Archive for May, 2008

Gota lays down his law to journos

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who is officially tasked to ensure the security of all Sri Lankans, had indirectly levelled death threats on two senior journalists last Monday.

The people of this country had great respect for Secretary Rajapaksa for his effort to crackdown on the LTTE and were aghast when he faced an LTTE suicide attack at the Pithala junction Colombo sometime ago. But people will not by any stretch endorse his attempt to silence the fourth estate of this country in a bid to prevent people learning about corruption, misuse and abuse of power by this Government.

Secretary Rajapaksa summoned two senior journalists Sanath Balasuriya and Poddala Jayantha of the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd (Lake House) along with their Chairman Bandula Padmakumara. Rajapaksa, then threatened them saying “you will have to face severe consequences if you criticise military leaders”. The main reason the Secretary found fault with Jayantha and Balasuriya was that the duo organised a protest rally with the help of other media organisations the previous week opposite Temple Trees urging the Government to find the culprits who abducted and beat-up the Nation Newspaper Associate Editor Keith Noyahr.

Reflected glory

The two journalists Balasuriya and Jayantha who are also the President and Secretary of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA) respectively, had then asked Rajapaksa whether he is threatening them with death. The defence secretary has responded “those who love military leaders would take serious action against journalists. Such actions are not wrong, and the Government cannot stop such actions”.

This proves that Secretary Gotabhaya who is technically a public servant, is inebriated with the reflected glory of his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Presidency.

But when President Mahinda Rajapaksa took oaths he promised to uphold the Constitution of Sri Lanka. Chapter three of the Constitution clearly mentions the fundamental rights of Sri Lankans.

Article 14. (1) of the Constitution assures every citizen of this country-

(a) the freedom of speech and expression including publication;
(b) the freedom of peaceful assembly;
(c) the freedom of association;
(d) the freedom to form and join a trade union;
(e) the freedom, either by himself or in association with others, and either in public or in
private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice or teaching;

Can the Defence Secretary who is a mere public officer deprive the right to freedom of speech, expression and publication that accrues to any citizen of this country? Who is he to do so? What mandate have the people given him to do so? Is he trying to withhold this right guaranteed by the Constitution just because he is the President’s younger brother? This is a clear indication that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is trying to drive Sri Lanka into a state of anarchy perhaps as his brother’s Government is unpopular after just three years in power.

Does Rajapaksa know the identities of gang members who abducted the Nation newspaper Associate Editor Keith Noyahr? Seems so, as the Secretary had said that “those who love military leaders will attack if anyone criticises them.”

The Secretary has also said that he still considers Maubima newspaper journalist Parameshwari an LTTE activist but added that the courts had to release her as the SLWJA mounted pressure on the judiciary.

Secretary Rajapaksa should understand that the Sri Lankan judiciary will not bail out any suspect on the basis of newspaper agitation or pressure.

No evidence

If the judiciary succumbed to such pressure, most of the picketing and protest rallies will take place not in front of the Fort Railway station, but in Hulftsdorp. On the other hand.

Parameshwari was discharged as the Terrorists Investigative Unit of the Police could not find a single piece of evidence against her.

Secretary Rajapaksa and his brother’s Government’s attitude on human rights was the reason for the international community’s ejection of Sri Lanka from the United Nation Human Rights Council.
The international Community warned on many occasions of the deteriorating condition of human rights in Sri Lanka. But that was like singing to deaf elephants. Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf sacked 60 or so judges from their positions. Despite this and many other human rights violations by Musharaff, Pakistan got elected to the UNHRC due to certain purposeful strides towards democracy made subsequently in that country. It proves that Sri Lanka’s human rights situation is the worst in Asia. The world does not believe any more in the bluff of the Rajapaksas.

Analysts’ fear that the international community may consider imposing economic sanctions against Sri Lanka. Of course when there are public officers such as Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who are in a bid to impose de facto military rule in the entire country, Sri Lanka could face such an eventuality.

