Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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The SJB and UNP defend independent institutions

Posted by harimpeiris on June 25, 2020

By Harim Peiris

(Published in The Island on 24th June 2020)

Former State Finance Minister, Eran Wickramaratne, at a Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) press conference recently, and UNP leader Ranil Wickramasinghe last week at a meeting of UNP lawyers at the party headquarters, staunchly defended the 19th Amendment to the constitution and independent institutions, even as the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) sought to achieve a two-thirds majority to amend the Constitution, at the upcoming general election. The political lines and governing philosophies are on open display during this election period as the governing party makes little secret of its desire to consolidate power and centralise control, even as all the opposition alliances and parties, namely the SJB led by Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa, its now estranged parent party the UNP and other opposition parties, such as the JVP, the TNA and the SLMC all staunchly defend the reforms brought about by the 19th Amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution.

Wickramaratne took particular issue at the public dressing down given to the Governor of the Central Bank and the monetary board recently, on the rather well-established grounds that Central Banks the world over are independent institutions, which govern monetary policy, independent of the executive, which manages fiscal policy. The independence of Central Banks, evolved in the post second world war era, as the global economy developed, financial markets became more complex and countries dropped the gold standard for their currencies and replaced it with the full faith and credit of the issuing state. The post dressing down solutions proposed by our Central Bank, of ever cheaper money or demand stimulation, as in the West, Wickramaratne contended may not work in Sri Lanka, where the bottlenecks are more likely on the production or supply side, rather than on the demand side.

The rationale for consultation and consensus

It was political theorist Lord Action, who famously wrote that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. While French political philosopher Montesquieu, articulated the principle of the separation of powers, which forms the bedrock of modern democratic governments the world over, namely the separation of the executive, legislative and judicial functions of the state. Closer to home, it was former President Ranasinghe Premadasa who on inaugurating his own all parties conference, argued that democratic governance was about “consultation, compromise and consensus”. A study of the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka and especially its practice over the past four decades since its introduction has demonstrated that Sri Lanka’s head of state and government enjoyed significant executive and discretionary powers, far in excess of those enjoyed by his or her peers than say even the British Prime Minister or the American President. Both these countries have second chambers, the House of Lords in the UK and the Senate in the US, with which the executive needs to work.

A particular peeve of the ruling SLPP has been the check on key state appointments by the Constitutional Council. This is a body that comprises the State’s key leaders, including the Prime Minister, the Speaker and the Leader of the Opposition as well as some eminent persons. Even in the United States, key Administration appointments, including even political appointments and judicial appointments, is with Senate ratification and some ratifications don’t occur.

The 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which was passed by consensus, barring a sole dissenter and all the leading lights of the SLPP being in Parliament as members of the then Joint Opposition (JO) and not opposing the same, seeks to bring about checks and balances to ensure that the President is accountable to parliament. It also depoliticised key state functions such as elections and police oversight. A basic objective of most constitutional orders. The efficacy of which was tested out in October 2018 and held up in Court.

The argument for centralizing control

The ruling SLPP and its fellow political travellers propose a further centralizing of state power, their argument being that what Sri Lanka lacks has been “strong” leadership. The argument of strong leadership, whether of the Hitler variety as proposed pre-election by some, is essentially the need for despotic absolute power so that every whim and fancy of a ruler could be done without any check or balance. Within that context, it is worth taking note of the two presidential task forces appointed recently, both headed by the Defence Secretary, one to safeguard archeological sites in the Eastern Province and the other to establish a disciplined society. Numerous commentators have dealt with at length on the various ramifications of the PTFs, the lack of clarity of their legal status and powers, not least being their chairperson himself, who felt obliged due to intense criticism by opposition political leaders to defend his PTFs arguing that they would seemingly be mostly advisory as opposed to executive and work with the relevant line ministries.

The SLPP government leaders seek to discredit the 19th Amendment by linking it to the absolute non-functioning and non-delivery of the previous Sirisena / Wickr-emesinghe Administration. But this non-delivery was a political problem and not a constitutional one. A problem of coalition governance and co-habitation of political allies, who mishandled being political competitors and became political opponents. This can always arise even in the future and even when it’s a single political party.

It is indeed well argued that since the 1978 Sri Lankan Constitution has given vast powers to our executive, that our political challenges, have been exacerbated by an over-centralization and consolidation of power in the executive and rather than by the absence of executive power and hence what is needed is less not greater centralization and at a minimum the retention of the 19th Amendment and the democratic reforms they introduced.

