17 October, 2019

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Professor’s Lament: Sarath Wijesuriya Talks In An Academic Prism 

By Shyamon Jayasinghe

Shyamon Jayasinghe

“What I see now is the clash of two worlds:the world of politics and the world of academia. Academics who indulge in politics must realise that the world of politics is full of imperfections weighed by the need to compromise on ideals, to pander to  popular sentiments and to invoke public appeal.”

Praise and Pity

Professor Sarath Wijesuriya is a personage much to be admired although his recent outburst against the Yahapalanaya (YP) government and its Prime Minister is clearly out of focus. 

I was in Sri Lanka during the 2015 landmark elections and I keenly watched the media and even observed at public meetings. Professor Sarath Wijesuriya (SW) deeply impressed me with his lucidity of mind and the utter clarity of his rhetoric and Sinhala expression. The bulk of academics in Sri Lanka have been acting as bystanders while a nationally vital political discourse has been going on. Yet, academics like Gamini Viyangoda and Professor SW took the lead in a widely desired civilian participation. The centre of the civil yahapalanaya movement had been Revd Maduluwawe Sobitha to whom the country is indebted. These two academics assisted the monk. Praise be to Professor Sarath! It is a pity, therefore, that Prof SW has had to publicise sweeping and simplistic negative assessments of what the YP government has achieved so far.

Targeting President

Over a number of occasions recently Prof SW has scathingly attacked the President and the Prime Minister for having ‘totally betrayed the promised revolution.’ One can understand his picking on the President since the latter has turned his back on the goal of yahapalanaya and has been, not once, twice but numerous times, acting to sabotage the government he helped to create in 2015. If we are to mention one major factor that unexpectedly hampered the progress of the YP program it is, surely, the President’s treacherous political U-turn.

On the other hand, even the President cannot be wholly condemned since for the first four years he did  cooperate with the UNF government headed by Ranil Wickremesinghe. The major task of the abolition of the Executive Presidency could not be done due to the lack of parliamentary numbers. However, the 19th Amendment to the constitution was effected as a practical compromise with President Sirisena’s active involvement in getting the numbers to vote for it. President Sirisena now regrets he did that but his reasons are generated by a selfish desire to continue to be a powerful President.

Sirisena now states the 19th Amendment “is a curse.” It certainly was a curse when he pushed at loggerheads against the essential idea of parliamentary supremacy that underlies that amendment. Parliament’s newly-won  power frustrated Sirisena’s futile and crazy attempt to dismiss the Prime Minister and dissolve parliament. Along with his illegally installed Prime Minister, Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, the President ran a fake government to the consternation of the serious ones and to the hearty laughs by those who had a sense of humour.

Constitutional Council, Independent Commissions and the Judiciary

The setting up of the Constitutional Council to make appointments to heads of key institutions that relate to law and order was a major YP achievement that our Professor ignores. The pathway is now clear for an impartial judiciary, an interference-free Police Force and Elections office. Composed of eminent independent citizens in addition to the bilateral political elements (the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition) this council plays a decisive role in the appointments concerned. Under the previous regimes this had not been so.The judiciary was, in reality, subservient to the President. This change had been a huge shift in the rules of the game that turned our administration irrevocably toward the yahapalanaya goal. The country saw what happened under former CJ Mohan Pieris and what happened to former Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. Such things can no longer be happen. When the courts are free, the ordinary individual is free. There are a number of imperfections in the police force but here, too, One can observe that cops are acting with distinctly less fear of political reprisal.

Freedom of Information Act

The Right of Information Act has been passed thus giving any individual citizen the legal right to demand information from government officials with regard to matters that affect their rights. This accords with the public need for transparency.It will take time for most persons to utilise this, but that is coming. There are other bits of legislation that can be mentioned but we can leave them aside for now. Not the least that can be mentioned are legislative reforms that guarantee the freedom of business enterprise to operate without the fear of arbitrary state-take over.

Freedom of Protest

People walk a lot these days with freedom of fear of a hit squad coming in the dead of night. So many murders and disappearances of dissenters were reported under the previous regime. That isn’t happening now. People are not shot at while in protest (Rathupaswela). Not a single case of state terror has been reported during the years of this government

The major Shift toward Yahapalanaya needs the New Constitution

Professor SW’s desire for the completion of the YP revolution essentially needs the installation of a new constitution. This is something he must understand. The draft is more or less ready but it has been frozen due to opposition from the legislators of the other side. This is another instance where deficiency in  parliamentary numbers have thwarted yahapalanaya. The draft does away completely with the institution of the Executive Presidency and the full restoration of parliamentary supremacy, which is the central goal of yahapalanaya. The draft also brings in changes to the way MPs are elected in order to ensure better quality legislators. There are other salutary changes mooted. But we have an Opposition that doesn’t know the need for bilateral action in the wake of common national needs.

