Wait to fight another day

President Chandrika Kumaratunga and her party and the UNF government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe are fighting each other deploying two strategies. One is the propaganda strategy: Open confrontations party leaders and spokesmen are having, throwing challenges at each other and threatening to dissolve parliament before the other side does. The second strategy is back stage manoeuvres where the principal actors are the president, prime minister and the former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. The first front appears to be for the gallery to keep the party ranks intact while the second is a constructive dialogue and a serious attempt to save the situation. The calibre of their leadership will be judged by the people and history on how far the second strategy will succeed.

Yesterday’s press conference of the PA with Sarath Amunugama, Mangala Samaraweera and Maithripala Sirisena as spokesmen, falls into the first category. They claimed that at one stage the PA would secure the required 113 seats in parliament to form a government and that all MPs in parliament should declare the loans they had obtained from state banks.

This appears to be mere opposition bluster, to counter a similar claim made by the UNF that they could get enough PA members to their ranks and collect a two-third majority to impeach the president. How many times have the call been made for MPs to declare their assets that would include bank loans?

The more sensible thing to do would be to drop all this propaganda and get down to serious negotiations to resolve the differences. Both sides have reached a dead-end: Dissolution of parliament and holding another election (even if it is possible) holding no prospects of either party getting a clear majority to form a government.

The people are tired and weary of the eight-year-old confrontational politics that has been going on between the PA and the UNP. President Kumaratunga, who suffered a severe defeat last December, should have realised the futility of going for the jugular of the UNP.

The people are not concerned which party will be able to dissolve parliament first but will be more concerned with the continuation of the present parliament and restoration of political stability with the view of easing their suffering. The PA and the UNP should postpone their confrontations to fight another day.

Schools for scoundrels

It is indeed ironic that while the press is lambasting politicians for their unprincipled conduct and disgraceful behaviour, the politicians are attempting to help establish schools of journalism to produce better journalists than those who are their present day critics. Foreign Minister Mr. Tyronne Fernando was reported in his favourite paper, the Daily News, seeking the assistance of the Indian government to train Sri Lankan journalists ‘with a view to improving the quality of journalism in Sri Lanka’.

Whether Mr. Fernando is attempting to improve the quality of journalism of Lake House which is now under the care and guidance of the UNF government or the journalism of other publishing houses or both, we are not aware of. However, it has to be pointed out that the quality of journalism in Sri Lanka before the take over of Lake House by the SLFP government and later the Times of Ceylon ranked about the best in Asia and it deteriorated even further under later governments of the PA and the UNP.

The professions of journalism and politics - if they could be called professions - run parallel courses. Unlike the old established professions like Law, Medicine, Engineering or Accountancy, there are no established schools for politicians and for a long time there were no such schools for journalists as well. It is only in the post World War II period that schools and faculties for journalism proliferated. Both politicians and journalists, whether such schools existed or not, do not have to go through such schools as those in the older professions are compelled to do. Indeed some of the best journalists and politicians have had no such ‘education’ . In fact some doubt whether most politicians have had an education at all!

Nonetheless, it is said that education is a never ending process and there is no harm if we are educated by our Big Brothers across the sub-continent. If the present state of journalism is considered lower than that of India, we have only to blame Mr. Fernando’s tribe, the politicians, for having wrecked the education system of this country which was the best in Asia and brought it down to the present day levels.

While journalists are thankful to politicians for attempting to improve standards of our profession, it is a crying shame that politicians are not thinking of improving their profession in a like manner. There is no school for politicians in any part of the world other than faculties of political science in universities but it does appear to be an urgent need in Sri Lanka.

Other than schools for journalists, Mr. Fernando should also consider better salaries and facilities for journalists, on the same lines for politicians such as MPs. Even though increased salaries and perks have not been able to attract the best of talent to politics we get the impression that it will work for journalism.

We journalists are grateful to Mr. Fernando for attempting to improve the standards of our profession and we along with the entire public will be thankful to him if such a school is established for politicians as well.

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