Table ronde sur Sri Lanka à Edimbourg

Une table ronde consacrée à la situation politique et sociale actuelle de Sri Lanka est organisée à Edimbourg le 26 et 27 mai 2016 par Jonathan Spencer, professeur d’anthropologie à l’Université.
Nous reproduisons ci-dessous le programme provisoire de ces journées d’étude:

Sri Lanka Roundtable (DRAFT PROGRAMME)
Edinburgh 26-27 May, 2016

Thursday 26 May, Techcube, Summerhall (t.b.c)
9.00-9.15 Introduction and welcome
9.15-11.00 Youth and war Isabelle Clark-Decès (Princeton), Youth in the cultural politics of contemporary Jaffna
Dhana Hughes (Durham), Sinhala Youth and Military Enlistment
Giacomo Mantovan (CEIAS/CRH, EHESS) “They were kings…” The farewell to arms of former Tamil Tiger fighters in exile in France
Giyani Venya De Silva (Oxford) Living with continuity, waiting for change: commentaries from students in Colombo
11.00-11.15 Coffee
11.15-12.45 Gender Asha Abeysekera (Colombo) Balancing Modernity and Morality in the Sinhala-Buddhist Family Exploring the Rhetoric of Sinhala-Buddhist Nationalism
Kristine Hoglund (Uppsalla) Gender and the Pursuit of Justice in Sri Lanka: Testimonies of Peace and Conflict
Jayanthi Lingam (SOAS) Gendered working lives in the post-war transition in Jaffna district, 2009-14
12.45-1.30 Lunch
1.30-3.00 Justice and Security Georg Frerks (Utrecht), Rajapakse’s Peace’: The President’s discourse on the post-war situation in Sri Lanka (2009-2015)
Ali Brown (Amsterdam), Human Security in the Era of Sirasena
Gerrit Kurtz (KCL), The evolution of post-war transitional justice in Sri Lanka
3.00-3.15 Tea
3.15-5.00 Transitional Justice and Constitutional Reform: State of Play and Future Prospects Harini Amarasuriya (Open University and Public Representations Committee on Constitutional reform), Alan Keenan (international Crisis Group), Asanga Welikala (CPA and University of Edinburgh), with Christine Bell (University of Edinburgh)
7.30 Dinner, Mother India, Infirmary Street

Friday 27 May, Seminar Rooms 1 and 2, Chrystal Macmillan Building
Please note, in the morning we will split the space to run parallel panels in the two rooms. In the afternoon, we will open up the two rooms for our final plenary sessions.

9.00-9.15 Introduction and welcome
9.15-10.45 Work and Livelihoods (Seminar Room 1) Urs Geiser (Zurich)The making of control over land in Wattamadu – local organisations, engaging the state, changing conjunctures
Charles Wilkinson and Maura van den Kommer
(Amsterdam) Living the Uncertainty: Exploring the Effects of the EU Ban on Sri Lankan Fisheries
Joeri Scholtens and Maarten Bavinck (Amsterdam) Facilitating change from the bottom-up? Reflections on civil society efforts to empower marginalized fishers in post-war Sri Lanka
Religion and transition (Seminar Room 2) Mahinda Deegalle (Bath Spa) The Vision and Leadership of the Architect of Yahapālanaya: Venerable Māduluwāwe Sobhita’s Exemplary Role in the Political Transition of Sri Lanka in 2015
Neena Mahadev (Max Planck) Notes on contemporary religio-economic linkages between Sri Lankan & Singapore
Dominic Esler (UCL) Northern Tamil society after the war: the revival of Catholic kūttu in Mannar
10.45-11.15 Coffee
11.15-12.45 Work and Politics (Seminar Room 1) Sandya Hewamanne (Essex) Neoliberalism’s New Recruits: Tamil Workers, Human Rights Thrashings and ‘Mundane’ Politics in Post-War Sri Lanka
Mythri Jegathesan (Santa Clara) Is a progressive politics possible? Examining the contemporary intersections of industrial sustainability and political shifts in Sri Lanka’s plantation sector
Darshi Thoradeniya (Heidelberg/Colombo) Women Citizens in Welfare State of Sri Lanka
Past and present (Seminar Room 2) Deborah Winslow (NSF) Contexts of Caste
Alessandra Radicati (LSE) Precarious Patriots: Reflections on Past, Present and Future in a Coastal Community
Carolina Holgersson Ivarsson (Gothenburg), Religious identity, nationalism and social media among Sinhala-Buddhist youth
12.45-1.30 Lunch
1.30-3.30 Borders and Margins Vagisha Gunasekara,
Prashanthi Rasadhari Jayasekara,
Gayathri Hiroshani, Hallinne Lokuge,
Aftab Lall (Centre for Poverty Analysis, Colombo), Production of Marginality: Findings from a six-year research programme on basic services, social protection and livelihoods in the North and East
Jonathan Goodhand (SOAS/Melbourne), Vagisha Gunasekera (CEPA), Alice Kern (Zurich) and Thiruni Kelegama (Zurich), with Rajesh Venugopal (LSE), discussant, Sri Lanka’s borderlands and frontiers
3.30-3.45 Tea
3.45-5.30 Writing War and After Sunila Galappatti will read from her new book, A Long Watch: War, Captivity and Return in Sri Lanka, and V.V. (Sugi) Ganeshananthanan will read from her work in progress, The Missing are Considered Dead.

Also in attendance (participating but not presenting): Ashwini Vasanthakumar
(York), Dennis McGilvray (Colorado), Anne Blackburn (Cornell), Rose Fernando (Utrecht), Niels Terpstra (Utrecht), Eric Meyer (INALGO, Paris), Oivind Fuglerud (Oslo), R.L. (Jock) Stirrat (Sussex), Kanchana Ruwanpura (Edinburgh), Anthony Good (Edinburgh), Jonathan Spencer (Edinburgh), Sidharthan Maunaguru (NUS), Tanya Ekanayaka (Edinburgh), Deborah Menezes (Edinburgh)

Disparition de Sobitha Thera, moine politique

Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera est décédé à Singapour des suites d’une intervention chirurgicale. Né en 1942, ce moine bouddhiste influent, supérieur du monastère de Kotte, s’était imposé sur la scène politique de Sri Lanka dans les années 1980-1990 en défendant avec virulence la cause nationaliste cingalaise contre le mouvement séparatiste tamoul. Après la défaite des LTTE en 2009, il avait pris ses distances vis à vis de la politique triomphaliste menée par le Président Mahinda Rajapaksa, puis avait mené campagne contre la corruption du régime, fédérant les mécontentements au point d’envisager de se présenter aux élections présidentielles. Il avait finalement soutenu la candidature de Maithripala Sirisena, contribuant à son succès, et avait infléchi ses positions dans le sens d’une ouverture aux revendications des minorités et d’un dialogue interreligieux constructif. Sa disparition prive le nouveau régime d’un important appui symbolique.

« The scourge of majoritarianism »

Dans un important discours prononcé à l’occasion de la commémoration du 25ème anniversaire de l’expulsion des Musulmans de la province Nord par les LTTE (Tigres de Libération du Tamil Eelam), le Ministre des Affaires Etrangères de Sri Lanka, Mangala Samaraweera, analyse les causes profondes des conflits intercommunautaires qui ont déchiré le pays, et pose les bases d’un processus endogène de réconciliation nationale.

 » I would like to thank the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress for organizing this commemoration of the 25th Anniversary of the Expulsion of Muslims from the North. At this historic juncture, when Sri Lanka is grappling with its past and creating a constitutional framework for true peace, this tragic episode in our history, and the anguish that persists to this day, needs to be remembered and addressed.

I would like to particularly thank Minister Rauff Hakeem for his vision and leadership in organizing this event – it is a privilege to be invited here to speak a few words. The SLMC has a long and chequered history of advocating on behalf their community’s rights. Both the late Mr. Ashraff and Minister Hakeem have boldly voiced the grievances and concerns of the Muslim community in Cabinet, in Parliament, in the press and in their travels abroad. The SLMC’s fact-finding and reporting efforts during the Aluthgama Pogrom and surrounding attacks were particularly bold.

The history and suffering of Sri Lanka’s Northern Muslims is a microcosm of our post-Independence history. In October 1990 the LTTE gave 75,000 Muslims under forty-eight hours to leave their ancestral homes across the North and take nothing more than their clothes and 500 rupees to live in IDP camps – where an estimated 80 percent remain 25 years later.

They had peacefully lived, farmed and traded with their Tamil brethren for centuries. In fact, some Muslims initially helped the LTTE and many more were sympathetic to their cause. The bonds between the communities were close. Therefore, the LTTE’s sudden order came as a surprise to many. It was a crime that shocked the conscience of the entire country.

The LTTE’s justification echoed the age-old line of majorities towards minorities: they, the majority, had been lenient, generous and considerate, while the minorities have been treacherous and ungrateful. In this case, the Tigers alleged that the Muslims’ specific crime was colluding with the state and the Indian Peacekeeping Forces.

But underlying the arguments about Muslims being a fifth column and a security threat to the LTTE was something more pernicious. It was a belief that the power of numerical majority was a justification for violating the rights of individuals and minority groups.

The North of Sri Lanka was as much home for its Muslim population as it was for its Tamil population. Both communities had as much claim as the other to live there and these claims were not contested. The two communities had lived together for centuries in peace.

But the LTTE believed that the Tamil population’s numerical majority gave it the right to expel the entire Muslim population. It was not just the LTTE, few Tamils criticized the LTTE while many justified their actions; even today Muslims returning to their homes face majoritarian resistance from Tamil bureaucrats.

The story is of course many-sided. Numerous Tamils weeped when their Muslim neighbors left, hiding valuables on their behalf and helping them in what little way they could. But as a whole, the majority community, failed to stand in solidarity and protect the rights of the minority community in their midst.

The expulsion occurred because the LTTE was unable to accept a society based on equality and freedom; they were unable to accept that North was multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious. They were unable to celebrate diversity. They were even unable to have the basic decency to give the community they exiled a few extra days or weeks to leave and to take their heirlooms and title deeds with them.

The racism and majoritarianism undergirding the LTTE’s expulsion of Muslims from the North is not something isolated to the Tamil community. It prevails to this day among all communities in our society. Just as the LTTE was unable to accept a multi-ethnic North, extremists in the South are unable to celebrate our country’s diversity – much the less accept that Tamils, Muslims, Burghers and Malays are as much a part of Sri Lanka as the Sinhalese.

Especially since the end of the war, which should have ushered introspection, magnanimity and healing, majoritarianism in the South raised its ugly head. The government indulged in an orgy of triumphalism based on equating Sri Lanka’s identity with the Sinhala-Buddhist community, and relegated the minority communities to the place of unwanted guests.

They ignored the grievances of those in the North and the South and trampled on their rights. The Aluthgama Pogrom and the hundreds of smaller attacks surrounding it were a clear signal to minorities that they were not only second-class citizens but that the state had abdicated from discharging its basic responsibilities towards them, including safeguarding their person and property.

In fact, it is this scourge of majoritarianism that is at the very centre of our post-Independence failure to build a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka that is united and undivided both on the map and in its citizens’ hearts and minds. Each and every ethnic, religious, class and caste group discriminates and oppresses in areas where they form a majority whether it be in the North, South, East or West.

At this critical moment in Sri Lanka’s history the lessons of the expulsion have much to teach us. Since Independence we have failed to establish a society where all citizens feel equal and free and, as a result, instead of peace, conflict has prevailed.

The end of the war presented a historic opportunity for all our communities and leaders to demonstrate true leadership by breaking away from the past and beginning the task of building a truly united Sri Lanka. Just as Muslims and Tamils lived together as brothers and sisters in the North for centuries; prior to Independence in 1948, Sri Lanka had many centuries of ethnic amity and peace.

Of course, there were disturbances, like the 1915 riots, but they were isolated and rare. Even before the colonial era, Sri Lanka enjoyed a highly syncretic culture – there is evidence that Buddhism was widely practiced by the Tamils of Jaffna, Tamil was spoken by the kings of Kandy and there are some indications that the language of court was Tamil; Muslims generally speak both Sinhalese and Tamil and thus it could be argued that they are the most Sri Lankan of all the ethnic groups. They were also functionaries at the Dalada Maligawa and participated in the Kandy Esala Perahera. The religious and cultural practices of Sri Lanka’s many communities indicate a high degree of tolerance and borrowing.

We need to understand why that amity broke down, and why it broke down to the extent that war and violence followed.

The challenge for us today is to learn from our past failures, remedy mistakes and move forward. This is a rare opportunity we cannot miss. Speaking in Parliament last Friday I said, “Sri Lanka has yet another window of opportunity to come to terms with its past and move on. Extremists in the North and in the South have been defeated in the recent elections, two of the most liberal minded leaders since independence are leading the country and the two main parties, for the first time in history, have formed a national unity government. This is a moment we cannot afford to lose.”

But it will not be an easy or a pleasant process: we will have to look critically at our own faults and strive hard to hear the voices of others. It will require courage and commitment. But I am confident it can be done.

The TNA recently announced that it would be leading its own community in a process of introspection. The SLMC, welcoming this statement, indicated that it would do so as well. The National Government comprising of both the United National Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party have committed themselves to guiding the entire country in this difficult process of dealing with the past.

As for the Government of Sri Lanka – as you are aware- we are now beginning to lay the foundations for peace and reconciliation through truth-seeking, accountability, reparations and non-recurrence. Already the Office of National Unity and Reconciliation, the Ministry of Resettlement and other government agencies are taking steps to assist in this process, and just yesterday I met with civil society, including representatives of the Muslim community, to discuss the consultations process necessary to design the mechanisms to implement this process.

Muslims will be an integral part of the truth, justice, reparations and non-recurrence process.

Muslims’ grievances and concerns will be a part of the consultations, design and operationalization of the domestic mechanisms; including the Commission for Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Non-recurrence, the Judicial Mechanism, the Office of Missing Persons and the Office of Reparations. Together with the Ministries and government agencies, these mechanisms, will provide much needed relief to the daily struggle of the thousands of Muslims who remain in IDP camps, are struggling to return to their homes or are dealing with the losses of loved ones.

These mechanisms will not only address the suffering and grievances of members of the Muslim community, they will also address the grievances and concerns of members of the Sinhala and Tamil communities and the concerns of other minority groups.

