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Numbers Game: Politics Of Restorative Justice

S.Sivathasan

S.Sivathasan

What is the above subject?  Appellation of a Seminar.

Held at:  Marga Institute, Colombo.

Held on:  May 16th, 2013

Occasion:  To launch a publication

Produced by:  Independent Diaspora Analysis Group (IDAG)

“GAME FOR THE CHILD, AGONY FOR THE MOUSE”.

So runs a Tamil proverb highlighting the point that an event can be both a pastime and a tragedy at the same time. Making a game of numbers massacred is appalling. Even if the purpose be a call to the adversary not to inflate the figures, it is equally defiling.  The choice of the wrong word is prejudicial to the analysis, casting misgivings about detached study or objective conclusions.

A Report on the seminar appears in Ground Views of May 29th. It was said at the seminar that “citing large and inaccurate figures raised issues… Continued recycling of spurious figures can only inhibit the healing process”. Soon after the war some of us computed the likely figures of those entrapped in the final stages of the war. We based it on the census figures of 1981 for the Wanni, subsequent official estimates by the Department of Census and Statistics, extrapolation based on national magnitudes, estimate of internal migration and guesstimate of emigration from the Wanni. Also reckoned alongside were statistics of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and official figures of refugee assistance recipients with which we were conversant. My position as Secretary Rehabilitation in the North East Provincial Council and immediately subsequently as Advisor in the Central Ministry of Rehabilitation, gave me access to such information.

For those encircled, rendered displaced and then confined to camps, we arrived at the figure of 300,000 plus. Why not 350, 000 or 400,000? If we were erring, we preferred to be on the conservative side. What did the government say and later trumpet Goebbels style repetitively? 70,000. When evidence overwhelmed, the figure of 300,000 was announced by the government in acknowledgement.  Why were small and inaccurate figures given in the first instance? Why a predilection for the spurious? To serve two purposes. The government knowing full well its cavalier treatment of food and medical needs of the encamped refugees, had the necessity to show particularly the international community that the fraction of less than a fourth it sent met the needs adequately. Secondly, to pull wool over the eyes of everybody by suggesting that a residue of 70,000 couldn’t have generated 40,000 casualties.

Which approximation is credible and which is a strain on credibility? 300,000+ refugees and 40,000+ casualties or 70,000 refugees announced by the government and about 8,000 casualties proclaimed by its apologists? In contrast was our experience with the UNP government’s avowed policy of keeping the people fed in the war years of the eighties. Data from District Administration were accepted about food needs of both civilians and refugees and the requirement was met. This was despite severe interruptions to road and rail transport.

Mr.MDD Peiris as Secretary Food in the eighties, undertook a heavy responsibility upon himself in organizing sea transport and even authorizing high freight rates when the situation demanded. Once he told me “Whatever may be happening in the country, we have to keep the people fed”. With such an attitude which reflected the government’s as well, he made a difference. No attempt was made to reduce the quantities and then to play the numbers game adroitly. Tamils know that conditions were exceedingly easy in 2009 to transport by road and distribute food, medical supplies and refugee requisites in the Wanni, compared to endemic disruptions in the eighties.

Numbers do matter it was said. True. They express the truth and make an impression when underlain by credibility. Transparency is the fount for credibility and a clear exposition of the methodology employed

Is the anchor of such transparency. But we do not see it when one number is transposed for the other. Instead a dazzling display is made of the competence of the weaver and the tailor. Unfazed by the marvel of the Emperor’s Clothes, Tamils reach for international investigation. It is their perception that whatever be the competence of this Sri Lankan Diaspora membership, the credentials of a truly international team will inspire more “confidence in its impartiality and competence”.

One may also ask whether the Department Of Census and Statistics cannot do a good job of it. Another may respond why not? I seek a clarification from the Department regarding the total strength of the diaspora population. My computation is as follows:

Stat

 

Does it appear rational to place the total diaspora population in Europe, Canada, US and Australia at 100,000? Is there trust in a product of indigenous effort when there is such a variance between popular perception and a governmental source? DCS can clarify if my computation is wrong. The insistent demand for impartial international investigation may be better appreciated in this background.

The expression “spurious figures” is double edged when opposing parties engage in recycling. When 40,000 is inflated to 80,000 does it become a half truth? If 8,000 is deflated to 4,000 it doesn’t become doubly true? Truth alone triumphs and inspires credibility. That’s why all eggs are placed in the international basket by the resident Tamils and the diaspora. If the purity of the government is lily white, why should it hesitate to have the air cleared? If the haze remains, 8,000 will continue to be called spurious.

