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On Yahapalanaya, Corruption, Integrity and How You Can Make a Difference

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss!” -The Who, We Won’t Get Fooled Again

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I think every sane, responsible Sri Lankan, at some time during the past 30 days, has wondered whether the new Yahapalanaya government will turn out to be the same as the old regime. It was a risk we took.

One month later, things are rolling roughly in the direction we wanted it to, though I’d be a fool if I agreed with the draconian business taxes now being levied. I’m talking about the “super gains tax”, which obliges companies earning over Rs 2 billion to hand over a lovely 25% of their profit.

Now, there is a fine line between kicking Packer out, taking away China’s chokehold on the country and screwing over local businesses. The average Gunapala and Sirisena, earning 20 thousand bucks a month, will have no qualms about some rich dude getting taxed. In fact, Ravi Karunayake’s banking on that particular “Robin Hood” type of rhetoric. What people forget is that is that while there are only about 40 companies that are being taxed this way, these companies provide thousands of jobs, bring in millions of revenue and, in short, keep a sizeable chunk of the country’s economy running. Look up giant companies like Dialog and John Keells. Take away a lot of their money and, because Shit Flows Downhill (Universal Law No.1), what that translates to is unhappy investors, jobs lost and possible loss of growth, albeit temporarily.

But big companies,being big companies, will sort this out.

The next thing is corruption. Has Maithri weeded out corruption? No, not even close. And I don’t think the government can, unless they resort to Draconian measures like chopping the balls off those found guilty of bribery and corruption charges (in which case about half the Parliament will become eunuchs overnight). I don’t think that kind of top-level laying-down-the-thunderbolts is what we need.

I think that it’s something we need to work on. Yes, us. You. Me. The guy next door who passed his driver’s exam by tipping off the instructor. The tuk tuk driver who crosses the lines and shape ekey folds Rs 500/= to the cop that strolls up. Corruption is rooted in culture. It is a moral question more than a legal one.

A man, regardless of the laws governing corruption, are held in check by the culture that surrounds them, and by how that culture defines and respects integrity. A society that respects honorable men will produce honorable men, because social respect is a reward in itself.

Our problem is that we don’t seem to have this in place. If we did, it’s disintegrated. Cop coming? See if you can bribe him. Ignore the fact that you made a fault that could have killed someone. Big deal going down? See if you can palm some away for your daughter’s wedding expenses. In a society with no respect, and thus no reward for being honest, there is no reason for anyone’s hands to be clean.

We need to build that society. That’s our job. While Maithri and his Parliament get their shit together and fix the big patches in this leaky ship, you, I, your school, your district, our nation, we need to pull together and relearn what it means to be honorable. We can’t hang around for the Parliament to fix it. Too many skeletons in that closet. It’s a bunch of pots calling the kettles black. No, this is our duty. Next time the cop rolls up we sigh and accept that we crossed the line. Next time the exam comes around we still the hand that urges us to cheat and take what’s coming to us.

It’s nowhere near as easy as I make it sound, but only then can the corruption end.

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Division is in our blood

“I’m not Sinhala! I’m a Jaffna Tamil from my mother’s side. Yeah, I was born in Colombo, but, you know.”

“My people are Portugeuse! My great-grandfather was Portugeuse. They’re my people.”

“Schoolboy? Nonsense, man, I’m a Royalist.”

“Hah! Them Royalists. Ponces. Isipathana! Green blood!”

“We don’t talk to them. They’re Museities.”

“Are you a Kandy Buddhist? Because you say “Appachchi” isntead of “Thaaththa”, so you can’t be from the low country. My family comes from Kandy.”

“Don’t jabber like a Tamil, child.”

“You look like a Muslim with that beard.”

“She’s young and she just got her medical degree, but poor child, she’s black! Who will she marry?”

“Those Ratnapura Thambiyas….”

“The only reason we let you live is because your people are 3/4ths of this country. The only reason.”

