By Mahim Mendis –
“Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” ~ George Orwell
Shyamon Jayasinghe (SJ) in his article titled, “The SJB should Never Have Happened”, published in the Colombo Telegraph on 21st May, 2021, strives to manufacture endless untruths on behalf of the anti SJB and anti-Premadasa Brigade. He is convinced that this is the best way to resurrect the UNP. Being pre-occupied with this “dishonorable deal”- a term he resents very much when used against the UNP leadership that remains paralyzed, SJ also forgets that he belongs to an age group where members should be far wiser and should contribute towards enlightened public opinion formation.
Ironically, his submission to the Colombo Telegraph, an honorable means to disseminate progressive views without malice, does not reflect a perspective with reasonable detachment and independence, since in his imagination, the largest opposition party in Sri Lanka, the SJB, is still some “faction”, a mere “breakaway group”, which is now a “Little Opposition Group in Parliament”.
I recall how Dr. Rajiva Wijesinha, in his Colombo Telegraph article of 1st January, 2018, described this very same Shyamon Jayasinghe, as “a jolly looking man who lives in Australia, emerging as the leading apologist for the UNP with intellectual pretensions”. Sadly, Dr. Wijesinha also stated that “Mr. Jayasinghe’s passion is not twinned with any regard for truth or facts”. Three years later, he reconfirms this position once again in his article dated 22, May, 2021.
As for Political Chemistry
Still living in a state of shock that he finds impossible to overcome since 2019, he says that “the implication of the tenor of my argumentation is that the SJB is a political error. Such a conclusion will be counter intuitive to many who tend to look at election results in the conventional way”.
The political shock that this Brigade has been subject to, makes its members continue with illogical reasoning. The SLFP which was formed by SWRD Bandaranaike, as a group breaking away from the UNP continues to be more pragmatic even today with a better performance as seen through the 2020, General Elections results, getting 12 members elected to parliament. When SWRD broke away from the UNP and contested as the SLFP, he could only obtain 9 seats, out of forty-eight seats. On the other hand, the SJB emerged as the largest opposition in 2020, with 54 seats pushing the UNP to the fifth place behind the TNA and the JVP. That has to be rightly shocking for SJ.
Making White, Black; and the Black, White: SJ and His Political Chemistry
For SJ and his anti-Sajith Brigade spin doctoring is also a formidable challenge due to their poor grasp of political realities at the ground level as they thrive on lies and deception. Hence, they engage in a shoddy job in constructing truths out of untruths, as though it is their hobby.
Maliciously oriented with jealousy, hatred, insanity, character assassination and even political murder, this anti-SJB Brigade considers almost daily parliamentary submissions of the Sajith Premadasa led group, in parliamentary question time, a nuisance, as much as it is a nuisance to the Pohottuwa led Government. In questioning the Government, SJ knows too well that SJB members have made their presence felt strongly in parliamentary debates, leading to creation of a wave of protests at the grass roots level.
SJ says that “Echoes are heard sharply in empty spaces; but the space is empty”. He says, that every-time Sajith Premadasa and his men yell at the Government, even over serious misdemeanors, the volume one hears is similar to that emanating from an empty space.
Though it is not quite gentlemanly to talk about physical infirmities common to all of us, it is clear that SJ is severely deficient in hearing, as he admits, while being politically blind to what is in fact true.
Simplistic Comparison of SJB with JJB
While people in opposition ranks respect JJB and its leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake for their commitment to a Socialist cause, SJ wishes to compare the numerically powerful SJB with the JJB, which is a meaningless comparison.
