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.
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 adaderana.lk les résultats complets accompagnés d’une infographie de bonne qualité.
The current parliamentary election presents a clear division between democratic forces and anti-democratic forces. A victory for democracy would offer a generational chance of resolving some of the fault lines in Sri Lankan society. The Rajapaksa regime won the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) but they used this victory to defeat the legitimate democratic aspirations of the Tamil people.
The positive achievements of the regime change are quite significant, but paradoxically they remain mostly invisible and intangible. Key among them include making the state less and less repressive, removing the use of fear, terror, intimidation and corruption as instruments of governance, turning the regime behaviour moderate and less leader-centric, dismantling the political culture of the personality cult, demilitarisation of politics and public space, the re-opening of the space for critique and dissent, and the removal of the fear among ethnic and religious minorities of organised violence. These indeed are no mean achievements gained within a space of days and weeks of the regime change. All these are negative achievements in the sense that they are outcome of the government refraining from doing certain things. But they constituted a fundamental alteration of the pattern of regime behaviour evolved during the past so many years.
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
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 will Celebrate its Sixty-seventh Anniversary of Independence from the United Kingdom this Wednesday. The country then known as Ceylon obtained full freedom from the British on February 4th 1948.Independent Ceylon/Sri Lanka / has faced many challenges and problems in the past 67 years. We have had military coup attempts, communal riots, pogroms, armed revolts, external military intervention, assassinations of heads of state, terrorist violence and above all a long secessionist war that threatened to tear apart the country.”
The South Asia Democratic Forum (www.sadf.eu) 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.
1. RESILIENCE OF DEMOCRACY
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 ?
2. DEMOCRACY AT WORK : ANALYSIS OF ELECTION RESULTS
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.
3. DEMOCRACY AT WORK : THE TRANSFER OF POWER
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.
4. THE VICTORY OF DEMOCRACY IS FRAGILE
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.
5. CONTRADICTIONS IN THE SIRISENA PROGRAMME
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 »
Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the former defense secretary, oversaw the Sri Lankan armed forces’ worst atrocities during the final stages of the civil war and, as it happens, he is a naturalized American citizen. (Indeed, he used to live in Los Angeles, where he worked as a computer systems operator at Loyola Law School.)
As a citizen, Mr. Rajapaksa can be held liable under the War Crimes Act of 1996, which puts war crimes anywhere in the world under the jurisdiction of United States courts if the perpetrator, or the victim, is a United States citizen. Put another way, the United States has a perfect justification to go after Mr. Rajapaksa individually.
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”
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 – www.anurasrinath.com
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.
So if someone says, ‘Let’s forgive and forget, it’s time for a new Sri Lanka’, we should say to them: We can forgive, but we must never forget; there is no new Sri Lanka without the old; we cannot build a future that does not acknowledge the past; we will not live in a nation in which we have not all, without exception, been given the chance to rebuild our lives, and the very luxury of the choice to forgive.
It is that negative difference that has fuelled an electorate’s call for a political change, perhaps at great risk, still with the hope that a new administration may have the political maturity to tolerate dissent and celebrate a plural Sri Lankan identity.
New Yorker take on the election: “If a Presidential candidate refers to himself as a devil, chances are he’s in trouble. Last week, campaigning ahead of this Thursday’s election, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the incumbent Sri Lankan President, tried hard to endear himself to an audience in the northern city of Jaffna. The crowd consisted almost entirely of Tamils, the island’s largest minority, a community that regards him with suspicion and anger. ‘There is a saying that the devil you know is better than the unknown angel,’ Rajapaksa said. ‘I am the known devil, so please vote for me.’ These two sentences encapsulated the swift and intriguing fall of the once-mighty President.”
Election time has always been a period of amusement in Sri Lanka where democracy continues to erode ever since independence in February 1948.
One such item which sums up the tragedy fell on the island since independence was a baila song in the YouTube by Sunil Perera under the title The Gypsies “Kiyanne Gothala”. This 4 minute 48 second song summarises how once stable and prosperous Sri Lanka was ruined by corrupt racist politicians.
