ONE. Sanjana Hattotuwa: “Musical Chairs,” Island, 12 January 2019
The appointment of a new Army Chief of Staff. A fresh denial around the use of chemical weapons. The denunciation of a civil society protest against mainstream media supportive of the constitutional coup, not by members of the SLPP, but by those in the UNP and government. A photograph of a former President, the incumbent and the Prime Minister, comfortably seated next to each other, enjoying or at least at a musical show. Newspaper headlines and reports framing dire warnings by the former President, who true to form, relies on the capture of emotions over fact or principle. In just the second week of January, we are presented with the template for what the year ahead holds. It is not looking good, but despite the obvious anxiety, I continue to maintain, is counter-intuitively rather beneficial. The greatest contribution of the constitutional coup to conversations around the grasp of Sri Lanka’s democratic potential was to place in the open and very clearly, who stood for what and where. This endures.
The closest I’ve personally got to Shavendra Silva was on a journey back to Sri Lanka from New York, where as dratted luck would have it, I sat next to him on both legs of the journey. I made it a point to not engage in any conversation.
A man barred from attending a UN committee on peacekeeping while serving as the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Sri Lankan Mission in New York, due to the allegations of war crimes which continue to stick and stain, was nevertheless found entirely fit by the President to be appointed as the new Army Chief of Staff. For a while now, the proclivity of the President to pander to populism was evident, manifest in statements that held the Army beyond reproach. Surprising of late is the degree to which those in the UNP, in a race to the depths of impunity, also express sentiments aimed at a constituency they never got the votes from, or secured any popularity in.
It was not so much what Mahinda Rajapaksa said that caught my attention, but how he framed it. Marketing’s rule of three is well-known and applied in advertising, but here we have Rajapaksa embracing it to produce and project abject fear, in a way guaranteed to maximise reaction, retention and recall. This statement prepped for release at the start of this year and lapped up by electronic, print and social media was clearly part of a larger, post-constitutional coup media strategy by those well-versed in political communications, geared towards the electoral realisation of an outcome attempted through different means late last year. But the substance also matters. Rajapaksa’s signature sensationalism isn’t ignorance or stupidity.
It is informed, calculating and strategic dog-whistling. And while the currency and appeal of his brand, along with that of the SLPP, significantly diminished in statistically measurable terms and unprecedented ways from October to December, it would be folly to think it will remain as unpopular as the year progresses. Recalling what was noted last week in this column, the coup’s entrenchment already shows – through primary data gathering and topline analysis related to on-going research – signs of angering and re-casting as overwhelmingly apathetic those who supported the restoration of constitutionalism.
Both truly ironic and telling then that last week, the one voice who in Parliament noted that there was a distinct lack of political will around accountability and investigations into violence against journalists – TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran – is on the overwhelmingly racist social media constellations partial to or featuring content from the SLPP and Rajapaksas, promoted and projected as a terrorist. So in what may be the defining frames of 2019, it is terrorism to be partial to constitutionalism, seek accountability and justice, and somehow democratic to be partial to condoning war crimes, entertaining alleged war criminals and stoking up fear based on thinly veiled racism and violent communalism.
These are hard things to explain, and the fatigue around it is real. One recognises that agonising over these statements and their import is a privileged conversation, at certain strata. The existential realities of life and loss in the North are less well captured, but more concerning for residents, survivors, victims and citizens in the former war zones. And it is here that the photo of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Ranil Wickremesinghe and Maithripala Sirisena enjoyed a music concert together hurts the most. Change voted for by most in the North in 2015 was not to have the incumbent collude with the former President. Change that most stood up for, at a time when the denouement of the constitutional crisis wasn’t anywhere close to what ultimately transpired, wasn’t to have the incumbent Prime Minister sit both current and former President at music concerts.
While some public, political events and circumstances render close physical proximity inevitable despite significant political differences and personal distaste, this was a concert – one that any one of the three could have easily declined participation in knowing full well who they would be seen and seated together with. That they did not reveal much more than the public pronouncements from any of them denouncing each other.