At this historic moment, let us not be afraid to engage in meaningful dialogue aimed at finding solutions to problems as opposed to pointing fingers, heaping blame and scoring political points at the expense of future generations. Let us design, define and create our future by our hopes and aspirations, and not be held back by the fears and prejudices of the past. Let us not be afraid to dream.  »

Le rapport de la Commission des Droits de l’Homme des Nations Unies

Le Conseil des Droits de l’Homme des Nations Unies réuni en session à Genève en septembre 2015 a adopté une résolution concernant la situation passée et présente de Sri Lanka sur la base du rapport détaillé fourni par le Haut Commissaire des Droits de l’Homme. Nos lecteurs peuvent prendre connaissance de ces deux textes dans leur version anglaise; une analyse détaillée en sera faite ultérieurement

OHCHR Report 2015
United Nations Resolution

La démocratie raffermie

Les résultats de l’élection législative du 17 août 2015 confirment ceux de l’élection présidentielle de janvier 2015. Les candidats de l’United National Party (UNP, élargi sous le nom d’United National Front for Good Governance, UNFGG, à des membres de la société civile, à des dissidents du Sri Lanka Freedom Party et à une fraction du Jathika Hela Urumaya) remportent la majorité des sièges dans 11 districts sur 22, les plus urbanisés, les plus jeunes et les plus mêlés ethniquement, obtenant au total 93 sièges; cette coalition regroupe l’essentiel des forces qui avaient soutenu la candidature à la Présidence de Maithripala Sirisena, et avaient gouverné le pays depuis janvier sous la direction du leader de l’UNP, Ranil Wickremasinghe, sans avoir la majorité au Parlement. L’United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA, dont la grande majorité des candidats appartiennent au Sri Lanka Freedom Party) conserve la majorité dans 8 districts cingalais du sud et du nord-ouest principalement ruraux, mais avec un score très inférieur à celui de 2010, et remporte 83 sièges; l’ancien président Mahinda Rajapaksa, battu en janvier, avait tenté de jouer sur la peur d’une résurgence du militantisme tamoul ; il comptait s’appuyer sur les candidats de ce parti qu’il avait sélectionnés en forçant la main de son successeur Maithripala Sirisena (théoriquement leader de ce même parti), afin de contraindre ce dernier à le nommer Premier Ministre au cas où l’UPFA l’aurait emporté. La Tamil National Alliance (TNA) remporte les élections dans les trois districts à majorité tamoule du nord et de l’est, avec 14 sièges. Le Janata Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) n’obtient que 4 sièges, et les deux derniers sièges reviennent à un parti tamoul aligné sur l’UPFA (l’EPDP) et à un parti musulman, le Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC).

Le système électoral complexe combine l’élection à la proportionnelle dans le cadre de 22 districts électoraux de 196 députés sur des listes établies par chaque parti mais où les électeurs peuvent exprimer un vote préférentiel permettant d’établir un ordre de classement et donc d’éliminer ou de favoriser tel ou tel candidat de la liste. En outre, 29 députés sont désignés sur une liste nationale en proportion des voix obtenues à l’échelle nationale par chacun des partis dans l’ensemble du pays: l’UNFGG gagne 13 sièges nationaux, l’UPFA 12, le JVP et la TNA 2 chacun. Pour constituer un cabinet sûr d’une majorité stable au Parlement, Ranil Wickremasinghe pouvait obtenir l’appui ou la neutralité de la TNA et du SLMC, mais le projet qu’il avait élaboré avec le Président Sirisena de former un gouvernement d’union nationale impliquait d’y associer l’UPFA. Les semaines qui ont suivi les élections législatives ont donc été consacrées à des tractations compliquées entre les deux partis, qui ont abouti à l’isolement de la faction Rajapaksa au sein de l’UPFA, mais qui risquent de donner des gages à des politiciens opportunistes, contrairement à l’esprit du printemps sri lankais.

Ces élections confirment la maturité démocratique du corps électoral sri lankais. Le taux de participation moyen est de l’ordre de 75%, un peu inférieur à celui des présidentielles, mais bien supérieur à celui de beaucoup de démocraties occidentales: les seuls districts ayant un taux inférieur à 70% sont ceux de Jaffna (55%), d’où beaucoup d’électeurs potentiels ont émigré, et de Hambantota (64%), le district d’origine de Mahinda Rajapaksa, qui l’avait déserté pour se présenter à Kurunegala et laisser sa place à son fils, son frère et sa nièce… Ce sont les élections les plus pacifiques et les plus régulières dans ce pays depuis le début des années 1960. Après le cycle de violence amorcé dans les années 1970 avec les révoltes du JVP cingalais et leur répression en 1971 et 1989, après la montée en puissance des Tigres de l’Eelam Tamoul, la guerre de près de trente ans qui en est résulté, et leur écrasement sanglant par l’armée gouvernementale en 2009, et après la dérive démagogique et les atteintes aux droits de l’homme sous les deux présidences successives de Mahinda Rajapaksa (2005-2015), la démocratie est à présent raffermie dans un pays dont la jeunesse a décidé de tourner la page et de dépasser les années d’épreuves et de mauvaise gouvernance qui avaient fait de Sri Lanka l’homme malade de l’Asie du Sud. Le printemps sri lankais a porté ses fruits. Il restera de lourdes tâches au gouvernement, celles de consolider la démocratisation des institutions et des pratiques politiques, et de mettre en place les outils d’une véritable réconciliation nationale entre la majorité cingalaise bouddhiste et les minorités linguistiques et religieuses. A cet égard, le ralliement de membres influents du clergé bouddhiste à des positions ouvertes est un signe encourageant. Il fait écho à l’appel de plusieurs organisations de Tamouls de la diaspora à rentrer au pays et à jouer le jeu démocratique. Jamais depuis un demi siècle les conditions n’ont été aussi favorables à une solution pacifique des problèmes du pays.


Note: On trouvera sur le site les résultats complets accompagnés d’une infographie de bonne qualité.

Dheepan: le film et ses acteurs

Nous invitons nos lecteurs à lire ci-dessous l’article très bien documenté écrit par le journaliste d’origine tamoule D.B.S. Jeyaraj et publié sur son site ( consacré à Dheepan, le film de Michel Audiard qui a obtenu la palme d’or au festival de Cannes, et à ses acteurs tamouls, en premier lieu Anthonythasan Jesuthasan (Shobasakthi)

Jacques Audiard’s Film “Dheepan” About Three Tamil Refugees in France Wins Golden Palm at Cannes

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Cannes is a city on the picturesque French Riviera-Mediterranean coast in South-Eastern France. It is classified as a French commune which is an administrative division roughly equivalent to a municipality.
The pride of Cannes in contemporary times has been the annual international film festival held in the city. Known as the Cannes Film Festival in English, it is regarded as the most prestigious film festival in the world. Competing at Cannes, let alone winning an award, is a feather in the cap for a filmmaker.

The 68th annual Cannes film festival was held this year from 13 to 24 May. The highest prize awarded for a film at Cannes is the ‘Palme d’Or’ (Golden Palm). The Golden Palm this year was won by renowned French Film Director Jacques Audiard for his film ‘Dheepan’.

The top honour at Cannes going to ‘Dheepan’ has aroused much interest in Sri Lanka as the film tells the tale of three Sri Lankan Tamil refugees. The travails and tribulations faced in France by the trio, notably the chief protagonist named Dheepan, forms the essence of the movie.
The three main roles are played by Tamil actors of Sri Lankan and Indian origin. Though much of the film is set in France, over 85% of the words spoken in the film are in the Tamil language in the form of conversations by the trio and other Tamil characters in their mother tongue.

The storyline
The main role in the movie is that of Dheepan whose name is the title of the film. The film narrative begins with the end of the war in Sri Lanka. Survivors flee or try to flee. One such person whose nom de guerre in the militant movement (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) was ‘Sivadhasan’ cremates his fallen comrades at Mullivaaikkaal and burns his military fatigues.
Subsequently as the story unfolds we learn that Sivadhasan is all alone, having lost his wife and child in the war. He dons civilian clothes and mingles with the displaced ordinary people seeking escape to a new life abroad.
At the refugee camp, he gets the passport under the name Dheepan and feels he has a better chance of gaining acceptance as a refugee in a foreign country if there is a family. A “fake” family is cobbled together hastily. A law student who lost her parents in the war becomes the Dheepan’s wife Yalini. An orphaned child is found to play the part of nine-year-old daughter Ilaiyaal. The “pretender” family, comprising father, mother and daughter, who are totally unrelated to each other in actuality, begin travel by sea to France.
In France they face an immigration inquiry with an implausible story about their past. The friendly Tamil interpreter “changes” their version into a believable one to convince the authorities. The Dheepan “family” is granted temporary visas and relocated to a large housing block in Le Pre-Saint-Gervais in the north eastern suburbs of Paris where a recently abandoned flat is given to them as their new home.
After peddling novelty items like flashing rabbit ears on the streets of Paris for economic survival, “husband” Dheepan gets a job as resident caretaker. “Wife” Yalini works as a home-health aide for an ailing senior citizen named Habib who is suffering from Dementia. “Daughter” Ilaiyaal is enrolled at a special needs school and begins learning French.
Internally there is rippling tension within this counterfeit family as it tries adjusting to existential reality. Being complete strangers, they find it increasingly difficult to pose as family and genuinely relate to each other. The orphaned child Ilaiyaal has problems at school as an immigrant kid. She misses the love of her dead parents and cannot find it in her “new” father and mother.
The woman Yalini does not like French life and yearns to join her cousin in England. She finds herself unable to cope with her new avatars of wife and mother. Dheepan who lost his real wife and child in the war is also finding it problematic to adapt to his “adopted” synthetic wife and daughter.
Externally there are the problems faced by an immigrant family in an alien often hostile environment. A gang of dope sellers invade the housing complex and takes over a block where Yalini goes to work. A former “Colonel” in the LTTE accosts Dheepan and exerts pressure. While Dheepan and Yalini are compelled to enact a parental role to Ilaiyaal, Dheepan begins to “thaw” in the case of Yalini. She however is somewhat fascinated by the bigwig of the drug gang Brahim. This in turn arouses quiet resentment in Dheepan, who now is beginning to feel he must protect his “family”.
Dheepan draws a white line around his residence and declares a “no fire zone” in that area. Mounting tension however explodes with gang strife erupting. Dheepan is forced to resort to violence to protect his family and himself. He fights the gang by returning to his past and using the combat techniques he learnt as a “guerrilla”.
After engaging in “screen vigilantism” of the Charles Bronson variety, Dheepan along with Yalini and Ilaiyaal leaves France for Britain. In a departure from earlier times when none had genuine feelings for each other, the trio has now drawn closer and share a new intimacy among themselves. The film which began with tragedy and sorrow ends on a note of blossoming love and hopeful optimism.
Antonythasan Jesuthasan
The chief role of Dheepan is played by Antonythasan Jesuthasan, a 47-year-old Sri Lankan Tamil who now lives in Paris. In what is perhaps an interesting example of life imitating art, Antonythasan himself – like Dheepan – is a former Tamil militant turned refugee in France. He told the press at Cannes that the story of Dheepan resembled about 50% of his real life.
Unlike Dheepan in the film, Anthonythasan in real life is currently a reputed writer in Tamil. He writes under the nom de plume “Shobasakthi”. He denounces war and violence and is severely critical of the Sri Lankan State as well as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Anthonythasan Jesuthasan known famously now as Shobasakthi hails from the northern island of Allapiddy. Born in 1967, he joined the LTTE as a “helper” after the 1983 July anti-Tamil pogrom. He was a 16-year-old schoolboy at the time. He became a full-timer in 1984 and received local training. He was called “Thasan” and “Buckle” in the LTTE. Anthonythasan was more inclined towards the arts and the LTTE utilised his talents accordingly. He acted in the popular street drama produced by the LTTE in 1985 called ‘Yuddhakkaali’ or ‘War Kali’.
Anthonythasan became increasingly disillusioned with war and the LTTE and quit the tigers in December 1986. After undergoing the customary punishment meted out by the LTTE for leaving the movement, he moved to Colombo when the Indo-Lanka Accord was signed in July 1987. War however soon broke out between the LTTE and the Indian Army. Anthonythasan was arrested as a “Tiger” in Colombo and detained. He was released after the LTTE began talks with former President Ranasinghe Premadasa.
He then fled Sri Lanka to Thailand and was registered as a refugee in Bangkok by the UNHCR. After repeated attempts to reach Canada or Britain, he ended up in France as a refugee claimant. He did a number of jobs in France ranging from dishwasher to street peddler in Paris. Anthonythasan also began writing in Tamil using the pseudonym Shobasakthi. He has written several short stories and novels drawing heavily on his personal experiences of growing up in Allaipiddy, as a LTTE cadre and as a refugee in France. Shobasakthi dubs his work as ‘Autofiction’.
Much of Shobasakthi’s writings display an impish sense of dark humour. His creative writing as well as other essays and interviews have been strongly critical of the LTTE and the Sri Lankan State. This has stirred up huge controversies in the Tamil literary realm. Two of his novels –’Gorilla’ and ‘Traitor’ – have been translated into English by the US-based Indian academic Prof. Anushiya Ramaswamy. Shobasakthi has also acted in and co-written the script of the Tamil film ‘Senkadal’ (Crimson Sea) directed by Leena Manimekalai.

Kalieaswari Sreenivasan
The character Yalini is a Sri Lankan woman but in the film it is played by a Tamil actress from India, Kalieaswari Sreenivasan. She is essentially a drama artiste and ‘Dheepan’ is her debut in a feature film.
Kalieaswari is the daughter of a retired military officer. Though her native place is Sathurangapattinam near Kanchipuram, Kalieaswari grew up in the Tamil Nadu capital of Chennai schooling at a convent. She acts in offbeat dramas and street theatre and also teaches drama in schools. Kalieaswari, who has acted in two short films including ‘Kuttram Kadidhal,’ got married a few weeks ago to actor P. Vinod who played the villain ‘Maari’ in the much acclaimed film ‘Madras’.

Claudine Vinasithamby
The role of the nine-year-old daughter Ilaiyaal is played by 10-year-old Claudine Vinasithamby who is a student in Paris. Her parents are both Sri Lankan Tamils. Her father is a Hindu from Kaithaddy in the Thenmaratchy sector of Jaffna. Her mother is a Catholic from Karaveddy in the Vadamaratchy sector of Jaffna. Interestingly enough, young Claudine’s pet name at home is Ilaiyaal, her screen name in ‘Dheepan’. Ilaiyaal means young woman or girl.
Selecting the cast
How these three were chosen by Director Jacques Audiard to act in the film is by itself an interesting account.
Jacques Audiard along with his Casting Directors Philippe Elkoubi and Mohamed Belhamar first began auditions for actors within the Sri Lankan diaspora in France. Later they conducted auditions in London and the Indian cities of Chennai and Bengalooru. Over 2,000 potential actors were auditioned before this trio was selected. The ‘Kollywood’ grapevine has it that even prominent Tamil Nadu actors like Dhanush, Vijay Sethupathy and Pasupathy were considered before it was decided that comparative newcomers should be picked.

