12 November, 2018

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Retrieving The Reform Agenda – Picking Up The Pieces

By Sarath De Alwis

Sarath De Alwis

“End and Goal: Not every end is a goal.  The end of a melody is not its goal; but nonetheless, if the melody had not reached its end it would not have reached its goal either. A parable.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” ~ Vladimir Lenin

So long as we remember the fear psychosis that gripped our minds alert to human dignity under the shadowy surveillance state before 8th January 2015, we will not doubt the credentials of the change that it brought about. That it got mired in murky power politics is nether here nor there.

There is a saying. Everybody is great until you get to know them. Now, we know most of them. More specifically, we know President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

In the next 18 months, we will know how to define these times. We must finish what we started. The danger we must avert is to make sure that it does not turn out to be something different from what we intended.

On January 8, 2015 a change occurred. It was sudden and surprising. It was sudden, because we did not dare think of a time when we would not feel the weight of the Mahinda Rajapaksa monolith. It was a monolith that nearly perpetuated itself. A monolith is a large, powerful organization that is not willing to change, and that does not seem interested in individual people.

The January 2015 reversal was surprising because entrenched autocrats do not step down that easy. How he stepped down, is another story for another day.

We shouRescuing ld stop blaming Mahinda Rajapaksa. In his ‘Theory of Justice’ John Rawls advises us not to expect politicians to be correct, proper and act with integrity. That is not how it works.

“Historically one of the main defects of constitutional government has been the failure to insure the fair value of political liberty. The necessary corrective steps have not been taken, indeed, they never seem to have been seriously entertained. …  the fault lies in the fact that the democratic political process is at best regulated rivalry.

It is unlikely that Mahinda has read John Rawls’s Theory of Justice. But it seems, he had a pretty good idea about regulating political rivalry.

January 8, 2015 was not a seismic shift. A thin slice of the urban middle-class literate and learned, deeply resenting the surveillance state and assaults on human rights by a venal brutal security apparatus naively hoped that it would be.

Although the new order, seduced by its own rhetoric, took no notice, within 40 days of his ouster, Mahinda Rajapaksa demonstrated the true state of play at Nugegoda. His Goebbelsian ideologue called it ‘The Rising’. He was uncharacteristically modest. He should have called it ‘The Return’.

Let us be pragmatic. To this day, Mahinda Rajapaksa, retains a hegemonic leadership of a vast swathe of political territory. He has a firm grip on a sizeable segment of urban and rural poor. The lower middle classes adore him. A sizeable section of organized trade unions is under his spell. A hideously vulgar class of oligarchs who were nursed in to positions and wealth by brothers Basil and Gotabaya are patiently waiting to resume interrupted business.

The clumsy, contrived coalition that brought about the sudden and surprising change now stands dispersed, unraveled, scattered.

In this backdrop, the tense political climate is understandable. The government has no coherent platform. Instead of presenting a clear political agenda for the next 18 months before the Presidential elections, both sides trade blame and make abstract promises. Promises that neither can keep without the cooperation and consent of the other.

The people who elected President Maithripala Sirisena to office in January 8, 2015 had a single overarching expectation: He was being elected to abolish the executive presidency, an office that had been exploited for 40 years to strip away civil liberties and perpetuated excess, abuse and brutal crackdowns on political opponents. In the hands of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the presidency was weaponised with exceptional skill; the movement was anchored to the idea that a single individual must never be permitted to wield such power over the citizenry again.

 When he agreed to become the common opposition candidate, taking his life in his hands to quit the Rajapaksa Government in 2014, President Sirisena told the country about the dangers of the presidency and promised to abolish the office upon his election.

The recent brouhaha over the no confidence motion against the Prime minister made us alive to the other side of politics. It told us a stray fact about the world of insects. ‘Insects are not drawn to candle flames. They are drawn to the light on the far side of the flame. They go into the flame and sizzle to nothingness because they’re so eager to get to the light on the other side.

To function effectively and deliver, political leaders must possess political capital. Political capital is their capacity to influence political decisions. In simple terms what it means is the capacity of the leader to walk the talk. I mean walk the talk. Walking, not hopping. Talking, not preaching.

The ability, inclination and desire to keep promises and to live up to expectations are what makes a credible leader. Otherwise, disappointment and the inevitable electoral rejection would be fatal. .

The strength of a political leader is credibility. To be credible, the leader should be competent, trustworthy and must be perceived as caring for the people who elected him.

