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Monday April 22nd, 2024

Mangala steps away from Parliament, where will he go now?

ECONOMYNEXT – In Sri Lankan political terms Mangala Samaraweera has done the unthinkable. After being a major player in the break- up of the United National Party (UNP) and the creation of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), he has withdrawn his candidacy from the forthcoming parliamentary election.

The much-delayed and deeply troubled Poll is now hazily visible in the distance, although masked and gowned against COVID 19.

But a key figure in the pantheon of the country’s leading politicians, Samaraweera, will be absent.

Samaraweera did not announce his decision at a media conference but at an apparently carefully arranged meeting with long-time supporters, drawn from Local Government Councilors and activists at his ancestral home in Matara.

“Don’t vote for me at the election as I am leaving Parliamentary politics, but this is not a retirement from politics,” was his core message to the faithful delivered on June 9.

Many are asking why anyone would be in politics except to be in Parliament where the pay, the duty free permits, pensions and perks are there for the taking.

Before his announcement Samaraweera had paid a courtesy call on the SJB leadership.

SJB General-Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara told EconomyNext that Samaraweera made it clear to Sajith Premadasa that he was retiring from Parliamentary politics and “not joining anyone else.”

In his address to his supporters, Samaraweera slammed the door on a possibility of joining President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s administration.

“Many people, even those who used to vote for us, believed that Gotabaya Rajapaksa could build this country. But that has not happened, in six months he has undone the good work we did,” he said.

However the long standing relationship with Mahinda Rajapaksa is still at the top of his mind.

He told the gathering that he “entered politics to advance Human Rights and a free media during the period of terror in the 1980s. During that period Mahinda Rajapaksa and I started the Mothers’ Front here in Matara. After that we launched the Free Media Movement.”

He reminded the audience that he was the campaign manager for Mahinda Rajapaksa’s first Presidential campaign which was won by a whisker.

He said he parted ways with the current Prime Minister when he saw “Mahinda moving the Sri Lanka Freedom Party towards becoming fascistic and ultra-Right wing.”

He claimed to have sent a hand written letter to Mahinda warning him of the wrong direction the party was moving in and was sacked from the Cabinet of Ministers within a month.

Samaraweera also had a hand in another momentous happening in Sri Lanka’s political history. He was a prime mover in the breakup of the Ranil Wickremesinghe-led government in 2004 when President Chandrika Kumaratunga sacked several Ministers and then dissolved Parliament.

At that time the Sri Lankan government was backed by a powerful international coalition and was negotiating a contentious peace deal with the LTTE.

Kumaratunga’s precipitous actions torpedoed the peace efforts and led to a resurgence of Sinhala Right-Wing Nationalism which eventually brought Mahinda to power.

Samaraweera’s detractors say the main reason for him to give up Parliamentary politics is that there is every possibility that he could lose his seat, on August 5.

In the 2019 Presidential elections, the UNP-led NDF won less than 30 per cent of the votes, and even if incumbency eats into the massive majority the SLPP got that time, the SJB is not likely to win more than one seat.

That seat is likely to go to Buddhika Pathirana who beat Samaraweera in 2015 on preferential votes. Also snapping at the heels of the veteran are new and youthful politicians such as Chathura Galapatti and Reyhan Jayewickreme.

Samaraweera is a liberal democrat in every sense of the word and has not attempted to hide his sexual orientation. When former President Maithripala Sirisena used the word Butterfly – a Sinhala language euphemism for being gay – to describe him, Samaraweera’s riposte was that “it is better to be a Butterfly than a Leech.”

He has also, as an MP representing a mainly Sinhala Buddhist electorate been unafraid to call for reform in the Buddhist clergy. He has taken on Monks who are frequently interviewed by TV news channels calling them “Voice Cut” Theros.

Other politicians have not dared to address the subject fearing a backlash from the powerful Buddhist clergy that will seriously dent their chances of being elected.

It is no secret that Sajith Premadasa, the SJB leader, who has positioned himself as a Buddhist leader and been given awards and honorary positions in the Buddhists hierarchy is uncomfortable with what Samaraweera says about the Buddhist Clergy.

These attributes make him somewhat of a misfit in a conventional political party, a fact that he referred to in last week’s speech.

“If I go to Parliament I will have to join a party or a group and be confined. I want to be freer. There are many people in this country who want politics to be free of the parties” he said.

That opens up the tantalizing prospect of Samaraweera leading a Civil Action group that advocates for Human Rights and freedom of expression.

With his obvious oratorical skills, knowledge and wide range of connections he could become a real force as there are many young citizens in the country disgusted with the way politics is practiced and with the people in leadership.

So after 32-years Samaraweera will not seek the Matara seat again, although he does appear on the ballot paper.

It will certainly be a loss for the legislature, not having him in parliament.

But if he does emerge as a civil activist, he should infuse energy into the Rights community which has become fairly quiet since the Presidential election last November.

Last week he fired the first salvo, telling the meeting he detects a creeping militarization of the administration and comparing the Task Force to create a virtuous society to similar bodies in the Taliban government in Afghanistan.

