6 December, 2021

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Provincial Elections As Movement Forward

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

There are statements emanating from the government that it is planning to conduct provincial council elections in the early part of next year. It is reported that cash-strapped though it is, the government will be providing parliamentarians who are in charge of district development with Rs 100 million each to engage in development activities in their electorates. In addition, former members of provincial councils and local government authority members will also be entitled to substantial monetary resources to do likewise. If these large sums of money are made available to politicians to spend prior to the election, they could contribute to the thinking that the government is investing in development for better times ahead despite the hardships of the present. But the cost of this gamble which will include printing money could be high, so there must be other motivations.

The present situation on the ground is hardly propitious to the conduct of elections. The economy is in deep trouble with foreign exchange reserves threatening to be negative if scheduled foreign loans are repaid on time unless there is a fresh infusion of foreign loans. Among the several reasons why foreign exchange is scarce is that the government is keeping the foreign exchange rate artificially low instead of letting market forces determine the price. This is no different from the price controls that the government attempted to place on rice which led to hoarding and artificial scarcities notwithstanding the declaration of a state of national emergency to deal with the hoarders. If the government relaxes the exchange rate it is likely that the foreign exchange rate will soar and prices of imports will soar likewise adding to the inflation in the country. This may be the concern that now justifies emergency rule.

Some of the present day economic problems are beyond the control of the government to resolve. These would include the loss of economic production due to the months of lockdown that followed the rise in Covid spread. The contribution of the tourism industry to the economy has been much diminished due to the closure of the country’s airports to prevent infection spread from abroad. However, some of the economic setbacks have been self-inflicted. The biggest one is the implementation of the chemical-free agriculture policy on a scale that has no precedent in any other country in the world. Even the most economically advanced countries, such as Germany, where there is a high demand for organic food, has only devoted around 10 percent of its agricultural land to chemical-free agriculture. And Switzerland, known as one of the cleanest countries in the world, recently rejected the banning of pesticides at a referendum as voters felt it was impractical.

Singlemided Commitment

The government has so far shown a singular commitment to going ahead with the decision to have chemical-free agriculture. There has been some concession to big business interests such as in the case of the tea industry. Some of the necessary chemical inputs for fertilizer are being permitted. However, this is an exception and the general rule that agriculture should take place without chemical inputs continues to prevail. So far there has not been flexibility shown with the farming community who are coming out publicly in protest as they are seeing their harvests being reduced. These protests are taking place in all parts of the country and in some areas the small farmers have not been planting crops fearing that the yield will be too small. The government has offered compensation but, given the financial crisis it is in, this is unlikely to materialize in the short term.

The government’s present policy on organic agriculture appears to be following a military logic that sees the objective clearly and goes for it at all costs. One of the key features of democratic governance is that consultations take place with those whose interests are bound up with issues prior to the implementation of change. These consultations need to take place at multiple levels over a period of time if the decision being made is likely to have major consequences. Further it is not sufficient to practice tokenism in consultations. Often consultations take place but the views generated are not heeded. Those who consult sometimes appear to be listening but do not really listen nor are they willing to change their preconceived attitudes and plans. It seems as if the decisions have already been made. The essence of democratic government is to be responsive to public opinion, and to educate public opinion on new measures that need to be taken in the larger interests of society.

On the positive side, and to the credit of the government, it is providing space for public protests against its policies. Speaking in New York at the UN General Assembly President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said he had instructed the police not to use batons and violence to break up peaceful protests. Restraint has been shown in the case of the three month long strike by government school teachers who continue to be paid their salaries while doing no work. There were initial signs of harsh restraint when Covid control laws were used to detain some of the teachers who were leading the protests. At this time these strong arm methods of control have stopped. Unfortunately, however, the problems that the organic farming problems and teachers’ strike pose show no signs of being resolved through compromise as alternatives do not appear to have been either studied or proposed.

Multiple Motivations

There may be multiple motivations in holding provincial elections at the present time. These elections are already three years overdue. The previous government failed to conduct the elections fearing that a bad performance would send a negative message to people who were already moving away from it. They changed the election law to make it more difficult to hold elections again. However, unlike the previous government, the present government leadership is made of sterner stuff when it comes to holding elections and winning them. It appears to be planning new strategies to regain the upper hand. The 2022 budget which is to be presented to Parliament later this month will offer the government an opportunity to address the immediate concerns of voters at least in the short term. They may also see elections at this juncture as being helpful to ensure political authority and benefits for the second tier of leaders who will be satisfied with them at the moment.