The main problem with the Rajapaksa government is that those who are running this country aren’t professional. They do not understand the law, or the basics of international treaties Sri Lanka has ratified on human rights. They think that anything can be accomplished with the people’s mandate. Such acts forced the international community to eject Sri Lanka from the UNHRC. Who is responsible for this state of affairs that causes the world to condemn Sri Lanka at every turn? []

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Strengthening the Provincial Council Process

Remarks by Deputy Chief of Mission Jim Moore to the National Conference on Strengthening the Provincial Council Process, May 28, 2008 BMICH, Colombo:

Honored Governor, Chief Ministers, Ministers and Provincial Council Members, distinguished guests:

It is an honor to be with you today, to attend this National Conference on Strengthening the Provincial Council Process, and to have the opportunity to meet with high level regional government representatives from across Sri Lanka. I would like to thank the Center for Policy Alternatives and the other organizers, sponsors, and participants in this conference for the hard and thoughtful work they have invested in this important undertaking.

Your participation today gives evidence of the desire across Sri Lanka to find a non-violent, democratic and sustainable solution to the national conflict. Your presence demonstrates your commitment and that of your government to take part in building a strong, democratic nation.

How to resolve the conflict is clearly the fundamental question facing Sri Lanka today, and one to which, unfortunately, there is no easy answer.

The United States believes that the Government of Sri Lanka-like all governments-has a responsibility to protect its citizens against terrorism.

However, our experience has taught us that a purely military solution to such conflicts will not ultimately be successful. There must be a parallel political strategy to address the underlying factors, circumstances, and grievances that have given rise to the conflict.

As the President’s commitment to devolution suggests, Sri Lanka’s long running conflict will not be solved on the battlefield alone.

By articulating and implementing a vision of how power can be truly shared among Sri Lanka’s communities, Sri Lanka has an opportunity to demonstrate to the Tamil, Muslim and other minority communities that they have a place of lasting respect in this island.

Sri Lanka’s minorities need to know that they can have a role in a united Sri Lanka where they can control many of their own affairs in local regions where they predominate.

The Government has made a good start toward this by emphasizing the importance of implementing the 13th Amendment to devolve power to the provincial councils, with a particular focus on the East.

Devolution of power to the provinces has long been talked about as a potential solution to the long-standing conflict. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution has been on the books for over twenty years.

This Amendment, along with the system of provincial councils that it set up, represents an important first step toward achieving a truly pluralistic democracy throughout the island.

However, the 13th Amendment has never really been put to the test. It needs to be activated in a way that serves the people in the provinces. It needs to be enacted in such a way that it grants meaningful power and resources to those living in and governing the provinces.

The All Party Representative Committee, under the outstanding leadership of Minister Tissa Vitharana, has therefore submitted a proposal calling for the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution as a first phase in the devolution of power to the provinces and local governments.

The U.S government commends the decision by the President and the APRC to pursue the implementation of the 13th Amendment as a preliminary political step toward devolution of power in Sri Lanka.

Clearly, however, the decision on how to proceed in going about this extremely important endeavor is for the people of Sri Lanka, not the international community, to decide. The Center for Policy Alternatives and numerous other civil society organizations are prepared to assist in this process. My government supports and applauds their efforts to provide assistance in translating the decision on implementing the 13th Amendment into action.

They have done this by asking practical advice from the key partners: YOU – the members of the Provincial Council system.

Through this process over the past few months, you have taken steps to understand and debate the legislation on devolution of power. Today, you are presenting to His Excellency the President your recommendations on how to improve this legislation. Your perspective – the perspective from the provinces – is critical if the realization of the 13th Amendment is to be a success.

The elections in the East earlier this month mark another step in the Government’s efforts to stabilize eastern Sri Lanka, after it expelled the LTTE from the region in 2007. The elections gave the citizens of the Eastern Province an important opportunity to choose their elected representatives.

Peaceful political elections to enable greater representation for minorities in the context of a unified Sri Lanka are an indispensable element in the devolution of power to provincial and local governments.

The United States did not send observers to monitor the election. Many people in Sri Lanka and abroad did express concern that the elections might not be fully free and fair due to the participation of armed groups.

After the elections, there were numerous reports from observers and opposition parties of irregularities, including voter fraud, intimidation, and sporadic acts of violence, on Election Day.

We urge the Sri Lankan government to treat these allegations seriously and conduct investigations to ensure that the outcome has the support of the people in the eastern part of the country. Their support of the results and their confidence in the process will be vital in the months to come.

Let me emphasize that we sincerely believe that through the proposals you are presenting to the President today, Sri Lanka can take a major step forward toward achieving devolution.