Acting Within a Political Medium

Our Professor has to realise one key factor and that is that the YP program can be carried out only through politicians in power. Fundamentally, the Prime Minister and his ministers are in politics and they must of necessity act within a volatile and imperfect political environment. 

Professor SW, on the other hand, is in the very different and pure world of academia where there isn’t room for ‘nonsense.’What I see now is the clash of two worlds:the world of politics and the world of academia. Academics who indulge in politics must realise that the world of politics is full of imperfections weighed by the need to compromise on ideals, to pander to popular sentiments and to invoke public appeal. Disregarding these, the politician must be prepared to be wiped out by the electorate.

I illustrate this anomaly by referring to Prof SW’s criticism of the government enhancing of ‘Samurdi.” The other day, the Professor said that the the Prime Minister should be ashamed of boasting about the government’s increase of Samurdi recipients because that implies the increase of poverty in the country. The Professor is  is dead right. On the other hand, he has to understand that this is a scoring point in the electorate and that without winning the electorate nothing can be done.

Other YP achievements

Our Professor would have made a more realistic assessment if he gave some thought to the government’s positive thrust in the economy. The “Gamperaliya,’ and the “Private Enterprise Sri Lanka,” projects are well thought out ones with high yielding capacity. The boost to tourism and to foreign exports (highest on record in 2018) have been largely attributed to the government’s  friendly win -over of the Western countries which buy most of our exports. The winning of GSP Plus rights and the removal of the ban on our fisheries exports are other illustrations.

Conclusion

Professor Sarath Wijesuriya is, therefore, advised not to go on haranguing the government and its Prime Minister unfairly and unconstructively because the net result of such efforts by respected critics like him would be to help the former regime back. He will then have to see a repeat of the sordid performances of that crew. What is worse, the Professor would have to shut his mouth forever.

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Latest comments

  • 6
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    Very well said, Shyamon

    • 4
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      Shyamon,

      I can’t fault a single word you have written ……….. because all what you say is true. To say anything else would be insincere and churlish of me.

      And I’m glad you write here and give a very truthful picture of the state of affairs ………. and give the good fight against the biased self-serving “writers.” The humbugs and rascals whose primary concern is not the country or it’s people but themselves; what positions and favours they can get from a government/administration.

      But you have one glaring handicap/shortcoming …………. you can never bring yourself to fault Ranil!

      I have said this before, many times, and will say it again. The biggest curse for the country, more than even the Rajapakses, is that the UNP lacks a leader who can give leadership to one side of politics for the past 20 odd years. The Yin is missing from the Yin and Yang. It’s all been Ying. In one form or the other one side of politics has been in power for the entire stretch of Ranil’s leadership. He is just not leadership material in Lanka. Not that I’m an admirer of either, but imagine if the leader of the UNP was JR or Premadasa; irrespective of their glaring shortcomings they were real leaders in the true sense of the term who could effectively marshal their forces. Unlike any Lankan leader Ranil always try to lead by scheming and underhand “tactics.”

      • 0
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        continued

        Instead of using schemes and underhand “strings” ………. the irony is if Ranil be man enough to stand up say what he stands for forcefully and with conviction he will end up with a thumping majority. But the chicken livered bastard don’t have the guts to do it. His feeble attempts on political stages – where the SL public opinion is mostly formed – looks unconvincing and pathetic because he himself doesn’t believe what he is saying; knows very well he has to resort to his namby-pamby ways/methods/traits.

        It’s difficult to teach an old dog new tricks.

        Having said all that, I too believe Ranil is the best president we never had ……. and perhaps never will.


        Lest we forget ………… I do not seek, positions, favours, friendships, accolades/honours or anything another person can give me ……….. I’m just a self-sufficient simple truth-teller who wants to spend a few pleasant weeks in his own country.


        P.S. The Professors assessment of Ranil’s character is spot-on ……… but perhaps at a injudicious time ……. one can complain about the timing but not the assessment.

        P.P.S. For a spot-on assesment of the Rajapakse character, listen to Chameera Perera …… if he isn’t a professor he deserves to be one! :))

        • 2
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          Nimal

          Chameera Perera has been doing what the UNP should have been doing and haven’t done for a long time now.

