Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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The UNF loss and looking ahead

Posted by harimpeiris on December 4, 2019

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island on 04th December 2019)

Two weeks after Sri Lankans elected a new president and consequently also received a new prime minister and government, and it is time for the United National Party (UNP) to take stock of the situation, their new found but not entirely unfamiliar role as the main opposition party, and devise a strategy to be both a democratic opposition playing a vital role as a check and balance on the executive and eventually, five years hence a viable alternative government.

The first rather self-evident truth is that the electorate will not change its mind in a few months’ time, and accordingly the SLPP administration is guaranteed a win at the forthcoming parliamentary elections, early next year. In fact, the real challenge for the UNP would be to prevent the SLPP from securing a two-thirds majority in parliament, and thereby being able to effect constitutional reforms without consulting and accommodating multi-party views and multi-stakeholder interests. A nation’s Constitution is more than the supreme law of the land; it is a social compact between peoples and between the people and the state, which therefore requires a high degree of consensus and acceptance, especially in non-homogeneous societies. Accordingly, it is ideal if constitutional reform is affected with consensus. A feature of the now somewhat maligned 19th amendment being that it was passed in 2015 after significant debate, consultations and with near unanimity and with no opposition in parliament.

IMF mandated austerity and low GDP growth

The UNF government ended after a single term, a term in which it saw support slip away precipitously by mid-term. The February 2018 local government elections made that very clear. There was a surprising renaissance of sorts after the October 2018 constitutional putsch and the resultant very short lived UPFA administration, which was subsequently deemed ultra vires the constitution by the superior courts. However, the UNF, after the LG elections or after the October surprise, did not engage in any serious course correction. Resulting in a significant loss of voter support from 2015 to 2019, specifically from 52% to 42% of the national vote. In fact, a far greater voter decline than what the UPFA suffered for a similar period, which from 2010 to 2015 went down from 55% to 48% and two weeks ago, came back up strongly to 52% in the shape and form of the SLPP.

The defining economic aspect about the UNF’s period of office, was the austerity measures adopted under the IMF’s tutelage, which essentially saw taxes raised and cut backs not so much in welfare spending but in public investment, resulting in the approximate GDP growth under the UNF government ranging from a meagre 3.5% to a dismal 2.5%, this in the context Sri Lanka’s war time twenty year growth average being 5%. The belt tightening was only eased at the last moment by former Finance Minister Samaraweera’s various development programmes, but these obviously came too late to impact the grassroots before the elections. Around the world, the IMF mandated austerity programmes have caused popular discontent against generally liberal minded governments that implement them. Governments went to the IMF in the first place, because of belief and trust in their benign intent and policy prescriptions. The result of the high taxes and low growth UNF government is that we now have an SLPP government which was able to cut taxes immediately upon winning office, would likely kick out the IMF, be bailed out by China, albeit at a price, and to put it very mildly, be considerably less liberal than its predecessor.

Looking ahead for the UNP

It was Ambassador Javid Yusuf, who in his popular column in a leading Sunday broadsheet, argued essentially that the UNF should take a page out of the Rajapaksa script from 2015 and regroup and plan ahead for a comeback five years from now. To their credit, Sri Lanka’s premier political and now recently re-elected first family, made some adroit political moves over a five-year period to stage a comprehensive comeback in 2019, after their shock defeat in 2015. A new political party was formed, a leadership succession plan adopted to deal with the term limits barring PM Mahinda Rajapaksa from contesting the presidency. There was grassroot mobilization through the fledgling SLPP, still Sri Lanka’s newest and now ruling political party, but equally importantly also an organizing of political society around business circles, professionals and civil society through the Eliya and Viyath Maga organisations. Basically, the UNP would have to do much the same.

The rather obvious issue of reorganising the UNP first as a responsible and democratic opposition party and later to be a viable alternative government would be the leadership of the opposition. The UNP is led by the longest ever serving leader of a democratic political party and the longest serving party leader in the International Democratic Union (IDU), that international union of conservative parties to which the UNP belongs. Ranil Wickremesinghe has been leader of the UNP since 1994 or for twenty-five (25) years. In contrast the Conservative Party of the UK has had six (6) leaders during this time. Perhaps the UNP as part of its reforms should consider term limits for its own party leader. Perhaps a 15-year period or until two terms of elected office is over, whichever comes later. Sajith Premadasa played a bad hand really well, and picked up the UNP from the doldrums to a respectable 42%. This is seemingly why a vast majority of the UNP parliamentary group have written to the Speaker that they believe the UNP should be led both in parliament and in the country by Sajith Premadasa. This will eventually happen. The real question is when?