All of us present here today hope that your proposals will impact positively on Sri Lanka’s future and on the country’s ability to realize its tremendous potential.

The United States welcomes the movement toward decentralizing power in Sri Lanka in the hope that it will contribute to achieving the comprehensive political settlement that is needed.

While the U.S. and other friends of Sri Lanka attach great importance to this process, far more important is whether the Sri Lankan people judge that these initial measures will contribute to bridging the tragic divide between Sri Lanka’s several communities.

Although 13th Amendment is a good start, further steps will be needed to provide a positive vision and a brighter future for all Sri Lankans, regardless of where within the country they live and what proportion of the local population they represent.

For that reason, we firmly hope that government and the APRC will continue to strive for consensus on a plan that will fully address the legitimate aspirations of Sri Lanka’s minorities – both national and local-to have a greater voice in their own affairs.

We continue to believe that the ongoing work of the All-Party Representative Committee can make a critical contribution to the discussion on devolution of power and to resolving Sri Lanka’s conflict.

An APRC proposal that meets the aspirations of all of Sri Lanka’s communities to have a greater say in the decisions that affect their daily lives would mark an extremely important step forward.

Thank you for the opportunity to offer these observations on what most, if not all, of us in this room would agree is the most pressing political issue facing this great country today.

I look forward to hearing and learning from your substantive discussions, and I wish you much success in this undertaking.

Thank you very much.

[Source: US Embassy, Colombo, Sri Lanka]

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NPC: Enhance Democratic Norms in the post election period in the East

Statement by National Peace Council of Sri Lanka:

The violent clashes that have taken place in the Muslim-inhabited parts of the east have led to the killing of several persons and to a climate of rapidly escalating tension. These clashes have come shortly after the Eastern Provincial Council elections which the TMVP contested while remaining an armed group whose presence has become more openly obvious following the elections.

The present clashes have pitted members of the TMVP against the Muslim community and reflect the deep suspicions and frustration following promises made and broken in the aftermath of the elections. The use of arms by the TMVP is unacceptable. The National Peace Council believes that if left unchecked they are likely to lead to further clashes and to an increase in tensions between the Tamil and Muslim communities, and this trend should be reversed immediately.

Having elections in the east, although flawed, was an important step towards empowering the people in the province to democratically determine their future. The post election period provides yet another opportunity to the government and the newly established Eastern Provincial Council to demonstrate their commitment to the democratic process and to promoting good governance and ethnic harmony in the region. We are encouraged by the willingness of the leader of the TMVP and Chief Minister Pillayan, to meet with the leader of the Muslim component of the ruling alliance M L A M Hizbullah and opposition leader Rauff Hakeem. We urge them to make a joint appeal for peace and non violence and ensure that their members behave

The National Peace Council calls on the government to reconsider its stance of permitting the TMVP to operate as an armed group, while providing this party that has entered the democratic process with maximum protection.

In addition, the police and armed forces which are the legitimate security arms of the state need to be made fully independent in enforcing the law instead of being compelled to operate in a partisan manner.

As members of civil society who have been supporting the processes of democratic transformation of the east, we are deeply disturbed by the unravelling of the possibilities of peaceful coexistence in the east following the provincial council elections. We are perturbed at the proliferation of small arms, former militant groups in the democratic process being permitted to carry arms and distribution of arms to civilians to provide security for communities. These measures are likely to lead to extreme militarization that will ultimately lead to a total collapse of the rule of law from which will find it extremely difficult to extricate ourselves.

Executive Director
On behalf of the Governing Council

The National Peace Council of Sri Lanka

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Power sharing concept can respond to the aspirations, says Ambassador Blake

US ambassador Robert Blake in an interview with Colombo newspaper The Sunday Observer said that the US believes the answer to the Sri Lanka conflict lies with a power sharing concept which can respond to the aspirations of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: Are you satisfied with the support that the US had offered so far to Sri Lanka and what are the strategic areas where the US and Sri Lanka should work closely?

A: Yes. The US and Sri Lanka are close friends for more than 50 years now. The US is a strong supporter of Sri Lanka’s fight against terrorism. We strongly believe that Sri Lanka like all other countries has an obligation to defend its people against LTTE terrorism.

The US has provided military, law enforcement and other kinds of support to help the government to defend itself while believing that a purely a military solution would not be the correct solution for this conflict.

