LG ELECTORAL RACE HEATS UP : FRONTLINE SOCIALIST PARTY TAKES UNDUE ADVANTAGE OF SAITM ISSUE | Sunday Observer

LG ELECTORAL RACE HEATS UP : FRONTLINE SOCIALIST PARTY TAKES UNDUE ADVANTAGE OF SAITM ISSUE

With the Local Government election just two weeks away, the election machinery of the four main political parties are now in full swing.

The United National Party, the single largest political party in the electoral race, is fully confident of a sweeping victory. Apart from being the biggest stakeholder of the national unity government, the UNP is also benefitted by the fact that the rival camp is divided.

The SLFP believes, although the party started the election campaign on a relatively ‘bad wicket’, the situation has now changed in their favour. The party appears to be upbeat following the crossovers of some high-profile Joint Opposition members after the announcement of the election.

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, officially led by Professor G.L. Peiris, is piggybacking on the personal popularity of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The theme of their election campaign is to use the Local Government to make Mahinda Rajapaksa the Prime Minister. Although the Local Government has nothing to do with toppling governments or changing Prime Ministers, the PJP seems to believe that such a campaign would be appealing to the Rajapaksa supporters of the grassroots level.

The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna is also confident they will be able to become the ‘dark horse’ of the LG election. Almost all national and local government elections after 2010, have been disappointments for the JVP as the party failed to yield the desired results. Although it seemed, there was a strong momentum in favour of the JVP before the Parliamentary election 2015, the party ended up with paltry results as it only managed to secure 6 seats in Parliament. It is still not clear if the JVP will be able to overcome this fate at the Local Government election 2018.

Election heat

However, the heat of the election was quite evident when President Maithripala Sirisena challenged all main political parties, including the UNP, for an open debate on corruption.

Addressing an election rally on Thursday, the President said, those who were demanding to table the Presidential Commission reports in Parliament ran away from the debate on these reports.

He challenged them to have the debate on the revelations of these reports before the upcoming LG election.

Opposition politicians were clamouring for parliamentary debates on the Presidential Commission reports, including the report of the Central Bank Bond issue until they were tabled in Parliament. “These white collar thieves have grouped themselves together to prevent these reports from being debated in Parliament,” he said.

“These rogues in unison have got the debate on these reports postponed till the end of February.

The President said, these rogues will be exposed, once these reports are debated in Parliament.

“We have begun a national campaign to ensure a clean and corruption free politics for the country. White collar thieves who are against these moves are grouping themselves together”, he said.

“Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was not in Parliament to vote for the no confidence motion brought in against former Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake. The former President had said, he did not bring a no confidence motion against Karunanayake. I will today show you the Parliament Hansard which records the no confidence debate and the vote”, he said.

President Maithripala Sirisena said, former President Rajapaksa had phoned Ravi Karunanayake soon after the vote on the no confidence motion in Parliament.

UNP’s focus

The UNP’s campaign, however, is based on what the party can offer to the country. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, in all his speeches since the beginning of the campaign, talked about taking the country’s development to the next level. It is evident that he has decided to stay away from personal attacks and highlight his vision on the socio-economic development.

On the same day the President addressed an election meeting in the Kalutara District, the Prime Minister addressed a rally in Badulla where he said the UNP would take up the challenge of turning Sri Lanka into a developed nation by 2025.

“The entire country, including villages and towns will witness development if the United National Party secures power in the Pradeshiya Sabhas and Urban Councils,” the Premier said.

Common enemy

However, it is all too evident that amid the heat of the election, many in the two main political parties have forgotten who the ‘common enemy’ is.

While the speakers of the UNP and the SLFP were busy firing criticism at each other, Finance and Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera issued a timely statement, outlining the need to battle the common enemy while avoiding in-fighting within the government.

“The National Unity Government which was ushered in through a historic and revolutionary election in January 2015 recently marked three years in office and although the government has made many strides, the road ahead remains long and challenging as the country stands at the cusp of a crucial election,” Samaraweera said, in his statement.

