1 December, 2022


The Government Needs A Lot Of Dead Cats

By Malinda Seneviratne

Malinda Seneviratne

The term is attributed to Lynton Crosby, a political strategist who has managed campaigns of right-of-center parties in several countries. Boris Johnson, who employed Crosby during London mayoral elections explains the term thus:

“There is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table – and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant. The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout, ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!’ In other words, they will be talking about the dead cat – the thing you want them to talk about – and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.”

Dr Diyanath Samarasinghe, in what is clearly the best explication of the humbuggery associated with the recently concluded local government elections and especially the blatant disenfranchisement and hoodwinking therein, uses a neat example which is worth repeating here.

Let’s first mention the dead cat. It has a name: The Excise Notification 02/2018 of January 10, 2018. This was to revoke Excise Notification No 666 of 1979, permitting women to purchase alcohol and to work in places where alcohol is sold.

There was a lot of talk about it. Eleven women went to court invoking fundamental rights enshrined in Articles 12(1 & 2) and 14(1)(g) of the Constitution in spite of which the January 10 Excise Notification was revoked.

Here’s the context. The National Action Plan for the Protection and Protection of Human Rights (2017-2021) devotes 22 pages to the rights of women (pages 37-58). There are 26 goals therein, 40 objectives of which 29 are considered deliverable in the short-term and 99 activities. Only one goal, No 6, is about the promotion of women’s economic rights and independence, including access to employment. The relevant objective is worded thus: increased participation of women in the state and private sector employment. It’s a medium-long term goal.

[For the record the seemingly comprehensive document on human rights says nothing of forced female genital circumcision or of gender inequalities related to marriage-age, divorce procedures etc.]

Against all this, the not-mentioned or alluded to business of allowing women to purchase alcohol and work in places where alcohol is sold, is certainly a dead cat, especially considering the gamut of issues pertaining to women included in the document and their prioritizing.

And what did this dead cat displace from the table? The reduction of beer taxes which, according to Dr Samarasinghe ‘worked brilliantly for the relevant politicians and their alcohol trade masters.’ One notes that individuals who have never uttered a single word about reducing beer taxes have strangely enough called for it almost immediately after being appointed as Finance Ministers. Obviously officials prevail on them for reasons that are to obvious to mention. Mangala Samaraweera’s predecessors probably did not know of dead cats, we could conclude. Beer, to put it in a nutshell, is a starter-drink which the industry uses to lure in the young.

So that’s what dead cats do. Women’s rights activists jumped on the alcohol issue but are strangely quiet over ensuring 25% political representation for women, as Dr Samarasinghe observed. Indeed, if they had paid attention to the amendment to the laws pertaining to local government elections, they would have figured out what a farce it was, and not just for women’s representation.

Dr Samarasinghe has laid it all out beautifully. In short, a) the public has been deceived into believing that there has been a 60 – 40 seat allocation (first-past-the-post and proportional representation respectively), b) burdened by almost double the number of representatives, and c) almost all parties that have won the most of directly contested seats are denied their proper share of proportional seats.

It is not possible of course to name the recent violence in Kandy as a dead cat, although the Government has not covered itself in glory considering its sloth, incompetence, garbled messages, infringement of expression-freedom and in certain instances collusion with perpetrators.

In effect, however, it serves the same purpose. Let’s flag some issues: a) Arjuna Mahendran and the Bond Scam, b) the mess that is the local government election, c) the government’s loss of legitimacy, d) the corruption of the word ‘yahapalanaya,’ d) the Russian ship, e) SriLankan Airlines, f) constitutional reform, g) gross incompetence across the board and h) the no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister and indeed all the noise about his ouster as the Leader of the United National Party.

All these are off the table. Digana, Teldeniya and Ambatenne, then, together, made a dead cat. And now, following all that, there’s the issue of blocking social media platforms.

Minister of Digital Infrastructure Technology says that the government is contemplating the monitoring of social media usage. President Sirisena, speaking on the subject, said ‘if something is detrimental to society we will have to contain its effects despite it being useful in some other way.’ Champika Ranawaka called for ‘new regulations to regulate cloud applications like Facebook or WhatsApp to prevent their improper use.’

The dead cat here is ‘hate speech’, what it intends to displace is the freedom of expression. The instruments of control once in place can be used and abused. We’ve seen this happen again and again. Weeding out the distasteful is a good thing but taste is subjective and preferences are political.

Interestingly, those who have championed rights issues in the past have gone quiet over this issue. For them, and others who are shocked into silence and inaction by these dead cats, let me repeat something I wrote when the 18th Amendment was tabled in parliament.

“The worth of any new legislation should not be measured only in terms of its immediate benefits and whether the principal beneficiary is a political friend; rather, consider the relevant instruments in the hands of an individual who is politically at odds with you, someone whose ideas and practices you abhor.”

This government, more than ever before, needs conversation to cease. Clearing the table citing the presence of a dead cat is convenient. The government needs dead cats. Lots of them. The least that the citizen can do is to refuse to provide them.

*Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. malindasenevi@gmail.com. www.malindawords.blogspot.com

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Latest comments

  • 5

    Dear Malinda,

    MY3 and yahapalanaya dead cat strategies can work only for 2 years. Thereafter he has to go home. I hope that GR will come into politics and he will become the next president of Sri Lanka to clean this mess and develop the country. MY 3 is a person like “‘Kakuluwa or crab “” who can not understand the impending disaster of his term ends in 2019 MR also had the same disease.