The US believes that the answer to the conflict lies with a power sharing concept which can respond to the aspirations of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. We also believe that in this very important stage of the conflict, it is very important for the government to address the human rights issues as well.

The US also has concerns about Tamils who suffer disproportionately due to human rights violations. It is important to give them a sense of feeling that they could live with respect and dignity here. So improving the human rights performances is also an important aspect of our dialogue with the government.

Q: The US supports developing countries. Sri Lanka has been battered and bruised by LTTE terrorism and how best the US could support in curbing terrorism?

A: I think I have just answered that question. The US is one of the first countries to declare LTTE as a foreign terrorist organisation in 1997. We have also helped to investigate and prosecute people in the US, who were trying to provide arms to the LTTE.

So, the FBI, for an example, has conducted distinct operations that had resulted in the arrest of many people and those investigations are on-going. We also have a central bank, which improves financial investigations to track down the money flow into the LTTE and help to stop those money from flowing in.

Then the most importantly we work with our friends in the military to help them to stop import of arms into this country.

We gave them a maritime surveillance system last year-a radar system-that will give the Sri Lanka Navy a much better picture of LTTE naval activities in their waters and thereby give them the opportunity to detect LTTE shipments of arms. I must say they have enjoyed considerable success last year in sinking many of these ships.

The ban on LTTE is extremely effective in terms of implementing the American law. People understand that we are very strict about forcing our laws which will prosecute anyone who is believed to be illegally assisting the LTTE.

Q: Criticism had mounted when the East was about to be liberated. Now the Mahinda Rajapaksa government has created the right environment to give more power to the people whereby they can look after their own affairs. What is your comment on restoring democracy in the East?

A: I think President Rajapaksa and the Sri Lankan Government made very important progress over the past year. First they have expelled the LTTE from the East. That is a positive development and secondly they have restored government services.

In the East they have reopened schools, hospitals and government institutions. Now there is a greater sense of normalcy in many towns in the East. People are out late at nights, going for movies and for shopping which is a big achievement after 20 years. There is stability now, in that part of the country.

With regard to the election we always support the principle of free elections. It is important to allow the local inhabitants to represent their views. There have been some controversies which were highlighted in the media.

The Opposition parties have alleged that there were many irregularities. The US is not in a position to judge since we did not have observers on the ground. But we think that it is important for the government and the new Provincial Council to look into those charges seriously and act on them.

In the long run it is really important to consider what the people of the East believe. If they believe that it was largely a free and fair election and they support the new council, then the international community should also be prepared to accept their decision in toto.

In terms of what happens after, I think that the new Chief Minister has an important challenge on his hand. First of all, he has to assure security, because on one hand he is the chosen Chief Minister of the Eastern Province and on the other hand he is the head of the TMVP which still has armed cadres.

So, he is in a difficult position where he has to enforce state law as the Chief Minister and on the other hand a fairly large number of armed cadres. I think something must be done and they can not continue to do illegal activities in the East.

Otherwise they would undermine the leadership of Pillaiyan and the transition that the TMVP is trying to make while being a para-military group and a political party. So, we support the idea of them of being a political party. But that transition must be completed and certainly they can not be in both.

Beyond the challenge of security, I think that the new Chief Minister in order to secure the support of the people of the East, it is very important to show that he has been given opportunities to serve all other communities in the East and pursuing development in a neutral way.

And I think that way he can ensure that there is harmony among these communities and also stability in the East, which will automatically reach to a greater development and priority for the people of the East.

Q: Will the US continue with its support to develop the East?

A: Yes, we have quite a number of projects with the assistance of the private sector, for example the vocational training. We have just announced a major project in Batticaloa to develop dairy industry and another to grow vegetables for exports.

We strongly believe that we need to help the people of the East and give them economic opportunities. We believe that there is a big role for the private sector to play. We have proposed to give more assistance for the East and the US government is considering it now.

Q: You have always advocated a credible political package to meet the aspirations of the Tamils. How do you see the APRC proposal to implement the 13th Amendment?

A: The East is a fine laboratory to show that powers within the 13th Amendment be devolved within the Eastern Provincial Council. But I think the government needs to go beyond the 13th Amendment. Implementing the 13th amendment is itself will satisfy the aspirations of the Tamils.