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Nation moving from hate to hope

Posted by harimpeiris on November 13, 2019

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Daily News on 12th November 2019)

As the presidential election campaign enters its final and concluding stage, with a salutary cooling off period of forty-eight hours before polling, the stage is set for a close contest, in which the undecided floating voter will be the deciding factor. The early favourite of the Rajapaksa nominee, demonstrated the limits of the SLPP’s message and politics. Term limits forced the Rajapaksas to not stand their star Mahinda, but proxy through Gotabaya, who while he energizes the base, is a polarizing figure with significant turnoff factor for many floating voters.

He is not designed to attract non Rajapaksa fans, in a way say, that a Chamal would for instance. Gotabaya has also been dodging interviews, press conferences and a presidential candidate debate due to his quick temper and insufficient grasp of policy nuances, which coupled with being a weak orator, is quite a drawback. His democracy deficit was on public display during the campaign.

The UNP on the other hand, broadened its appeal through resurrecting the National Democratic Front (NDF), declined nomination to a Prime Minister identified with non-delivery and fielded their most formidable candidate, Deputy and younger leader Sajith Premadasa. A hardworking and successful housing minister, untainted by corruption, nepotism or violence. All issues, on which the Rajapaksas have significant liability. Throughout this election campaign, the Rajapaksas and the SLPP campaigned against Ranil and a neo liberal agenda, leaving Sajith free to introduce himself to the country on his own terms and programme, a social justice and democracy platform for which the Rajapaksas had no answer. A candidate and message around which an electorate skeptical about the merits of a Rajapaksa return, have been coalescing.

The Rajapaksas lack a coherent economic message

On the economic front, the Rajapaksa campaign lacks a coherent message. Glossy ads and fancy slogans do not compensate for sound policy and good governance. The governance track record of Mahinda’s second term was disastrous with credible allegations of corruption, widespread nepotism, the pump and dump exploitation of the EPF, Chinese loans at high interest rates for white elephant projects and the decline of the rule of law, capped with sacking the chief justice. To all these issues, the answer given by the SLPP, with never an acknowledgement of any course correction or change, is that there will be military style discipline in the public sector and authoritarian decision making.

We are being offered a treatment worse than the malady, by purveyors who are a part of the problem. The biggest drawback in the Rajapaksas past economic performance was that it marginalized the poor and needy. The less fortunate did not benefit and there was no peace dividend for the vast majority. Resulting in the Rajapaksas losing the election in 2015, despite the same stale and empty slogans of saving the nation, we hear today.

Sajith challenges Mahinda on extremism and national security

The SLPP, its proxies, fellow travellers and allies have been running a campaign which is polarizing and hate mongering with barely disguised racism. This in a country, where the post war need is for reconciliation and unity, with justice and security, none of which is achieved through weakening democracy and dividing our people. This is a reality which even third-party candidate Anura Kumara Dissanayaka has been articulating resulting in an attack on the Rajapaksa ideology in a pincer movement.

Indicators are that a section of the JVP base will actually directly back Sajith in the ballot, even as the JVP has gone public requesting their voters to use their second preference to keep out the Rajapaksas.

However, late last week Sajith Premadasa wrote directly to the former president and now Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa regarding the fear mongering and politics of hate. Sajith Premadasa wrote thus “The greatest threat that I see to the unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty of our nation is a cabal of extremists, who will stop at nothing to terrify and divide our people just to consolidate their own power”. He directly charged that such extremists are in fact part of the political coalition which the Rajapaksas inspire and lead.

Sajith Premadasa pulls no punches in this last lap of the campaign as he writes to Mahinda and states “I refuse to be lectured on defending our sovereignty and constitution by a politician who only one year ago trampled our Supreme Law to seize power in an unconstitutional coup d’état”. He also reiterates his own commitment to the unity of the state, arguing that it was a pedantic exercise at best and deceptive at worst to try and distort his use of the term “ekiya rajaya” and “ekiyathwaya”. Similarly, in accordance with dialogue processes of the past decades, he commits to maximum devolution within an “ekiya rajaya”.