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Black Lives Matter: Sri Lankan Style

Posted by harimpeiris on June 15, 2020

By Harim Peiris

(Published in Groundviews on 13th June 2020)

A single death, triggers a worldwide conflict. In 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire was assassinated in Serbia and his death triggered the first world war, which resulted in over twenty million deaths, almost half of them military personnel.  The death of leaders triggering conflict is both more common and understandable, because they are national and state leaders and the affected states get activated. In the case of the Archduke, the Austro-Hungarian empire declared war on the Kingdom of Serbia. Over a hundred years later, a single death of an ordinary black man at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, triggers protest across the United States and spreads to being a worldwide protest movement against injustice. The spontaneous nature of the protests is all the more remarkable, because the incident occurred at the most inhospitable time for any public activity, namely the social distancing requirements of the Covid-19 global pandemic. Nonetheless, the death of George Floyd, caused by a white police officer kneeling nonchalantly on Mr. Floyd’s neck, one hand in his pocket with an arrogant, near sadistic look on his face, while Mr. Floyd, as well as bystanders pleaded with him that the man could not breath,  all of which was captured on phone cameras and subsequently beamed around the world, just struck a chord globally that there was something very wrong with that picture and the situation.

The Sri Lankan protests – FSP style

In Sri Lanka, the black lives matter protests earlier this week were not spontaneous, not least because we were just coming out of a lockdown. Also, because Sri Lankans don’t really take to the streets spontaneously. Our protests are almost always organized whether by trade unions, the government or the opposition. In this instance, it took the belated efforts of a minor party, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), to try and organize a protest in front of the US Embassy. Once courts block a protest at a specific venue on the basis of public nuisance or order, most protest organizers have taken to testing the grey area of the law, by shifting the venue of their protests and thereby claiming (with considerable merit) that they are not violating the order of court. This position generally holds good in a court of law, which of course is only proved upon production before a magistrate. The rather heavy-handed police response to the rather youthful and entirely peaceful protesters, resulted in the responsible police officers requiring quarantining, the unusual statement of support for the right of peace protests against it, by the US Embassy in Colombo and even a protest from the young Namal Rajapakse, mindful that a parliamentary election campaign is just beginning and the youth vote is an important demographic voter segment.

The systemic nature of the offence

The death of George Floyd, was not an isolated incident done by a rogue officer or officers, but the latest in a long list of black people, mostly adult black males, who meet violent death at the hands of law enforcement in the United States. While policing, except for the FBI, is a local and state responsibility in the United States, the head of the US military, General Mark Milley said that he was outraged at the “senseless and brutal killing” of George Floyd and further stated that “the protests that have ensued not only speak to his killing but also for centuries of injustice toward African Americans”.

The incident has also sparked a renewed national debate in the United States, about racial injustice and the centuries of oppression of African Americans, the legacy of slavery and the unfinished tasks of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. It has also sparked debate in other countries, where conservative majorities, largely unaffected by past injustice have refused to engage in any meaningful conversations on such issues. Such as in Australia, where Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently apologized for stating that Australia had no slavery in its past and where the black lives matter protests also have the local twist of better treatment for Australia’s indigenous people. One notable feature about the protests have been the ability of democratic political systems and societies to absorb the pressure and engage in some meaningful dialogue already yielding some symbolic fruit. In the US, confederate and pro slavery symbols and statues, especially in the southern states, have been coming down, the National Football League (NFL) reversed its earlier decision and allowed players to kneel in protest, during the singing of the national anthem and most importantly perhaps the concession that the problem exists.

The other aspect of the protests has been to highlight the role of social media and the smart phone in disintermediating the news and information industry. The murder of George Floyd was captured on video by bystanders, storefront CCTV cameras provides further information and social media allows activists and citizens to communicate, discuss and share ideas, views and plans instantly and in a manner unthinkable before the smartphone. It also makes managing the narrative that much harder for political leaders, who now compete in the information space, rather than monopolize it. A feature that was strongly experienced in Sri Lanka during the 2015 presidential election, when the then challenger was crowded out by the formal media in favor of the larger than life incumbent, only to be carried through to victory, aided not least, by social media.