Add to this the fact that the greatest defenders of the worst and most unprincipled, partisan media come from within government, and you have a situation where hope and faith in democratic governance and the delivery of justice, amongst other things, fades into risible insignificance. Save that for mothers of the disappeared, victims of the Rajapaksa regime’s violence, survivors of war now living under military surveillance and independent journalists, this is no laughing matter. The sceptre of violent pushback is now a new dawn away, if not through Executive fiat, then in what yet again seems entirely probable, through electoral outcomes.
It is this significant loss of choice and meaningful alternatives to those in power which defines our political landscape. The photo at the musical concert was in an unintended way, extremely apt. Musical chairs and the Sinhala adage around the band playing while the ship sinks are two metaphors that may define how history records what’s to come, and soon.
TWO. CA Chandraprema: “The ‘black’ media and the neo-liberal mafia,” Island 12 January 2019
The UNP has recommenced its attacks on the media. Some time ago Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe threatened journalists and media organisations mentioning some by name and this included our sister paper Divaina. Since the restoration of the UNP government some weeks ago, these attacks have assumed a more sinister aspect. There has been a stoppage of advertising from government owned institutions to the two premier private TV stations in the country Hiru TV and Derana TV.
That was followed by demonstrations by masked protesters in front of Sirasa TV premises and the Maubima newspaper office and several other media organsiations including Derana. In April 2018, in the wake of PM Ranil Wickremesinghe defeating the no-confidence motion brought against him, there was a raucous demonstration outside the Sirasa TV premises by jubilant UNP activists and its was accompanied by the lighting of large quantities of fire crackers. The demonstration, in April, may perhaps be dismissed as a largely spontaneous outburst by drunken UNP loyalists. But the silent masked black clad demonstrators, last Thursday, portends something much more sinister than the louder and more visceral demonstration against Sirasa last April.
Deliberate planned actions should cause much more concern than the spontaneous actions of drunken party loyalists. When these deliberate planned actions are carried out by educated, English speaking middle class persons that should cause more concern than when some drunken political party hoi polloi are involved in protests.
When the educated, English speaking middle class persons carry out these actions are supporters of the ruling party, that is a cause for alarm bells to start ringing throughout the country. The persons demonstrating outside media organisations are mostly employees of NGOs funded by the very foreign countries that openly backed the move to block the holding of a general election and that is a reason for the entire nation to stand up and take notice.
Neo-liberals without borders
The whole country saw the manner in which diplomats of Western embassies in Colombo went to Parliament to express support for the move not to have a general election and even sat in the court rooms to ‘observe’ the proceedings. It is doubtful whether such scenes of open Western tutelage were seen in this country even in the colonial era after universal suffrage was introduced in 1931 and the Donoughmore reforms were implemented. Now, when people paid by the countries represented by those very western diplomats demonstrate in front of local media organisations what are we to understand from that? So far as we know Sirasa TV and the Maubima newspaper ad Derana TV and the institutions these demonstrations were held in front of are all entirely indigenous enterprises.
People may have differing views about the lines taken by these various media institutions, but at least any motives, aspirations, objectives they may have are rooted well within the borders of Sri Lanka. That cannot be said about the demonstrators outside those institutions. What this means is that Sri Lanka is now in the middle of a full scale neo-imperialist, neo-liberal invasion with a determined attempt being made to whip the local media into submission. It is a fact that after January 9, 2015, the media has been the only democratic institution still holding out. Until just days ago, both the government and the opposition were dominated by the same yahapalana group. The genuine opposition in the country, the Joint Opposition with 53 MPs had less time to speak in Parliament than the JVP which had only 6 MPs.