Democratic Tamil support verses ex-militants

The Rajapaksas, the SLPP and their allied media have sought to take issue over the support of the democratic Tamil political leadership of Sambanthan and Sumanthiran through the Illankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), as well as the rest of the TNA, to support the candidacy of Sajith Premadasa, as indeed the NDF’s candidate was successfully supported in 2015. While the SLPP sought to fear monger over this support, Sajith Premadasa raises pertinent questions to Mahinda thus “Your secret deals with Pilliyan, your secret deal with Vartharaja Perumal, your secret deal with Karunna Amman and MLAM Hisbulla”. Sajith Premadasa is backed by democratic Tamil leaders, while the SLPP is backed by lesser sterling characters with a dubious and violent past track record.

In conclusion Sajith Premadasa tells Mahinda as Gotabaya’s mentor, “I cannot fathom how a political leader of your maturity, who has witnessed the devastation wrought by endless ethnic strife, could continue sowing seeds of division and fanning flames of fear among the citizens you have sworn to protect, merely because of your pursuit of power”.

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Is Sajith slowly pulling ahead as Gota fails to gain traction?

Posted by harimpeiris on November 11, 2019

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Daily News & Groundviews on 08th November 2019)

The 2019 presidential election, rather predictably is shaping up politically, very similar to its precedent in 2015. On that occasion, the then ruling Rajapaksas’ sought an unprecedented third term and was rebuffed at the polls. In 2019, the Rajapaksas’ are essentially seeking a third term, with the personalities changed.

The message though from the Rajapaksa camp has not changed, only increased in intensity. The message that the Sinhala people are under threat both from within and without and require an authoritarian saviour.

Opposing this narrative, rather late in the day and though no fault of his own, is Sajith Premadasa, the charismatic relatively young deputy leader of the UNP, whose political task and challenge is to recreate the politics of 2015 in 2019, with himself as a new standard bearer and with a fresh political vision and message.

Sajith picking up momentum

Sajith Premadasa’s election rallies around the country have been well attended with enthusiastic crowds. Gota is certainly not outperforming Sajith in grassroots mobilization. It is however in the political discourse and in setting the political agenda, that Sajith has succeeded at seriously eroding Gota’s ability to define the issues. With a distinctive political message, which is resonating, Gotabaya has struggled to respond to Sajith. The SLPP sought to craft the campaign along ethno-social and security lines and on anti-incumbency. A campaign designed against Ranil.

However, Sajith came on the scene, adroitly co-opted Field Marshal Fonseka as his security buffer and anchor and took the charge to the Rajapaksa’s on their weakest wicket, that of governance and economic management. The Achilles heel of the Rajapaksa’s is that a sufficient number of Sinhala voters are unimpressed with their economic and political governance performance, especially in their second term. Now in all probability there is a clear anti-incumbency factor against the current government, but it is in recognition of this fact, that neither the current president nor prime minister are candidates for president, though both, right up to the nominations, sought it.

However, Sri Lanka has a sophisticated electorate which understands, that non-delivery is different from bad delivery. Would the swing voters of 2015, forget or ignore, the sacking of a chief justice, jailing your presidential election opponent, a respected army commander to boot, swinging maritime security to a private firm, white van abductions and rampant nepotism. Sajith while campaigning has successfully occupied the moral high ground. It is to his credit that he has reached the apex of the political ladder, as a main party candidate for president with very limited or no significant negatives as political demerits. This is likely to be reflected in the voting patterns of new, young and currently undecided voters, of whom there are many and who likely will be the deciding factor in this election.