The holding of provincial council elections will be more beneficial to the Tamil and Muslim parties in the Northern and Eastern provinces as it gives them a chance to obtain a share of political power at the provincial level that they do not have at the central level. There is speculation that the government’s sudden decision to conduct provincial council elections is the result of pressure from the Indian government. It is notable that the government’s announcement was made shortly after the visit to Sri Lanka of India’s foreign secretary, Harsh Vardhan Shringla. At his meeting with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa he had reiterated India’s position regarding the need to fully implement the 13th Amendment and to hold the provincial council elections at the earliest. During his visit the Indian foreign secretary had also urged the Tamil political parties not to look to India for a solution to their problems but to discuss the issues that trouble them and resolve them in dialogue with the Sri Lankan government.

In this context, the decision of the government to go ahead with provincial elections is the silver lining to the grey clouds that overhang the country. It is an indication that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is being consistent with the pledges he made in New York at the UN General Assembly. The holding of provincial elections even in the present disadvantageous political situation that the government is in gives a positive message that the president is not neglecting his promises to the international community with regard to the reconciliation process. Addressing the root causes of the war and bringing reconciliation between the communities needs to be the number one priority of any government. The provincial council system as presently constituted is in need of improvement, both in terms of the distribution of powers and resources. But it is the way forward if the ethnic and religious minorities are to feel they are a part of governance structures of the country, and hence co-architects of a shared future in which there is national reconciliation.

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Latest comments

  • 11
    3

    Reconciliation is a mirage as of now. A government that has no will to fully implement the 13A cannot be trusted with reconciliation.

    • 3
      10

      Nathan,
      “A government that has no will to fully implement the 13A…”
      —-
      The Government should be out of its mind to implement 13A which was rejected by Tamils and continued the war massacring Sinhalayo to achieve their objective to create a separate State.
      Moreover, a section of the Tamil community in Yapanaya has told the Government not to give land and police powers to NPC. The Government should respect the views of the people.

    • 5
      4

      Nathan
      If you implement 13A fully Tamils trapped in Sinhala majority provinces will be reduced to paraiah status.
      That is not reconciliation brother.
      IF I WERE A TAMIL I WOULD STRONGLY OPPOSE LAND AND POLICE POWERS TO PROVINCIAL COUNCILS AS +50% OF TAMILS ARE LIVING IN SINHALA MAJORITY PROVINCES.

      Soma

      • 4
        0

        Soma,
        I skip Eagle Eye and come to you straight. I like to involve in an exchange that is stimulating.
        Reconciliation is a distant star. Let us make our lives cordial, first.
        .
        As a teenager I have undergone harassment in the hands of policemen imported from the South. (I missed a year of schooling!)
        .
        Tamils in the South or North have been reduced to paraiah status since I was fifteen.
        I am used to it.
        .
        IF you WERE A TAMIL you WOULD STRONGLY OPPOSE LAND AND POLICE POWERS TO PROVINCIAL COUNCILS, you say. You have been saying this for a long time. Thank God, you are not a Tamil. That makes Eagle Eye a little bit sad. But, can’t help!

    • 2
      3

      Only solution is to split the island into 3 mono ethnic nations. Full devolution. Cannot be manipulated. Cannot change.

      Until that is done, you live at the mercy of dishonest and racist governments as a third class citizen. Isn’t this the case since 1948?

      Why do the same thing and hope for a different outcome?

  • 13
    2

    First shot at getting rid of Rajapaksas.

    Beware of tiger stories created by Rajapaksas to arouse racism (only way Rajapaksas can win elections).

    • 3
      11

      GATAM,
      “…Rajapaksas to arouse racism…)

      It is not Rajapakshes who arouse racism but Tamil politicians in the North who arouse racism to win elections. They have been doing that since Sinhale gained independence. Vigi says ‘Sinhalayo are not welcome in the North’, ‘Cannot build Buddhist temples and erect Buddha statues in the North’.

      • 5
        1

        Imagine Land and Police powers in the hands of a Vigi.
        My bigger worry is reciprocal acts by local Sinhala politicos with land and police powers in their hands.

        Soma

        • 3
          0

          Soma,

          So who will be the ultimate winners?

          There are not many Sinhalas or Muslims in the north. So the damage Vigi can do is minimum. Not the case in Western province, etc.

          Give police powers to provinces! Give land powers to provinces!

          That will speed up a lasting solution.

          • 1
            1

            And Tamils ( all Tamil speaking people)
            in the ‘rest’ ?

            Soma

          • 0
            2

            Gatam
            You assume that Tamils (Tamil speaking people) in Sinhala majority provinces suffering under our local politicos will soon move out on their own.
            Not likely and therefore prior agreement is essential.
            .
            Despite intense, unrelenting propaganda of discrimination, violence, loot, rape, murder or even genocide not a SINGLE TAMIL FAMILY who lived among the Sinhalese in the South during or after the war has relocated the residence to Jaffna.

