30 September, 2020

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President’s Address: Reading Between The Lines

By Ameer Ali

Dr. Ameer Ali

Sans any pomp and pageant and dressed in western suit, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (GR) flawlessly delivered his twenty minutes address to the new parliament. Although it was basically a rehash of his earlier address, delivered on 5 December 2019, captioned “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour”, there were certain policy pointers in the second, which, if read between the lines, should worry the minorities in particular.  It was an address solely aimed at satisfying the aspirations of the majority Buddhist community on whose overwhelming support his government achieved its victory with almost two third majority, and on whose satisfaction, GR sees the repository of peoples’ sovereignty.  There was not one word in the entire address where he referred to the aspirations of the minorities.

SLPP’s resounding victory was more the result of the same Sinhala-Buddhist-ethno-nationalist Gota-wave that ensured GR’s victory at the last presidential election than an endorsement of what the President claimed to be “the way we have governed the country during the past 9 months”. It was a period of militarized administration marked by irresponsible fiscal populism, which led to simmering social and economic discontent. The financial cost of the nine months administration and the resulting economic plight were never revealed in full to the public. In fact, the political pressure brought upon the Election Commission to hold the election at the earliest possible opportunity was primarily to avoid any possible calamity at the polls when economic reality threatened to start biting.  Even now water shortage and chronic power cuts are jeopardizing any quick economic recovery.    

Among the controversial issues raised in that address were the principle of one country one law, advice of only the Buddhist clergy on governance, protection of places of archaeological importance to preserve Buddhist heritage, changes to the system of proportional representation, and legal rights for lands occupied by people for many years. These are issues which certainly would raise great concern especially among the Tamil and Muslim communities.

The issue of one country one law was first raised in the Yahapalana parliament in the context of the controversy over the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) of 1951. The Justice Marsoof Committee Report (JMCR), which recommended a series of progressive measures primarily to remove the misogynic elements in MMDA and to make it more gender balanced with some modernist touch, was sabotaged by a coalition of orthodox ulama led by the infamous All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU) and Muslim politicians. It was then that parliamentarian Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera representing JHU raised the principle of one country one law and demanded the total abolition of MMDA.  Does President Rajapaksa support this Thera’s contention? The new Minister of Justice has already stated that Muslims should stop the tradition of early marriages, as recommended by JMCR. Will he also support and implement the rest of that report’s recommendations, or yield to the demands of Buddhist ultra-nationalists to abolish Muslim personal laws altogether? Muslims will be watching future developments on this matter with great concern.  Added to that is the issue of cremating Muslim bodies. The President sanctioned it under the exceptional circumstance of the pandemic, despite widespread protests from Muslim and other groups. Under the principle of one country one law, will that exception be legislated as the norm for Muslims by the new government?   

Moreover, what would be the position of the Buddhist clergy who are supposed to advise the president on matters of governance, is also something to be watched with great interest.  On the advice of clergy, it is true that members of Buddhist clergy played a historic role in the ancient past to maintain virtuosity in governance.  Sri Lanka today is a multireligious and multicultural polity. Why not the President select a team of clerics from all major religions to advise him on matters of governance when needed? Instead, the president’s address simply endorses the contention of Buddhist supremacists that this country belongs only to the Sinhala Buddhists and that only they would determine what is virtuous and what is not.   

A related issue is about protecting places of archaeological importance to preserve Buddhist heritage. On the face of it no one can question the legitimacy of or rationale for such undertaking. Any ancient heritage, whether it be Buddhist, Hindu, Christian or Islamic, is national heritage and beyond that it is also the heritage of entire humanity. However, when archaeological explorations come into clash with communities of people whose physical existence and livelihood in that surrounding are threatened alternative arrangements for those communities should be found. Already, the appointment of a task force just before the election, ran into trouble with a community of Muslim cultivators in Pottuvil. According to one observer the members of that task force except for one had little expertise on archaeology. Because of the trouble and to control the damage before an election, further explorations in that area were halted. Will the President’s address now provide fresh impetus for rekindling that trouble? It will be a test case for future archaeological explorations in the North and East in particular.

Similarly, the idea of issuing legal documents to lands occupied and tilled by people for many years should be welcomed in the interest of providing not only economic security for those tillers and their families, but also of increasing the productivity of such lands. Once again, there are specific issues especially regarding lands occupied by security forces and their families during and after the civil war. In several such instances, especially in Tamil and Muslim areas, those lands had previous owners. Will the government take measures to return those lands to those owners or legitimize the post-war status quo?  This is one issue that makes reconciliation with the Tamil community particularly difficult.

