An Echelon Media Company
Thursday August 18th, 2022

A leap of courage

Candidate Sajith Premadasa made a critically concise, piercingly persuasive statement on Thursday, just nine days before the final faceoff. 

“The common hope of the entire country is how to change this rotten, corrupt political and societal system”

He added “I will appoint a new, first-time Prime Minister who will be endorsed by the majority,” 

Why did he say what he said? This essay undertakes to comprehend what he said and to unravel the reasons why he said it.  

Having closed the gap between him and his main opponent he has no choice but to announce now what he must do anyhow if, and when, he wins. 

Clearly, he intends to make a quantum leap well past the 50% plus one by wooing the disenchanted segment that has gravitated to alternative candidates

At age 52, he is a world minded candidate. He has in the last fortnight closed the gap between him and his septuagenarian opponent whose primary purpose is to regain the family fiefdom.

Sajith has recognized the compelling logic of the ascension of the alternative candidacy of  Anura Kumara Dissanayake and the telling impact of two other candidates Mahesh Senanayaka and Ajantha Perera. 

Progressive voters are discerning voters. They now have a clear option of a second preference that appeases both ideology and the pragmatic imperative from which they have no escape unless saddled with some suicidal despair. 

It is startlingly straightforward statement. 

We have to change who holds power and how they hold power.  It has become clear to me that there is only one way for solving Sri Lanka’s problems. That is by clean up politics in this country while not sacrificing our cherished democracy and individual freedoms.”

“No Minister will be able to appoint family members to important positions.”

In his scathing sweep, the candidate propelled by an insurgency within the UNP,  has broken free from the dead weight of the anti-incumbency fatigue, ingrained in the public psyche,  linked to the dull as dishwater leadership of his party that has meandered through the last four and half years with some noteworthy achievements eclipsed by scandal and cronyism.   

With disarming disdain, he pronounced ““We have to change who holds power and how they hold power.” 

Politics rewards the liar, the coward and the egoistical. What politicians are good at is to put the past behind them and move on. 

There is a common denominator applicable to Mahinda Rajapaksa who ruled the country for a decade and Ranil Wickremesinghe who persistently tried to give his best shot at the job for a quarter century. It is their nonchalance and self-poise to put the past behind them and move on that keeps them going.   

The simplest and the easiest way to move on is to ignore the mistakes made and to convince yourself that you never made them. The younger brother of the affable tyrant is equally endowed with that spirit. 

Both Mahinda and Ranil are deliriously dexterous at obfuscation. They both excel in denial of any wrongdoing, even in the light of overwhelming evidence. 

The past four and half years is ample proof of how the two make believe adversaries played the system. 

It is a system that rewards duplicity and punishes decent behavior. 

Three decades of a horrendous conflict has had its toll on our politics. For too long, we have regarded blind self-confidence and boorish bluster as the single significant quality of leadership. 

We must consider Sajith’s statement in this context.  

At this point a confession is in order.

 I was extremely skeptical of his candidacy in this looming battle against a neo fascist family kleptocracy. They would spare no effort in regaining their stranglehold of a people petrified in ancient consecrated tribal prejudice. 

Ranil Wickremesinghe cynically avoided reforming the system. He paved way for a neo fascist candidate in the belief that democratic forces would coalesce around him. 

Like many others. I was ready to vote for one of the two alternative candidates who correctly and accurately identified the sizable constituency of weary citizens. We could exercise our franchise together with the frustrated curse -a plague on both houses. 

Since his official nomination, Sajith Premadasa has displayed great stamina as an effective campaigner. With surprising ease, he has succeeded in ridiculing the bombast of his opponent who now seems frozen within his undoubtedly substantial tribal base. 

After imperiously acknowledging ‘hurrahs’ from the stage Gotabaya delivers his lecture. In contrast, Sajith has the remarkable ability to talk to people.  While talking he gives the impression that he in fact is listening to them. He loves doing it and draws his energy from the people. 

Most politicians are trained to move through crowds smiling, holding hands. But the smile does not reach their eyes. Sajith Premadasa makes eye contact with the hoi polloi with genuine ease. 

As Victor Ivan has surmised, Sajith has wider nationwide coalition that transcends the usual political and ideological fault lines. 

Cutting across partisan politics, he commands a primary, structural relationship with the voiceless and the deprived. 

With the conspicuous exception of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, all other major candidates have pointed to the unforgivable socio-economic disparities in our society. 

As pointed out in my earlier essay – a centrist social compact, Sajith Premadasa has presented a manifesto that advocates a centrist policy program. It has an Eagle’s eye focus on social equity.

It is natural that the Rajapaksa family would not approach the subject of social equity. Royals don’t do that sort of rubbish. They will offer handouts. In any event they would approach this sensitive subject with some trepidation.

 The lavish nuptials of three offspring greeted with wild frenzy by adoring fans in the social media precludes them from an honest approach to the subject of opulence greeted with vague jealously or censored as downright vulgar.  

There are somethings that never change.  Some sixty years ago, the influential economist JK Galbraith dealt with this hypersensitive social malaise.  He was Kennedy’s hand-picked ambassador to Nehru’s India. 

His book ‘The Affluent Society’ excited my generation of progressives. We relished his catchy expression “private opulence amidst public squalor”. 

Galbraith was echoing the words of the Roman historian Sallust,  who said it in Latin about five centuries after Buddhism that has supposedly impacted our collective conscience.  

 “Habemus publice egestatem, privatim, opulentiam – We have luxury and avarice, but as a people poverty, and in private, opulence.” 

As I said earlier somethings don’t change. What characterized the late stages of the Roman republic seems to be what ails our republic today. 

We are now the subject of a tug-of-war between the Rajapaksa family, their followers and the rest still clinging on to sanity.   

The idea that the state has an obligation to assist the less privileged in terms of opportunity has acquired the sanctity of releveled truth.  That every citizen is entitled to the basic necessities of a modern society is guiding principle that is observed in breach even by despots who depend on elections.  

Even the most diehard champions of free marketeering as the means of creating wealth concede that, market competition invariably leaves a segment of our society behind. 

This presidential election will tell us the size of that left behind segment. However, one has to make allowance for the devout percentage who would attribute their deprivation to ‘karmic influence’. The clerical establishment cocooned in patronal politics has a vital role in the politics of poverty.  

A free market has an embedded mechanism that constantly threatens the poor.  Today poverty has become the focal point of our political discourse. Seventy-one years of politics of poverty has exposed the poverty of our politics. 

For too long the vulnerable and the marginal have been used as pawns in the chess game of the elite class. 

Those who evaluate candidates in the comfort of their self-satisfying world of schadenfreude will play the blame game. They will have difficulty in assigning the fault of being poor to the victims of an inherently imperfect system.  

We must remember that Sajith’s nomination was the result of a grassroots revolt against the elite leadership that has outlived its relevance and forfeited its integrity.   

Instead of playing the blame game, Sajith Premadasa has dived into the deep end to fight poverty, create jobs, increase wages and above all tackle income disparity. 

In his manifesto Sajith Premadasa, sums up his task in one simple line. He promises “A progressive country that leaves no one behind”. 

Political courage is the most admired, rarely displayed virtue in representative democracy. Sajith has made a leap of courage.  

It is a bold appeal to all progressive voters who have developed a bleak cynicism towards all politicians and the entire political process.  

With this unambiguous declaration of intent, he has earned the second preference of the progressive constituency whose first preference would be Anura Kumara or any other.  

Sajith has enabled them to be ideologically consistent and politically pragmatic. 

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Sri Lanka rupee, yields in govt securities slightly changed

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka Central Bank’s guidance peg for interbank transactions weakened on Thursday (18) and yields in Treasury bonds picked up slightly while in T-bill edged down in dull trade after the central bank kept key monetary policy rates steady, dealers said.

On Thursday, before the market opened, the central bank held its key policy rates steady at 15.50 percent, while data showed market interest rates are close to twice the rate of them while private credit and imports falling as a consequence.

The central bank is injecting 740 billion rupees of overnight money to banks at 15.50 percent, which were originally injected mostly after reserves were sold for imports (or debt repayments) to artificially keep down rates (sterilized interventions), effectively engaging in monetary financing of imports.

The injections (sterilizing outflows) prevent the credit system from adjusting to the outflows and encourage unsustainable credit without deposits, which is the core problem with soft-pegged central banks, triggering a high rate and an economic slowdown later.

A bond maturing on 01. 06. 2025 closed at 27.90/28.00 percent, slightly up from 27.75/90 percent on Wednesday.

The three-months bill closed at 28.30/29.25 percent, down from 29.25/30 percent on Wednesday.

Sri Lanka’s central bank announced a guidance peg for interbank transactions weakened by one cent to 360.97 rupees against the US dollar on Thursday from 360.96 rupees.

