Tuesday, 31 March 2020

CJ 43 flays judiciary in her explosive memoirs



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Actor-turned-politician, former lawmaker Ranjan Ramanayake, received an opportunity to contest the 2020 parliamentary election. UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa accommodated Ramanayake on the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) Gampaha District list (symbol telephone) despite him facing a heap of litigation, especially those pertaining to serious charges of interfering with the judiciary. Having barred Ramanayake from leaving the country, the UNPer was granted bail by the Nugegoda Magistrate’s Court on Feb 26, 2020. Often shooting his mouth, with no fear of any consequences or treading where angels would fear to tread, Ramanayake was arrested on January 14, 2020 and remanded over charges of exerting influence on judges.

Ramanayake’s controversial interventions came to light following the leaking of over a dozen audio and video clips. The releasing of audio/video recordings exposed several judges, as well as Sri Lanka’s 46th Solicitor General, Dilrukshi Dias Wickramasinghe, PC, who previously functioned as the Director General of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC). At the time the audio clip featuring Ramanayake and Wickramasinghe was released, through social media, the latter was interdicted over her previous telephone conversation with Avant Garde Chairman, retired Major Nissanka Senadhipathi, secretly taped without her knowledge and leaked by the aggrieved ex-army commando. The Public Service Commission (PSC) interdicted her, in Sept 2019.

The somewhat mysterious leakage of Ramanayake’s audio and video clips (though he soon owned up to them) took place as the UNPer was facing contempt charges over criticism of the judiciary.

In spite of Ramanayake and fellow UNP lawmaker, Hirunika Premachandra, humiliating Sajith Premadasa and his wife, Jalani, through such private discussions (again secretly taped by the celluloid hero), the SJB leader obviously had no qualms in fielding both from the Colombo District. For Sajith Premadasa, making a determined bid to take over the UNP leadership, fielding candidates hopefully capable of winning the parliamentary poll, was the deciding factor.

Pradeepa Kudagamage last October presented the writer with the Sinhala version of ‘Hold Me in Contempt’, an explosive memoirs of CJ 43 Dr. Shirani A. Bandaranayake. Due to Covid-19 forcing temporary suspension of the printing of newspapers, the writer was able to peruse Uththarithara: Dhoshabiyogaye Athulanthaya dedicated to unforgettable memory of Dr. Bandaranayake’s late parents, Flora and Wilson.

A book launch ahead of 2019 prez poll

The 272-page memoir, a Sarasavi publication, launched in late September, ahead of the November 2019 presidential election, depicted the sorry state of affairs or disgraceful deterioration of the executive, legislature and the judiciary in full view of the public as never before. Dr. Bandaranayake, had, in no uncertain terms, whipped the highest level of the judiciary, unmercifully. Perhaps, one of the most distressing revelations made by CJ 43 is that her colleagues (judges of the Supreme Court) declining her plea to take on the then government’s challenge. Having invited the majority of 10 Supreme Court judges, Dr. Bandaranayake twice requested them not to accept anyone appointed in her place under any circumstances. Supreme Court judges spurned her request. She reveals that her colleagues didn’t even bother to respond to her when the request was made on the second occasion. However, the Supreme Court judge who testified against her hadn’t been among those who were invited by CJ 43 to discuss the developments. Dr. Bandaranayake questioned the integrity of her colleagues. (Pages 220 and 221).

Had Ramanayake read CJ 43’s memoirs he could have certainly used the knowledge to his advantage. It would be interesting to know whether Sinhala and English versions of the explosive memoir were available at the parliament library. There had never been an instance of a judge of the Supreme Court, let alone a CJ, having discussed the judiciary so candidly, though albeit from entirely her angle. CJ 43 asserts how betrayers in the judiciary and their followers deprived the judiciary of the independence it could have achieved if the members took a righteous stand. Dr. Bandaranayake asserted that like in other institutions, the judiciary, too, had betrayers. The account of the unexpected suspension of a Colombo-based judge, on Sept. 11, 2012, by a three-member Judicial Service Commission (JSC), headed by CJ 43, is certainly a juicy part in her story. JSC consisting of CJ and two other judges of the Supreme Court acted on accusations made by members of the judiciary and a senior member of a major law firm. Accusations included failure on the part of the judge concerned to settle debts amounting to Rs 20 mn (pages 76 and 77).

