Monday, 31 December 2018

Five Interesting Facts from the History of Sri Lanka's Governance


When it comes to the history of Sri Lanka’s government, there are some incidents and facts not
widely known or are known mainly by the older generation of Sri Lankans due to many years passing
since its occurrence. In this article, I am compiling five interesting facts from the history of Sri Lanka’s
governance. It begins 87 years ago.

1. Ministers without Ministries
Before Sri Lanka’s (then Ceylon) Independence in 1948, from 1931 to 1947 there were Ministers but
no Ministries under the Donoughmore Constitution. I wonder how the government functioned at this
time without Ministries. A possibility I can see is that there was a group of staff under all Ministers
performing the responsibilities of Ministerial staff.


2. Ministers without Portfolios
Sri Lanka's first Cabinet was appointed 71 years ago on the 14th of October 1947, the day of the first
session of Sri Lanka’s Parliament known then as the House of Representatives. In this Cabinet, there
was a Minister (R.S.S. Gunawardena) without a portfolio. He was also Chief Government Whip who
was unseated via an election petition on the 12th of March 1948. R.S.S. Gunawardena continued to
function in his positions until replacements were made in May 1948. Interestingly his successor A.E.
Goonesinghe also functioned as a Minister without Portfolio and a Chief Government Whip, though he
also got assigned the Minister of State portfolio on the 26th of July that year. I’m interested to know
what these Ministers functions were. Perhaps their work included working on topics not covered in
the other Ministerial portfolios.  


3. Parliament with Two Houses
As pointed out above, Parliament was known as the House of Representatives at the time of Sri
Lanka’s independence. The House of Representatives was one of two houses of Parliament, with the
House of Representatives being the Lower House and the Senate of Ceylon being the Upper House.
The House of Representatives at its first sitting had 101 MPs, with 95 elected and six appointed by
the then Governor-General who represented Britain’s monarch. The Senate had 30 members with 15
members being elected by the House of Representatives and 15 nominated by the Governor-General
on the Prime Minister’s advice. The Senate was led by a President and it enabled a system of
accountability towards the House of Representatives. This institution continued until its abolishment
in 1971. I intend to write about the Senate of Ceylon in a future article.


4. The First Speaker Standing Up to the Prime Minister
The first Speaker Francis Molamure is reported to have told Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake to take
his seat. Nihal Seneviratne, former Secretary-General of Parliament revealed in a conversation (video
in link) with political scientist Asoka Obeyesekere that he was told that the first Speaker said to Prime
Minister D.S. Senanayake: “Honourable Prime Minister, I think you are being irrelevant. Please take
your seat.” I hope to see this happen again.


5. Two MPs for Kalawana
Following the 1977 general election, there were two people claiming the seat of Kalawana, a town 106
km from Colombo in the Ratnapura district. The seat was won by Mr. Abeyratne Pilapitiya of the
United National Party (UNP), the party which won the general election. For some reason, it was
challenged by Mr. Sarath Muttetuwegama of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka (CPSL) who
contested against him via an election petition. Mr. Pilapitiya was involved with an accident, and stayed
away from Parliament without requesting leave. As a result of this, he lost his seat which was
believed to be an intentional move on his part. His party then nominated him to fill the vacancy,
changing his position from an elected MP to a nominated MP. In late 1980, the election petition result
in the Supreme Court unseated Mr. Pilapitiya and a by-election was conducted in January 1981 that
elected Mr. Sarath Muttetuwegama.


Third Amendment to the Constitution that would enable the Kalawana electorate to have two MPs,
one elected and the other nominated. The Supreme Court ruled that this amendment required both a
two-thirds majority and a referendum. Though the bill was passed with a two-thirds majority, a
referendum was not held. This issue was concluded with Mr. Pilapitiya resigning resulting in Mr.
Muttetuwegama taking his seat as the MP for Kalawana. This shows an instance of the judiciary
preventing presidential abuse of power.


Conclusion
I hope you enjoyed these five facts from the history of Sri Lanka’s governance. I’d be interested in
hearing from anyone who remembers any of these happenings, knows more details or has similar
stories they’d like to share.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Thoughts on the Avengers: Endgame Trailer

The teaser trailer for the upcoming Marvel superhero film “Avengers 4” has just been released. The
trailer revealed that the film’s title is “Avengers: Endgame”. This is a highly anticipated film for 2019
as it continues the story from “Avengers: Infinity War” that was released in April this year. I enjoyed
“Avengers: Infinity War” which I thought was a good, entertaining film that balanced well all the
different groups of characters together. I warn readers that there will be spoilers for “Avengers: Infinity War” here. In this post, I’ll be giving my thoughts on the trailer and the film. First, I’m embedding the trailer below that you can watch.