“Try not to act like some buffoon from Kottawa”

“All those rich people in Colombo…”

21 million people. 65,610 km². A country ten times smaller than the state of Texas. Divided for reasons of race, religion, school, class, skin color, fashion and language.
Welcome to Sri Lanka. 

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Janus month. Januwary.

January has been a bad month.

For some reason, I’m reminded of the opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland”. I don’t know why. I’ve been over that poem many, many times, and my predicament bears nothing in relation to that poet. January, for me, has simply been a month of delays; of overdue things; of missed deadlines and half-complete projects; of will and attention wasted on frivolities.

There is this particular zone I live in. It’s a mental state, that same state that allows you to burn the candles, drink the coffee and power on through the night, slinging words from the keyboard like a gunslinger firing his six-shooters. Its what you come home after a day-long event and have a thousand-word essay up before you hit the sack. I haven’t had that this month; I have (to psychoanalyze myself) genuinely been feeling tired, spent and withdrawn. Even the random small events I’d meant to hit seemed like pretentious twaddle for people with too much time to waste.

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Part of it is due to disappointment. One thing you forget when working from home and through the wee hours of the morning is that not everyone runs the same mile as you do. Some have different roads, by which I mean different priorities, and while I have a deep distaste for people who don’t do what they’re supposed to do, it’s still useful to kick back and divorce yourself a bit and let the matter go, lest you become too involved and end up making an ass out of yourself. January has literally been Janus-month, with me looking forward to promises to be delivered and looking back to promises that weren’t.

Another part of it is because of this foot. It’s tired with me. It’s tired of me putting my weight on it and going places when I should be resting. It let rip this month, almost completely incapacitating me. The pain is annoying, the painkillers a buzzkill. Sleeping late and waking late doesn’t help, either; it’s disconcerting to stumble around while the world has gotten into full swing. To wake up at the crack of dawn is a far, far better thing, and if that means sacrificing the nightly game of Dota 2, it shall be done.

Despite the setbacks, though, I’ve managed to achieve three very important milestones in January. Two are classified, and in the web space; the third is this.

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I have (finally) bought the bike I wanted: a Honda CD125T Benly. They don’t make these anymore: my bike was build in 1990, registered here in 1992, and has run hundreds of thousands of miles – more than’s shown on the odometer, anywway. It’s a hunk of steel and weighs a lot. Mechanically, it’s perfect. Electronically, it’s not. So while I wait for my leg to heal, I have something to do: to fix this bike. This shall be my hobby, and once complete, my mode of transport. An anchor of sorts to the world of the real and the tangible. Words typed into an online textbox can only go so far.

On a different note, Maithripala Sirisena’s now-famous 100 Days manifesto seems to have instilled in everyone a much-needed sense of accountability. That makes me happy. One small step for a man, one giant leap for a nation. Let us not make kings out of those we elect to power.

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Je Suis Rajupoksa

Have you seen Muhinda Rajupaksa? No? Here.

Muhinda is a parody – a parody of recently rejected President, Mahinda Rajapaksa. I don’t know who runs it; I don’t have any idea why they’re doing it. What I do know is that it’s damn funny. I’ve seen insane amounts of meme’d mud-slinging on all sides, but Muhinda is special. Special. Because some smart wit has not only gone and parodied MR, but also created supporting accounts for almost everyone in the story. Shirunthi Raupaksa? Nomal Rajupoksa? Ronil Wickrumosinghe? There’s a whole gang of these new pages interacting and joking with each other, and it’s hilarious.

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It speaks volumes that, in a world where meme-making is commonplace, it took an election for this kind of slapstick humor to emerge. Humor and jokes – especially those of a derogatory nature – are a universal part of human culture. Where three men meet, two will gang up and laugh at the third; in the cultural crossroads that is an entire society, the attention commonly shifts to public figures, stereotypes, and to making light of issues that, in the light of tomorrow, can be safely laughed at (see Humor across cultures: an appetizer). Even, as in the case of Charlie Hebdo, things that cannot be safely laughed at…

But I digress.