This political primer is a contemporary imperative. It has to be said here and now. The abolition of the executive presidency is the single issue that will determine Maithripala Sirisena’s place in history.

He started with great élan and promise. With a vibrancy that was inspiring. Then along the journey something happened. Fantasy and reality got mixed up.

On the day he was sworn in, he promised the nation that he would not seek a second term as executive president.

On November 12, 2015, President Sirisena reiterated that promise before the funeral pyre of Venerable Sobhitha thero, the architect and spiritual leader of the January 8 movement for change.

“Sobitha Thero  was determined to abolish the executive presidency. My presidency rests on that determination of the venerable thero and echoed by millions of Sri Lankans. With all my strength I pledge before the remains of Sobitha Thero that I will do everything possible to abolish the executive presidency,” President Sirisena promised before hundreds of mourners and dignitaries gathered at the grounds to pay their last respects to the monk.

“I am President and Ranil Wickremesinghe is Prime Minister today because of the foundation laid by Sobitha Thero. He is the architect of this presidency and this national Government based on the values of yahapalanaya,” President Sirisena said to a nation mourning the loss of the dynamic priest that day.

Nearly three years later, the barbarians are at the gate once more. The Government’s last best hope for redemption rests on whether it can muster the will – and the numbers in parliament and a subsequent referendum – to renew its original pledge to abolish the presidency.

If it achieves nothing else, but completes this one task, the Yahapalanaya Government would have served its purpose.  The reformist constituency needs to go back to the drawing board too, downsize its expectations and force the Government to return to the single issue that defined the opposition candidacy in 2015.

In the age of big data retrieving political promises is much easier than being drawn in to polemical gymnastics on the pros and cons of the executive presidential system. The past three years holds a lesson. We have been bamboozled for so long with such consistency, that we are part of the bamboozle. The bamboozle has captured us.

 Can we set ourselves free, this fractured coalition of dreamers, to pick up the pieces of the change movement before it’s too late?

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Latest comments

  • 5
    2

    Sarath
    Why you intellectuals who participated in this so called ‘January 8 revolution,’ could not think of an individual who did not vote for the 18th amendment and avoided the impeachment of the CJ Bandaranaike as the “Common Candidate” for ‘leading’ such a noble cause? Let us be frank – what you wanted was a pawn, not a leader, isn’t it? Doesn’t that make it a dirty political coup rather than a “revolution? How on earth you intellectuals expected him to behave differently?
    Isn’t the escape clause from 19A to avoid the limitation of 30 ministers the very basis of the Yahapalana hook-up? A number is stipulated in the Constitution for functional purposes or what? How dumb to argue that a ‘unity’ government can have any number?
    Why didn’t the Yahapalana masters mount a significant protest against appointing defeated candidates? On that basis how do you justify the cost of August 2015 general election?

    Lastly, can you blame Rajapaksa himself for being the centre of the whole political discourse after two defeats. Isn’t it a simple phycology point that ignoring one totally yields better results than keeping the same in focus. Websites like CT totally devoted for this purpose with dynamic, talented regular contributors like you, Vishvamitra and Thisaranee have rendered a great service for the revival of Rajapaksa I believe. Politicians like even bad publicity you know. Doesn’t the local government results indicate that your untiring efforts have all been in vain.
    Honestly do you expect miracles in the next two years? (Ravi K has assured to bring the COL drastically down immediately if he is made the FM again)

    Soma

    • 3
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      “‘Theory of Justice’ John Rawls advises us not to expect politicians to be correct, proper and act with integrity.”

      Sarath,

      Do you mean to say that Donald Trump has read John Rawls? ……….Or did he stumble on to it naturally through his own intellect? :))

      I don’t think the 225 in the SL parliament ever even heard of Rawls ……… but naturally they have picked up on it …………… good case to prove that education is just water on a ducks ……………..


      “President Sirisena told the country about the dangers of the presidency and promised to abolish the office upon his election.”

      This is true and I can’t contradict you ……….but as I’ve written before …….. we should be careful what we wish for ……..

      The presidency is the only thing that gives the minorities a say/voice in the governance of the entire country – unlike in their respective regional enclaves ………. if you take a look at the electoral map of the recently held election ……..Rajapakse will trounce all-comers in the Sinhala-Buddhist heartland ……….. and in a parliamentary system …….. it’ll give a monolithic majority to the Rajapakse-side resembling 1956, 1971, 1977………. and they don’t even need the Muslim vote, let alone the Tamil vote……..