Ending impunity

The protests sweeping across the United States, has also resulted in some immediate policing reforms including the attempts to establish national standards for recruiting and training police personnel, as well as making illegal the chock holds and other uses of potentially deadly force against unarmed suspects. Minnesota State’s Attorney General Keith Ellison has already charged the four officers concerned with second degree murder and aiding and abetting that murder.

Sri Lanka, also witnessed our own dealing of killings done in uniform. At the start of our lockdown Army Staff Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake, the perpetrator of the “Mirisuvil massacre” in 2000, who was found guilty by the High Court after a thirteen year trial and whose appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court, received a presidential pardon, under the seeming rationale that if you wear a uniform, you can do no wrong. A thesis which is now being popularly debunked globally. It is perhaps the counter-argument once made by former Army Commander Mahesh Senanayake and indeed others, that killers in uniform are a disgrace to their service and must be held accountable for their criminal conduct, which will uphold the dignity of the service and justice of the nation they represent.

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The Challenge of the Second Decade of Post War Reconciliation

Posted by harimpeiris on May 27, 2020

By Harim Peiris

(Published in Groundviews on 27th May 2020)

May 19th 2020, marked the eleventh year of the end of the fighting in Sri Lanka’s civil war. A protracted long drawn out conflict, which when it ended in 2009 was the world’s second longest running civil conflict after Lebanon’s. As a nation as we enter the second decade after the end of the war, there is a need to continue the process of reconciliation, which made slow progress during the first decade after the war. There is a continuing need to address both the effects and the causes of the war, to ensure a durable and just peace as well as heal the ethnic polarizations in our society.

The effects of the conflict are still around and visible, mostly in the Northern Province and the Vanni, much more than in the Eastern province. Especially in the districts of Killinochchi and Mullaitivu which bore the brunt of the fighting and the scene of the final existential battles of the LTTE. In the first decade after the war, the former Rajapaksa Government, rapidly rebuilt the physical infrastructure, especially the roads and government administrative buildings and structures, while its successor, the Sirisena / Wickramasinghe Administration followed up with land release, smaller scale community infrastructure and perhaps most importantly opening up and creating the space for civil society and the non-governmental sector to address the needs of the conflict affected. Especially those of the most vulnerable sectors of those communities, women and children, the war widows, the orphans and the injured, including many suffering from post-traumatic stress and other mental distress. A generous Indian housing project, granting as aid not loans, fifty thousand housing units, ensured that housing stock in the North and East was also rebuilt. However, as yet an unaddressed and continuing post war need, is the sustainable livelihoods for women headed households as well as rehabilitated ex-combatants.

The challenge of reconciliation under the SLPP

The election of the first Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) administration in November last year and the foregone conclusion of a comfortable victory for the SLPP, in the forthcoming parliamentary elections, once the Covid-19 threat in epidemic proportions is over, means that reconciliation for the next five years is going to be under the policy framework of the SLPP. While there has been no clear articulation of a reconciliation policy by the administration, the statements by the Foreign Minister at the UNHRC at the end of February, the appointment of ideological hardliners to key positions in the Administration among other insights into thinking demonstrate at the minimum, that the Government elected solely on the votes of the majority ethno-religious community, is disinclined at best to move forward a process of reconciliation or the famous home grown solutions it refers to with international audiences.

This absence of a drive for reconciliation, at the high levels of the new government means that reconciliation would need to be advanced through other actors and stakeholders, including minority political leaders, provincial and local government institutions, community leaders and civil society. Where ever Sri Lanka has done well, be it in the apparel or IT industry or cricket, we have done well with minimum government involvement and progress has generally stalled once politicians got involved. It is also useful to learn of reconciliation processes of non-western and non-European experiences, particularly from Africa like Rwanda and South Africa and even from South America, like in Colombia, all countries which suffered political violence, loss of life and property and collective community trauma.

In that context, the abysmal non performance of the first TNA controlled Northern Provincial Council was both a disappointment and complete let down for the Tamil people of the Northern Province. Led by former supreme court Justice CV Wigneswaran, his administration seemed inept and incompetent. In it’s first year, it even had to return money sent from the center for projects due to non-completion and subsequently only refrained from doing so, by diverting the funds elsewhere in a manner which stretched Government financial regulations. It ended its term in internecine squabbles, where the ITAK resigned from his administration and the Chief Minister ended up in court over his provincial ministerial appointments.  On the contrary, the performance of the SLMC-TNA Coalition Administration in the Eastern Province under an SLMC business minded chief minister, performed much better. The provincial administration, assisted in resettlement, worked in harmony with the center and generally managed the delicate Tamil-Muslim relations in the East in a manner which makes another joint SLMC-TNA provincial administration in that province, a distinct possibility.

