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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Anura Kumara In Barack Obama

Upali Tennakoon
It was in last November that the JVP decided to appoint a new leader for the party and Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s name was unanimously endorsed by the Central Committee as the successor of Somawansa Amarasimghe. It was, needless to say, one of the most important decisions of the nearly five decade long history of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna. However, no one, even the journalists who worked very closely with the party, knew that such a crucial decision had been made.
There were speculations, assumptions and wild guesses. Some assumed Tilvin Silva would be appointed as the new party leader, perhaps due to his seniority. Some thought it was Lalkantha, one of the most outspoken members of the party. However, Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s name was not even in the grapevine. It was a closely guarded secret among the Central Committee members of the party. Of course Anura Kumara Dissanayake was not the senior-most member of the party as he became a full-timer in the JVP in 1991, during the ‘rebound’ period after the 88-89 insurrection.
When Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s name was announced as the new leader of the JVP at the 7th national convention of the party, it came as a surprise to everyone. The transition of power was smooth. Somawansa Amarasinghe, outgoing leader, whole-heartedly congratulated the new leader and ushered him into the stage. There was no division. Everyone seemed happy.
This entire process demonstrates nothing but the unity of the JVP and the ‘trust’ among the party members.  They never compromised on the ‘trust’ factor and that was why they managed to keep such a crucial decision as a closely guarded secret. Within the past three months, JVP seniors and Central Committee members interacted with media on various occasions; but no one leaked the secret to media and created unwanted issues prior to the national convention. (JVP is arguably the most media friendly political party in Sri Lanka, mind you!)
When the top rung members of a party exercises a great level of discipline, that, in return, instills self-confidence in the members of the grassroots level. That creates a great bond among members of the party hierarchy at various levels. This is exactly what other political parties in Sri Lanka lack at the moment.
Although the JVP and the US are at diametrically opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of policies, the conduct of the JVP with regard to its leadership change strongly resembled that of the US government when it came to the secret mission to kill Osama Bin Laden. The plan was executed for more than 06 months without being noticed by media or any other outside element. ‘Confidentiality’ was an integral part of the entire operation and at the final phase the US President and his top officials watched the ‘battle’ on a wide screen. It’s true there are mixed reactions across the world when it comes to the ‘political correctness’ of the act. But let’s look at the morale of the story.
The US President, top government officials and military leaders exercised a great deal of caution when it came to dealing with secret information. Their first priority was the best interest of the country and everything else came second. That was why they managed to keep the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden under wraps until the last moment.
Addressing the nation immediately after the operation, US President Barack Obama made following remarks.
"Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al-Qaeda, and a terrorist who's responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.
"It was nearly 10 years ago that a bright September day was darkened by the worst attack on the American people in our history. The images of 9/11 are seared into our national memory - hijacked planes cutting through a cloudless September sky; the Twin Towers collapsing to the ground; black smoke billowing up from the Pentagon; the wreckage of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the actions of heroic citizens saved even more heartbreak and destruction.
"And yet we know that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world. The empty seat at the dinner table. Children who were forced to grow up without their mother or their father. Parents who would never know the feeling of their child's embrace. Nearly 3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts.
"On September 11, 2001, in our time of grief, the American people came together. We offered our neighbours a hand, and we offered the wounded our blood. We reaffirmed our ties to each other, and our love of community and country. On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family.”

