- 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.
- Tuesday, 14 October 2014
During the Uva provincial council election last month the President Rajapaksa thanked the visiting Chinese President for having bestowed economic assistance on the country and reduced the price of petrol and electricity. This time there was no Chinese President to share the credit with. But President Mahinda Rajapaksa directed that the price of cooking gas should be reduced. The government is aware that economic considerations loom large in the minds of the majority of the electorate. During his ongoing visit to Jaffna and the Northern Province, the President is making major offerings to the people, of land, jobs and subsidized motor cycles, to mention but a few. Despite the high level of economic growth reported by the government, economic hardship badly affects the life of the masses of the people. If the economic concessions at the Uva elections were a precedent, the package of economic benefits to the electorate at this time points to imminent elections.
It is said that astrologers have warned the President that his star is on the wane and will wane faster after March of next year. This is not a particularly stellar prediction. Most political commentators in media and general life are in agreement that the government’s popularity is on the decline, which is not surprising as the Rajapaksa-led government has been in office for nearly ten years. The results of the Uva Provincial Council election were a confirmation of the fall in popularity. Whether it is written in the stars or not, the sooner a presidential election is held the better it will be for the government. This makes early January, which is the earliest in which an election can be held, the most likely time. However, there is one serious problem that arises, and that is the pre-planned and agreed upon visit by Pope Francis to Sri Lanka for which the Catholic Church has been making preparations.
- Monday, 06 October 2014
While in the United States to attend the UN General Assembly, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa assured the international community that he would look after the Muslim people in the country when he met the Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The meeting took place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Discussing religiously-motivated incidents that have occurred in the recent past, which he described as “isolated incidents” President Rajapaksa assured the international Muslim leader that the government will take immediate action to deal with any incidents against the Muslim community. "I will look after the Muslim community like my own brothers," President Rajapaksa said. He also encouraged Mr. Madani and other OIC member countries to visit Sri Lanka to see for themselves the ground realities in the country and how many diverse communities coexist peacefully.
However, the visit to Sri Lanka of Ven. Ashin Wirathu who heads the 969 Movement in Myanmar which has engaged in anti Muslim activities caused considerable unease amongst the Muslims in Sri Lanka. Leaders of the Muslim community lobbied with the government to deny him a visa. The Sri Lanka Muslim Council wrote President Mahinda Rajapaksa saying "The presence of such a person who has caused so much violence on the Burmese Muslims would be a real threat to peace and peaceful co-existence in Sri Lanka." However, those who had invited the Ven Wirathu to the great convention of Buddhist monks were part of the government's electoral constituency. By inviting Ven Wirathu the government was catering to this constituency. But this has been at the cost of the Muslims who had a fear that his presence would provoke more anti Muslim sentiment. The Muslim community even feared being at the receiving end of violence during the visit of the Ven. Wirathu. This was certainly not the government's intention. But the wounds of the anti Muslim riots in June in Aluthgama are still not healed.