    MY 3 and Yahapalaya Prince, Ranil and his royal mates will not do anything better for the country. They will bring more dead cats to enjoy another 2 years of foreign travel and other perks out of public money. They will also sell public properties and put the commissions to their bank accounts as they know this is the last time that they can enjoy this. I hope that god save mother Sri Lanka as soon as possible. That is my and other working class people of Sri Lanka.

    There is a funny government in Sri Lanka. MY3 did a change of Ministers because of their wrong actions or inactions (that is what MY3 says). But all these Royal “”Jawarankarayas”” or white colour criminals are with him in Japan. What a rediculus joke?

    • 4

      Mr Sunil Dahanayake,

      The way you write you seem like an educated man. And this is not personal. It doesn’t matter to me who rules Lanka as I don’t live there. But the reason I read this forum is the way Lankan adults’ minds work and how they think fascinate me.

      You say …………..

      “I hope that GR will come into politics and he will become the next president of Sri Lanka to clean this mess and develop the country.”


      “I hope that god save mother Sri Lanka as soon as possible.”

      None of the Lankan adults were born yesterday ……… and should know Gota’s track record ……..

      How do your mind come around to beseech God to appoint a serial-killer as the president of your country? ……….How does your adult mind reconcile the two? …….. no offence, but I am just fascinated…………..

      Now, if you come out and say you believe Gota didn’t kill anyone ………..then one can understand ……………….. then you may be an adult but your mind is that of a child …………..

      How do you do it? ………… I might end up writing a thesis …… on “The Lankan Adult Mind”

      • 1

        This nimal fernando is a tiger sympathizer. He accuses Gota every time he writes but don’t bother to go to Geneva with or without evidence like others of his ilk does.
        The majority of this country are awaiting eagerly for Gota to come forward and the Tiger rump has already gone in to a frenzy of paranoia.

  • 1

    Besides all these, look foreign firms surveying in Sri lanka. some say, both the ground and shallow Sea soil is sampled, Inthe west, since the WWII women went to manufacturing that brought down the family unit and their socie ties were destroyed. In sri lanka, the women need help in domestic violence (I thik Canada gave some grant in that) and in MMDA for which every one is silent. So, it is not women’s rights. It is some political interferance amined at Sinhala buddhists. IT looks it is well planned attack against Sinhala buddhists. JVP says, One buddhist monkle says, they wangt to destroy Sri lanka economically, culturally, financially and every other possible way. IT looks christians/Catholics/NGOs are at the forefront. Muslims are pawns. buddhists are the target. Ranil non stop say I di dnot do anything wrong while Penthouse RAVI always says I did only what Ranil said. Arjun Mahendran was in Belgium. George Zorro has connections with Belgium. IT looks there is some thing oerganizd behind. Mahinda Rajapakse beczame an undesirable because of that. Ranil got willing caught in it.

  • 1

    I think, Ranil has become a dirty hyena. PREsident is like his tail on fire. Am I correct or something else ? I heard they eve like Mahinda Rajapakse if he can help them. IT i sicertainly MCC. they are partly the CHURCH. govt is chicken. Trump got in a mess. He tried to fight with North Korea. Now he fights with Russia. So, this is not the govt work. this is the work of disintegrating deep state.

  • 3

    Yes this what the MP’s are targeting, Freedom of speech. CR has some criminal cases against him and also suspected to have a hand in the recent disturbances. Instead he is now championing the cause to deprive freedom of speech so that he and the likes of him continue to criminal activities. How come we have other MP’s sitting like idiots in the parliament allowing this to happen? unless they are of the same breed.

    • 0

      MPs are ineducated. How do they take an educated decision ?. See your Muslims MPs, HAkeem is always looking at the sky saying that allah is looking at him, rishad Bathiuddin is ranuuin to wilpattu,Mullatihu and Batticaloa to see what other lands are available. All others are the same. they try to earn some points by readinfg how Ashroff was killed. His helicopter had broken down, probably he was going to present a Bill asking Bengali Muslims to be resettled in Sri lanka..

  • 1

    Nimal Fernando
    You say you are living overseas. If so what evidence do you have of your highly defamatory allegation that the war winning Defence Secy is a serial killer? Would you name the persons killed and where they were killed. You pretend to be a Sinhalese but. I suspect you are a Tamil. Prove me wrong.

  • 0

    Milinda Seneviratne ~ “……….It is not possible of course to name the recent violence in Kandy as a dead cat, although the Government has not covered itself in glory considering its sloth, incompetence, garbled messages, infringement of expression-freedom and in certain instances collusion with perpetrators……….”.
    Milinda does not want to call the recent Kandy incident a ‘dead cat’. OK let us call it dead dog then.

    The 2014 Aluthgama incident was a dead dog. then came the Ampara dead dog followed by several dead dogs.
    You say that the GoSL has “not covered itself in glory considering its sloth,…….”. What did MR do over the Aluthgama incident?
    The Kandy ‘dead dog’ was a bait and a challenge.

    • 0

      Hey Pillai, If Althgama was MR’s making don’t you wonder why MY3RWCBK troika did not bring the culprits to justice? Don’t you think that Aluthgama/Ampara/Kandy incidents were perpetrated by some who are more powerful than MR/My3/RW or CBK?

  • 0

    Bravo, Bravo, Bravo!

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