It is however logical to claim in good faith that the JJB has electorally and in the legislature, outperformed the UNP which has no national level representation at all. What SJ should in fact say is that the UNP should learn a lesson from the JJB in maximizing the potential of the single parliamentary bonus seat it has, without denying its few supporters a voice in parliament. This is at time the UNP under the leadership of RW could obtain only 2.15 % of the national level vote, with its total votes even in the stronghold of Colombo District reduced to 30,000. For the sole bonus seat that remains unfilled, they need to be thankful to President Ranasinghe Premadasa for bringing down the electoral cut off point for representation from 12.5% to 5%; a progressive gesture towards smaller parties that have an enormous role to play in a democracy
SJs View on Choices for Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka
Having tried to aimlessly boost the image of the JJB as against the SJB, it is also clear that SJ is praising Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka’s capacities, clearly driven by resentment about his loyalty to the SJB leadership.
Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka obviously knows best as to what party he should choose, having formed his own party previously. SJ has probably forgotten that Field Marshall Fonseka is currently the Chairman of the SJB led by Mr. Premadasa. Unlike anyone else, Sajith even made a public proclamation that he would make the Field Marshall the Defense Minister of the country as that is his extraordinary expertise. This is something that RW failed to do, leading the country to a new national security crisis towards the tail end of the Good Governance Regime.
SJ’s lack of Discernment about RW Leadership Style and Sajith’s Behaviour
In-fighting within the UNP that SJ talks about, cannot be considered unnatural, in a party devoid of inner party democracy from 1994-2020. The leader remains leader until he decides to resign or until his demise.
The Deputy Leader of the UNP, Sajith Premadasa is historically proven as a leader who remained loyal to the UNP. Even when in recent times, President Maithripala Sirisena offered him the Prime Minister post nearly five times as claimed by President Sirisena himself, Sajith remained loyal to RW. He was loyal to RW. even when Karu Jayasuriya, Milinda Moragoda, Rohitha Bogollagama and Naveen Dissanayake joined the Rajapksa regime for reasons best known to themselves.
So, Sajith if at all is known for his sober and temperate behaviour as the Deputy Leader of the UNP, or as Presidential candidate, while all types of elements, including Ravi Karunanayake, as Assistant Leader, were set loose by Wickremesinghe to undermine Sajith in the public eye. Sajith hardly criticized them while he was undermined. As a legislator, he never earned a reputation as a dealer, schemer or a conspirator. That has nothing to do with his personality.
Can SJ substantiate rationally how Sajith becomes an intemperate leader? Looks like he is disappointed that Sajith wasn’t game enough to playing second fiddle to someone who lost all credibility in the public eye as reflected through national level election results from Point Pedro to Dondra Point.
Has this anti SJB Brigade forgotten that it is the UNP that made Sajith the undisputed Presidential candidate, without a contest? After the Presidential Elections, as the Prime Ministerial Candidate, Chairman of the Nominations Board etc. But finally, wasn’t it RW who deprived the UNP leadership to Sajith, as Sajith was no longer able to to work according to RWs wishes.
Won’t SJ admit as a Jolly looking gentleman, that at the Presidential Elections, the publicly held position of RW, that he would be the Prime Minister if Sajith became the President was unwarranted interference, against norms of democracy? Contextually, wasn’t it right that Sajith stated that the appointment of the Prime Minister is a matter for the President and the Parliamentary Group, and not anyone’s natural inheritance. Probably this is what SJ defines as Sajith’s intemperate behaviour.
Mobilizing People to Protect Democracy and Sovereignty of the Sri Lankan State: Most Urgent Need
SJ should take himself seriously before he writes without using cheap and immature political tactics. This is not the time to appease Rajapaksas or the politically decimated UNP by undermining the SJB. The highest priority is to form the broadest possible Civil and Political Society Coalition, to protect democracy, as well as the territorial integrity of the Sri Lankan state right now.
This is not the time to be an offshore agent for the present regime to undermine the opposition, as it is the highest priority for Rajapaksas to undermine the main parliamentary opposition. SJ has unwittingly opted to be an offshore agent of this regime, very well knowing the implications. Also, he is ignorant of the fact that the UNP got destroyed not only because of RW’s stale and bankrupt leadership with contempt for inner party democracy, but because of the public perception that RW helped to bail out the Rajapaksa Regime from unprecedented corruption and criminal charges.