Jokes about the Rajapakses were never common, unless one counts Awantha Artigala’s amazingly astute political cartoons. The Rajapaksa clan is-was practically taboo – partly from their actions, partly from the rumors that spread behind their backs about what happened to people who dared speak against them. Stories of Lasantha  Wickrematunge gunned down in cold blood. Stories of beatings and and strong-arm guards and white vans that would whisk you away. I rant – but tell me, how much subconscious fear does one have to instill in a populace to prevent it from doing this very basic thing from happening?

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I think it’s good that the humor is coming out – as acid-like as it is, it’s important that the country get over this fear, this combination of awe and terror of the King In The South. Parodying a man and his family is not the wisest course of action – definitely not one I would take. But if laughing at a man diminishes that subconscious fear, if it reduces that errant unease that prevents people from speaking their minds for fear that Mahinda Rajapaksa might return to power,  then I think it’s time for some humor.

Or perhaps people, being people, are always ready to kick the dog once it’s down.

Slow clap, anyone?

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Buying a bike is bloody difficult!

Right. As some of you may know, I’ve been looking for a bike.

Not just any bike. I refuse to buy a modern Indian bike (apologies, Indians, but the last thing I need is an overpriced, underpowered piece of crap with more plastic than metal and a tacky-sounding name). It has to be Japanese, simply because the Japanese know how to make bikes that run forever.

Logically, it has to be secondhand, because the latest commuter bikes from Japanese brands – take the Yamaha Fazer, for example: a stupider lump of plastic has yet to be conceived – are all of Indian make an manufacture. If any unintentional racism’s visible here, it’s justified: I don’t want to spend over Rs 300,000 on something that’ll fall apart after 30,000 km. With the exception of the Pulsar NS, most Indian bikes are just…crap.

Well, scratch that. How could I forget Royal Enfield? Or KTM? But that shit is expensive here. The search for secondhand has not been easy. In fact, bloody hell, it should be a lot easier than it is right now.

My first port of call was a Yamaha TZR. A TZR is a very sporty-looking bike 2-stroke affair. Yamaha made these from 1987 to 1997; it was extremely popular in the UK, apparently. Unfortunately, a little bit of research revealed that these things had horrible fuel efficiency and were (rather disappointingly) small. A bloke around the 5′ 3″ mark is going to look right at home on one of these. I’m taller and somewhat wider than ye average bloke. Scratch that one off the list. I’m confess I spent way more time than I should have looking up YouTube videos on this bike.

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The next try was a surprise: a Hondal Rebel 250 which appeared on Ikman.lk for a mere Rs 95,000. I was hooked – not on the bike per se, but on the classic cruiser styling and the promise of chrome and a throaty engine. Vroom. Off we went with all haste to see this bike. The best part about the Rebel is that it’s still in production, so while parts are rare, they can be found. 

It turned out to be that all was not well in the land of the Rebel, though – its surprisingly cheap price marked out some major issues, the biggest of all being that the bike was a scam. It didn’t start. Heck, I should have known the moment we rolled up to find the bike with an empty tank, a flat battery and a vague promise that it “started four months ago”. So much for that.

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It was about this time that I went ham on ikman. I’m pretty sure that site saw a massive surge in traffic. That was me. I flipped past pages of bikes. Old bikes. New bikes. Ugly bikes. Overpriced bikes. I found Yamaha Viragos. Gorgeous bikes, but expensive. My cousin, who knows his bikes inside out, told me to look for a Suzuki GN125 – it had epic fuel economy and parts were easily available. I looked at it. I didn’t like it. It’s exactly the kind of bike a middle-aged man living in Pettah would drive his wife to work on. There’s a significantly better-looking variant called the Marauder; I wanted that, not this horsy little commuter.

It’s bloody hard, this bike lark.

Current hopes reside on two bikes: a Yamaha Enticer (a gorgeous-looking bike nobody’s heard of) and the eternal, ultimate survivor, the darling or Sri Lanka and the only truly immortal thing in this universe: a Honda CD 125 “Benly”.