Having a go at M.A. Sumanthiran  

With parliamentary elections called and the date pending a Supreme Court determination, the preference vote battle in the Jaffna District heated up and distinctly discarded the Queensbury rules, when the political competitors of the former Jaffna District Parliamentarian, president’s counsel and TNA Spokesman, MA Sumanthiran launched an unprecedented personal and political attack against him. Their weapon of choice was comments Sumanthiran had made in a Sinhala language interview, “Truth with Chamuditha” and specifically his reiteration that he never accepted or condoned armed struggle as a political project. An overarching well known pacifist philosophy, he subscribes to, is best known by its global champion from our region, India’s founding father, Mahatma Gandhi, after whom it is named, as Gandhian non violence philosophy.

There were strange comments in social media, that Sumanthiran and the TNA had achieved nothing through eleven years of democratic politics. This from clear LTTE sympathizers, who are never willing to honestly explore what exactly the Tamil people achieved through twenty-five years of the armed struggle. An armed struggle whose self-harm to the Tamil community included, the conscription of their children as child soldiers, universally accepted as an international war crime and the political murders of Tamil democratic political leaders like Alfred Duraiappa, Appaapilai Amirthalingam, Neelan Tiruchelvam, Sam Thambimutthu and Joseph Pararajasingham, who never actually opposed the LTTE, but either did not dance to their tune or were competitors for political power. Certainly, the Tamil community had made no strategic gains, when the LTTE’s armed struggle ended. Indeed, the LTTE were left with few friends internationally and banned in most countries of the world.

Suren Surendiran, the de facto head and articulate spokesman for the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), best sums up a most rationale and principled approach in this manner. Writing to the Colombo Telegraph on May 26th, he states “More than a decade has passed since the war ended, and the Tamil community must embark upon honest self- reflection and learn valuable lessons from its successes and failures of the past. In this journey inclusivity of different political viewpoints is fundamental”. Surendiran begins his essay with the observation that resolving the issues of the Tamil people, requires engagement with the Sinhala and Muslim communities and endorses Sumanthiran thus “We always found Sumanthiran highly knowledgeable, articulate, hard working and honest and we reiterate our utmost confidence in him”.

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The fight against Covid-19 should not weaken the rule of law

Posted by harimpeiris on May 13, 2020

By Harim Peiris

(Published in Groundviews on 13th May 2020)

The Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant shutdown of social and community life has meant that the political debate and dialogue in Sri Lanka, has moved from more traditional forms of communications, to exclusively electronic and especially social media platforms. Of these, the electronic media’s reach is universal in Sri Lanka, with almost every one of Sri Lanka’s four million households either owning a TV set or having ready access to one, though not entirely being news and current affairs TV junkies. However, phone penetration in Sri Lanka is also nearly universal, our twenty million people accounting for more than twenty-one million phone connections and the resultant internet penetration through mobile devises is also likely to be quite high, at least for the use of basic data applications like Whatsapp. The effectiveness of electronic and social media exclusively for the nation’s political dialogue has been tested during the past two months and has shown some ability to communicate ideas with political traction within society.

This is unsurprising because social media provide very effective in both the 2015 and the 2019 presidential elections. In the 2015 election, the unsuccessful Mahinda Rajapakse campaign dominated every form of media space and coverage except for social media, which was the only level playing field by its very nature and which was largely supportive of the ultimately successful Maithripala Sirisena challenge to the then Rajapakse Administration. Similarly, in the run up to the 2019 presidential election, social media was dominated by sentiments supportive of the successful candidacy of the ultimate winner in that election. More recently though with Parliament dissolved on March 2nd 2020, the opposition has had to rely solely on electronic and social media and to their credit, despite the obvious and natural national pre-occupation with preventing the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic within the country, socio-political issues have been raised in the electronic and social media and effectively championed.

The most obvious and dominant issue is unsurprisingly, regarding the now dissolved parliament, the re-summoning of which, the Opposition has championed entirely via the electronic and social media. That this pressure was being felt at the highest levels, was demonstrated by the fact that the President felt obliged to do a media interview and explain his reasons for not doing so. The Prime Minister followed with his own concession in that regard, by summoning all two hundred and twenty five members of the 8th Parliament of Sri Lanka for a meeting at Temple Trees, which olive leaf was only grasped by the Tamil National Alliance, its parliamentarians coming from all parts of the North and East for the meeting and following up the same at the PM’s request with another meeting later the same day at his residence. The other political parties, including the main opposition SJB, the UNP and the JVP all boycotted the meeting.

The corollary of that issue has been the date of holding, parliamentary elections, the opposition claiming with considerable merit, that a free and fair election is not currently possible under Covid-19 preventive social distancing measures. Moreover, the period of not having a functioning legislature is exceeding the maximum period of three months and is, prima facie a violation of the Constitution of Sri Lanka. The constitutional arguments are due to be argued in the most appropriate and effective forum for the same, the Supreme Court of the Republic, with leave to proceed granted to petitioners, including Mr. Ranjith Maduma Bandara, General Secretary of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) led by Opposition Leader, Sajith Premadasa and former Ministers Patali Champika Ranawaka and Kumara Welgama, the latter two filing a joint petition. Support for the petitions and oral arguments are scheduled to be made next week on the 18th and 19th of May. In an interesting development, in recognition of the independence of the Election Commission and its own conflict of interests, the Attorney General has informed the Supreme Court, that the AG’s Department cannot appear for the Election Commission in the said case, resulting in the Commission having to retain private counsel. This also highlights the inherent conflict of interests which arises from the Attorney General (AG) being simultaneously the chief law officer of the State and the chief legal advisor to the Government, often interpreted and practiced by AGs, as being the chief legal advisor to the executive. It is pertinent to note that during the October 2018 constitutional crisis when Speaker Karu Jayasuriya wrote to the then Attorney General seeking his views on the legality of the President’s actions in dissolving parliament before four and a half years of its five year term had been completed, that the then Attorney General declined to advise the Speaker. Similarly, it is quite likely that in Court, the Attorney General on behalf of the Head of Government and the Election Commission may take divergent positions regarding the issues.

The rule of law argument for Sri Lanka is quite simple. We are politically, a functioning if somewhat challenged democratic society. Our democratic norms and freedoms are important to who we are as a nation state. The fight against Covid-19 cannot and indeed should not be permitted to be a rationale for a weakening of our democratic norms and freedoms. The most successful fights against the spread of the Corona virus has been by democratic states and its opposite, namely authoritarianism, lack of transparency and limited government accountability, such as in China has actually exacerbated the crisis. The Sri Lankan State needs all the three arms of the state, namely the executive, the judiciary and the legislature functioning to ensure that we are a society governed by law or a civilized nation under the rule of law.  The executive arm of government, in any nation always finds being held accountable to a legislature to be somewhat of an irritant but it is a staple in any civilized society, except in absolute monarchies of which there are now, only a handful in the world.

It is rather obvious that the election to the ninth Parliament of Sri Lanka, also needs to be held in a manner that does not endanger the public health. The constitutional and legal arguments in that regard would be made and heard in the apex court of Sri Lanka next week. But Sri Lanka in its fight against the spread of Covid-19 cannot and should not weaken the rule of law and / or its democratic rights and freedoms. It is unnecessary and very unwise to do so.

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Reconvening Parliament as polls postponed

Posted by harimpeiris on April 27, 2020

By Harim Peiris

(Published in Groundviews on 27th April 2020)

Even for a country that coped with and ended a near thirty year long civil war, the Covid-19 pandemic has posed an unprecedented challenge, not merely in the area of public health, but also economically of a magnitude that has the potential to cause significant social upheaval. The backbone of Sri Lanka’s economy has been our expatriate worker remittances, tourism and the apparel industry. The global nature of the Covid-19 epidemic, styled a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), would mean that even after an end to the lock downs not just in Sri Lanka, but also in host countries for our expatriate workers, tourist originating nations and the apparel markets of the USA and the EU, the continuation of social distancing guidelines, virus spread mitigating measures and economic disruption may well cause these industries to not pick up to levels seen in prior years, at least for quite a while. This means serious economic pain and unemployment in Sri Lanka, resulting in social tensions.