Actually, overall accusations therein must have compelled the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) to set up a committee to explore ways and means of taking tangible remedial measures. CJ 43’s memoir must have been mandatory reading for members of the BASL. She launched her memoirs a few months before Ramanayake’s controversy. Ramanayake’s audio/video clips and the subsequent statement in parliament caused media frenzy with the focus on the UNPer’s racy conversations with model Piyumi Hansamali. Unfortunately, CJ 43’s startling revelations didn’t receive the much needed coverage, possibly due to the perception her revelations are the result of ‘thieves falling out’.

An alleged attempt on CJ 43’s life

CJ 43 alleged an attempt to drive her car off the Kandy-Colombo road, soon after she passed Kadugannawa, on the night of Dec 08, 2012. Dr. Bandaranayake had been returning to Colombo with her husband Pradeep and son when the alleged bid was made. Having quite confidently asserted that an attempt was made on her life, Dr. Bandaranayake declared that it was her fate to be impeached in January 2013 than dying in Dec 2012. Did CJ 43 ever lodge a complaint with law enforcement authorities? However, the head of the judiciary had absolutely no faith in the police.

She had no qualms in saying so. CJ 43 cited quite a number of examples to paint an extremely negative picture of the police. Dr. Bandaranayake highlighted the failure on the part of the police to arrest those responsible for the attack on Manjula Tillekeratne, Secretary of the Judicial Service Commission, on the morning of Oct 7, 2012, near S. Thomas College, Mount Lavinia (page 91). The author examined the incident against the backdrop of her proposal to name Tillekeratne as the Acting Secretary of the JSC immediately after receiving the appointment on the morning of May 19, 2011 at Janadhipathi Mandiraya. Dr. Bandaranayake skillfully dealt with her meeting with the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The author questioned the presence of a person among the President’s entourage who may have had a hand in her troubles, finally leading to her impeachment in 2012-2013 (page 29). Why did CJ 43 refrain from naming the person? Claiming that the person in question desperately tried to be friendly with her and was in touch with several judges, Dr. Bandaranayake gave a clue to identify him. The dubious character had been present on more than 11 occasions, either at Temple Trees or Janadhipathi Mandiraya, when Dr. Bandaranayake took oaths as the Acting CJ, between 2004 and 2011, and he was present at the May 19, 2012 oaths taking ceremony. Certainly, an interesting observation on the part of Dr. Bandaranayake, who, by instinct, suspected the role played by the unnamed person. At the end, Tillekeratne didn’t receive the post. Instead, the then senior most judicial officer there Sudath Gopallawa received the appointment. She described the apparent defusing of tensions as the JSC overcoming a hurdle.

Dr. Bandaranayake made another startling reference as regards the person who had been with President Rajapaksa when she received the appointment as the CJ on May 19, 2011. CJ 43 revealed the possible connection that person had with some shocking information/claim which couldn’t be verified under any circumstances for want of a written complaint. CJ 43 obviously suppressed that particular episode for reasons best known to her (pages 33 and 34). It would be pertinent to mention that the reference to unidentified person was made against the backdrop of CJ 43 receiving complaints that a person identifying himself as the Secretary to the JSC intervening in court cases. The author didn’t make it clear whether the person, at Janadhipathi Mandiraya, when she took oaths as the CJ, and the one interfered in court cases, is the same. Dr. Bandaranayake should have avoided ambiguity there.

A controversial parliamentary process…

Perhaps, one of the most thought-provoking sections dealt with those lawmakers representing the then UPFA (United People’s Freedom Alliance), who created an environment required to impeach CJ 43 at the behest of their political masters.

CJ 43 was accused of altogether 14 charges, including financial impropriety and interfering in legal cases, all of which she has denied.

Dr. Bandaranayake found fault with Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa for including Ministers Dr. Rajitha Senaratne and Rishad Bathiudeen in the 11-member Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) that inquired into allegations. The author quite rightly questioned their inclusion against the backdrop of a three-member bench, headed by her, dismissing a fundamental rights petition filed by Dr. Senaratne’s wife and high profile clash between Bathiudeen and the judiciary over attack on the Mannar Magistrate court on the morning of July 18, 2012 and threats directed at the Mannar Magistrate Anthony Pillai Judson (pages 55, 56, 69, 70).