It was said at the seminar that spurious figures continually recycled can only inhibit the healing process. It doesn’t follow however that exact figures will promote the process of healing. The process would demand a change of disposition with initiatives coming from the government on policy and programme. As of now it is reconciliation on paper and alienation on ground.

If we look at Irish-British relations, only estrangement could have resulted from the way the British treated the Irish. In the 16th & 17th centuries vast multitudes were massacred by the British in Ireland.  Close on it, with the army in brutal collaboration, Irish were dispossessed of swathes of territory. This land expropriated from Irish Catholics was given to British Protestants. Is what is happening in Sri Lanka any different? Will it not inhibit the healing process? Oliver Cromwell’s massacres in the seventeenth century, complemented the earlier ones. Need anyone be surprised that Jonathan Swift an eminent Irishman, author of a few books including Gulliver’s Travels, said “Burn everything British but their coal”. These produced the brilliant rebel Robert Emmet, who was executed by the British in 1803. When he was sentenced he made a memorable speech in which he said “My lamp of life is nearly extinguished”. How many lives were so extinguished since 1956 to now in SL with no recompense or show of remorse? Did the healing process ever commence?

Irreconcilability produced an independent Ireland which left the Commonwealth in 1949. Was it obduracy? No. Was Mountbatten killed for love of carnage? No. How did they renounce terrorism? Their economic lift off commenced in 1987. In North SL the the drive is towards the pastoral age. In Ireland their wealth level, disposition, approaches and relationship changed. In Ireland the per capita GDP in 2012 was $ 41,921 and UK’s $ 36,941. Net immigration has overtaken net emigration. A people long oppressed have surged ahead of the oppressor.

War without witnesses is only a contrived description to make satellite images appear to be the sole information source. Over 300,000 herded into Mullivaaikaal are witnesses. Was an effort ever made to record evidence from a sizeable number without army presence anywhere round? Was any evidence examined for corroboration and analysed to establish credibility. Aren’t four years enough to count the dead and the injured with information from those who suffered loss? Has governmental or social responsibility or interest in them ever been evinced? Instead satellite images of shell fire and their interpretation are relied on as the sheet anchor of circumstantial or corroborative evidence. All these for   a ‘humanitarian operation’ by the SLA, the very force that is under a cloud. Was gun fire only with rubber bullets? With no effort at healing, will the process be accomplished? Mao Tse Tung asked “With Platonic Love can you bring forth a child”?

What the Tamils seek is that truth be discerned. For this international investigation is needed as the single means to ferret it out.

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The Other Dark Side Of The Shirani Impeachment Saga

Paridhi Singh

Paridhi Singh

It comes as no revelation to anyone who has been following the Impeachment saga, the profundity of impact it has had on all the citizens of Sri Lanka, be it their unsatiated hunger for justice for the former CJ Shirani Bandaranayake or their bereaved hopes in the present Government. To proclaim that it has rocked and vitiated the very foundations of the country, wouldn’t have been better proven as the penultimate truth, than at an event ‘Law talk’, organized by the Law Students Association of Sri Lanka (LSASL) on the topic “Aftermath of the Impeachment: Its Constitutional Implications” on 22nd January 2013. It witnessed the participation of over sixty, from various legal and non-legal backgrounds.

The two guest speakers comprised former Chief Justice Mr. Sarath N. Silva, who as he phrased it, was ‘the lone survivor of an impeachment motion in the country’ and was accompanied by, Mr. S.L. Gunasekera, present Senior Attorney in the Supreme Court. The speakers focused on the domino effect the impeachment had brought forth in the very provenance of Justice and laws in the country, ‘The Constitution of Sri Lanka’ also including the, far reaching and uncringing ripples that it may have on the present and future force of the rule of law in the country.

Former Chief Justice unmasked the entire constitutional elements of the impeachment trial and shed light on some of the sections, which because of their inherent ambiguity became the very vulnerabilities that led to the severance of ‘clear notions of justice’ from impeachment process. He further added that guilty or not guilty, the very process of the CJ’s impeachment is one that has undermined the inherent checks between the three equal pillars of democracy, the legislature, executive and judiciary and has given birth to a precedent that will poison and chokehold the might of law and independence of Judiciary in the country.

Senior Attorney Mr. S.L. Gunasekara in contrast to Mr. Sarath’s pure constitutional law perspectives gave a profound picture of the rigmarole that the state of law and politics has become, as a consequence of this impeachment. He focused exhaustively on role power plays in being instrumental to such events crystallizing and how invariably politicization of all decisions causes weighing of political interests over one another, while the actual adjudication ought to be on the principles of “justice, equity and good conscience” and the consideration limited in its scope to only one which incorporates the affects the aforementioned decisions on its citizens.