The way they develop must be a significant power sharing proposals through the APRC using some other mechanisms. But I do believe that the APRC has made lots of progress.

According to Prof. Vitharana over 90 percent of their work has been done and I think the APRC has been a useful mechanism to get the Southern consensus to move forward. The most important thing is to come up with an idea which is really welcomed by the Tamils.

I think that it is important for the government to consult a wide range of Tamils. We are not calling for negotiations with the LTTE. That is something that the government has to decide.

It is important to recognize more than half of the Tamils are living outside the Wanni. I think their interests also should be respected as well. So, people like Anandasngaree and other elected representatives in the government controlled areas are needed to be brought into this process and consulted.

Q: You mentioned the solution should be something beyond the 13th Amendment. So what is your proposal to end the national issue?

A: I think we need to distinguish as these are two different things. The President Rajapaksa’s proposal to implement the 13th Amendment is a good idea. But I don’t really want to come up with a proposal because whenever I try to say something I am later accused of trying to dictate to the Sri Lankan people. The US does not have any intention of doing that. It is up to the Sri Lankan people to decide what is best for them.

Q: What do you think that Sri Lanka is facing today-is it a war on terror or an ethnic problem? What sort of a solution do you suggest to end the conflict in the island?

A: I think all these are loaded terms. I am reluctant to say this is an ethnic conflict but it is a civil conflict. I always remind people who are visiting from USA that Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims lived together and continue to live peacefully together. Tamils are living in Colombo peacefully with their Sinhalese and Muslim friends. So there is no ethnic conflict here. And certainly the government is defending itself against terrorism.

Q: It is clearly proven that the LTTE is not the sole representative of the Tamils. And also it has been proved the LTTE’s political agenda is different from the Tamils. What do you have to say?

A: I do actually see there are important differences here. From my discussions with Tamils I know that over 95 percent of them support a solution within a framework of a united Sri Lanka.

They are not seeking an independent Tamil Eelam which Prabhakaran is seeking. I think it would be very useful for Prabhakaran to give up this idea of seeking an independent Tamil State and agreeing to negotiate with a united Sri Lanka.

I think this would give him lots of credibility to respond to lots of scepticism here in the South that the LTTE would never negotiate with the government. The LTTE has a responsibility to show that they are prepared to negotiate in a genuine way.

Q: What is your view about the on-going military operations to liberate Wanni where people are living under severe hardship and the young and the old were being conscripted by the LTTE?

A: With respect to the on-going military campaign, as I said earlier, the US do not believe in purely a military solution is possible. The 25-years long experience of war here has shown that the LTTE is a rather formidable organisation and it is very difficult to defeat them militarily.

So the best way to reach a solution is through a political solution to address the aspirations of the Tamils and all the communities. And again the Tamils in Wanni and rest of the country need sense of dignity and conviction in future that they will be able to have an important say over matters that concern them especially the areas where they are predominant.

They should be able to have a high degree of self governance within a united Sri Lanka. I believe that is really a way forward to achieve a peaceful settlement to this conflict.

Q: You have just mentioned that the military can not defeat LTTE and this was the assumption before the East was liberated by the military. So how can you say that the military cannot defeat the LTTE in North?

A: The East was a different situation and the LTTE was spread out. But Wanni is more in the heartland of the LTTE. Here they have been prepared for many years to face any kind of an attack.

Q: Do you still believe that Sri Lankan Security Forces cannot capture Prabhakaran?

A: I think you have to ask this question from the Forces. What I can say is that the US does not have any love for Prabhakaran. But it is going to be difficult for the government to get him.

Q: He is the ‘Most wanted man’ by the Indian government for the killing of the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. In which way could the US help the government to bring him to book?

A: I can not really say how, as we are not involved in any military efforts to capture him. We believe that the best way would be, not with the gun but through peaceful means.

Q: Do you think that both Al-Qaeda and the LTTE, are ruthless terrorist organizations and how do you categorise the LTTE?

A: I would not say they are the same at all. I do not want to get into the business of comparing terrorist organisations because every terrorist organization is different. And it is also important to address the LTTE in the Sri Lankan context.

Q: But some countries call the LTTE as freedom fighters?

A: I do not respect the freedom fighter argument. Certainly any group which is working for freedom, they should do it in a peaceful manner. They can not use violence and terror. That is same with the LTTE and we have consistently said they must renounce terrorism and stop using violence.

