28 September, 2020

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No Substitute For A Strong Opposition

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The appearance of a national crisis over the impeachment is fast beginning to recede and become like another episode in the past. Most of those who opposed the impeachment of former Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake appear to have given up their resistance. Even today a small group of lawyers in the Lawyers Collective continue to object to the outcome of the impeachment. They rose up for a national cause in which there was an asymmetry of power. But even they have been restricted to issuing statements. They are now on the run, figuratively if not also literally. The brief period of public protest is at an end. Their leaders have faced death threats and some have been compelled to approach President Mahinda Rajapaksa to ensure their safety.

Newer issues are taking the centre stage, such as the threat by Muslim political parties associated with the government to decide on a course of action if the government does not rein in the anti Muslim campaign by some allied Buddhist groups. Another is the passage of a law that increases the time given to the police to hold suspects without producing them before the judiciary to 48 hours, up from 24 hours. The strengthening of the political and extra legal arms of government over the judiciary and rights of citizens alike is also seen by the news that a government minister who has an arrest warrant against him has been seen fraternizing with his government colleagues in public and safe from the arms of the law. Members of the higher judiciary and many lawyers were present at the ceremonial welcome accorded to the new Chief Justice Mohan Peiris.

At its height, the impeachment of the former Chief Justice was fiercely opposed by virtually the entire legal profession. As lawyers are a powerful group, who are represented in the corridors of power including Parliament there was a belief that the government had got itself into a confrontation that could lead to its defeat, at least on the issue of the impeachment. The higher judiciary ruled that the impeachment procedure was a nullity in law. The Bar Association summoned a meeting attended by more than two thousand lawyers, who resolved to request the President that the impeachment process be reconsidered and that they would not welcome any new Chief Justice who was appointed under the prevailing circumstances. The lower judiciary in turn resolved that they would follow the position taken by the Bar Association.

RESTRICTED PROTESTS

However, even at its height the agitation against the impeachment did not take on a mass character as occurred in Pakistan in 2007 when the Chief Justice was sacked. The public protests against the impeachment were, by and large, confined to the precincts of the superior courts complex. What was special was the participation of a large number of lawyers who are not seen as social activists and as engaging in public protests. But this was not on the scale of the Pakistan protests which were a demonstration of people’s power that went beyond the lawyers associations. In Pakistan, the political opposition mobilized their supporters to back the lawyers’ protests. This was similar to the civic uprising in Nepal in 2006 that overthrew the Monarchy. There too civil society activists were in the forefront. But it was the support by opposition political parties that brought the masses of people to join the protests.

Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has sought to explain the end of the anti-impeachment campaign by saying that neither the courts nor the media could topple the government and it could only be done through a people’s uprising. On the one hand, the lawyers could not expand their public protest campaign to involve the masses of people. On the other hand, the government used the state controlled media to launch a powerful propaganda campaign. Even in Colombo, which contains the largest number of media outlets by far, the general public’s view appeared to have been influenced by the government’s propaganda machine. Most people I spoke to on the street appeared to echo the government propaganda. One view was that the Chief Justice had behaved out of order as she had been appointed by the President and therefore should not oppose him. Another view was that the Chief Justice had been shown to be guilty of the charges against her.

These partial views reflected the lack of countervailing information and analysis, particularly in the Sinhala language media, which caters to the majority of the population. It appears that the privately owned Sinhala language media has either been co-opted or intimidated so that they failed to counter the government propaganda machine or even provide an alternative view. Therefore the Opposition leader’s statement that neither the judiciary nor media was effective was in conformity with the situation that prevailed during the impeachment. Both the lawyers and media were unable to educate the masses of people regarding the government’s violation of the Rule of Law in the course of the impeachment. This was indeed the task of the opposition political parties, who have networks of party workers that reach to the community level. A fractured and weak opposition failed to make use of the bridgehead made available by the struggle of the lawyers to uphold the Rule of Law.