The floor was later opened to the house to ask questions to be answered by the speakers, which saw fruitful engagement of students on various themes like right to fair trial, the appointment of the new CJ and the future of the laws in the country to name a few.

To conclude, the event ended on a bittersweet note, because although every participant had gained far more awareness and insight from the Law talk, yet that awareness came at the cost of having to fathom the reality of the country in which we live. The reality being a divergence, from the vision of a free and fair country we all foresaw and of Sri Lanka being known worldwide as a great and powerful nation that respects democracy and all its citizens. However, to rephrase what Mr. S.L. Gunasekera said at the end of his speech, the might of public opinion is far more powerful that any arm-twisting by the government. So long as the people resist injustice or raise their voices on fora like the ‘Law Talk’, then change can still come. To add my own two piece of wisdom from the ‘Law talk’ the epiphany of it all could be summed as following, that, Democracy dies not by the hands of a power-ridden government or a corrupt judiciary or a prejudiced parliament, but by the silence of all its citizens.

* Paridhi Singh is presently working with the Attorney General’s department as a part of the United Nations Development project called “Access to Justice” and is pursuing BA.LLB. integrated law course in Jindal Global Law School, India.

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Undoing Constitutional Tomfoolery

basilfernando

Basil Fernando

That the United National Party (UNP) has published a few ideas on the changes to the constitution they would bring about if they come to power is an indication that a serious critique that has been made about the 1978 Constitution, can no longer be ignored. As it is good to have even an inadequate debate on vital issues rather than nothing at all, it would be better not to ignore the UNP proposals but rather to utilise the occasion to raise all the vital issues that need to be addressed if the mess created by what retired Justice C.V. Wigneswaran charaterised as tomfoolery with the constitution, is to be brought to an end.

What has to be asserted clearly and unequivocally is the fundamental elements of the basic structure of the constitution. The notion of basic structure implies that certain permanent notions are entrenched in the constitution and that attempts by any government to change that basic structure will be resisted. The tomfoolery with the constitution became possible only because there was no agreement on such a basic structure and because the judiciary did not consider it their fundamental obligation to defend and to promote such a basic structure.

The basic structure of the constitution must recognise that the inalienable sovereignty of the people is guaranteed by the recognition of the following principles:

  1. That Sri Lanka is a secular democratic republic where all persons are equal.
  2. That the basic structure of the government envisaged in the constitution is organised on the principles of the rule of law.
  3. The recognition of the principle of the separation of powers.
  4. The recognition of the independence of the judiciary and the right of the judiciary to be the final arbiter on interpretations of the law and with the power of judicial review (as it existed before the 1972 Constitution).
  5. The independence of the public institutions within the framework of the rule of law.
  6. The recognition of human rights as expressed in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, with the recognition that everyone is entitled to the enforceable right to a legal remedy for violations of rights.
  7. That the peoples’ right to participation is guaranteed by free and fair elections held at fixed periods and through the freedom of expression.
  8. That the public accountability of all public servants must be guaranteed through public hearings before state organs created by the Constitution.
  9. That the character of the welfare state will be safeguarded.

The prime importance of agreeing on the basic structure

The making of a constitution or replacing a constitution is not just a matter of writing a new essay. It is an historical act. In an historical act addressing in the clearest terms possible the fundamental errors that have led to the present impasse need to be clearly expressed. A new constitution is a clear departure as well as a clear beginning.

Therefore it would require a prolonged and a sometimes painful discussion in order to enable a clear agreement being expressed through the basic laws of the country. This does not mean that all issues can be finally settled through a constitution. A constitution is a dynamic document and the problems of a nation are also dynamic. Resolving these problems is a perpetual preoccupation. However, there are basic and fundamental areas where the people recognise that things went wrong and that these must not be allowed reoccur. Therefore a thorough reflection of the past is an essential aspect of any serious attempt to develop the country’s basic law for the future.

The UNP in entering into this area of the national debate has done itself a favour. However, in the very preamble of its declaration on the basic constitutional issues it has done great harm to the credibility of this initiative by being an apologist for the 1978 Constitution. The UNP’s credibility will be tested by its capacity to unequivocally condemn the enormous harm caused by the 1978 Constitution and the practices which developed under that constitution. Accepting full responsibility for the catastrophic consequences caused by introducing this constitution is an essential step for establishing credibility for its initiative for constitutional reforms.

