‘Ceasefire’ talk | Sunday Observer

‘Ceasefire’ talk

12 March, 2023

Karu Jayasuriya the grand old man of the Sri Lankan right-of-centre old-brigade — acknowledging that this is a somewhat vague and needlessly long label — is at his ardent nation building best once more. He has said something to the effect that we Sri Lankans should leave our differences aside and come together.

Sometimes though half in jest, we wonder what those differences are when the people think that all politicians get together and try to dupe the citizenry (and there are better words to replace dupe here, but they cannot be used in print.)

So is Karu Jayasuriya not very sincere when he says we need to come together when it’s a time of crisis? Well, yes and no perhaps, but what kind of observation is that? Do we need to be continued to be duped by politicians of all hues?

The point is that there is political self-interest, and all politicians have it. The duping comes when all ethics and anything that’s positive is subsumed in the pursuit of power. It’s always or almost always power for power’s sake.


If Karu Jayasuriya means that it’s this tendency that needs to be kept in check then he is right. But if he means that all politics needs to be kept non-contentious because we are facing some tough circumstances, he couldn’t be more wrong.

It’s a fine balance yes, but he says there should be a ceasefire and the need not to lapse into anarchy or words to that effect. But ceasefires mean that aggressors regroup, and Karu Jayasuriya would remember that.

The country should unite in the face of the external enemy and this has always been the case with neighbouring countries India and Pakistan for instance. But there is no external enemy that we are facing could be the argument in that context.

Maybe we aren’t facing external foes, but though there is no such external enemy in any defined shape or form, the economic battles we are facing are an ‘external enemy’ of sorts. Or to be more accurate it’s a common enemy we are fighting, and what happened to when we used to fight the common enemy, to paraphrase a U.S. TV host Smerconish?

But the system never really united to fight a common enemy and this was probably true even when we were trying to get rid of the coloniser. This is probably the first time this country is faced with a common enemy, albeit a vaguely defined one which is not a physical enemy but an enemy nonetheless in the form of a tanking economy.

So yes if our neighbouring countries have given glittering examples of uniting in the face of a common enemy, why can’t we do it without declaring a ceasefire as Karu Jayasuriya states? That may sound oxymoronic to the reader. A ceasefire-less unity?

But it shouldn’t be as bad as it sounds because the country can unite against politicians of all hues, with the intention of keeping them all in check. This makes sense because if all of them are equally power hungry, all of them are equally culpable.

That’s not to advocate a people’s revolt against the entire system but the people can unite to keep all politicians to account, especially insofar as their narrow political motives are concerned.

But does that mean that all political activity should cease or that ‘disruptive’ political activity should cease? Who decides disruptive in that case? It’s this writer’s understanding that Jayasuriya has said that political activity or any other activity that leads towards anarchy should cease.

Healthy political contestation includes legitimate protest activity and due to various reasons if this activity deteriorates into a situation of confrontation, could that be labeled anarchy?

Probably not should be the answer. Unless there is activity that is initiated with the specific intent of causing anarchy, it’s not anarchic activity and that ought to be axiomatic.

There should be no sabotaging of economic activity and that’s where unity comes into play. Some would say that there was disunity when we faced the war for instance, but that was not a common enemy in the sense of the common enemy we are facing today.

The war was part a country fighting itself even though labels such as civil-war are generally eschewed.

The common enemy that’s faced today — an economy that tanked — is incontrovertibly common to all. Uniting in the face of such a common enemy is basic, but that does not mean that anybody has signed on to unite or prostate before any Government be it today’s, tomorrow’s or the next decade’s regime.

So the answer to Karu Jayasuriya’s question ‘should there be a ceasefire?’ is that it’s largely irrelevant. Certainly we should not cease our fire against the common enemy the tanked economy, and its quite certain that Karu Jayasuriya didn’t mean that.


There is no other firing going on to call for a ceasefire. If there is anarchic activity of any sort the Government is seen to deploy its forces, so what’s the problem? Under no circumstances is a supine and totally prostate citizenry a good thing, no matter what kind of common enemy we are fighting.

There is no National Government in the face of the common enemy that we are engaging, but that does not mean there should not be national unity.

Maintaining public order on the other hand is the job of the Government in power, and staving off anarchy is part of that job description. But there is no temporary suspension of democracy when there is no war on and there is no need for a ceasefire when there is no war on either.

Of course there were political parties in this country which tried to paralyse the State apparatus in the South of the country when a war was being fought and had reached the last stages. There were strikes that threatened to sabotage the war effort because strife in the South would have meant destabilisation which may have hindered the war effort and perhaps even caused the diversion of troops from the theatre of war to keep the peace elsewhere.

Of course the spirit of rebuilding and recovery is a different matter. Some may say that certain political actors are acting contrary to that spirit of a united recovery, no matter what they seem to be doing in a technical sense i.e. in parliament and so on.

We may have as a country never had that spirit of coming together as it has been in Pakistan and India. We haven’t had a common external enemy to put that to the test anyway. The ‘economic enemy’ which is not defined in physical terms is not that kind of enemy, enemy though it is. But there are only friendly countries in that battle, and no identifiable foes.

There is no national brains trust that’s working together to get the economic issues under control, and even when there were calls to political parties to unite in such an effort, the response was rather lukewarm. You could say the horse can be brought to the water but cannot be made to drink.

Perhaps to be honest our ‘unity’ and our national spirit of togetherness in adversity may operate within limits, but governments in power have often contributed to that. Governments in power cannot use unity as a device to rule in perpetuity or consolidate personal powers. So Sri Lanka will function within its own familiar realities and there will be fierce political contestation and that is democracy. Besides that the courts of law function and nobody can call the courts to ‘cease-fire’, whatever that means in a legal context.

We need to consolidate economic gains and the business community is up to it. No doubt they need the appropriately peaceful circumstances in which to do their job i.e: thrive and make recovery a reality. Governments can do that job without suspending democracy or even appearing to do so while making national security a top priority as well.