Jehan Perera Colombo TelegraphOn numerous occasions President Ranil Wickremesinghe has said he was elected president to get Sri Lanka out of its economic morass and will do his utmost to fulfill that obligation. This has led to much speculation regarding the president’s intentions with regard to conducting presidential elections prior to achieving economic success. The truth of the president’s utterances with regard to his commitment to resolving the economic crisis is to be plainly seen in his determination to push ahead with unpopular economic policies. He has been unrelenting in sticking to higher tax rates than the masses of people can afford and to the privatization of state owned enterprises. Both of these policies are unpopular to the point of jeopardising his bid to be re-elected at the forthcoming presidential election, but the president has stuck by his convictions.

Elections provide a unique situation where people become equal regardless of their class or ethnic and religious identity. This offers space to rival politicians to address their unmet needs. The government has commenced several development initiatives that will take resources to the community level in a targeted manner. These initiatives would be beneficial to the government in mustering support for it at the grassroots level. Those who wield governmental power have the ability to make tangible offerings to the people to secure their vote in a time of elections. The intervention of the Election Commission and civil society organisations in disapproving some of these governmental actions and ensuring free and fair elections needs to be seen in this light.

The visit of Japan’s foreign minister Yoko Kamikawa to Sri Lanka is an indication that the relationship between the two countries is on the mend. The manner in which Japan was ousted from the special status it had once held by the previous government headed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would have caused much heartburn. Japan was, for several decades, Sri Lanka’s biggest economic benefactor providing both outright grants and subsidized loans for a range of infrastructure and economic development projects. The cancellation of the light rail transit project, which Japan had offered on very concessional terms, was an example of both political churlishness and economic foolhardiness for which Sri Lankans have had to pay a very heavy price.

Jehan Perera Colombo TelegraphIn March 2020, the Sri Lankan government believed that the massive mandate President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had received gave it a licence to get out of the cycle of UN Human Rights Council resolutions by unilaterally opting out of the process. It announced that it would no longer consider itself bound to implement the resolution in force at that time. It stated its position was “backed by a people’s mandate and is in the interest of Sri Lanka and its people, instead of opting to continue with a framework driven externally that has failed to deliver genuine reconciliation for over four and half years.” However, the government also sought to keep itself within the framework of the UN system. The government stated that within a new framework of national reconciliation it was proposing it would continue to welcome the visits, advice and technical support from the UN system.

Jehan Perera Colombo TelegraphOn April 21, the country passed the fifth year anniversary of the Easter Sunday bombing that took the lives of about 300 persons and injured and maimed many more. The bombers targeted Catholic and Christian churches that were filled with devotees at the time of the attacks. The bombers had emerged out of the blue as it were, there were questions whether Sri Lanka had become a site of a global battle and uncertainty that others might strike again. For two months, the capital city of Colombo almost shut down as people lived in fear. The bombing also changed the course of national politics and paved the way for those whose promise was the guarantee of national security and the rightful place of the ethnic and religious majority but who abused power and engaged in looting to the point that they collapsed the national economy.

Jehan Perera Colombo TelegraphThe New Year celebrations this year were low key compared to the past. The loud sound of crackers and other fireworks that traditionally accompany the dawn of the New Year were less than in the past. The economic burden on the people has begun to tell and was evident in the reduced purchase of new clothes and other items in preparation for the New Year. It can be surmised that the general population has less savings to utilize due to those savings being consumed in earlier months when people’s expenditures exceeded their income. The latest World Bank publication titled ‘World Bank Update: Bridges to Recovery’ released on April 2 shows that poverty has increased over the past four years—from 11 percent in 2019 to almost 26 percent in 2024 in Sri Lanka. According to it, approximately 60 percent of Sri Lankan households have decreased incomes, with many facing increased food insecurity, malnutrition and stunted growth.

Jehan Perera Colombo TelegraphFifteen years after the end of the war in the north and east, a tourist might have a difficult time figuring out whether a war was fought there are at all at first glance. There is not much difference between the towns in the north and south. There is an appearance of peacefulness and normalcy that tourists have taken to. Sri Lanka has claimed the coveted title of the number one destination for solo female travelers in 2024, according to Timeout.com, a leading global media and hospitality business. Sri Lanka’s reputation for hospitality and safety further enhances its appeal to solo female travelers. According to the report, the warmth and friendliness of the locals, combined with the country’s relatively low crime rates, create an environment conducive to memorable and worry-free experiences for women exploring the country on their own. Sri Lanka also offers practical advantages for solo female travelers, such as affordable accommodations, reliable public transportation, and a well-developed tourist infrastructure.