OPPOSITION FAILURE

There has been a strong sense of disenchantment amongst lawyers and those who spearheaded the protest campaign against the impeachment that the opposition political parties did not give them adequate support. This has also reinforced the negative perception in the international community about the lack of strength of the opposition. From their perspective a strong opposition will be one that puts more pressure on the government rather than seeks to rely on the international community to do the needful. They would like to see an opposition leadership that is presenting the masses of people in Sri Lanka with a vision of how they intend to solve the problems of the country. The problem facing those who want to see change in Sri Lanka is that the opposition is currently no alternative to the government.

The lack of effective action by the opposition parties has led to high hopes among sections of society and the opposition that international pressures will compel the government to uphold the Rule of Law and act in a more democratic manner. Some of the statements emanating from the international community have been extremely critical of the government, such as those by the International Commission of Jurists and by the US government. However, international pressure is unlikely to be able to compel the government to do what the people of Sri Lanka themselves are not pressurizing the government to do. So long as the government can show that it enjoys the support of the majority of the people it will be able to defy international pressures imposed on it regarding issues of good governance and human rights.

At the present time, those institutions that have traditionally played a role in checking and balancing the abuses of government have been subordinated to the enormous power of the Presidency and the Parliamentary supermajority. Civil society organizations are being subjected to greater governmental scrutiny and the space for their free functioning appears to be closing. In a context in which the government is unwilling to change, and the judiciary and media have failed to be countervailing institutions that could keep the government in check, it falls upon the opposition political parties to take on the role of being the campaigners for democracy and Rule of Law. The clarity of analysis that the Opposition leader has demonstrated now needs to be backed up by actions that unify the opposition political parties to face up to the juggernaut of government.

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    A kleptocratic rule is at sight. Moral and Ethical values have to be in place before Rule of Law can be Applied. Example, Knowledge will be ineffective if the Heart is Corrupt, Money is of no Value at the Cost of Health.

    Good civil laws are the greatest good that men can give and receive. They are the source of morals, the palladium of property, and the guarantee of all public and private peace. If they are not the foundation of government, they are its supports; they moderate power and help ensure respect for it, as though power were justice itself. They affect every individual; they mingle with the primary activities of his life; they follow him everywhere. They are often the sole moral code of a people, and they are always part of its freedom. Finally, good civil laws are the consolation of every citizen for the sacrifices that political law demands of him for the city, protecting, when necessary, his person and his property as though he alone were the whole city.

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    Though (unholy) coalition that backed SF at the last Presidential election is openly divided now, individually they all oppose MR staunchly every way they could. But I must say, their numbers hasn’t increased by one bit.

    Average man despise most lawyer sharks and big headed judges. They consider black coats worst than brown coats for people know black coats rob their money in day light. So, how on earth protest march by such antisocial elements be successful against a popular president. No chance. Hence, I have commented in this blog time and again that Sri Lanka is no Pakistan and CJ will be fired and soon, will be gone with the wind. Commentators here scorned at me. But that is what has happened.

    True Rupawahini and ITN had one sided discussions all most daily. But Derana, Hiru, Swarnawahini and Sirasa had both parties in their debates and discussions. So Jehan is absolutely wrong when he said Sinhala speakers were open only to one-sided view.

    The fact that CJ ran away from PSC is well known. And CJ backers kept skipping answer the charges were used by impeachers to convince public successfully that CJ is guilty for those charges. Impeachers also convinced Sinhala speaking intellectuals that by dropping three words ‘or Standing Orders’ in 107(3) three judges of SC selected by the CJ to hear her own case had effected a judicial coup to amend the constitution illegally to get the judgement in her favour. As Jehan says; people bought impeachers argument that the parliament is superior to judiciary for they elect the parliament.

    Today people take to street to agitate for slightest thing from getting damaged roads done to school admissions rectified. But no lawyer group could rally one mass gathering to a single street to protest on behalf of the fired CJ.

    Fired CJ thought IC and their agents here could rally people to street on her behalf. How apathetic she is; however learned she could not grasp Sri Lanka is not Pakistan and MR is not a dictator. I foresaw this well in advance and written it here in detail. Unlike foolish Sajith, RanilW has become wise and opted to be patient this time around.
    Leela

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    What I hear daily is where is the opposition on this and that matter? The problem is that the opposition is hard at work bearing in mind the limited resources at their disposal, but their work in not appreciated by the arms chair pundits who do not give space in their papers and time on their radios for the opposition voices to be heard by as many people as possible.