Q: The US and Sri Lanka are engaged in a common fight-combatting terrorism. But some critics say that the US has double standards when combatting terrorism against the US and dealing with the terrorism in countries like Sri Lanka. What is your comment?

A: I really don’t agree with that. I think we have a very consistent approach and even in places like Iraq where we are confronted with a very serious terrorist problem and we are in favour of a political solution there. The insurgency strategy of the US is based on using a wide range of tools to combat terrorism and it is just not the military strategy.

In Iraq we are engaged in with certain strategies to bring down the levels of killing and violence both against American forces and other coalition forces. The ordinary iraqis have come way down over the last years. Iraq is a major domestic issue an year ago in my country and now people have confidence that Iraqis are in a better track and hopeful about their future.

So the policies are the same that we are advocating here in Sri Lanka and so I can say there would not be any double standards.

Q: In this situation what are the priorities of a country-combatting terror to save lives or safeguarding human rights?

A: Well. I do not think there is contradiction between the two. I think one has to devote. Clearly one has to defend one’s country against terrorism. That is extremely important. For any government the most important priority is to defend its citizens. It is true in the US and it is true in Sri Lanka and every other country in the world. But we also believe that it is possible to preserve human rights.

So, for example, one of the very difficult problems the government faces is to identify suicide bombers. How they find these people before they carry out their murderous acts. And I believe that the way to do that is still to arrest, question in a humane way and if they are suspected of the crime produce them in courts.

But do not use extra judicial killings and other kind of things. And those acts will undermine the long term solutions. So, it is much better to use rule of law to address terrorism. Accountability of rule of law is extremely important.

Q: Do you think that Sri Lanka has violated UN Conventions when strengthening bi-lateral relations with Iran?

A: I do not think so and not to my knowledge. But is up to the government to be aware of those resolutions.

Q: Iran is in rivalry with the US with regard to nuclear issues. Therefore how do you see the recent visit of the Iranian President to Sri Lanka?

A: Our concerns about Iran is well-known. President – Bush, Secretary of State – Rice and many our leaders are concerned about their nuclear capabilities. We acknowledge their right to develop civil nuclear energy for energy purposes. But the US opposes nuclear weapons. Similarly we have expressed our deep concern about the Iranian support for international terrorism particulary in the Middle East, especially the support for groups like Hisbulla.

We always want all our friends to make the same point for Iran. At the same time we understand that Sri Lanka has to develop relationships with Iran and we do not have objections if they donate funds education projects in the South.

Q: We were made to understand that you had met the members of the Commission of Inquiry which probes into 15 cases of killings of Aid workers and other alleged HR cases? What was your area of interest while meeting the commissioners?

A: Yes, we did have a short meeting with them, and the purpose of the meeting as Justice Udalagama has explained was purely a technical matter. The Commission did not get the support of the IIEGPS and the Commission has the problem of how to continue the video conferencing to record testimony of witnesses resident abroad. So the question arose as to whether the international community could continue to fund the video conferencing.

Since the US and the other partners in the IIEGP process happened to fund the process all along, we discussed the matter whether to fund the particular video conferencing. So that was real the purpose of the meeting.

The US do not have any intension of whatsoever in interfering anyway with the Commission of Inquiry. We strongly believe in independence. I really do not share the allegations that we are interfering with the Commission and we simply looked into logistic matters.

We support the Commission appointed by the President. And he has reiterated on many occasions that his commitment in seeing this commission achieve its desired task. So we totally support the President in this regard.

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Mahinda sticks to the Tiger he can handle

by Dr. Vickramabahu Karunaratne

The politics of the bourgeoisie of underdeveloped countries in this monopoly capitalist period reflect the primitive nature of the class itself; so explained Trotsky of the role of the national bourgeoisie in his famous thesis-the Permanent Revolution. The things that take place here are good examples.

