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One Certain Winner. One Certain Loser

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by Vijaya Chandrasoma

The most important presidential election in the history of the United States is currently in progress. Neither President Trump nor Vice President Biden has been to able make a legitimate claim to the White House as yet. As of Friday morning, the score sheet stands: Biden 253 electoral college votes; Trump 213. The magic number to win the presidency is 270 electoral college votes. The final result certified by the state election authorities will likely not be available till next week, but predictions based on voting trends already have Biden anointed as the 46th President of the United States.

Vice President Biden enjoys a record lead of over 4 million votes in the popular vote, with the highest number of votes ever cast in American history. In every other democracy in the world, unburdened as they are with an antiquated electoral college system, Biden would have been declared the decisive winner by now.

Votes in four states are being tabulated, and are too close to call. Biden is leading in two states (Nevada and Arizona), and Trump in two (Pennsylvania and Georgia). Biden holds probably decisive leads in Arizona and Nevada, and has been chipping at the Trump leads in Pennsylvania and Georgia all Thursday night; it is most likely that he will win all four, which will give him 306 electoral college votes, the exact number won by Trump in 2016.

In a democracy, the main goal of the government should be to make voting as easy as possible, so that the voices of all voters could be clearly heard. Not so in the “Trump democracy”, or, perhaps more accurately, the “Putin kleptocracy” that America has become during the past four years. The Republicans, especially in states under their control, have been working assiduously on voter suppression by Gerrymandering and other means; and vilifying voting rules, like mail-in voting, which they feel go against them. Mail-in and absentee voting are usually taken advantage of by the vulnerable, the underprivileged and the poor, who are more likely to vote Democratic, especially during a raging pandemic.

President Trump, in his inimitable and disingenuous style, made an illegitimate claim, announcing on Wednesday night that he had won the election. His actual words: “To me, this is a very sad moment, and we will win this. And as far as I am concerned, I already have.” Trump insisted that counting should stop immediately in the states he was currently leading, Pennsylvania, Georgia and North Carolina; while, amazingly, demanding that counting be continued in the states that he was trailing, Nevada and Arizona. Typical Trump logic, imposing voting restrictions which will ensure a win for him. There are videos of armed Trump supporters protesting at election centers in Pennsylvania where Trump is leading, chanting, “Stop the counting”; and Trumpers at election centers in Arizona, where Trump is lagging, shouting, “Count that vote”!

If Trump remains consistent in his demands to “stop the counting” immediately, Biden will win Nevada and Arizona, where he is leading, which will put him at 270 electoral college votes, enough for him to be declared the 46th President of the United States.

Speaking to a few hundred of his supporters inside the East Room at the White House, where they had gathered to follow the results, Trump described post-election counting as “a major fraud in our nation”, and threatened to take his case to the Supreme Court. He reiterated these baseless election fraud claims without the slightest evidence during a White House briefing on Thursday night, accusing his “political foes” of voter suppression, election fraud, and trying to steal the election from him. The Commander-in Chief made the most egregious and misleading statements, saying, “This is a case where they are trying to steal an election, they are trying to rig an election, and we cannot let that happen”. It was not clear who the “they” were: Democrats? State election officials and volunteers? And the “we”? The Trump administration? The sycophant Attorney General William Barr? Putin? The KKK?

Almost as vitally important as the run for the presidency are two other races being conducted concurrently during this election, for control of the House of Representatives and the Senate. As results stand, Democrats will retain control of the House, though with a reduced majority. Nancy Pelosi will continue to be the Speaker. Democratic hopes of flipping the Senate were not realized. They have picked up just one Senate seat so far, the Republicans will retain control of the Senate, with Mitch McConnell in charge. So the D.C. political power structure will be similar to that faced by President Obama in 2008, with a Senate majority ruthlessly determined to pursue a Republican agenda in the face of a Democratic presidency. Trump makes no claims of election fraud in the Senate and House races, as the votes have been largely favoring Republicans.

Although the results have not been officially certified, there is no doubt that Vice President Biden has already won at least the 270 votes necessary to win the White House. However, many of the final states to be called, Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, Pennsylvania, were within a margin which will trigger a recount, while Trump has demanded recounts in Wisconsin and Michigan, which Biden has won by majorities outside the recount margin. Trump has also initiated a slew of lawsuits, most of them so frivolous and so small that they will make no difference to the ultimate outcome. He has threatened that he will use the powers of the Supreme Court to overthrow the election if Biden wins the presidency. The Trump “militia” is at the ready to wreak Trump’s vengeance at his command. So the dust of this election may not settle for a few weeks more. After it does, the election results will be confirmed, the violence caused by the Trump militia will be overcome, Trump will be dragged screaming from the White House and Vice President Biden will be installed as the President of the United States at his inauguration on January 21, 2021. Whether Trump will be taken from the White House direct to prison is not immediately clear. And we would have seen the last of Trump’s crime family and cronies; Ivanka and Kushner, Donald Jnr. and Eric, Giuliani, Stephen Miller, to name a few.