    It is due to the exceedingly difficult conditions in which they find themselves that that the opposition is currently working, but due to their lack of resources, have to play a part using one’s head more than one’s brawn and therein lies the perception that the opposition is asleep at the wheel!!

    It is time for the pundits who criticize the opposition to join them in helping them bring the simple and basis messages to the majority of people in the hinterlands of this country. So please help them do their job, not make it more difficult by just complaining! Remember the opposition then spends time defending their position and not on the real work of attacking the Govt. thanks to the armchair grumblers.

    Who are those helping the Govt? Those people who criticize the fact that the opposition are of no use! If you stop criticizing and become the bully pulpit to change public opinion we would be much further ahead in taking down this administration.

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      Patta Pal:
      It is hard to argue against what you say in principle. However, the central problem with Ranil Wickremesinghe’s opposition is that it is NOT IN OPPOSITION to Mahinda Rajapaksa. He and every one of his supporters in the UNP has been bought over by MR and the only difference is that they have not crossed the floor like Karu Jayasuriya and that bunch did. And you ask us to be patient with this bunch of sell-outs and wait for them to lead us to the promised land? Incidentally, is that promised land Venice by any chance?

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        I beg to completely disagree with your interpretation, which is a product of the media disinformation mechanism, that many fall into.

        On the Venice issue, not a penny was paid by the Govt. not even the air fares, let alone hotel bills. Funnily, the reports talk about him staying at the expensive Hiltons! Shows what the bogus writers know about Hiltons in Italy. They are considered mid priced. I am sure RW stayed at better places, but not on the account of the SL govt, unlike the wasteful MR expenses of using the SL airlines and allocating Rs10B for his personal household in the Budget. He does not get an annual R86M only the regular disbursements for a Leader of the Opp.

        I cant understand why the leader of the Opp who works so hard cannot take a 2 week private holiday overseas without incurring snide remarks on where and what he is up to, and more villification from the Press, when everything MR does is beyond the pale.

        Help him harness the opposition to defeat this stinking regime, not make it harder, for everyone who does, is a closet MR supporter.

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    Anyone reading the comments from Leela would understand why Rajapakse family could fool Sri Lanka in this manner. Leela appears to be convinced that CJ was really guilty as the government says and that is why “CJ ran away from PSC “This is the typical interpretation of ignorant people who are willing to buy any story created by the government. Leela, I do not know your education background. But do you really believe that purpose of the impeachment is just to take out the former CJ because she was corrupt? If the CJ has given all the judgements in favor of Rajapakse’s, do you believe that government would bring this impeachment? Leela, what do you think of puppet CJ, Mohan Peries who was appointed in place of Shriyani Bandaranayke. Do you know there is a case pending against him with the Bribery Commission? Do you know that he is the Advisor and most trusted friend of Rajapakse family. Do you believe he is suitable to be the CJ in spite of his relationship with the family and wide scandals involving him?
    Leela may be holding a big position with Rajapakses. But do not try to get in to good books of Rajapaskse’s with this cheap publicity in defending the most corrupt family rule in Sri Lanka. Right minded people can see that this Rajapakse family is making a mockery of democracy. Leela please remember if you know little bit of world history, you will know what happened to notorious dictators in the world finally. Polpot, Idi Amin, Mubarak, Gadhafi and many others were disgraced and their families and all friends had to repay the ill-gotten wealth they got exploiting the country and people. History has proven that you cannot fool all the people all the time

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      Mahen,

      this is what I have always been adding about LEELA^s comments. He or she is hallozinated as if the shanty dwellers, majority of villagers and kiribath eaters have been.

      FYI, I add to this thread – Leela is said to be a PhD educated candidate, claimed him or herself to have lived on the west (UK probably)for a long time AND now got back to a village corner somewhere in Horana area of the country. Now he is overwelmed by all scenes that he or she is compelled to see by the work load carrying out by the great leader MR. No matter even his or her partner could have been abducted, raped or killed on broad day light, she or he will be on the side of his great leader, who is also a contract killer – in SOUL and BODY.