The JO was unable to fulfil its role as the legitimate opposition in the country for nearly four years. It was the media that enabled the voice of the real opposition to be heard by giving them coverage in the news bulletins. This was why the media, in general, has earned the wrath of the UNP and the foreign and local neo-liberal mafia supporting them. The protests being held outside the media organisations are obviously aimed at preventing criticism of the ruling party the UNP on their own account as media institutions or preventing the opposition from getting publicity. The NGOs and organisations that participated in the protest were the following: Sri Lankawe Kanthavo, Aluth Piyapath, Aluth Parapura, Maruthaye Handa, Didulana Hadawatha, Prajathanthrawadaya Sandaha vu Samanallu, Vuththeeya Web Madhyawedeenge Sangamaya, Sadhu Janarawa, Negee Sitimu Sri Lanka, Chitrapata Adhyakshakawarunge Sangamaya, Athurudanvuwange Pavul Ekathuwa, Prajathanthrawadaya Sandaha vu Neethignayin, Samabima Organization.
Among the prominent people seen in the midst of the protesters were the film director Vimukthi Jayasundera, actress Samanalee Fonseka, Brito Fernando and one Dhanushka who Sirasa TV identified as a JVP activist. Following a furious backlash from the media organisations, the UNP and JVP disassociated themselves from the protest but the JVP did not deny that Dhanushka was one of their activists. The most effective reaction to these protestors came from the staff of the Maubima newspaper, who came out of their office with placards of their own and held a counter demonisation charging that the demonstrators were from foreign funded NGOs. The Maubima staff also hooted and jeered as the protestors left.
Who was making a mistake?
The supreme irony in all this is the involvement of the Vurththeeya Web Madhyawedeenge Sangamaya (Professional Web-journalists Association) in this protest. A website is a versatile platform which can provide content in the printed word as well as in audio visual form. If the mainline TV stations and newspapers are making a mistake by being partial or biased, the web journalists should consider that a god send and their own ticket to success. That is what happened in the US – when the mainline media became either biased or tried to foist their own way of thinking on the public, people turned more and more towards alternative media. Even though the mainline TV stations and newspapers in the US supported Clinton, the reason why Trump won was because the alternative media had become so influential. So if the mainline TV stations and newspapers had been biased, that should have been welcomed by the Professional Web-journalists Association because that would make the people turn more and more towards the alternative media.
When your competitors are making a mistake, why try to correct it? The reason why the Professional Web-journalists Association and other protestors did what they did was not because the mainline media organisations were making a mistake, but because they did the right thing and earned the trust of the people and thereby helped mould public opinion. The mainline media by and large, taken as a whole with a perhaps few prominent exceptions, have been even handed in their coverage of the government and the opposition. Because the government has been making one mistake after another since taking power four years ago, they may have been getting the worst of it when it comes to public opinion but that is not the fault of the mainline media. One can see at a glance that public opinion regarding the government is closely paralleled by the plummeting economic indices in the past four years.
So, we see that any negative image that is present among the public is not the fault of the media but their own performance. Even politically, the yahapalana experiment has been a complete fiasco with the very president that the UNP got elected at their expense with their own votes turning against them before the lapse of four years. The mainline media cannot be blamed for the woes of the present government. As the ship slowly but surely sinks, the promoters of the yahapalana project are getting uneasy and resorting to desperate expedients to keep their project afloat. The demonstrations in front of media organisations is a symptom of that.
None of the mainline media organization subject to pressure by this group can be accused of having reported one sidedly during the political crisis following October 26, 2018. The press conferences held at Temple Trees were given wide coverage by all TV stations and newspapers. What has happened here is that since the mainline media taken as a whole is doing a good job of reporting on both the government and the opposition, there is no room for an alternative media to make headway except in the interstices of the media scene. What were these foreign funded yahapalana organisations expecting the mainline media to do? The letter that they handed over to the media organisations that they demonstrated in front of gives us some indication. The letter began with what was clearly a warning – “Owners of media organisations and Mediamen,
We are watching you!”