Venomous attack

Mahinda started by launching a venomous attack on Tamil speaking people, both Tamils and Muslims. Bombing civilians and disappearances were mixed with the misery of the displaced people. The Sinhala youth was sacrificed for a bogus patriotic war. We were told that the end of the Tamil uprising is close by. Then a few months back Mahinda claimed that the East was clear, hence there could be a free election for the province. But what he finally did was to crown Pillayan, the pro-government Tamil military leader, as the Chief Minister of the province by a gigantic fraud. While the opposition leader, the ex-federalist and the man who shed crocodile tears for Tamil rights under the pressure of Mano Ganesan and others, was screaming and denouncing, Mahinda took steps to enrol the Pillayan soldiers as some kind of police officers and further legitimised the eastern Tamil regime. It automatically got police powers. With all that power, Pillayan has come to Kandy to get the blessings from the venerable Maha Nayakas. Since Buddha stood against the Aryan Brahmins for the human rights of Dravidian Yaksayas nearly 3000 years ago, there is nothing unusual in getting Buddhist blessings. After all the Tamil Nadu Dravidian movement inspired by Periyar is essentially a Buddhist revival movement. But the fact is that the Pillayan regime is backed by Tamil military power and no one is going to disarm him; if any attempt is made then he should obviously fight back, tooth and nail. All that is reality; but my question is why Mahinda, who could give power to Pillayan, an armed Tamil leader, could not negotiate the same with Prabha. Prabha offered to accept internal self determination. For a Marxist it is a meaningless term. However, it was explained as an offer to work within one country. There after he offered to work in an interim regime appointed by the President, virtually with the same powers as Pillayan but of course for the merged NE province.

Military power

Probably he would have agreed to hold elections under his military power and in fact the past parliamentary election was held for the North-East under his military power. When the interim regime proposal was rejected, he offered to work in the tsunami committee appointed by the President with much less power. That was also rejected. However, when Pillayan is given powers while he is still a leader of a Tamil army, not only Mahinda but the Hela Urumaya, Wimal and Dinesh all appear to be happy. So clearly their opposition is not to a political power with Tamil military backing, but to a certain socio-politics represented by Prabha. Yes, there is a serious political difference between the two Tamil leaders. While Pillayan agrees with the agenda of Mahinda dictated by the Indian leaders and the global capital, Prabha does not. Of course Prabha has said that he will follow the open economy and many confused green card holders support him, but he is not trusted by the Hanumans of Delhi or the Yankees of Washington. Merged or de merged, power over the Tamil homeland will not be given to Prabha by these world powers. In fact the proposed Northern Interim Council is to be appointed as a challenge to Prabha. As it is he can only appeal to the Dravidian masses and the Left movement the world over.

Will Mahinda continue to back the authority of the Pillayan Tamil regime? There will be Sinhala chauvinist campaigns against the Pillayan regime if not led by Sinhala Urumaya then by the nephew of JR- Ranil. Chelva was let down by Banda, Thiru was let down by Dudley, Vartha was let down by JR; will Pillayan be let down by Mahinda? Is Ranil planning to play the traditional chauvinist role? Is the proposed JVP general strike going to back Ranil? If so Pillayan has only one thing to do. Join Prabha and fight irreconcilably for the separation of Tamil Eelam. []

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East: Stability on cliffhanger after election

by Dr. A.R.M. Imtiyaz

The government conducted the first provincial elections in two decades on May 10 in the Eastern Province. The ruling colaition of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) through an electoral alliance with the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) and an “understanding” with the dissidents of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) grabbed 20 of the 37 seats in the Eastern Provincial Council. The TMVP is a breakaway group of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a group that seeks a separate state for the country’s minority Tamils in the north and east.

Voting in a crucial election in a troubled province: It could do more harm than good

The United National Party (UNP), which contested the elections in alliance with the main Muslim political entity, the SLMC, won 15 seats. The UNP alliance accused the government of rigging the elections and committing gross malpractices, especially in the Ampara and Batticaloa districts. According to UNP spokesperson Lakshman Kirielle, “in Pottuvil, Akkaraipattu and Mutur, government goon squads invaded 40 polling booths and stuffed the ballot boxes to their hearts content while the presiding officers and police simply looked on.”

[A woman walks out of a polling station after casting her vote during provincial council elections in Kathankudy, suburb of Batticaloa, eastern Sri Lanka, May 10, 2008.
via Yahoo! News, REUTERS/Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachchi]

President Mahinda Rajapaksa who won the Presidential elections in 2005 on symbolic agendas of an anti-Tamil and anti-federal platform interpreted his party’s election win in the Eastern Province as a people’s “mandate” against what his government coined as war against the Tamil terrorism and to drive the Tamil Tigers from the Tamil-dominated north where the LTTE runs a de-facto ethnic state.