      She or he is ready to sing that song ” I ll be with you all the time”.

      We do understand the problems with average villagers that make up the majority population in the island, that have no other than the access to the state media and those machineries unlawfully go on with their brain washing mechanisms, mostly, irrespective of the evidence of the crimes on the hand, they keep continuing with palatable stories. Most of all – the stories related to Mervin the silva ( with all strong evidences are on the hand) – the state itself behaves as if they are nothign but the people ( majority folks) are just studpid- and would nto raise further questions. People in general in the country today are so frustrated today, not being able to do anything – NO SOONER people anger/agony will come to surface in an arab style spring. THere is no doubt about that. wait and see.

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    It is now the fashion to blame the opposition when protests that are half hearted anyway, invariably fizzle out.

    What do you mean by the “strong Opposition ” ? By strong if you mean an opposition that commands support of the majority of people, it is a condradiction in terms. They would not remain the opposition if they had the support of the majority !

    What is needed is organized civil disobedience action and days of protest like what the Bishop of Colombo has initiated. Bring the Government down economically. Ensure that the petroleum corporation closes down but buying fuel only from IOC sheds. Don’t pay you water bills and electricity bills…can they cut the water and electricity to entire towns and vilages and even cities ?

    These things can be led by NGOs and don’t really need the opposition. Oh God if I do that what will happen to my comfortable lifestyle and my flat in Colombo 5 ? Are definitely the thoughts that will go through your head Jehan !

    It is better to remain silent or get ajob abroad than carry out this psuedo campaign that you are doing to satisfy your funding agencies.

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    Mahen,
    One could highlight his exams passed and research done to display himself as a rational thinker but such qualifications alone would not make him a useful pragmatist. I have realised a long time back that it is gainful to employ an uneducated wise than many educated fools. Besides, I have met a national leader not that educated but has genius for lateral thinking in my life. So, it is not my academia that matter here but practicality and reality of my sayings.

    From the word go, this impeachment is all but politics. What else do we expect from a wily politician like MR. Sadly, ex-CJ’s best behaviour was of no different to MR throughout her impeachment. Read her son’s first letter to the press if you want a clue. Is that what we expect from the sitting CJ?

    An impartial but nationalistic observer would agree that both the CJ and the government tried to beat each other with wile ploys at a great cost to the nation. Mind you, there was a clique that hoped for a constitutional crisis.

    I can understand one opposes MR politically but to invite IC to help knock him off is insane. MR uses every stupid act by desperadoes for his gain very cleverly. And we villages back him to the hilt. Besides, what alternative do we have? Elect an obvious unholy alliance just to defeat Rajapakse. I doubt people will buy that proposition. People are not stupid nowadays, you know.

    Which government wasn’t corrupt in this country? I am not a government servant nor do I engage in contracts. I am retired, I have wealth here and abroad. I am content with what I have, I don’t need any more. So, I need not condone corruption either. What I am saying is people prefer a bit of corruption than an ‘Arab Springs’.

    Think not Sinhala speaking man not read positive economic indicators by World Bank and what’s happening around the world. Those who are not up to that mark to read them, both in the city and the countryside do feel tangible evidence of peace and development around them. Mind you all this growth while the US and Europe is in a near total mess. Go to Spain, you’ll meet paupers in front of restaurants asking something to feed their family. No wonder mass do not feel Polpot, Idi, Mubarak and et al in MR. They know that they can throw MR out if he misbehave. But it’s a good thing that you guys are shouting to keep him on track. So keep it up.
    Leela

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      Your answers clearly show that you are not even in a state to address what Mahen has raised. He has clearly questioned in his inputs that the mess we have been fallen in today.

      If you are honest to you, please try to go through all questions “Mahen” has raised in his comments. Then the readership could at least be bit satisfied with you answer to CT. Else, your wealth and the particulars about you and the villagers are not at all important to the right thinking masses of the country today.

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        Samson,
        I have made a special emphasis to respond to questions on queries that were particularly directed at me and the community that I live with in general. Referring to quizzes like “what do you think of puppet CJ”, my opinion is of no importance for it is the prerogative of the President to appoint anyone he wanted as the CJ and he is appointed as the CJ. So I ignored such and some other silly questions.