      It’s unlikely that a presidential-candidate can garner 50% of the vote without some support from the minorities.

      I’m no fan of the presidential-system but what’s in store can be even worse ………

    • 0
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      How in the world this guy is a scholar. He is very much a parasite.

      • 2
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        Dear Jim,

        To refer to Sarath in such disparaging terms hurts a lot of us, never mind how low you have stooped in the process. I think the essence of cultured debate is to disagree without having to insult. Regrettably you easily fail that test, even though you sometimes display potential to pass it.

        Before we try to fix the country, let us, with our little effort try and make this website a pleasant place to frequently habituate.

        Happy New Year!

    • 3
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      ….. And then comes Sarath de Alwis to throw a bucket of cold water on all of us, and awaken us to reality and appreciation of small mercies!

      A really brilliant piece of thinking and writing, which leaves Sarath de Alwis in a class of his own!

  • 3
    3

    The Govt. must comply with UNHRC Resolution or else will be isolated and condemned by the West, America, Canada, and other countries supported this Resolution.
    Govt. cannot escape from the massacre of 147,000 Tamils in No fire Zone in Mullivakkal in 2009
    The world knows the brutal killings of infants, children, women, elderly, invalid, wounded and those who came forward to surrender holding white flags. This link gives clear evidence for all these war crimes, genocide etc.
    Mullivallal Massacre of the 147,000 Tamils.docx
    https://www.academia.edu/36458267/Mullivallal_Massacre_of_the_147_000_Tamils.docx

  • 0
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    It is urgent for Old Royal to have the EP abolished, before the next election. They will do any help to JVP to bring it up to parliament. Let’s quickly tell an irrelevant point here, before we proceed. If JVP bring the private bill, 20A, thereafter there is no point in TNA hang around in the parliament. Everything is over with TNA. After passing 20A, nobody would want to amend (change) the constitution only for devolution. TNA should resign and go home and wait there if IC will advance the Resolution 30/1. If that doesn’t happen, all TNA members should leave their homes and go and live in Cemetery for their Olympic blunder of having supported a SLFP war criminal as CC. Old Royals have a problem. They cannot control, avoid or stop Old Brother Prince standing in coming EP election. Even if he doesn’t want to go against his big Brother, it is going to be unavoidable. Big Brother too, getting the point. Instead he just be bully over his small brother, he would roll his sleeves up, jump into to water to save his brother. That is why they want the EP abolished.
    There a business man was sticking poster in Colombo. They were in question and answer. Question : ” Who is this? … what is he doing? “ Answer : “මෙයා තමයි” At the time of these posters, Old King had already softened his stance. He simply said people to prop up their business, abusing the Old Brother Prince name. One of the reasons for Old King showing a soft mood over the posters could be because already there were many articles in CT had appeared advocating Old Brother Prince’ s desirability, proficiency, qualifiedness, electability et al.

  • 0
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    . More or less these powerful advertisements have attracted, it appears, some unwanted attentions too. I don’t know if that is comparable to the boys used to cry the “Wolf is coming” and at the end the wolf came but the boy had exhausted his trustworthiness and could not get help. Anyhow, now the latest news in Colombo Media is “He is coming!”. The wolf is coming to the sheep. Wolf cannot be destroyed. After all the wolf cannot be destroyed either because, මෙයා තමයි has been turned into the wolf. So the only hope to stop the wolf is destroying the sheep. If the sheep is no longer there, wolf wouldn’t advance any further. Because he is the මෙයා තමයි , we can use another metaphor, i.e. If you don’t have heart to stop the Child throw away the Canady! So, the Old Royal will be supporting the private Bill, 20A. Destroying the sheep is going to be easy for Joint Comedy Club, Old Royals and JVP, but not for those who won the election promising to abolish the EP- Ranil and New King. Old King cannot become as EP. If the Son Prince is not getting and the Dynasty is going to flow from a different tributary, it is worth for Old Royals to destroy the EP. But it is not for that end Ranil and New King are on heads locked from the time of Kegalle Jeyamanne’s death.
    Though the article writers and the posters stickers may have induced this situation, but they never foresaw this. Neither, this is the way they wished the situation to turn.
    So the possible next time candidates seem to be Old Brother Prince, Ponny, Ranil and New King.
    Old Brother Prince and Ponny will be American Sponsored. Ranil India and New King will be China sponsored.

