By Mahim Mendis –
“Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.” ~ Blaise Pascal, French Philosopher and Theologian
Spending valuable time spinning falsehoods and boldly disseminating such messages to a politically undiscerning public seems to be a preoccupation of some columnists in Sri Lanka these days, adding to the woes of a burdened people. It would be prudent for such spin doctors to be honest with themselves and spend time seriously pondering over what they do with malicious intentions. As stated by Pascal, “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone”, assessing reality and avoiding irrationality.
In the context of the Sri Lankan political frontier this advice may not be heeded, by hirelings who do menial work as distractionists, possessing an unnatural talent to divert the attention of people from real issues, including their own political and ideological debacles. These spin doctors brought absolute misery for their political patrons during the Presidential and General Elections, creating confusion in opposition ranks to the satisfaction of the Rajapaksa regime. Finally, their efforts only resulted in causing unprecedented humiliation for the UNP, while helping to install a Rajapaksa regime with a margin of 10% more votes than Sajith Premadasa.
Once again, the same distractionists have recommenced their campaign, knowing that the SJB that they intended to destroy at whatever cost, has now emerged as the main Parliamentary Opposition in our land, increasingly winning the confidence of the people.
SJB And Democracy In The Context Of Rising Authoritarianism
It is accepted that those who believe in the democratic ethos, need to practice it as a way of life starting from intra-party affairs. This provides for adequate space for consultation, compromise, and consensus, with scope for dissenting views. Since 1994, this was not implemented within the main opposition party UNP, as it not only prevented the annual election of a leader, but also suspended the party membership of many who disagreed with the leader.
Furthermore, cronyisms became uppermost in the mind of the leadership preventing a truly representative National Executive Body consisting of elected members of local and provincial bodies, parliamentarians, electoral organizers, former parliamentarians, youth, women, and trade unionists etc. from deciding on the future of the party. Such a National Executive Body elected the party leader before 1994. The former status quo, that prevailed in the UNP before 1994 is now adopted by the SJB.
The SJB today is wiser to learn from the mistakes of the UNP with its post 1994 anti-party constitution, enabling the leader to remain in power eternally, until there is a vacancy to be filled. Being the greatest victims of a chronic political culture, SJB leadership has demonstrated that it is well aware of the costs incurred when political parties in government and in opposition are inspired by an arrogant neo-feudalist ethos, compelling members to be subservient to the interests of those assumed to be “noble”, with unequal rights for the membership. The Constitution of the SJB enacted in the very first year of its formation, compels the leader to be elected annually by a truly representative National Executive Committee as happened in the UNP before 1994.
Party Sans Internal Democracy Cannot Fight For Peoples’ Rights
The democratically elected leadership of the SJB was in the forefront of the Parliamentary struggle to oppose the 20th Amendment to the present constitution, to prevent draconian powers to the President.
They decisively challenged the amendment in courts, with its members telling the people through parliament that it would only stand for a Pro-People 19+ Amendment. That is with fine-tuned checks and balances to ensure that the Constitutional Council would never act as a rubber stamp for a power-hungry Executive.
SJB as the alternative to the present regime, maintains that it believes in clearly defined benchmarks for all high posts, including the appointment of Judges, Inspector General of Police and other positions coming under the Public Service Commission. The absence of such benchmarks with professionals eternally taking a back seat to appease political masters, will lead to undermining of national security, in all its frontiers.
Position Of The SJB On Waste And Corruption
It is heartening to see that the SJB clearly advocates the need for a National Procurement Commission, with commitment to eliminate waste and corruption in the public sector. As stated by the last Chairman of the PPC, Eng. B. N.I.F.A Wickramasuriya in the Commission’s website, its intention was to ensure “win-win” results by implementing a strong monitoring process, pursue a strategic and result-oriented approach by reviewing and strengthening public procurement practices as per best international standards. This Commission is abolished today under the 20th Amendment to the Constitution.
Frontline Action On Behalf Of A Democratic Minded People
The distractionists know very well that the campaign to protect the 19th Amendment had no significant support from the UNP, which not only failed to win a single seat in parliament, but also has failed to fill its sole National List seat to state its position.
It should also be recalled how the UNP failed to vote against the draconian 18th Amendment, when they were in opposition, by abstaining during the vote. Spineless and mindless aiding and abetting of dictatorial measures cannot be something that the future generations of people wish to remember. It is creditable in this context that the SJB Parliamentary Group has members who have faced imprisonment for speaking out against corruption, criminalization and malpractices perpetrated by the present regime.
SJB’s Pragmatic Foreign Policy With National Interest
The SJB has stated that it’s Foreign Policy is shaped by “True Patriotism”, with friendship towards all and enmity towards none. It has articulated publicly and stated in its Manifesto that its dealings with the international community, in the context of bilateral agreements will be guided by true national interests, and not by old and parochial prejudices and outdated definitions on who our friends and enemies should be.
In this context, we could recall the manner in which, late President Ranasinghe Premadasa was able to take a principled stand concerning (a) training of Sri Lankan Tamil militants on Indian soil to fight the Sri Lankan armed forces, (2) Indian Military Intervention in Sri Lanka after the Indian Air Force forcibly intruded into the Sri Lankan air space, (c) Declaring the British Ambassador William Gladstone, “persona non grata”, for interfering in the national elections in Sri Lanka and, (d) Closing the Israeli Interest Section operating through the American Embassy. These actions were guided by true patriotism and national interest and did not in any way contribute towards isolation of Sri Lanka in the world community. Such actions, if at all, helped to build a more dignified relationship with them as a nation with a spine.
The SJB which has a proud heritage with its ideology shaped by principled leaders of the past believes in ‘Positive Alignment’, with countries that would respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Sri Lankan people. The SJB has declared that it will work cordially and productively with all world powers on a win- win policy. For the SJB, what matters in international relations is mutual profitability based on equal dignity. The party will therefore refrain from populist slogans used in the post-independence period to the detriment of the people.
Viable Policy Of True Patriotism To Ensure Dignity Of All People
The SJB has by now redefined the established notion that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist State as propagated by Leftists, Centrists and Rightists with equal vigor, especially since the First Republican Constitution enacted by Dr. Colvin R. de Silva in 1972. What is of significance to the SJB is equality of all people with peaceful coexistence, while conferring due status to Buddhism. SJB leader, Sajith Premadasa has articulated very clearly that the majority community should be a greater example to the rest of the country with Buddhism as the State religion.
Similarly, the SJB has not uttered one thing to the majority and another to the minorities, with regard to decentralization of power and the need for a 13+ Amendment. It has stated its’ commitment to a truly empowered people towards social, political, economic, and cultural emancipation to advance as a dynamic and progressive nation.
High Level Of Political Activism By SJB Within And Outside Parliament
The dynamism of the SJB Parliamentary group is not a secret to anyone with live telecast of parliamentary proceedings. It is not a secret that the leader is meeting with people from all walks of life on a daily basis in different electorates in the country. This certainly cannot be matched by any other group, as the distractionists know too well.
The SJB led protest campaigns are gathering momentum each day with dynamic mobilization of people coming from different backgrounds as there is no more confusion in the minds of the masses that Premadasa led SJB is the most formidable alternative.
The purpose of this article is to provide readers with discernment a balanced view in the current context, when habitual distractors have accelerated their campaign especially among the English-speaking public to spin untruths out of truths in utter desperation.
As stated by Former American President Obama, “If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress” – It is evident that this is what the SJB is doing right now.
*Senior Lecturer, Open University of Sri Lanka and Former Media Spokesman, Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA)