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Saturday, January 20, 2018
KUTUPALONG, Bangladesh (Reuters) - Rohingya leaders in a Bangladesh refugee camp have drawn up a list of demands they want Myanmar to meet before authorities begin sending back hundreds of thousands in a repatriation process expected to begin next week and last for two years.
The petition is the latest indication of the challenges ahead for Bangladesh and Myanmar as they try to engineer the return of refugees who fear continued military operations in Rakhine State and are dismayed about the prospect of a prolonged stay in “temporary camps” in Myanmar when they go back.
A half-dozen Rohingya elders, saying they represented 40 villages from Rakhine, showed the list of demands to a Reuters reporter at the Kutupalong refugee camp, where most of the 655,500 Rohingya refugees are staying.
The petition, handwritten in Burmese, said none of the Muslim Rohingya would return to mainly Buddhist Myanmar unless the demands were met.
The petition, which has still to be finalised, demanded the Myanmar government publicly announce it is giving Rohingya long-denied citizenship and inclusion on a list of the country’s recognised ethnic groups. It asks that land once occupied by the refugees be returned to them and their homes, mosques and schools rebuilt.
It wants the military held accountable for alleged killings, looting and rape, and the release from jails of “innocent Rohingya” picked up in counter-insurgency operations.
It also wants Myanmar to stop listing people with their photographs as “terrorists” in state media and on government Facebook pages.
Myanmar state newspapers this week issued a supplement listing the names and photos of alleged members of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), whose attacks on security posts on Aug. 25 triggered a sweeping counter-insurgency operation.
The United Nations has described the Myanmar military operations in the northern part of Rakhine as a classic case of ethnic cleansing.
The military says it has only conducted legitimate operations and denies there have been cases of sexual assault.
But the military said last week soldiers had killed 10 captured Muslim “terrorists” during insurgent attacks at the beginning of September, after Buddhist villagers had forced the captured men into a grave the villagers had dug.
It was a rare acknowledgment of wrongdoing by the Myanmar military during its operations in the western state of Rakhine.
ARSA said in a statement last week the 10 Rohingya in the mass grave were “innocent civilians” and not members of their group.
Rohingya refugees are seen in a refugee camp at no-man’s land at the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh January 12, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
CHALLENGES AHEADThe Rohingya elders Reuters spoke to said they were still finalising their list of demands before showing it to Bangladesh authorities and to aid agencies administering the camps.
They said the 40 village leaders they discussed the petition with represent the interests of all Rohingya at the camp, but that could not be independently verified and aid agencies were unable to comment pending formal issuance of the petition.
Bangladesh and Myanmar this week agreed to complete the return of the refugees over the next two years, with the process due to begin on Tuesday.
But even as preparations get underway for the repatriation, Rohingya Muslims continue to pour into Bangladesh.
More than 100 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh from Myanmar since Wednesday and scores more were waiting to cross the Naf river that forms the border, newly arrived refugees in Bangladesh told Reuters.
The new arrivals said they fled Myanmar because of military operations in their village of Sein Yin Pyin, and gave accounts of young men being rounded up and of discovering dead bodies in a pond and a forest.
They said they fled out of hunger, after hiding in their homes for days, unable to go to work in the fields and forests that provided their livelihood.
Myanmar Police Colonel Myo Thu Soe, spokesman for the military-controlled Home Affairs Ministry, told Reuters on Thursday “there’s no clearance operation going on in the villages”.
But, he added, “security forces are still trying to take control of the area” in northern Rakhine. He declined to elaborate.
Rights groups and the UN say any repatriations must be voluntary.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human RightsWatch, told Reuters in an email authorities cannot deal with the Rohingya refugees “as if they are an inert mass of people who will go where and when they are told”.
The repatriation deal does not cover over 200,000 other Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh prior to October 2016, who had been driven out of Myanmar during previous episodes of ethnic violence and military operations.
- “Demagoguery is a congenic illness of democracy. There is, though, the chance to keep it under control” – Dr. Rafael Piñeiro
Saturday, 20 January 2018
Democracy is well and good as long its erstwhile proponents and players remain committed to high attendant ideals, pursuing with some degree of intelligence and sanity (fast eroding with the ascent of Donald J. Trump). Surely one must be faithful and devoted to inclusiveness, diversity and multi-racialism regardless of the heat, mutating metrics or sinister opportunities the playing field could engender.