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Sri Lanka Monk Self-Immolation Highlights Anti-Muslim Sentiment

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J.S. Tissainayagam

The suicide by a Buddhist monk who set himself on fire in Sri Lanka to protest the slaughter of cattle has been hailed as an act of great self-sacrifice and compared to acts of self-immolation by Tibetan Buddhist monks protesting China’s repression in Tibet. Nothing could be more ill-informed. In fact, it is one more step by Sri Lanka’s chauvinist Sinhala-Buddhists to undermine the Muslim political base.

The monk, Bowatte Indraratne, who had been campaigning against the Muslim halal method of slaughtering animals, was also a politician. He was a former elected member of a local government body representing the extreme Buddhist political party Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU). JHU’s leader Champika Ranawaka lost no time in exploiting the incident to advance the party’s agenda. He said the government should bring in legislation to ban the slaughter of cattle, and religious conversion. Christians have come under pressure from Buddhists for proselytising, a charge they deny.

The campaign to stop the slaughter of cattle and instances of violence against Muslims are not isolated events in Sri Lanka. These are steps to politically disempower Muslims are uncannily reminiscent of the way the Sinhala establishment tries to destroy the Tamil power base.

Persecution of Muslims is taking a particularly virulent form today. But in the past too Sinhala leaders viewed Muslims with suspicion, as they did Tamils. The control they exercised was a blend of coercion, political manipulation of Muslim elites and the policy of divide and rule.

Coercion of Muslims by Sinhalese was applied mostly through violence and intimidation. In recent memory are rampaging Sinhala mobs targeting Muslims in Mawanella (2001) and Beruwela (2002). Other disputes occurred over land, like Deegavapi in 1999.

Political manipulation of the Muslim elite compelled them to take decisions detrimental to their community. In 1956, Muslim politician and diplomat Sir Razik Fareed campaigned with Sinhala leaders to deny Tamil as an official language of the State, despite a large majority of Muslims being Tamil speakers.

Adopting a policy of divide-and-rule, Sinhala leaders forced Muslims – especially in the East – to view Tamils as enemies, which led to Tamil-Muslim clashes. The Sinhala-dominated military used Muslim home guards to target Tamil civilians in the East. The rift was magnified by the LTTE expelling the Muslim population in Sri Lanka’s North.

With the military phase of the conflict with the Tamils coming to an end in May 2009, Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists realised they now had the luxury of investing more resources in suppressing Muslims. Further, with President Mahinda Rajapakse intent on consolidating power, extreme nationalism was a good vehicle.

The government has made no secret of its connections to extremist civil society groups. Relations between government officials and the principal vehicle of Buddhist bigotry, the Bodhu Bala Sena (BBS), are so fraternal that Gotabhaya Rajapakse, the hawkish head of the Ministry of Defence and brother of the country’s president, graced an important occasion of the organisation. The BBS plays a similar role as the Shiv Sena does to the pro-Hindu regimes in India.

As mentioned above, the objective of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism is to demolish Muslim political power in Sri Lanka. It is no different from efforts to destroy the Tamil power base in the country from the 1950s. The three examples below demonstrate the similarities.

The BBS has opposed the certification of food as ‘halal’ and Muslim women wearing the hijab. These cultural practices are important markers of Muslim identity. The BBS’s campaign is not only to demolish what distinguishes this group’s identity, but also the power its members derive from that identity. For the Tamils, the primary marker of identity is language. That is why Sinhala nationalism sought to undermine Tamil by denying it official language status and placing obstacles to Tamil-speakers’ access to higher education and State employment.

Second, mosques and Muslim-owned businesses have come under assault. It is important to note the significance of both in the political lives of Muslims. The mosque is a forum for political mobilisation. The strength of metropolitan Muslims in Sri Lanka is their success as a merchant community. And they have used their wealth to buy political power. Therefore attacking mosques and commercial establishments is a way to undermine the Muslim power base. In the case of Tamils, assessing that their political base was territorial concentration in the country’s North and East, Sinhala leaders took to dismantling it by settling large numbers of Sinhalese in those areas.

Finally, let’s look at the government’s use of counterinsurgency laws to stifle freedom of speech and political opinion. On May 2, Azath Salley, a well-known Muslim leader, was arrested (and later released) under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). He was detained for an interview he gave to an Indian magazine where he said that Muslim youth should take to arms. But the reasons appear deeper than that. Salley openly criticised the government for anti-Muslim racism. But more than all else, Sally heads a political party which advocates Tamil-Muslim political dialogue to resolve mutually important issues. This, by definition, excludes government and the Sinhalese.