Jehan Perera Colombo TelegraphTracing history and going back to the colonial era, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has said that despite the adverse impact of world wars and internal conflicts, Sri Lanka has steadfastly upheld its democratic value of ensuring the functioning of both the government and the opposition without interruption. The president was addressing members of the student parliament and said they might find it worthwhile to explore ways and means of sustaining this system. By way of contrast, Sri Lanka’s neighbouring countries have put their opposition parties under siege, closing down their bank accounts, imprisoning their leaders and intimidating them so much that they do not even contest the elections, though the president was too diplomatic to make these points.

Jehan Perera Colombo TelegraphThe frustration within the Tamil polity at the failure of the government to treat them fairly and address their grievances is taking a new turn in parliament. Unable to reason with those who hold the majority of votes, Tamil parliamentarians are taking to non-violent action over words. Those political parties that represent ethnic and religious minorities rarely if ever have sought to physically disrupt the proceedings in parliament, one reason being their paucity of numbers. Almost without exception, physical protest actions in parliament have been the preserve of the ruling party and main opposition parties. The nadir of such clashes was seen in rowdy behavior in parliament during the abortive constitutional coup of 2018 when then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was sacked without warning by his erstwhile ally, President Maithripala Sirisena.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has announced that the government has enacted 42 new laws in the past 4 months, with another 62 in the pipeline, all aimed at catalyzing the country’s economic transformation. Among these are two draft laws related to women’s rights, designed to promote gender equality and empower women. These laws are slated for presentation to parliament in May. The proposed Women’s Empowerment Act envisages the establishment of a separate women’s commission. The primary objective of this commission will be to facilitate the advancement and empowerment of women by implementing mechanisms to protect their rights, all under constitutional provisions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The northern town of Vavuniya which was once at the front lines of the war is now a peaceful and bustling urban centre. Its physical infrastructure leaves much to be desired, with rundown buildings, and open drains that emit a foul odour. Vavuniya has not had the fortune of a political patron vested with governmental power to transform it like Polonnaruwa and Hambantota have been. But the town itself is peaceful. It is difficult to imagine that it was once under threat of bombardment and thousands of soldiers transited through it on the way to the front lines or back to their homes in the south. In the past there were a large number of security checkpoints at which busloads of people had to disembark and walk on foot from point to point while their vehicles were checked.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe addressing a conference of over 300 members from inter-religious committees from across the country summed up his plan for national reconciliation in less than 20 minutes. The president was clear in his articulation. He spoke with no notes. There were no superfluities in his speech. He noted how racism and bigotry have become convenient tools for politicians to wield power and for religious leaders to maintain their authority. He pointed to lessons learned from prolonged use of these divisive tactics, which ultimately led the country into a devastating conflict. He took two questions from the audience and before the organisers of the conference could even thank him on stage he left the podium for his next meeting.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has been indicating the government’s intention to conduct both presidential and parliamentary elections this year. He is reported to have made this same declaration during his visit to Australia last week. This would be viewed positively by those who are waiting for elections that would ensure a government with a people’s mandate for the difficult road ahead. The most powerful post in the country, the presidency, is devoid of such a mandate though it presides over a most decisive period when the country is mired in international bankruptcy. The two intermediate levels of government, provincial and local, are without elected representation. Governing without a people’s mandate may be empowering to those who are making the decisions, but those at the receiving end are likely to revolt in the longer term.

Under President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s leadership it looks like Sri Lanka is once again punching above its weight. The president took centre stage at the 19th Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the 3rd South Summit of the Group of 77 & China currently taking place in Kampala, Uganda. The president’s media unit stated that at the invitation of President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, President Wickremesinghe not only participated in these critical global gatherings but also addressed both the NAM Summit and the South Summit. During his visit to Kampala, he is reported to have engaged in discussions with counterparts from the Global South, with a special focus on strengthening ties with leaders from the African region.

Jehan Perera Colombo TelegraphMore Time And Discussion Needed Before Parliamentary Passage Of Onur Law

This week the government will be taking up the ONUR bill for debate after which it will be enacted as law. The bill proposes to establish an Office for National Unity and Reconciliation in order to assure to every citizen equal opportunities in the economic, social, cultural and political spheres. At the same time, the new institution will have the purpose of safeguarding identity and building an inclusive society in which diversity will be respected and all communities will coexist in harmony and unity.

Jehan Perera Colombo TelegraphThe government is proceeding at speed on its course of legislative activism with regard to economic, reconciliation and security matters. Its ability to do so comes from its majority in parliament. Due to this majority in parliament won at the general elections of 2020, the government is in a position to get its way. However, the government’s legitimacy and moral right to rule and make such reforms has been in question after the economy was brought to its knees in 2021 by the misguided policies of the previous government, and government leaders had to resign from office or flee their homes. In the context of the second world war, the Soviet leader Josef Stalin was said to have asked how many divisions did the Pope have. The reality is that the power of the present government depends on its legal power, not moral power. The present tendencies nearly everywhere in the world is that the sword is mightier than the pen.

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The National Peace Council (NPC) was established as an independent and impartial national non-government organization