If the President thought a new look cabinet would dim the din of the people asking him to go, he was wrong. Youthful faces cannot hide the same old Rajapaksa ideology they have been conditioned to bear in their narrow heads for political advancement. And it cut no ice with the masses. In his indirect [...]


Way the cookie crumbles

Political instability eclipses Lanka’s economic recovery

If the President thought a new look cabinet would dim the din of the people asking him to go, he was wrong. Youthful faces cannot hide the same old Rajapaksa ideology they have been conditioned to bear in their narrow heads for political advancement. And it cut no ice with the masses.

In his indirect address to the nation, in the guise of a motivational speech to his new cabinet, sworn in this auspicious Monday, the President announced it was a ‘system change’ cabinet and expressed the hope he would thereby satisfy the protesters’ demands. If that was the last card the President had up his sleeve to play, it was no trump.

It failed to sway the people whose demand is nothing short of the Rajapaksas’ exit from office. Apart from himself as President, his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa still remains the Minister of Economic Policy and Plan Implementation, Minister of Urban Development and Housing, and Minister of Buddhasasana, Religious and Cultural Affairs. And, of course, as Prime Minister, he remains in overall charge and exerts great influence and power over the entire shoot of Government.

The President was graceful and penitent enough to accept that he was wrong to have changed the nation’s agricultural methods overnight; and that he regretted not having sought an IMF bailout much earlier. But his confessions failed to evoke the desired sympathy and failed to carry any water with the masses. With all those sins piled at his door, the people were in no mood to forgive while suffering penance beyond measure. The cry remained the same, its roar louder demanding nothing less than the end of Rajapaksa rule.

The scenes on the streets confirmed the stark message.

While the ‘Gota go home’ site on the Green continued to attract more and more crowds, an over 10,000 strong JVP-led procession marched from Beruwela to Colombo. After breaking rest at Panadura, the mass throng arrived in the city on Tuesday, roaring all the way, ‘Gota go home’. The same cry resounded on Galle Road simultaneously where over a thousand university lecturers from universities throughout the country were marching towards the Kollupitiya junction.

That evening in Rambukkana, the so far peaceful protests turned bloody after police gunfire killed a protestor and injured 24 others. The shocking incident, which has now left the Government with blood on its hands, drew widespread anger locally and was condemned by international diplomats, including the US ambassador and UN   Resident Coordinator in Lanka.

On the political front, the Rajapaksa cookie has already started to crumble. Already dissent is emerging in the rank and file. The power of the people’s protest on the street seems to have emboldened the spirit of some to stake their claim for a greater voice in the chamber.

The President’s decision to throw out the oldies opting for newbies in his cabinet was a prime cause of discontent in the ranks. There also seemed to be an attempt to cut the sod under his feet by removing the anchor of his power, Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister.

Ten SLPP backbench MPs wrote to the President to dismiss the new cabinet and appoint a new all-party government under a Prime Minister acceptable to the majority in the House. This prompted Mahinda Rajapaksa to seek revalidation by summoning all SLPP MPs to reaffirm their faith in him as Prime Minister. Only 88 turned up to raise their hands to renew their political vows.

To make matters worse, senior SLPP member and ex-cabinet minister Dulles Alahapperuma wrote to the President, stating the Prime Minister and the new Cabinet must resign and an all-party government formed.

The SLFP, accusing the President of stealing an SLFP MP — Shantha Bandara — and making him a state minister, crossed over to the opposition benches to sit as independents. The Wimal-Udaya handful and a few SLPP MPs also followed suit. The number was now 41. This was increased when three Muslim MPs who had turned coat and crossed over to the government to vote for the 20A, returned to the opposition fold in protest over fellow turncoat Naseer Ahamed being appointed as cabinet minister.

With his party’s once commanding majority in Parliament fast slipping away, with the prospect of his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa continuing as Prime Minister under threat, with the main opposition in parliament demanding his resignation and the people on the street roaring in one voice’ Gota go home’, hasn’t the time arrived for the President to review his determination to remain as President until the end of his constitutional tenure?

There is more bad news in the offing. More hardships, more sacrifices, more protests to come. It’s a cardinal requisite that any nation must first get its political act together before the economy can perform.

With the IMF bailout now dependent on the Government restructuring its debts and assuring the IMF of the sustainability of its debts, more concessions will have to be made to its creditors to gain their acquiescence. China on Friday assured she will help Lanka, provided the Government fast-tracked its free trade agreement, and reduced Lanka’s trade deficit with her.

But has the President the political will, the political clout to weather new political storms, has he the confidence of his people to brave taking unpopular decisions, if restructuring debts entails granting more concessions or selling more national assets?

The office of Presidency is entrusted not only with power but with responsibilities as caretaker of the nation’s assets and the people’s welfare. After having presided over the bankruptcy of the nation, can he find any justifiable reason why he should still stay?

He not only has a moral duty to account but, under Article 42, is constitutionally responsible to Parliament — and thus to the sovereign people — ‘for the due exercise, performance and discharge of his powers, duties and functions under the constitution.’ What happens if he transgresses? Though he may still retain the legal right to rule, the question will be whether he has lost the people’s mandate to remain?

If he is certain he still has the people’s mandate, why not lay the nation’s doubts at rest, once and for all, by subjecting it to the litmus test, available under Article 86, as suggested in last week’s Sunday Punch? Refer it to the people by way of Referendum.

In the circumstances, it may be the only viable and most expeditious constitutional option available to remove the political instability eclipsing the star of Lanka’s economic recovery.