The government arresting and later releasing Salley is reminiscent of the then government criminalising Tamil parliamentarians who even advocated democratic secession. This legislation – the Sixth Amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution – suppressed democratic dissent and left armed rebellion as the only option to give effect to Tamil demands.

Therefore, the self-immolation by Bowatte Indraratne protesting cattle slaughter had a sinister motive. It used religion as a weapon to undermine the political base of a minority community in Sri Lanka. If steps are not taken to check this trend, Sri Lanka’s Muslims could be facing a future of persecution and violence.

*J. S. Tissainayagam, a former Sri Lankan political prisoner, was a Nieman Fellow in Journalism at Harvard and Reagan-Fascell Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy in the United States. This article is first appeared in Asian Correspondent

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Reengineering The Nation

“….establishing a complete series of methods which will allow the controlling oligarchy……to get people to really like their servitude. This is the, it appears to me, the ultimate in malevolent revolutions”. –Aldous Huxley (The Ultimate Revolution)

mahinda-f-colombotelegraph

In the course of his current Ugandatour, President Mahinda Rajapaksa was reportedly enchanted by the servile conduct of the Ugandans he came into speak to with. According to the political column of last Sunday’s Rivira, the Lankan President asked his Ugandan counterpart, “When we appear at them (Ugandans) it is clear that they have a very obedient nature. How did you handle to make them so obedient?” President Musevini’s response was that this servility was a relic of the Colonial ethos, when White Masters kept their Black and Brown Subjects in total subjugation.

In a democracy uncritical obedience is a unsafe vice. Despotic rule can’t survive without uncritical obedience. Colonial rulers treated colonised peoples as political infants incapable of handling independence. Tyrants too regard their subjects as eternal political-minors, incapable of dealing with freedom.

Foremost amongst the freedoms considered unsafe by actual and nascent despots is the appropriate to info, the freedom of the individuals to know what is happening in their personal nation. Over the years the Rajapaksas have managed to subdue most of the print media. At present, websites are their major targets. In this month alone, de facto banns were imposed on numerous web sites which includes Gossip Lanka and Lanka Eagle.

The Rajapaksa worry of a free of charge and critical media is comprehensible. The Siblings have a lot to hide.

Take land grabbing. At present this is a major dilemma confronting not just by the Tamil individuals of the North but also by the Sinhala people of the South. Parallel to the stealth campaign of demographic reengineering in the North, the Rajapaksas are conducting an even more secretive operation of class and partisan-political reengineering in the South. Their ultimate aim is to create a new demographic which will render tough any democratic/electoral resistance to Familial Rule.

In the North, private lands are getting expropriated to create new army camps and military cantonments. For instance, according to Parliamentarian MA Sumanthiran, the regime is utilizing the Land Acquisition Act to expropriate 6,400 acres of land to build a military cantonment in Jaffna: “….the notice says that the claimants are not traceable! The owners of these lands live just outdoors the so known as illegal Higher Safety Zone, in camps maintained by the government itself. They have lived there for over 25 years. And although their title to these lands were checked and cleared by a Committee appointed by the Supreme Court in 2006, they were not permitted to go and resettle on the false assertion that de-mining was not comprehensive. That it is false is demonstrated by the sight of soldiers cultivating these lands….. Now abruptly, the government has shown its true face: these lands will be taken and given to other folks to occupy, who will turn into voters in the North. Equivalent notices have been issued in the Kilinochchi Distrct also. In the Eastern Province, guidelines have gone out to obtain all the land that the military deems needed for its purposes”[i].

These cantonments and military bases are getting superimposed on a Tamil terrain to break the current ethnic contiguity of the North, thereby to render devolution not possible and to maintain Tamils in a continued state of subjection. Its other – and no significantly less important goal – is to make it possible for the Rajapaksas to win elections in the North, with a minimum quantity of violence and malpractices.

Most Sinhalese are indifferent to the situation of land-grabbing due to the fact they see it as a Tamil dilemma. The Rajapaksas would want this ignorance – and the consequent indifference &#8211 to last as lengthy as achievable. The plight of Colombo’s poor, who are facing the danger of becoming evicted from their houses en masse, has received some interest but the plight of the Sinhala peasants of Ampara who have been chased away from their classic lands is virtually unknown. In 2011, the Lankan Navy grabbed far more than 1,200 acres of land close to the tourist hot-spot ofPanama consequently thousands of Sinhala villagers of Shasthrawela, Ragamwela, Ulpassawela, Horowkanda and Ella lost their properties and their signifies of livelihood. A comparable fate has befallen the fisher-folk of Kalpitiya.

