- Monday, 27 October 2014
It looks more and more likely that presidential elections will be called early next year regardless of other consequences. The government spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella has announced that Presidential Elections will be held in January. He has also said that he knows the date but will not reveal it. What is happening of the ground also strongly suggests that elections are around the corner. The Elections Commissioner has completed the voter registration process early this year in October and not in December as is usual. The national budget has been presented to Parliament in October earlier than the usual month of November.
It is clearly an election budget as it offers many concessions to the public but for which the sources of revenue are unknown. The days prior to the presentation of the budget saw a massive advertisement campaign in the national media regarding the government’s priorities and the bright future that awaits the country. In addition, the media has been reporting incidents involving the utilization of government resources to prepare for the elections, in the form of poster campaigns and the constructing of stages for speakers to stand on at meetings. However, despite this evidence of preparations for early elections the government will have to be ready for negative fallouts if it goes ahead with its plans.
The media has reported that the Catholic Church is particularly affected following the delay by the government to confirm whether the presidential election is likely to coincide with the Pope’s visit which is scheduled to take place in the middle of January. Under pressure from the Vatican, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith has written to President Rajapaksa requesting him to inform the church about the date of election. But there has been no official reply so far. This has put the local church on the horns of a dilemma as they are unable to advise the Vatican which needs to know the situation. The Vatican takes care to ensure that papal visits steer clear of local party political issues including elections. The usual protocol with regard to such papal visits is that they do not take place within one month of an election.
- Friday, 24 October 2014
CITIZENS PEACE AWARD FOR 2014 TO FR HARRY MILLER
The National Peace Council has awarded its Citizens Peace Award for 2014 to Reverend Father Benjamin Henry Miller for his long years of service to the war affected people of Sri Lanka, especially during the period of war. Since 1948, when Fr Miller, known as Harry, arrived at the Jesuit Mission in Batticaloa from the United States, he has spent 66 years in Sri Lanka during which he served as an educator, priest, protector and witness. In his early years in Sri Lanka, Father Miller taught physics, English and history, and coached the soccer team at St. Michael’s College, a boys’ school. Later when violence and war broke out, Fr Miller was one of the founders of the Batticaloa Peace Committee and the Batticaloa Council of Religions as lasting initiatives to find a peaceful solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.
The National Peace Council honors the work of Fr Miller with the Batticaloa Peace Committee which began as a group of concerned citizens and gave advice on legal procedures surrounding detention and how to find those in detention. They took up these cases with the authorities, publicized the cases where it might help, and shared the information with national and international human rights organisations, diplomats, journalists and NGOs. In recognition of their non-partisan role, and their positive role in the reconciliation process,the security forces gave the Batticaloa Peace Committee the role of conduit to hand-over released prisoners.
As a founder member of the Batticaloa Peace Committee Fr Miller showed himself to be a fearless human rights activist who encouraged and strengthened civil society in Batticaloa to take up the cause of the victims of human rights abuses committed by all parties, the security forces, LTTE and the several other militant groups. In recognition of his non-partisan work, during the period of Ceasefire in 2002 and until its breakdown, the Government of Sri Lanka appointed him to be its nominee for the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission for Batticaloa.
- Monday, 20 October 2014
The decision of the EU Court of Justice to remove the ban on the LTTE on technical grounds has come as the government and political parties are mobilizing for snap presidential elections likely to take place in January. The immediate response of the government to the EU decision has been to describe opposition politicians and civil society activists who travelled to the West in recent times as traitors who contributed to the decision to lift the ban on the LTTE. This message is being repeatedly taken to the people by the state media. While the decision is a legal one taken by the Court, and not a political decision by European governments, this is unlikely to impress most Sri Lankans who will tend to see the relationship between law and politics through their own local experience which is not at all positive.
The timing of the European Court’s verdict comes even as the government continues to be investigated for war crimes at the behest of the UN Human Rights Council. The EU legal decision in favour of the LTTE is likely to further strengthen the government’s case to the people in Sri Lanka that the war crimes investigation into it is biased and a threat to national security. The UN investigation into war crimes is described by the government as an international conspiracy to punish the country’s leaders who defeated the LTTE and is to eventually seek the division of the country. This has evoked sympathy and outrage amongst the majority of Sri Lankans. The timing of the EU verdict is fortuitous for the government. It will enable the government to mobilize the nationalism of the people to its advantage.
- Friday, 17 October 2014
POPE’S VISIT CAN PROVIDE FURTHER IMPETUS TOWARDS NATIONAL RECONCILIATION
There are indications of a snap Presidential Election being declared in the latter half of November and held as early as January 2015. Political parties are mobilizing their constituents for this eventuality. However, legally speaking, presidential elections are not due until November 2016. Therefore, the government retains considerable flexibility regarding the timing of the elections. Several members of political parties and civic and religious leaders have appealed to the President not to hold the election until the Executive Presidency is abolished or reformed. The National Peace Council urges the government to also consider the forthcoming visit of Pope Francis to Sri Lanka when deciding on the date of the presidential elections.
The Vatican has a policy of not having papal visits coincide with elections. The Pope’s visit is scheduled for January 13-15, with these dates being fixed in June this year. The Pope is expected to conduct religious services in both Colombo and Madhu, in the former Northern war zone, which can provide further impetus towards national reconciliation. Since there are significant numbers of Tamils who are Catholics and since the two bishops of Mannar and Jaffna in the North play an important role in furthering such reconciliation we think the Pope’s visit is best used to promote reconciliation between the government and the Tamil people. The Sinhalese Catholics of the South can make common cause with the Tamil Catholics in welcoming the Pope.