The name of Anthonythasan Jesuthasan alias Shobasakthi for the role of Dheepan was suggested to Casting Director Philippe Elkoubi by dramatist and theatre personality Kumaran Valluvan from Puducheri (Pondycherry) in India. Valluvan was a friend of both Philippe and Shobasakthi. The Directors then returned to Paris and interviewed Anthonythasan who was found to be most suitable. Later Audiard was to say in an interview that he was sure that he had found the right guy for Dheepan as soon as he saw Anthonythasan walking and talking. He also described his discovery of Anthonythasan as being with “the help of God”.
Anthonythasan as Dheepan fits his screen role perfectly and gives off a very powerful performance. Speaking to the media at Cannes, Anthonythasan revealed that he was already familiar with the films of Jacques Audiard before taking the part of Dheepan. He further said “When it came to the acting, it was difficult but it was a joy.”
Kalieaswari Sreenivasan who plays Yalini was picked after an audition in Chennai. It was the same Drama Director Kumaran Valluvan who had recommended Shobasakthi for the Dheepan role who had suggested that Kalieaswari should try out for the role. Another artiste Seema had also told her of the audition. Though not a Sri Lankan woman, Kalieaswary was selected. Claudine Vinasithamby was selected as Ilaiyaal after an audition in Paris.

After being selected, the actors had to undergo “preparatory” training for a month in Paris. Kalieaswari had to “learn” the distinctive pronunciation of Sri Lankan Tamils. Anthonythasan was most helpful in this regard. She acquired the correct Sri Lankan Tamil accent and diction and acts her part convincingly as an “authentic” Sri Lankan Tamil woman. Young Claudine who grew up in France also acts her part as Ilaiyaal well. Her pronunciation of Tamil also sounds natural like a child who grew up in the Sri Lankan north as opposed to a kid growing up in Paris with an “Europeanised” Tamil accent.
Though Anthonythasan alias Shobasakthi had nothing to do with the film’s screenplay, he did help translate the dialogues originally written in French into Tamil for the film. It is noteworthy that when Anthonythasan was selected initially, the Director was not aware of his LTTE past or literary abilities. He was picked only as an actor. It was later that a delighted Director discovered his background.
Subsequently when the film was being made Anthonythasan’s personal history and writing skills came in handy for director Jacques Audiard who utilised him “unofficially” as a resource person. The conversations in the film are in Tamil, French and English with Tamil amounting to about 80% to 90% of the words spoken. The original script was a joint effort co-written by the Director Jacques Audiard along with his “regular” Thomas Bidegain and Noe Debre.
Apart from the major roles of Dheepan, Yalini and Ilaiyaal, there are several minor “Tamil” roles too in the film. One such role is that of the “Ex-Tiger Col” who exerts pressure on Dheepan in Paris. This part is played by Vasanth, a theatre artiste from Tamil Nadu. Then there is the role of the Tamil interpreter who helps the trio gain acceptance in France by “altering” their story into a convincing version acceptable to the authorities. This role is played by Eelanathan, a Sri Lankan Tamil living in France. Likewise, several other “bit” roles are also acted by Sri Lankan Tamil residents of France such as “Oasai” Mano, “Manmadhan” Bhaaski, “Uncle” Sree, “Police” Arunagiri, Satha, Pranavan, Kesavan, “Velanai” Prabha and Sudhaa. All of them act as Tamil refugees living in France.
A few other Sri Lankan Tamils from France have been involved in the film production too. Vipin who is knowledgeable in Information Technology worked as a technician in the film’s post-production. Praveena, a Tamil girl in Paris, worked as a casting assistant. Another Parisian Tamil woman, Oavia Ilankovan, worked in the Editing section. Oavia incidentally is the niece of Colombo University Law Faculty Dean Prof. V.T. Thamilmaran.
Among the non-Tamil roles, the performances of two actors are somewhat remarkable. One is that of Brahim played by French actor Vincent Rottiers. The 29-year-old Rottiers has acted in more than 30 films in a film career that commenced in 2002. Rottiers plays the head of the violent gang for whom Yalini played by Kalieaswari has a quiet infatuation. The other role is that of Youssef played by 31-year-old Marc Zinga. Youssef is the community liaison officer who guides the Sri Lankan Tamil newcomers in Paris and finds them housing. Zinga is a Belgian actor of Congolese decent.
Apart from the actor newcomers, there are two notable “freshers” to feature films in the music and camera spheres. American-Chilean musician Nicolas Jaar has composed the background music and sound tracks for ‘Dheepan’. The cinematographer is Eponine Momenceau. She has had no feature film experience prior to ‘Dheepan,’ having done only short films and documentaries.
Editing for ‘Dheepan’ is by an Audiard “old faithful” Juliette Welfling, who was nominated for an Oscar in 2007. She has won four Cesar awards editing Audiard’s films. ‘Dheepan’ is scheduled for international release on 26 August this year. The film is produced by Pascal Caucheteux for Why Not Productions in France.
Shooting locations
The shooting for ‘Dheepan’ began in 2014 and continued this year. Originally it was intended to shoot some scenes in Sri Lanka. After a visit to Sri Lanka last year, the filmmakers decided that given the political climate prevailing then, it would have been risky to shoot in the island. So the film crew began shooting at Rameshwaram in southern Tamil Nadu where the biggest camp for Sri Lankan Tamil refugees is located at Mandapam.
Many Tamil movies dealing with the Sri Lankan Tamil issue like ‘Senkadal,’ ‘Kannathil Muthamittaal,’ ‘Kaatrukkena Vaeli,’ ‘Rameswaram,’ etc., have been filmed in Mandapam – Rameshwaram. In the case of ‘Dheepan,’ a partnership was struck with Wide Angle Creations in Chennai.
The company is run by Suresh Balaji and George Pius. Suresh incidentally is the son of actor turned producer K. Balaji and a cousin of Malayalam superstar Mohanlal. Suresh’s father Balaji shot much of his film ‘Thee’ in Sri Lanka in 1980. The film with Rajnikanth had Sri Lankan beauty queen Tamara Subramaniam pairing with the Tamil super star actor.
Wide Angles erected a huge refugee camp set in Mandapam and arranged for numerous extras to act as refugees. Most of these extras were Sri Lankan Tamil refugees themselves. Mullivaaikkaal was also re-created in Rameshwaram. The company also provided technical crew for the film. The shooting was done for about seven to eight days in December 2014 and January 2015 in India.
Some scenes were shot in the highlands of Udhagamandalam known as Ooty. The well-known hill station Ooty like Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka with its colonial heritage is a ‘Little England’ in many ways. The producers of ‘Dheepan’ used Ooty with its quaint old English type residences to depict Britain itself.
The bulk of the filming for ‘Dheepan’ was done in Paris and suburban Paris. Shooting in France was held in stages for 60 days. In addition there was shooting in India for about 10 days and in the UK for about three days. Post-production work after shooting was completed had to be hurried so that the film could be entered for the Cannes Film Festival. Discerning film reviewers observed a certain roughness instead of the usual polish in an Audiard film due to this post-production hurry. The Golden Palm however has made that frenzied hurry extremely worthwhile.
The Cannes Jury
The Jury that determined the winner at Cannes was chaired by American filmmaker brothers Ethal and Joel Coen. Apart from the Coen brothers, the other members of the Jury were Spanish actress Rossy de Palma, French actress and Sophie Marceau, English actress Sienna Miller, musician from Mali Rokia Traore, Mexican Film Director Gullermo del Toro, Canadian actor and Director Xavier Dolan and US actor Jake Gyllenhaal.
Speaking to the press about the award going to ‘Dheepan,’ Ethal Coen, the co-chair of the Cannes Jury, said: “The decision to give the Palme d’Or to ‘Dheepan’ did not take long, because we thought the film was magnificent, although obviously other movies really appealed to the Jury members. There were not enough prizes for us to be able to acknowledge all of the films that we would have liked to single out. The rules prevented us from doing that.” His brother and co-chair Joel Coen told reporters after the awards ceremony, alongside fellow jurors like Guillermo del Toro and Jake Gyllenhaal: “This is a jury of artists who are looking at the work.”
Juror Gulliermo del Toro brushed off suggestions of a political agenda in the selection of ‘Dheepan’ for the top prize, saying: “The issue of immigration per se was not something we discussed.” But Spanish actor and fellow juror Rossy de Palma did draw parallels between the film and “the people in the streets you see and wonder where they come from. People living in very difficult and precarious circumstances.” “‘Dheepan’ is real cinema and we feel deeply concerned by what’s happening in the Mediterranean,” Rossy said.
Media reports said that Jacques Audiard sprang to the podium at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes and accepted the award with warm gratitude, bowing to the Jury. He was joined by the makeshift parents of his film – Kalieaswari Srinivasan and Anthonythasan Jesuthasan. “To receive a prize from the Coen brothers is exceptional,” said Audiard, who added that only receiving one from the Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, the Belgian filmmaking siblings, could equal it.
Jacques Audiard
Jacques Audiard, who describes himself as a “cynical romantic,” is a well-known name in France. He is regarded as a “cool icon of French cinema” along with the likes of Jean-Pierre Melville, Jean-Luc Godard, Luc Besson and Mathieu Kassovitz. The 63-year-old Film Director and Screenwriter is the son of Michel Audiard, who was also a famous French Film Director and Writer.

Jacques Audiard, who was born in Paris in 1952, began his career by training as a Film Editor. He then became a Film Script Writer at the age of 22. His first film as a Writer was ‘Bons baisers…..a lundi’ (Kisses Till Monday) released in 1974. After writing screenplay and scripts for many films, Audiard turned to directing two decades later.
Audiard’s first film as Director was ‘Regarde les homes tomber’ (See How They Fall) in 1994. It won a Cesar Award in France for Best First Film for a Director. The Cesar Awards are the highest national awards for films in France and regarded as the French equivalent of the Oscars in USA. Two years later in 1996 Audiard co-wrote and directed ‘Un heros tres discret’ (A Self-Made Hero). Audiard won the award for Best Screenplay with Alain Le Henry at Cannes that year. He was also nominated for Best Director Award at Cannes for the same film but failed to win.
The third feature film by Jacques Audiard was ‘Sur mes Levres’ (Read My Lips) made in 2001. The film won a Cesar Award in Writing for Audiard and co-writer Torino Benacquista. Audiard also got an award for directing when the film was screened at the Newport Film Festival in the USA. His next film ‘De battre mon Coeur s’est arête’ (The Beat That My Heart Skipped) made in 2005 won two Cesar awards for Audiard in addition to several others for other artistes in the film. Audiard got the Cesar Award for Directing and another for Best Adapted Screenplay which he shared with Torino Benaquista. The film also won a BAFTA award in Britain for the best film not in the English language.
‘Un prophete’ (A Prophet) was released in 2009. It was regarded as the best film made by Audiard until ‘Dheepan’. Jacques co-wrote the script with Thomas Bidegain, Abdel Raouf Dafri and Nicolas Peufaillit. The film was nominated for a record 13 Cesar awards in 2010 and won nine including Best Film and Best Director. ‘A Prophet’ also won a ‘Grand Prix’ at the Cannes Festival. The Grand Prix Jury award is regarded as one for the runner-up in the best feature film category. The film was also nominated as one of the five best foreign language films at the Oscar Academy awards. ‘A Prophet’ also won the British Film Academy’s BAFTA Award for Best Film not in the English Language.
Jacques Audiard made ‘De rouille et d’os’ (Rust and Bone) in 2012. The film was nominated in various categories for many awards both nationally and internationally. It won many awards including one Cesar Award for Audiard and Bidegain for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film and Director were nominated for Cannes but Audiard did not win any. The star of the film was actress Marion Cotillard who acted as a woman trainer of killer whales. Her amazing performance in the film resulted in her being showered with accolades and awards.
Three years after ‘Rust and Bone,’ Audiard made his seventh feature film, ‘Dheepan,’ which has won for the French Director his first ‘Palme d’Or’ at Cannes.
The perspective of the other
In that context of winning the Golden Palm, the “golden” question asked by many is: “What motivated Jacques Audiard to make this film ‘Dheepan’ about the travails of three Sri Lankan Tamil Refugees in France?”
The best answer to that was given by the Director himself at the press conference in Cannes. When the question was posed to him, Audiard replied: “Through this film, what I’m interested in is the other, the perspective of the other, of those people who sell us roses on the terraces and who we know nothing about. It’s a little fanciful, but that’s how it is.”
Speaking to reporters at Cannes, Audiard stated that ‘Dheepan’ named after its chief protagonist played by Jesuthasan Anthonythasan was “a French film where people speak Tamil”. Audiard further said: “That script was a vigilante story, and though there was a great film in it, it was not the film I wanted to do… That’s when the idea emerged that the film was a love story, that this man would do anything for his family out of love.”

Making the characters refugees from Sri Lanka was also something that emerged gradually. “These people are running away from a tragedy and I didn’t want it to have anything to do with post-colonial France. Sri Lanka seemed like the end of the earth for me; before embarking on this project I couldn’t have located it on a map.” Audiard said: “I have more empathy and compassion for those people because the longest journey you can take to change your life is from those margins. As much as I love French actors, if this story had centred on them, I would not have wanted to do it.”
Making his lead actors Tamil speakers had many difficulties but Audiard said working with non-French-speaking actors was not especially hard. “Each actor always speaks a foreign language. As a Director you have to learn the language of each one.”
According to media reports, Audiard has said that infusing the plot of ‘Dheepan’ with ideas on subjects like immigration, refugees and family was second nature. “It’s not a goal, like I wake up with it every morning as something to do. It’s probably just part of my mind. “What did attract Audiard to ‘Dheepan’ was the dramatic arc of its characters, “the history of love constructed in front of our eyes. In the beginning it is a lie, a fiction, but we go from a lie they pretend to something that becomes real.”
Jacques Audiard further elaborated on the genesis of ‘Dheepan’ in an interview given in French to Fabien Lemercier for a European journal. Originally he and his co-writers had thought of doing a remake of Sam Peckinpa’s ‘Straw Dogs’ starring Dustin Hoffman. Its French version was named ‘Chiens de Paille’. As the script evolved, it shifted from vigilantism to love. A concept from Montesquieu’s ‘Persian Letters’ also influenced the screenplay. The concept was ‘What is a Persian?’
Jacques Audiard sums up his film ‘Dheepan’ thus in the interview: “Making a French film, in France, in which the characters speak in Tamil, was a project that seemed insane at the outset. I just took foreign actors and pushed things as far as I could. I didn’t want to make a documentary on the civil war in Sri Lanka, or a documentary on a community, but to view these events and situations as a form of wallpaper that is part of the set without you actually having to describe it. In fact, I can’t really describe them.”