When the state requires more than private land for development purposes, it is obligated to provide the owners with either compensation or alternate lands. This is how successive governments in Sri Lanka carried out themselves, by and large. The Rajapaksas have developed a different method land grabbing is becoming carried out, added-legally, making use of the military. The situation is hence ‘militarised’ and garbed in the protective-attire of ‘national security’. This way the owners can be threatened at will, the Sinhala-language media silenced and environmental laws and archaeological regulations ignored. For instance, in Ampara, “though sanctions have been imposed by the Forest Department, Archaeological Department, Coast Conservation Department and Central Environmental Authority on carrying out any improvement operate on forestlands, the Sri Lanka Navy claims that such formalities are entirely discarded when the Defence Ministry approves their projects. Speaking on the construction work carried out by the Navy in Panamain the Ampara District, Navy Spokesman Commander Kosala Warnakulasuriya stated that they have not followed any of these procedures nor would they require permission from the mentioned institutions as the building is becoming carried out on Defence Ministry land. ‘This is a Defence Ministry land and there is no necessity to get approval from any department to carry out any of our improvement function,’ claimed Warnakulasuriya[ii].

The Defence Ministry and the military are the law, not just in the Tamil-North, but even in the Sinhala-South. The ultimate objective of these acts of dispossession is to fill the Rajapaksa coffers, buttress the Rajapaksa dynastic project and render hard any powerful national resistance to Rajapaksa rule.

Atomisation

The Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim victims of land-grabbing have a issue and an opponent in common. Therefore coordinating their different acts of resistance into a single struggle tends to make perfect sense. However, rather of this essential and possible national campaign – ideally with the participation of the opposition parties – resistance is fragmented along regional/ ethnic/class lines.

The Siblings do not want the Sinhalese to understand that they are not immune to Rajapaksa-injustice. The Siblings do not want the Sinhalese to realise that the military, far from becoming ‘our boys’, are Rajapaksa tools (just as the Tigers served not the Tamil folks but Vellupillai Pirapaharan). The Siblings do not want their Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim victims to uncover the typical ground and mount a coordinated resistance. The Siblings want to atomise Lankans along ethnic, religious and class lines, to avoid a united opposition to familial rule from coming into getting. The only Sinhala-Tamil-Muslim unity they want to market is a unity in apathy and indifference.

The Rajapaksa project aims at the psychological reengineering of the Lankan people. They want an ignorant nation which equates distinction with danger. They want a men and women more concerned about hemlines or eating habits than land-grabbing or kid abuse. They want a nation seeped in mutual-suspicion and habituated into obedience.

They want a nation which, unconsciously, cooperates in its own subjugation and undoing.


[i] DBSJeyaraj.com

[ii] The Sunday Leader – 12.five.2013

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Lessons For Sri Lanka: Pakistani Voters Snub Religious Extremists

I want to be the rainbow 
From the inside out
To show all my colours
Colours that define me
Colours that make me whole
But it’s so hard
For I wear many masks
The truth sets me free 

Miriam WandiaKaloki – from her poem  ‘Masks’ in Human Rights and Culture  (AHRC) Vol 4 Issue 13

Pakistan went to the polls a couple of weeks ago. Though the full results are still not known, it is clear that Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League has won sufficient National Assembly seats to be able to form a stable government in Islamabad. His party will also be able to form a government in Punjab Province. The incumbent Pakistan People’s Party dominated by the late Benazir Bhutto’s family was badly beaten at the election to the National Assembly but will continue to rule the Province of Sindh.  Pakistan’s cricket legend Imran Khan’s Movement for Justice (PTI) took control of Khyber–Pakhtunkhwa (former North West Frontier Province) and had an improved result from previous National Assembly e3lection. In the fourth Province of Balochistan, a regional party seems likely to control the majority of seats. Significantly, to ensure a fairer poll, the Election Commission conducted the National Assembly and all the Provincial Assembly polls on the same day.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa waves during a photo opportunity with high-ranking military officials after unveiling a monument for fallen Sri Lankan soldiers in the town of Puthukkudiriruppu

Mr. President, victory over whom?

What was noteworthy about this election was that it was the first time since Independence in 1948, that an elected government was allowed to complete its term in office. In all previous instances, no elected government was allowed to complete its term of office. It was always interrupted by a military coup. So 2013 will be momentous in Pakistan’s political history in that one elected government is about to be inaugurated in office to succeed another following a democratic election, Nawaz Sharif who seems set to take over as Prime Minister was earlier removed from office 1n 1999 in a military coup led by General  Musharaff. Ironically. in 2013 when Nawaz Shariff is installed as Prime Minister, Musharaff will be serving his time in jail, following a Supreme Court order delivered before Nawaz Sharif’s election.