Sunil even goes to the extent to state that this country would have been better off had the British remained here. He provides sufficient food for thought for those who believe in a Sri Lanka where all communities could live in peace and harmony.
What is striking about the 2015 elections? It is the upsurge in the call for democracy and the call to put an end to aggression, arbitrary actions. Significantly, it has opened up spaces for the minority community, the minority voter, to once again find a voice within the politics of the state.
My writing here concerns largely Tamil politics, political leadership and the north and east Tamil voter, particularly of the north. In this, I wish to state at the outset, I am not addressing the Malaiyaha Tamil voter or those who are ‘traditional’ residents of Southern Sri Lanka. I write this in the context of how one should see the possibilities that have arisen around the Presidential Elections of 2015. I here focus on the northern Tamil voter, whose aspirations and social location I am more familiar with than that of the east. Elections 2015 has much to offer to the Tamil voter in the north, both in the peninsula, in the Vanni and in the rest of the province. How? The northern polity is under the yoke of both the military and a certain militarization of its structures, even where there is no military presence. There is tight control of its activities that has proved lethal for normal democratic action. This is so in the south, but amplified in the north, where the governor himself is a personality from the military establishment. Educational institutions seemingly come under very strict and direct surveillance of the military and the defence establishment. Routine civil activities, such as the right to gather, discuss, hold a wedding, a procession, have to be meticulously negotiated both with the local military authorities and the Defense Ministry at the centre. The Presidential Election of 2015 gives us hope and a confidence in our own strength to bring about change in the way administrative matters are handled, basic civil rights are safeguarded, greater demilitarization at all levels. For the north and east Tamil and Muslims, nothing will change overnight. But it will bespeak a change in the way we conceive of our own lives. In this respect, it is suicidal for the Tamil voter to not vote, to engage in a politics of isolationism and in boycott politics. The argument that not to vote is a democratic right is politically myopic. There is nothing inherently wrong with boycotts. But to boycott a major event such as the Presidential Election which has consequences for all of the people of Sri Lanka, in the years following the war, is to not seize the opportunities facing us at this crucial time: to belong or not belong. Isolationism is not the answer today.
There is little that can be deemed independent in the north, independent of party politics. It is either patronage politics or a heightened Tamil nationalist politics of resistance that has little to do with the daily realities of the populace. One has to assess the needs of the Tamil population in the north and east, within the context of their basic life situation, democratic action, access to the judiciary in a climate freed of fear and intimidation, a climate where economic and social, cultural activities can find expression. It is not to be denied that Tamil and Muslim populations in the north and east have many particular grievances that distinguish them from the dominant community. This election will not bring a solution to those. But it is a step toward ensuring that there could be at least partial solutions. Students in Jaffna are not boycotting the A/levels because the grievances of Tamils have not been alleviated. I have seen quite a number of congratulatory messages about a student of Jaffna Hindu College gaining the highest mark in Math in the A/Levels this time. I am happy for that student and congratulate him. But I am also concerned about a vast number of students who are not getting a proper education, because of lack of facilities in the Vanni, in the non prestigious schools in Jaffna, and because of caste and gender discrimination. Recently I met two students entering the state university system from Mullaithivu, one of whom had done the A/levels during the war. What does the future hold for her? If the aggressive educational policies of the current government are to go through, very soon, that student from Mullaithivu who goes to the state university will have to compete with privately funded universities where only the children of the upperclasses could go to. The same goes to this student who obtained the highest mark in Math. His high mark would be of no value, if other more affluent students can go to privately funded universities.
The commonalities, the aggressive de-democratization of state and civil society which took place during the war have been channeled into development programmes many of which have little to do with the people in the north and the east. I am not critiquing all development programmes. Those that are designed to involve the people and not destroy people’s initiatives and building community, generating employment can be productive. But the aggressive neo-liberal policies of the current government have ridden rough shod over all the people in the country. The eastern coast has suffered heavily here with land grabbing taking place for tourist purposes that do not benefit many people.