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It’s been a great year. Here’s my 2014 in pictures

I recently came across a fantastic post on Dave and Deb Corbeil’s blog (the Planet D). The couple, who are professional adventurers and travel bloggers, put together a stunning record of their year in photos. It was so well done that I decided to forgo Zuckerberg’s attempt at chronicling my year and decided to do my own. My photography’s nowhere near as good, but my year’s been pretty darn amazing.

For starters, I moved into a new – and lovely – house.

HOUSEIt’s on the edge of nowhere, which is alright. Land prices are amazingly expensive towards Colombo: it was a choice between a pokey hole-in-the-wall in Dehiwala or this fairly spacious place a couple of kilometres from Ragama. I’ve limped in cramped spaces before and trust me, it’s not fun. I vote space.

I changed jobs – moving away from a rather stifling 9-to-5 affair to what I do now.

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My family thought I was crazy, but it’s been one of the best decisions of my life. I work with some of the best people in Sri Lanka, perhaps in the world, and we’ve done some epic stuff together. Here’s a salute to Enosh Praveen and Andrew Jebaraj for the opportunity – meeting these two has been one the best things to happen to me. Job satisfaction? 150%.

I discovered travel. 

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I can write reams about the vast, open spaces of South Africa, or rant about shopping in Bangalore, or about room service in Jaffna. I’m not going to. Instead, I’m going to figure out where to go to next.

I did amazing (and sometimes batshit crazy) things with amazing (and sometimes batshit crazy) people

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Just don’t sniff that powder. Trust me.

People liked what I wrote (or didn’t like it, which sometimes is just as good)
LIKEDEnjoyed more events than I can count

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Ginger (the cat) killed himself, and I somehow wound up with Ginger v 2.0: a creature with the body of a cat and the soul of a suicide bomber

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And last but not least, I met and worked with some truly amazing people.

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It’s been a great year.

What about yours? ♦

 

 

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-Disconnect-

There’s a great deal to be said for packing up your bags, putting the old smartphone into airplane mode, and heading for the mountains.

That’s easier said than done, and I’m fortunate in the fact that I have one place I can always retreat to – Halwinna, a little village up on the mountains somewhere in the Sabaragamuwa province. My grandfather, on my mother’s side, built his home there, an odd, sprawling house that, had it been built of wood, would have been the quintessential cottage. As it is, it’s a house that has seen more people than I’ve met in my life (popular people, my grandparents), teetering at the foot of a vast mountaintop of equal parts jungle and equal parts cultivated supergarden.

I’m not sure why I’ve never written about this place, because whether I like it or not, I seem to drop by at least once a year. And what a visit it is! There is a road that snakes up from Godakawela, at the foot of the mountain; it twists and turns so ferociously that anyone not trained in these hills (or in Ratnapura: those drivers are a breed apart) would end up as a sad tangle of metal and flesh halfway down the mountain. The road takes you past streams and fields, and houses clinging to the hillside, past cliff-faces swallowed up by clouds.

But it’s the air that changes the most. You sense it as you climb – or rather, you feel the air getting colder, clearer, with the heaviness of the lowlands left behind. Your ears pop. Out of the side window you see the tops of distant mountains, wrapped in white mist. Everything seems slightly louder, clearer; the world feels refreshed, like the night after a shot of vodka.

The best part about this place is that cell phones don’t work there. No WhatsApp, no Viber, not even a call. Normally, I’d consider that marginally worse than a death sentence – being cut off from social media and my daily information overload is torture. But occasionally, like now, it helps to disconnect.

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It’s not a simpler life. There’s no grand sigh and an eulogy about returning to the simple life of the peasant, away from the rat race of the city and all that. By and large, there’s always stuff to do, and people are people wherever you go – most of them are idiots, and the rest are too busy doing their own shit. But it is a reality check in every sense of the word. You realize that life doesn’t revolve around a weekly binge at Dutch, or a BMW bought on an eight-year lease, or coffee at the most expensive place around.  That most of the things you think really matter really don’t. And that most people, being people, are really sad, because they’ve sort of built the majority of their lives around meaningless little things like this.