The moment insecure contenders see opportunity in unbridled and unregulated demagoguery, inherent deficiencies of a democracy get exposed, quite indecently too. Where there is no limits, checks and balances there is disarray and possibly fatal disconnections. When anyone can say and do anything without consequences a dangerous precedence is set. It’s even construed by some as integral instruments afforded in a democracy, is it? In such circumstances minorities and vulnerable sectors get exposed and varying degrees of harm loom against them.
It’s deplorable when the so-called leader of the free world makes overt racist remarks, reportedly criticising immigrants coming to the United States from what he called “shithole countries”. It’s unthinkable that such demeaning language is emanating from the President of the United States of America.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, the great warrior of Sri Lanka, an adept proponent of showmanship with intricate yet subtle proclivities towards demagoguery with his ubiquitous presence, donning the milky white national suit and kurakkan-coloured shawl, did a lot to project the image of the undying protagonist of the Sinhala Buddhist people. The sensational image of Dutugemunu, marauding with his soldiers brandishing his radiant sword, resonated well with the people just a few years ago. Can such indiscretions of the former President prove conclusively to be aracist? Absolutely not. Distorting and discrediting a political system more likely hurts the individual than a system. That’s why ideals remain preserved. Abusers either drift to oblivion or perish one after the other.
Our own six-footer Minister of Megapolis and Western Development, the right honourable Patali Champika Ranawaka, is another living testimony and an exemplary technician of the craft of demagoguery. His accent and genre was remarkably fresh. He imbibed a great deal from his former boss. The dude was a walking, talking statistician, disgorging supposedly disproportionate breeding of Muslims not just to the domestic terrain but abroad as well with effortless finesse. This was when the dude was valiantly supporting the former President.
Who on earth is a demagogue? The advent of Donald J. Trump has necessarily accelerated the spread of this word and ensured a high-octane dissemination. Its etymology traces to the Greek language. Root word simply means “leader of the people” (demos, or “the people”; agein, or “to lead”). A demagogue is someone who appeals to greed, fear and hatred. An egregious politician who achieves or holds on to power by stirring up feelings of his audience and leading them to action despite considerations weighing against him or her.
Demagogues have appeared in democracies since ancient Athens. They exploit a fundamental weakness in democracy: because ultimate power is held by the people, it is possible for the people to give that power to someone who appeals to the lowest common denominator of a large segment of a population. Demagogues usually advocate immediate, forceful action to address a national crisis whilst accusing moderates and opponents of weakness or disloyalty.
A “demagogue” is usually pretty articulate and adept to refer to either populist or partisan ends; or to deceptive or dangerous means; or to both. This is an in-built gift they have. It’s a tool they carry.
Deception is frequently deployed to mislead, misalign and obfuscate. This is an international phenomenon in democracies today. In the age of the internet the acronym LOL is used quite extensively which is to mean “laugh out loud”. But in common political circles in the west it stands for “lie or lose” – the public are so used to lies and desensitised to the truth they have developed a dislike if nota disdain for the truth. There is no such thing as an outright political lie. Instead there’s distortion, exaggeration, misrepresentation, deception and half-truth.
Citizens’ alienation and disenchantment with politics breed demagoguery, when parties or the institutional resources available to citizens are not capable of delivering. When politics becomes meaningless for a portion of the electorate, the opportunity for demagogues arises. Although demagogues re-engage disaffected citizens, they, and their political organisations, cannot fulfil their promises. Therefore, demagogues are simply political agents taking advantage of citizens´ frustration with democratic representation.
Quality of governance in most countries has weakened, at least in South Asia. It has got exponentially impaired and broken. If “Yahapalanaya” is something to go by. Crime is the new ethos. Crisp fiat notes get lubricated in their billions every day. Celebrity is the new religion – the average denizen is hooked on to the TV pleasuring and fantasising. Society is consumed in a pathological contagion. The heist intensifies unabated. All is rotten inside.
Relentless decay of our dystopian and apocalyptic culture has grown to become a recognisable fact. Excessive democracy has in essence has added fuel. Terms such as ‘decay’ and ‘decrepitude’ seem to reappear in postmodern culture and erudite thinkers are capturing it in art beautifully.
Our societies apparently are in severe need of reconstruction.
Fri, Jan 19, 2018, 11:11 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.
He said in this situation of the lack of trust in the traditional journalist, everyone who has a smartphone has become a journalist and the traditional journalist reporting without credibility and any foundation has caused this situation.
Minister Mangala Samaraweera made these comments speaking at a workshop organized by the Sri Lanka Press Council for the teachers of the Matara District held at Pearl Cliff Hotel in Matara today.
Expressing his views the Minister said a survey was conducted in the United States in 2017 on the reliability of professions and journalist and politicians were at the bottom as the least reliable professions.
"That means we are in the same boat," the Minister said declining to explain why politicians are the least reliable.
"Today people's confidence in the traditional journalist is diminishing. The reason is reporting with no basis. In the past, whatever reports were published in newspapers, there was a basis for that. Now, news is being produced for the needs of journalists, politicians, and various people. But in this modern society these lies cannot go forward. They will be proven and with that, the trust in the mass media will be lost. Today everyone has smartphones. All of them have become a reporter. Therefore, the censorship is not valid for today," the Minister explained.
Minister Samaraweera said that the reporters are trying to showcase a different picture to the public through their smartphone culture and rumors and wrong information are being spread as news. As a result the standard and the quality of the news have deteriorated.
The Minister said a dialogue on this issue is being conducted at worldwide level to change the 'fake news' culture.
"The censorship and laws alone cannot free the society from this peril. We need to create a new generation that excludes tribal ideas," he said pointing outhit the schools and the teachers have a major role to play in this regard.
Minister Samaraweera pointing out that according to Google, Sri Lanka topped the list of the countries that searched the word "sex" said when more restrictions are imposed people will be more tempted to explore and this situation does not arise in open societies.
"Therefore, you as teachers have a huge responsibility to direct the children to create an open society," Minister Samaraweera said.
MP Buddhika Pathirana, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Press Council Koggala Wellala Bandula and Director General of Government Information Sudarshana Gunawardena were also present.
The Cabinet’s co-spokesman Rajitha Senaratne insisted yesterday that the National Unity or consensus government would continue whatever happened at the February 10 elections to 341 municipal, urban councils and Pradeshiya Sabhas.
Addressing a Cabinet news conference and responding strongly to questions on various issues, Dr. Senaratne said the consensus government between the UNP and the SLFP was an historic alliance worked out for the first time since independence. He stressed that President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe were committed to the National Unity Government and its vision 2025 programme for sustainable, eco-friendly and all-inclusive development. The minister said the President and the Premier had a close relationship and trusted each other, therefore he believed the Unity Government would continue till 2020 or even 2025 though there were disputes and divisions and some leading SLFP members were critical of the UNP especially after a report was issued by the Presidential Commission which probed the Central Bank bond issues from February 2015 to March 2016. Some UNP members have also been critical of the President. When a journalist asked the co-spokesman about one MP who had referred to a pickpocket President, Dr. Senaratne responded by saying it was former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and close associates who had pick-pocketed the country in a massive way.
About 11.15 am yesterday the bond commission report with annexures and recommendations -- running into about 1,400 pages -- was handed over to Parliament. The minister said Speaker Karu Jayasuriya had called a party leaders meeting later yesterday to discuss what should be done about the report. Last Wednesday Parliament held a special session to discuss the report. But as it had not yet been made available to members, the speaker gave permission to the Prime Minister to make a statement on the issue.
This led to a rumpus and pandemonium which some observers described as one of the most disgraceful days in parliament. President Sirisena has also said that 32 major cases of serious frauds, bribery, corruption and other political crimes had been spotlighted by a Presidential Commission appointed earlier. These cases and the bond commission’s full report had been handed over to the Attorney General’s Department and the Criminal Investigation Department for prosecution.
While the cleanup of political corruption has become a major issue and President Sirisena insisting he would take action against those found guilty whatever party they belonged to or whatever rank they held, an equally important issue for the country is ethnic reconciliation in the aftermath of a catastrophic 26-year war.
Tamil National Alliance front-liner M.A. Sumanthiran, playing a prominent role in the party and in lasting reconciliation efforts, on Tuesday night gave a two hour interview in Sinhala to the Independent Television Network (ITN). He said that despite some small sections still speaking with separatist tendencies, the TNA was committed to a united Sri Lanka and was with the National Government in its truth and reconciliation efforts. The progress was slow, Mr. Sumanthiran said, but the Tamil people especially needed to understand that the issues were highly complex and had to be handled in a delicate way so as not to provoke another racial or religious conflict.
