General Election 2015: Unitary status, re-merger of EP with NP and other critical matters

Issues beyond depriving tainted candidates from entering parliament

By Shamindra Ferdinando

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Former SLN radioman, Wijitha Rohana Wijemuni is in the fray in the Colombo District at the August 17 parliamentary polls, on the Janasetha Peramuna ticket. Wijemuni contested the Oct. 2000 general election on the Sihala Urumaya ticket. Wijemuni, who had been punished by a military court for swinging his rifle at the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in July, 1987, polled the third highest number of preferences received by the Sihala Urumaya in Colombo. Champika Ranawaka topped the Sihala Urumaya list in Colombo. Unfortunately, the Sihala Urumaya split over the appointment of a sole National List nominee to parliament. Sihala Urumaya President and leading lawyer, S.L. Gunasekera quit the party over him being deprived of the National List slot in favour of Tilak Karunaratne, the General Secretary of the Party.

Fifteen years later, Wijemuni is seeking political recognition, primarily on the basis of his unprecedented attack on Gandhi. Wijemuni placed advertisements in national newspapers reminding the electorate of the incident at the President’s House. Champika Ranawaka is in the fray in Colombo on the UNP ticket.

Wijemuni told this writer that he couldn’t bear the reluctance of the major parties to represent the interests of the majority community for fear of losing the minority support. The armed forces’ triumph over the separatist terrorist movement shouldn’t be squandered for petty political gain. The Janasetha Peramuna may not even secure enough votes, at least to obtain a solitary National List slot, like the Sihala Urumaya, but Wijemuni’s concerns couldn’t be ignored. Wijemuni asserted that the forthcoming poll had been depicted as a contest between good and evil meant to choose worthy candidates for the next parliament.

With the parliamentary election less than a week away, it would be pertinent to discuss issues relating to the August 17 polls.

* Unitary status of Sri Lanka’s Constitution should be protected. Unitary status shouldn’t be compromised, under any circumstances, while ensuring maximum possible devolution to the provinces. The proposed brand new Constitution should retain the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution introduced by the then JRJ government.

* National security, particularly the deployment of armed forces in the Northern and Eastern Provinces to meet any eventuality. Positioning of troops and assets shouldn’t be influenced by political considerations or external factors.

* Foreign policy. Sri Lanka shouldn’t forget those countries which steadfastly supported her war on terrorism as well as at various international form, particularly the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Any bid to enhance relations with Western powers, India, Tamil Diaspora and the LTTE rump shouldn’t be at the expense of those who had backed the successful military campaign.

* Consolidating post-war national economy should be high on the priority list of the next government. In spite of the conclusion of the war, in May 2009, the country is still struggling on the economic front, with both the SLFP and the UNP – led coalitions making a plethora of untenable promises meant to deceive the electorate.

* Swift implementation of far reaching reforms, recommended by the W.D. Lakshman Tax Commission, to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in 2010. The former President couldn’t absolve himself of his unpardonable failure to implement the Tax Commission’s recommendations. Those who had been around him never bothered to push him to implement proposals. Had the former SLFP leader, who also held the finance portfolio, adopted Prof. Lakshman’s recommendations, he could have transformed the country before seeking a third presidential term. The bottom line is that the national economy would have been in a much better shape if Prof. Lakshman’s proposals received approval. At a recent forum, held to discuss manifestos of the UPFA and the UNP, Brigadier Ranjan de Silva warned that Sri Lanka could end up like Greece unless stringent financial policy was adopted.

* Previous government lacked the foresight to meet counter malicious propaganda campaign paving the way for an external investigation into accountability issues on the basis of the US – moved resolution, at the March, 2014, sessions of the UNHRC. The victor, at the August 17 poll, will face the daunting task of responding to a report prepared by a team, headed by Ms Sandra Beidas, under the auspices of three international experts, namely former Finnish President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Martti Ahtisaari, former Governor-General and High Court judge of New Zealand, Silvia Cartwright, and former President of Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission, Asma Jahangir. The previous government hired costly foreign PR firms to improve Sri Lanka’s image, instead of countering false propaganda. The previous government didn’t even realize that the case against the country had been based on claims made by some 2,300 persons whose statements cannot be verified, until 2031.