Le climat politique début mai 2015 vu par Jayadeva Uyangoda

Dans un article paru dans The Island du 12 mai 2015, que nous reproduisons ci-dessous, Jayadeva Uyangoda, le meilleur politologue sri lankais, analyse le climat politique du pays à l’issue des quatre premiers mois de la présidence de Maithripala Sirisena.

 » Nirmal, Maithri and Mahinda –The three who made the past week

By Jayadeva Uyangoda

Three events dominated Sri Lanka’s most recent political developments and debates. The May Day mob attack on Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri and Dr. Kumudu Kusum Kumara is the first. The intensification of the campaign to bring former President Mahinda Rajapaksa back is the second. The meeting between the present and former presidents is the third.

These three events encapsulate and signify some key dimensions of the dynamics of Sri Lanka’s current political turmoil. This essay seeks to comment on some of them.

Mob Attack

I have heard three responses to the mob attack on Nirmal and Kumudu at the May Day rally organized by those who are leading the campaign to bring former President Mahinda Rajapakse back as either the President or Prime Minister. The first is by a minority who blame Nirmal and Kumudu who went to the Dinesh, Vasu and Wimal meeting deliberately to create trouble in a provocative manner. Their argument is that this was a politically motivated, and therefore pre-meditated, attempt to discredit the campaign to bring Mahinda back. According to the logic of this argument, Nirmal actually got what he was seeking – beating and publicity. By getting beaten up, Nirmal is also said to have achieved his political objective, namely discrediting the Dinesh – Vasu -Wimal campaign to bring Mahinda Rajapaksa back to power.

One does not have to be surprised by this response. It blames the victims while rationalizing the actions of the perpetrators.

The second response admits that the attack on Nirmal and Kumudu was bad, but blames the victims because they exposed themselves to hostile mob action by going to the meeting. There are two different constituencies who share this viewpoint. The first represents the so-called Left of the ‘bring Mahinda back’ campaign. The second constituency includes, quite paradoxically, even some of the fervent supporters of Nirmal and Kumudu. This second constituency is totally horrified by the fascist-type reaction to the presence of Nirmal and Kumudua near the Dinesh – Vasu – Wimal meeting, but is unable to make sense of why, for god’s sake, these two went there at all.

Democratic Political Culture

The third response, which I share with both Nirmal and Kumudu, is the following: May Day demonstrations and rallies are part of a long tradition of democratic and Left politics in Sri Lanka. Political activists and academics watching them, irrespective of their own political sympathies, are also integral to that political tradition. Observing party political rallies during election campaigns, irrespective of one’s political affiliations, is also embedded in that democratic legacy. In my own experience, until recently I too have practiced this political habit with no hostile consequences, although I am also a well-known critic of certain political parties.It is my old age that prevented me from indulging in this incorrigible habit this May Day, and perhaps saved me from a good beating!

The attack on Nirmal and Kumudu and its open and veiled rationalizations tell us that there is something really nasty about our contemporary political culture.It is about the presence of a deep and hostile polarization in the structures of our society’s political consciousness that treats adversary as an enemy, critic a traitor, and dissent treason. I have experienced this even within our university system in which the authorities until recently – that is, till the second week of January this year — considered dissent as the cousin of terrorism.

This incident also tells us that the 19th Amendment is not enough for democratization in Sri Lanka. Constitutional and legal reforms can only lay the institutional foundations for change. We need a democratic revolution in the political consciousness of our society leading to a substantive transformation in our political culture, values, practices, and forms of political life. However, a sort of counter-revolution, that has the potential of reversing all the gains for democracy, is also in the making at present. Sri Lanka’s politics in the coming months is certain to be conditioned by the intensification of the struggle between two opposing forces – (a) continuing democratization within a limited framework, and (b) return to authoritarianism on an expansive template.


The ‘Bring Mahinda Back’ campaign (hereafter BMBC) seems to be gathering momentum. Visual media reports of the rally held in Kurunegala last Friday show that the organizers have managed to mobilize a big and enthusiastic crowd, eagerly anticipating the second coming of their deposed leader.

What does the BMBC say about current politics in Sri Lanka? It in fact shows us the interplay of a number of interesting trends that characterize the trajectories of our politics today and tomorrow. Perhaps the most important facet it shows is the widening of the space for democratic politics since the regime change in January. The intensity of the open contestation between the government and the newly emerged opposition formation is something that may not have been allowed, and even tolerated, a few months ago. It enjoys so much coverage in the media, generating immense public political interest and debates. Even the government is put on the defensive, which is not a bad thing, from the point of view of democracy. The UPFA MPs seem to be exercising and enjoying their newly gained freedom of speech to the utmost. For the first time in recent history, perhaps in their life, they are criticizing a government, its President, the Prime Minister, Ministers, and their policies. Meanwhile, what Sri Lanka lacked under the past regime are effective checks and balances on those who wielded state power. Checks and balances on the government, both formal and informal, now galore. ‘Democracy is now having a ball,’ as my late mother- in –law would have said in her Negombo English.

Blurred Distinctions

It is also important to note that the BMBC is gathering momentum in a context where the line of demarcation between the government and the opposition has become blurred under rather strange and unique circumstances. President Maithripala Sirisena, who won the election in January with the support of the UNP, the then opposition party, is now heading the UPFA and the SLFP, against which he contested the presidential election. To make the situation somewhat more surreal, both the President and the Leader of the Opposition are from the same party, the SLFP. Thus, the distinction between the government and the opposition has become indistinct.

Against this backdrop, the line of antagonism –-which is not unusual in parliamentary politics — between the ruling party and the opposition is seen by the ordinary SLFP supporters as one between the UNP and the BMBC. In fact, the present success of the BMBC, at least in terms of its attraction to the SLFP voters in the rural districts, can partly be explained by the fact that it offers them an alternative organizational space to reenact the familiar politics of antagonism between the SLFP and the UNP. Even some of the SLFP ministers of President Sirisena’s cabinet, which is headed by a UNP Prime Minister, enjoy the freedom to re-sharpen the old hostility between the SLFP and the UNP with a rather liberal attitude to the principle of collective responsibility of the cabinet.

In a somewhat paradoxical way, and consequent to the peculiar circumstances in which the SLFP finds itself today, BMBC is also a SLFP campaign against the SLFP.It is the logic of this unusual political situation that is likely to ensure the inevitability of the breaking up of the SLFP as a political party. It is quite clear that the SLFP has already split into two antagonistic camps. The Maithri-Mahinda meeting, as the media reports suggest, seems to have only accelerated the pace of the inevitable. It is difficult to see at present how the growing antagonism between the two camps could be resolved amicably. Judging by the media reports of the Maithri-Mahinda meeting, the two sides have engaged in a game of hard bargaining with no intention of reconciliation.

From a broader point of view, the splitting of the SLFP at the present juncture might not actually be a bad thing. It can be good for the SLFP as well as fordemocracy in Sri Lanka, because it will hopefully prevent a bitter and potentially violent factional power struggle within the party. Such a power struggle might even run the risk of spreading itself across the state structure. A split might also enable those in the BMBC to realize that to bring their leader back to power, they need to politically convince a majority of Sri Lankan voters of all ethnic and cultural identities. For that they need a good political programme that can appeal to the democratic political imagination and seasoned political judgment of our citizens. They also need to learn that politically empty demagogic and provocative slogans uttered in shrill speeches can hardly be a substitute for a political programme.

Poverty of Politics

While the BMBC has emerged as the most organized, energetic and influential ‘political’ campaign in the country today, its political agenda is devoid of any substantive politics. It has only one mobilization slogan, ‘bring Mahinda back.’ It is a slogan backed by not even a single constructive political idea aimed at enhancing the quality of political life of the Sri Lankan citizens. It has no promise of democratic political reforms; nor does it go beyond propagating mass hysteria, leadership cult, and the cult of the militarized state. That is why the BMBC is in essence an authoritarian project whichpresents the Leader, not a programme of reform, to the masses as the most visible embodiment of the nation, the state, sovereignty, politics, and, no less, the future of all of us.

It is quite instructive to juxtapose this extreme personalization embedded in the politics of BMBC with the ‘anti-politics of personality,’ which President Sirisena seems to be practicing. He is obviously committed to depersonalizing the office of the head of state and government, in both substance and style. His giving up of all those unlimited presidential powers and his personal style of modesty can be interpreted as marking a new phase of Sri Lankan politics which can be described, by borrowing a term from Claude Lefort, the French political theorist, as one of ‘disincarnation of society.’ It is a condition specific to modern democracy in which no individual, or figure, can or should represent the political unity of society; it is the democratic constitution, not the supreme leader, that embodies social and political unity.

For good or bad, President Sirisena is not an ideological politician.Therefore, he does not seem to know the importance of explaining this particular democratic virtue of his ‘anti-politics of personality’to the masses in ideological terms. His spokespersons and media team, if there is one at all, seem to be at a loss in making political sense of their leader’s refreshing, innovative, and ground breaking mode of politics. This is a decisive disadvantage which President Sirisena can only ill afford to have even for a few more months.


Even a superficially psychoanalytical reading of Sri Lanka’s contemporary politics shows that during the past few years, there has been an extremely novel phenomenon which has emerged with the capacity to re-orient the nature of political competition. It refers to the cultivation of an authoritarian father,big brother, sovereign – superman figure, claiming to embody the nation and its destiny. Aided by the colour television, digital printing, larger than life billboards, and genuinely sycophantic professionals in the artistic, media and university circles, the image of the former President was also presented, particularly during the last election campaign, with not – so – subtle libidinal messages. It is quite interesting that the BMBC campaign has revived this strategy of libidinal propaganda, once again in a not-so-subtle manner, to make a sharp distinction between Mr. Rajapaska on one hand and Messrs Sirisena and Wickremesinghe on the other.

I have heard quite a few times people, who have voted for as well as against Mr. Sirisena, complaining: « What is this? We don’t even feel that there is a President! » To feel the presence of a President, the President has to be an object of desire and worship as well! This is one of the most pernicious aspects of the depoliticization effect, which the politics of personality cult has built in Sri Lanka over several years. This effect is so overwhelming that even those intellectual sections of the BMBC campaign show great pride in the poverty of politics in their project.

It is in this paradigm of depoliticized and authoritarian politics that the violence to which Nirmal and Kumudu were subjected at the May Day rally can be explained away, and rationalized, by the argument that Nirmal was responsible for the electoral defeat of the former President, and it was simply provocative for him to be there at the rally with his colleague, and therefore the duo got a beating of their own volition.

May 10, 2015  »

25% of the Sri Lankan population is ‘computer literate’

Selon une étude du département du recensement et des statistiques de 2014 citée dans un article publié dans The Island, que nous reproduisons ci-dessous, un quart de l’ensemble de la population sri lankaise, et plus de 54% des jeunes de moins de 19 ans, savent se servir d’un ordinateur, et 22% des foyers en sont équipés.

 » According to Director General of the Department of Census and Statistics Dr A.J. Satharasinghe, the Computer Literacy of the country had been gradually increasing between 2006/07 and 2014.

« Overall Computer Literacy reported in 2006/07, 2009 and 2014 are 16.1%, 20.3% and 25.1% respectively. The Urban sector shows the highest computer literacy rate (34.6%) among residential sectors according to the results the survey conducted in the first half of 2014. Computer literacy rates for Rural and Estate sectors are 23.8% and 6.2% respectively. The Computer literacy among male (27%) is higher than that of female (23.3). Young youths (aged 15 – 19 years) show the highest computer literacy rate (54.4%) among all other age groups.

The survey results reveal that higher the level of education higher the computer literacy. The group with A/L or above level of education shows the highest computer literacy rate (68%). Also computer literacy is higher among those who are literate in English language (67.3%)

Computer literacy among the employed population in Sri Lanka is around 50 % in the first half of 2014 and the positions such as Senior officials and Managers (74.3%), Professionals (80%), Technical and Associate professionals (80.8%) and Clerks and Clerical support workers (86.5%) have higher computer literacy.

Even among individuals engaged in elementary occupations twenty per cent are computer literate. The unemployed youths in age groups 15 – 19, 20 – 24 and 25 – 29 are having high computer literacy of 64.8%, 73.7% and 75.9% respectively.

Every 10 out of 100 persons aged 5 to 69 years use the Internet facility and 8 out of 100 persons use E-mail facility at least once during last twelve months. Different usage patterns of internet usage can be observed among Provinces. Western Province shows the highest percentage (17.5%) of population using internet, while North Central shows the lowest percentage (4.3%.). The Highest e-mail usage is reported from the Western province (14.9%) followed by the Northern Province (8.3%). The lowest e-mail usage (2.8%) among the provinces has reported from the North Central Province. Among youth in 20 – 24 years age group, one out of every four persons has used the internet facility at least once during the last 12 months and the same group shows the highest usage of e-mail.

In 2014, one out of every five households is having a commuter in Sri Lanka as well as rural areas in Sri Lanka. In the urban sector 36 households out of hundred is having a computer and in the estate sector 4.6%of households having at least one computer. The highest computer availability is in Western province (33.0%) while the lowest availability is reported from North Central (7.4%). Over the survey period from 2006 till 2014 overall percentage has increased sharply from 3.8% to 16.6%.

Language adeptness in English is found very important for the country in improving individual computer literacy level, The Survey results clearly reveal the disadvantaged position of the North Central Province in computer related ICT achievements compared to other Provinces. Further, the reported high computer literacy rates among youth (aged 15-29) show the improving quality of the labour force and the necessity of new’ investment on emerging ICT sector ».

Gouvernement d’union nationale et abolition du régime présidentiel à Colombo

Le SLFP a rejoint l’UNP, la JHU et les partis musulmans pour former un cabinet d’union nationale à Sri Lanka, ce qui rend plus difficile un retour au pouvoir de l’ancien président Rajapakse à l’issue des élections législatives qui doivent avoir lieu dans quelques mois. Ce cabinet élargi présente au Parlement le 19ème amendement à la Constitution, qui met en place des nouvelles institutions consacrant l’abandon du régime présidentiel. En dépit des difficultés de l’exercice et des tensions inhérentes à tout processus de ce type, cet essai de réforme politique radicale représente une « grande première » qui pourrait servir d’exemple.
Nous reproduisons ci-dessous des extraits d’un article de Rasika Jayakody paru dans le Daily News, qui analyse ce processus.