Finally, the intended electoral reforms. The most important reform the country deserves at this point of time is a reduction in the volume of representatives and improvement in their quality. The standard of debate and behaviour of great many representatives in recent parliaments was a national disgrace. Quite many of them were a burden on the taxpayer and a source of corruption. That said, the intended reforms should not be a mechanism to reduce representation of minority communities. In fact, that was one of the motives behind JR for introducing the system of proportional representation. He was particularly unhappy of the disproportionate influence a minority like Muslims used to hold in the parliament. However, even under his system Muslims continued to maintain that influence by creating their own ethnic party. Although they are weak in total number, they have turned that weakness into strength by capitalizing on the weakness of the electoral system. Even in the last election, despite major divisions and factions among themselves Muslims were able to capture more than twenty seats in the legislature. Had the election results produced a hung parliament that Muslim block would have gained a strong bargaining power. 

Likewise, a united Tamil front with dozens of representatives in the parliament would be a problem to implement the agenda of Buddhist supremacists. Does the President therefore, through his electoral reforms aiming to reduce the strength of minorities in the legislature? Once the 19th amendment is abolished or seriously revised, and GR acquires dictatorial powers under a new constitution, will he push through draconian measures to satisfy his supremacist constituency? In such situations what would be the reaction of those minority representatives who are now sitting on the government side? These are perturbing questions arising from the President’s address if read between the lines.

*Dr. Ameer Ali, School of Business and Governance, Murdoch University, Western Australia

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Latest comments

  • 11
    6

    One country one law is found in most democratic countries. SL must have it too.

    Different laws for different tribes is found only in tribal and backward nations.

    • 6
      3

      GATAM,
      You said it beautifully, – One country one law is found in most democratic countries.
      .
      However, you failed to add that those countries are homogeneous.
      .
      Countries that are not homogeneous have a Federal mechanism. Please tell that as well.
      Without that, it is you who look tribal and even more backward.

    • 6
      1

      Do not we behave worse than tribal societies with our parochial attitudes?

  • 3
    4

    Dear Dr Ali

    The order of the day when fellow Sri Lankan ‘children’ put a gun to the other and told them to support separatism, federalism, get the Muslims to vacate their homes and vis a vis and the ensuing riots of many combinations is what the history recollect.

    The suffering of those who left the country as refugees (who left as professionals appointed in foreign lands may not know this journey) and destitutes seeking menial jobs overseas western/asian/middle eastern countries (applies to Sinhala/Tamil/Muslim) ++ people is worse in those host countries than the picture you are trying paint reading between the lines in SL- this type of interpretation/reading between lines tantamount to religious & racial bigotry by us all too on each other. We should treat this as a first step and over time the next few steps will get better is how we should shape a history/optimism etc.

  • 7
    3

    Dr. Ameer Ali,
    .
    You don’t have to “Read Between The Lines”
    Not like you all GR is a straight shooter.
    .
    He has never ever deviated from his words.
    He has not changed his stance for the sake of votes.
    .
    And…..
    You…… yourselves justify why we Sinhalese must stay together.
    .
    “””Even in the last election, despite major divisions and factions among themselves Muslims were able to capture more than twenty seats in the legislature. Had the election results produced a hung parliament that Muslim block would have gained a strong bargaining power”””
    .
    Words speak for themselves.

    • 5
      4

      SCP the ultra Bitch of Rajapakshe looters@

      Going by the last 9 months what have they achieved for the benefit the masses.
      :
      Lipservices one behind the other, but not a single pledge is yet fullfilled. Poor masses are in hunger even if you backlickers would go on street dancing since you cant/wont see it right with the lower IQ inherited.

      Next 6 months will show you guys the IMPACT of the comeback of HIGH criminals.
      :
      We will report to GENEVA if things would turn to be beyond bearing. I have no doubt it will .
      My granny told us then, Beliatta rascals would loot the state – as noany other leaders. By 2015, they did it, but stupid PEOPLE led by SCPs and SOMAs, got them back to power. Now people are speechless.

      • 3
        2

        Mr. leela .,
        .
        Don’t worry my dear.
        .
        You IDIOTS can try in provincial councils election due in December or January for couple of seats.
        .
        Try to get some “Holy Spirits” as election monitors.

    • 0
      2

      Correct.
      “Even in the last election, despite major divisions and factions among themselves Muslims were able to capture more than twenty seats in the legislature. Had the election results produced a hung parliament that Muslim block would have gained a strong bargaining power”
      A clarion call for all ethnic/religious groups to unite among themselves in elections.

      Soma

  • 2
    4

    As part of the investigations following the ISIS disaster in SL you would have noted Bangladeshi workers in the factories/workshops. They will have nothing to do with the happenings what I am trying to say is there are several SL children of all background who was struggling to find employment from North to South and East to west. It would have been great these patriotic entrepreneurs can employ the SL children??

    I loved 6 months in Qatar in 2002 and was exposed several Ampari Muslim children (age 17++) trying to fend for their family living and working (9 persons a room) far away places. I even know the suffering of the same when the Tsunami hot the same family later. I also know how they suffered from the Armed forces and Tamil Groups caught in the middle of something they were not part of etc. Should we not focus on this kind of issues how to bring back all our children home to Nation Build first before inviting other Nations children etc??

    • 2
      4

      Lived in Qatar not loved.

