What Ban Ki-moon told Maithri…

un 1The diplomatic circles in Colombo were buzzing last week as to why the United Nations Secretary General Ban-Ki-moon, suddenly telephoned President Maithripala Sirisena.

Though Ban Ki-moon had reportedly praised Maithri’s Government over the phone, the UN Chief’s main idea has been to confirm whether an election would be held before the UNHRC sessions in September. It was reported in the media that Maithri had told the UN Chief that he would attend the next UNHRC sessions with the representatives of a new government. That indicated that Maithri and Ban Ki-moon had discussed the issue of a general election.

Earlier, United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, during his visit to Colombo stressed the need to hold a general election before the next UNHRC sessions. Prior to his departure Kerry making an indirect reference to a possible general election recalled the Colombo promise in the following manner:

“We simply offer our support to help you in any way that we can on this effort of capacity building and the challenge of restoring the tradition that you have always had with respect to the fullness of your democracy. We want to help support you in the upcoming electoral processes. Timely elections will be yet another sign of the government following through on its commitments.”
A few weeks ago during a Cabinet meeting, Foreign Affairs Minister, Mangala Samaraweera, and Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratna clashed over the issue of an early general election. Mangala stated to the Cabinet that Kerry and the International Community have stressed the need to hold a general election before the UNHRC September sessions. Rajitha retorted that a decision on holding a general election was Maithripala’s business and not a business of Kerry.
Interests of UNP
Maithri confidantes seem to be of the opinion that Kerry and Ban Ki-moon are pressurizing Maithri to hold an election based on the interests of the UNP. If that is true, Kerry and Ban Ki-moon are in a difficult situation to roll up the war crimes allegations thrown at Sri Lanka during the previous Rajapaksa administration. Kerry worked hard to prevent further action against Sri Lanka at the last UNHRC sessions in March this year. He managed to put off the war crimes report against Sri Lanka till September.

The move was postponed upon a pledge that Sri Lanka will implement a domestic mechanism to probe alleged war crimes before September. Though Maithri told media heads at a meeting that such a mechanism would be put in place shortly, it is yet to become a reality. Maithri may have indicated that he would attend the September sessions with the belief that he would be able to further prevent the report against his country being tabled. On the contrary, UNHRC sources say that even John Kerry will not be able to stop the tabling of that report in September.
The UNHRC report on war crimes is to be handed over to Colombo in August. There is also a fear that it would leak even before that deadline through the international media. When the report is made public pro-Mahinda faction and patriots may play the ‘patriotic card’ to reverse the victory of Maithri at the presidential election, suspects the international media. If that report charges the top military officials during the war period, Maithri’s Government may be at crossroads in the midst of a general election.

If Maithri holds an early election and forms a stable government, he could draw up plans to face such challenges. Though Maithri has an idea to set up a domestic mechanism before September and if that is done before the conduct of a general election, the pro-Mahinda faction would try to capitalize on such a move. Mahinda loyalists will also try to interpret that Maithri was trying to persecute gallant war heroes.
Maithri buys time to hold a general election to stabilize himself in the SLFP and weaken the Mahinda loyalists. But if the war crimes issue becomes the main issue before a general election, the benefit of that situation would be grabbed by Mahinda loyalists. If that happens, Maithri will weaken not only within his political party but at national level.

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