in 2015-19 he gave his assent to the co-sponsored UNHRC resolution.
    Up until I read this, I was puzzled how Jehan Perera has turned into a good boy quietly. He has not. He speaks half-truths as usual.
    Was there any such commitment at the UNHRC session that just concluded?

  • 13
    0

    “senior members of the security forces who have traditionally been given a measure of respect on account of their guns and sacrifice during the war”
    Do they really are worthy of respect? Didn’t the prisoners of war who were surrendering mercilessly killed at point blank range? Many innocent civilians maimed & killed by indiscriminate bombing? Many women were raped during the last 3 or 4 decades? Did they think they were doing so to the foreign enemies? Instead of settling the ROOT CAUSES of Tamil uprising, the Ethno-nationalists were killing the children of Mother Lanka. One needs POLITICAL settlement PRIOR to solving the Economic Issues.

  • 5
    1

    I’m traveling in places that only Beelzebub and his cousin Native Vedda would dare to inhabit.

    What hope is there for Lanka? …………. The entire world is in decline ……………. since the last time I visited these places.

    There is no hope for the world ……. things are not going to get any better: this is it.

    Time for redemption has passed ……….. the bus has already left.

    That’s the truth …….. if ye can handle it.

    When did I ever lie to you? :))) …….. I’m not the Pope, the Mahanayake, the President, the Prime Minister ………

    I’ve no high positions/places/abodes to maintain ……. I live on $2 a day ………. and even save some of it ………. for more difficult days ahead ……….


    Poets, priests, and politicians
    Have words to thank for their positions
    Words that scream for your submission
    And no one’s jamming their transmission

    ‘Cause when their eloquence escapes you
    Their logic ties you up and rapes you

    De do do do, de da da da
    Is all I want to say to you
    De do do do, de da da da

  • 8
    1

    “In a democratic polity, this moral legitimacy comes through good governance and elections and not through arresting and silencing protestors.”

    We had the so called good governance during 2015-2019. The result was Easter Bombing and Bond Scam. The expectation was high but nothing changed. PTA remained stable. Ranil uses now PTA for just protests. Ranil and Sirisena played their games and Good governace lead to bad governance. After Aragalya the bad governance replaced by Good Governance and within three months Ranil joined with Mahinda. All in one now!

    • 4
      1

      Ajith: Mun Okkoma Yaluwo Malli”. The principle is: “I scratched your back now you scratch my back”. Rajapakse Ranil in 2015 and now Ranil Rajapakse.

      • 3
        1

        Simon (If I may further respect SM, I must address you as Sir)
        .
        We see you touching the schizophant Sinhalese man’s back, he does the same to you.
        :
        are we right

        Is it NOT too early to draw conclusions?
        .
        How can you be sure that RW and AM were the architects of the “so-called central bank robbery”?

        Dr. Wijewardene (former deputy governor to CB) has not definitively said that RW and Arjuna Mahendran did the central bank heist….no other expert has come forward with his conclusions, however, the idiotic JVP and anti-Ranil are acting as “judges” on silly Accusations.

  • 2
    5

    “… people who had lost half or more of the value of their incomes and savings virtually overnight when the economy collapsed.”
    The economy did not collapse ‘overnight’. t was sliding into a mess, but accelerated sine 2021 owing to various factors of which mismanagement of the economy amid the global crisis induced by the COVID19 panic was important. The nearly halving of the exchange value of the rupee was cause of the loss of value of the savings and earnings. The effects of the fertilizer mess and transport chaos are reversible, but not that of the exchange rate.
    *
    “The police and armed forces were on the defensive when it came to enforcing the law.”
    One should now the difference between a tactical holding back of the guns and a retreat. The police and armed forces were just waiting their turn. The strike back would when it failed.have happened regardless of who was head of state, if the group of adventurists who held sway in the Aragalaya at the time continued to provoke with neither vision nor plan.
    The author seems blissfully ignorant of what the state machinery is all about and whose interests it serves.
    The Aragalaya was far from a revolution when it faced the force of the state, which was not applied in its full might.
    *
    The author seems to think of the IMF as some kind on modern day Robin Hood taxing the rich to save the poor.

    • 2
      0

      “The author seems blissfully ignorant of what the state machinery is all about and whose interests it serves.”

      Could anyone let the Ambassador CHEN Xu, Permanent Representative to UNHRC knows about the above.
      Chen believes everything in this island is hunky dory.
      He might even consider relocating to Colombo permanently.

  • 2
    4

    Dear Simon,
    .
    Please listen to this:
    .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RbxJWsLBAjc
    .
    This is 140 minutes (in Sinhala) of Aruna Kumara Dissanayake, fielding questions from three interviewers. As recently as the 17th, October 2022. He is asked searching questions, and he answers convincingly. All about relevant issues.
    .
    I have also made a few hurried comments, here:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-decay-of-university-education-in-sri-lanka/

    .
    Please persuade as many as possible to view this, although the problem with most critics of the NPP will remain unconvinced. Why? Before anything is listened to, they are determined to reject what is said.
    .
    Nothing will ever be believed; even by good people like “leelagemalli”. When I meet one argument with solid facts and sound reasoning, they think up some other reason to reject what I say.
    .

    Panini Edirisinhe

    • 5
      0

      “This is 140 minutes (in Sinhala) of Aruna Kumara Dissanayake, fielding questions from three interviewers.”

      Are you into Voodoo?

      I’m in New Orleans …….. there are beads hanging from trees all over the place ……… and signs all over the place warning people not to pick fallen beads because of the danger of Voodoo …….

      You have become JVP/NNP witch doctor ……… when everything is failing believe in Voodoo …….


      Had a bowl of Gumbo last night …….. gave me the runners ……. up early reading/writing this crap …………

      Would Ranil like me to hire a competent witch doctor?

      • 2
        1

        Nimal Fernando, Long time no see
        ..
        The only person I can think of to be a witch doctor is the Sinhalese man. No doubt he is after Voodoo.

        His bold texts make us all very upset these days.

        He makes him important though he knows nothing but Gossips about his family and hero-worshiping of his friends.

        If tested his gulliblity on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest), unfortunately his cryptic scale is about a 9.

        I know this from the past because Mr. Nagananda Kodithuvakku, a senior lawyer, was promoted by SM as the future leader of this country.

        As you know NK couldn’t even get nominated. Some think they would have been leaders, but they cant even manage to do even trivial things.

        • 1
          1

          LM. To me JVP looks like a pack of Boy Scouts without a Scout Master. If you have my email address please drop me a line. NK could be a really genuine man too over confident of himself that he can do everything by himself. In this day and age modesty does not carry a man very far.

      • 2
        1

        Nimal,
        Don’t they say that converts are the the most devout religionists? I suppose it applies to political missionaries too.

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