Lanka’s trending pandemonium

Consider the present scenario in a nutshell. An intransigent captain determined to stay at the wheel unto the last with an equally intransigent Chief Mate bent on weathering the storm, come what may. The staunchly loyal second and third mate along with first deck officers, responsible for navigation and safe passage, have all been thrown overboard. In their stead, deck cadets or nautical trainee navigational officers, and deck ratings used mainly for mooring and cleaning jobs, including whitewashing, have been recruited as the new deck officers.

Outside the captain’s bridge, the passengers have emerged from their cabins and are staging a mass protest, demanding the captain and his chief mate to walk the plank and surrender the wheel. Below in the galley, rises the mutinous cacophony of the crew clamouring to take the wheel.

The beleaguered captain, still stubborn to stay at the helm, has dispatched an SOS for help but only after the ship had hit the rocks and sprung unpluggable leaks in its hull. Rats, which had furtively fed and grown fat on the sumptuous cargo, had listened to its instincts and jumped ship to swim to foreign coasts. All are certain that the raging storm tossed waves will soon wash them all down with ship.

WEEK 2: People Power on the Green

People Power on the Green grew stronger as it entered its 14th day on Saturday, without any sign of abatement with people from all walks of life continuing to pour in to imbibe the sweet stirring spirit of freedom.

On Sunday night, ingenious protesters projected the nationwide cry ‘Gota Go Home’ on the old Parliament building, now the Presidential Secretariat, with bewildered security officials vainly trying to block the digital message from being emblazoned on the Presidential building.

By the time they managed to stop it by dragging a piece of plywood and placing it nearest to the light source, the protesters mission had already been achieved.

SUNDAY NITE LIGHT SHOW: Old Parliament all lit up for the night with protesters ‘signature cry’

One of the most touching moments of the week’s highlights was on Easter Sunday evening, when Buddhist monks, Muslim clergy and Hindu priests joined Catholic Fathers to celebrate Easter Mass on the Green with the crowd singing hymns in the background.

On Tuesday night, after receiving news of the Rambukkana shooting, the protesters gathered again to observe a two minute candlelit silence in respect of the fallen protester and in sympathy with those injured by police gunfire.

While the relay 24-hour fast continued unbroken, with a new personality taking the ‘Satyagraha’ torch from the previous bearer, a Buddhist monk, Rev. Thiripaha Sridharma Thera, sat down on Wednesday morning to begin a fast unto the death until the president and Prime Minister resign. He told TV news, ‘’I shall not end my fast until they both resign.’

On Thursday, the third anniversary of the Easter Sunday tragedy, a hundred Buddhist monks walked in procession, led by Omalpe Sobitha Thera to the Green to express their solidarity with the Catholic priests mourning the deaths of nearly 300 Lankan Catholic lives, and thereafter to partake in the sit-down almsgiving offered by the protesters.

In the afternoon hours, reminiscent of the sombre scene as recounted in the Gospels, of Jesus carrying the cross up a skull shaped hill called Golgotha to be crucified, a young man, an actor named Jehan Appuhamy, carrying a heavy wooden cross arrived at Gotagogama, after a three day walk bearing the cross all the way from Katuwapitiya’s  St. Sebastian Church, 35 miles away. Suffering from exhaustion, he was rushed to hospital shortly thereafter.

As the protest enters its third week this morn, it will be another day, another night for People Power on the Green.



Jayasumana’s COVID blunder even before warming his seat

NEW HEALTH MINISTER: Overturns COVID safety guideline

Heady, perhaps, by his sudden elevation as a ‘system change’ cabinet minister, Channa Jayasumana went beyond his health portfolio brief to make his maiden decision in office. Taking it upon himself to issue COVID health guidelines, he announced on Monday, shortly after he was sworn in, that it was no longer necessary to wear face masks in public places.

Apart from the controversy over the wisdom of this decision in the backdrop of mass crowds

at protests in the country, just who, in heaven’s name, did this Monday appointed Health Minister think he was when he issued his COVID health proclamation even before his ministerial chair had warmed to his weight?

Didn’t he know that it is only the Director General of the Health Service who has the exclusive legal right to issue health regulations? That it is not left to the Health Minister to recklessly rush to issue them and expose the public to danger by prematurely giving the all clear?

As a storm of protests developed over his rash announcement, Jayasumana tried to blow the clouds away by stating on Wednesday that it was not a political decision taken by him but one arrived at by the expert COVID committee. He said: “The Committee had taken the decision on April 3 to be implemented after the New Year. So, I announced it on April 19 when I assumed duties as the Minister. It is not a political decision.”

The issue, Mr. Minister, is not whether it was a political decision or not — though it certainly smacks as one — but of your right to overturn a COVID health guideline, even if recommended by the expert committee. It is only the Director General of Health who can issue it.

Three days later, the Director General on Thursday reinstated the mandatory face mask regulation, thus overturning the Health Minister’s decision. Director Medical Technology Services, Dr. Anver Hamdani said it was initially discussed at the technical committee but no decision was taken. However, this decision was announced in haste without proper consultation of the experts.”

New Health Minister Channa Jayasumana had exposed the Lankan public to the risk of COVID infection by his unauthorized, arbitrary and reckless announcement that it was safe to discard the protective mask. Does he take any responsibility for placing the people in peril and the nation in danger of another COVID wave?

The only system change, it seems, has been nothing more than a change of the same moonshine in new mugs.

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