The CBK leadership to an anti-Rajapaksa SLFP

The Elpitiya Pradeshiya Sabha election results last month, which seemingly warmed the cockles of SLPP insiders’ hearts should however to the contrary, raise a strong caution for them as well. It is very similar to the Monaragala district results of the Uva Provincial Council elections of October 2014, which the UPFA won and then went on to lose the presidency. There the UPFA polled 56%, about what it polled in Elpitiya and went on to lose the presidential election, though it won in the Monaragala District. For the Rajapaksas’ in 2015 and indeed in 2019, 56% of the Sinhala vote is insufficient to carry the country as a whole, when they exclusively target a mono ethnic Sinhala vote. Of equal importance is the 12% of the Elpitiya electorate which voted for the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

This hard core SLFP voter, clearly refused to heed the headlong dash of its parliamentary group towards the SLPP and vote Rajapaksa. It remains SLFP, left of center, socially conservative and likely much more attracted to a message of social and political democracy and justice than it is to the allures of the Chinese model of a national security state. It is to this constituency that former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga seeks to give leadership and direction. The prior decision of President Sirisena to remain neutral in the presidential election and not get on the political platform of Gotabaya Rajapaksa is also a tribute and credit to the political acumen and coalition building skills of Sajith Premadasa, who successfully weaned away Sirisena from supporting Gotabaya and subsequently also secured CBK’s overt support.

A political challenge for Gota

The political challenge for Gotabaya Rajapaksa is significant. The SLPP and the Rajapaksa campaign has struggled to extend its base beyond its core Sinhala nationalist constituency. The campaign and the candidate excites, energizes and creates passion among its core support base but is clearly struggling to reach beyond the Sinhala nationalist constituency.

An uninspiring orator and unfamiliar with policy nuances outside of security issues, he has failed to take up the challenge of a candidate’s debate with Sajith Premadasa, a feature in many democracies, including his second home of the USA. The SLPP is failing to sufficiently tap into the anti-incumbency sentiment of the electorate, both due to the association of Gotabaya with the worst excesses of the Rajapaksa regime’s past track record and also because contrary to expectations and miraculously, the UNP working committee accomplished the near impossible and nominated a fresh face, a younger but experienced leader and an authentic grass roots politician untainted by corruption and generally not associated as part of the inner circle of a less than sterling performance in governance during the past five years. Slowly but surely, support is coalescing around Sajith Premadasa.

The JVP are feeling the heat and recognizing that they are losing the floating voter to Sajith, hence their increased attempts to associate him with the current regime. But Sajith played his hand well during the past five years, furiously building houses throughout the country while making no attempt to be seen as close to Ranil. In fact, to the contrary he cleverly kept the required distance from the centre of power. Gota on the other hand needs to bask in his brother’s glory for his political legitimacy and that asset though is also his drawback.

Premadasa looking ahead and casting fresh vision, is slowly but surely consolidating and creating the ground for a surprising come from behind victory.

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Sajith resets the agenda on Sinhala nationalism

Posted by harimpeiris on October 26, 2019

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island on 26th October 2019)

Gotabaya Rajapaksa chose an opportune but inappropriate moment to announce his candidacy for the presidential elections, when in the immediate aftermath of the devastating Easter Sunday bombings, he announced his intention to contest for the presidency. From even before then the network of the organizations promoting his national politics, namely Viyath Maga and Eliya have been quite open about their agenda, that of national security and economic development, the latter along the Chinese agenda and model with high priced Chinese loans. The subtexts of this discourse have been generally anti-minority rhetoric, especially towards the Muslim community.

The UNP were very late entrants into the presidential elections and consequently into a national political discourse of its own. However, young Sajith Premadasa who finally secured the nomination of that grand old party has launched a campaign which seeks to reset the national political agenda. In doing so, he provides Sri Lanka and her voters, with a real choice, a genuine cross road at which the nation can travel in divergent directions.

No overt challenge to Sinhala nationalist dogma

Recognizing that the Rajapakses have been playing and upping the ante on ethnic Sinhala nationalism, Sajith Premadasa makes no attempt to challenge Sinhala nationalist dogma, but he seeks instead to coopt it and redefine it, in his way and style. This is a serious political attempt on his part through the UNP, similar though not identical, to what Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga attempted and succeeded in through the SLFP / PA twenty-five years ago. CBK however, had one and a half years to do it from the 1993 Southern Provincial Council elections through the 1994 presidential elections, Sajith Premadasa, has just one and a half months to do so. But he is gaining traction.