      Our work should be to focus on skill development, bridge building between communities but not look for absolute perfect laws according to each and every persons definitions of life??? how is it even possible?? I have personally compromised million of things to survive so what can not others too??

      We in foreign countries should sponsor opposite side of the divide children and invite them to live and study In our homes with our children will shape a better SL??

  • 3
    3

    Given we have Buddhism as the majority state religion gives us more flexibility as people than otherwise is a fact we have not even to begin to explore.

    Suppose things were other way around where we have Islam and Hinduism as a state religion will create more prejudices than we have today. It is through our own paranoia/political milage (Tamil leaderships of Hindus and Muslims) we have created this absurd scenario and made enemies with the Buddhist and Sinhalese….and historical events support the same for the Sinhalese people too……..hence we did not end of having all the religions recognised as state religion. Just as language all these are possible but one need to demonstrate that we are all fair minded within our own communities first and cross the divide to stand tall with the Sinhalese at the same time will start yielding the desired results.

    The problem with the Tamil political narrative is never go back to the origins…a purposely and conveniently lost historical aspects and never analysis for what it is with facts that we all believe…duplicity in our part too.

  • 3
    1

    Dr Ali
    It is too late to cry. When you guys use to turn your round hat to the direction which serves you better and jump one part to another for greedy selfish needs, you guys were enjoying the ride. Now, people realised duplicity and created a situation to unite as Sinhalese to give power to GR and SLPP. Now it is too late. GR is a person who does what he tells. Hes asked minorities to join him. They refused. Now time for him to give back as Sabri said “Ambaanakata hambu wenawa”. Having separate cultural practices do not justify separate laws. Lets have one country one law. GR is not worried about dead Muslims. You can bury them stand up. Does GR care? He is worried about the living who work against an elected Government by going behind middle east countries. Game is on. Enjoy the ride Ali.

  • 2
    0

    During the 14th change, the party representation was rescued to 5% from 12.5%. This was the benefit that minority parties took. This is has to be increased in the 20th amendment to 12.5% to safe guard the one country.

    • 1
      3

      SAM
      How will denial of representation to minority parties safeguard anything but certain vested interests?

      • 2
        2

        Dear SJ,
        I was little bit taken aback and could not add my comments to yours regarding Inflation rates in Angola and on several other topics, but I will add them next days. I am caught by unexpected travels across europe all these days. I also want to contact Ms Sinhala Man for his posts next days. All in all, dont feel like that I am irresponsible with my usual posts. I am bit upset being unable to realize the – upside down reactions on the voters and the levels of cyber criminality in the country, but i will come with my usual posts next days more.

        • 1
          0

          SM
          I gave some voting data for 2018 local elections which I compared with other data including the 2019 Presidential election, somewhere on these pages.
          By what stretch of imagination could anyone expect the SLPP to get less than an an absolute majority, unless the opposition got its act together?
          *
          To make things worse, look at the stupid behaviour of Sajith P and his effort wasted on public attacks on RW. Voters are not impressed by these things. Ignoring RW itself could have gained him some votes.
          *
          What was positively better than what the SLPP had to offer in any of his promises. Silly offers like free sanitary pads during the presidential election are more amusing than attracting support.
          The SJB had nothing worthwhile to offer. Its attempts to catch up with SB votes simply did not click.
          Did anyone advice Sajith to go easy on his quarrels with Ranil, who was on his way out in any case. None did. They encouraged him to go for Ranil’s jugular.
          Ranil was down but not out. By being graceful towards him, Sajith could have neutralized him, but he antagonized him, and Ranil gave his parting shot in style.
          Sajith had the chance to lead the UNP list and secure a dozen more seats, had he been more diplomatic.

    • 0
      0

      12.5% to safeguard the Sinhalese Aryans Country Heladiva. 74.9% Sinhalese Aryans, 11.2% Sri Lanka Tamils, 9.2% moors, 4.2% Indian Tamils, and 0.5% others as per the latest report given by the CIA 196 Sinhalese Aryans MPs are now our Parliament.

  • 1
    1

    Rightist movements in Europe and north America brought us the “Black Lives Matter” campaign to the fore after George Floyd’s killing. SL is a poor country with many people unknowingly voting for Rightist conservative values while they should really support Leftist and liberal values instead. SL will therefore remain a poor country into the foreseeable future.

  • 0
    0

    The president’s family has control of the country with two-third majority under the pretext of Singhal Buddhist state. 30percent of minorities have contributed to the growth of the country. Language, Religion and discriminatory ethnic policy have deteriorated the economy after 1948. It is a downward path. Many intellectuals migrated. COVID 19 impacted the economy to a greater extent. It will take years to recover. Countries like China are waiting for the economic invasion. Drugs, Unemployment, Corruption are at peak. Digitalization will not solve the main issues. It is the unity among different races that is vital. With two-third majorities it is is the best opportunity for Mahinda dynasty to build the country If they fail the country will go back out

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