“What have you been doing as the owner of a media organization or as a mediaman? It has been made necessary to remind you of media ethics and social values because you flouted all social values and became a part of the anti-constitutional and anti-democratic coup of October 26. Your conduct after October 26 showed how unethical the media can be. By taking the side of a specific political group during the coup and justifying it, you flouted the expectation among the public that the media would conduct itself ethically. We wish to remind the electronic media especially that they are making profits from the frequencies that are public property and therefore the public has a right to question you.”
The letter took exception to the manner in which the media had reported the Supreme Court judgement against the dissolution of Parliament as the Supreme Court having ‘stopped the holding of a general election’. The argument being that this was a case of misrepresenting facts. This however is a debatable point. Under our present Constitution, Parliament can not simply be dissolved as a single act in isolation. Parliament can only be dissolved in order to hold a general election and any gazette dissolving parliament has to simultaneously announce not only the date for the next parliamentary election but even the date on which the new Parliament is to meet for the first time. Thus when the gazette dissolving parliament is stopped, that automatically stops the parliamentary election as well and the media did report it accurately.
The letter states that because of media ‘mudalalikaranaya’ the financial aspirations of the media organisations lies beyond the expectation that the media will be independent. Ironically, this accusation was being made by ‘NGO mudalalis’. The NGO letter accused the media of not reporting on both sides of the story. The letter also accuses the media of promoting jathiwadaya by which was meant Sinhala jathiwadaya – that accusation was levelled against media organisations owned by Tamils and non-Buddhists as well! The letter ends with the warning “We are watching you.”
From its contents, it can be seen that this letter was just an excuse to hold the demonstration in front of media organisations. The letter itself was not meant to convey anything significant except the point that the NGO protestors wanted the media to support the yahapalana side and report only that side without giving any coverage to the non-yahapalana side which has been gaining ground.
Jolly Somasundram’s brilliant summing up
The day after this protest took place in front of media organisations, the eminent former civil servant Jolly Somasunderam had a brilliant piece in The Island titled “An Orwellian Replay: As elections were not held, Democracy is saved!” which summed up very accurately why the western funded NGOs and the neo liberal mafia were getting so hot and bothered. Somasunderam states –
“Two days would be considered black in modern Sri Lanka, one, the horrible events which took place on 25th Friday, July 1983 and the second, a declared election not taking place on 5th January, Saturday, 2019, despite all proper conditions for the conduct of free and fair elections having been met by an independent National Elections Commission. Denying the People their right to exercise their franchise in the 2019 parliamentary elections, the denial having strong support from politicised civil society, marks the beginnings of an anti-democratic creep mimicking current trends in Europe and America. The next round may be that voters would not count but counters certainly would. The non-holding of the election is a precursor of what could happen, possibly ending by rescinding the electoral gains made since 1931.
“5th of January 2019, would be a day for ecstatic celebrations by politicised civil society- a catch all term for political scientists, unrepresentative self-appointed do-gooders and media journalists. Politicised civil society seem to have arrived at a faustian bargain with anti-democrats. It is not surprising that staunch democracies, like US, UK, Canada, who preach the virtues of elections the world over, are part of the anti-election movement in Sri Lanka. One is judged by the company one keeps. Never in the history of representative democracy has a declared election not been held or celebrated. 5th January is a day of mourning, for those deeply concerned with safeguarding their sovereign civic rights, the highest of it being the right to exercise their super-star right of franchise.
“The President is the only person in the country who is directly elected by the People and the only one who could dissolve Parliament. He takes necessary steps to stabilise the country. He is held responsible to Parliament and his electors. No other person, institution or agency could extract an accountability for actions of the president, even if there is a feeling that they are misguided: he has unfettered discretion….The new Parliament was scheduled to meet on 17th January, with a fresh cabinet in place….The elections did not take place, as the dissolution by the President was held to be inappropriate, since President Sirisena, had advanced the election date by 1 1/4 years. (Normally authoritarian Heads of the state wish to postpone elections). The People of the country have now to wait 1 1/4 further forlorn years, to cast their franchise. Far from being ones endowed with sovereignty, they have become political footballs, ready objects to be kicked around…”
“In 2018, Sri Lanka postponed a dissolution, shifting elections by 1 1/4 years. Politicised civil society, who claimed to be the embodiment of civic virtue, were delirious. They, possibly, would now let out an Orwellian cri de couer, “No elections: democracy is saved.”