* The next government should also examine the post-war role of the LTTE. With a group of ex-LTTE cadres joining the fray, the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) status is in question. They call themselves Crusaders for Democracy. The former LTTE personnel submitted nomination lists as independent groups for the Jaffna and Vanni electoral districts. ‘Puli Muga Silanthi’, a poisonous spider, is their election symbol. The Tamil electorate face difficult task in choosing those who had really fought for the LTTE, at the risk of their lives, and Prabhakaran’s long time proxies. Those who had appreciated the LTTE’s struggle, I’m sure, are flabbergasted by the TNA’s refusal to accommodate ex-LTTE cadres, and major Tamil Diaspora groups remaining silent on this issue. The LTTE outfit can cause debilitating damage to the TNA’s project. In case, the LTTE group made inroads into the TNA vote bank, at the forthcoming election, it can make the ground situation difficult for the TNA. Way back, in Dec. 1989, Prabhakaran registered the People’s Front of Liberation Tigers (PFLT) as a political party with the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s blessings though it never had an opportunity to contest an election, due to the LTTE resuming hostilities, in June, 1990.

With the entry of Crusaders for Democracy into the political mainstream the Tamil speaking voters will have an opportunity to exercise their franchise for those who fought for a separate homeland. The fate of the LTTE group can be interpreted in many ways. The formation of Crusaders for Democracy is a significant victory for former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The eradication of the LTTE’s conventional military capability, in May, 2009, led to the establishment of the first Northern Provincial Council, in September, 2013. Less than two years later, ex-LTTEers, including a member of the elite bodyguard of Prabhakaran, are in the fray.

* India’s proposal for a road link, between South India and northern Sri Lanka, is another contentious issue. In fact, the India-Sri Lanka road link, some believe, is even worse than the proposed CEPA (Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement). Major political parties should explain their position on both CEPA and the road link ahead of the election. Union Minister for road transport and highways, Nitin Gadkari, in June, this year, revealed India exploring the possibility of establishing a road link. The announcement was made in the wake of the inauguration of the Agartala-Dhaka bus service, and signing of the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal motor vehicle agreement

The road connectivity, built across Palk Strait, could possibly be a combination of a sea-bridge and underwater tunnel. The underwater tunnel will also allow movement of ships through it.

Gadkari is on record as having said that the project would cost Rs 23,000 crore and that a proposal has already been submitted to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to conduct a pre-feasibility study.

Gadkari’s comments were subsequently confirmed by the Union Minister of State for Road Transport, Highways and Shipping, Pon Radhakrishna.

Interestingly, New Delhi is opposed to CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor), a mega $ 46 bn project.

* Sri Lanka will have to decide on its policy, vis a vis China. The caretaker government recently launched a major Chinese – funded Colombo-Kandy highway project, though the $1.4 bn Colombo Port City project remains on hold. The government, as well as the main Opposition, remain silent over former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s explosive revelation that India demanded an end to the Port City Project, claiming it undermined India’s security interests.

The former Defence Secretary told a seminar, organized in support of the UPFA parliamentary polls campaign, at the National Library, that the request to stop the project was made to him personally by India’s National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval.

“His primary request was to stop the Colombo Port City project. The reason he gave was that the Port City was a threat to the security of India. I don’t know if the present government is facing such demands,” the war veteran said.

“I assured the Indian National Security Advisor that the project posed no threat to India.”

The mega project was halted immediately after Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat at the January presidential poll.

The flagship Chinese project is in limbo.

* The TNA call for re-merger of the Eastern Province with the Northern Province is a matter of serious concern. Major political parties should state their position on the TNA’s stand. With ex-LTTE personnel, entering the fray, the TNA is likely to further harden its position, in accordance with its overall strategy. The TNA included its call for re-merger of the two provinces in its manifesto for the forthcoming polls. The TNA move should be examined in the backdrop of the Supreme Court, in Oct. 2006, ruling the merger of the two provinces, in accordance with the Indo-Lanka Accord of July, 1987, invalid.

