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What is the Samagi Balawegaya

November 18, 2013 Leave a comment

For the past few weeks I have been asking people to join the Samagi Youth Corp, and rightly so many of them have asked me what exactly is the Samagi and what are the goals of the Samagi Youth.

I am taking this time to write a brief summary of what the Samagi is and how the youth corp will operate.

The Samagi Balawegaya (Force for Unity) is a coalition of civil society activists, trade unions, media groups, politicians and individuals who are concerned about and are dedicated to working towards a sustainable and all-inclusive future for Sri Lanka. The Samagi as a whole has agreed upon the ten principles detailed below: 

ONE 

Abolishing Executive Presidency 

TWO

Strengthening of Good Governance by re-installing the 17th Amendment to the constitution and removal of the obstructionist clauses under 18th Amendment

THREE

Affirming a united Sri Lankan identity by conserving the rights of every ethnic group in Sri Lanka’s diversity.

FOUR

Strengthening of Parliamentary democracy by repealing “Manaapaya” system

FIVE

Right to Information and Freedom Expression and Freedom

SIX

Re-affirming Rule of Law and Independence of Judiciary

SEVEN

Controlling Cost of Living and Implementing anti-corruption laws

EIGHT

Preservation and Strengthening of Universal Education and Healthcare benefits

NINE

Reducing the poverty and implementing a truly people-centric development plan for the country

TEN

Implementation of LLRC Recommendations

These ten principles will form the backbone of the Samagi as we continue to push the current government towards the change that the people of Sri Lanka are asking for.

What is the Samagi Youth Corp?

The Samagi Youth Corp is an arm of the Samagi that will work alongside the youth of this country who are committed to ensuring a future that we all agree upon. The main aim of the Youth corp is to demand from the government the necessary assistance in helping them build a future that is not only prosperous but also sustainable. 

Politics and politicians have, for too long, been allowed to sneak past the voters with the outdated populist methods. As the youth it is now our turn to take a step forward and start asking the hard questions and once again force the politicians to return to the role of being the representatives of the people. 

Asking the questions alone will not be enough, the Samagi youth will take upon itself the lead role. As we expand through the provinces, the corp will form a consensus among their peers over issues that our generation will be forced to inherit. The tough questions must be asked both of ourselves and the government. The traditional image of the role of the youth in society must be re-evaluated. 

While the demands are made of the government, we the youth must be prepared to work towards achieving the future that we want. 

The Samagi Youth Corp is throwing out an open invitation to all those who are interested to join up.

Political Dynasties

“Political Dynasties”, a term that is as old as politics. For the ancient civilisations their rulers were concerned with maintaining their legacy, the crown would be passed from parent to child to ensure the family name continues on down the ages.

In today’s political spectrum the idea of dynasties is not too far away (especially in Asia). Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh all pay homage to the idea of a political heritage being carried forward through their leaders. For me, the question that comes to mind is why do we (the voters) continue to decide who will lead us depending on their last name?

In Sri Lanka if you belong to the Wijewardena or the Bandaranaike family you are immediately accepted into the inner politics of the country, whether you take off from there is dependent on your actions but certainly the name will give you that stepping stone. Similarly in India the Nehru-Gandhi family name continues to rule the country, despite its people (and much of the rest of the world) claiming that they are the world’s largest democracy. The Bhutto’s in Pakistan have played prominent roles in shaping their political culture, while in Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina comes from a family of political leaders.

When the Western World talk’s about “Political Dynasties” they refer to them as “misappropriation of power”, an example being the Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il and now Kim Jong-Un succession of power in North Korea. However, for America a family succession in politics is no alien idea with the Kennedy’s and Bush’s being examples (and to a lesser extent the Clintons).

So now that we have determined that “Political Dynasties” are no regional phenomenon, we can look at answering why they are so prevalent around the world. When Sri Lanka achieved independence in 1948 the voters connected this feat to D.S. Senanayake (our first Prime Minister). So naturally, when his son came into politics the people flocked to his side, expecting him to carry out the same work his father did (whether or not he did I will leave up to you to decide). From that point onwards the country was open to the idea of politics being carried forward by the family name.