Mangala

“This election,” he said, “will decide if democratic institutions and traditions, painstakingly built since 2015 will be torn down or strengthened in the years to come.”

“It is after all, an election which will determine if Sri Lankans will live free or in fear, with impunity and grotesque abuse of power by a single family and its henchmen.”

It is viewed by many that this forthcoming Local Government elections, which is two weeks away is more than a regional contest to capture political ground within the urban and municipal precincts. “It is an old regime’s first real attempt to recapture power and restore the old, corrupt and dictatorial order.”

“Incumbency fatigue and the monumental challenges ahead of Sri Lanka, as the country strives to march towards sustainable peace and prosperity, weighs heavily on the January 8 constituency and the representatives elected to serve them. Disillusioned by the road ahead, which seems fraught with difficulty and the potential for lost opportunity, this constituency may waver,” Minister Samaraweera said.

“But, I believe it is important to try and build on what has already been achieved and keep the window open for peace and change. I believe it is important to have a long memory. I believe it is important to be long-sighted and clear-headed about the monumental choice facing all Sri Lankans in this crucial election.”

The Minister also recalled the time when protesting for clean water was a crime, when marching for press freedom meant putting your life on the line and voicing dissent was met with dire consequences, many of these notions are so easily forgotten.

Questions

“We need to ask ourselves, where all the white vans have gone. Where have the grease yakas gone?

“We must question why the Government’s political critics and dissidents are not being thrown in jail. Why media organizations are not attacked and burned any longer. Why journalists are not being abducted or killed. “Remember the night races – the gift of an indulgent father who wielded all the power of his presidential office to ensure his sons could have a good time? Remember the time when young men paid with their lives for the crime of being a rugby rival? Remember when an incompetent brother-in-law to the President ran the national airline to the ground?

Remember how it was impossible to speak openly about the excesses of the ruling family except in hushed whispers not so long ago?” he asked.

“While these are basic freedoms that citizens in any functioning democracy should take for granted, he added that it must not be forgotten that there is a profound co-relation between the end of this tyranny imposed upon the citizenry and the fall of the Rajapaksa regime in 2015. “And it is this culture of extravagance, abuse of state property and state terror that is trying to make a comeback in the February 10th local government election,” the Minister said.

He added that electoral in-roads made in this poll could be used to attempt to recapture national control in future elections.

“The elections can and will have national consequences that could reverberate for years to come, casting long shadows over the lives of Sri Lankans who have begun to live unfettered and free again, today. Yes, perhaps we are not where we hoped to be by this time. But, we will get there. Change is incremental, political systems are entrenched and sometimes immovable; but the will to change remains as strong as ever.” He said in a statement. “On February 10th the people will have to choose once more – will we continue the march to freedom or herald a return to fear?”

SAITM

Apart from the electoral race, it has also been an interesting week for the SAITM issue, beginning with Deputy Minister Harsha de Silva coming out with the news last Sunday, that the Attorney General had approved the formation of two separate non profit institutions; one to accommodate current students of SAITM and the other a sunrise institution which will continue with non-state medical education in the future.

For the detractors this was almost like waving a red flag to a bull. University Dons came out with a statement in which they condemned the decision and said to abolish SAITM and call for a public commission on education.

IUSF protest

The Inter University Students Federation, Parents Union of Medical Students and Members of the Frontline Socialist Party (Peratugami), got on the streets, Thursday, ignoring a court order not giving them permission to stage a protest.

It is pertinent to note that none of the mainline opposition parties were part of this as this is not an election issue. The Frontline Socialist Party, a breakaway from the JVP, is still struggling to make an impression from the fringes and is using drastic methods by pushing students into violent protests probably with sinister agendas or in the name of politics.

But that maybe on the surface, as aggressive political statements, such as, a demonstration can be somewhat tolerated in the name of democracy. However, there are whispers of a foreign education mafia who are said to be behind this protest against local non-state medical education and this shadow industry stands to gain billions annually, in commissions, with non-state medical education taken out of the equation.