        We all have our own outlook but Mahen should have grasped that I am very much alive to what is going on in this country. If Mahen truly wants to know the answers for such quizzes, he should have referred them to relevant authorities.
        Leela

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    Leela,

    What rot are you babbling about, cant you see the destruction and helplessness the majority of citizens are going through with a mafia regime, sure you are eating of the crumbs from this mafia, because no sane person wants to condone the atrocities committed in this land to its own citizens. Enjoy your crumbs for very soon retribution is coming the mafia way and you will see Idi Amin and Gadaffi actions being repeated in this island very soon. Good Luck to you, keep scrounging around for more vermins.

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    Unbiased view of the cj saga is goverment wanted her out and she fell put of favour hence the impeachment . Maybe it had something to do with divinahuma or her husband who had been taking few posts from the state,

    So they impeached her, she could have had some Skeltons in her closest too, or that matter. I would really live to see the report to see her documents.

    Also if you look at how a federal judge is impeached in USA or India its basically the same preceddure only that needs 2/3 of the senate. Here in Sri Lanka I don’t think most of us have seen the report let alone talk about it on point.

    Of course our constitution needs amending.

    I don’t think Mohan is the man if the job and someone within should have been appointed with judging experience.

    I think most of these are blown out of proportion by interest parties and at the end limited to words. Which is sad because few lawyer bodies were saying they would fast unto death if she was removed and it’s been few weeks now .maybe this happenda as Jehan says , mases are not really interested in these matters.

    Finally I remember very well what Ven dembara amila said at the end of FUTA STUGGLE. He said if we don’t get the the increments from the budget (3 months ago) they would mobilise the masses.

    All these things just seem to be limited hollow threats and the lives goes … In our land and most if us forget very fast too.

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    Strong opposition? We don’t even have “Weak Opposition”. Ranil works to take care of his friend Mahinda. Ranil will be in the position forever!! Sajith is Gota’s best brother. There is NO opposition.

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    Thank you Leela, for coming out with all this stuff. I am glad that I have the opportunity to directly know how the supporters of ruthless leaders justify their actions. I like to answer following from your comments
    Quote I can understand one opposes MR politically but to invite IC to help knock him off is insane. MR uses every stupid act by desperadoes for his gain very cleverly. And we villages back him to the hilt. Besides, what alternative do we have? Elect an obvious unholy alliance just to defeat Rajapakse. I doubt people will buy that proposition. People are not stupid nowadays, you know. Unquote

    When there are no alternatives to the people , when ruthless leaders carry on violating democracy and human rights and exploiting people with the power of gun, what can the citizens of the country do to change the direction?. They become prisoners or hostages like in Burma, North Korea, Iran, and Egypt. It is the international pressure that is bothering dictators of these countries to do at least some changes to their ruthlessness. In SriLanka from the time of Premadasa there had been constant pressure on the governments whenever there were human right violations. Leela, do you know Mahinda Rajapakse is one of the pioneers in going to IC and complaining Sri Lanka government when he was in the opposition and human rights activists. He has gone to Geneva few times during Premadasa and JR era to complain against Sri Lanka. If it is good for him then why not now? What this government doing to damage the freedom and democracy is worse than what Premadasa or JR did. Our only salvation is more International pressure on this regime. I know people will suffer when there is trade embargo’s and aid is stopped. But the time for these rulers will also be less. Freedom loving people should worship Western Countries for applying pressure on this ruthless government to do the right thing. Just because opposition is weak how can we support these rulers. Peoples demand for justice and fair play should continue irrespective of the type of opposition we have.

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      Mahen,
      So you welcome ‘pressure’ by IC like they did in Libya to rid of Ghadafi. We remember Mrs Clinton epitomised the US pressure by going to Libya two years back and saying; “We came, we saw, he died.” I bet you democrats were happy that you got rid of a dictator. But then what?

      Things have turned around for worse, does it not: So-called ‘Spring’ has become a ‘bitter winter’ for ordinary people like us in Libya. Al Qaeda started killing US diplomats. And the US diplomatic crop left the ‘spring’ and started shifting their lot. Not just Al Qaeda chased away the Americans but Europeans also from Benghazi. Then they started chasing them from entire Libya.

