By Amrit Muttukumaru –
The country being in dire straits in terms of its politics, economy and social fabric and the people going through untold suffering due to shortage in life-sustaining essentials does not need elaboration. Unless an immediate credible political leadership is installed, all hell could break loose anytime with disastrous consequences.
Island-wide Aragalaya (struggle) protesters demanding a complete overhaul of the political leadership accompanied by ‘systemic change’ are all at sea when it comes to alternate leadership. Even those who may ‘fit the bill’ are fighting shy for some reason or other. This does not take away the awe inspiring contribution of Aragalaya which brought the powerful Rajapaksas and all politicians to their knees. But tragically for the country, things are now turning out ominous for reasons spelt out below.
It is all well and good for Aragalaya protesters to demand ‘systemic change’ under an apolitical leadership. But has not their inability to identify alternate leaders either from Aragalaya itself or outside it resulted in (i) Ranil Wickremesinghe being appointed Prime Minister contrary to democratic practice (ii) Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s executive presidency getting a respite (iii) members of the Rajapaksa family rediscovering their silenced voices (iv) controversial businessman Dhammika Perera appointed a ‘national’ list MP/ Cabinet Minister (v) suffering of the people worsening and (vi) Aragalaya itself being undermined?
In this context, is it not time to consider a political movement largely having the confidence of the island-wide Aragalaya under the leadership of social activist and attorney-at-law Nagananda Kodituwakku, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and the courageous Hirunika Premachandra to represent the youth? Should not Fonseka and Hirunika promptly disassociate themselves from the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) which appears to be going nowhere with its credibility being widely questioned? Champika Ranawaka arguably one of the better minds among the politicians of today, unfortunately does not fit the bill due to his innate racist politics. One person each to represent the Tamil and Muslim communities largely with Aragalaya acceptance would be salutary.
The main positives in the names mentioned is that none of them are identified with serious corruption or racist politics and all of them seemingly convincing in confronting corruption/abuse of power. Their best credentials is the strident criticism they have ‘earned’ from questionable politicians and being ignored or misrepresented by influential sections of the media.
The greatest strength of Kodituwakku and Fonseka – particularly Kodituwakku is his uncompromising stance in laying bare egregious corruption and abuse of power wherever it occurs with all its lurid details. This is frightful to the businessmen controlled mainstream media which is the fountain head of cover-ups and manipulation of gullible masses with a short attention span to boot. Sadly this applies to most of us Sri Lankans.
Hirunika & SJB
Hirunika’s political baggage relate to some youthful indiscretions which hopefully she has now eschewed. It includes a brief political association with the Rajapaksas and her alleged link to a case of kidnapping involving her bodyguards. Her actions since then speak volumes of her courage in the public interest. It includes giving leadership to non-violent protests despite gross provocation by security forces in the vicinity of the ‘shrine’ in Anuradhapura of the allegedly wealthy soothsayer Gnana Akka patronized by leading politicians seeking ‘advise’ from her on national issues and more recently near the private residence of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe which has clearly unnerved him and his maternal uncle Ranjit Wijewardene’s dominant newspaper company Wijeya Newspapers Limited (WNL).
Is not Hirunika squandering her political capital by her continued association with the motley lot in the leadership of the SJB? SJB leaders would be hard-pressed to de-link themselves from their close association with the disappointing and lackluster Yahapalana government under the leadership of the increasingly despised Ranil Wickremesinghe who has now crept into the position of Prime Minister after presumably taking leave of his conscience and any commitment to democratic governance.
Did not SJB stalwart Dr. Harsha de Silva who never tires of projecting himself as a top economist with answers to the country’s economic woes shamelessly ‘admit’ – “Following an invitation by PM Ranil Wickremesinghe, I along with MP Eran Wickramaratne attended a meeting at his office.”? (‘Daily Mirror’ 16 June 2022)
On de Silva’s credibility readers can gauge his obvious embarrassment (21:26:23 onwards) when responding to a question from a journalist on his controversial ‘footnotes’ relating to the egregious bond scam. Should he not clarify matters in this regard?
There is no better example of broken Yahapalana promises than the outrage demonstrated at a press conference by de Silva and Eran Wickramaratne in the run-up to the 2015 presidential election in regard to Casino, Drug & Ethanol Mafias (11:15 onwards). Are these the people who are going to demand accountability from the Rajapaksas and address the scourge of widespread corruption?
This is where the maturity and good sense of Nagananda Kodituwakku and Sarath Fonseka come into play to shepherd Hirunika to reach her full political potential in these challenging times. It would appear that the youthful Hirunika with her fresh personality and courage has caught the attention of the youth at the Aragalaya which Kodituwakku and Fonseka will find hard to match. Together they have the potential to get the trust and confidence of the island-wide Aragalaya and the masses.
Media is the Spoiler
It is the dreadful and undemocratic appointment of Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister by
Gotabaya Rajapaksa that has given a respite to his beleaguered executive presidency and the Rajapaksa family. It has also given a lease of life to all parliamentarians – particularly from the SLPP who were under the pump after being called out by the Aragalaya protesters.
Wickremesinghe not only ‘led’ the UNP to an ignominious defeat at the August 2020 General Election where the party for the first time in its history could not even win a single seat in parliament but worse for him personally is that he himself lost the Colombo District which has long been a bastion of the UNP.
