Background noise about Sabry and other Cabinet appointees | Sunday Observer

Background noise about Sabry and other Cabinet appointees

The single most important practical task facing the new Cabinet and the new Government is probably the management — nay resurrection — of the economy, after the ravages of five years of misrule, and then the Covid pandemic.

Next in order of priority, and when taking into consideration long-term implications, is constitutional reform.

To put things mildly, the two-thirds will help. But the political opposition or their support base at least is — as is customary in Sri Lanka — making noises about tangential issues such as Ali Sabry’s appointment, hoping they will be able to make mountains out of these molehills.

Will they succeed? Muddying the waters is their only tactic — and they started it by denigrating the voters that gave a two-thirds majority, calling them racists.

More about that later. But they think a lot turns on this matter of constitutional reform, and it seems to be the reason they have settled on denigrating the newly appointed Minister of Justice, Ali Sabry.

Sabry’s brief as Minister of Justice will entail overseeing the processes of vital constitutional transformation that are inevitable, especially after the fiasco of the 19th Amendment. That task is in fact detailed in the job description for his Ministry, that was gazetted before the appointment was made.

What’s funny is when the opposition parties — or at least their supporters on social media — pretend to be patriotic, and try denigrating a Minister who was appointed as a rational choice for a job that suits his professional background. What’s so unusual about it? It’s as regular an appointment as there could be — as simple as retaining the correct lawyer, to fit the brief.

The political opposition thinks it can upset the apple-cart by raising questions about the appointment based on Sabry’s ethnicity. That’s hilarious.


These are the people that basically caused the Easter Sunday attacks, short of plotting the perfidious deed. Don’t we all remember persons such as Harin Fernando with his glib comments about his father’s so called warnings, and those others such as Rajitha Senaratne who had a good belly laugh when asked about the carnage? For some of their supporters to raise any doubts about Sabry is uproarious. It’s a non-issue. It’s as if the foxes are worried about the welfare of the poultry in the chicken coop.

The reason they raised the Sabry non-issue is not so simple, however. They have tried to say various things such as ‘he’s a closet extremist’ and so on, but apart from the fact that these claims are pathetic, they are racist too.

Ali Sabry has had his own views on some matters, but by no means has he shown that he’s an extremist.

He has on the other hand been a very moderating influence, who has tried to mainstream Muslim politics in his own small way, and that has been admirable. He has tried to wean Muslim politics away from the ethno-religious mindset — and that’s the polar opposite of being extremist.

He has had his heart in the right place on that, even though single-handedly he cannot obviously succeed in mainstreaming Muslim politics all on his own. But he’s provided a great example.

With that record, and with his subject related competence, his appointment seems a great fit, but that has not stopped the trash talkers from being needlessly mean about it. It’s rich really, because this is coming from the so called liberal support bases as well. This kind of negative propaganda from a very anti national opposition however does not fool anybody anymore.


If there is a patriotic rump that’s raising concerns about the appointment from a Sinhala standpoint, they are probably missing the woods for the trees. There aren’t many Muslims in this Cabinet, and so there is no reason to oppose the prominent moderate one that is there.

It’s an impossible task making Cabinet appointments that satisfy all across the board, particularly when the governing party has a two-thirds majority in Parliament and so many folks to satisfy. But there has been an obvious attempt at striking a balance between the old and the new in this Cabinet of Ministers.

The appointment of Sabry to a key post is a bold strike, but also new faces such as those of Udaya Gammanpila and Ramesh Pathirana — and Nivaard Cabraal as State Minister — adds to the value of the Cabinet as a departure point from the past.

Some choices seem to be based on some scientific rationale and for instance the appointment of G.L. Peiris as Education Minister makes one ask why anybody didn’t think of that before? Here is a former Vice Chancellor and educator and he fits the job description more than he would have fit the job description at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for instance, which many would remember, was his last assignment.

Meanwhile, on another front, the Opposition’s attempt at casting the voter base of the Government as being made up of ‘deplorables’ is antithetical to their avowed democratic credentials.

The worst offender in this regard seems to be the JVP. The JVP’s post-election press conference was so self glorifying that it doesn’t cease to amaze many people that the JVP can never be self-critical or shine a light on itself.

There were no congratulatory messages going out to the Government at the party’s post election press conference. There was a cursory mention about the fact that the party had lost seats since the last election, but nobody cared to go into the reasons for that in any meaningful way that was in the nature of a true post-mortem of a very sad story.

The JVP is the party that keeps doing the same thing badly each time without fail, and yet looks for different results. Somebody once said that that’s the very definition of insanity; to repeat monotonous conduct, but expect different outcomes.

Even when the JVP gets a substantial drubbing, as it did this time around, the tone is of self-righteous superiority, rather than introspection.

JVPers seem to suffer from a congenital inability to accept that there is something radically wrong with a party that has no national acceptance, except niche acceptance.


The party’s general mindset is that it’s clever to be in that niche and denigrate everybody for the fact that it cannot get elected to office. It’s a sickening case of calling the voters deplorables, except that this sickness is chronic and can never be cured.

The party’s answer to its performance deficit is that it will supplant its parliamentary role by taking its campaigns to the streets.

There is no talk of giving the new Government a chance, for instance. This is an attitude that wins no friends for the JVP because nobody likes the smug, the self-righteous or the intolerant. People don’t take kindly to the variety of politics that is so full of itself, that the party leadership thinks of themselves as infallible.

At least Sajith Premadasa manages to say that the people’s verdict at the polls has to be respected.

The JVP makes no such concession, and appears too churlish as a result.

The party’s politics is stuck in time, and that’s a fate that is tragic for any political party — especially when its leaders don’t recognise this fact. The fate of such parties is probably the long night of oblivion, sooner or later.

That was the fate of the UNP. People ask whether Ranil Wickremesinghe would really leave the UNP leadership position, but they want to know the answer at a time the question is irrelevant.

The answer seems to be, who cares?

It’s not a factor in local politics any more, indubitably, and that should be obvious from the recent election result.

The UNP made itself utterly irrelevant. The JVP is getting there fast, if it hasn’t got there already.

When JVPers see something such as a functional Cabinet of Ministers which has been reasonably scientifically appointed, its membership must get that usual itch, which is to condemn and demolish.

But the party with its churlishness always diminishes itself. If the SLPP is the expanding party, reaching out now with a two-thirds majority, the JVP is the great shrinking party that’s just waiting to disappear altogether one of these days.