            Soma

            • 1
              0

              soman

              “……………………….. therefore prior agreement is essential.”

              Could you let us have a draft agreement
              including all your ideas, recommendations, proposals, obligations, rights, borders, fishing rights, water rights, Right to tax, ……………. land rights, police powers, …………….. millions of other things, …. implementation period, …………………..

              Above all let us know the ways and means of passing the contents of the agreement in the parliament and enforcing it later.

              How do you propose it to be made into an enabling ACT without any obstruction from your saffron thugs, patriotic army men, political crooks, lazy petite bourgeoisie, Sinhala/Buddhist Bonapartiste, …………………. ?

              If you haven’t thought about it, does not matter.
              Go sleep well.

      • 3
        1

        EE,

        That is true but Rajapaksas do the same thing. SLPP is the Sinhala version of TNA and SLMC.

        SL people are driven by racism at national decision making. No point blaming them.

        Just change the nation to suit the people. Divide the island into 3 nations made up of each ethnic group only. All problems are gone.

  • 9
    3

    Jegan,
    Your last paragraph is the will and the need of the country only if the President is honest in his words. GL Peries has announced that they are ready with the new constitution and it will be submitted to Parliament soon. So, the new year will be a new Sri Lanka with a full flexed devolution of power. If it is another Rajapaksa gimmick as in the past what would you do and what people should do?

    • 3
      0

      Fool me once shame on you.
      Fool me twice shame on me.

      It is not just Rajapaksas who has fooled Tamils. This has been happening since 1947.
      * 1947 – DSS invited GGP to form a government but in 1948 passed the citizenship act
      * 1958 B-C Pact torn within months
      * 1965 D-C Pact torn within 3 years
      * 1987 merger of north and east and allowed the PC to function but only for 2 years
      * 2008 de-merger of north and east
      * 2009 promise for 13A

      Getting fooled all the time is shameful. Smart politicians know who can be fooled easily!

  • 10
    2

    It is the law to hold PC elections. We do not need decions to do that.

    • 2
      9

      Jaffna Man,
      “It is the law to hold PC elections.”
      —-
      Did you tell that to the savior of democracy Ranil Wickramasinghe who postponed PC elections indefinitely?
      Has the people in this country lost anything by not having PCs? In fact, the people saved enormous sum of money by not holding PC elections. PCs are a ‘White Elephant’ and utter waste of tax payers’ money imposed on Sinhalayo by our Big Brother.

    • 4
      2

      Eagle Eye,
      .
      It is well-known that “Jaffna Man” is the CT comments handle of Professor Ratnajeevan Hoole, who as a member of the Elections Commission made every effort to conduct all scheduled elections on times. His efforts were subverted by others, including, I guess, Ranil Wickremasinghe.
      .
      Nobody knows who Eagle Eye is, but you continue to comment.
      .
      I agree that PC Elections are a white elephant, but they shouldn’t be seen in isolation from many other aspects of the practice of democracy.
      .
      How fairly PC Elections will be conducted is the crucial problem here. Professor hoole was exemplary in that respect. The “Gota governement’s” record in that respect doesn’t inspire confidence.
      .
      Panini Edirisinhe (NIC 483111444V)

  • 16
    2

    Devolution of power to the people of the north and east with features of autonomy is not to be confused with creating and maintaining a fat, lethargic level of public servants prone to grand corruption in the rest of the country, via provincial government. Sri Lanka is a tiny island with a small population but has a huge cabinet at national level, corrupt members at local municipal council levels who hardly do their duty. The public purse should not feed these fat slobs who wait salivating at the prospect of becoming “ministers” in the provinces and dreaming of opportunity for taking as many bribes as possible.

    • 2
      1

      I disagree.

      Corruption at the national level must be devolved to provinces too.

      If devolution of power to Tamils is the requirement, why are there 7 other provinces? Why can’t those 7 provinces be merged into one province and have only 3 provinces in the island – north, east, rest?

      • 1
        1

        And Tamils ( all Tamil speaking people)
        in the ‘rest’ ?