The irony is that professors from state run universities themselves are inadvertently falling victim to the agendas of this money-making machines that are milking the middle class of this country by taking advantage of this situation.

PMC parents

President of the Private Medical College Parents’ Society, Dr T.M.K.B Tennakoon an attorney-at-law with a PHD in Development Economics, in response to a recent statement made by 74 University dons from universities such as, Kelaniya, Sri Jayawardenapura, Peradeniya, Jaffna, Ruhuna and even the Open University, who were against the ‘Sunrise Medical Institution’,says that their misconception of the objectives set by the government for a not-for-profit formula for non-State medical education was surprising.

He, with tongue in cheek, agrees with the professors’ statement that, ‘The creation of a new fee-levying medical degree awarding institution will allow students, who would otherwise not be able to pursue a degree in medicine in Sri Lanka, to do so by paying for this privilege, is absolutely right, Dr. Tennakoon says.

“This is the very reason why the setting up of a ‘sunrise’ institution is of absolute importance. What this ‘sunrise’ institution assures is that it would not be a profit-making organization that complies with minimum standards for medical education and that it will not depend on any government funding for its existence. Therefore, the statement made by the university professors which says inter-alia that the ‘sunrise’ university “Promotes siphoning of public funds earmarked for education toward subsidising education for the wealthy” is absurd and an attempt to completely mislead the public as there are no public funds involved at all in educating the wealthy.”

Private education

He also points out, “From about 1977, successive governments have promoted the private sector into an enterprise which has gone into healthcare, like the building of hospitals and education, and the setting up of colleges and universities. Privatization of education is an old story, but while the private sector has made incursions into these areas, the Government still has State sponsored universities and hospitals.

There is no fear of these going away. However, here too the university dons appear to be pushing their anti-government political agendas, as they say that this is the first Government to openly advocate the privatization of the education policy.

Seeing that SAITM was set up as a UGC approved university during the previous regime this is again a mala fide statement against the government. Also, there have been private education in other disciplines such as, engineering, accounting, marketing, IT etc. in this country for years (long before this government or even the previous government came into power.)”

The professors’ claim that the government overlooks the reality that the education system already privileges the wealthy; the proposals will allow those with means to obtain the much-coveted medical degree with less qualifications than those who would enter state institutions is also completely misleading, because the reality is the other way round, says Dr. Tennakoon.

University dons

He adds that the Z-score system is utterly unjust towards students who are living in areas like Colombo, and the suburbs who cannot all be termed ‘privileged and wealthy.’ “These students work hard to get high scores at their A/L examination but are discriminated against students who come from the so called underprivileged areas when it comes to university entrance. We can use the word discrimination because the Z score itself looks like it is unconstitutional because clause 27(2) (h) of the Constitution promises, “...the complete eradication of illiteracy and the assurance to all persons of the right to universal and equal access to education at all levels.”

Dr. Tennakoon is in agreement with the University dons’ statement that the country’s education system must be democratized, which he says is a key principle of social equality; and if that be the case, students of this country, from whatever background they come from, must be given the opportunity to study in the land of their birth.

In this context, it is indeed strange that these university professors are against private education, run by local Sri Lankan institutions. This resistance comes against a backdrop where the whole back end of the private medical education industry is open to foreign universities where no one knows what standards are maintained.

The country is badly in need of local doctors to beef up certain sectors of our economy and it is all interwoven. For example, they are even a part of the tourism sector.

It was recently reported that the Apollo Group Vice Chairman, Dr. Preetha Reddy had said at a local medical function that “healthcare tourism definitely helps a country’s economy.” The number of people who need healthcare will only grow in the future.

Leaving aside the tourism aspect, it is a well-known fact that Sri Lanka has a shortage of doctors. One has to only visit any of the big hospitals, be they state or private, to see the long queues, and it is crystal clear that the state medical education system alone cannot meet this demand. 

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