If, by some twist of fate, Trump defies all predictions and legitimately wins re-election, this column will vanish in a dense cloud of ignominy. And the writer may have to plead for the security of the Witness Protection Program!

McConnell’s Senate and a compliant Supreme Court will prevent Biden from making any significant measures, in expanding Obamacare, in quelling the pandemic and in restoring economic progress. The one hope is that Republican lawmakers in the House and the Senate, freed from the threat of Trump’s tweeting fury, may summon the necessary courage to work with President Biden and their Democratic colleagues, for the good of the country. A hope for bipartisan politics, admittedly a slender one.

The biggest winner of this election is the American electorate, which broke all voting records with their participation, even during a raging pandemic. The apathy in the past of the American people to be involved in the electoral process was evident. Voter participation in presidential and other elections rarely reached 60%, an abysmal number for a nation which pretends to serve as an example to developing countries which have chosen to embrace the democratic system.

 

The US is currently on track to the highest voter turnout in history, with 160 million votes, or over 70% of the electorate. This represents an increase of nearly 20% compared to the 136 million votes cast in 2016. Also, all praise to the officials and volunteers in the election process throughout the nation, who have worked tirelessly to ensure a free and fair election. Increased participation in the most important process in a democracy, especially among the younger generations, indicates that the greatest democracy in the world is not quite dead, in spite of all Donald Trump’s efforts to murder it over the past four years.

Strangely, the biggest loser in this election is also the American people. It is inconceivable that over 60 million Americans, or nearly half the electorate, voted for the re-election of a racist, ignorant and incompetent president. They had also enabled him to run the greatest democracy in the world to the ground for four years, to the cusp of transforming the most powerful nation in the world to a tin-pot dictatorship, beholden to Russia.

I remember watching that satirist/comedian par excellence, Jon Stewart, the host of The Daily Show, the night President Obama was elected the first black president of the USA in 2008. He signed off by saying: “At last, we are who we say we are.” Alas, he was mistaken. The Trump cult of today resembles more closely what “we are” today.

The election of an African American in 2008 to the presidency brought to the surface the resentment of a large percentage of white Americans, fearful of losing the white privilege they had enjoyed for centuries. Resentment which increased with eight years of a flawless presidency which rescued the American economy from the dregs of a recession Obama inherited from Bush in 2008; a black man, the epitome of compassion, honor and integrity, who presided brilliantly over a booming economy of 72 months’ continuous growth and dwindling unemployment, without a whiff of personal, financial or political scandal. This pathological resentment and insecurity resulted in the election of Donald Trump, the complete antithesis of President Obama in every way.

This election showed what a large slice of white American people really are, when they enabled Trump to take a once wonderful democracy to the brink of disaster by his despicable racism and vulgarity, colossal ignorance and homicidal incompetence. Trump has proved inconclusively the assessment of President Lyndon Johnson, who said, in 1964, “If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored black man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him someone to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you”.

That “lowest white man” emerged in 2015. He kept mocking and degrading the best black man, feeding the inferiority complex of millions of insecure white Americans. And they let this vile man “empty their pockets”. Hell, they emptied their pockets for him!

Whoever wins or steals this election, America has gone back to the bad old days of racial prejudice and white supremacy of the pre-1950s. Perhaps many of them always lived in that alternate racist reality; maybe the progress made in social and economic justice since 1964 has merely been a mirage.

It’s going to be a long, hard climb back to Make America Great Again. Getting rid of Trump was an important start to this arduous journey.


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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development

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There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.

The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.

To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.

Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.

It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.

All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.

Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.

If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.

In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.

However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.

It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.

The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.

It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.

A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.

Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.

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Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka

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By Sanjeewa Jayaweera

It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.

The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.

We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.

This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.

Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!

At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.

One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.

It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!

ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!

The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.

When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!

I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.

I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.

I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.

Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!

I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.

Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.

We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.

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Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?

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Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!

To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.

Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.

The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..

How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!

If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.

And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!

Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.

Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.

With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.

I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.

Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.

He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.

Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.

He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!

I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:

“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.

“There is no science to beat common sense.”

But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!

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