THE MINORITIES’ QUESTION
The question of minorities and how they are situated within a politics of the state is important. This question is particularly pertinent to the Tamil populace of the north and east, communities that have faced war and been at the receiving end of state brutality for decades. The ethnic conflict, in Sri Lanka placed the Tamil population in a precariously central position. It forced them to adopt a particular kind of politics that went dangerously off course, propelled by increasing nationalist and exclusivist tendencies. Nevertheless, the conflict years and the war have spawned an identity for the northern Tamil as victim and only as a victim, and as one grieving and not in a position to act outside of what is understood as Tamil. Everything a Tamil does has to do with being Tamil, politically speaking. I am not sure whether this is the case in the east, but the political discourse of Tamil nationalism has carved such an exclusive and ethnocentric place for Tamil politics that it is unable to think of general economic and social issues and be sensitive to class, minority, caste, gender perspectives. This is not to deny that the Tamil people (along with Muslims and Malaiyaha Tamils and others) have been victimized over several years, particularly in the war years. Problems such as militarization, displacement, and resettlement have not been resolved to anybody’s satisfaction. This is compounded by the fact that, displacement, resettlement, language, land, administration related concerns are issues that face a) different ethnic communities differently and b) the same communities of different regions differently. And yet, despite these complexities, the northern Tamil populace has imagined a common ground in forging an identity that is described as Tamil and Tamil only. They vote, when they did vote, or were allowed to vote, overwhelmingly for nationalist parties; this trend saw growth from the ‘70s onwards. Left tendencies and allegiances which had a strong presence in the peninsula have been eroded by what has been seen as the historical betrayal of the Tamil people by Southern left leaders on the one hand and the accompanying growth of Tamil nationalism on the other.
In the war years, large numbers of people left and the northern Tamil population was decimated, in war and through migration. The north was under the direct yoke of the military of the LTTE for several years; while ideologically, all that was represented by the LTTE, its narrow nationalism, chauvinism, fascist tendencies, lack of a medium term strategy for survival, focused solely on a separate state, has remained intact.. Yes, there is a disconnect between the social lives of the Tamils in the north and their political articulations. The daily lives of the people are racked by unemployment, a dearth of skilled labour, caste discrimination persisting at many levels, in white collar as well as working class sectors. Education, housing, farming, the persistence of problems facing the fishing people, the right to the sea, access to government bodies, safeguards for farmers etc. The resettled do not have the capital to start up life anew and they go into debt in a major way. Many of these problems beset other communities too: debt, bad harvests, lack of capital, competition from outside, though the north has found markets outside, after the war and the reopening of the main thoroughfare. At the same time, a new middle class is slowly emerging on the ashes or on the residue of the old, perhaps as an extension and yet how dynamic this middle class is yet to be seen.
The social aspect of the lives of the northern people reveals a complexity that is not reflected in the political articulation of its leadership. Self-determination of the Tamils is a cry that has to go through a historical transformation. If the Tamil leadership, and its intelligentsia do not reassess these claims in the climate of this new era, bringing with itself its own set of fears, anxieties, strengths and hopes, remapping the old, Tamil leadership will soon lose its hold on the people. Political leadership provided by the TNA has not been able to shed itself of an exclusionary vision for the people. Self Determination is not the only democratic option for the Tamil people of the north and east, as some do. In fact, one could argue, it is even, undemocratic at this historical juncture to talk of self determination. It is heartening that the TNA is not taking a stand against the elections, while extremist factions are adopting this position.