          • 0
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            J&F,

            Yes, he has the gift of the gab …….. a factual/truthful and a more talented Weerawansa. :))

    • 0
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      Thanks for the support. I had the same complain against SJ. I also believe that SJ has never understood Ranil that all his accusation leveled against Ranil are based on false assessment that Ranil, like other politicians, is driven mainly by the hunger for power. I Think that, among modern politicians, Ranl is an exception to this rule, and that he is willing to share power with anybody as long as there can be a common agreement to serve the nation. He tried to work even with MaRa. SG must understand the fact that the structure of the current parliament doesn’t offer much wiggling room other than to reach the best compromise if the priority should be the economic recovery while winning the trust of the minorities.
      The other option is to go for an election which, I doubt, would change the structure of the parliament that much. SJ is forgetting the fact that their own plan for a 100 day Gvt that prevented Ranil from getting a larger majority in the parliament. It is them who insisted on a nonpartisan common candidate. We all contributed to that plan. Therefore, it is very unfair to put the total blame only on Ranil.
      In any case, I have to disagree with Shyamon’ s explanation for the reason behind SG’s complains against Ranil. I don’t believe that SG belongs to the result oriented school of science at all. On the contrary, I think that SG belongs to a group of mediocre academia in SL. In his generation, those who went to specialize Sinhalese were either monks or who failed to qualify for other subjects. Scientific thinking is neither in their mind nor in their training.

  • 3
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    “……..…………………….impartial judiciary and interference free police force…………………………………..”
    Both do not exist in Sri Lanka.
    Shyamon Jayasinghe needs to go to the north and east, talk to citizens, and observe for himself.
    Samurdi is necessary to prevent malnutrition and death by starvation.

  • 3
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    Shyamon, whilst acknowledging that YP has brought in a few good changes what you have not discussed is the poor performance by RW as a leader. During the conspiracy in October 2018 it was the young dynamic guys like Harin and Ajith and Sajith who were vocal with Champaka and Rajitha who led the attack. RW was in the sidelines , no balls, no guts and the public saw nothing of his leadership. He was exposed then as a weak incompetent leader who lacked leadership and to this day RW has not taken the fight to the Gamarala arseling, just displaying a superior smirk and arrogance which does not impress us. This guy is recycled, brain dead, a born loser and time for him to relinquish his position and hand it over to the younger guys who will do a much better job. Talking about the economy, it is stagnant, what you see is a massive depreciation of the rupee, no FDI flowing into the country, a complete breakdown of the national security apparatus, no growth in expansion of existing businesses or start up of new businesses, ponzi scheme being operated by the Central bank borrowing from Peter to pay Paul which under the corporations act is punishable by jail, poor fx reserves, trade deficit, no employment opportunities for the young making the country a nation of tuk tuk drivers and middle east housemaids providing the life blood of our FX requirements. You can also see an increase in the cost of living, very little improvement in the health and education sectors, hardly an improvement in the quality of life for the average person, plenty of sad and disgruntled people with no hope for the future. Is this what the citizens expected when YP came into power.

    • 0
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      Nimalson

      Ranil has failed to stand up and be counted when there was a crying need, and thereby give leadership at crucial times. The Easter attacks were a prime example.

      If he was purposely left out of vital security related meetings he should have absolved himself of all responsibility at least after the attack
      He could have been the catalyst for mass upheaval, given the carnage.

      SJ fails to see such aspects because he fails to qualify as an unbiased columnist.

  • 5
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    Mr. Symond Jayasinghe: Why you want Prof Sarath Wijesuriya to “Shut” his mouth? The reason you gave in the above presentation is: “The old Regime will come back”. What a “Childish” (with respect to children) preaching is that? You talk of “Gamperaliya”. Come to visit us in the village and listen to the village residents. You will hear a “Earful” and if without personal “Body Guards”, you will not leave the village alive. So with other “Development” initiatives of your “HERO” “RW”. He (RW) is the “Architect” of the downfall of both the Government and the UNP. Talk to MP Ajith Perera and learn something “NEW” of the UNP under RW. The “Back Bench MPs” are “SICK” to the born with this man’s (RW) leadership of nothing but “Arrogance” and “Insensitivity”. Added, his “Deal” making (with MR & Co,) is noteworthy. If at all the “past regime” rise up, you better be aware that it is not because Prof Sarath speaks out; but mainly because of the “Mismanagement” of the Governing affairs by the PM RW and his “Inner Circle” of “Royals” who have no “Common Sense” to know and feel the smell of the “Common Man” in the villages and the streets. In a way, I am happy and appreciate Prof. Sarath , ADMITTING the “Mistakes” done in the past and for being “APOLOGETIC” to the people who trusted and voted these vagabonds, chief among them, your “HERO” the PM- Ranil W. In the present political situation of the country brought about by both the Leaderships of MY3 and RW, you should be ASHAMED (if you have any) from afar to write commendations of this regime. Before advising Prof Sarath to “Keep Mouth Shut”, I would urge you to “KEEP OFF” from politics of this country. Should I remind you: “OWA DENU PARAHATA, THAMA SAMMATHAYE PIHITA SITA” Before advising others, you better practice it first.