A Sinhala nationalism which is socially equitable and just

Sajith Premadasa, inspired and clearly grounded in the motivational ideology of his late father, has a driving focus on social democracy, justice and equity. He took to public housing, like a duck to water and has a personally impressive track record of deliverables in the past five years, which lay the foundation for a national economy that seeks to strengthen the social safety net, empower the less fortunate and spur the economic productivity and well being of the lower income segments of our society. An economic growth with equity that enhances and strengthens social justice. Sajith argues that this agenda is a crucial aspect of Sinhala nationalism, that a nationalism devoid of justice, equity and democracy, both social and political, actually weakens the Sinhala people and Sri Lanka. The seeds for this argument were actually laid by President Sirisena in 2015, though articulated differently and it may well be the winning argument in 2019 and beyond.

Along the same lines, the Gotabaya Rajapaksa campaign has some serious credibility issues on its development model. The people of Sri Lanka were clearly not impressed by the post war 2009-2014 economic program of the second Rajapaksa term. The Rajapaksa then and now made two arguments, Sinhala nationalism defined as patriotism, national security and sovereignty and economic development. If one accepts the rather self-evident truth, that Sinhala nationalism is alive and indeed thriving, we have to assume that the Rajapaksa lost the 2015 elections on the basis of economic policy and governance, the absence of a peace dividend in the south, the obvious nepotism and the widespread and credible allegations of corruption. With Gotabaya the people can well suspect they would receive more of the same.

A Sinhala nationalism which is inclusive and tolerant

Sajith Premadasa who unabashedly says he is a Sinhala Buddhist nationalist in all his public meetings and model village openings in the minority dominated Northern and Eastern provinces, defines his Sinhala Buddhist nationalism much more along the lines of the ancient Sinhala kings and kingdoms, who while promoting and developing Buddhism was tolerant and inclusive and created the space for a multi ethno religious society to flourish. It was Sinhala kings who enabled Muslim communities to trade freely and flourish in the Eastern Province and elsewhere, who enabled Joseph Vass to preach Christ in Sinhala villages and strengthen the Roman Catholic Church. Sinhala monarchs and monarchies, which understood then, what is surely even more true today, that no man or nation exists as an island alone, but in community with others, both within and without. This is the type, shape and form of nationalism which Sajith Premadasa seeks to define and articulate. Where after the Easter bombings his Ministry of Housing undertook to rebuild in full, the Tamil Pentecostal Zion church in Batticalo and then also visited all the attacked and damaged mosques in the North Western Province, with rebuilding funds, for those affected by organized pogroms. Terror attacks never justify pogroms against a community, not in July 1983 and not in April 2019. Sajith Premadasa understood and practiced that.

The Sinhala nationalist rhetoric emanating from the SLPP’s Pohotuwa campaigns, sounds sadly like its extremist Tamil counterpart rhetoric emanating from a Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam or the transnational government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE). In fact, in its exclusivist ethnic world view, its exclusion of others, its anti-Muslim tendencies and its polarizing effects, the extreme fringes of Sinhala and Tamil nationalism are eerily similar to each other. It is also similar to the extreme right wing, fascist political movements which gained power in Europe prior to the second world war II and whose political progeny are raising their heads if not making a come-back in some parts of Europe. The pre-war fascism of Francisco Franco in Spain, Benito Mussolini Italy and of course the Nazis in Germany. The results of Fascism were devastating for Europe and indeed for much of the world.

Sri Lanka on November 16th, will decide whether we want as a nation to have our own experiment with extreme right wing ethno-religious governance or traverse a different road of social democracy and economic justice and equity.

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Sajith and Gota – A study in contrasts

Posted by harimpeiris on October 15, 2019

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island on 14th October 2019)

Despite the long presidential ballot paper, the real contest for Sri Lanka’s highest office is between Cabinet Minister, Sajith Premadasa contesting from the UNP led National Democratic Front (NDF), under the swan symbol and his challenger from the opposition, former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, contesting from the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), under their symbol, the lotus bud. One of these two would be declared as the President elect of Sri Lanka on 17th November and take the oath of office shortly thereafter. The most interesting of the other also rans, is undoubtedly Anura Kumara Dissanayake, leader of the JVP, who can reasonably be expected to get approximately in the region of 5% to 6% of the popular vote, which the JVP has been polling nationally in recent times. The two main rival political camps in Sri Lanka, have produced two significantly different candidates, to harness their very different constituencies.