I like it how the trailer opens with Tony Stark/Iron Man in the Benatar spaceship who is sending a
message to his girlfriend and fiance Pepper Potts. I like the scenes of Tony in space aboard the
spaceship. These scenes seem reminiscent of the film “The Martian” which I like. The trailer also
shows a bit of the place where Thanos was at the end of Infinity War with Thanos’s hand going over
some alien plants. We see footage at the Avengers facility featuring conversations between Steve
Rogers/Captain America and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow. There is an image that almost
certainly tells us that Shuri, the sister of T’Challa/Black Panther was killed as a result of the
life in the universe). We also see Nebula aboard the spaceship and she puts her hand on someone
who is probably Tony. I’d imagine that they are together in the spaceship and the reason we didn’t see her at the start is either because Tony is in his quarters or she let him be by himself for his personal message to Pepper.

There is a moment where Natasha and Clint Barton/Hawkeye are in Japan, with presumably Natasha going to Japan to find him. I’m pleased that part of this film is set in Japan, as I like it when Hollywood films have scenes in Eastern countries. Steve and Natasha talk about a plan of theirs, and we still don’t know what their plan is. I suspect and hope that it is the rumoured time travel. The trailer ends with Scott Lang/Ant-Man requesting entry into the Avengers facility suggesting that he may be the key to defeating Thanos.

This trailer is not what I was expecting. Through it is 2 minutes and 25 seconds long, it feels shorter
than that and raises more questions than answers. It feels very different to the first “Avengers: Infinity
War” trailer released about a year ago. A difference between the two trailers is the fact that the first
“Avengers: Infinity War” trailer was a full trailer whereas the “Avengers: Endgame” trailer is only a
teaser trailer. It’s interesting that this trailer showed no action scenes. I know that as this film is a
massive blockbuster it will have a lot of action, but I hope this means that “Avengers: Endgame” will
have more slow scenes than “Avengers: Infinity War” as there are additional heroes in this film most
notably Clint Barton, Scott Lang, Hope van Dyne/The Wasp and Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel.

There is something interesting about the title. The directors Joe and Anthony Russo said in an
interview earlier this year that the title of “Avengers 4” wasn’t spoken in Infinity War, yet Doctor Strange told Tony in the film “We’re in the end game now”. I will add that Doctor Strange likely said
end game as two words instead of endgame as one word like in the film’s title. However, this shows
that filmmakers frequently lie about their films and I want to give my thoughts on another point the
filmmakers of “Avengers: Endgame” have said about the film. When Avengers 3 and 4 were
announced in October 2014, it was to be “Avengers: Infinity War - Part 1” and “Avengers: Infinity War
- Part 2”. In July 2016, Marvel began referring to the film as an “Untitled Avengers” film instead of
Infinity War Part 2. The film remained that way until this trailer which revealed the title as “Avengers:
Endgame”. The writers of both films, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have said that
Avengers 3 and 4 are very different films which aren’t part one and two of the same story. I don’t
doubt that the two films will be different, but I think these films can be both part one and two while
also being different and having their unique identity. One reason why I believe this is the case is
because Infinity War ended with Thanos winning with half of the life in the universe dying. This makes the story incomplete and bad for the heroes where the heroes need to undo the Decimation that is expected to happen in Endgame.

However, I will go into ways it could be different based on how I’d like to see Endgame turn out. One
thing unique about Infinity War is the fact that the villain Thanos had the most screen time and that
the film was almost from his point of view. I don’t expect that to be the case in this film. I hope that in
Endgame, Tony Stark has the most screen time as he’s my favourite Marvel Cinematic Universe
(MCU) character. I hope the fact that he opens the trailer is a sign of this. While Infinity War is a sci-fi
film, it also had a lot of fantasy elements making it a sci-fi/fantasy film. I’m a sci-fi fan, but not a
fantasy fan so I found the fantasy aspects to be not the best parts of Infinity War. There were the side villains the Children of Thanos who I thought were weak villains and didn’t like their fantasy
appearance. I hope that Endgame doesn’t have so many fantasy elements and is more of a sci-fi film than Infinity War. I hope that Endgame’s equivalent to the battle of Wakanada won’t have the fantasy villain creatures. From the trailer, this film does look more sci-fi which I like.