The ex-CJ lamented the failure on the part of the then government to take tangible measures against Bathiudeen in spite of Mannar Magistrate Judson reiterating that he received threatening calls on July 17 and July 18, 2012. Judson alleged Bathiudeen intervened on behalf of thugs, who destroyed a fishing settlement at Madalwadiya on July 13, 2012. However, the Minister’s brother claimed he used his brother’s hand phone to contact Mannar Magistrate though he denied ever threatening him. CJ 43 didn’t forget to include swift intervention made by the Mannar-based military when Magistrate Judson called for their assistance to save the Mannar Magistrate court from those rampaging mobs at Bathiudeens’ command. The Mannar incident can be reexamined against the backdrop of Ranjan Ramanayake phoning judges.

Today, both Dr. Senaratne and Bathiudeen are with Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) led by UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa. They switched allegiance to UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in the run-up to January 2015 presidential election. Having served the Maithri-Ranil yahapalana administration, they recently signed nominations to contest, 2020 parliamentary poll, under Sajith Premadasa’s leadership.

Exploitation of political power

The author meticulously explained the circumstances under which the PSC exploited overwhelming political power enjoyed by the Rajapaksa administration, to its advantage, to achieve its primary objective - get rid of CJ 43 for not toeing the line. The author revealed the then Justice Minister’s last ditch attempt on Oct 30, 2012 to arrange a meeting between CJ 43 and President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Dr. Bandaranayake, however, refrained from naming SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem as the one sent by the President to invite her. The meeting was sought the day before the SC sent its interpretation as regards Divineguma Bill to President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa. The impeached CJ asserts that her refusal to meet President Rajapaksa shocked and frightened Hakeem. Hakeem, too, having served the Rajapaksa cabinet for many years, switched allegiance to UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in the run-up to the January 2915 presidential election. Like his cabinet colleagues, Dr. Senaratne and Bathiudeen, Hakeem, too, joined Sajith Premadasa’s SJB. Isn’t it really interesting?

The author used two articles written by Mandana Ismail in the now defunct The Sunday Leader in Feb 2012 and Tisaranee Gunasekera in Sri Lanka Brief on January 25, 2013, to explain how she earned the wrath of the then administration. CJ 43 justified the writers’ assertion that the government pounced on her over the Supreme Court interpretation of Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Bill not Divineguma Bill as widely alleged. Dr. Bandaranayake quoted Thisarani Gunasekera as having stated that three persons, namely Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake, then North Central Province Chief Minister the late Berty Premalal Dissanayake and then Eastern Province Chief Minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pilleyan lost their positions within 14 months. Pilleyan, a senior LTTE cadre and an associate of Karuna, cooperated with the military during Eelam War IV (2006-2009).

Dr. Bandaranayake also blamed her woes on politically sensitive fundamental rights case filed by the Lanka Guru Sevaka Sangamaya together with 16 students who sat for the August 2011 GCE Advanced Level examination. The case that had been filed on Feb 10, 2012 according to the powers that be required a political settlement not a proper court ruling, CJ 43 asserted, having explained the unchallenged political power enjoyed by the Rajapaksas. She blames threats to her family due to her decision to hear the case regardless of the consequences.

Pradeep’s dilemma

The impeached CJ dealt with her husband Pradeep’s predicament beginning with receiving a telephone call from the CIABOC in August 2012 regarding an investigation into his conduct as the non-executive director of the National Savings Bank (NSB) in the move to acquire The Finance shares under controversial circumstances. Pradeep’s episode is one of the most exciting in CJ’s 43 explosive memoirs. Perhaps CJ’s husband shouldn’t have accepted that government offered position in the first place - a position he quit in May 2012 amidst simmering controversy. Pradeep was eventually found guilty by courts during the last UNP regime. The chapter that dealt with Pradeep is one of the most interesting particularly due to the speed in which the powers that be moved against him. She expressed disbelief the way CIABOC inquired into the accusations directed against her husband. Having recorded Pradeep’s statement in August 2012, the CIABOC moved court against him in Sept 2012. Interestingly, CJ 43 hadn’t been aware of this until she heard the investigation officer appeared in court in January 2018. The court had been moved within 72 hours after the investigation officer submitted his report. It was also pointed out how those responsible side-stepped the Legal Section of the CIABIC when initiating the court process (pages 91 to93).