Sajith’s credibility lies in the fact that the people did not hold him responsible for RWs apathy and indifference to all what he said to win elections in 2015 under Sirisena.
Neo-Liberal Arrogance and Contempt for Pro-People National Development
SJs indifference to the plight of the majority of this country living under poverty line is understandable, as he has utter contempt for the pro-people concept of “Shelter for All”, with the Government providing leadership for this noble project. SJ believes that providing housing for weaker sections like the disabled and aged is all that should be done by state. According to him, like other living priorities, housing facilities should be self-generated in a prosperous economy. Till then, the implication is that the poor should suffer. This is his reactionary thinking, probably inspired by neo-liberalism or even probably neo-feudalism.
Sajith and the SJB as the Social Democratic Alternative to Rajapaksas
No one in Sri Lanka, as at present is unaware of the fact that Sajith has a Social Democratic Vision and a Mission. He, like his father, is a firm believer in a dynamic and modernized state sector competing with the private sector, that wealth generated should be to uplift the majority and not for the pleasure of a microscopic minority, that public health, transport and education should be top priorities of the State. Also, that the Government cannot wash its hands off these sectors as done by reactionary regimes.
In the foreign policy sector, Sajith believes in positive alignment with all states and the determining factor in “alignments” will be the highest national interest. In other words, how will the people benefit finally? These are tried and tested policies even during the time of President Premadasa, with dignified collaboration with the Western World that firmly invested in Sri Lanka, even after the British High Commissioner was declared “persona non grata”, for interfering in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs during national elections.
Concocted Lie Relating to Ranil’s Influence with the Minorities
SJ should ask himself the question as to why Ranil and the UNP was rendered useless by the minorities with Tamils and Muslims expressing faith in Sajith and the SJB at the General Elections. Sajith also won the Trincomalee District where the UNP was relegated to the seventh place. In the multi-ethnic Colombo District, The Ranil led UNP could poll only 30, 000 votes, as against 387, 000 votes polled by Sajith led SJB. Why should “SJ types” willfully live in a fool’s paradise that Ranil is influential with the minorities, when he is not even influential anymore with the Sinhalese Buddhist electorate?
Legitimate Mandate to Challenge and Question the Government
A responsible opposition inspired by a democratic ethos is obligated to challenge the Government with questions. Hence, we see the Leader of the Opposition maximizing the potential of Standing Orders 27 (2) as an instrument to raise issues of urgent public importance. In each sitting of parliament. The Government, to the utter dismay of our democratic citizenry has failed to answer these questions.
For instance, when on 18, May, the Opposition Leader, Premadasa, raised a series of questions over the spread of the Coronavirus, the questions led to aggressive comments from the ruling party. The Health Minister said such questions obstruct her from carrying out the necessary duties relating to the pandemic. Supporting this position was the Ruling Party MP. S. B. Dissanayake, who said that there is a tradition in the Sri Lanka Parliament where a Minister can decide NOT to answer a question, if he or she is placed in an uncomfortable position by those questions.
Protection of Parliamentary System by a Strong Opposition
Today the Government of Gotabaya Rajapaksa stands accused and ridiculed by the people, not because of a weak opposition as claimed by SJ. The opposition struggle is waged in the context where most of the mass media institutions are well manipulated by the Government unlike in the past. Opposition MPs have been threatened with death and physical intimidation and imprisonment in harsh and brutal conditions. This is the pathetic plight of popular SJB MP Ranjan Ramanayake, who spoke against corruption in highest places. That he did for the people.
Let us be reasonable, and not be political assassins to appease utterly contemptuous forces that are essentially anti-people. I am sure SJ as a patriotic son of Sri Lanka living overseas will be progressively insightful hereafter.
“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
*Dr Mahim Mendis is a senior university academic with a Ph.D in Media Sociology from the National University of Singapore. He is the former Spokesman of the Federation of University Teachers Association of Sri Lanka (FUTA)