This is the third time Sharif is to serve office in Pakistan as Prime Minister. David Blair and Rob Crilly writing in the UK’s Daily Telegraph have stated that Sharif’s first term between 1990 and 1993 ended in ignominy when he was sacked for corruption; he was a steel magnate tainted by many allegations of dodgy dealings. During his second term, between 1997 and 1999, he re-wrote the Constitution, made laws making it obligatory for MPs to vote for the party line, and sent mobs to threaten the Supreme Court Judges. Along the way, he armed the Taliban in Afghanistan, gave Pakistan the nuclear bomb, and blundered into an undeclared war with India – the Kargil affair in 1999 when he sent Pakistani troops deep into Indian-held territory. But he was not able to rein in the powerful Army who sent him off to Saudi Arabia. The Press described his government at that time as ‘one of the most inept in Pakistan’s history’.

Time can change political  leaders

But time changes men and women and also popular sentiment about their political lesders. Most Pakistan voters felt that during his decade long absence from the Pakistani political scene, Sharif had matured a lot and is now committed to ‘managing the economy and pursuing political reconciliation both domestically and in external relations. The Dawn, one of Pakistan’s leading daily newspapers wrote that Sharif’s election was a hugely important moment in Pakistani history. Sharif fought a campaign ‘to be proud of’. Though relentlessly attacked from all sides, he ‘resolutely kept his focus on what needs to be done to solve grave national issues’, the dire economy, crippling power shortages and endemic tax evasion. Most Pakistan voters seem to have believed him to be sincere. Though he had courted the Taliban in his previous terms, the voters thought he was best poised to tackle the Taliban. He has plans to start immediate talks with ‘all sides’, including the Army and the Taliban to end the violence. He is also keen to mend fences with India with whom there has been no durable peace since partition in 1947. He has already invited India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to his swearing-in as Prime Minister. He probably knows that political reconciliation at home and with the neighbours will not be easy. While attempting reconciliation, he will have to be constantly looking over his shoulders at both the powerful Army as well as at the equally powerful insurgent Taliban movement. But he is now politically more mature to handle this.

The election that Sharif brought Sharif to power was not without controversy. The Taliban engaged in widespread violence and intimidation and did not allow all the candidates to campaign freely. Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan however seemed to have been spared the wrath of the Taliban and seemed to have been allowed to attend and address election rallies. Not so lucky was the Pakistan People’s Party. Bilawal Bhutto Zardar, the young son of Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari, the current Chairman of the PPP, had to confine himself to speaking through video messages from his exile in Dubai. Imran Khan has referred to intimidation of many of his supporters that prevented them from going to the polling booths to exercise their franchise. Most of the acts of violence and intimidation were by the religious extremists, including the Taliban. But the Pakistani voter defied these extremists to go to the polling both. The turn-out at this election was over 60%, the highest ever in Pakistan’s turbulent electoral history. Imran Khan has said that his party intends to challenge the poll results because of the widespread intimidation. But it unlikely, given the record turn-out of voters, the margins of victory and the regional trend in voting which resulted in victories for all parties at the provincial assembly elections, that there was massive intimidation and/or vote-rigging  Sharif has told Imran Khan to show the ‘sportsman’s spirit’ by accepting the results!

Imran Khan himself is now recovering in hospital from a fracture in his spine caused by a fall from an election platform a few days before the election. There was, of course, no suggestion, that the fall was caused by any act of sabotage. But one of Imrqn Khan’s leading supporters was shot dead two days after the election in what was clearly a political assassination. Kahn has accused one of the parties of religious extremism as being responsible for this killing. The problem with Pakistan is that it was founded on the basis of religion. Mohamed Ali Jinnah, their independence leader, who initially stoked the flames of communalism, died soon after independence from British rule. Had he lived, he may have been able to contain religious extremism as he was by nature a liberal though ambitious politician. Pakistan, unlike India, did not have outstanding liberal visionaries like Gandhi, Nehru, Rajagopalachari, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad and Humayun Kabir to direct the energies of a post-independence people in the path of religious and linguistic harmony.