Maithri-Ranil-Chandrika Trinity Checkmates Mahinda by Forming National Govt Comprising UNP and SLFP


Rasika Jayakody

When he defected from the Rajapaksa administration to challenge Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency in November, last year, he only had the support of eight Parliamentarians of the UPFA who accompanied him in a face of a government that seemed invincible. The large majority of UPFA Parliamentarians criticized Sirisena’s move calling him a traitor who betrayed the party and its voters. In response, Sirisena said that he was still the legitimate General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and he never left his party where he started his political career over four decades ago.

However, in his run up to the presidency, 28 MPs, who represented the UPFA, joined hands with him, putting a damper on the election campaign of the former President who was running for his third term in office. Addressing his election meetings, Sirisena confidently said that he would regain his position in the SLFP following his “victory” at the presidential election.

A few days after his election victory, a sizable proportion of Central Committee members of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party aligned themselves with the newly elected President, accepting him as the “by-default” Chairman of the SLFP. They said Sirisena had the backing of the majority of the SLFP Central Committee members and appointed a new board of officials with the new President as the head of the party.

Fearing a possible split in the party, the SLFP seniors, decided to urge the former President to relinquish his positions, making way for President Sirisena to become the official Chairman of the SLFP. At a meeting held at the Speaker’s official residence, former President Rajapaksa told the new President that he was ready to transfer the powers of the SLFP. Soon after this transfer of power, President Sirisena was formally appointed as the Chairman of the party by the Executive Committee and the Central Committee of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

However, there were some seniors of the SLFP who still wanted “Mahinda” to lead the Parliamentary election campaign of the party as the Prime Ministerial Candidate. Some of them even attended the rally held at Nugegoda extending their support to what they termed as the former President’s Prime Ministerial candidature. Realizing the possible consequences of this trend, President Sirsena got his party secretary to issue a special statement on behalf of the Central Committee, prohibiting the members of the party from attending events organized by other political parties and organizations.

As a result of this measure, no senior SLFP Parliamentarian attended the rally which was held in Kandy to promote the former President who was on a feverish mission to return to active politics probably as the Prime Ministerial candidate of the UPFA coalition. With little or no support from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the pro-MR rally in Kandy ended as a disappointment.

Taking a step further, Sirisena drew the support of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party MPs by allowing them to join the government before the Parliamentary election. With this move, 26 MPs of the SLFP accepted ministerial portfolios from the government extending their support to the national led unity government, led by Maithri-Ranil-CBK troika. This new national government project, initiated by the UNP and the SLFP, came into play at an important juncture where the government’s 100 day programme is concerned.
During the special Cabinet meeting held on March 15 at the Presidential Secretariat, the Cabinet of ministers widely discussed the differences of opinion on dissolution of Parliament and the proposed constitutional amendments. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the Jathika Hela Urumaya wanted to “water down” the 19th Amendment as they wanted to preserve certain powers of the Executive. When Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe distributed a draft of the 19th Amendment among Cabinet ministers on March 12, Ministers Rajitha Senaratne and Patali Champika Ranawaka hit out at the amendments saying it had ignored the recommendations of the SLFP and the JHU.

Therefore the Cabinet meeting ended with a lot of negative sentiments with regard to the constitutional amendment. At the same time, the United National Party was in a hurry to complete the 100 day programme and go for a Parliamentary election on April 23 while the Sri Lanka Freedom Party wanted to buy more time. As part of their plan to get the Parliamentary elections postponed, the SLFP asserted that the 19th Amendment should also accompany electoral reforms. This was backed by the Jathika Hela Urumaya and Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, Convener of the Movement for a Just Society. The SLFP also expressed willingness to form a national government with the UNP, if the ruling party wanted more time to introduce electoral reforms and the 19th Amendment simultaneously.

The United National Party vehemently rejected the idea of forming a national government with the SLFP before the election. The UNP seniors said they were only willing to form a national government after the forthcoming Parliamentary election. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe made his position clear saying that the present government only had “oxygen” to exist until April 23. A lot of conflicting views were expressed by the UNP and the SLFP in this regard and it appeared as if the country was running into a political crisis of some sort.

It was against this backdrop that President Sirisena, fresh from his visit to London, convened the Cabinet meeting on March 15.

At this meeting, the Cabinet of Ministers decided to entrust President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga with the task of holding discussions and arriving at a final decision on issues such as dissolution of Parliament on April 23, introduction of constructional amendment and finalizing electoral reforms. The Cabinet also listed down certain areas where everyone could agree upon when it came to the abolition of executive powers held by the President.

This included reduction of the Presidential term from six years to five years, provision for a citizen to challenge the President under fundamental rights jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, terms pertaining to Presidential pardon, two-term restriction on re-election of a President, provisions on appointment of Cabinet ministers and ministry secretaries, definition of the head of state and the head of government, and prevention of arbitrary dissolution of Parliament by the President.

The Maithri-Ranil-CBK troika realized that it was important to get the SLFP to play an active role in the introduction of the constitutional amendments. On one hand, they needed the two thirds majority in Parliament to get the amendments passed in the country’s legislature. On the other hand, the President too needed a strategy to further consolidate his power in the SLFP as some members of the party were greeting his decisions with a modicum of suspicion. He needed a “trump card” to position him as a leader whom the party could rely on at difficult times.

UNP’s compromise strategy

Settling for a national government before the election was nothing short of a compromise for the United National Party. But, it was a compromise that the UNP could not avoid. They needed the two thirds majority in Parliament to introduce constitutional amendments and go for the election as soon as possible. In this process, the UNP will now have to share the “credit” with the SLFP for the 19th Amendment.

However, no one can undermine the role the UNP played in the battle against the Executive Presidency, especially when Mahinda Rajapaksa was in power. It was the UNP who first decided that the abolition of the Executive Presidency should be the main rallying point for the opposition alliance at the presidential election. This was when certain political pundits pompously pointed out that slogans such as ‘abolition of Executive Presidency” were not appealing enough to the public.

The UNP’s compromise will also allow President Sirisena to dissolve Parliament soon after the implementation of the 100 day programme. The President will now be in a position to justify his decision to the rank and file of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party as he has also allowed the SLFP to join the government accepting ministerial portfolios. Hence, from the UNP’s perspective, it can be construed as an act of taking one step back to jump two steps forward.

The United National Party prefers to have the Parliamentary election before the end of June. At the last Working Committee meeting of the party, the UNP appointed a special committee to look into immediate social welfare measures that need to be taken before the Parliamentary election. The committee comprised of Ravi Karunanayake, Sajith Premadasa, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Harin Fernando, Gayantha Karunathilake, Eran Wickremaratne and Ranjith Maddumabandara.

The party also decided that immediate development programmes should be carried out at the grassroots level to draw more public support to the party at the election. Although the party is preparing its election machinery for an early election, the dissolution of Parliament is in the hands of President Maithripala Sirisena who is also the Leader of the rival political camp. However, at a meeting with the heads of media institutions last week, President Sirisena said that he would not be “insincere” to the feelings of the UNPers who elevated him to the Presidency at the recently held election.

Irrespective of the outcome of the election, the Maithri-Ranil-CBK troika has already arrived at the decision that there should be a national government in the country for at least another two years. This has been repeatedly stated by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on numerous occasions. However, the ministries held by each party will be proportionate to its share in Parliament. Therefore, it is important for both parties to get a bigger share in Parliament and become the “majority stakeholder” of the new national government.

Joint Cabinet support total abolition of Executive Presidency

The joint Cabinet of the new national government met at the Presidential Secretariat on Monday evening to discuss the future of its programme and the proposed constitutional amendment. The meeting was attended by new members of the Cabinet who represented the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. In a major development, the joint Cabinet decided to adopt the 19th Amendment to the constitution without amendments. This means the Cabinet arrived at a principled agreement that the Executive Presidency, which was introduced by the late J.R. Jayewardena, should be abolished in its entirety.

With this new development, the President would be the Head of State and the head of the Security Forces. However, a question arose with regard to the head of the government and the head of the Cabinet. The 19th Amendment, which was adopted by the Cabinet, was silent about the head of the government and it actually remained a grey area.

However, a senior Cabinet Minister, who spoke to the Daily News on Monday night after the Cabinet meeting said that for all practical and tactical purposes, the interpretation would be that the Prime Minister would function as the head of the government.

The Cabinet also adopted the provisions of the 17th Amendment to the constitution which includes the setting up of independent commissions. The setting up of independent missions, which was also a key aspect of the political campaign of the common opposition at the last presidential election, will be done as part of the 19th Amendment to the constitution.

With this decision, the Elections Commission, the independent Police Commission, the Public Services Commission and the Constitutional Council will be set up as part of the process to reduce the powers of the Executive.

The Cabinet agreed that the Executive Presidency should come to an end with the end of President Sirisena’s first term. After the President’s first term, the Presidency will be more or less a ceremonial figurehead as in India and several other Western countries. President Sirisena has already stated that he will not contest for Presidency again and this will be his last term in office.

Ranawaka wages lone battle

However, Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka who is also the General Secretary of the Jathika Hela Urumaya vehemently opposed the move saying the Common Opposition campaigned for the removal of the excessive powers of the Executive Presidency and not for the total abolition of the system. He was of the opinion that the total abolition of the Executive Presidency would destabilize the country and would go against the mandate of the new government.

The remarks made by Minister Ranawaka irked several senior members of the United National Party who were strong advocates of the total abolition of the Executive Presidency.
At this point, Minister Laskhman Kiriella responded to Ranawaka stating the original idea was to fully abolish the Executive Presidency and the present President can retain his powers until the end of his term, in accordance with the provisions of the constitutional amendment.

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera strongly responded to Minister Ranawaka saying the those who were involved with the opposition campaign from the beginning were pushing for the total abolition of the Executive Presidency. The Foreign Minister said the JHU joined the opposition campaign much later.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, while endorsing the Cabinet’s decision, said there should be a more comprehensive constitutional amendment under the new Parliament which will be convened after the next Parliamentary election. He said the 19th Amendment was only an amendment to the present constitution implying that it should not be considered as the end of the road.

President Sirisena, addressing the Cabinet meeting, said the government was already late in terms of introducing much needed constitutional amendments. What he emphasized was the fact that the government had no time to waste over trivial matters. He also added that the national government should work fast and take every possible action to get the amendments passed in Parliament without any delay. The President has already made his position clear stating that he was for the total abolition of Executive Presidency and he did not want to cling to his presidential powers eternally.

Although there are some concerns about politicians who have been included in the joint Cabinet, the first meeting of the ministers produced a satisfactory outcome with two main parties arriving at a settlement on the total abolition of Executive Presidency.

National govt puts a damper on MR plans

The newly formed national government has certainly diluted the campaign to bring Mahinda Rajapaksa back to power. Although the pro-Mahinda parties are already planning to hold another rally in Rathnapura, it is clear that the movement has lost momentum with the SLFP joining the UNP-led Cabinet. The pro-MR parties were constantly urging the SLFP to name Rajapaksa as its Prime Ministerial Candidate at the election and the SLFP’s decision to join the national government is a severe blow to their campaign. By joining the national government, the SLFP has given a clear indication to the pro-MR supporters that the party was not interested in accommodating “Mahinda” at the election.

At this point, if former President Rajapaksa wants to be a Prime Ministerial Candidate at the next election, he will have to form another political movement with the support of hardcore MR loyalists. But, it is now becoming clear that the former President does not want to take a political gamble by contesting without the support of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Therefore, he will take a backseat at the upcoming General Election as the two main parties will seek a mandate for the formation of a national government.

That was what former President Rajapaksa meant when he congratulated he national government formed by the United National Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

He said he was laughed at when he spoke of a national government during the time of war. “But I will not laugh at the new national government,” Rajapaksa said wearing a typical Cheshire cat smile on his face.
“I am having a rest these days. So I should not talk about the developments on the political front,” Rajapaksa said when he attended the prefects’ investiture ceremony held at the Samarasinharama Dhamma school in Thelijjawila, Matara, on the day the national government was formed. Determined to get a fiery comment from the former President, a journalist who was present at the event asked Rajapaksa whether a national government was good for the future of the country.

In response, the former President calmly said it was yet to be seen. He avoided further questions by bringing forward Mahinda Yapa Aneywardena who also joined the national government just hours before. “If you have any questions about the national government, ask our “national government ministers,” said Rajapaksa with a wide grin.

“I have nowhere to go these days, except temples. I accept invitations from Dhamma schools. The children who come from the distant areas speak of the success of Dhamma schools. A Dhamma school is a good place for producing a disciplined set of people.”

“According to Buddhist doctrine we are able to face victory and defeat in the same manner. Children should be able to face victory and defeat alike. Do not betray the country. Respect the country in the same way you respect your parents, “he said.

« Sri Lanka : Democracy at Work » by Eric Meyer

The South Asia Democratic Forum ( organized at the European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday, 21st January 2015, a post-electoral briefing on Sri Lanka, which was attended by an international audience including South Asians, and European MPs.
We publish here the text of the intervention of Eric Meyer, who was invited to present his views in the discussion panel.


In the decades after Independence, Sri Lanka used to be regarded as one of the most advanced democracies in Asia.

Then after 1971 (the first JVP insurgency and its suppression) and 1978-83-87 (the beginning of Eelamist rebellion and civil war, the establishment and manipulation of a presidential system, foreign intervention by India and its failure), Sri Lanka came to be branded as the sick man of South Asia.

After more than 40 years of civil war, of social and political violence and of growing lawlessness, the results of the presidential vote and the conditions of the transfer of power to the new President show the resilience of the democratic system in Sri Lanka, and a democratic maturity which was unexpected a few months ago by pessimistic observers.

Sri Lankans could share the words of Radhika Coomaraswamy (former U.N. Undersecretary general in charge of the rights of children) : « the elections made me triumphantly proud of my country ». But does it mean that Sri Lanka is back at square one ?


The high voter turn out, above 81.5%, is remarkable (the highest in the history of the country), as compared with the previous presidential elections of 2005 and 2010 (73-74%); even in northern Jaffna it was more than 66%, while in 2005 it was 1.2% because the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had imposed a ban on voting, and in 2010 it was 25% in the aftermath of the bloodbath and repression of the previous year. This progress is the result of a return to more settled conditions and of a political will for change.