Leaders should be able to distinguish their first priorities. When they fail to identify what they should do first, things start falling apart. This theory is applicable to many other political organizations in Sri Lanka who do not attach any importance to maintaining internal discipline. As a result, they always entangle themselves with various internecine struggles and internal disputes, while prolonging their stay in the opposition!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Actresso-phrenia

Upali Tennakoon
The presence of actors and actresses in politics is in fact a hackneyed topic. Although they haven't received nominations yet, their presence itself has sent "shock waves" across the Sri Lankan political sphere.
Actors and actresses are no aliens to politics. Even in the US, where I live in, the likes of Ronald Reagan have entered into politics and held highest positions in the country's political hierarchy. One cannot be barred from entering politics simply on the grounds that he or she is an actor or actress. On the one hand that would be an undemocratic discrimination that would tilt the playing field against one selected group. On the other hand, 'popularity' is part and parcel of the political game and one cannot turn a blind eye to the 'popular factor' where elections are concerned. 
But the problem in Sri Lanka is not the popular factor! It is the way Sri Lankan political parties, candidates (including actors & actresses), citizenry and the other elements of the society perceive the process called 'elections'. 
Elections are no longer platforms where key issues faced by the people are discussed at length. Possible solutions to the socio-economic problems are rarely marketed at elections. Candidates contesting elections have little or no understanding of the dynamics of the Sri Lankan society and its political culture. 
Let me give you two examples. At nomination board interviews of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, one female candidate had been asked a simple question i.e., the name of the SLFP founder – the party she was going to represent at the election. Her answer was D.S. Senanayake! It was reported that one minister, who was conducting interviews, nearly fell off his chair, laughing, after hearing that answer. Another incident was reported in the Sinhala website of ‘Asian Mirror’- where Ruwanthi Mangala, an actress who sought nomination from the ruling party had said, she was not aware of the “Elections Commissioner’s decision” to pull her out of the electoral race. She did not even know that it was a decision that could only be made by the party she was going to represent. This speaks volumes of the danger lying ahead of us. 
What should be the main criteria under which the applicants for nominations need to be assessed? In my view, it should be the way they perceive the dynamics of the socio-economic and political spheres of the country. It is hard to select politicians based on paper qualifications as they need to represent people from all walks of life. In the same way, it is hard to handpick them based on their professions because that would be a blatant discrimination contravening the basic tenets of democracy. 
If a politician does not understand the national psyche of the country, if a politician does not know where he comes from and where his roots lie, if a politician does not have a strong opinion of the hardships faced by the people of Sri Lanka and the manners in which they can resolve their problems, that person is not suitable to represent the people of the country at any level of governance, be it pradeshiya sabha or Parliament. 
It is a widely held perception that provincial councils have turned out to be a white elephant burdening the country’s economy by siphoning off a sizable proportion of money from the Treasury, on a yearly basis. Since we are so engrossed in this criticism, we have failed to see the positive aspects of provincial councils. In a country like Sri Lanka, provincial councils can play a major role in resource management and empowering bottom layers of the society. Without trespassing on the territories of the central government, provincial council can actually facilitate sectors such as research, innovation and technology. But none of these sectors has been benefitted in Sri Lanka through provincial council as the provincial councils and councilors have turned a Nelsonean eye to sectors they can empower through their existing powers. This has been a major setback for Sri Lanka over the past 25 years. 
Talking about the popular factor and ‘past track records’, I’d like to present the example of Tony Blair who was one of the most popular British prime ministers in the recent past. In his run up to the Prime Minister’s office he did not have a sound ‘track record’ to market on electoral platforms. He had only his charm, charisma and a little bit of glamour. In the end, he turned out to be a successful prime minister who held the office for 10 years. Although the political culture in the UK is diametrically opposite to that of Sri Lanka, this is a classic example as to how the popular factor in politics can be translated into success in the long run. But, that requires a modicum of intelligence. 
Presently, Sri Lankan politics is blindly moving in the direction of popular factor without attaching any sort of importance to ‘intelligence’. None of the stakeholders - including the political parties, policy makers, voters and the citizenry – seems to understand the pitfalls of this disastrous trend. As much as the political parties should be held responsible for promoting this trend overtly and covertly, the voters too cannot distance themselves from any of these developments as they are the ones who ultimately elevate such candidates to power. In the end, the people of Sri Lanka receive what they deserve the most. 
And that surely makes our country the wonder of Asia!