  • 2
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    Soma,
    On principle I do not engage with commentators who write under pseudonyms except with some light banter. That said you make a valid point. Why Sirisena? Because he was Sirisena. A detailed response needs elaboration . That will take time and space. I shall en devour to that during the week. Lest you forget Rajapakse rule did not allow free access to the Colombo Telegraph. .

    • 0
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      Thanks a lot Sarath. Looking forward to. I do not intend to offend your sense of modesty – your essays are delightful. In opinion we part our respective ways. I wish I could express mine one-tenth as lucidly as you can express yours.
      Soma

      • 1
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        soma

        “I wish I could express mine one-tenth as lucidly as you can express yours.”

        You can, provided you are able to liberate yourself from Sinhala/Buddhism and renounce Sinhala/Buddhist fascism. Finding cure for your long term paranoia also will immensely improve your writing ability and skills. In other words you need a clear head void of any bigotry and racism.

        I wish you well.

      • 0
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        Dear Soma,

        Very cultured; well done!

  • 1
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    Kumarathasan Rasingam 
    LTTE used chemical weapons on Muslims. They openly carried cyanide for poisoning villagers. Altogether Tamils raped and killed 73 thousand Muslims 94 thousand Sinhalese in border areas. That is far exceeding your number of 147,000 Tamils killed. The world had branded them as the most ruthless terror group then existing. Though the LTTE is totally decimated within the boundaries of Sri Lanka their supporters who championed them as the sole representatives of Tamils are parliamentarians today and will be locally tried. Rajapaksa will also have to answer for releasing 12,000 surrendered hardcore terrorists. They certainly will be rearrested for trial.
    Further those +50% Tamils living in Sinhala areas will too have to share the repercussions of any international isolation.
    Soma

    • 2
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      Soma,
      You are panicking. Every contributor to CT seems to be having his/her secret and releasing only a small portion of it for public consumption. Your panicking, possibly, may indicate you have a larger one like a Mountain but all we saw was needle tip release. If you decide to open the floodgate, to share in the CT, what is in your binoculars, your panic too should be relied.

      Let me answer to your both comments on this same piece, please. Neither Tissaranee, nor Sarath, or Visvamitra were seeking good for the Ceylon. They only wanted to straighten the bend Lankawe path has been taking time to time. There is no holistic outlook in almost none of the contributors to CT. They all look forward how to preserve and continue the hegemony Don Stephen started in 1948. They all know the intentions are bad. They know the Sinhala Buddha’s talent is short. So, they understand their style (idea) of taking forward the hegemony is facing problem because of this. Those who had higher view like Sir. Pon . Ramanathan criticized the British decision of Universal Franchise to Lankawe, as leasing the excavator to bigotries to dig the pit of hegemony and burry Ceylon. That’s all what has happened now. Don Stephen achieved unitary government within Soulbury’s constitution using Trinco Harbor. SWRD started and Sirimavo achieved Sinhala Only. Buddhism started to become state religion 1972. JR forced Tamils to vacate all Sothern areas in 1983. Then he noosed their throat with 6A. Chandrika isolated Tamils from IC. Old Royal wiped their anything left out and imposed army rule in North East. Then there appeared a new concern. The Chandrika achievement of isolating Tamils started to face shacking. IC countries started to use Tamils dire situation to advance their interest. TNA was bought into that.

    • 0
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      Some of us opposed the secret plan in the 2005 EP election. But shameless ones like you, and the writers you quoted wanted TNA with them to remove Old Royal, fearing of IC intervention imminent and that would derail the achievements from 1948. TNA, ignoring our warning calls, yet as you wanted support for you to consolidate the war victory.
      You appear to have forgotten, but the 2015 election promise was to clean the politics by restoring the Law and Order by protecting the Sinhala hegemony by No Leaders No Commanders and No Soldiers would be investigated. You, TNA and the few authors you mentioned contributed to this “New theory of “Giving a New life by Killing”. You all guys are success in killing but not being able to give the promise of new life. You guys won against the last hope of Tamils having the war criminals punished through the UNHRC, but you guys failed to restore the true Law and Order. Annihilation of Tamils made an illusion of Yahapalanaya have stopped the violence. But the truth is volcano is only dormant. Ranil sold Colombo Ping Cing and Hangbangtota to protect the war criminals with Chinese veto. Old Royals used that to come back in LG election. Coming back of Old Royals and Amparai and Digana gave new arms for the interested countries to turn their face towards Lankawe. Other than that there is nothing unusual has happened from the Sinhala Buddhists’ side for you to panic. Sinhala Buddhists always have been voting for highest racists and that has been almost always always the opposition. In the LG too they voted to the opposition.
      (You r hidden admirer Tissaranee has been digging through her head to prove that in 2005, Pirapaharan accepted bribe from Old King and appointed as EP – After LG, what’s now?).

