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Friday December 9th, 2022

Hope that the country will go towards an inclusive nationalism

Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has discussed the island nation’s fuel crisis with the Russian President Vladimir Puti

ECONOMYNEXT – During the election campaign, the ruling party and its allies legitimized their call for a two-thirds majority in parliament on the basis that a change of constitution was needed to empower the future government. But there was limited information about what needed to be changed. The focus was on the 19th Amendment that shared power more equitably between the president and parliament, protected state institutions from political interference and banned dual citizens from contesting elections. There were also references to the need to do away with the 13th Amendment that devolved power to the provinces or at least abolish the devolved powers over police and land.

The government is now beginning to provide more information about its plans for a new constitution that would permanently alter the country’s political landscape. Minister of Justice Ali Sabry has said that the terms of Parliament and the President should be limited to five years, the number of terms of President be limited to two and appoint an expert committee to prepare a Constitution suitable to the country. Hopefully, this will be accompanied by the presentation of a process by which public opinion may be sought, as well as input from opposition political parties.

The history of constitutional change in Sri Lanka has been that a single political party obtaining a two-thirds majority has been a recipe for leaving all other parties out without taking their views into account. Thus, the 1972 constitution was drafted without taking into consideration the views put forward by the Tamil political parties. This led them to boycott the ratification process of the new constitution. The 1978 constitution too was drafted without input from the opposition parties and in the face of their opposition to its centrepiece, which was the executive presidency. The opposition parties described the presidency as the precursor to dictatorship.

Prioritised Community

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and First Lady Ioma worshipping Monks

Events after the promulgation of the new constitutions in 1972 and 1978 have demonstrated that the absence of consensus in formulating the country’s supreme law can be extremely costly in terms of the conflicts they contribute towards. A similar danger exists on this occasion too. The election campaign that led to the election of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in November 2019 was an extremely divisive one. This could be seen in the way that the electorate voted highlighting the ethnic and religious divides in the country. The threat posed by sections of the minority population to the sovereignty of the country and to the ethnic and religious majority in the aftermath of the 2019 Easter bombings led to a campaign that voting for President Rajapaksa was the last chance to save the country.

In his inaugural address after winning the presidency in November 2019, the President addressed this issue by saying that he had been voted into power by the ethnic and religious majority, but he committed himself to be the president of all. Much weight is being put today on this statesmanlike assertion. The general election campaign eight months later was less divisive due to the emergence of the Covid pandemic that took the primary place and affected all sections of the population in equal measure. The government’s decisive handling of the pandemic permitted the government to make significant inroads into the minority vote base. However, the theme of strong government being necessary to protect national sovereignty and the subordinate place of the ethnic and religious majority has continued to be a central one. President Rajapaksa’s policy statement to the new parliament at its inaugural sitting has reflected this reality.

The president was plainspoken in saying, “In accordance with the supreme Constitution of our country, I have pledged to protect the unitary status of the country and to protect and nurture the Buddha Sasana during my tenure. Accordingly, I have set up an advisory council comprising leading Buddhist monks to seek advice on governance. I have also established a Presidential Task Force to protect places of archaeological importance and to preserve our Buddhist heritage. While ensuring priority for Buddhism, it is now clear to the people that freedom of any citizen to practice the religion of his or her choice is better secured.”

A rebuttal to this statement of the president came the following day in parliament by former Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council and newly elected MP for Jaffna, C. V. Wigneswaran to who said, “My sole purpose in participating in this debate is to examine the effect the policy statement might have on the people of the North and East. There is no reference to the decades-old problems of the Tamil speaking denizens of the North and East. The North and East whilst being part of Sri Lanka are majority Tamil speaking. It would have been ideal if his Excellency would have had adopted a holistic attitude towards the island keeping in mind the necessity to view the problems of the periphery from the standpoint of subsidiarity.”

Inclusive Nationalism

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa getting a Hindu blessing alongside his Catholic wife Shiranthi

There is a concept of inclusive nationalism, in which everyone born within the boundaries of the country (regardless of race, religion, skin colour, language or culture) is accorded equal membership in the nation. The problem that the government will encounter is whether an inclusive Sri Lankan nationalism is possible when one ethnicity and religion is given priority. It will tend to alienate those who belong to other ethnicities and religions. The distinction between inclusive and exclusive nationalism is their attitude towards others. Exclusive nationalism centres upon the need to scapegoat others for the country’s social ills. This has happened time and time again in the past, most recently with the Muslims in the aftermath of the Easter bombings but also before.

In contrast, inclusive nationalism is consistent with the politics of compromise. Therefore, it is important that nationalism should be balanced by an emphasis on equality-based pluralism for citizens. Where people of different identities share a common space, the state needs to ensure there is equal rights, equal treatment and equal protection to all its citizens. This would mean, for instance, that a Tamil speaking citizen should be provided services in the Tamil language in any and all parts of the country. This would also be the case for Sinhala-speaking citizens in Tamil dominant areas of the North, East and hill country. Such a right would not be on account of Sri Lanka being a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual country, but rather by the need to provide equal treatment to all citizens.