The overall result shows a margin of 3.7% between the two candidates, rather similar to that witnessed in well-established democracies : 6,217,162 votes (51.28%) went for Maithripala Sirisena, the common candidate of the opposition who had resigned a few months before from the Rajapaksa government, against 5,768,090 votes (47.58%) for Mahinda Rajapaksa. Regional breakdown shows that the north, east, and the large cities, voted overwhelmingly in favour of Sirisena ; that the rural areas of the South voted in favour of Rajapaksa but with a reduced majority ; and that in the Centre and Centre north, the balance was rather equal. If one extrapolates to assess the vote of the ethnic groups, it is clear that the great majority of the Muslims, of the North/East Tamils and of the Up-country Tamils voted for Sirisena ; and that a small majority of the Sinhalese, especially in the countryside, voted for Rajapaksa (about 52%).

But it is also clear that between 2010 and 2015, Rajapaksa lost in the Sinhalese majority areas about 10% of the votes – and more than 15% in urbanized areas (Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara, Kandy, Galle) and in the north central rural districts (Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa). Without this shift, Rajapaksa would have won even if all the minorities had voted against him. It is therefore inexact to affirm, as he did after the results, that he lost only because of the vote of the minorities.

There are no opinion polls age-wise or by occupation in Sri Lanka, but most observers consider that the young people who voted for the first time chose Sirisena, and the postal votes (open only to civil servants and members of the armed forces) follow the general tendency.

In a democratic election, the marginal difference is meaningful. What is the message sent by the voters who made the difference – the young people who voted for the first time, the members of the minorities who decided to cast their vote this time, the people of the large cities? Rajapaksa had at its disposal almost all the media which he had for the last six years forced into submission, but his opponent had young supporters using social networks, and many professionals such as lawyers who were outraged at his high-handed style. Family ‘bandyism’, growing corruption, unethical behaviour, lawlessness and impunity, price hikes of basic commodities were denounced by the various groups supporting Sirisena : it is significant that the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), a party founded by nationalist Sinhala Buddhist monks, on one side, and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the party which before 2009 supported the Eelamists, on the other, abandoned their extreme nationalist rhetoric to focus on these common themes ; so did the well-organized Janata Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), which was behind the two revolutionary attempts of 1971 and 1987-89, and the pro-western United National Party (UNP). In addition, the atrocities committed by the Bodu Bala Sena, an extremist self-styled Buddhist Force encouraged by Mahinda’s brother Gotabhaya to outflank the Jathika Hela Urumaya, alienated the Muslim minority and many Christians.


According to press reports and a few independent testimonies, it seems that Mahinda Rajapaksa, under the influence of his brother Gotabhaya, was prepared, if the election was narrowly lost, to proclaim a state of emergency under the pretence of maintaining public order, to postpone the proclamation of results, and to stage a ‘legal’ coup d’état. For that they needed the support of the Inspector General of Police, the Army Chief, the Judiciary (Chief Justice and Attorney General) and the Elections Commissionner. The Chief Justice Mohan Pieris, who was with the President during the election night against every principle of separation of powers, seems to have been involved from the start, but the refusal of the Attorney General and of the other VIPs derailed the attempt.

Then Rajapaksa contacted Ranil Wickramasinghe (the head of the United National Party, whom he knew well) who decided to come to the President’s residence, where he was able to persuade Rajapaksa to finally accepted his defeat by giving him a few assurances. It may be that the visit of pope Francis four days later made it difficult to plunge the country into political turmoil. Finally, the main political actors acted with restraint and responsibility, in spite of temptations to the contrary : democracy passed its second test.


Mahinda Rajapaksa and his supporters still control of a part of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party electoral machine : they may win the legislative elections which are due in April – May, and try to reimpose their power, especially in view of the relative weakness of the UNP especially in rural constituencies. The question is whether Maithripala Sirisena will be able to get rid of the most corrupt individuals in the party (of which according to the statutes he is now the head instead of Rajapaksa), impose new leaders, obtain the support of the majority of the SLFPers, and consolidate his power. Or will Rajapaksas continue to pull the strings, claim to represent the majority, brand Sirisena as the traitor who owed his election to the vote of the minorities and was manipulated by the former President Chandrika Bandaranaïke ?

The illegal activities of members of the Rajapaksa entourage may continue. Private security firms connected with them, which employ ex-soldiers, had recently imported huge loads of firearms. In addition, various paramilitary groups (including Tamil ex-LTTE armed groups who defected to Government) are still roaming about the country. Civil disarmement is going to be a huge problem for the Sirisena administration.

Vested interests are likely to suffer high losses if the Sirisena administration succeeds in cleaning up the country – for which it was elected : new rich groups derive their wealth from building and transport contracts, but also from casinos, prostitution, drug trafficking. The army and navy are controlling a large part of the reconstructed economy and a share of the lands in the war zones of the north and east and members of the armed forces derive large benefits from it. It will be difficult to eradicate corruption in the political class.

Finally, the cost of electoral promises might prove difficult to finance : with a taxation system which allows a lot of tax evasion, the rise of the salaries of public servants, of the pensions, of social allowances, of the guaranteed purchase price of agricultural products and so on will require new resources hard to find.


Maithripala Sirisena was the common candidate of a very heterogeneous opposition alliance. Its programme envisioned a series of constitutional reforms by a caretaker cabinet during a 100-days period, and in a second stage after the parliamentary elections, a National government formula for at least two years. Among the immediate reforms, the repealing of the 18th amendment to the Constitution which allowed the indefinite candidature of the President in office, and gave him full control over the Police, Justice, Electoral, Bribery and Human Rights Commissions ; the return to an electoral system based on constituencies instead of the present Preference Vote system ; the revision of the current budget ; and the reestablishment of a civil administration in the former war zones.

But the components of the coalition differ on several basic issues which will come into the fore sooner or later. As regards economic policy, the UNP, which controls the key ministries in the caretaker cabinet, has a history of favouring free enterprise and foreign investments ; while the JVP and the JHU, although with different ideological/moral arguments, converge in their radical critique of global capitalism and multinationals and will put pressure on the government.

As regards the political reforms long promised by successive governments but never really implemented to give the linguistic and religious minorities better rights, especially the regional devolution envisioned by the 13th amendment to the Constitution, the position of the monks of the JHU (and of its present lay leader, Champika Ranawaka) is or was the opposite of that of the left-oriented intelligentsia (illustrated by the interview with the Indian press of the new Foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera who promised to fully implement the 13th amendment)

On other issues such as the role played by the army in the reconstruction of the North East, the place of Buddhism and Buddhist monks in the polity, the activities of International NGOs in the country, opinions also differ.

The National Advisory Council just set up by the President, is going to be the forum to discuss and hopefully settle some of these issues. It comprises : Maithripala Sirisena, Ranil Wickramasinghe, the Prime Minister, leader of the UNP, Chandrika Bandaranaike, the former President (1994-2005), Champika Ranawaka, leader of the JHU, Anura Dissanayake, leader of the JVP, General Sarath Fonseka, who led the Army against the LTTE, lost the election of 2010 against Rajapaksa and was emprisoned by him, R. Sampanthan, the leader of the TNA, Rauf Hakeem and R. Bathiuddeen, leaders of the main Muslim parties.

Rebuilding democracy after one of the bloodiest civil wars in Asia, and decades of authoritarian rule and attack on human rights is a difficult exercise which is being undertaken by the Sri Lankans themselves. The burning issue of war crimes committed during and especially in the final phase of the conflict is constantly raised by the Tamil diaspora and by Human Rights organizations abroad. The Sirisena programme does not elude the question but considers that it must and can be tackled by the Sri Lankans themselves*. The sensible but too limited proposals of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) set up by the Rajapaksa regime were never seriously implemented. Whether the Sirisena administration will be able to do it will be the third and most difficult test of democracy. European democrats should give it enough time and support to pass it, while monitoring the progress of human rights in the country and keeping a tab on undemocratic activities abroad.

* « Since Sri Lanka is not a signatory to the Rome statute regarding international jurisdiction with regard to war crimes, ensuring justice with regard to such matters will be the business of national independent judicial mechanisms »

Radhika Coomaraswamy: je suis fière de mon pays

Nous reproduisons ci-dessous l’article publié dans le blog de DBS Jeyaraj par Radkika Coomaraswamy, célèbre juriste sri lankaise, militante des droits humains, et jusqu’en 2012 sous-secrétaire générale des Nations Unies chargée de la question des enfants dans les conflits armés.

“Why The Elections Last Week Made me Triumphantly Proud of my Country”


Radhika Coomaraswamy

There are times in one’s life when one becomes very proud of one’s country. For many it is when we win in cricket or in war. This is triumphant pride where we defeat someone else- an external sports team or an internal enemy. For this kind of pride we need “an other” whom we compete against or dislike without restraint. It is a mixed blessing, filled with pride, but especially in the latter case also fear and hate.
pic by: Anura Srinath –

pic by: Anura Srinath –

However there are times when pride can transcend the obsession with “the other”. In Sri Lanka it could be when we are immersed in its astounding natural beauty or when we live up to our own values and expectations. For me the elections last week were a very important moment- at least for my own personal connection to this island.

Democracy in Sri Lanka had taken a bashing for decades but especially since 2009. We saw things that were absolutely surreal- like something out of a bad Fellini film. And yet we were constantly warned against change, pointing to the possibility of chaos that an Arab spring could bring such as in Libya, Egypt and Syria- no-one of course mentions Tunisia where its has been a great success.

What saved us was the courage of individual politicians who by acting jointly have given us the following moments to savour in our lifetime -no matter what happens in the future: –

Firstly, our public servants, including our rule of law institutions and the security forces showed us what they can do if there is proper leadership and an atmosphere which even holds out a prospect where their professional independence is respected. :- a judiciary that refuses a last minute effort to break election laws by state media institutions; an Elections Commissioner who is proactive in ensuring a free election, constantly surrounding himself with monitors and the press so that no-one could “get at him”; a police force that finally does its job arresting those who did wrong and thwarting many acts of violence and intimidation, an army that refused for the most part to allow soldiers out of the barracks and if stories are true refused to pervert democracy and shoot its own people. (Egypt, Libya and Syria failed because the armed forces did not show this restraint unlike in Tunisia) Also if reports are true, an Attorney General who refused to push for the Proclamation of Emergency. We must also remember the countless public servants who made this election a success. This commitment to democracy by our public services and institutions more that anything will convince the world that given the proper leadership we are not a failed state or a banana republic- the image the rest of the world presently has about us and that brings shame to many of us working in this field.

Secondly, after years of being ruled from the top by people with a monarchical dispensation, it was wonderful to see dialogue and discussion slowly begin to take the place of threats and scaremongering. Particularly interesting has been the slow transformation of the rhetoric of both the TNA and the JHU. From bottom line thinking, inflammatory language and vitriol, both sides have publicly begun to affirm the need for discussion, dialogue and understanding. For many of us who have been watching the political scene for decades this has been extraordinary development. It is also interesting to see the slow transformation of the rhetoric of the UNP and the JVP- the former beginning to speak of limitations to neoliberal policies and the JVP agreeing to serve on the Advisory Council. The JVP and the JHU’s indefatigable struggle against corruption will hopefully continue holding the feet of the present government to the fire as well to ensure that this election is not another recycling of the spoils. These are all good signs, moving us away from the bottom line, boycott politics of the 1970s and 80s that got us into this mess in the first place to a more deliberative democracy focusing on process and substance. If this holds we are truly moving toward becoming a modern democracy.

The inauguration of the 6th Executive President was an absolutely chaotic affair. For some, freed from years of repression and intimidation, it was nostalgia and an affirmation of freedom and spontaneity- a carnival for a people’s president. Others, having been accustomed to years of a disciplined Colombo, were mortified- believing that this was a sign of things to come and that the coalition will lead us down the road of chaos and disorganization away from the “stability” of the last few years. The Cabinet appointments as well as the appointments of Secretaries and Governors should dispel such fears. These are appointments for the most part- though not all- based on merit and competence. We hope at least they will contribute toward effective governance.

There are still many obstacles are ahead and the promises and the expectations may never be fulfilled. In addition, the discourse and rhetoric of fear, rumour, darkness and hatred is still trying to make a comeback. It is true that the minorities did make a difference in this election but we must also ask why the former incumbent’s share of the Sinhala vote dropped from 65% to 55%- that is what made him lose the election since the minorities have always voted against his policies. It is the split in the Sinhala vote more than the minority vote that delivered this election to M. Sirisena. To see it as anything else is to deliberately obfuscate the issues.

We have also not resolved the ethnic issue and a lot of political landmines remain in that area. Yet we must ask- “how can the terrorists and violent rebellion ever come back?”. There is no leader, the people of Jaffna have no stomach for violence and even the irresponsible and self-absorbed diaspora are strangely talking about Mahatma Gandhi. The western countries and India, especially after this election, will not tolerate fund raising or clandestine mobilisation. Where is this threat? The issue is not military- it is political- how do we find a political solution, how do we win hearts and minds, develop the economy and livelihoods and treat people with respect and empathy. The appointment of a civilian governor to the northern province with familiarity on these issues is a step in the right direction.

We still do not know if any of the pledges of the Coalition will be fulfilled in the next 100 days. We have two active, political parties- the JHU and the JVP as well as a reinvigorated civil society that will now have the freedom to be vigilant to make sure it happens. If the pledges are implemented, we will have fundamental transformation in our political system and our rule of law institutions- hopefully they will ensure that democracy is entrenched no matter what happens after April.

At this time we must also remember all those who are not with us who would have also savoured this moment- among them- my mentor Neelan Tiruchelvam and his wife Sithie, Charlie Abeyesekere , his daughter Sunila and her son Sanjay- and also, though we had very divergent political views especially on the ethnic question, HL de Silva and SL Gunesekere who in their life time fought very hard for democracy and the rule of law. As Sunila’s daughter Subha wrote in a moving piece,

“So you see, democracy is not just a system, a structure. It is also a feeling. It is a feeling within each one of us; a desire to be led by the things we believe in and the people we see those things in. It is a desire to stand up, to feel powerful in our own way, to wield that power in the face of despair and frustration. It is a feeling that inspires other feelings; it gives us courage, it gives us hope”.

The arrival of the most popular religious figure in the world the day after the appointment of the cabinet of ministers seals this moment we can savour. We may not all be of the same religion or even religious at all but this is the Pope who has said that religion and religious institutions are not all that matters- it is one’s own spirituality and doing what is right that is the most important. May his blessings entrench our gains, help us transform hope into reality and vengeance into justice with mercy.

Après le succès de Maithripala Sirisena (51,28%), le programme des Cent premiers jours

Maithripala Sirisena a été élu Président de Sri Lanka à une courte majorité (51,28%); les élections n’ont pas donné lieu à des incidents majeurs et le taux de participation a été élevé (environ 70%). On trouvera sur le site de Ada Derana une présentation détaillée des résultats:

Nous reproduisons ci-dessous le programme des cent premiers jours du candidat vainqueur, ainsi que la liste des réformes socio-économiques qu’il a promis de mettre en oeuvre.

