- Thursday, 27 November 2014
The selection of the ruling party’s General Secretary to be the opposition’s common candidate was unexpected. It also poses a serious challenge to the government. For the past decade the opposition has been unable to loosen the government’s grip over the Sinhalese rural heartland. In selecting Maithripala Sirisena to be their common candidate the opposition has brought a seasoned politician from the area of their greatest weakness to the fore. They are now able to take the battle for votes right into the midst of the government’s electoral base. The crossover of five other government parliamentarians has added to the weakening of the government.
However, even though weakened by these unexpected defections, the government remains a decisive one. Its immediate reaction has been to sack all those who defected from its ranks. In addition, the government response aimed at garnering public support to itself is to describe the defections as part of of an international conspiracy to create political instability in Sri Lanka. The defections were described as yet another “link in the chain of foreign conspiracies that seek to destabilize this country. There have been certain countries that have pumped money into this scheme through their embassies to establish a puppet regime in Sri Lanka. We warn them to put a stop to these activities,” at a special media briefing that was convened by the SLFP at the party headquarters after the common candidate was named.
The allegation of an international conspiracy against the country has gained currency due to the unrelenting international human rights campaign to put the government into the dock on the issue of war crimes. The government has pointed out that Sri Lanka is one of a handful of countries to be selected for focused attention by the UN Human Rights Council, while other countries with worse records have not been similarly pursued. This argument has resonance amongst most Sri Lankans who are deeply skeptical about the genuineness of international concern about the country and its people. However, whether accusing the opposition and the common candidate of this offense is going to be taken seriously by the general masses of people is another matter. The decision of the Sinhalese nationalist JHU to break ranks with the government undermines the government’s case regarding an international conspiracy.
- Tuesday, 25 November 2014
GOVERNANCE CONCERNS OF ETHNIC MINORITIES MUST ALSO BE PART OF ELECTION CAMPAIGN
One of the major campaign themes at the forthcoming Presidential election is the issue of good governance, specifically the abolishing of the Executive Presidency and de-politicising of institutions of state. There has been a continuous erosion of the independence of the main institutions of governance over the past four decades that began with the First Republican Constitution of 1972. In recent years there has been an even greater centralization of power in the hands of the Presidency which has been justified by national security considerations.
The National Peace Council welcomes the declarations by the opposition political parties that they will institute reforms with regard to good governance if they obtain victory at the forthcoming presidential elections. However, good governance needs to also take into account the existence of an ethnic conflict in the country. It was the long unresolved ethnic conflict that first emerged during the British colonial period that finally led to three decades of civil war. Finding a solution to the ethnic conflict needs to be given priority. It is also important to address the concerns of the ethnic minorities in order to make them full participants in the electoral process.
The National Peace Council believes that the concept of good governance needs to be widened so that it embraces the concerns of the ethnic and religious minorities. The discussion on issues of power sharing and devolution of power need need to be made a part of the discourse on good governance. Greater devolution means not only good governance, but also greater and wider democracy. It also means reduction of centralisation of power while addressing the long festering ethnic conflict by ensuring power sharing between the ethnic communities and outlawing ethnic-based discrimination. Whoever wins the election will need to deal with these issues of good governance also.
- Monday, 17 November 2014
Last week there was an unexpected focus on events that took place 25 years ago and which had appeared to have fallen out of public memory. This was the Sinhalese militancy led by the JVP in a three year period of terror that gripped most of the country and excluded only the predominantly Tamil-speaking North and East. The general belief is that about 60,000 people perished in the period 1988-90. But there is no certainty about the figure. The numbers killed by the JVP were counted by the government at that time which gave precise numbers. These included 487 public servants, 80 of who were bus drivers, 30 Buddhist monks, 2 Catholic priests, 52 school principals, four medical doctors, 18 estate superintendents, 27 trade unionists, 342 policemen, 209 security forces personnel and family members of 93 policemen and 69 service personnel. But the numbers killed by the government side were not counted or shared.
The overwhelming present local and international focus has been on the final phase of the war against the LTTE and this has taken the country’s attention away from those terrible events. But suddenly the tragic past was brought back to life. The media ran several stories on what happened those days. In particular there was a vivid description of the last hours of the JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera when he was held in captivity by the government forces. It showed how he was interviewed by the political and military leaders of that time who had been at the receiving end of JVP violence. It showed how he was subjected to their violence. It showed how people can act when they hold absolute power of life and death over those who have been their enemies, and why the laws cannot be silent even in a time of war, or when the war has just been won.
- Monday, 10 November 2014
The readiness to politicize any issue came to the fore in the course of the landslide tragedy at Haldamulla. With presidential elections on the near horizon, there was competition to be seen as caring more for the victims than the other. The President, ministers, leaders of political parties and their party members all were seen on the media taking relief supplies to the area and commiserating with the victims. The government had the advantage as it could control access to the area. The media showed visuals of the relief supplies taken by the Democratic Party dumped on the side of the road as they could not gain access to site of the tragedy.
Both the government and Northern Provincial Council also expressed their intention to adopt the children who had been orphaned. The Northern Provincial Council even passed a resolution to that effect. On the other hand, the government said it would send the children to state orphanages. This hasty decision was in contradiction to the established policy of the Department of Childcare and Probation which is that children should be brought up in a family environment as far as possible. It is well known that state orphanages are poorly funded and generally under-resourced. The position of both the government and Northern Provincial Council were in violation of the “best interests of the child” which is the accepted norm both locally and internationally.