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Tuesday February 27th, 2024

Opinion: An All Women Party mooted to break into male-dominated politics

ECONOMYNEXT – Though it is eighty-nine years since the first Sri Lankan woman, Adeline Molamure entered the State Legislature, then known as the State Council of Ceylon, the number of women contestants at national-level elections and elected to parliament continue to be dismally low.

Like most other Sri Lankan women in politics, Adeline too entered the State Council on the death of her father, J H Meedeniya Adigar, whose seat she contested and won in 1931. Soon after, when Dr Ratnajoti Saravanamuttu, who was elected to the Colombo North seat, was disqualified when a judge found him guilty of corrupt practices, his wife, Naysum Saravanmuttu contested and won that seat.

Since then, there have been at least one or two women in parliament, many taking over a seat of a deceased male family member, though some, such as Doreen Wickremasinghe and Vivienne Goonawardena were women who played pioneering roles in leftist politics in Sri Lanka and were elected on their own steam.

Sri Lanka produced the world’s first Prime Minister sixty years ago, though Sirima (usually referred to as Sirimavo) Bandaranaike, too came by that honour when she was elected to lead the Sri Lanka Freedom Party,(SLFP) founded by her husband, S W R D, who was shot dead in 1959.  He was the Prime Minister at that time.

As Sri Lanka gears up to electing members to the ninth parliament on August 5th, it is indeed disappointing that once again, the main political parties have failed to nominate more women contestants.  Between the Sri Lanka Podujana Party  (SLPP), which includes the SLFP, the United National Party (UNP), Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), which is made up of several political parties, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) led alliance the National People’s Power (NPP),  and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) across 22 Districts, only 24 women are being fielded.  Indeed, most of the less popular political parties and independent groups seem to have been able to include more women to run for election.

For the first time in Sri Lanka’s election history, a 25% quota was set aside for women at the Local Government poll held in 2018, though no such allocation has been made for either provincial or parliamentary elections.  Nevertheless, it is no excuse that amongst the 7000 odd contestants in this parliamentary poll that the more popular political parties have seen it fit to nominate only 24 women between them.   A few women have been named to the national lists of the parties, though that is no guarantee of a seat in Parliament.

In fact, since 2004, there have been only 13 women, both elected and nominated in Parliament, to date.

As Dr Sepali Kottegoda, Director Programmes, Women and Media Collective claims, it is clear that political parties are duplicitous in their commitment to ensuring gender equality.   While pointing out the 25% allocation was seen as a key factor towards establishing gender equality on the political stage, she asks whether it is always the onus on women’s organisations to keep pushing for parity at all levels. “Even the Samagi Jana Balawegaya which has unveiled separate plans for the empowerment of women, and even talks of women’s menstrual hygiene has failed to put more women on its list of contestants.  Where is the democracy and where is the commitment? There is not even a pretence to include women, it’s more or less telling women they are not needed.   It is a damning indictment of the parties, which are of course all male-led!”

The quota for the local government election perhaps gave women a false sense of hope that political parties would automatically include more women in their lists for the parliamentary poll.  Women’s Rights activist Sumika Perera points out that the main political parties in her home town of Kurunegala have failed to nominate even a single woman.

There should have been no expectations on the part of the women, that equal representation of gender would be adopted by the parties.  “While we can no longer, under these circumstances, even push the “Vote for Her’ slogan, we now realise that we should have been extremely vigilant during nominations and ensured more women were included in the lists,’ she says.

Was it patriarchy that caused Mangaleshwari Shankar contesting through the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai  Pulikal (TMVP), to be shut out of the TNA list in Batticaloa?  Though none of her family members have been politicians, they take a keen interest in politics.  Unlike most others who refuse to let women in their families contest, using tradition and culture as an excuse, Mangala had the encouragement of family and friends.   A lawyer, with several years’ experience working for Transparency  Sri Lanka, the National Peace Council and similar human rights organisations, she had applied to contest through TNA and has no idea why she was excluded.