And by the time you get back – for get back you must – perhaps you’ve managed to sort some stuff out, and become slightly happier in the process, and slightly more productive to boot.

There’s a lot to be said for disconnecting.

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Why do people Google sex (and why do you care?)

So once again, according to Google trends, Sri Lanka is the highest volume of searches for the word “sex”.

The fact itself is not interesting. What’s interesting is that this thing is actually news. It’s all over LBO,newsfirst.lk, Daily Mirror, Lanka E Gossip – in fact, FT.lk has proudly announced that “Sri Lanka’s web sex obsession persists!” And people are sharing this left, right and center, with some damning moral arguments being made. Dammit, you horny buggers, you’re disgracing the nation! And stop sharing it on Facebook like you’re proud of it!

Rubbish.

It’s a statistic (some would also call it an impressive statistic). And it shows that there are a lot of people in Homagama, Nugegoda and Colombo who enjoy watching porn online (there are). Why are we obsessing over this? Most people, to judge by their reactions on Facebook, seem to be treating it with a mixture of shock and disgust. Which is baloney. Here’s the honest analysis of this non-news snippet:

a) Sri Lankans haven’t settled on a porn site yet, or figured out that Bing is better than Google for porn search. 

Which makes sense, given that mainstream porn sites are blocked in Sri Lanka.

b) Tikiri Manike don’t want your buns, hun.

Perhaps aren’t getting enough of it. By all accounts, it’s a notoriously difficult country to get laid in. Let me be a dick and show you this map that charts the easiness of girls by country, which can be found online at http://www.targetmap.com/viewer.aspx?reportId=19491. If you accept this as gospel, the sex searches aren’t that surprising. Apparently Google and the trusty left hand is all that’s available.

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c) Journalists are bored with the elections

After all, it takes a special kind of boredom to actually put this stuff to paper, especially when you’re getting paid to write *cough* unbiased news. Which is understandable: it’s not like we’re on the verge of a decisive election that might potentially topple dynasties. Just a regular day at the office, looking up fap analytics on Google Trends.

Either way, get off your high horse. People searching for sex? Let them. If they’re paying for Internet access, it’s up to them how to use it. And look on the bright side – they say IT literacy’s up to 40%, and now we have proof.

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Why I’m Bald, aka #MethLabCredibility

So I shaved my head recently.

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Now in ordinary circles, a bald pate would be met with polite respect. A nod to the noggin, as it were. Baldness, I’m told, naturally brings forth the philosopher in one. Unfortunately, my friends don’t seem to have gotten the hang of philosophy – their thought processes seem to run along the lines of “Can I pat it?” and “WHY ARE YOU BALD?”

Therefore, allow me to pen this dignified reply.

  1. Meth lab credibility. I make my living as a blogger, writer and editor. Should this fall out, I can always start a meth lab. However, modern-day investors demand that certain standards be followed. Certain protocols must be observed. The skull, as it is, should be bared, as set forth by our comrade W. White (2008).
  2. An Airbending careerA bald head can detect air currents, and with the right amount of tattoos, may eventually land me a starring role in the next Airbender.
  3. Portable lighting for photoshoots. Few artificial implements can match the warm glow reflected off a well-kept scalp. Bounced light is a thing now. Photographers in particular tend to appreciate that the scalp in question comes with its own pair of legs, so as to be readily moved from one place to another.
  4. Branding opportunities. 
  5. Baldbook. Bald people subconsciously connect other bald people. I believe this is due to psychic waves of meth lab potential that we emanate.
  6. Infinite savings on shampoo.
  7. No bad hair days. Or hair, for that matter. Eliminate the source of the problem, so to speak.
  8. Instathug. Surveys have shown that my thug index has risen by a factor of 5, instantly unlocking hidden badassery and a secondary career path as a bouncer.
  9. Stanley Tucci.