Mr. Sumanthiran said the three key issues involved were the handing over to civilians of the lands taken over by the military, expeditious action by the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) set up to probe what had happened to people who had disappeared and the case of so-called “political prisoners”. He was thankful that the military had handed back some 50 per cent of the land taken over from the civilians. He was also hopeful that the OMP would act fast because there were thousands of people who were still heart-broken because they did not know what had happened to their loved ones. As for political prisoners, Mr. Sumanthiran who speaks Sinhala fluently said the problem was that these suspects were being held without trial for more than ten years and he hoped the government would either produce them in courts for necessary action or release them if there was no substantial evidence.
For the first time the main Tamil political alliance TNA is supporting the national government and most analysts believe the continuation of this consensus process would not only bring sustainable economic development but also racial and religious unity in diversity.
The Election Commission has taken action regarding a complain made by the National Organizer of the JVP Parliamentarian Bimal Rathnayaka in connection with the harassment of candidates contesting the local government election in the Northern Province. According to Mr. Rathnayaka’s complaint officers of intelligence divisions visit residences of the candidates who have forwarded their nominations for the election from the North to collect information regarding them and their families.
The Chairman of the Elections Commission has written to Mr. Bimal Rathnayaka stating that he had informed the IGP and the DIGP in charge of administration and the elections section to immediately stop collecting personal information of the candidates.
January 20, 2018, 12:44 pm
The JVP says President Maithripala Sirisena should take the full responsibility for appointing a Singaporean as the Governor of the Central Bank.
Addressing a press conference held at the party headquarters yesterday, JVP MP and Chairman of the Parliamentary watchdog committee – COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) Sunil Handunnetti said the President, as the person who signed Arjuna Mahendran’s appointment letter, should take the blame for what Mahendran had done at the Central Bank.
"The President now says he opposed appointing Mahendran to the post of Central Bank Governor, having signed Mahendran’s appointment letter. The President cannot absolve himself of the blame for appointing a foreign national as the Central Bank Governor. Even the Prime Minister stated before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry that investigated the bond scams that it was the President who had appointed Mahendran to the post of Central Bank Governor."
MP Handunnetti said that according to the bond commission report, the Prime Minister giving evidence before the commission had stated that when the new government came to power in January 2015, there was a consensus within the government to appoint Mahendran to the post of governor of the Central Bank. According to the submission made by the Prime Minister, he had discussed the matter with the then Finance Minister who had agreed that Mahendran was the most suitable person for the post of Governor Central Bank. Thereafter, with the Finance Minister’s agreement, Mahendran’s name was recommended to the President for the post. On that recommendation, the President appointed Mahendran as the Governor of the Central Bank. "That was what the Prime Minister told before the Bond Commission. The bond commission has expressed their concerns over the appointment of a foreign national to the post of Governor of the Central Bank," MP Handunnetti said, adding that President Sirisena who appointed Mahendran to the top most place in the Central Bank should share the blame for what Mahendran did and did not do as the Central Bank Governor including the latter’s involvement in the bond scam.
By Gagani Weerakoon-2018-01-19
These Watchdog groups claim that the report of the Presidential Commission, that investigated the alleged Bonds scam, which was sent to Parliament on Wednesday (17), lacks certain information contained in the comprehensive report.
What was released to the public, they point out, was only the Executive Summary. The entire report comprising 20,000 pages in three volumes has yet to be sent to the Speaker, official sources said.
What the Speaker has is only Volume One, they added.
The activists are also urging President Maithripala Sirisena to appoint the second Presidential Commission immediately, which would be effective to investigate and recover the profits made by PTL from 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017 too.
President of the Voice Against Corruption (VAC) Wasantha Samarasinghe said they have doubts about recovering the losses the Government incurred as a result of the issuances of the controversial Treasury Bonds,......as the Presidential Commission was only mandated to investigate auctions that took place between February 2015 and 31 March 2016.
"The profit earned by the Perpetual Treasuries from February 2015 to March 2017 amounts to a total of Rs 18,224 million, whereas the PCoI, report, has only out down the loss to Rs 11,937 million. That is because the commission was not mandated to investigate bond auctions held after March 2016. Whatever the profit made by PTL is a loss to the Government. We have doubts that someone would be able to challenge the commission's report in Court once the Government initiate legal action against the PTL and Arjun Aloysius," he said.