THREE Rajan Philips: “Ranil’s constitutional damp squib and Mahinda’s media mafia,” Island, January 12, 2019,
On Friday, the current parliament and the government showed themselves to be utterly unworthy beneficiaries of the Supreme Court’s ruling against the unconstitutional dissolution of parliament by an overreaching President. Only 28 UNF government MPs showed up when the House met as a Constitutional Assembly after an interval of over one year, to hear their Prime Minister present the proposals for a new constitution prepared by a panel experts. All total there were 56 MPs, with the UPFA (17), the TNA (9) and the JVP (2) making up the other 28 MPs who cared to show up. 19 more government MPs trundled in as the proceedings went on. That is a total of 75 MPs, just one third of the total 225 MPs, for a project that requires a two-thirds majority support for passage in parliament. That is before a referendum. The poor attendance is indicative of the pathetic lack of enthusiasm among the government MPs to Prime Minister’s prime project, and the even more pathetic failure of the government leaders to whip their MPs to show up.
Despite the depleted attendance, there was a lively exchange of claims and counterclaims among the leaders, the reinstated PM, the new and the old Leaders of the Opposition, and the JVP leader. The inscrutable Mr. Wickremesinghe was on a face-saving display of statesmanlike equanimity – leaving it up to the collective wisdom of the Constitutional Assembly (the absconding two-thirds, notwithstanding) to debate and decide on the experts’ proposal. The ever improvising Mahinda Rajapaksa simply asserted that this parliament has no authority to make a constitution. For him, there is no authority in the country until elections held and he emerges as the victor.
The TNA leader, R. Sampanthan, was his usual self, eloquent and articulate, but his special pleadings for a new constitution deserved a fuller house than what his government friends had managed to corral. The JVP’s Anura Kumara Dissanayake took swipes at both the government and official opposition, justifiably blaming the government and the Prime Minister for the inordinate delay in the constitutional reform process. Those who are familiar with the makings of the 1972 and the 1978 constitutions will recall that both of them moved steadily from start to finish under the direct supervision of two exceptionally strong personalities, Colvin R de Silva and JR Jayewardene. There is no comparison between now and then.
The JVP leader even more justifiably took to task Mahinda Rajapaksa for the pack of lies about the constitution that the former President is unbecomingly and irresponsibly propagating in the south. Mahinda Rajapaksa has made more political statements in the few weeks after his unwarranted and short lived ended in December, than he has ever made in the many years of his political career. There are two recurrent themes in these statements. One is the now broken-record refrain that Sri Lankans are being deprived of their democratic right to vote despite all his valiant attempts to stage an election to suit his purposes. The other is the overtly communal messaging, in fact massaging, about the constitution that he got scolded for in parliament by the JVP leader.
The democracy refrain has no audience of consequence even though there is still some outlying misconception even among some jolly old fellows who should know their old and current history that even a constitutional timetable for elections is undemocratic and that a President elected directly in a national election should have the power to dissolve a legislature comprising MPs elected from scattered electoral pockets or from party lists. Suffice it to say, until the 19th Amendment Sri Lanka was the only country where the President had the arbitrary and the absolute power to dissolve any elected body. Not anymore.
The second refrain, the communal massaging, is more insidious and is intended to stampede the southern electorate. The two are interconnected which exposes Rajapaksa’s duplicity about democracy and his knavery about communal massaging. The question is whether Ranil Wickremesinghe is up to successfully calling Rajapaksa’s bluff, or if he is going to sleepwalk into the constitutional trap that Rajapaksa has already set for him. To his credit, Wickremesinghe began the constitutional reform process on a very high note and raising even higher expectations when he delivered the 2015 Sujata Jayawardena Memorial Lecture. I called it “the next frontier in constitutional voyage” in these columns. Three years later, disappointment has given way to expectations and there is no one else except the Prime Minister to blame for the current state of the constitutional file.