* The next government will have to decide on a tangible course of action to deal with the Tamil Diaspora, particularly the influential Global Tamil Forum (GTF). Sri Lanka cannot afford to abandon talks, initiated by the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration, with the GTF, to explore ways and means of reaching consensus on national reconciliation.

* Future of Access and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) with the US. Former Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, signed the ACSA, on behalf of President Rajapaksa’s government, to pave the way for closer cooperation between the US and the Sri Lanka armed forces. In line with the agreement, US military can use Sri Lankan territory for transfer of men and material.

* Implementation of the capital punishment. Democratic Party (DP) leader, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, declared, during the campaign, that capital punishment would be implemented in the case of those found guilty of rape and murder of women. Major political parties should state their stand on resumption of judicial executions.

* Finally, the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution, perhaps one of the most important matters which had to be addressed by the new government. Crossovers should be constitutionally prohibited to ensure that politicians do not switch sides at the expense of political parties which fielded them or nominated on the National List.

Apropos General Election 2015: ‘Switching allegiance easy’ in Midweek last week, UPFA National List nominee, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, has sent the following response: “I saw in Shamindra Ferdinando’s article the statement ‘Former Chief Justice, Sarath Nanda Silva, Sri Lanka’s former envoy in Geneva, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleke, as well as former UPFA National List MP Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, who caused heavy damage to the Rajapaksas, in the run-up to the presidential election, are spearheading Mahinda Rajapaksa’s re-election bid as the Prime Minister.’

“While I am involved actively in the election campaign of the UPFA, my small contribution does not merit being described as ‘spearheading’. More seriously, the reference occurs in an article entitled ‘Switching allegiance easy…’ which suggests that I am moving up and down between camps.

“This is misleading. I did not support Mahinda Rajapaksa, in his early bid for re-election, but this was for reasons I had made clear in a letter I sent him in October last year. The last para of that letter stated ‘It would be tragic if the tremendous achievement of 2009 were to be squandered…’

“I have no regrets about supporting President Sirisena in January, because I believe he was also sincere about the need for reform. However, it rapidly became clear that the current government was not concerned about reform, and is quite prepared to squander the achievements of 2009.

“I believe President Sirisena, too, has realized this, and is increasingly worried about shady dealings by some elements in the government. That seems to me a principle reason for his decision to ensure that his party, the SLFP, remains strong, which entailed not only giving former President Rajapaksa nomination, but having him lead the campaign. This was the only rational response to the determination of the current leadership of the UNP to weaken the SLFP.

“At its simplest, there was no effort to build up consensus for Good Governance. The Manifesto pledged

Monday January 12

In order to strengthen democracy, a National Advisory Council will be set up inclusive of representatives of parties, represented in Parliament, as well as Civil Society organizations.

“But the SLFP Parliamentary Group was not represented on the National Advisory Council.

“Then the leadership was not consulted when members of the party were put into the Cabinet. Instead of including senior members of the SLFP, Ranil and Chandrika selected individuals with few claims to leadership in the party. Given their own insecurities, they chose only those they thought they could control.

“Sadly too, the President is not given full credit for completely changing the image of the state. Given Ranil Wickremesinghe’s previous track record, and also his institution of what seems private police working directly to him, there would have been grave worries about continuing authoritarianism had it not been for the personality and the patent sincerity of the President.

“The President’s determination that the SLFP not be destroyed if we are to continue as a functioning democracy, is understandable. He was right to be wary of what has been described as ‘Wickremasinghe’s strategy of splitting the SLFP into two camps’. So his decision to protect the SLFP was also a decision to ‘protect democracy and good governance in Sri Lanka’. That is why I stand foursquare behind his strategy of having a united SLFP/ UPFA contest this election.”

To be continued on 19