Samarasinghe noted that Arjuna Mahendran functioned as the Governor of the Central Bank till July 2016 and the CBSL suspended PTL as a primary dealer only in July 2017."The profit made by PTL for the six-month period, from April to September 2016 alone, is Rs 6,813 million. There is a question whether this amount falls under the mandate of this commission or not. By March 2017 PTL has recorded a total profit of Rs 18,225 million. We urge the President to either extend this commission as the second one or appoint a new commission to recover the total amount, lost by the Government up to March 2017, from Arjun Aloysius and PTL. It should not be kept for the next government," he added. Meanwhile, Executive Director of CaFFE Keerthi Tennakoon, in a letter sent to Speaker Karu Jayasuriya yesterday, while pointing out that only a lesser portion of the Bonds Commission Report (which has three volumes) has been submitted to Parliament by the Presidential Secretariat, has urged the latter to take action to distribute the salient documents and annexure for the Parliamentarians."The MPs should have at least the CID forensic report, an annexure referred to as C-350 in the report based on which the commission has made certain recommendations, for them to be able to study and analyze before engaging in any debate," the letter stated.
By Shyamon Jayasinghe –January 18, 2018
“…..these are only some of the few seen and unseen development outcomes under the leadership of Sirisena and Wickremesinghe. Wickremesinghe’s entire focus is on economics, whereas your buddies MR and Gota, had no clue on the subject. Your favourites led one of the most corrupt and dictatorial regimes in the history of Sri Lanka. Ordinary pedestrians holding onto their ‘siri siri’ plastic shopping bags had to turn their miserable arses and hold onto the nearest wall when Gota and other VIPs used to hover about in Colombo. You want to see these guys substituting for the current yahapalanaya government? You must be crazy, man!”
Dayan Jayatilleka (DJ) hallucinates being an oracle. Like the famous oracle of Delphi in ancient Greece? People in ancient Athens used to listen intently to that oracle when he makes utterances and predictions from time to time. The oracle, then, was the signal for public belief. In Dayan’s case, despite his incurable over-assessment of himself, discerning readers are increasingly looking at the man as a fool. Not a simple, naive, fool but an intrepid one who is mindlessly writing his two cents. Every paragraph in his latest foray in Colombo Telegraph (under the caption, “Ranil the Curse and Mahindagamanaya 3 and Gota) is false, sickly and vulnerable.
Dayan Jayatilleka and Rajiva Wijesinha
One commentator tries to compare DJ with Rajiva Wijesinha. I think that is a disservice to Rajiva who is a man of class and who is utterly civil and decent-although I have disagreed with the latter, too, recently. That is a different matter. The point is, Rajiva Wijesinha is in so many ways above DJ. First, he never uses rude and impolite language when criticising those whom he disagrees with. In a comment dated 16/1/18 on one of my articles at Colombo Telegraph this man described me as a “scumbag.” Mind you, in my piece I never referred to DJ overtly or covertly since I do not treat him as a significant opinion writer anymore. DJ refers to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as “a knave.” Now, Rajiva did criticise his cousin, Ranil, with whom he is in bad terms; but he dis that at the level of a true intellectual. Nothing vulgar and nothing even derogatory. That’s what a gentleman is. In my response I did credit Rajiva for that.
Besides, Ranil Wickremesinghe (RW) is not only the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. At base, his is the leader of the largest political party in Sri Lanka. Has been Prime Minister four times. He won a Parliamentary seat this time seat gaining over five lakhs of votes in Sri Lanka’s most educated and modernised electorate. He Is the one political leader in our country today who can confidently and on par face international personages such as the British Prime Minister or the Federal German Chancellor. I cannot see any other political leader in our island today who can do that. We had persons like Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake but they are gone. I cannot see any other political leader today who has such a grasp of economic, social or political policy. Friend or foe (not the DJ foe) must admit that. When, recently, Ranil addressed the respected and learned body of lawyers here in Melbourne he gave such a brilliant and erudite speech that one of the senior political leaders commented to me, “you should be proud to have a Prime Minister like that!” The problem is that RW does not go boasting. He is to himself-considered and deliberate and often inarticulate. That is, perhaps, a fragility.