The media mafia
Tuesday, January 8 was the tenth anniversary of the brutal killing of Lasantha Wickrematunga. There was a flood of commemorative articles including a very moving and at the same very accurate piece by Keith Noyahr, breaking his journalistic silence for the first time after his own horrific experience of abduction and assault eight months before Mr. Wickrematunga’s murder. Mr. Noyahr’s contribution and scores of others isolated and exposed the less than a handful of deplorable attempts to take crass political mileage out of the painful individual and familial tragedy and still resolved murderous assault on the country’s media freedom. Officially, the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunga remains unresolved. Unofficially, no one believes the formal denials of involvement as everyone knows that there is no need for denial if there is no actual involvement.
Two days later on Thursday, a curious protest took place in front of media outlets that apparently supported that constitutional coup that President Sirisena quite unpresidentially foisted on this country. These outlets took vehement exceptions to the protests and cried foul that their freedom of media expression was under threat. Nothing of kind! – although the counter-protestations by the subject media outlets found an unsurprising ally in the same political parties and individuals who participated in the constitutional coup, the same forces that had gone after not only journalists but also others whose ‘attitude’ was not compatible with the authority of those in power before January 2015. What was surprising was to see Mahinda Rajapaksa calling the protests against the media outlets an attack against media freedom.
The irony of Rajapaksa defending the freedom of the media during the anniversary week of Lasantha Wickrematunga would not have been lost even among his media supporters. It was not lost on the Reporters without Borders (RWB) organization that had ranked Rajapaksa when he was Sri Lanka’s President as one of the “world’s biggest press freedom predators.” When Mahinda Rajapaksa was unconstitutionally sworn in as Prime Minister on October 26, the RWB saw the risk of Sri Lanka falling back to the old ways. True to form, the Rajapaksa supporters stormed the state media institutions, the Rupavahini and the Lake House, and took control of them soon after the swearing in.
The physical seizure of the state media institutions forty four years after the Lake House papers were nationalized through a legislative order is indicative of how far the country has slid back in the balance of power between state institutions and private repositories of thuggish power. In 1974, it was the state that nationalized the country’s biggest media company through a highly controversial but orderly legislative process. In 2018, private political thugs and their journalists took over the state media institutions with threats of violence.
After the 1974 nationalization, the state virtually monopolized the media ownership, and became both the primary owner and regulator of media. The winds of privatization after 1977 have completely transformed the ownership patterns across the different media. While the state has significant footprints in each of the media – television, radio and print, it is not the largest in any of them. And the wily Rajapaksas found a profitable alternative to deal with a hostile news organization. Rather than courting controversy by nationalizing the news organization, facilitate the purchase of it through a politically friendly wealthy family.
According to the Media Ownership Monitor operated by Reporters without Borders, there are over 100 print (dailies and weeklies) media outlets, 20 TV stations and 50 radio stations. But in each of them, over 75% of the market (audience or readership) capture is in the hands of about four organizations. With the exception of the state, every one of the media organizations with significant market capture is in family ownership.
Such a level of concentration of ownership and market capture in the country’s news media, is hardly conducive to what might be called democratic dissemination of news and opinion, although in the print media there is an established tradition of journalism that is rooted in independent news reporting and opinion forming. It is in the print media that journalists have mostly come under attack for reporting politically unfavourable news stories.
The three organizations which were the target of pro-democracy protestors on Thursday, namely, Capital Maharajah Organization (Sirasa), Asia Broadcasting Corporation (Hiru), and Power House (Derena), are the top three operators in TV and radio accounting for 60% of the audience share in each of the two media.
The consumers of their outputs have a right to express their opinions even in the form of protests so long as they are peaceful and orderly. The general public, who were not swayed by the private TV and radio but were galvanized by the more democratically disseminated social media. After October 26, democracy in Sri Lanka could not have received a better outcome.