Dr. Bandaranayake discussed how her stand adversely affected her husband and nearly 22-year-old son with the latter too coming under surveillance. At the time, her son had been working at an office, situated at Union Place, feared for his life and the family had been convinced that there was no purpose in seeking police protection. CJ 43 recalled how she leant to drive with the help of her father Wilson when the family was based in the North Central Province decades ago. She had been 18 years at that time and really loved speeding and had the habit of looking at the side mirrors and the car mirror, hence she quickly recognizing she was being followed. She had been under constant surveillance leading up to the initiation of the parliamentary process to sack her. The alleged attempt to drive the vehicle carrying CJ 43, her husband Pradeepa and son Shaveen on their way to Colombo, off the Kandy-Colombo road at Kadugannawa, should have been inquired, properly. (pages 93-97)

Although this column is carried on Wednesday due to unprecedented disruption caused by the monstrous coronavirus, it may not be possible to carry it next Wednesday April 08. Covid-19 delivered a deadly blow to political projects of all in the run up to 2020 parliamentary election. With Covid-19 forcing the Election Commission to put off the parliamentary poll scheduled for April 25, political parties will have to rethink their strategies. The voter-turnout at the next parliamentary election is likely to be low with the entire country in an unprecedented depressing mode.

Monday, 23 March 2020

SLPP project derailed by Covid-19 but a divided UNP won’t benefit



March 17, Presidential Secretariat: Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa requesting President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to evacuate Sri Lankan pilgrims stranded in India.(pic courtesy PMD)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

 Coronavirus aka Covid-19 has delivered a deadly blow to the high profile Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna’s (SLPP) bid to secure a parliamentary majority required to repeal the controversial 19th Amendment or bring in far reaching amendments to it. Throughout the 2019 presidential campaign and after, the SLPP, and those aligned with it, repeatedly vowed to either do away or amend the 19th Amendment.

The SLPP needs a staggering two-thirds majority, at the next parliamentary poll, to achieve its primary objective.

The UNP enacted the 19th Amendment, with the overwhelming backing of the SLFP, in early 2015. Addressing constitutional problems caused by the 19th Amendment had been the SLPP’s top priority though its members voted for it at the behest of the then President Maithripala Sirisena. But, the postponement of the parliamentary election appeared to have caused quite a setback.

Election Commission (EC) Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya, on Thursday, March 19, blamed Covid-19 for indefinite postponement of the parliamentary election, originally scheduled for April 25th.

An unprecedented EC decision

Deshapriya announced the postponement on March 19 soon after the 90-minute period allocated for objections in respect of nominations lapsed. The voter turnout at the next parliamentary election, on a new date, can take quite a hard hit due to depressed public mood. Major political parties, the EC, as well as those interested in free and fair elections, will have to undertake a major project to encourage the public to vote. Political parties seemed to be unaware of the public mood.

The EC, on March 16, reached consensus on the postponement in case of deterioration of the Covid-19 situation though a decision was made not to reveal the move until the finalization of nominations, three days later. EC member, President’s Counsel Nalin Abeysekera, hadn’t been present at the meeting though he previously supported a call to put off the poll.

EC members, Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole and President’s Counsel Nalin Abeysekera, and the top election staff, in charge of the provinces, demanded the postponement whereas the EC Chairman sought to delay a decision. However, finally the March 16 meeting paved the way for a consensus on postponement. The staff asserted that the current situation made it impossible to have the parliamentary election, as scheduled, due to severe disruptions. The staff pointed out that those public servants and the military couldn’t perform the roles expected of them due to the Covid-19 crisis.

The staff, in no uncertain terms said that as pointed out at the previous meeting with them on March 11, the EC couldn’t go ahead with the election. They requested the EC to warn President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and to seek a later date for the polls. The staff queried as to why the EC Chairman and his two co-members, Nalin Abeysekere and Ratnajeevan Hoole, took opposing views. Hoole and Abeysekera also agreed with the staff that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should be immediately briefed of the ground situation. The Chairman, having strongly disagreed, subsequently agreed to bring the situation to the notice of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Hence, the President was informed that the parliamentary poll couldn’t be held on April 25, as previously planned, though the EC lacked the authority to put off nominations. Although the President could have exercised the power to rescind his own gazette announcement to halt the electoral process, he declined to do so, finally leading to consensus of unprecedented strategy. The EC decided to accept nominations, as announced, and then gazette the names of candidates and polling booths, as required in terms of Section 24(1) of the Parliamentary Elections Act of 1981. Once this was done, the EC received the authority to postpone polling, under Section 24(3) of the Parliamentary Elections Act of 1981, which provided for postponement of polls "due to any emergency or unforeseen circumstances" in any district, but can be used to postpone polling in all districts. The new poll date has to be "not earlier than the fourteenth day" after the postponement order. To do this postponement, nominations have to close to know who the candidates are to be able to publish the gazette under section 24(1).