Now, I must emphasize that I am not a fan of RW. I stand always to defend those unfairly attacked, when there is nobody to do that. I write with verification and I have given the evidence in this instance, above. I don’t need to be a sycophant of any political leader, RW or any other, for the simple reason that I have absolutely nil ambitions in Sri Lanka. I met and spoke to Ranil for the very first time in my life when he came to Geelong, Melbourne. Of course, he knew about me because of my profile in the Public Service and in my role in the cultural scenario of Sri Lanka.
Now, DJ slashes Ranil for giving India a foothold in the deep South. The Rajapaksa regime had planned to give that strategic base to China. Is that any better? China has big- power ambitions and so they would have been far more dangerous. Besides, China has already been given the dominant strategic hold in Sri Lanka by the previous government that DJ wishes to get back. Due to huge debts given at commercial rates, we are already a virtual vassal state of China-unable to extricate ourselves of that embedded dependence. We failed to negotiate our way out and to our advantage over the Port City Project. China is close to being our new colonial power, if one goes by contemporary forms of colonialism. Our great neighbour was getting too nervous and had to be placated somewhat. This is geopolitical balance in foreign policy. Sri Lanka cannot frighten its neighbour. JR did that once and we got into trouble as India started training the LTTE cadres in their soil.
Besides, Sri Lanka had an unmanageable debt on the Harbour Project and there was no way of earning revenue for repaying that debt. Hence, the government hit upon the brilliant idea of selling equity on a joint basis on that harbour project. Our huge debts are now diminishing. The IMF recently commented favourable on our debt management and fiscal management, which had taken the country to bankruptcy under DJ’s favourite government.
Indeed, DJ, Ranil is a curse to you as you cannot get rid of him. In a more serious way, he is a curse to all the Rajapaksas because he is the king pin behind this government. If he falls, the government falls. So, keep trying to bring him down. That is the logic of the Opposition and that is how they politicised the Bond issue against Ranil.
See how his yahapalanaya outfit has already achieved so much. Like me to show you? Then open your eyes without reluctance or blink. Take your hatred out and try a bit of ‘upekka.’ Democracy is restored. People are seen freely protesting without being hammered by mafia and thugs with iron bars or shot by the soldiers as in Rathupaswela, when villagers protested asking for water. The evil men of murder whom your pet, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, is said to have developed as a secret force in Colombo are not to be seen. Editors of newspapers have not been murdered on the streets and they roam free while ruthlessly attacking the government with their newly-won freedom. No white vans tapping the doors of journalists in the dead of the night and taking the latter away-leaving behind whole families crying, wailing, and weeping! No add to this all, court is not conducted in Temple Trees anymore. We have an outstandingly impeccable Chief Justice. We have the Freedom of Information Act in force. We have Independent Commissions in action. Our exports have recorded an increase after so many years. Road and rail infrastructure is coming up. Colombo City will soon have a new road network. Sri Lanka is friendly with all foreign countries.
Friday, 19 January 2018
A few days after the Unity Government celebrated its third anniversary, President Maithripala Sirisena asked the Supreme Court: “Whether, in terms of provisions of the Constitution, I, as the person elected and succeeding to the office of President and having assumed such office in terms of Article 32 (1) of the Constitution on 9 January 2015, have any impediment to continue in the office of President for a period of six years from 9 January 2015, the date on which the results of my election was declared.” The Supreme Court said it is five years.
The next bombshell was on Tuesday at the Cabinet when an emotional President walked out of the Cabinet meeting after voicing disappointment over criticism levelled against him by some United National Party lawmakers.
President Maithripala Sirisena told the Cabinet on Tuesday that he was not an “ungrateful or inhuman” person who has forgotten the help he received during the presidential election. But he had to do something about the bond scam. It was too big to be ignored. The President was responding to some of the criticism levelled at him on various political stages in the run-up to the Local Government elections.
The hard truthFor President Sirisena, leading the nation through a ‘Unity Government’ is itself a challenge. Irrespective of the claim by the UNP or the JVP that it was they who made Sirisena the President, the fact was the Opposition did not have a candidate who could muster 50% of the votes needed to defeat Rajapaksa, given the power and resources the Rajapaksa family wielded.