Some questions

Elections are important political events, and political elites conduct these elections for different reasons at different times. However, there is no guarantee whatsoever that elections would bring about peace and stability to the country, or for that matter to any particular ethnic group. Therefore, the key questions are, will the eastern elections help establish stability? Will it generate peace and harmony among the different ethnic groups in the region? Can it pave the way to build genuine power-sharing between different ethnic groups?

The on-going ethnic/civil war requires a political solution. Commitments to a political solution need imagination, willingness and ability as well as guts to challenge the past and seek a new future.

However, the key political actors in Sri Lanka are lacking in such progressive efforts. The ruling Sinhala elites show no genuine interest in searching a political solution in the form of genuine power-sharing arrangements with the minorities, particularly the Tamils who claim they were discriminated against by successive Sinhala-dominated governments in favour of the Sinhalese. Besides, the government, which accommodates Sinhala nationalist agendas and Sinhala extremists, who oppose all forms of extensive and irrevocable power-sharing, is actively engaged in identifying the LTTE as malicious terrorists, while conveniently covering up its own anti-democratic and anti-minority activities. Some of these activities are aggressive and cruel and according to Tamil nationalist opinions, they meet the definition of state terrorism.

Peace with enemies

Elections alone would not guarantee any stability to war-ravaged Sri Lanka. Stability is a reflection of political willingness to meet the needs and the reasonable demands of the masses. In a democracy, when political elites fail to appreciate the needs of the masses, serious instability is the likely outcome. Sri Lanka, which once aspired to be the Switzerland of Asia, can only gain real peace and progress, if there is sincere political will for a negotiated reconciliation and compromise. Such a political will should engage the Tamil Tigers. One may have deep reservations about engaging the LTTE. But peace between the opposing ethnic actors can be achieved only when today’s enemies prepare to engage one another seriously. In short, we need to engage enemies constructively if we are serious about peace.

The major problem in Sri Lanka is the absence of “willingness”. Both the Rajapaksa regime and the LTTE are inherently nationalist. They play the ethnic card for political and military gains. This is indeed an unfortunate political trend and could help deepen the conflict. All this would close the door for compromise and reconciliation. Theoretically speaking, this sort of political eventuality is inevitable when political actors systematically employ nationalist agendas in deeply divided societies.

The end of the world

We have some serious problems. But they still can be solved in a human way. This should involve some tremendous efforts by the global community. In other words, there must be more sticks than carrots from highly-interested global actors both on the Tamil Tigers and the Government when they do not comply with peace requests that seek meaningful power-sharing democracy.

The high efficacy of global leverage often works well between countries connected through international aid and trade. The Tamil Tigers, who have been banking on solid support from the Tamil Diaspora, must be warned of further political and military repercussions if they refuse to go along with a negotiated compromise. Equally, the Government needs to be directed to study the Kosovo-style political outcome, if it closes its ears to the call for genuine power-sharing.

It is true that elections are key for any functioning democracy. But they alone would not produce any miracle between the warring and mutually-suspecting ethnic groups. Also, elections often trigger further instability when they are ethnicised and politicised. The just concluded Eastern Province elections can do more harm than good if the Sinhala political elites poititicise the outcome for their benifit. It also can further increase ethnic disharmony between the Tamils and Muslims if there is any agendas for politicisation. Such dangerous political scheming could frustate the already alienated Muslim youths who increasingly respond to the call for a struggle in the name of their religion.

Beyond the bleeding

The political stakes are high. They can erode not only the stability of the country, but also its ethnic unity. Therefore, Sri Lanka’s ruling elites should seek some rational choices, rather than trying to manipulate the “victory” of the May 10 elections to consolidate their power and to win the next elections.

Any move in this direction could seriously weaken Sri Lanka’s commitment to democracy and social progress. Alternatively, the Tamil Tigers need to understand the new political climate of the island. Specially, they should understand the fact that their suicide attacks on innocent civilians further strengthen the hands of extremists and thus weaken the liberal voices for peace. Sri Lanka will continue to bleed if peace has no chance. [This article appeared earlier in the The Sunday Times, Colombo, Sri Lanka-May, 18, 2008]

(The writer, a political scientist from Sri Lanka, is currently, affiliated as a visiting scholar to the Department of Political Science, Temple University, USA.)

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