Here’s a woman who could bring her vast experience of working with war widows and female-headed households,  who has a vision of economic empowerment of women, being denied a chance to contest through the more popular TNA.   “It is baffling,” she says.  Sixteen of the 17 contestants from the TNA in Batticaloa are males.

She is amongst 304 contestants from Batticaloa, vying for 5 seats, and even though she has the backing of family, has been harassed, mainly through social media.   While she has taken her complaint to the Election Commission and the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV), Mangala said she has also informed Facebook.

Interestingly, overall Batticaloa has 26 women contesting, 6 from political parties while independent groups make up the rest.   Women seem to be more motivated to run for election following the introduction of the 25% quota for Local Government, says retired Eastern University Professor Sitralega Maunaguru.

If that is the case, how is it that political parties have nominated so few women?  In some areas, the main political parties have not fielded a single woman.

Apart from societal restrictions on women becoming fully involved in politics the prohibitive costs of running for election further complicates matters.   Says lawyer and UNP Municipal Councillor for Moratuwa, Lihini Fernando, unless a person hails from a politically active or an extremely wealthy family, it is next to impossible to get into the fray.   Campaign costs can be anywhere between Rs. 20 to 25 million if contesting in Colombo, and Rs. 5 to 10 million elsewhere in the country.  And this is true for aspiring male politicians too.  “There are those willing to sponsor us, but that would mean being obliged to them,’ she says.

If there is to be a level playing field, then, campaign financing rules must be introduced and capped at around Rs. 5 million. ‘We must also do away with welfare politics of distributing goodies in return for a vote and be more engaged with the public,’ she adds.    Lihini believes that election laws must be more stringent; door to door campaigning, having one area for all contestants to put up their posters, debates on policy instead of mud-slinging etc., should be the future of politics, she says, adding that the fight for preferential votes even within a party is an issue.

Women who work at grassroots and have a wider understanding of social issues, who have received training in political representation rarely make it into party lists says  Rajani Rajeshwari, who,  apart from her many activities also leads ‘Valamai,’ a movement for social change.  ‘The women are more than willing, yet the patriarchal structures and attitudes that a woman’s place is at home, that they need to obtain permission from their partners etc. continue to restrict them.  There is no question around men obtaining permission of their families to be politically active, so why this restriction on women?   Political parties don’t want to give women who have the training opportunities, instead, they continue to field wives, widows and daughters from political families.’

Women have waited and advocated long enough to be treated as equals in the political and decision-making levels says Rajani who adds that the only way to break this cycle is for women across all ethnicities and religious backgrounds to come together and form their own political party.  ‘We should not wait until the next election is called, but get down to business right away she says, adding, men can be members of our party, but it will be led by women.’

Perhaps, that time has come!

And while that dream becomes a reality, it is up to the electorate that has been clamouring for newer and younger faces in parliament to also elect more women representatives. (Colombo, August 2, 2020)

Kshama Ranawana is a writer, journalist and activist

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Sri Lanka president appoints Supreme Court-faulted official as police chief after CC clearance

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed Deshbandu Tennakoon as the 36th Inspector General of Police (IGP) of the country after the Constitutional Council (CC) cleared the official who along with three other police officers were asked by the Supreme Court to compensate 2 million rupees in a fundamental rights case last year.

“President Ranil Wickremesinghe has appointed Deshbandu Tennakoon as the IGP in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution,” the President’s Media Division (PMD) said.

The island nation’s Supreme Court on December 14 ordered Tennakoon when he was the Acting IGP and three other officials to pay a compensation of 500,000 rupees each for the violation of the fundamental rights of an individual.

The Supreme Court also instructed the Police Commission to take disciplinary action against the said Police officers after it considered the petition filed by W. Ranjith Sumangala who had accused the Police officers of violating his fundamental rights during his detention at Mirihana Police Station in 2011.