A jittery administration

Since the postponement of the poll, a jittery government was compelled to declare curfew from Friday March 20, 6 pm to Monday March 23, 6 am. The announcement was made Friday morning. On Saturday, March 21, the government extended the curfew in the districts of Colombo, Gampaha and Puttalam, till Tuesday, March 24, 6 am. In the three districts, where the curfew was extended, it was to be re-imposed at 2 pm, on the same day. Subsequently, the entire Northern Province, comprising five administrative districts, too, was placed under curfew, till March 24, 6 am. Army Commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva declared that the North was placed under extended curfew as a Sri Lankan pastor, from Switzerland, who conducted a special service at, Ariyalai, in the Jaffna peninsula, tested positive for Covid-19. The pastor had been tested positive, after he returned to Switerland. The rapidly changing Covid-19 situation meant the original SLPP operation wouldn’t be possible now. In addition to the change in the date, the SLPP should now take the post-corona public mood into consideration.

The high profile SLPP political project has suffered a debilitating setback, regardless of what its leadership may say. In the run-up to the commencement of the week-long nominations period, on March 12, the SLPP spokesmen insisted that the situation was under control. They remained confident until the very end. However, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa acknowledged, on March 17 morning, the EC could take a decision on parliamentary election, after the acceptance of nominations.

The Island learns that the EC informed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of its March 16 decision before the President addressed members of those assigned to tackle Covid-19.

The SLPP strongly believed that it could exploit the overwhelming victory achieved by Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Nov 2019 presidential poll to secure a runaway victory. With the UNP in disarray, a very comfortable SLPP victory seemed a certainty. SLPP bosses were so sure; they disregarded a pre-presidential poll agreement to contest the general election, under a common symbol. The SLFP, in spite of being humiliated, had no option but to contest under the SLPP’s flower bud symbol.

Paying huge price for negligence

The incumbent government cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for the delay in taking sufficient precautions. Sri Lanka detected its first corona affected person, a 40-year-old Chinese woman tourist, on January 25. The detection was made at the BIA as she was leaving the country having arrived on January 19, 2020. The Chinese coronavirus patient, who had received treatment at the Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH), Angoda, was discharged on Wednesday, February 19, after being declared cured. The Chinese, who had arrived from the badly affected Hubei province, was tested positive on January 26. In the absence of proper understanding of the threat posed by Covid-19, the government unnecessarily highlighted the Chinese woman leaving IDH. Health Minister Pavitra Wanniarachchi captured both print and electronic media attention by hugging the Chinese woman.

The GMOA repeatedly alleged that the government ignored its initial warnings to take immediate precautions. Hell-bent on somehow having parliamentary election, as scheduled, the SLPP went ahead with its plans. As a political party, it cannot be faulted for seeking political advantage due to the unprecedented split in the UNP, with Sajith Premadasa-led rebel group taking the upper hand. Most members of the ex-parliamentary group switched their allegiance to Premadasa. Finalization of nominations ensured that at whatever time the parliamentary election took place, the split in the UNP is permanent with Premadasa’s lot contesting under the ‘telephone’ symbol, whereas Ranil Wickremesinghe’s loyalists’ were using the ‘elephant’ symbol.

Focus on SLPP strategy

Onetime External Affairs Minister and SLPP, Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris, recently discussed the formation of the party and its objectives. Among those present, on the occasion, were Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and SLPP strategist Basil Rajapaksa. Amidst severe warnings over the Covid-19 threat, Prof. Peiris, on Thursday (March 12), said that a magnificent victory achieved by wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the 2019 presidential election remained incomplete until the parliamentary power was secured by the SLPP.

Prof. Peiris said so addressing a book launch organized by Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader and former lawmaker, Udaya Gammanpila, at the Sri Sambuddha Jayanthi Mandiraya, Thunmulla.

Pointing out that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa hadn’t been able to proceed as desired, Prof. Peiris said that parliamentary power was nothing but a prerequisite before a proper action plan could be implemented.