In balancing the imperatives of collective nationalism with equality-based pluralism for citizens, the government needs to develop champions from within its ranks to bridge the gap in understanding and trust. There will be a need to promote values of a pluralistic, multi-ethnic and multi-religious society in which equal opportunities and equal protection are ensured through a framework of equal rights and equitable practices. This will need to be accompanied by trust-building between communities by setting up platforms for this to take place through enhancing and expanding the space for positive interaction and the dispelling of divisive and demonizing narratives of the other.

Whatever reservations that those from the minority communities might have had regarding the president’s policy statement, it was accepted by the parliament, including those representatives from the minority communities, without division. One of the sentences of the policy statement to parliament by President Rajapaksa was that “Our ardent desire is to build a prosperous nation with a productive citizen, contented family and a righteous society.” This is a sentiment that will resonate throughout the country and all sections of the people and needs to be actualised. (Colombo, August 25, 2020)

 

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Sri Lanka bond yields end higher, kerb dollar Rs370/371

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka bonds yields ended up and the T-bills eased on active trade on Friday, dealers said.

The US dollar was 370/371 rupees in the kerb.

“The bond rates went up, however more interest was seen in the short term bills by the investors” dealers said.

A bond maturing on 01.05.2024 closed at 31.90/32.20 percent on Friday, up from 31.25/70 percent at Thursday’s close.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2026 closed at 30.30/31.30 percent steady from 30.30/31.00 percent.

The three-month T-bills closed at 30.75/31.30 percent, down from 32.00/32.25 percent.

The Central Bank’s guidance peg for interbank transactions was at 363.18 rupees against the US dollar unchanged.

Commercial banks offered dollars for telegraphic transfers between 371.78 and 372.00 for small transactions, data showed.

Buying rates are between 361.78 – 362.00 rupees. (Colombo/Dec 09/2022)

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Foreign minister, US ambassador discuss future assistance to crisis-hit Sri Lanka

ECONOMYNEXT — In a meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Ali Sabry and US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung discussed ways in which the United States can continue to support Sri Lanka going forward, the Ambassador said.

Chung tweeted Friday December 09 afternoon that the two officials had reflected on the “twists and turns” of 2022, at the meeting.

Minister Sabry was recently in Washington D.C. where he US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

A foreign ministry statement said the two officials held productive discussions at the Department of State on December 02 on further elevating bilateral relations in diverse spheres, including the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations which will be marked in 2023.

Incidentally, Sri Lanka also celebrates the 75th anniversary of its independence from the British in 2023, and President Ranil Wickremesinghe has given himself and all parties that represent parliament a deadline to find a permanent solution to Sri Lanka’s decades-long ethnic issue.

The US has been vocal about Sri Lanka addressing concerns about its human rights record since the end of the civil war in 2009 and was a sponsor of the latest resolution on Sri Lanka passed by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Unlike previous resolutions, this year’s iteration makes specific reference to the country’s prevailing currency crisis and calls for investigations on corruption allegations.

In the lead up to the UNHRC sessions in Geneva, Minister Sabry Sri Lanka’s government under then new president Wickremesinghe does not want any confrontation with any international partner but will oppose any anti-constitutional move forced upon the country.

On the eve of the sessions on October 06, Sabry said countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, who led the UNHRC core group on Sri Lanka, are greatly influenced by domestic-level lobbying by pressure groups from the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora.

These pronouncements notwithstanding, the Wickremesnghe government has been making inroads to the West as well as India and Japan, eager to obtain their assistance in seeing Sri Lanka through the ongoing crisis.

The island nation has entered into a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for an extended fund facility of 2.9 billion dollars to be disbursed over a period of four years, subject to a successful debt restructure programme and structural reforms.

Much depends on whether or not China agrees to restructure Sri Lanka’s 7.4 billion dollar outstanding debt to the emerging superpower. Beijing’s apparent hesitance to go for a swift restructure prompted Tamil National Alliance MP Shanakiyan Rasamanickam to warn of possible “go home, China” protests in Colombo, similar to the wave of protests that forced the exit of former pro-China President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The TNA will be a key player in upcoming talks with the Wickremesinghe government on a solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic issue. (Colombo/Dec09/2022)

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India smogs out Sri Lanka’s China tower observers

 

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Chinese-built Lotus Tower has halved visitors to its observation deck an official said as dirty air flowing from India triggered air quality warnings and schools in the capital closed.

“Masks are mandatory at the observation deck and roughly around 50 to 60 can go up to the observation deck at a time, time limits have not been altered and still persists at 20 minutes for observation,” the official told EconomyNext.

Prior to the smog, 120 observers were permitted at once to the deck.

However, even after limitations the Lotus Tower has continued to draw visitors, and revenues are coming in, the official said.

The tower built with a Chinese loan by the cash rich Telecom Regulatory Commission has been described by critics as a white elephant that eats the money earned from telecom operators mainly as spectrum fees.

Sri Lanka’s National Building Research Organization (NBRO) said India air heavily polluted with particulate matter was flowing across the island into a depression in the South West Bengal Bay. (Colombo/Dec09/2022)

 

 

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