As April 25th, the scheduled date for the parliamentary elections, declared with the proclamation dissolving parliament, came and went, the Elections Commission provisionally differed the election to 20th June 2020 and giving every indicator that public health authorities and the Covid-19 pandemic situation rather than any other factor would determine the date of holding the election.  In that context, a looming constitutional conundrum has arisen, as pointed out, late last month, by the Elections Commission to the Secretary to the President. In those now well-known missives, the independent Elections Commission (EC)  brought to the attention of the Secretary to the President, that relevant legislation required that Parliament must be convened three months after dissolution, i.e. by 2nd June, subsequent to the 2nd of March dissolution and the public health situation did not permit the conduct of a parliamentary election before this date. The EC recommended seeking the opinion of the Supreme Court regarding the situation. Even as this article is being penned, there are attempts at persuading the government to withdraw the gazette, which prematurely dissolved parliament and to reconvene the same, to enable all the three arms of the Sri Lankan State, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, to function effectively to create a unified non-partisan national response to a truly national, apolitical public health and economic challenge. The constitutional and legal provisions of the arguments regarding the dissolution of parliament, the absence of an approved budget, the violation of the approved debt ceiling, amid other legal issues could be better discussed in a different forum and may well end up decided by the Superior Courts, as indeed the constitutional issues of the October 2018 constitutional revolution was decided and resolved judicially.

However, this article seeks to examine some of the public policy and governance, as opposed to the legal issues, arising from the premature dissolution of parliament and the absence of a functioning legislature during this period of the national fight against the Covid-19. Firstly history, political science and common sense teaches us that facing a common enemy is best done in a united manner, as a common front and together, rather than divided, in factions and in a polarized manner. Accordingly, it would be wise for the government to seek to include the opposition parties and create some bi-partisan consensus on dealing with this very non-political public health issue and its economic and social fall out. A process best done in through the august assembly of Parliament.

On the contrary, the SLPP Administration, having recently won an election in November last year and with every confidence of winning the forthcoming parliamentary election, perceives little or no need for either any opposition cooperation or support. There is little love lost or trust reposed in their political opponents. When the idea of re-summoning parliament and seeking to extend the vote on account, if not pass a budget and other measures aimed at regularizing public finance beyond end April 2020, were first mooted, there were concerns in the highest echelons of the Government, that its minority status in parliament would make it vulnerable when seeking parliamentary approval and possibly open it up to defeat on a money bill and be ousted from office in the legislature. The SLPP had not forgotten the lessons of October 2018, where its minority Administration, sworn in by then President Sirisena, twice consecutively lost motions of no confidence in Parliament.

Avoid politicization and rights violations

Opinion surveys, Sri Lanka’s substitute for statistically accurate opinion polls supposedly shows very high approval ratings for the government’s response to the covid-19 epidemic. In fact, this is unsurprising, since the social distancing measures via a currently five week and increasing curfew has indeed been “flattening our curve” and the only real criticism of the government is that it dissolved parliament despite the looming virus pandemic and delayed the start of the fight against Covid-19 by quite a bit to accommodate the dissolution of parliament and the acceptance of nominations for the general elections on 19th March, with the curfew being declared the very next day on the 20th.  The question being asked from government leaders around the world, is also relevant in Sri Lanka, which is why were not these measures taken earlier, when the pandemic warnings were clear to national authorities, though not to the general public.

Leader of the Opposition and Samagi Jana Balawegaya leader Sajith Premadasa has called on the government to not politicize the distribution of relief supplies, including the Rupees five thousand relief payment to needy families, resulting from the fact that local government politicians mostly from the governing SLPP have been included in the committees nominated to decide on beneficiaries. A hitherto unheard-of practice in the distribution of relief supplies from the Government in times of national emergency. This in a situation where to the contrary, the opposition Tamil National Alliance (TNA) controlled local councils in the North have been prevented by the Government through the Governor, in even using their own funds to provide relief for their constituencies. A measure that has been widely criticized in the North. Additionally, the Opposition has raised issue about the alleged harassment of social media activists and the detention of an Attorney at Law amid alleged serious due process lapses on the part of the relevant authorities.  These are issues best avoided when facing a crucial national challenge. One in which we are all better served, if we face it together, to more effectively deal with the issues. The approach in international diplomacy and global problem solving of consultation, cooperation and collaboration, would just as effectively serve us domestically as well as internationally.

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