100 Day Work Programme After Maithripala Sirisena Becomes President – Detailed diary description

January 2015

Saturday January 10
The new President, Maithripala Sirisena, will take his oath of office
Sunday January 11
A Cabinet of not more than 25 members, including members of all political parties represented in Parliament, will be appointed with Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister
Monday January 12
In order to strengthen democracy, a National Advisory Council will be set up inclusive of representatives of parties represented in Parliament as well as Civil Society organizations.
Parliament will meet Tuesday January 20
The Standing Orders will be amended and, in terms of Proposal 67/10 now tabled in Parliament, Oversight Committees will be set up comprising members of Parliament who are not in the Cabinet will be established and their Chairmanship will be given to representatives of all Ministers in consultation with the leaders of all parties represented in Parliament.
Wednesday January 21
The process will begin of abolishing the authoritarian executive presidential system and replacing it with an executive of a Cabinet of Ministers responsible to Parliament, and of repealing the 18th Amendment to the Constitution with legislation to establish strengthened and independent institutions, including a Judicial Services Commission, a Police Commission, a Public Service Commission, an Elections Commission, a Commission against Bribery and Corruption and a Human Rights Commission. This will be through a 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which will be presented to Parliament and passed as swiftly as possible.
Wednesday January 28
An all party committee will be set up to put forward proposals to replace the current Preference Vote system and replace it with an Mixed Electoral System that ensures representation of individual Members for Parliamentary Constituencies, with mechanisms for proportionality.
Tuesday January 29
A Vote on Account will be introduced in Parliament to implement special measures to provide relief to the people by reducing the rising Cost of Living.
Thursday January 22
A Code of Conduct will be introduced for observation by all representatives of the People.
Wednesday January 30
Salaries will be raised and direct and indirect taxes on necessary goods and services will be reduced.

February 2015
Monday February 2
An Ethical Code of Conduct will be introduced legally for all representatives of the people.
Thursday February 4
Independence Day will be celebrated with re-establishment of Democracy and Good Governance and the Sovereignty of the People.
Thursday February 5
Special Commissions will be appointed to investigate allegations of massive corruption in the preceding period
Friday February 6
A Bill to implement the National Drugs policy will be tabled, following adoption of the Policy by Cabinet.
Wednesday February 18
Independent Commissions will be established and required appointments made
Thursday February 19
The National Audit Bill will be introduced and passed within 3 weeks
Friday February 20
The Right to Information Bill will be introduced and passed within 3 weeks

March 2015
Monday March 2
New elections laws will be prepared in accordance with the proposals put forward by the all party committee
Tuesday March 17
Amendments to change the system of elections will be placed before Parliament and passed as swiftly as possible
Wednesday March 18
The National Drugs Policy will be passed by Parliament
Thursday March 19
The National Audit Bill will be passed by Parliament
Friday March 20
The Right to Information Act will be passed by Parliament
Monday March 23
The Constitutional Council will be set up and the process of making appointments to and establishingIndependent Commissions will begin

April 2015
Monday April 20
A Parliamentary system will be put in place instead of the Executive Presidential system.
Thursday April 23
Parliament will be dissolved and free and fair elections held under a caretaker government. Following that election, the Prime Minister will be appointed from the party getting the highest number of seats at such election, with a Deputy Prime Minister from the party getting the next highest number.
A National Government of all parties represented in Parliament will be established to govern for a period of at least two years.
Under that government a National Policy Framework will be formulated to deal with the principal challenges the country faces, and a political culture will be developed to act in accordance with that Framework.
The nation is suffering from authoritarianism, and decisions taken by a few family members with no consultation of or care for the people. The destruction of ethical and socio-cultural values has led to grave suffering, through massive waste and abuse and corruption and absolute impunity. We need therefore to provide immediate relief to those who are oppressed, and embark on social and economic reforms that will restore normalcy and lead to prosperity for all.

Projected socio-economic reforms

The salaries of public servants will be raised by Rs 10,000 a month. Immediate relief will be provided by a payment of Rs 5,000 in February. A consolidated salary scheme will be put in place then, to cover all arrears
Full relief will be provided on the loans given to public servants for the purchase of motor cycles. Those who have paid previously will be refunded.
Graduates from whom virtual slave labour is obtained will be given regular appointments in a systematic fashion, and opportunities for promotion will be provided in accordance with suitable criteria.
An allowance of Rs 5,000 will be paid to pensioners, pending adjustment of anomalies in pensions.
Rs 1 million of the deposits in State Banks of each pensioner will receive interest of 15%.
The Samurdhi Allowance will be increased to 200% of the present rate to a maximum of Rs 2,000.
Pregnant mothers will be given an allowance of Rs 20,000 to supplement nourishment.
Excessive taxes will be lowered to reduce prices on ten essential food items. At the same time, special provisions will be put in place for protection of those producing such goods locally.
The current excessive taxes on fuel, amounting to around Rs 40 billion a year, will be removed and the benefits of this reduction in cost will be passed on to consumers.
The efficiency of both state and private transport services for the public will be improved through providing appropriate incentives to the transport sector.
The price of a cylinder of domestic gas will be reduced by Rs 300.
The guaranteed purchase price for a kilogramme of rice will be Rs 50.
The guaranteed purchase price for a kilogramme of potatoes will be Rs 80.
The guaranteed purchase price for a kilogramme of tea leaves will be between Rs 80 and 90.
The guaranteed purchase price for rubber will be Rs 350 per kilogramme.
The guaranteed purchase price paid to dairy farmers for a litre of milk will be raised by Rs 10 from the present Rs 60.
Relief of 50% will be provided on loans taken by farmers, and the remainder will be compounded to allow for payment on easy terms.
The low quality fertilizer that threatens life as well as soil and produce will be replaced by fertilizer of better quality that conforms to regular standards
Instead of low quality fertilizer tea smallholders will be provided with fertilizer of better quality that conforms to regular standards
Compensation of Rs 1 million will be paid to fishermen who lose their lives at sea through an insurance scheme with state contributions
An insurance scheme for crops will be introduced for farmers with state contributions
A new pensions scheme will be introduced for farmers and fishermen.
A pensions scheme will be introduced for Three Wheeler Drivers, Masons and Carpenters and those engaged in small scale retail trade and other informal occupations.
A pensions scheme will be introduced for migrant workers, and the interest on their NRFC deposits will be increased by 2 ½%.
A programme will be put in place to ensure support and protection for the families of migrant workers in the Middle East and elsewhere who provide an invaluable service to the country through their labour
Relief will be provided on the interest and penalties payable on pawned gold items upto a value of Rs 200,000
Measures will be taken to provide relief to those caught in a debt trap though falling prey to various promises made by finance companies, credit card scams and pyramid schemes
New laws will be put in place to prevent abuse of women, abuse of children and sexual harassment of women and measures taken to ensure that women and children can live without fear in Sri Lanka, with responsibility undertaken to enforce the laws effectively
Measures will be put in place to protect those of all races widowed during the conflict, and their families.
So as to increase the participation of women in political decision making, legislation will be introduced to ensure at least 25% of women’s representation in Provincial Councils and Local Government bodies.
To fully overcome the unemployment problem that affects our young people, we will put in place a million jobs programme for local and foreign employment and for self-employment
We will strengthen provisions that enable young people to hold opinions and express them freely, and illustrate them creatively, and to freely enjoy the rights associated with youth
Wi-fi will be made available free of charge in Centres in every town to facilitate Internet access
The Youth Parliament will be given financial powers to implement projects relating to youth proposed by the Youth Council and other youth organizations, and will receive an allocation of Rs 250 million for this purpose for 2015
Those engaged in Small and Medium Industries who have fallen into a debt trap and been blacklisted by CRIB, and those who suffer the same because of credit card debts, will be relieved from this through an easy repayment scheme.
Instead of the hijacking of the economy by a few individuals engaged in deals with regard tocasinos and drugs and ethanol, we will develop a national business sector working towards the prosperity of the country, in particular by establishing schemes of credit on easy terms for Small and Medium Enterprises.
To develop more jobs and increase exports we will regain the GSP+ provisions that were lost
We will review the current programme to integrate finance companies and banks
An institution will be established to regulate and develop micro-finance
A Bureau will be set up to protect Small Enterprises
To promote the Trishaw business, a government office will be set up inclusive of Trishaw drivers and the banking sector
We will set out to raise to 3% the current 1.8% allocated for the free Health Service.
All drugs needed by patients attending government hospitals will be made available without shortages in those very hospitals.
An intensive programme will be implemented to swiftly get through the waiting lists for patientsat government hospitals.
Government hospitals will offer services to out patients until 10 pm every day.
We will put a stop pending investigation into import of fertilizer and chemical substances suspected of contributing to kidney disease, while immediately preparing plans for short term and long term measures to deal with the problem, and ensuring their implementation.
Steps will be taken to put in place an effective institution to regulate trade in food items,cosmetics, drugs and other essential items
Steps will be taken to strengthen ayurvedic health services
Measures will be taken to efficiently coordinate services in Western, Eastern and Indigenous medicine and provide a unified service to the people
We will set in place a programme to systematically eliminate the drug menace, that includes heroin and ganja, and institute with international support a comprehensive, quick and effectiverehabilitation scheme for youngsters addicted to these substances
A special consolidated Task Force will be set in place to deal with drug abuse
Pictorial warnings with regard to the dangers of smoking will be increased to 80%.
Casino businesses which were granted excessive tax relief in opposition to the advice of the Mahanayakes and the views of the people will have their licenses revoked
We will put a stop to the Ethanol scam which avoided payment of required taxes
We will set out to raise to 6% the current 1.7% allocated for free Education
Powers with regard to universities which are now exercised by the Minister will be restored to the universities through the University Grants Commission, and the politicization of the universities will be halted.
Mahapola scholarships at universities will be raised to Rs 5000.
Provision will be made for all those who qualify in three subjects at Advanced Level to study towards obtaining a degree or diploma
A fair scheme for admission to Grade 1 will be instituted and implemented transparently. Those who have suffered from abuse in this regard will be provided with immediate relief.
Delays in admitting students to schools will be stopped and all students will be guaranteed entry to Grade 1 at the beginning of the school year
The Circular regarding religious education in schools will be made applicable to all schools, and a committee with representation of all religions will be established to monitor its implementation
International schools will be made subject to monitoring by the State
Current excessive taxes on fishing boats, nets, equipment and engines will be removed
We will put a stop to the incursions of foreign boats into our national waters
Measures will be taken to revive the European Union market from which our fish is now being excluded.
A Meteorological Inquiry service will be established to provide accurate information immediately to fishermen with regard to storms and other dangers.
Immediate steps will be taken to repair irrigation channels that have fallen into disuse.
Immediate steps will be taken to clear up reservoirs that have silted up.
The heroic members of the armed forces who are deployed in menial work such as cutting grass, sweeping roads and clearing drains will go back to only fulfilling the regular duties appropriate to the forces
The present politicization with regard to promotions in the police force will be replaced with a transparent scheme based on capacity, skills, commitment and efficiency
The seniority of officers of the regular police force will be safeguarded and any irregularities arising from integration of the auxiliary police force into the regular police force will be corrected
There will be an immediate stop to using members of the armed forces for the protection of Ministers and politicians and their family members. Police protection will be provided in accordance with clear specifications, and the practice of Ministers and politicians inconveniencing the public by travelling with security vehicles will be halted
Steps will be taken to provide land ownership and proper housing to plantation workers instead of their current confinement in line rooms
Facilities will be provided in schools for the children of plantation workers in the Badulla, Nuwara Eliya, Kandy, Matale and Kegalle Districts to have access to education in the Tamil medium upto university level including in Science
Relief will be provided to all those illegally displaced for various reasons from their homes and lands
The value will be calculated of the housing and land of which residents of Colombo have been deprived, and that will be deducted from the housing loans they are now paying
A programme will be implemented swiftly to provide housing to the hundreds of thousands who have no shelter
A democratic civil administration will be put in place in North and South
Through legal and social means steps will be taken to prevent actions and speech that lead todenigration of other races and religions and of religious leaders, and spread hatred between those of different races and religions
Protection will be provided to all places of religious worship
National and Local Councils of religious leaders will be set up to promote reconciliation between those of different religions and work effectively against the spread of religious animosities
Measures will be taken to preserve and protect archaeological sites
Outlets for alcohol will be removed from the vicinity of places of religious worship ncluding the Temple of the Tooth, and car races in those areas will be stopped.
Proposed amendments to the Buddhist Temporalities Act will be finalized after consultation of the Heads of Buddhist Orders to obtain their advice and guidance and approval.
A programme will commence to develop pirivena education and train teachers for religious instruction
The foundation will be laid for an International University which will also work towards raisingeducational standards at pirivenas to international standards
Laws will be passed swiftly to put a stop to ill-treatment of animals
Hindrances to the work of Civil Society groups concerned with economic and socialdevelopment, environmental issues, and with issues of Good Governance and Human Rights, will be removed
A culture will be established that safeguards and values the independence and artistic integrity of practitioners of the arts
Both immediate and long term measures will be taken to safeguard the independence of media personnel and institutions
The Right to Freedom of Thought and Expression will be strengthened
Parliamentary proceedings will be telecast live
Since Sri Lanka is not a signatory to the Rome Statute regarding international jurisdiction with regard to war crimes, ensuring justice with regard to such matters will be the business of nationalindependent judicial mechanisms
Their positions and rights will be restored to victims of political revenge and punishments, including former Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka, and 43rd Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake.
A respected Foreign Service free of political interference will be re-established
Areas designated by law as Environmentally Protected Lands will be protected and care taken to safeguard their boundaries
Areas of environmental importance which are now subject to threats of destruction will be further identified and necessary steps taken to protect them
Steps will be taken, using contemporary international technological knowledge, to restore areas of environmental importance that have been harmed or are suffering threats
The Wild Life Protection Ordinance will be effectively implemented without fear or favour
It will be compulsory to have an Environmental Assessment Study at the very inception of any development projects

Présidentielles 2015: nouvelle analyse

Après le rapport de deux chercheurs de l’Université de Colombo reproduit antérieurement (, nous attirons l’attention sur une nouvelle analyse préélectorale, à deux jours du scrutin, qui parvient aux mêmes conclusions sur la base d’une méthode différente.


Présidentielles 2015: l’analyse de deux chercheurs de l’Université de Colombo

L’analyse pré-électorale proposée par deux chercheurs attachés à l’Université de Colombo, qui avait fait l’objet de fuites dans la presse, est la seule à ce jour à avoir été publiée et à avoir exposé les méthodes employées. C’est à ce titre que nous la proposons ci-dessous à nos lecteurs.