    • 1
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      somass

      “LTTE used chemical weapons on Muslims. “
      “They openly carried cyanide for poisoning villagers.”

      Could you let us have more details on both incidents, date, place, number of victims, what type of poison and how it was a administered, ……………………………

      You could keep these lies alive if you want your lies to be part of Mahawamsa.

      • 0
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        NV
        I have the access to the same database your friends have who quote figures like 200,000 Tamil civilians killed at Nandikadal by the Government using chemical weapons.
        You never ever queried them. Did you? I cannot betray them by revealing the source without their permission.
        Soma

        • 1
          0

          somass

          “I have the access to the same database your friends have who quote figures “

          Please let me have the link to the database, reference book, report, …………….

          “You never ever queried them. Did you?”

          Are you or have you been a regular reader of CT? If you haven’t read my comments questioning unsubstantiated claims, it is your problem and not mine. Stay tuned you will have more opportunity to read my queries than you ever imagined.

          You should help the Mahawamsa monks to update their version of history. Send everything you have in the back of your mind to the myth making Mahawamsa monks.

  • 4
    0

    MR’s gut feeling in 2015 was that the MS/RW team will not be able to make even a dent on the endemic corruption. He was not only correct here but has successfully made corruption respectable.
    Our memory is short – we do not remember white-vans.
    SLPP exploited the language/religion-divide at the recent LG elections. Properly packaged this vote bank is easily increased.

  • 2
    0

    The nation needs forward thinking not going back. We should not forget what happened over the years and learn lessons from those experiences. There is a great responsibility in the civil society, real educated people, civilized community leaders, forward thinking political leaders. One of the main problem in this country is that our governance is politicized, religion, and family oriented. We received our independence without a charismatic leader like Mahathma Gandhi in India or Nelson Mandela. Our leadership are selected and elected by British and British way of governance. British system has now changed moved forward a lot in the United Kingdom but our system goes in opposite direction. We are devoted to religion, individual family, hatred against each other. We have no way of selecting or electing from the same old families and religion.

  • 1
    0

    Where were you then ?

  • 2
    0

    I tell you something to relax you panic, listen to this. Like a monkey, which got a garland, knows only to tear garland off of but not to make one like that, the Modayas’ Appe Aanduwa destroyed the Soulbury Constitution, now they cannot dream making anything even close to that. So, anything Sarath going to write sooth you is not going to work. Hospital can help you to suppress the systems, but the cause to panic going to remain intact. Let see if your fears become real & then what will happen. That may make you feel better, but I don’t know if that will help you to build a new to escape.

    Fears:
    1). What if UN sends its army. If UN Peace Keepers come in as Tamils are asking, there may be problem in you lose North East, provided you are so reluctant to allow them manage the North East, by withdrawing the Rapist Sinhala Buddhist Army. Then they may get the Army out of there forcefully. All other negotiations you make with Peace Keepers will help you.
    2). American Army landing. If they come, there interest is Indian Ocean. They will protect the South from Chinese invasion. Though you may not like it at the start, but it is good for you.
    3). If Indian army returns, of cause Pirapaharan is not there to protect you, but they would like to see the country under one dictator who will support them, in turn. There is good chance they may use Ranil for that. What I can tell you is, if you put together your reasons to the fear, the future is not that bleak. What else I can say! Feel better.

    • 0
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      Mallaiyuran
      Where are you? Canada?. Ask someone to dial the emergency number for ambulance.
      Soma

  • 0
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    It says, MAduluwawe Sobhitha himi is Ravi Karunayake’s project. They mislead the bhikku. I think they will use vote splitting in order to make Ranil win. That is the decision of the higher up, I guess. that is why they talk about Basil, gota, Now wimal Weerawansha, SLpp in peices, SLFP in pieces. Tamils looks in trouble too, as Evangelists want TV tower in there while TNA presents a Candidate on their own.

  • 0
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    As Soma said, MS was just a pawn. The real game changer occurred in Singapore and India. After 2015 elections, the focus of the governing junta and these so called intellectuals should have moved from MR to delivering the promises. Yet they could not take their attention off from the dazzle of MR just like those insects Sarath talks about. My second sentence above explains why there was a “Nugegoda Man” came “rising” within a matter of days. It is because January 8th was not a revolution, but a coup.

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