S.W.R.D Bandaranaike started yet another political legacy in the country when his wife, daughter and son all took to politics (like him both his wife and daughter went on to lead the country). Similarly, as the Senanayake’s before him, his contribution to politics in the founding of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party gave himself a legacy that the people wanted to see continued through his family.

Similar such stories can be shared with the rest of the political families seen throughout the world, but the real reason that these dynasties continue (as I see it) is that the voters hold strong to the notion of not letting the past go. The success of the initial politician has always led to their family continuing on with automatic support of the people. Perhaps the voters feel that their descendants can continue the work they started, or perhaps it is simply a yearning to return to what their parents (or husbands) had done in the past.

A friend told me that this is not so in the UK, their political circles do not see such a trend. I disagree with this remark. In the UK, unlike many other nations, they have retained their monarchy. With this age old tradition of family succession already in place, the people’s yearning to cling on to the idea of “passing the torch down the line” has not been transferred to their politics. The Royal Family may not hold any political power of note, but they are in a public enough position to satisfy this quota.

“Political Dynasties” are, to me at least, not Democracy’s finest moments. The voters choose with their heart rather than mind. While prevalent in Asia it has certainly not died out elsewhere in the world. Whether it will in the future remains to be seen.

I have certainly rambled on in this post, but after discussing this topic till 5 am on a Saturday morning with friends I felt like an outside perspective was needed.

More Questions than Answers

Sarath Fonseka was finally freed on Monday, scenes of celebrations were seen as supporters of the Former Army Commander surrounded Nawaloka, Welikada Prison and the High Court. However, his release has now left more questions than answers available.

The two biggest questions that is on most people’s minds is why did Mahinda Rajapaksa suddenly agree to release Fonseka, after stalling for several months, and why did Fonseka agree to what is now clearly a conditional release?

In a previous blog I touched on the potential reasons behind the release of Fonseka (refer to https://din88.wordpress.com/2012/05/16/who-is-calling-the-shots-in-sri-lanka/). I am still going to stick by my original theory that the US has a fair share of responsibility regarding the release of Fonseka, but even so there must be other reasons behind the President’s sudden change of heart.

Rumors have emerged that the President’s decision was based on the advice given to him by his personal astrologer, those who have followed the gossip surrounding the first family will know this is not the first time such a story has emerged. Another potential theory is that the government did this simply to buy the support of the people (refer to https://din88.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/buying-support/).

Of course that second theory seems to hold up, the attention of the media has been solely on the release of Fonseka and what his immediate plans are. Political parties have taken to inviting him to join them, and only Harsha de Silva (UNP MP) has chosen to keep the attention on the government and take them up on the alleged mismanagement of the EPF funds. The people have forgotten, at least temporarily, the rising cost of living and are focusing on the release of “the General”.

Government Ministers have spun the release to lay credit at the feet of the President, Wimal Weerawansa told media on Monday that it was out of the goodness of the President’s heart that he released Fonseka. He went even further to say that because of Mahinda Rajapaksa pursuing the war despite international criticism Fonseka was given the opportunity to end it. A lightly disguised ploy of laying the credit of ending the war at the feet of the President. Weerawansa’s comments are indication of the government’s plan of winning over support with what they claims is a gesture of forgiveness and goodwill.

With all these theories, however, there is no clear answer on why Fonseka has been released. In fact the international community has been surprisingly silent on the issue, foreign media had a field day but the diplomatic circles have chosen to remain mum. The US, who followed his case closely and campaigned for his release,have not indicated in any way their feelings for this turn of events.

While that question remains unanswered another has emerged with the apparent news that Fonseka’s release was indeed conditional. Former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva has explained to The Island that Fonseka has lost his civic rights for seven years (refer to http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=52557).

So why did the man, who had early refused to seek a Presidential pardon, agree to this which has conditions. Fonseka will be unable to exercise his right to vote or contest an election. In fact on the surface it would seem his personal political career has come to an end. But then again the UNP has made it clear they want the man to join them. Do they see him as having a role to play as an iconic figure? The nationalist vote could be divided now that Fonseka is out, of course his inability to contest an election will play a out against him.

