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)

“Statement on 25th Anniversary of Mass Killings, Disappearances and Displacement Carried Out in Batticaloa in 1990” by Batticaloa Peace Committee

On the 29th of July 2015, the Batticaloa Peace Committee and friends gathered together to remember all those who died in the senseless violence of 1990 and also those who still live with its consequences. We did this with a deep sense of sadness for the past, but also hope for the future.


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 ”

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 »

“The Tamil Elephant in the Green (Blue?) Room” by Niran Anketell

How then must the opposition campaign? How does a Sinhala dominated opposition allay the fears of the Sinhala community that the opposition campaign—a cause for which there will be critical but overwhelming Tamil support—will harm the Sinhalese? Equally, how must a responsible Tamil opposition express its positions to the Tamil people credibly, without undermining Mr. Sirisena’s ability to attract Sinhala votes?


“The war in Sri Lanka and propaganda debates: An analysis for the OHCHR in Geneva” by Michael Roberts

As a Sri Lankan Australian and academic I have been collecting and analysing the material on the last phase of the war in Sri Lanka for six years now. I come across new evidence regularly in the midst of misinformation and dis-information that is a facet of the propaganda war that has been sharpening since the LTTE began to retreat in 2008. Since the volume of data is huge, a thorough investigation calls for assiduous work by a team which includes those who are culturally competent and able to discern manipulation. They must transcend the clever tactics of misinformation and fabrication from both sides, with the additional awareness that the Tamil migrant networks outdo the government (GSL) on this front by a proverbial mile.


“Where have all the young men gone?” by Thyagi Ruwanpathirana

The families seemed to have come to terms with the fact that they were probably massacred on the beach, even though their bodies have not been found or even been excavated yet from where they are suspected to be. 24 long years have passed, and loved ones still come before a Commission, like they have in the past, to provide testimony. They want their stories recorded, for history, for posterity.


“The Advisory Council of Experts: A council, a council, my kingdom for a council?” by Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

The Advisory Council of three to the Commission on Disappearances, in international political terms, takes on the role of the only show in town for the regime in response to its international critics. It could go the IIGEP way and the arguments over war crimes will continue; the issue of disappearances though, “disappeared” in the resulting doubt and din, sound and fury.


“A new phase of mediation to get from post-war to post-conflict Sri Lanka” by Jehan Perera

The political resolution of the conflict will be difficult due to the ethnic and identity-based nature of the conflict which generates extreme insecurities on all sides. However, it is important that the Sri Lankan government takes immediate measures to improve the situation on the ground, so that there is an immediate peace dividend and its decision to invite South African facilitation is not seen as merely a hard headed decision to ward off the international community in Geneva. The situation in the North of the country, where over 60 have been arrested in recent weeks and some released by the security forces, and the targeting of the Muslim community by extremist groups, has created a climate of fear that is the opposite of reconciliation.


source: Groundviews

“Commonwealth & human rights principles in Sri Lanka, in the weeks before CHOGM” by Ruki (Groundviews)

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) is due to start tomorrow. The last few weeks has seen series of violations of Human Rights and Commonwealth principles in Sri Lanka, which is the host country and expected to lead the Commonwealth in the next two years. Victims of human rights violations, their families, activists, local and international journalists, UN experts and opposition politicians from Sri Lanka and Commonwealth countries who are critical of the government have been amongst those targeted. Pro-government protests have been allowed to go ahead, even as Police obtained a court order preventing protests in the Colombo city today and tomorrow. Below are some incidents reported, based on testimonies of victims, eye witnesses and media.


source: Groundviews

“Rajapakse Administration’s choices with the TNA” by by Harim Peiris

The Rajapakse Administration faces a rather stark choice with regard to the TNA controlled Northern Provincial Council. The desired and preferred option would be, for the Government to be generous and cooperative with the NPC and provide it with the space and facilitation required to address the effects of the war on the Northern civilians as the former principle theatre of the conflict. This requires basically an attitude similar to that of the victorious allies in the Second World War, who had both the Marshal plan for Europe and very generous political arrangements for the defeated Japanese including retaining their Emperor in whose name the war had been fought. Initial indications are that the Rajapakse Administration is open to this possibility, once it gets over its own ideological hang-ups.


source: Groundviews

Clearing up inconvenient Hindus and laundrymen in Colombo (Groundviews)

A recent short-form video (in Sinhala) produced by Vikalpacaptured, for the first time, the voices of these laundrymen speaking about their lives, families, work, memories and experiences. Vikalpa‘s video and accompanying photos highlight the extreme hardship of lives so easily erased, trammelled and forgotten – now being moved en masse because, post-war, there are too many SUV’s coming to see Sri Lanka’s President.


sources: Groundviews and youtube

“Spot Fixing Sri Lanka Style: Revisiting the Enumeration of Vital Events” by The Social Architects

The processes surrounding the Sri Lankan government’s EVE are deeply flawed. The EVE’s survey and subsequent statistical analyses lack rigor and are shrouded in opacity. The EVE has resulted in the production of highly questionable information. More than four years after the conclusion of war, the present administration maintains that far fewer deaths (less than 8,000) occurred during war’s final phases than most people think. As TSA noted more than a year ago, the government’s dubious claim lacks merit and should not be taken seriously.
Read full article here.

“Sri Lanka at a critical crossroad: JHU and the 13th Amendment” by Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

“If the bad guys win, the centre of gravity of Sri Lankan politics and society will shift still further to the right. It may even impact upon the choice of candidacy. If the neo-con project with its totalitarian notion of national security succeeds, the present dispensation will appear in a roseate afterglow as an era of tolerance and democracy.”

Read full article here.
source: Groundviews