The SLPP Chairman recalled how the UNP-led Opposition prevented the UPFA from receiving parliamentary endorsement for a new Vote-on-Account.

At the time of the dissolution of parliament, on March 02, the UPFA had the support of 89 lawmakers.

At the onset of his speech, Prof. Peiris compared the circumstances leading to the formation of the SLFP, in the 1950s, and the SLPP, six and half decades later. The SLFP and the SLPP came into being due to the failure on the part of major political parties to represent the interest of various groups.

The SLPP emerged, in 2016, at the expense of the SLFP, the gathering was told. Prof. Peiris examined the emergence of the SLFP and the SLPP at the expense of the UNP and the SLFP, respectively.

Prof. Peiris said that just two days after Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat, at the January 08, 2015, presidential election, the then MP Udaya Gammanpila urged supporters not to lose heart. Prof. Peiris quoted Gammanpila as having appealed to them to retain their spirit and the future would be theirs.

Prof. Peiris underscored the importance of the events leading to the formation of the SLPP in late 2016, following the UPFA defeat at the last parliamentary election in August 2015.

Prof. Peiris recalled how Gammanpila on January 13, 2015 declared Mahinda Rajapaksa as their next prime ministerial candidate, and Gamini Lokuge meeting the PHU leader on the following day to pledge his support to a campaign meant to bring Mahinda Rajapaksa back. The formation of the Joint Opposition took place in the wake of Udaya Gammanpila, Wimal Weerawansa and Vasudeva Nanayakkara meeting MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardena at the latter’s residence on January 17, 2015, Prof. Peiris said.

In the wake of the JO’s formation, the outfit organized a major rally at Nugegoda on Feb 18, 2015, Prof. Peiris said, declaring that they were able to challenge the government within weeks after the Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat.

Prof. Peiris pointed out that though the general belief was that a new government couldn’t be challenged in its first year, the JO took on the new administration within weeks after the presidential poll. Prof. Peiris said that the Nugegoda rally was followed by public meetings in Kandy, Kurunegala, Ratnapura, Anuradhapura, Galle and Matara where the operation gathered momentum.

The outcome of the August 2015 general election prompted the leadership to explore ways and means of addressing the grievances of the electorate, Prof. Peiris said. "We handed over our application to the Election Commission on Oct 21, 2016, received the EC’s recognition on Oct 28, 2016, and the SLPP came into being on Nov 01, 2016," Prof. Peiris said, pointing out how the new party sent shock waves through the established political parties at the Feb 10, 2018 Local Government polls.

There couldn’t be another instance of a new political party achieving 71 per cent of the vote at a countrywide election, Prof. Peiris said, recalling severe difficulties experienced by them before the application was submitted.

Prof. Peiris said that once an irate Basil Rajapaksa raised his voice during a discussion. SLPP strategist Basil Rajapaksa declared that whatever the difficulties and opposition he would definitely establish the new party, if he had the blessings of Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The SLPP’s achievement, at the 2019 November 16, presidential election, was unique, Prof. Peiris said. Basil Rajapaksa’s played a pivotal role in the entire operation that brought the political opposition to its knees, Prof. Peiris said.

Alleging that the UPFA suffered defeat at the 2015 August general election as a result of internal manipulations, Prof. Peiris pointed out that in spite of treachery, the UPFA secured 95 seats – just 11 short of the UNP-led coalition.

Early this week, Basil Rajapaksa, at a book launch in Gampaha, said that they would forgive those responsible for such manipulations but definitely not forget.

Prof. Peiris said that political stability couldn’t be achieved unless the SLPP won the next poll handsomely. The SLPP Chairman said that there was no doubt about securing a simple majority though their aim was a two-thirds majority required to effect far reaching constitutional changes.

Crucial period ignored

Obviously, the top SLPP leadership never felt the necessity to examine the situation closely or the possibility in corona causing the parliamentary poll being put off. The three-day 141 Royal-Thomian, too, started at the SSC grounds, on the same day. The government never explained as to why the ‘Battle of the Blues’ was allowed. Royal-Thomian continued in spite of the England tour of Sri Lanka being postponed, on March 12, due to the corona crisis, not only here, but in the UK, as well. The ‘Battle of the Blues’ attracted media attention after a SriLankan Airline employee, who had been at the SSC, was tested positive for Covid-19. Many an eyebrow was raised over President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s March 17 claim that his advice to call off the match wasn’t heeded. Who could have given the green light for ‘Battle of the Blues.’?