Eventually he crept into parliament allegedly unconstitutionally through the one seat the UNP was entitled to on the ‘national’ list. Although apologists for Wickremesinghe are raising issue on the ‘conflict’ between Article 99A of the Constitution and the Parliamentary Elections Act, is it not obvious that the Constitution which is the supreme law of a country clearly takes precedence? In spite of being written to on this issue by this writer, which was initially raised by Kodituwakku, his uncle’s WNL wants none of it.
The question is – if not for media manipulation would Rajapaksa struggling to hang on to the executive presidency have dared to appoint a person such as Wickremesinghe known to be hugely unpopular or even despised as Prime Minister? There is considerable print media hype that Wickremesinghe has accumulated considerable experience as a five-time Prime Minister with access to global funding and investments. This is clearly a myth.
What the media fail to mention is (i) only in one instance was he able to complete even 3 years in a 5 year term for a PM (ii) during his five-time tenure as PM, his United National Party never had a majority in Parliament (iii) his record in getting FDIs is dismal. Does anyone recall the dubious “$ 3.85 billion oil refinery in Hambantota” and the 2017 Volkswagen vehicle assembly plant in Kuliyapitiya which turned out to be a hoax? There was even a “ground breaking ceremony” for the Volkswagen plant! Was not SJB’s Harsha de Silva involved in this project? Will he clarify this?
It is apparent that the real motive of WNL to promote the disastrous political track record of its owner’s nephew Wickremesinghe (sister’s son) is to carve out a political future for Wijewardene’s laid-back son Ruwan who despite WNL’s cost free advertising blitz could not get him elected at the August 2020 General Election from the Gampaha District even with its Biyagama pocket borough.
Ruwan was catapulted to national politics virtually from obscurity by first cousin Wickremesinghe who lost no time in propelling him out of turn to the position of UNP Deputy Leader! Among many examples of this dynastic project is the ‘Daily Mirror’ (7 September 2020) Op-Ed article in vivid colour “Back To Senanaiksm And Save The Party” directly promoting Ruwan whose mother Ranjani is a grand-daughter of the co-founder of the UNP and the country’s first Prime Minister D.S.Senanayake.
Ruwan & Easter Sunday
Although Ruwan was State Minister of Defence during the entire period of the Yahapalana government, no one – not even the now unusually quiet Cardinal has demanded accountability from Ruwan for his share of responsibility for the Easter Sunday carnage. Even if he was kept away from some meetings of the National Security Council, are we expected to believe that Ruwan did not have knowledge of the attack even to the extent of Harin Fernando’s hospitalized father?
Apart from this, would not have investigative journalists from his father’s media empire have tipped him off?
Ruwan reportedly stating “there was no information to suggest that Zahran was engaged in terrorist activities” (‘Daily Mirror’ 19 Aug 2020) is contradicted by SI Srimal Sanjeewa of the CID informing the Presidential Commission probing the Easter Sunday attacks that ‘Zahran had been conducting a training camp’ in the Puttalam area “from 2015 to 2019” on “the use of Type-56 firearms and hand grenades”. (‘Daily Mirror’ 1 September 2020).
Why does no one call out Ruwan for his share of responsibility for the Easter Sunday carnage? Is it the fear of WNL?
WNL Mischief on Hirunika
WNL unnerved by the protesters led by Hirunika wanting to give a letter to their owner’s nephew PM Wickremesinghe at his private residence on 5th Lane, have on the front page of the ‘Daily Mirror’ (23 June 2022) belittled the protest by merely captioning it ‘Hirunika holds up traffic on 5th Lane’! They have also published a mischievous picture of her which can have multiple interpretations where inter alia it is stated:
“Picture shows Hirunika Premachandra hugging a police officer, which has become her recent stunt.” (emphasis mine)
The next day (24 June) the ‘Daily Mirror’ gives a boost to Wickremesinghe with its front page news item ‘PM appeals to social media activists to refrain from insulting Hirunika’ – “refrain from insulting Hirunika” has been given prominence with BOLD lettering!
It is widely perceived that WNL has a dominant influence on the print media of this country – ‘Irida Lankadeepa’, ‘Lankadeepa’ (Daily), ‘Sunday Times’, ‘Daily Mirror’, ‘Daily FT’ and ‘Tamil Mirror’.
Since the inception of the Press Complaints Commission of Sri Lanka (PCCSL) in 2003, it has had only two chairmen – Ranjit Wijewardene from 2003-2008 and ‘outsider’ Kumar Nadesan 2008 to date – 14 years! Is there no other person to hold this position in the media scene of this country?
Just one example is sufficient to showcase the farcical nature of the ‘Self-Regulation’ practiced by the PCCSL and the dominance Wijewardene has on the print media of this country. The Editor of ‘Sunday Times’ (owned by Wijewardene) Sinha Ratnatunga is also Deputy Chairman of the PCCSL. Hence, anyone having a complaint against the ‘Sunday Times’ has to complain to Ratnatunga about Ratnatunga! Why has no one raised issue on this terrible ‘conflict of interest’?
Is it not dangerous to give the media both state/private – a free pass to operate without ‘independent’ regulation? It is a myth that the privately owned media is superior to the state owned media.
It is not for nothing that the media is referred to as the ‘Fourth Estate’ after the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary.
Under the circumstances, is it not crucial to bring the ‘Fourth Estate’ (media) under the ambit of the proposed ‘Constitutional Council’? Should this not be part of the ‘systemic change’ being demanded by the Aragalaya?
A word of caution on the ‘Constitutional Council’ must be flagged. There does not appear to be clarity on its composition which is crucial to make it truly independent.