This was the case earlier too, as they sacrificed their stake and pitted former Military Chief Fonseka to contest the former President. The outcome in the 2010 presidential election was a total disaster for the Opposition. Maithripala Sirisena on the other hand took a huge risk and with his partners (UNP, JVP, TNA and civil society) rescued Sri Lanka from a slide into increasingly nationalist authoritarianism. The incredible victory of a broad coalition representing Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims gave hope to the country that finally it could address its longstanding political challenges: remedying the 60-year failure to grant Tamils a fair share of power on the Sinhala-majority island, and restoring for all citizens the rule of law, damaged by decades of politicisation, bitter ethnic bias and impunity.
According to diplomats, the democratic benefits from the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa and the removal of his family and supporters from key Government positions is still huge.
GratefulDespite the President repeatedly saying he is not an “ungrateful or inhuman” person who has forgotten the help he received during the presidential election from the UNP, JVP, TNA and civil society, the President firstly, secondly and thirdly has to be grateful to the ordinary people of this country for electing him as the President. It is they who wanted the change and made it happen.
Therefore given that this Unity Government has less than 24 months to deliver, it is time MS and RW reconcile and bring back the people who took the risk to put this Government together to the forefront. This Government in the eyes of the public has got hijacked by people who were openly supporting the Rajapaksa re-election campaign or were watching the fun on the sidelines or living overseas, but descended very fast when Maithripala became President to take up key positions in the administration.
Media responsibilityThe Unity Government under the President and PM has achieved a lot; but a lot remains to be done. Understandably, many criticisms are being made of the Unity Government set up by the UNP and the President because they promised to run a clean administration and have fallen short. Some of them are fair and some are total distortions.
Ironically, the most vociferous are the print media and TV. They need to be grateful for the new freedom they have got. Simply lashing out at the President and the Prime Minister the key architects of the revolution of 8 January would not help their cause in the long-term. One reason for this adrenaline rush, is that the press finds, at last, some opportunity for enlarged circulation as it creates news and even creates conflict. “Controversy” is always possible and loved by press people and the media. Also, social media has been unaffected as it is free by definition.
The Prime Minister is often the main target and he is accused for all the bad things that happens in the Government. Why? Because, from the Opposition point of view he is the key to the survival of this Government. If he is out, the Government falls and President Sirisena will have an uphill task keeping a Government together. Ranil no doubt is the brain behind the Unity Government’s way forward.
Local electionsLooming large now is the local elections, originally due in 2015 but repeatedly postponed according to the JVP for fear the SLFP might trail not only the UNP, but also the Rajapaksa faction, which operates in Parliament as the “Joint Opposition”. Three provincial council polls, with the same risk for SLFP, are also scheduled in 2018.
The SLFP is a resentful junior coalition partner, whose ministers see uniting their own party as a top priority – thus making peace with Rajapaksa as the best way to regain control of government. The Rajapaksa clan would however need to overcome significant hurdles to return to power. The earliest that Parliamentary elections can be called for is 2020.
A more likely scenario is the deepening conflict in the coalition, as the SLFP bides its time and prepares to regroup for both Parliamentary and presidential elections post 2018. Meanwhile, the Rajapaksas are doing whatever they can by exciting their base, attacking constitutional reform and transitional justice as capitulation to anti-Sinhala and foreign forces. The rising COL and the bond fiasco is also helping their effort to create chaos in the rural areas and incite the unions.
FutureThe Government requires to retain the support from the three key constituencies that brought it to power: reform-minded Sinhalese, Muslims, and Tamils, while a few from these groups are likely to support the Rajapaksa-led Opposition.
Rebuilding trust in the Yahapalanaya Government requires compromise and balancing expectations and risks across a spectrum of challenges and very importantly the President and the Prime Minister accepting the fact that they need each other for this Government to succeed.
At a minimum, the President and Prime Minister need to agree on a five-point program of renewal: Set up an UNP-SLFP economic team to develop and oversee consensus policy on economic reforms and sharing short-term hardships more equitably. They need to launch a campaign for a new, more democratic, pluralist constitution, including increased devolution, and commit to achieving the two-thirds majority needed in Parliament, while building support to win a referendum.
If more time passes without prosecution of major corruption and crimes, the more people will lose faith in the President and the Prime Minister. The Government would then have lost its most powerful asset and have to face an election with nothing much to talk about other than the 19th Amendment. The country can certainly achieve a lot if the Unity Government can focus on the political and economic reform and on some of the tangible results the people want and also prevent chauvinism and extreme religious opinion taking over the national agenda. And here lies Sri Lanka’s future.
(The writer is a thought leader.)