With the UNP now canvassing to have his civic rights returned, perhaps the question of why Fonseka was released will be answered. Certainly if international pressure was applied, further pressure could be exerted to ensure that his civic rights are returned. If the ploy was to win over support, then perhaps Mahinda Rajapaksa will choose to delay his decision.

Either way, it looks like another spanner has been thrown in the works for a society which is trying to make heads or tails of a political system which makes no sense.

Sri Lanka’s Shambolic Foreign Relations

With the focus in Sri Lanka directed at the domestic situation, namely the rising cost of living and political instability, the country’s foreign policy has been forgotten with continual blunders on the part of the government.

In March this year the country was faced with one of its biggest challenges on the international stage as they prepared for a vote on the adoption of a US resolution against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC summit in Geneva. The resolution was designed at addressing growing human rights concerns in the country. It was a challenge that was poorly met as the Sri Lankan delegation, who was led by the Minister of Plantations, was unable to sway the vote in the country’s favour.

While sentiment remains high that the vote was a close affair and would have gone the way of Sri Lanka had India backed them (24 countries voted in favour of the resolution while 15 voted against and 8 abstained). It is clear that the delegation, or the government for that matter, did not have a clear strategy at tackling the situation. Success at the summit appeared to have depended on India’s support, and in turn the canvassing of other nations was done too little too late.

The countries who voted against the resolution are those who looked more likely to oppose US interference in the region than having specifically supported Sri Lanka (China and Pakistan). The extent of Sri Lanka’s poor international lobbying is the fact that India, who usually does not vote on country-specific resolutions, did so against its neighbour.

The Sri Lankan government expected India to either vote with them or at the very least abstain, they failed to lobby the Indian government and assure them of progress in regards to the issues being discussed.

India’s opposition to Sri Lanka at the summit was a sign of disapproval at the current state of affairs; the country has chosen to take the resolution as a personal slur and its government has not made any progress in rebuilding its relations with its neighbour.

In fact Sri Lanka went further and responded to this resolution by announcing that it would be closing several of its embassies in Europe, while opening new embassies in Africa. The decision was clearly based on anger with the Europeans and their decision to back such a resolution. Ironically, the proposed new embassies in Africa will be in those countries that supported Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka looks uninterested in pacifying the situation by addressing the issues brought up at the vote.

Last week a delegation led by the Minister of External Affairs visited the US to present an action-plan on the implementation of its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission report. However, such a plan had not been prepared in time for the visit and local media was abuzz with the news that the Minister would be travelling empty handed to the US.

Their meetings with US representatives appeared unfruitful as US media reported that their government was impatient with Sri Lanka’s lack of progress in addressing the human rights and reconciliation concerns.

Despite Hillary Clinton’s office stating that they were impressed with an action-plan that was presented, an action-plan which was a secret until now, it is clear that the delegation had not done enough. The meeting with members of the House of Representatives was an opportunity to impress upon them that the Sri Lankan government was serious in tackling these issues. The lack of clear planning in this regard was evident with the Minister choosing to repeat the sentiment they have continually expressed, without producing any hard evidence to support it.

With the US heading towards an election, it was of utmost importance that they satisfied all parties concerned.

As Sri Lanka faces mounting international pressure a focussed approach is lacking. The government will need to re-strategize if they are to avoid any further resolutions and opposition by its one time allies. Rebuilding of diplomatic ties must be on top of its agenda.

Who is calling the shots in Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka, and the government, is at crossroads regarding its future. On one side we have a path that could see us coming under a new regime with an unknown leadership, while on the other side there is a path that will see the Rajapaksa government strengthen  their already iron grip over the politics in the country.

However, sadly it is not the people who will decide what part we will be going down but rather the politicians. What is worse is that these politicians do not necessarily come from Sri Lanka, but rather from other nations that have vested interests in the country.

The news, since yesterday, has been the quiet rumblings that former Army commander and Presidential candidate, Sarath Fonseka, will be released shortly. This decision appears to have come out of the blue with previous attempts to have the man released shutdown. Feelings regarding his release are mixed, with a previous post of mine having expressing my own. (Refer “buying support”).

