« 8 January 2015: Memories from a Future-Past » by Deborah Philip

« Even as a Rajapakse return haunts Sri Lanka I am inspired today by the strength and determination of the Muslim persons attacked en-route to the polling station. The Hindu reports that they used public transport and private vehicles to ensure they made it to the polling stations in Mannar to cast their vote. I return to the statement released by CPA in the aftermath of the 2015 Presidential Election and continue to grasp onto the spirit in which it was written: “They called us terrorists, traitors and thieves; we called ourselves citizens”.

8 January 2015: Memories from a Future-Past, https://groundviews.org/…/8-january-2015-memories-from-a-f…/ by Deborah Philip »

via: Groundviews

« Sri Lanka election commission censors state TV in lead-up to vote » Aljazeera

Sri Lanka’s election commission has said it will censor the political coverage of a state-owned TV station after accusing it of bias against the former president’s brother, who is running in the country’s upcoming presidential election.

The unprecedented move came after the Independent Television Network (ITN) aired a programme alleging loyalists to the previous government had thwarted a corruption probe into the family of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

« Tamil groups place their demands ahead of presidential elections in Sri Lanka » The Hindu

In a show of strength and solidarity, five Tamil parties in Sri Lanka recently came together and put down their expectations of presidential candidates seeking their support in the November 16 election.

via: https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/tamil-groups-place-their-demands-ahead-of-presidential-elections-in-sri-lanka/article29807814.ece?fbclid=IwAR037FegiVUrpbU7j7gZQ9i7wFoMX-AgupPRg7PdWyWdpzyqc08yXZ2Q7oc

« Sri Lanka presidential candidate would free soldiers, rebels » The Washington Post

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The front-runner in Sri Lanka’s presidential campaign promised that he will rehabilitate and release all military personnel accused of abuses in the country’s civil war, according to a campaign manifesto released Friday.

via: https://www.washingtonpost.com/gdpr-consent/?destination=%2fworld%2fasia_pacific%2fsri-lanka-presidential-candidate-would-free-soldiers-rebels%2f2019%2f10%2f25%2fdb3c438a-f78c-11e9-b2d2-1f37c9d82dbb_story.html%3ffbclid%3dIwAR0M-gB2X3VBfI6MnSoNNwQJegY8mdlTIKIFy8W_koCGaaSruGtpQD-o7vw&fbclid=IwAR0M-gB2X3VBfI6MnSoNNwQJegY8mdlTIKIFy8W_koCGaaSruGtpQD-o7vw

« Sri Lanka elections | Race heats up within UNP for presidential candidacy » The Hindu

In the wake of a heightening contest for presidential candidacy within the ruling United National Party (UNP), deputy leader and Minister Sajith Premadasa on Tuesday said the party must hold a “secret ballot” to choose the most-preferred contender.

via: https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/sri-lanka-elections-race-heats-up-within-united-national-party-for-presidential-candidacy/article29442256.ece?fbclid=IwAR3sXFvDKdClpjeWp2RIds8hcnevwR7IRFrN1FV80LPMPCG3Q5R3MqmnnqA

« Sri Lanka presidential frontrunner loses bid to get corruption case dismissed » reuters

COLOMBO (Reuters) – Sri Lanka’s top court on Wednesday rejected an appeal by presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa to dismiss corruption charges against him, in a possible blow to the frontrunnner’s candidacy.

via:https://www.reuters.com/article/us-sri-lanka-politics-rajapaksa/sri-lanka-presidential-frontrunner-loses-bid-to-get-corruption-case-dismissed-idUSKCN1VW1UF?fbclid=IwAR3kdKy8gJZmUMsbFBLKhdI99vSNfeUdnA3IdLiUOLq_m5rQ8biv5ApotsY

Disparition de Sobitha Thera, moine politique

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

« Sri Lanka’s Mahinda Rajapaksa Seeks Return to Politics » by Uditha Jayasinghe

Sri Lanka’s former president said Wednesday he would run for parliament in a bid to return to politics after he was ousted in January elections by an opposition coalition that vowed to investigate alleged human-rights abuses, nepotism and corruption.

via: http://www.wsj.com/articles/sri-lankas-mahinda-rajapaksa-seeks-return-to-politics-1435753884

« Sri Lanka’s Rainbow Revolution » by Elijah Hoole

Elijah Hoole: « It was around six in the evening. Friendship Villa in the South Eastern University was full of activity. As I made my way through the corridor in search ofdrinking water, a batch mate from Batticaloa beamed at me. He was shaking with excitement. Sinhalese students could be heard shouting from their rooms. I soon came to know the cause of all the commotion: the opposition had unveiled Maithripala Sirisena as the common candidate. »

via: http://storiesofthewind.tumblr.com/post/109775449441/sri-lankas-rainbow-revolution

« Sri Lanka : Democracy at Work » by Eric Meyer

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 »

Radhika Coomaraswamy: je suis fière de mon pays

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

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

By

Radhika Coomaraswamy

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

pic by: Anura Srinath –
www.anurasrinath.com

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.

« Sri Lanka stunned? Sri Lanka’s 2015 presidential poll and [un]warranted exclamations » by Dr. Chaminda Weerawardhana

If opposition leaders are to live up to the hopes ignited by the Sirisena presidency, it is now crucial to prioritise a mode of governance marked by the new President’s stamp. The worst-case scenario is indeed a government in which President Sirisena will be relegated to passively adopting a Wickremesinghe or Bandaranaike agenda.

Via http://groundviews.org/…/sri-lanka-stunned-sri-lankas-2015…/

« Sri lanka: After the Election Upset – What Next? » by Teresita Schaffer

« The new Sri Lankan president, Maithripala Sirisena, has a chance to make some changes, but only if he can keep an uncertain coalition together. Resetting relations with Delhi and Washington will be an important part of this – and his country’s friends need to give him some space. »

via: http://southasiahand.com/regional/sri-lanka-after-the-election-upset-what-next/

« Ranil works out peaceful pre-dawn transition of power with Mahinda » by Sunday Times

Millions of Sri Lankans learnt only by late Friday morning that the major thrust by Opposition political parties brought an end to the near ten year rule of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. As the counting began in centres countrywide after polls ended on Thursday, families and friends sat around their television sets for the results. There was fear in the minds of most. Only a day earlier, in the main cities, shops and supermarkets were crowded by people panic buying stocks of food to cope with a possible post-poll curfew on Friday, marred by violent incidents. There was no cause for such a move. The reason – there were brave men in the security forces, the judiciary, the Department of Elections and other establishments — who literally placed their lives on the line of fire to make a free poll possible.

via: http://www.sundaytimes.lk/150111/columns/ranil-works-out-peaceful-pre-dawn-transition-of-power-with-mahinda-130430.html