Like so.

And that, o ye of little scalp, is why I chose the path of the Bald and the Beautiful. Problem?

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Who the eff is Mai3?

Problem: a corrupt administration, an Executive Presidency that basically constitutes of a legal dictatorship, a Rajapakse dynasty with dominance over every major branch of government

Solution: Maithripala Sirisena?

Until a few days ago, my Facebook was filled with the usual pro-and-anti-feminist rants, pictures of far-off lands and the occasional raging Dota 2 player. Nobody gave a tinker’s damn about the upcoming election, because it was practically a given that Monseiur Rajapakse was going to win – again. Now that Maithripala Sirisena is contesting as the “Common Candidate”, everybody’s talking about Mai3 and how there’s hope for Sri Lankan democracy after all.

Who is Maithri?

Ask your mom. No, seriously. Moms know this shit. Unless they’re too uppercrust to remember anything outside of Coco Veranda’s menu, in which case you might as well Google it.

Will Mai3 win?

Unlikely. He may have been the President’s right hand man, but – in case the Photoshopped portraits of Mahinda on every street corner weren’t enough to drive this home – he’s not the guy whose face, name and ethos have been hammered into the public conciousness for years and years and years. He’s not a celebrity. He’s not the throne. He’s not the power behind the throne. For all his years in the Parliament, he’s might as well be a blank slate as far as we’re concerned.

Perhaps that’s his allure: being a blank slate. But remember, this is a man who’s been in mainstream politics since 1989 – SLFP politics, to be precise. He hasn’t been a passionate reformer, or a voice against corruption or all these things he now so publicly espouses – if he did, he’d be running the Opposition by now, or at least opposing the government. No, he’s been Mahinda’s staunch man through and through, and I doubt this dog can or will learn new tricks. Indeed, it seems the only reason he’s getting attention is because he’s NOT Mahinda or Ranil.

*note: I hear they like him in Anuradhapura. I’m not sure if they like him enough to convince the rest of the country.

Even if he does win, abolishing the Executive Presidency in a hundred days? Hah. And hah again. We fell for that trick once, good sir. Do go back to the drawing board and come up with a new one. As Indi pointed out in his blog post, he’s not going to throw himself out of a job. Who’s our Prime Minster? What is he doing? Why don’t we know his name without having to Google it? Do you really want the country in the hands of a man like that? And, when it comes right down to it, do you believe the Opposition, anyway?

Undoubtedly there’s a shitstorm heading straight or Mai3 – I’d be rather suprisied if there wasn’t. After all, Our Glorious Leader and his minions control the media, meaning they control public opinion, meaning they control the shee- I mean, the people of Sri Lanka. Except for Colombo, of course, with our educated irruminateru, but what’s Colombo in an election or in a matter of public opinion? A speck of dust with illusions of grandeur. The excreta, to be crude, is going to hit the fan and the pieces are going to be blown all over the country.

What if he’s a plant?

There’s always been the rumor that Ranil is kept in power at the whim of Mahinda, mostly in the name of maintaining a persistently shitty Opposition. Continue that vein of thought and you arrive at a logical conclusion: what if Maithri is just another plant, another actor in the play, a player bought and sold and sent to the pitch simply for the sake of having a game?

If he’s not, that’s interesting: whether he and his meaningless Horsemen of the Electioncalype win or not, it’s a legitimate sign that the iron fist of Rajapakse is rusting. Unless MR completely destroys Maithri, and his cheerleaders, and pulls of the political equivalent of anal rape with a white-hot poker, there might be hope for Sri Lanka after all – perhaps at the election after this one.

Further reading:

I look forward to serving with greater commitment : Maithripala Sirisena (Newsfirst.lk)

I am the common candidate: Maithripala Sirisena (Newsfirst.lk)

Maithri: This may be my last state function (Daily Mirror)