The Supreme Court held that the four police officers violated the fundamental rights of the petitioner by his illegal arrest, detention and subjection to torture at the Mirihana Police Station, which was under the supervision of Tennakoon at the time of the arrest.

President’s Secretary Saman Ekanayake presented the official appointment letter to Tennakoon on Monday (26) at the Presidential Secretariat.

When Tennakoon was asked over if the Supreme Court decision would have an impact on his appointment as the IGP last week, he declined to comment, saying that it was a Supreme Court matter and he does not want to say anything about it.

Tennakoon was also criticized by Colombo Archbishop Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith when he was appointed as the Acting IGP citing allegations against him related to security lapses leading up to the Easter Sunday attacks which killed at least 269 in April 2019.

However, Tennakoon rejected the allegations. (Colombo/Feb 26/2024)

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No water tariff hike in Sri Lanka this year: Minister

Millennium Challenge Corporation Photo.

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s planned water tariff formula is ready, and the government will implement it this year only if the formula’s tariff is lower than the current price, Water Supply Minister Jeevan Thondaman said.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government has been implementing IMF-led pricing policies on utilities and the Water Supply Ministry has already come up with a formula.

“There is a water tariff formula in place right now and we are waiting for it to be drafted and seek approval from the cabinet,” Thondaman told reporters at a media briefing in Colombo on Monday.

“Once this water tariff formula is in place, there will be an annual revision with an option of biannual review.

The formula has been developed with the help of the Asian Development Bank. The formula includes electricity and exchange rate among many others as components like the fuel formula.

The National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWS&DB) increased the water tariff in August 2023, claiming that the operating cost had been increased owing to high interest payment for bank loans and increased electricity prices.

The last year revision saw the consumers paying 30-50 percent increase from the existing water bill.

Minister Thondaman said he will implement the new formula this year only if there is a reduction.

TARIFF CUT WILL BE IMPLEMENTED 

“We will have to wait to see what the formula is. If the formula shows us there needs to be a reduction in the water tariff, we can implement it. But if there is an increase, why should we burden the people when we are on a road to recovery?” he said.

He said a group of experts including University Professors are working on the formula and the numbers.

“Once they come with the number, we will have to take a decision on whether we are going to impose on the people or not,” he said.

“We have already spoken to the Asian Development Bank and informed them we have established the formula. But according to the ADB requirement of this policy-based loan, the implementation period is only in 2025.”

“But right now, you want to take the approval for the formula for sustainability.”

The Energy Ministry is considering a drastic slash in electricity tariff soon. Thondaman said the exact numbers will be decided on after the finalized electricity tariff.

However, he said that as per the formula, there has to be a up to 10 percent increase in the water tariff as of now.

“Given the current formula set up, there must be around a 9-10 percent increase. It was actually at 14 percent. What we have done is since it is at 14 percent, we also did a calculation to see how we can do a cost cutting,” he said.

“So, despite our cost cutting measures, there will be an increase of 9 or 10 percent. But we will not be imposing it as of now because this year is meant to be policy sector reforms. Next year is meant to be the implementation.”

“As per August 2023 water tariff hike, we are able to come close to sustainable. So right now, there is no issue in the water sector. But a formula eventually needs to be established.” (Colombo/Feb 26/2024)

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Sri Lanka rupee closes at 310.80/311.00 to the US dollar

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s rupee closed at 310.80/311.00 to the US dollar Monday, from 310.95/311.05 on Thursday, dealers said.

Bond yields were down.

A bond maturing on 01.02.2026 closed stable at 10.60/80 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.09.2027 closed at 11.80/90 percent down from 11.90/12.05 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.03.2028 closed at 12.00/12.15 percent down from 12.10/25 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.07.2029 closed at 12.20/70 percent from 12.20/95 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2030 closed at 12.30/70 percent down from 12.40/95 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2031 closed at 12.60/80 percent from 12.45/13.00 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2032 closed at 12.50/90 percent from 12.50/13.30 percent. (Colombo/Feb26/2024)

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