Data showed that commercial banks offered dollars for telegraphic transfers between 367.97 and 370.00 for small transactions.  (Colombo/ Aug 18/2022)

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Japan grants medical equipment worth 500-mn yen to Sri Lanka govt hospital

ECONOMYNEXT –  The  Japanese government has granted medical equipment worth 500 million Japanese yen to the Sri Jayawardenepura government hospital to improve the hospital’s treatment facilities under Japan’s Non-Project Grant Aid Programme.

A statement by the Department of External Resources said the grant was given in response to a request by Sri Lanka’s government.

Under the 500 million Japanese yen (approximately 1,265 million rupees) grant assistance, angio-CT machine, other radiology equipment, ophthalmic instruments, surgical instrument sets (stainless steel with satin finish), 15 dental units with accessories, liver transplant instrument sets, and a cardiac catheterization laboratory will be provided, a statement said on Thursday August 18.

Sri Lanka due to its worst economic crisis in its post-independence history is currently facing shortages of essential medicine, non-essential and lifesaving medicines pressuring the health sector to only attend to emergency cases to preserve available limited medicine stocks.

On Thursday at the policy rate announcement media briefing by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL), Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe said, with the strict measures taken in the recent past, Sri Lanka is currently managing the limited forex income coming into the country to purchase essential goods such as fuel and medicine.

Sri Lanka has received various grants from several countries including China and India which gave a 200 million US dollar credit line to purchase medicine from India.

In June, Minister of Health Keheliya Rambukwella said there is no shortage of vital medicines in the country and all medicines will be restocked by August 2022. However, shortages of medicine aer still being reported in various hospitals islandwide.

“This improvement at the hospital will facilitate the enhancement of the quality of the care provided especially to the patients with non-communicable diseases while enabling high quality medical professional training to medical undergraduates and postgraduates from the National School of Nursing at the aculty of Medical Sciences of the University of Sri Jayawardenepura,” the External Resources Department statement said.

“This project will eventually assist the development of human resources of the health sector in Sri Lanka,” it said. (Colombo/Aug18/2022)

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Sri Lanka immigration on the hunt for Scotswoman who documented protests

Kayleigh Fraser via @kayzfraser Instagram

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Immigration and Emigration Department is attempting to track down Kayleigh Fraser, the Scotswoman who documented the country’s anti government protests.

Fraser was ordered to leave the island on or before Monday August 15 after officials cancelled her visa. She and her lawyer had filed a writ petition against her deportation with the Supreme Court, which was dismissed on the grounds that she was not being deported deported, only had her visa cancelled.

“The learned State Council submits that the impugned document ‘X4’ is not a deportation order as claimed by the petitioner and she confirmed that no deportation order has been made up to date by the authorities against the petitioner,” a court document shared by Fraser said.

Immigration officials stated that the police and SSD were on the lookout for Fraser.

“Her visa was cancelled on August 15, so we are looking to put her in a detention camp until she can get a ticket to leave the country,” the official told EconomyNext, confirming that Fraser was not getting deported but that her visa was cancelled.

“Legally we cannot give her a grace period, but on a humanitarian basis, we can give her the time to get a ticket,” the official said.

Fraser had used her social media to share pictures and videos of the anti-government protests in front of the Presidential Secretariat, and has been vocal against state sanctioned violence against protestors.

“Given what I have witnessed here in Colombo – the chemical weapons attacks on protestors, the government instructing the military to beat and torture protestors, the arbitrary arrests and blackmailing of prominent faces from the protests, intimidation tactics and threats etc – I should not be surprised at what has happened today,” she said, speaking to the Daily Record, a Scottish tabloid.

There were no reports of chemical weapons being used against any protestors in Sri Lanka, and it is unclear whether Fraser was erroneously referring to tear gas which was used to disperse crowds.

Fraser also called out media channels who she claimed had attempted to misrepresent peaceful protests as violent.

“It became very clear to me early on that this was not being reported. There was no international coverage on what was happening, and the media here were very much trying to say that it was violent, but that is the absolute opposite of what I saw,” she said over social media.

“What I saw was a beautiful union [of people] coming together in absolute unity. It was a beautiful movement and I’ve never seen anything like that in my life and that kept me coming back.”

However, Sri Lanka’s authorities maintain that the arrests so far have been legal and that violence did occur on the part of some protestors, though activists and some civil society groups disagree. On May 09, after supporters of then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa launched an unprovoked attack on peaceful protestors in Colombo, a wave of retaliatory mob-violence erupted across the country which saw the residences of some parliamentarians torched to the ground. One government MP was killed.

Authorities say many of the arrests so far have been of protestors who had violated court orders or had illegally occupied government buildings.

Fraser continues to post on her social media. (Colombo/Aug18/2022)


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