THE NORTH AND ITS INTERNAL COMPLEXITIES: MUSLIMS
The vexed question of the relations between Muslims, Tamil political action and the Tamil populace demands urgent need; it is as urgent as the broader national questions concerning minorities. The rhetoric of victimization has served to strain relations between Muslims and Tamils. Where Jaffna is concerned, the returning Muslim has not found a welcome among the Tamil people. The Tamil intelligentsia, political leadership, caught in its exclusivist vision and rhetoric has had very little to offer the Muslims. This has made life difficult for the people, who have had to deal with a bureaucracy that is at best, indifferent and at worst, hostile. In the rest of the Northern Province, Muslim-Tamil relations are mired in distrust, chauvinism and exclusiveness and political opportunism. That the state has not provided for resettlement in an all encompassing and politically sensitive manner and through a well formulated policy is also a leading factor in exacerbating relations. The question of the situation of up-country Tamils settled in the north in the course of the last 30 years and who have had to bear the brunt of the assault of the war in the Vanni is also an issue that has not had found a conducive platform for articulation. Tamil politics and minority politics has to have a dialogue, assess the economic situation concerning each region in its own context, recognize the right to return of Muslims, Sinhala and Tamils to their original or resettled abodes and strengthen democratic participation of the people in decision making. Power Sharing at the centre and in the regions has to be something that has to be negotiated both with the southern polities and minority communities. In order to do this, minority politics has to recognize its place within the political structure of Sri Lanka. Whether resistant, accommodative or even nationalist, Tamil politics has to pursue a path that takes into account its organic links with Sri Lankan politics and the state. Economically, socially and structurally, the north and east Tamil voter is an integral part of the Sri Lankan state and its citizenry. To deny this is to be disingenuous.
It is imperative that Tamil political leadership have dialogue with southern political leadership and southern political and civil society groups as regards power sharing, devolution and the implementation of the 13th Amendment. Of course one could legitimately say that that dialogue initiated by the minorities at many fronts has already taken place and to call for dialogue now and among Tamils is to place the onus of initiation and implementation on the side of the minorities. While I do agree, it is important that dialogue takes place on new terms under the new conditions and with a view to addressing ground realities that are ever changing. The elections have opened up a space for us to formulate a politics, terms and the content of this dialogue. The curtailing of the extra ordinary powers of the Executive Presidency can be critical in this dialogue. The debate on corruption and nepotism, that has caught the attention of the ‘opposition’ forces, might appear as seemingly not concerning the north. But, it is a way of opening up the discussion on meaningful development, such as mega development programmes versus sustainability of people’s initiatives, super expensive express ways versus roads in the rural areas, the right to association, which can give communities living in displacement, workers, fishing people, women, journalists, and artists among others, such a lot of space to build resistance to oppressive development and aggressive militarization. The Tamil voter shall not stay away from debating these issues.
THE SPACE FOR DEMOCRACY
There is a resounding call for democracy today. A very clear message has been sent to the powers that be that one cannot be arrogant about power and resistance will always emerge from some quarter. The space for democracy has widened. People are speaking openly, acting openly, and giving voice to their aspirations. For me, democracy is not just about speaking and acting as an individual. It is always deeply embedded in the social and the cultural. Democratic action has to take care of the lives of people, whether it be the lives of farmers’ who are steeped in debt, displaced people, whose lives have been ravaged by the war, waged workers who need a decent living standard, the plantation community that has been in centuries’ old enclave habitation with little hope for social mobility, migrant workers whose lives are so precarious, minority ethnicities, who feel increasingly alienated from the state and feel they are second class citizens, students, anxious about their future, women who feel trapped within the violence of the state and community; traders who are being edged out by mega development plans; Writers, artistes, journalists, teachers and academics, who find the space for intellectual and cultural work rapidly shrinking. The list of marginalizations is endless. The Presidential Election of 2015 has given many of us hope. The Tamil voter, whether displaced, student, Minority person, woman, otherwise, is in this list. We hope a space will open up. In fact, it has already opened up. The struggle for democracy does not end with the election of 2015. While some of us who are attached to the university and educational centres will continue to struggle to preserve free education and a meaningful education, all democratic forces will continue to struggle for the space to broaden: for diverse articulations of the people to emerge and find a platform.
As one Ajith has said in a comment on a blog which I paraphrase and summarize: “This election is not about self determination of the Tamil people. It is important to analyze what has happened in the past years, the injustices done to the Tamil people, the destructions, the erosion of the independence of the judiciary, corruption. One needs an assessment of the political situation where the entire constituency will benefit of which the Tamils are an integral part.” I will add social welfare and a commitment to education and health, two crucial sectors that assure the fundamental well being of a society. . We need change, but not for the sake of change. We need change, so that democracy can be strengthened.