Lessons for Sri Lanka

The first transition from one democratically elected government to another in Pakistan’s political history has lessons for Sri Lanka. The Supreme Court of Pakistan played an important role in clipping the wings of the powerful Army when the Army asserted themselves to interfere with democratic governance. The Supreme Court was also held he powerful President accountable for maintaining the rule of law. Pakistan is a partially failed state with the economy in a crisis state. There are twenty-hour black-outs which deal a crippling blow to industry. Tax evasion is a huge problem with the middle and working classes having to bear the brunt of falling resources for development work. The Army had enjoyed too much power that it tended to interfere in civilian affairs with disastrous results. Violence has reached levels when even Test playing cricketing countries avoid Pakistan as a venue for their matches. Corruption is becoming endemic. These problems, which the new Sharif government is now required to tackle. will require a change in the culture  of a people. They have for over sixty years been plagued by military coups and corrupt politicians. It will need enormous courage and a singular vision on the part of the Nawaz Sharif government to change all this. Having been away from the political scene for over a decade, he comes in as a new broom with the vision and the  capacity to bring about the changes that are necessary, despite his previous government being considered inept. Only time will tell if he can deliver. He was elected because the voter believed that he could do so, that he had shed his previous image as another run-of the mill Pakistani politician,

The problems the Pakistani people now face are common to the problems that we in Sri Lanka have to contend with. As in Pakistan, they have been caused primarily by corrupt and inept politicians, who used religious and linguistic extremists and/or used the language of extremism to cover up their own corruptness and ineptness. There are increasing signs that the voters in Sri Lanka are increasingly losing patience with those promote religious, linguistic or ethnic hatred. Two weeks ago, the government observed ‘Victory Day’, an annual event to celebrate the crushing of the northern insurgency. They were bypassing the LLRC recommendation that instead of this display of triumphalism, National Day 4th February include a separate event to express solidarity and empathy with all victims of the conflict and to commit ourselves to peaceful future. The government appointed LLRC also wanted the practice of singing the National Anthem in both Sinhala and Tamil, to the same melody, to be continued and supported. These two eminently suitable and easily implementable recommendations have been, obviously deliberately, ignored.

Dr Rajasingham Narendran, who can hardly be accused, even remotely, of being an LTTE fellow traveler, and who is regularly quoted by the state media, has written a detailed critique of the triumphalist speech of President Mahinda Rajapakse at the recent ‘Victory Day’ speech. One hopes that the Island will be bold enough to publish the full critique. But this column wishes to quote a few samples from it. Words in bold are from Rajapakse’s speech:

“Today we have the fourth opportunity to celebrate with dignity the great victory of our Motherland.”

Mr. President, victory over whom?   I raise this question in terms of the word ‘Conquered’ used in a war memorial in Mullaitivu.  Was it a victory over the LTTE or the Tamils?  Motherland!  Whose?  I did not see any opposition figures in the podium?  There were also no representatives of the Tamils, who were liberated by the armed forces, on the podium. I also did not see any Hindu priests, Christian padres or Muslim Moulavis on the podium, except for a handful of Buddhist monks.  The absence of Sarath Fonseka, the man who led the army from the front, at this function and his name and role not being even mentioned were glaring omissions that portrayed the smallness this great country is being reduced to.

Further, the language in the inscription on the war memorial at which flowers were laid was only in Sinhalese. Why?  What does this imply in terms of the word ‘Motherland’ used by you? Is Tamil not the language of the ‘Other’ children of ‘Mother Lanka’?   Why were these inscriptions not also in Tamil- an official language and English- a link language? What is the message this government is conveying?

“We know that those who had ceasefire agreements that betrayed the country to the Tigers are making every effort to make us forget the heroism of this nation.”

This is a very unfair and inaccurate statement.  It is the last ceasefire agreement signed with Norwegian mediation that exposed the LTTE for what it was to the Tamils and helped weaken it from within.  It was an important prelude to what the last war achieved.

“Similarly, this era should go down in history as one that carried out a major transformation to prevent the occurrence of war again.”

What sort of major transformation?  Are increased militarization and surveillance the only answers? Should not the political needs, concerns and fears of the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims be addressed in a more Statesman-like manner? Isn’t it important to remember that each one of us is a child of Mother Lanka and the weaker in political terms, need special care from your government, which at the moment is in charge of affairs here.”

Why were warnings against commemorating the war-dead among the Tamils, issued by the military and not the police?  Why has not the government organized official events to commemorate all the  riot/war / insurgency dead in this country?  If the government can publicly celebrate victory, why can’t the Tamils publicly commemorate the innocent victims of war?

Why should  almost 7000 acres of land that was commandeered for reasons of war  25 years back from their owners, be not returned to the rightful owners, four years after the war ended?  What is the moral justification for acquiring these lands?  Will this help with reconciliation or win the hearts and minds of the Tamils?  How will these acquisitions prevent the recurrence of war?   Do you understand that the Tamils will not want a war in their midst for the next thousand years?   You have to know what the Tamils think, better and trust their good sense. They have learned more lessons the hard way than you and your government have learned.

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