      Do we want a Clinton successor fly here and say; “We came, we saw, he died” in SL and usher a ‘spring’ for us with JVP and LTTE and Peratugami maniacs who are in back burner now. Give them the slightest opportunity they will turn Sri Lanka a bitter winter worse than Al Qaeda does in Libya. We have tasted them for real not so long ago.

      I think, with all his shortcoming, the majority by far who lives here would prefer MR to the ‘spring’ by the US and those maniacs. We wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole.
      Leela

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    When is this Elitists Collective going to learn that the great majority of our inhabitants are not “Modayas” anymore.

    The days when Rural poor could be brought by buses to barrack for the CJ and the LC by bribing them with 50 bucks and a Bath Parcel are well and truly over.

    Even a rural poor labourer today can earn LKR 500 upwards a day.

    Even my Elitist mates here have mentioned that the current going rate for our rural lassies is over LKR 10 to 15 G a month as domestics in leafy suburbs in Colombo..

    Why would they come to throw petrol bombs and shout sloagans against the Leaders who have given them this once in a lifetime opportunity to make a living and put food on the table.

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      Make a living and put food on table ? That is where you have got it wrong! Obviously no idea of the cost of living.

      15k is not enough to pay your water and electricity bills.

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    What kind of a leader is Ranil ?One of his foreign advisers ( yes if a foreigner advisers he accepts)told him to spread falsehoods about political opponents.So the once respected Sirikotha became a centre of disinformation and lies.Every party man who goes there was told tales like so and so is dying of cancer, so and so is very corrupt, so and so has a fight with so and so like that…That is the level of Ranil politics. That is what Ranil made the UNP do. As long as he is around the UNP will not become an opposition . It is now just a another “Mr. Beans and his funny boys” movie.

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    I don’t know whether it is patta pol or thattey pol. Anyone with
    a modicum of grey matter between their ears, who knows Sri Lanka’s
    political history, will agree that something rotten is and smelly
    about the country’s opposition, the United National Party (UNP).
    Ask a three wheeler driver or a tree climber, a street beggar or
    barber – people who convey news to the common man – and they will
    agree Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Quisling, is the main cause. Patta Pal or Thattey Pols who defend him whilst wearing a mask are not doing justice
    to the discerning public. They are simply people who are carrying out insidious propaganda for Wickremesinghe. Such a tribe is as bad as those who back the Government. That is why they are called suckers!!! What do you say Patta Pal?

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    Congratulations to Rohan. In a few lines he has
    said what Ranil and Sajith are. Ranil is the
    humble servant of Mahinda Rajapaksa. Sajith
    who has no political strategry or maturity is
    the best buddy of Gotabaya. How long can they go
    on pretending to the country? At least one thing
    in favor of Ranil. He is working openly with the
    government like a cabinet minister whilst Sajith
    is not

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    Leela,

    I know you have earned enough money in western countries which is sufficient for you to have a luxurious life in Sri Lanka in your retired life. You are not bothered about what MR and family do so long as you can have things you want.Rajapakse clan will sure to provide you a highly royal class environment, if you have money. All the dictators like Marcos, Mubarak, Shah of Iran they loved luxury life. Leela, I respect your right to have your life style.. But you cannot speak for ordinary villagers. You do not mind a society where drug dealers and Kassipu karayas and Mervin Silva’s are the kings. You do not mind a society where you have to bribe and worship your MP’s Police and everyone to get the things done. You do not mind a society where you have no freedom to criticize the government. You do not mind a society where judges decide the cases as per instructions received from President. You do not mind a society where President releases criminals free if they are from governing party. You do not mind a society where there will be bogus charges on you if you do anything to hurt governing party politicians. You do not mind a society where state media using public money for image building of the kith and kin of the ruling family. You can close your eyes on everything and dictators would be happy to let you enjoy your life the way you want.. Leela, you have been in western countries and you enjoyed the freedom and democracy most of your life. How can you say that people in our country does not deserve it or do not want more democracy and freedom? How can you be so selfish?

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