The question, however that many seem to have forgotten is who really convinced the government to do a 180 and release the man they have accused of treason? UNP MP Tiran Alles has been credited with the move, with sources stating that it was his numerous discussions with the President that achieved this.

Others have credited the President himself, saying that he took the decision believing that such a move would increase his popularity and help smooth over the growing rumblings over the rising cost of living.

I personally feel that the pressure to enact such a move came from powers outside of Sri Lanka, namely the US. They are a country which has shown an interesting amount of interest in the Sarath Fonseka case, choosing to send a member of the embassy to each of his court dates.

Now G.L. is headed to the US empty-handed, despite expectations from the Hillary Clinton that he would arrive with an action plan outlining the implementation of the LLRC. Instead he will be going there with nothing concrete to show their efforts in working towards reconciliation.

So, did the US pressure Sri Lanka into releasing Fonseka as an alternative to the absence of an action plan, or did the government consider that G.L. could use the news that he would be released to pacify the Americans. Do not forget they comfortably had a resolution passed against us as few months ago. It will not be too hard for them to do so again, especially with the way events are going in Sri Lanka.

Either way it is, to me at least, clear that the US has played a part in the Fonseka release. To what extent their role was is unknown and may never be known. But one thing is for certain, the anti-American members of the government (I am sure everyone knows who I am talking about) have gone silent. The protests are over and the calls to boycott are America have been silenced in the lead-up to the visit to the US.

We are now looking at a very interesting time ahead politically, whatever the fallout from the Fonseka release is there is no way to discount international involvement. All I can hope is that we do not go the way of so many Latin American countries.

Victory Day parade

The government is preparing for the Victory Day parade, which is scheduled to be held on Saturday. For some people in Colombo they have chosen to criticise both the armed forces and the government with sentiment such as “why should we be celebrating a war” or “this is just another opportunity to pump up the forces”.

I personally do not agree with these ideas, most people have chosen to jump on one side or the other (that being either undying support for the government or total opposition to them). For me, I plan on going to the parade on Saturday, not so I can stand with the crowds yelling Jayaweva or waving the national flag in a patriotic fashion, but so that I can enjoy a parade by the military.

I have always been a military nut, from my small days I used to play with my army men recreating mock battles imagining myself part of them. As I grew older, and the horrors of war became more apparent my interest in the topic never faltered. In fact it took on a new dimension and I took up the study of it through reading every possible book I could get my hands on regarding the topic.

So now I have before me an opportunity to go and enjoy a parade which will see thousands of soldiers from different units, military hardware, flyovers by the air-force and naval boats on display in the sea.

This parade for the government is an opportunity to remind people that they defeated terrorism, freed the country and basically deserve the unending power that is before them. This parade for me is an opportunity to satisfy the little boy within who still yearns to see the shiny guns being carried by the men and the women all decked out in their uniforms.

I will definitely be putting up photos of the parade, and prior rehearsals, so do take a look and hopefully you’ll will see what the ten year old inside me sees.

Buying support

Today I was greeted with the news that Sarath Fonseka was going to be released, sources confirmed the news. Personally this was depressing news, not because I in any way support the govt. but because I feel that he emphasises the Sri Lankan way of turning a blind eye to something provided we get what we want.
When I returned from University in 2009 the country was gripped in election fever, arguments were rife supporting either the president or Fonseka. Both of whom were opposed just 2 years prior to this for corruption and violence against media. The tone of the people had changed and suddenly we were ready to vote in a man, who we accused of numerous crimes (which won’t be mentioned here but we all know what), as President.
He lost the election, was arrested and soon forgotten. The people who supported him went back to their quiet grumbling while continuing with their daily lives, while “the hero of Sri Lanka” was left in jail.
Now 2 years later he is to be released, not because he was a good boy but because “they” need something to distract us from the big issues. Cost of living continues to rise, internationally we’re becoming an outcast, internally there is no political stability and overall people are not happy. But fear not Fonseka will be released, the people can cheer because the regime is forgiving. Don’t worry about the next price hike, or another resolution passed against us. Fonseka is released.
It is disappointing that they think we can be bought with a token gesture, it would be worse if we are.

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