January 01, 2014

We, the undersigned, wish to put the record straight regarding a research we two jointly have undertaken to develop an empirical model to analyse the Sri Lankan voter behavior at Presidential elections over the past 10 years with the objective of contributing to the body of social research.

1. This research team was jointly led by us; T L Gunaruwan, Senior Lecturer attached to the University of Colombo and D S Jayaweera, an independent policy analyst, currently the Director General of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority.

2. There is no formal involvement of the University of Colombo or SLTDA in this research, as it is the case with regard to most of our research activities, and any involvement one could imagine is limited to the extent of us being employed at these organisations, and the research team being comprised of several junior researchers and research students attached to the University of Colombo, and our academic and research contact points at several other Universities.

3. Our interests were purely academic and research in nature, and thus, we never released any of the interim outcomes of our still-ongoing research to media. However, we have recently observed several news items in media pertaining to a “Colombo University survey” on presidential elections, some of which even contained our names, but with some contents we cannot claim ownership.

4. Even though we cannot exclude the possibility of there being other surveys conducted by other researchers attached to the University of Colombo and other academic and research institutions on this subject, it would be unfair if such are quoted or published without the explicit consent of any such researchers, including us, and more so if the contents are not properly reported so that misleading opinions could be developed in the minds of the readers.

5. Since we realise the possibility of these numerous reports quoting out of context our research and their various outputs, we thought of putting the record straight by releasing to media the outcomes of our research as it stood at 27th December 2014, while requesting all concerned to avoid using these for any marketing or propaganda purposes. We, however, have no objection of anyone or organisation using these for further research work or for their internal planning and strategic decision making purposes.

T Lalithasiri Gunaruwan, Senior Lecturer (Economics), University of Colombo, and

D S Jayaweera, Policy Analyst (Currently the DG/SLTDA)

January 01, 2015

Attached: Outcomes of our Research as at Dec 27, 2014.

SURVEY ON VOTING PATTERNS – Presidential Election 2015

(Survey conducted by a research team of the University of Colombo)

Sample :

(a) Relatively smaller sample (little less than 1000) compared to total population of little over 15 million. Survey forms were collected at convenience, and therefore, district-wise or electorate-wise representative sampling could not be realised. The results have to be perceived having proper understanding of this aspect.

(b) Over 80% of the sample were Sinhala Buddhists, and thus this sample has that bias, given that the overall share of Sinhala Buddhist voters is approximately 70% of the total votes.

(c) No survey responses were obtained from North (except one respondent from Jaffna, and two from Mullativu), while much larger number of responses were obtained from East, North Central, Western and Southern provinces. Only a few responses were obtained from Central, Uva, Wayamba and Sabaragamuwa Provinces.

(d) Sample characteristics indicate that it is overwhelmingly biased towards Mahinda Rajapaksa, as out of those who have cast their votes in the respective elections, over 75% had voted for MR in 2010 and 2005 elections (when his national average stood around 58% in 2010 and just above 50% in 2005).


1. Around 20% for the first time voters and nearly 13%-15% of the total respondents are still undecided. This indecision is still substantially high, and means that a lot could still change, particularly through the events and behavior of parties over the next two weeks.

2. Only 1% of the respondents in the aggregate sample pronounced preference to vote for a third candidate, while nearly 3% would vote for no one. These ratios are 2% and 7%, respectively, with regard to fresh voters. This indicates the likelihood of relatively lesser share of votes polled by any candidate other than the two main contenders, while the cancellation rate also is likely to be relatively low (please note that this percentage is compatible with what was observed at past national elections).

3. In the face of it, 44% to 39% split between MR and MS in a highly “MR-biased” (as explained in “d” above) sample points at the highly competitive nature of the forthcoming election, where the possibility of MR’s share going below 50% is substantial.

4. The present survey thus adopted a different approach to examine the trends. The 2015 vote base was divided into “new votes” and “non-new votes”; and the share of votes polled by individual candidates were considered with regard to “new votes”, while the “shifts” away from MR (in 2010) to MS (in 2015) and vice-versa were estimated and applied on to the population with regard to “non-new votes”.

5. As per the survey results, MR would obtain 38% of the “new-votes” while MS would obtain 33%. The balance would be accounted under votes obtained by other candidates, non-voters, and those who are still undecided.

6. With regard to “non-new votes”, nearly 28% of those who voted for MR in 2010 would shift towards MS this time and 11% would still be undecided, while 4% of those who voted for Sarath Fonseka in 2010 would shift towards MR in 2015 while 11% would be undecided. It is interesting to note that nearly 30% of those who voted for MR in 2005 Presidential election would deflect towards MS in 2015, and around 9% of those voted for Ranil Wickramasinghe in 2005 would deflect towards MR in the coming election.

7. Applying the basic survey results to the overall population, and using the 2010 election results as the basis for projections, it could be estimated that the chances are greater for MS to win this election with around 53% of the total valid votes, assuming that the absentee voter ratio stays unchanged at around 25%.

8. This pattern was cross examined through an “ethnicity based” analysis. This was attempted because the survey sample appeared overwhelmingly “Sinhalese”, and any shift calculated based on such a biased sample would only apply to that particular ethnic electorate. The results indicated the likelihood of MS securing a lead of over 2 lakhs of votes over MR in this electoral block, paving the way for an MS victory with a likely preference for him in Tamil and Muslim electorates. The survey results indicate that MS could secure the required 50% of total valid votes if he manages to get around half of the Tamil and Muslim votes, while MR would require over 60% of the Tamil and Muslim votes if he is to surpass MS in the overall competition and to cross over the crucial 50% threshold.

9. The results thus indicate the importance for both candidates of their margins secured in the Sinhalese electorate, which accounts for over 112 lakhs or three-fourth of the total number of registered voters. For instance, one lakh of lead lost for MS in the Sinhala electorate than the above indicated survey estimates would necessitate him to secure over 57% of minority votes (compared to nearly 50% required in the case of two lakhs of lead in the Sinhala electorate) for overall election victory.

10. Based on the survey estimates and a hypothetical 35:65 ratio of minority votes split between MR and MS respectively, the ethnicity specific analysis would yield an overall outcome closer to that projected under (7) above, with nearly 60 lakhs of votes (53%) polled by MS, 50 lakhs (44%) by MR, and 3% going to others.

11. However, it must be emphasised that nearly 20% of the first time voters, and around 13% of the overall electorate, are still undecided, which could go into either camp over the next two weeks, and could either reinforce or reverse the overall estimates made in this analysis. It is interesting to note that only less than 1% of the overall respondents pronounced interest in constitutional reforms or economic hardships such as high cost of living or unemployment. An overwhelming majority expressing preference for MR was for his war effort, strong leadership against external intervention, national unity and not reverting back to war or separatism, and those preferring MS were largely owing to accountability, transparency and governance issues in the MR rule. It is therefore very clear that the Sinhalese vote base, largely reflected in the sample surveyed, is sensitive to the national issue, and those still undecided among them, even though a majority has not given reasons for their indecision, are prone to tilt towards the camp which assures them of peace and national security. Strategic sail through the next two weeks of campaigning is therefore likely to be crucial for both candidates.


This analysis therefore tends to indicate a probable victory for MS at the forthcoming Presidential elections. However, there is a significant share of undecided voters, which makes the competition still wide open for both parties; and the estimates made in this analysis are likely to be influenced by the decision that will be made by these undecided voters over the next two weeks.

T L Gunaruwan (University of Colombo) and D S Jayaweera (SLTDA)

Joint Survey Analysts

December 27, 2014

« Une étude novatrice de Delon Madavan sur les minorités tamoules à Colombo, Singapour et Kuala Lumpur » par Éric Meyer

Delon Madavan a soutenu brillamment sa thèse de doctorat en géographie à l’Université de Paris-Sorbonne le 26 septembre 2013.

Le travail de Delon Madavan associe dans une même étude Asie du Sud-Est et du Sud. Cette démarche, trop rare dans l’univers cloisonné des études aréales, est particulièrement pertinente, s’agissant des minorités tamoules établies sur le pourtour du golfe du Bengale, aire de circulation « connectée » bien avant l’impact colonial britannique. La propension spécifique des populations tamoules à émigrer concerne un large spectre sociologique, allant des travailleurs manuels (les coolies) aux marchands et gens de mer, aux artisans, et plus récemment aux professionnels du secteur tertiaire maîtrisant la langue anglaise et les outils informatiques. Delon Madavan analyse parfaitement la complexité de ces populations, et pose d’emblée la question de la création et des limites d’une identité tamoule transcendant cette hétérogénéité. Il conclut à juste titre que « la communauté tamoule est avant tout une agrégation d’expériences individuelles »
Parmi les concepts utilisés, ceux d’appartenance ethnique et de diaspora retiennent l’attention. Delon Madavan, dans le premier chapitre puis dans la dernière partie de sa thèse, montre comment le sentiment d’appartenance se fonde sur l’usage et la célébration de la langue tamoule, sur la large diffusion d’un imaginaire commun par la production cinématographique de ‘Kollywood’, et plus récemment sur le culte de l’héroïsme et sur le rêve d’un État national développés par les militants séparatistes sri lankais. Il évoque aussi la place tenue par les stratégies d’alliance qui maintiennent la cohésion par des mariages croisés (sans toutefois surmonter les segmentations internes de caste en dépit des efforts des militants de la cause tamoule). Le terme de diaspora, tel qu’il est défini comme « applicable à toute communauté post-migratoire caractérisée par une dispersion dans plusieurs pays à partir d’un foyer d’origine », est utilisé à bon escient ; il gagnerait à être mis au pluriel, pour prendre en compte l’importance de la segmentation des communautés tamoules ; à cet égard, la diaspora issue de la ville de Jaffna, qui fonctionne en réseau de Colombo à Kuala Lumpur, Singapour, Londres, Toronto ou Paris, répond mieux à cette définition que les communautés de travailleurs tamouls des plantations de Sri Lanka et de Malaisie, qui ont pourtant des origines communes et des destins parallèles, mais n’ont pas conservé de liens.
L’étude est menée dans une perspective géographique, son objet étant d’analyser l’inscription dans l’espace urbain du fait ethnique. Les terrains choisis sont les quartiers tamouls de Colombo, Kuala Lumpur et Singapour, cités qui ont en commun d’être des créations coloniales mais que distinguent leur composition ethnique et leur évolution politique depuis les indépendances. La méthode comparative est utilisée par Delon Madavan comme un procédé heuristique qui permet de prendre du recul pour mieux comprendre les situations particulières. Le plan qui juxtapose et combine dans des grandes parties thématiques le cas des trois cités permet de mener une véritable comparaison .
En ce qui concerne la ville de Colombo, le travail est totalement novateur, en dépit des difficultés considérables inhérentes à toute recherche sur Sri Lanka, et plus particulièrement sur les Tamouls sri lankais, dans un contexte politique marqué par la guerre opposant le gouvernement aux militants séparatistes des LTTE (Tigres de Libération de l’Eelam Tamoul). Le choix de ne pas traiter de la période postérieure à la défaite militaire des séparatistes (mai 2009) est amplement justifié par l’exigence de sérieux qui distingue le temps du chercheur de celui du publiciste. Il n’existait jusqu’à cette thèse aucune étude sur les minorités tamoules de Colombo, ni même d’étude géographique ou sociologique de qualité scientifique concernant cette cité, sur laquelle l’auteur aurait pu s’appuyer, et les données statistiques au niveau local étaient difficiles d’accès. En outre, le climat de violence urbaine généralisée interdisait à Delon Madavan de mener une enquête ‘au fil des rues’ comme dans les autres capitales, d’autant que ses origines tamoules le rendaient potentiellement suspect aux yeux des autorités en dépit de sa nationalité française, et que sa posture de chercheur ne le mettait pas à l’abri des pressions des militants. L’auteur explicite les moyens qu’il a employés pour surmonter ces obstacles, et la thèse prouve à l’évidence qu’il est parvenu à relever le défi.
Les analyses qu’il propose, illustrées par une cartographie abondante et inédite d’excellente facture, donnent une image précise de ces communautés. Elle révèlent l’existence de deux espaces tamouls géographiquement et sociologiquement séparés, l’un au nord de la capitale (Kotahena) et l’autre au sud (Wellawatte, Dehiwela) ; et la genèse en deux temps de ces quartiers, d’abord à la période coloniale, Kotahena, situé à proximité du port, ayant accueilli les commerçants et les manœuvres indiens, et Wellawatte les fonctionnaires et membres des professons libérales anglophones venus de Jaffna ; puis à partir des années 1970, Kotahena servant de refuge aux ouvriers des plantations chassés par la politique de nationalisation (comme en Malaisie), et Wellawatte de refuge aux Jaffnais chassés du nord de l’île par le conflit. Il en résulte ce qu’on pourrait qualifier de paradoxe de Colombo : « malgré la guerre, Colombo devient [ou plutôt reste] le principal centre de convergence des flux migratoires qui transforment la géographie de la population dans la ville (…) La part des Tamouls y augmente considérablement alors que celle des Cingalais ne cesse de diminuer » – ce qui contribue à la tamoulophobie de la communauté majoritaire. Les interviews menées par l’auteur, dont des extraits bien choisis soutiennent la thèse, montrent que cette nouvelle migration est perçue comme temporaire (« ils sont à Colombo mais pas de Colombo »), que l’espace n’est pas approprié, que « le logement est perçu comme une adresse », et que l’arrivée des nouveaux migrants ne réinjecte pas de particularisme culturel.
Cette situation, qui distingue Colombo des deux autres cités étudiées, est sous-tendue par la politique discriminatoire du gouvernement sri lankais à l’égard des minorités tamoules. Les développements que l’auteur consacre à ce sujet témoignent d’une remarquable exigence d’objectivité scientifique et d’un détachement de tout discours victimaire, sans s’abstraire d’une empathie pour le destin tragique de ces communautés.
Les qualités de chercheur de Delon Madavan, son dynamisme et sa détermination, sont mises en évidence par cette étude, mais aussi par ses travaux antérieurs sur Jaffna, par l’organisation d’un colloque international sur les communautés tamoules et le conflit sri lankais en Sorbonne en février 2010, et par l’animation du présent carnet de recherche sur Sri Lanka et ses diasporas depuis mai 2012.
La nouveauté et la justesse des analyses, la qualité de l’écriture, de la cartographie et des illustrations, font de cette thèse une production scientifique de grande valeur qui mérite une large diffusion.

Eric Meyer, membre du jury de thèse, Professeur émérite, INALCO

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