So that was some of my thoughts on the “Avengers: Endgame” trailer and film. While I would have
liked to have seen more of the film, I think it is a good trailer which I found moving and it got me more
excited for the film. I’m interested in hear other people’s thoughts/theories on the film. It’s less than
six months to go!

Friday, 30 November 2018

Thoughts on President Sirisena's Shocking Betrayal



Last month, the Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena sadly began degenerating into a greedy
power hungry politician. This noticeably started on the 26th of October 2018 in his shocking move
where he unconstitutionally sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointed former
President Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister. This was followed by him proroguing Parliament on
the following day. Two weeks later, he made another unconstitutional move on the 9th of November
where he dissolved Parliament and called for general elections to be held in January. The dissolving
of Parliament has been temporarily suspended by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka whose final
judgement is scheduled to be delivered of the 7th of December. It is very distressing to see the
President brazenly violate the Sri Lankan Constitution and betray everything he stood for. In this
article, I’ll be giving some of my thoughts on the President’s behaviour.


Violating His Own Restrictions
In April 2015, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka was passed in Parliament. The
President was one of the key people responsible for the 19th Amendment. Some features of the 19th
Amendment include the restoration of the two-term limit for Presidents and the removal of the
President’s ability to sack a Prime Minister & to dissolve Parliament until the first four and a half
years of its term. Having done the last two actions, he has violated the very restrictions he was
instrumental in bringing about.


Unethical Conduct  
I think this conduct is very unethical as the President purported to remove the man who helped him
win the Presidency and appointed the very man he contested against. In November 2014, Maithripala
Sirisena who was then the Health Minister in the Mahinda Rajapaksa government, crossed over to
Mahinda Rajapaksa seemed very difficult then and it was achieved on 8th January 2015. The
President even said in 2015 after former President Rajapaksa got nominations to contest in the 2015
general elections that if the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) won, he wouldn’t appoint Mahinda
Rajapaksa as Prime Minister. What President Sirisena did is a betrayal of his mandate of good
governance, accountability, reconciliation, media freedom among other issues. He was elected to
usher in a new era to Sri Lanka and had the potential to be a good President, but he has sadly
reverted to the lowest level of political indecency.


Since the 26th of October, he has been acting in such a disgraceful way. He has been getting
involved in and supporting a very bad form of governance. Incidents include the forceful taking over of
state media by those loyal to Mahinda Rajapaksa, apparent bribery as United National Party (UNP)
MP Palitha Range Bandara claims that he was offered $2.8 million USD to crossover and the
disrupting of Parliamentary proceedings by many United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) MPs. I
don’t believe the appointments to the role of Prime Minister and the Cabinet by President Sirisena
were constitutional, but even if you put aside the constitutionality of his actions, it’s very distressing to
see his reactions following the no-confidence motions passed against Mahinda Rajapaksa and his
purported government. Firstly, it’s him not accepting the first no-confidence motion. He requested the
first clause stating that the appointments were illegal to be removed which was adhered to resulting
in a second no-confidence motion being passed. He again did not accept the second no-confidence
motion. This is disgusting behaviour to request for something, have it granted and then not do what
you promised.


Party Centric Thinking
An issue I had with President Sirisena was that he had been focusing too much on his party the
SLFP which got into conflict with his mandate and his working relationship with Ranil
Wickremesinghe & the UNP. It is my perception that those actions led to this moment. I wish he
had been an Independent President, that is being a President with no party allegiances. I think this
arrangement would have resulted in him accomplishing more, making more sensible decisions and
not reuniting with Mahinda Rajapaksa.  


The Need to Abolish the Executive Presidency
The President’s actions to me are a reason why the Executive Presidency should be abolished. It
shows that the powers of the Sri Lankan President can easily corrupt those who come in with good
intentions. This is despite the fact that President Sirisena himself was responsible for reducing
presidential powers. In fact, founder of the Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG),
Attorney-at-Law Elmore Perera who contributed in 2016 to my article “Impact of the 19th Amendment
One Year On” said the thought provoking words in my correspondence with him that I didn’t include
there, “It was widely agreed that 35 years of experience had shown that the Executive Presidency
had contributed immensely to several of the ills that plagued the country.”