A young self-made leader vs the heir of a political dynasty

Sajith Premadasa is a self-made leader in many ways. Though the son of a former president, Sajith entered active politics after his late father’s assassination and not by being groomed by a presidential dad. Shortly thereafter the UNP went into a long period in opposition during the Kumaratunga presidency. Sajith eschewed the easy path of nursing his father’s pocket borough and established political base in Colombo city, believing correctly that this will remain with him and instead built from scratch his political base in rural Hambanthota’ s Sinhala villages, to launch the ultimate challenge to the Medamullane dynasty from Hambanthota itself. At the age of fifty-two (52) years, Sajith Premadasa is by Sri Lankan standards, a youthful presidential candidate and stands in contrast to his seventy (70) year old challenger. Clearly, two decades separate them.

Gotabaya by contrast is very much a creation of his brother’s presidency, best exemplified by the fact that he landed in Sri Lanka after, not before Mahinda won the election as President in 2005 and as recently confirmed by the Supreme Court, resumed his Sri Lankan dual citizenship post-election in 2005, under the hand of his presidential sibling. Gotabaya never nursed an electorate as an organizer, never sat in Cabinet with diverse multi ethnic colleagues, never engaged in democratic debate and discourse in Parliament or indeed elsewhere. Just exercised unchecked power in the shadow of a populist presidential sibling, in the context of a brutal civil war. Gotabaya has a serious democratic deficit, in process, practice and experience.

A squeaky-clean image vs a candidate busy defending himself

It was British peer, Lord Acton, who famously stated that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” and the results of Gotabaya’s wielding of absolute power, with no democratic accountability, for a decade, can be seen in the vast array of legal cases, charges and investigations, in which he was or is a defendant or an accused. The accusations and cases range from the Avant Garde cases and attendant issues to the murder of Lasantha Wickramatunga, the disappearance of Prageeth Ekneligoda and other human rights abuses, the Wickramatunga case pending in US courts. Gotabaya has a serious job to clear his name, especially on the substantive issues and not on a technicality.

Sajith, on the other hand, has had a squeaky-clean image. There have been neither allegations of corruption or rights abuses directed towards Sajith. Even his grassroots politics in Hambanthota and elsewhere, focus very much on the carrot rather than the stick and in what has been the downfall of many a politician in Sri Lanka, has avoided getting his family, relatives and wider clansmen associated with his political life and official duties. Even his campaign is run professionally by UNF leaders, while Gotabaya’s is very much a family affair on key decisions.

A message of hope as opposed to a message of fear or hate

It is however in the political messaging that the campaigns of Sajith Premadasa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, diverge and contrast most strongly. Sajith’s is a campaign of forward-looking optimism and hope, that is realistic in its self-criticism of the UNP’s very limited delivery of the past five years. In fact, the main reason why Sajith got the UNP’s presidential nomination ahead of party leader Ranil Wickramasinghe, was that the party had to lead its campaign, with somebody not closely related to the past five years track record. The confirmation and affirmation of the role of Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka at Sajith’s inaugural rally, both defined the experience and knowledge which would guide the nation’s national security, in the war ending army commander but also blunted and took away the monopoly on that issue which Gotabaya’s campaign tried to arrogate to themselves. Sajith defines a Sinhala nationalism which is confident of its place in the sun and is generous and accommodative in the traditions of the ancient Sinhala kings and kingdoms, which created the space and opportunity for a multi ethno-religious society to grow and thrive. Gotabaya’s message at its heart though, is one of the Sinhala people being under siege and requiring a strong and perhaps even an undemocratic leadership to protect them from their internal enemies. It is essentially a message which drives us apart, polarizes and creates a deeply divided society.

Economically Sajith’s message of social justice and helping those who need a helping hand, is both more socially democratic and equitable than the protectionist, rent seeking, economic populism of the Chinese model with high priced Chinese loans, which seems to be the model the Rajapaksas favour. Sajith has a short time to share his vision for the country. But as the 60% who did not vote for the SLPP’s Pohotuwa in 2018 or the 52% who voted for the NDF Swan in 2015 looks at the choice before them on November 16th, , the carefully crafted, centrist message of hope and renewal of Sajith Premadasa, stands in stark contrast to the alternative of a militarized, authoritarian Gotabaya rule.

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