An Anonymous Note from “Pro Bono Prolo” entitled “Removal of Ranil as PM constitutional,”Island, 11 January 2019
Kudos on your excellent editorial (“The hunt begins?”, 10 January). I do have a minor quibble, however.
You mention “… the unconstitutional methods the Sirisena-Rajapaksa duo employed to dislodge the UNP-led government, in October.”
There is no evidence whatsoever that the President acted unconstitutionally in appointing Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister on 26 October. Ranil never challenged his removal before the Supreme Court, the only body empowered to rule on the Constitution. Furthermore, by being sworn in by the President as prime minister in December, he implicitly accepted the fact of his removal, since he could not be sworn in if he had not been removed.
ISLAND EDITORIAL: “The Hunt Begins?” 10 January 2019
The JVP has torn into Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Russia Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka, who, it says, backed the 26 Oct. government change. It has, however, stopped short of explaining how he did so. Is it referring to his political writings? There is no love lost between the JVP and Dr. Jayatilleka and, we believe, the former has sought to settle old scores.
There has been no formal complaint against Ambassador Jayatilleka as far as we are aware. He is no stranger to controversy and it is up to him to defend himself in case of charges being brought against him. But it is not clear from the allegation at issue against him whether he has done anything so serious as to warrant disciplinary action. However, a person had better prepare himself for serious trouble when the JVP flays him, for its diatribe is a harbinger of the government’s hostile action against him.
We have a government which won’t hesitate to bring back anyone from abroad save Arjuna Mahendran. Let those who are all out to hound Dr. Jayatillake from his job be told that Sri Lanka should have a competent ambassador, acceptable to the Russians, in Moscow, because the UNF government has, in its wisdom, tilted its foreign policy in favour of the West at the expense of the country’s traditional friends.
Meanwhile, time was when the JVP took to the streets in protest against US interference in countries like Chile and Nicaragua. But, today, it is silent on foreign interference in Sri Lanka’s domestic affairs! The aftermath of the 26 Oct. government change saw some Colombo-based foreign envoys overstepping their diplomatic limits to make various statements on the situation here. They also visited Temple Trees and the President’s House, and some of their press releases were, in fact, warnings couched in diplomatese.
No nation can exist in isolation without heeding international opinion. A country should be willing to take the views of other nations on board, especially in respect of issues concerning democracy and human rights. But it should not suffer meddlesome foreign envoys gladly, so to speak, and censuring such grandees who consider themselves viceroys should not be considered a manifestation of the so-called island mentality. It is not difficult to guess what US President Donald Trump’s reaction would be if a foreign diplomat, in Washington, dared tell him how to resolve the ongoing shutdown crisis, which has left about 800,000 American workers unpaid. Will any foreign envoy be allowed to lecture Prime Minister Theresa May on the Brexit issue?
Why hasn’t the JVP called for action against the foreign diplomats who disrespected Parliament by clapping in the Speaker’s gallery, during a controversial voice vote on a no-confidence motion? Will the ordinary people be allowed to do so in the parliamentary galleries?
The JVP’s concern for democracy is to be highly appreciated, and it is right in having condemned the unconstitutional methods the Sirisena-Rajapaksa duo employed to dislodge the UNP-led government, in October. But one is at a loss to understand why it continues to hold a grand annual event to commemorate its founder leader and other slain comrades who staged two violent uprisings in an abortive bid to overthrow governments. It has no qualms about calling those violent elements heroes though they killed political leaders, trade unionists and ordinary people, destroyed public property worth billions of rupees and even carried out a bomb attack on Parliament; President J. R. Jayewardene and Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa had a narrow escape.
Before calling for action against those who allegedly backed what has come to be known as the ‘October constitutional coup’, shouldn’t the JVP stop commemorating the killers responsible for two failed yet bloody attempts to overthrow democratically elected governments?