The Presidential system enables Governments to be formed where the President and the Prime
Minister are from two different parties. This results in the two leaders getting into conflict with one
another, which happened in the relationship between Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe
despite the fact that they came together on the same platform. I am in favour of a ceremonial
President which Sri Lanka did have from 1972 to 1978. I think that a ceremonial President would not
get into conflict with the Prime Minister, as the President in this situation wouldn’t be a member of a
political party. I further think that an Executive Prime Minister would have less opportunities to abuse
his or her position than an Executive President.


Conclusion
These are very sad and difficult times for Sri Lanka, which is so disturbing as the cause of these
problems comes from the President elected against the type of governance he has been currently
practicing. I am pleased that the actions of Maithripala Sirisena and Mahinda Rajapaksa seem to be
getting weakened and remain confident that the status quo in Parliament prior to the 26th of October
can be restored. It’s encouraging to see activism against the actions of the President by many Sri
Lankans. This activism gives hope that it can drive our country further once we are out of this mess.

Friday, 28 September 2018

Sri Lankan Twitter Showcase: September 2018


On the Internet, people discuss and share happenings of Sri Lanka. One platform where this occurs is on social media. I decided to showcase a collection of tweets about Sri Lanka from the social media website Twitter covering the month of September 2018 in sequential order. If you don’t use Twitter or are unfamiliar with it, you can still read this post. The tweets (a message of 280 characters or less) are featured on this blog post. I selected a group of tweets that I like. Issues covered include politics, economics, pictures and positive occurrences. I’m including positive occurrences as there is usually more talk about the negative occurrences than the positive ones and hearing positive news can make us feel good.

This is a good picture of Matara by Kalani Kumarasinghe. Sorry, but the image embedding doesn't do it justice. I recommend clicking the picture link above to see it properly.


I think this is a good statement from Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera. What ultimately matters is if the government takes these reforms and how successful they are if carried out. I am of the opinion that Mangala is one of Sri Lanka’s better ministers so that gives some hope.


These statistics show economic growth of Sri Lanka, particularly since the start of the 21st century.

This is a good point made by Dr. Asanga Welikala at his recent Verité Research talk titled “The Presidential Term Limit After The Nineteenth Amendment”


This is an image of Sri Lanka’s GDP per capita as shared by Daniel Alphonsus who got the figures from English economist Angus Maddison. The reason this is different to the previous Sri Lankan GDP per capita figures that showed GDP decreasing from 1960 to 1978 is because that one was in comparison with the rest of the world. This shows tremendous growth Sri Lanka has undergone and gives hope that as the GDP per capita has gone up in the past, it will go up again in the future to bring benefits to Sri Lanka.


It’s good to see technology being used to work on dengue prevention and control.


These are interesting statistics regarding CIABOC. It’s good that they are getting these complaints. I hope that CIABOC will get more complaints and that it will get more effective in the fight against corruption.


It’s good to see a story of a whale shark being rescued. It’s interesting to note that whale sharks are not harmful to humans.


This is a good example of the Right to Information (RTI) law functioning with all the work on appeals by the RTI Commission.


This is a great photo of Nuwara Eliya taken by Rovin Shanila featured on the Sri Lankan Trends Twitter account.


The Sri Lankan economy functions in a way where the government sets prices for certain goods. As it’s very unfortunate that prices of goods frequently rise, it’s worth noting that there are also some price reductions such as this one.


It’s good to note that Sri Lanka is celebrating Right to Information week this week of writing as recounted by Director General of Government Information, Sudarshana Gunawardana. It's also worth noting that today (28th September) is International Right to Know Day.


This is information of the Amendment to the Penal Code which was passed earlier this year that increased the minimum age of criminal responsibility as reported by the Verité Law Twitter account (part of think tank Verité Research).


M.A. Ratnasiri shares recent contrasting facts alongside the New York Times of Sri Lanka’s paper the Daily News. It’s good to know that the Daily News went online before the internationally acclaimed New York Times.


It’s good to see a beach clean-up effort by the EU in Sri Lanka, UN agency UNOPS and the Government entity Marine Environment Protection Authority.


At the end of last week, two MPs were temporarily suspended from Parliament. I suspect that this is a result of the new Parliamentary Standing Orders adopted in April.


This is from Asoka Obeyesekere (Executive Director of Transparency International Sri Lanka). My suggestions are Priyan Dias, Nishan de Mel and W.A. Wijewardena.

I hope you enjoyed reading my selection of tweets on Sri Lanka. I am on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sumith90 in case anyone is interested. I would enjoy hearing people’s thoughts on any of the issues and happenings featured here.  
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