He will be going back to his roots, which made him take to politics in the first place

(Colombo, June 14, 2020)




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IMF official: Sri Lanka’s road ahead is challenging, critical to keep up with reform momentum

ECONOMYNEXT –International Monetary Fund’s First Deputy Managing Director Gita Gopinath said Sri Lanka’s future with many reforms are challenging, but it is critical to keep up with the reform momentum.

Gopinath stated this after meeting the island nation’s State Finance Minister Shehan Semasinghe Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe, and Treasury Secretary Mahinda Siriwardena on the sideline of the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings in Washington.

“I commended them on hard-won economic gains in the past year. The road ahead is challenging and it’s critical to keep up with the reform momentum,” Gopinath wrote on her X platform.

Under IMF programme, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has implemented a raft of hard reforms including higher taxes.

Sri Lanka agreed to the IMF programme after it declared bankruptcy with sovereign debt default in April 2022.

Semasinghe after the meeting tanks Gopinath for acknowledging Sri Lanka’s economic progress.

“Our discussion was insightful and productive, and we appreciate the opportunity to delve into the challenges and opportunities ahead,” the State Finance minister said in his X platform.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to our reform agenda and eagerly anticipate continued collaboration with the IMF to advance our shared goals.”

Sri Lanka was compelled to go for IMF after the unprecedented economic crisis which was followed by a political crisis that ousted former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government who were legitimately elected.

The IMF programme has included reforms in state-owned enterprises, fiscal sector and financial sectors to ensure debt sustainability.

The global lender also has pledged its support to speed up the island nation’s lingering debt restructuring process with private creditors including sovereign bond holders. (Colombo/April 22/2021)

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Sri Lanka motor racing crash claims 7 lives, 4 critical

ECONOMYNEXT – A deadly accident at motor Race Sri Lanka’s hill country town of Diyathalawa has claimed at least 7 lives police said, after a racing vehicle, in the seasonal Fox Hill Super Cross ploughed in to spectators after running off the track.

Another 21 spectators were injured Sunday, and hospitalized and at least four were critical, police said.

Thousands of people come to watch the Fox Hill Super Cross race, which is usually held in April, as large numbers of people head to the cooler climes in the hills.

According to footage taken by spectators one car overturned on the side of the track.

Sri Lanka’s Newsfirst television said Marshalls were waving flags to caution other vehicles, when another car went off the track and crashed into spectators. (Colombo/April21/2024)

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Widespread support for Sri Lanka debt workout, reform progress at IMF/WB meet: Minister

ECONOMYNEXT – There was widespread support for Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring and acknowledgement of progress made under an International Monetary Fund program, at meeting of the fund and World Bank, State Minister for Finance Shehan Semasinghe said.

“The strides made in our economic recovery and financial stability have been acknowledged as significant advancements towards our country’s prosperity by our stakeholders and international partners,” Minister Semasinghe said in an (twitter) post after attending the meetings.

“Further, it was heartening to note the widespread appreciation and support for Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring process.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to reaching the restructuring targets and confident of smooth progress in the continued good-faith engagements for a speedy debt resolution that will ensure debt sustainability and comparability of debt treatment.”

Sri Lanka ended a first round of talks with sovereign bondholders in March without striking a deal but some agreement on the basis for a deal.

An initial deal with bilateral creditors have been reached, but they may be awaiting a deal with private creditors to sign formal agreements.

International partners have appreciated reforms made under President Ranil Wickremesinghe, Minister Semasinghe said.

“It was great to engage in productive bilateral discussions with all of whom appreciated the recent economic developments, progress in debt restructuring, strengthening of tax administration, and ongoing governance reforms,” he said.

Sri Lanka’s rupee has been allowed to re-appreciate by the central bank amid deflationary monetary policy, bringing tangible benefits to people in the form of lower energy and food prices, unlike in past IMF programs.

Electricity prices were cut as a strengthening currency helped reduce the cost of coal imports.

Related Sri Lanka central bank mainly responsible for electricity price cut

The currency appreciation has also allowed losses to the Employment Provident Fund imposed to be partially recouped, helping old workers near retirement, as well as raising disposable incomes of current wage earners on fixed salaries.

Related Sri Lanka EPF gets US$1.85bn in value back as central bank strengthens rupee

The IMF, which was set up after World War II to end devaluations seen in the 1930s after the Fed’s policy rate infected other key central banks, started to actively encourage depreciation after a change to its founding articles in 1978 (the Second Amendment).

The usefulness of money as a store of value, or a denominator of current and future values then decline, leading to loss of real savings, real wages and increases in social unrest.

Before that, members who devalued more than 10 percent after printing money for growth or any other reason, faced the threat of suspension from the organization as punishment.

Sri Lanka’s rupee has appreciated to around 300 to the US dollar now from 370 after a surrender rule was lifted in March 2023.

But there is no transparency on the basis that economic bureaucrats are allowing the currency to gain against the US dollar (the intervention currency of the central bank).

The rupee is currently under pressure, despite broadly prudent monetary policy, due to an ‘oversold position’ in the market after recent appreciation made importers and banks to run negative open positions as the usefulness of the currency as a denominator of future value declined with sudden strenghtening. (Colombo/Apr21/2024)

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