    • 3
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      Well well said Douglas.This man SJ still thinks that RW is the Messiah. (what a shame).I saw prof.WS speaking and he spoke the real truth.RW is the first person who backstabbed Jahapalanaya on the 9.January 2015 .Made a deal with MR and co.Now we all want Generel Fonseka as the minister of law and order.RW SHOULD have appointed him in the first place.Instead of that RW aopointed him he appointef his good for nothing buddy Sagala as the minister of L/order to keep MR and co safe.

  • 0
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    Academics are perceived, often incorrectly, as wise. Some of them are stupid. Across the Strait there is this Dr Subramanian Swamy. He theorised that Indian Muslims must be disenfranchised. Over here Prof Chandre Dharmawardena (Canada) and Professor Channa Jeyasumana (Ruhunu University), both preach that Monsanto is clean…clean…clean. By the way, to the three named above, MR’s house is open 24/7. Prof Nalin de Silva claimed he was inspired by God Nath as to the cause of kidney decease in paddy farmers.
    There was the British academic Enoch Powell, the many many eugenics, the anti-Darwinists, flat-earth theorists and so on. The list is endless.
    .
    Having said that Shyamon, we layLankans realised that both sides of the same coin, earned and spent by Lankan Elites, differ very little. We appreciate, for example, the disabling of WhiteVans.
    To cut a long story short Shyamon, please take up this phenomenon Gnanasara Thero. Is his BBS-Buddhism Sect getting to be the in-thingy?

  • 2
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    If Jayasinghe was Old Royal’s acolytes, he would have counted Hangbangtota harbor, Mattala Airport, Sooriyawewa playground, White Van, Grease Monster all as their achievements. Now he is claiming 19A, Easter Sunday, Foreign Exchange Fraud Amnesty Act all as UNP’s achievement.

    If law and order in intact why Ranil is still out CB looting? Why Ranil didn’t file a case on Coup? Why CID did arrested Shafi on PTA. Why didn’t it arrest when Hezbollah said he will make Tamils’ Blood river to flow? Why Old Royals are still out after Mangala signed UNHRC resolution 30/1? Can Jayasinghe point out on person punished for 45 journalist’s murder? Ranil is the King of impunity in all the Lankawe political heads.

  • 6
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    What an absurd old argument from the comfort of Australia. The old regime which is said to be undemocratic was defeated at an election !

    Ranil (YP) has not held an election for 3 years now !. Provincial government elections became due in 2016,

    We did not work for Yahapalanaya ( in 2014) to continue with one school ( Royal) to monopolise power in the UNP and keep this old pretender as prime minister forever. Ranil sent his aunt as our High Commissioner to UK and appointed Ratwatte’s brother to lead Srilankan airline. His cousin was appointed Chairman NDB bank. Sagala’s brother is Chairman at every Corporation. What about Ranatunga’s brother . Have they performed a miracle ? The economy is only getting worse .What is the difference between Rajapakse family rule and this bunch of more sophisticated failures ?

    I dont want to talk of Mega, planned and systematic corruption starting with the Bond scam. Ranil is so involved in the whole scheme from the beginning .

    Certainly Ranil betrayed the people .To support him is to say we have no self respect.

    Sirisena has realised the deep cunning and dishonesty of this man Ranil, but as he is alone among the UNP wolves he can only react this way

  • 0
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    This is a very good analysis. Politics is one thing and academics another-that’s the lesson. If you make an academic the President you will see everyone going nuts

  • 0
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    An illuminating analysis

  • 0
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  • 1
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    No one can deny the fact that both Sirisena and Wickramasinghe should take the full responsibility for the disruption of the day to day affairs of the country. These two gentlemen are trying to undercut eachother, Sirisena does it openly and Wickramasinghe does it surreptitiously. Blaming Sarath Wijesuriya in order to defend Wickramasinghe is a futile exercise . Both Wickramasinghe and Sirisena should be kicked out. No one wants King Mahinda Rajapaksa back, as well.

  • 1
    2

    May be the old age is catching up with Shyamon very fast. He can’t see what the good professor and everyone else have realised already, that the fraud they brought in 2015 is fully exposed now. We are waiting for Americans to come over here to take all of us, Sri Lankans to nirvana…………Hurrah to YP………

  • 0
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  • 0
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    DP are you referring to me when you say,”SJ’? Must be a typo because I haven’t criticised Ranil at all here. I have referred to the Professor crticising Ranil

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