        Soma

  • 10
    2

    I did not bother to waste time in reading the article to the end. The policy decision taken to “Distribute a colossal sum of money to various politicians at District levels including the MPs to handle development work is nothing but a “Grand Scheme” to “BRIBE” the voter plus the “Henchmen” who would be deployed to handle these “Projects”. The present Minister of Finance is a “Master Craftsman” of these types of ventures to pull the wool over the eyes of the voters, who could always be duped to believe in good samaritans hand-outs. In previous years, he (BR) introduced the distribution of “Sil Redi”, “Wall Clocks”, “Umbrellas”, Bicycle Tires”, “Cement”, “Galvanized Roofing Sheets”, “Pipes”, “Almanacs”, “Caps”, “T-Shirts”, “Liqueur” etc..etc. This time, he has come up with this “Invotive” idea of the distribution of “Cash” through the “Development Projects”. This “Scheme” will not be subjected to any “Quarry” because the sugar coating is named “Development” and it is “Public Funds”. In previous years, he learned the lesson of using “Divinaguma Funds” to distribute “Pipes” and faced a court case too which he managed to escape through the intervention of the present AG who “Introduced” the “Rule of Withdrawal” of charges.

    Dear Voters: Please grab whatever is given, (that is your own money) but “Remember” to give a hard “KICK” in the arse and teach these “GOONS” a lifelong lesson.

  • 6
    8

    “Addressing the root causes of the war …….needs to be the number one priority of any government.”
    —-
    The root cause of the war is separatist Tamil elite politicians who wanted to have a separate State so that they can maintain their control over rest of the Tamils in the NE. They are the people who passed “Vadukkodei Resolution to create a separate State and asked Tamils to take up arms to achieve that objective. The main reason they used to justify creating a separate State was discrimination of Tamils by majority Sinhalayo. These people who brought this allegation were the most privileged group in Sinhale at the time the country gained independence.
    Whatever the changes introduced after Sinhalayo gained independence did not have a significant negative impact on large majority (90%) of Tamils. There was some negative impact on English educated elite Tamils in Yapanaya and they blew it out of proportion to convince the International Community that majority Sinhalayo discriminate against Tamil minority. What happened was they lost some privileges they enjoyed when British ruled the country. That is not discrimination.
    A separate State for Tamils does not benefit the Tamils in plantations at all.

  • 5
    9

    “…bringing reconciliation between the communities needs to be the number one priority of any government.”
    —-
    The war that dragged on for three decades was declared by Tamil politicians in the North against the Government of Sri Lanka and Sinhalayo who are the indigenous people in this country to grab their land to create a separate State. So, Tamils were the aggressor and the victims were Sinhalayo. The war came to an end after the Government of Sri Lanka defeated separatist Tamils. Under that situation, the aggressor has to take measures to reconcile with the victims.
    If Tamils who declared war to create a separate State within Sri Lanka want to reconcile with Sinhalayo and live with them in peace they should give a public apology for the atrocities committed against them, convince Sinhalayo that no such action will be taken in future, convince that they are willing to live peacefully with Sinhalyo in a Unitary State and stop the campaign carrying out to tarnish the image of Sri Lanka and its Armed Forces by fabricating war crimes and crimes against humanity charges. It is the responsibility of the Government to convince the Tamil community in NE that they will be safe and better-off in a Unitary State.

  • 10
    1

    Jehan Perera likes to put positive twists for false propagandas of the SLPP.
    All verbal utterances locally or internationally are all false promises.
    There isn’t any positive actions taken by by the Sinhala Governments since Independence.
    The discrimination against North and East of the country continues. They were mostly given the Chinese vaccination which aren’t recognised in the western countries. The Chinese ones are less effective.
    Tamils in SL and the rest of the world wants true reconciliation as well as justice for the disappeared.

  • 14
    1

    The campaign has started with banning cattle slaughter while pardoning those who killed children. How can the Govt not give a salary increase to teachers but spend millions of “summa money” to politicians under the guise of development funds without any government official supervision? Further, the Govt has money to send 100 Buddhist Monks with Namal Baby to India at the expense of taxpayers’ money while the government declares it has no money to import food items. Also Namal Baby is building jogging tracks all over the world for what to collect a commission? It’s time people open their eyes and kick all those Pohottuwa thugs in local governments out and select decent educated clean new individuals.

  • 1
    0

    If there is a will there is a way! Even a Pohottuwa MP stating that PC election should not be held because people will vote them out and the election has to be postponed until it can be won by Pohottuwa is laughable.

  • 0
    0

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  • 1
    0

    I will predict today that there will be no PC elections in the future. In Jan-Feb 2022 time frame the Rajapakse government will bring a new constitution and it would be argued in the public and in the Parliament for months and months, then towards the end of the Rajapakse term the new constitution will be passed and in that constitution, there will be something like PC but with much-curtailed powers, may be at District level. Gotabaya and his brothers and the younger Rajapakse generation especially Sachindra and Namal will never allow a PC election to be held in the future.

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