Jehan Perera Colombo TelegraphThe question mark that hangs over the presidential election due in October this year is not going away. The answer to it keeps getting put off. The latest is the government’s proposed constitutional amendment to eliminate ambiguity in the term of the president from six to five years. The Supreme Court has thrice affirmed the legitimacy of the 19th Amendment which reduced the term of the presidency. Academic scholars such as Dr Nihal Jayawickrama have raised the quetion why nine years later, without any issue having been raised by the Supreme Court or by any other court or tribunal, or in parliament, or in any other forum, the government proposes to amend the constitution for the sole purpose of replacing the words “six years” with the words “five years”.

Jehan Perera Colombo TelegraphThe deadline for presidential elections is fast approaching and the Election Commissioner will be empowered to declare the date of the election on July 17, just over a week from now. The election rallies are becoming larger and feistier. The two main opposition parties are showing their growing strength in the numbers attending their political rallies. The government too is unifying to meet the challenge. The most recent public meeting brought together the leading members of the ruling SLPP who have been thought to be at loggerheads. Many have resurfaced into the public domain, which they lost when the economy collapsed and they had to go into hiding.

Jehan Perera Colombo TelegraphWith less than a month before presidential elections are called, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has highlighted the success of his presidency as rescuing Sri Lanka from its international bankruptcy status that prevents it from doing business with the rest of the world. The signing of the agreement on international debt restructuring for USD 5.8 billion with the Official Creditor Committee consisting of several foreign governments that have given bilateral loans to Sri Lanka was celebrated in numerous ways. The president himself made a speech to the nation and firework exhibitions took place in various towns to mark the occasion. The president made it clear that he was the architect of Sri Lanka’s economic recovery. This puts upon him a greater responsibility to engage with the people, listen to them and explain to them what it all means.

Jehan Perera Colombo TelegraphWith elections and a change of government in one way or the other imminent, the independent institutions of state vested with authority to monitor, and provide a check and balance to government, are vindicating their existence. The reports of the Auditor General over the years has been a testament to the diligence with which public officials empowered with a mandate pursue their tasks and find out the misuse of resources that has taken place. One of its reports is on a petroleum scam that has gone on for years and has come up before the Committee on Public Enterprises in parliament. The Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) has refused approval to award procurement of the 484 MW wind power plant in Mannar and Pooneryn to Adani Green Energy SL Ltd. (AGESL), saying the information submitted to it by the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) was not adequate to assess least cost and technical compatibility.

Jehan Perera Colombo TelegraphThe demand for “system change” that was a key slogan of the Aragalaya protest movement two years ago is necessarily multi-faceted. It consists of a wide array of subjects including bringing back stolen assets, punishment for the perpetrators and putting an end to corruption. The present reality is still distant from this vision of a new social order that the protest movement had, and continues to have. No stolen assets are yet recovered either locally or internationally, though the government is formulating a new Proceeds of Crime law. Those whose property was set on fire in the last stages of the Aragalaya, before President Ranil Wickremesinghe was able to clamp down on that, are still claiming compensation. Government officials to whom they make their claims confide that the claims made by them are much more than what was lost. So the old order continues to prevail.

Jehan Perera Colombo TelegraphThe petrol and gas queues are gone, but economic statistics paint a grim picture. The country’s international debt continues to mount inexorably as it did before the economic crash. Two years ago when the economic crisis hit, it was in the region of USD 80 billion. According to news reports, Sri Lanka’s debt has now increased to over USD 100 billion amid marginal improvement in some macroeconomic measures (such as inflation), while unpaid principal and interest on selected debt exceed USD 6.4 billion. This bodes ill for the country. It shows that little that is fundamental has changed in these past two years. The country, and government, continue to spend more than they earn and can only make ends meet by borrowing from abroad.

Jehan Perera Colombo TelegraphGovernment leaders appear to be considering all options for remaining in office beyond the constitutionally mandated periods of five years for the presidency and parliament. UNP General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara has announced that the government is considering postponing both the presidential and general elections for two years. There has been a considerable amount of speculation about a possible postponement of elections. In fact, this has been a part of the political discussion for over a year. The justification given for the effective freezing of politics until economic revival is assured is the need to consolidate the gains of economic recovery and prevent reversal. The assumption underlying this argument is that the present government is best suited for the job and their track record bears this out.

Jehan Perera Colombo TelegraphThe 15th anniversary of the end of the war has made it clear that the war may have ended but the problems related to it have not. Outside of the north and east, the site of military action, there is a sense of normalcy with the war being a receding memory. This has given rise to the belief that the government could give its priority attention to other problems afflicting the country, most notably the economic collapse which continues to be a baleful presence in the lives of the great majority of people. There was also the hope that under the leadership of President Ranil Wickremesinghe, and his relationships with the leaders of Western countries, that the international pressures from human rights groups and the UN Human Rights Council could be overcome.

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.

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