- Monday, 27 July 2015
The nascent rejuvenation of institutions since the change of government was demonstrated in an unexpected manner with the apprehension of a white van. These vehicles have obtained a notoriety that peaked during the last years of the war with the LTTE. The circumstances under which this particular white van came to light had all the classic features that made the white van an object of fear and intimidation during the previous decade. It had false number plates. It had army personnel in it. t was being driven in a manner that caused the policemen on duty to decide to stop it, and the occupants had behaved in a sufficiently suspicious manner to prompt the police to thereafter search the vehicle. This led them to find a pistol that belonged to none of the occupants of the van.
During the previous decade there were constant reports of the existence of white vans and their possible connection with the security forces of the state, but this was strenuously denied by them as well as by government leaders of that time. But although there was no official confirmation of their existence, and only repeated denials, the accounts of the white vans and their doings by those who claimed that their family members or colleagues had been taken away in them became a legend. They were much like ghosts that so many are afraid of, but which most have never seen. But we have heard so many stories of ghosts that many of us cannot help but believe they must indeed exist.
This time around, however, seven months into the new good governance programme of the new government the white van was caught beyond doubt. Now we can be sure that it exists, and not only one but possibly a large number of them. The fact that the policemen on duty felt themselves to be sufficiently empowered to stop a white van, question its occupants and publicise the event is something new. It is a new and welcome development. According to media reports, and police statements following the detention of the vehicle, the army personnel apprehended in it have denied that they were on any underground mission. They have said that they were on a routine journey, and the pistol that was found in it belonged to their commanding officer.
- Thursday, 23 July 2015
FROM BLACK JULY 1983 TO MANIFESTOS FOR PEACE
The rampant violence that engulfed the Tamil people 23 July 1983 and days that followed discredited Sri Lanka internationally and signaled the brain-drain among the Tamils that would impact the future economic and political trajectory of the country. It also led to a costly and brutal war that lasted until May 2009, tore up the fabric of society and undermined the national economy.
Underlying both the anti-Tamil pogrom and the protracted war stemmed grievances of the Tamil people and the failure of their attempt to draw attention to them in a peaceful and non-violent manner. However, 32 years later, conditions in Sri Lanka have changed so that a political solution has become a viable prospect. The experience gathered in the work done by the National Peace Council for over two decades convinces us that our fellow citizens are now more willing to accept, and commit themselves to, a political solution that ensures justice and security to all.
We should also not forget those who saved the Tamils from those who incited and carried out the pogrom of July 1983. There are many accounts of Tamils, including NPC members, attributing their escape from injury and death to their Sinhalese and Muslim neighbours. We are grateful to those who risked their own lives to allow Tamils to hide in their homes or take them to places of safety.
- Monday, 20 July 2015
Shortly after his unforeseen defeat at the presidential elections of January 2015 by an alliance of opposition parties, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa began to campaign for a comeback that was backed by more and more members of the UPFA. Although President Maitripala Sirisena made clear his unhappiness, and initially resisted the comeback bid, he finally yielded on the grounds that it was the only way to prevent the division of the former ruling party. President Sirisena’s decision to go along with the former president’s nomination to the UPFA was viewed as a betrayal of all that the joint opposition, civil society and the president himself had campaigned for at the presidential election. They had all highlighted the corruption and abuse of power that they pointed out had become a norm under the leadership of the former president and his government.
President Sirisena faced a difficult choice. If he had not given nomination to the former president, he would have fed a perception that the former president was being unfairly kept out of the UPFA and that the UPFA was being unfairly weakened. It would have enabled the former president and his allies to claim that he continued to be immensely popular and beloved of the people and that the decision to keep him out of the electoral contest was injurious to the interests of the former ruling party. This would have given an opportunity to political forces that failed to obtain representation or power at the general elections to use the former president’s name and fame and seek to get him back to a position of power through other means.
President Sirisena’s rationale for agreeing to the grant of nominations to the former president was to preserve the unity of the former ruling party. By acquiescing in the UPFA’s decision to include the former president and almost all of the members of his government, even those accused of corruption and abuse of power, President Sirisena appeared to give to the UPFA virtually everything it wanted. By following the democratic process and acceding to the wishes of the majority within the UPFA President Sirisena also effectively negated the role of undemocratic forces. Instead he permitted the former president to contest from within the UPFA and to prove his popularity and the extent to which he is beloved of the people.
- Monday, 13 July 2015
President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to nominate his arch rival former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to contest the general elections from his party came as a major shock especially to the president’s closest supporters. To make matters worse for them, the president also gave in to the demand that the former president’s allies also be given nomination despite the poor reputations most of them suffer from on account of their conduct during the previous ten years of their period of government. There was a vain hope that the president would reverse his decision at the last moment. One of the civil society groups that campaigned for the president at the presidential election in January met him and reported that he had asked them to wait until the day after nominations closed.
The belief that President Sirisena would act at the last minute to upset the former president’s comeback bid had a rational basis to it. Soon after his election victory, President Sirisena was widely reported to have said that he would have been six feet underground had he lost the presidential election. He followed up on this statement by rejecting the former president’s comeback bid as prime ministerial candidate of the SLFP. He had said that this would give an opportunity to those who had failed to win the presidential election by the ballot to accomplish their objective through a bullet. President Sirisena even prohibited members of the SLFP from attending the” bring back Mahinda” rallies organised by the former president’s supporters.
There are many theories about why President Sirisena suddenly changed his mind and gave nomination to the former president. These include inducements from China and even blackmail. But the more likely explanation is the president’s growing sense of isolation from the two major political formations in the country. By crossing over from the SLFP to contest the presidential election as the joint opposition candidate, President Sirisena lost his legitimacy with the SLFP voter base which, by and large, remained with former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. But thereafter President SIrisena found to his discomfiture that the UNP-led government that he had appointed in fulfilment of his election campaign promise was making decisions without taking him into confidence.