The government also remained silent in the wake of accusations that a group of pilgrims who had returned from India was allowed to leave the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) without being quarantined. Former Western Province Governor Azath S. Salley as well as Dr. Naveen Zoysa, on behalf of the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA), flayed the government for allowing the returnees to covertly leave. Dr. Zoysa warned the government of dire consequences pointing out the failure on the part of those responsible to act sensibly. Government spokesmen never responded to those accusations.

It would be interesting to know when Sri Lanka stopped allowing groups of pilgrims to leave for India. The failure to halt organized pilgrimages compelled the government to deploy special SriLankan flights to evacuate those stranded in India, in different locations. Sri Lanka completed evacuations from India this week.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Chagie’s predicament inspires novel, highlights Lanka’s pathetic response to external threats


Early Sept. 2018: Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage (left) with Maj. Gen. Nirmal Dharmaratne at Saliyapura Anuradhapura at the former’s farewell. Gallage retired after having served the Army for over three decades. Dharmaratne, one-time Special Forces Brigade Commander’s article on Gallage can be accessed at (http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=190504)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Australia, during the yahapalana administration, humiliated Gajaba Regiment veteran military strategist Chagie Gallage. Accused of unsubstantiated war crimes, Gallage was denied an Australian visa. Gallage’s predicament didn’t receive the media attention it really deserved. The parliament conveniently refrained from taking up the issue. Even nationalist groups ignored the plight of a GOC (General Officer Commanding) of fighting forces.

Denial of Australian visa to one of the seniormost officers never attracted wider media attention though the writer, on several occasions, discussed the issue, both in the print media, as well as on television talk shows.

However, ‘Nimala Mala – Miya Giya Soldaduwekuge Nomiyena Kathawa’ (Immortal Story of a Dead Soldier) launched in June 2019 dealt with Gallage’s dilemma. Award-winning author Sena Thoradeniya says his latest novel was inspired by The Island reportage of the incident.

Since then the US found fault with Army Commander Lt. General Shavendra Silva, who is also the Acting Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) over unsubstantiated war crimes allegations.

Geneva betrayal

The author cleverly used exchange of e-mails between Jayashankar (a senior officer of the Sri Lanka Army) and Melina (a Sri Lankan living in Australia) to explain the denial of visa on the basis of Geneva Resolution co-sponsored by the then UNP-SLFP coalition on Oct 01, 2015. The entire chapter 11 (p 229- p 283) dealt with the e-mail exchange between fictitious characters, protagonist Jayashankar and Melina. In spite of them being fictitious characters, the exchange of e-mails and the novel as a whole discussed the origins of India-sponsored terrorism, Operation Liberation in 1987, high profile Indian intervention, Norway arranged Ceasefire Agreement between Sri Lanka and the LTTE, despicable INGO/NGO operations, and the Geneva Resolution etc.

The author mercilessly attacked the UNP over the Geneva betrayal and discussed how the despicable resolution facilitated the separatist agenda over a decade after the successful conclusion of the war. There hadn’t been a previous instance of an author using e-mails to narrate a story of this magnitude. Thoradeniya’s 327-page novel can be considered a sort of a political essay meant to educate the electorate. Perhaps Thoradeniya should send a couple of copies to the library in parliament. Thoradeniya dealt with a range of contentious issues that hadn’t been properly discussed in and outside parliament.

Once, one-time Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC flayed the parliament as the most corrupt institution in the country. Thoradeniya’s immensely readable novel contained much more facts than the 100 lawmakers mentioned in their speeches in parliament. ‘Nimala Mala – Miya Giya Soldaduwekuge Nomiyena Kathawa’ again proved the pathetic state of our parliament and continuing deterioration of the once august assembly. In addition to lawmakers, Thoradeniya’s well-crafted piece of work should be of interest to the armed forces, particularly to those joining the peace-time military. It would be the responsibility of the military high command to ensure those joining the armed forces received a thorough understanding of the crisis caused by the Indian intervention in the 80s.

Jayashankar’s response to denial of Australian visa reminded me of Maj. Gen. Gallage’s angry reaction. Having retired on August 31, 2018, Gallage declared at Gajaba Regiment home at Saliyapura, Anuradhapura, he was leaving the Army as a war criminal. A week after retirement, Gallage dealt with a range of issues, in his farewell speech on the eve of the 35th anniversary of the Gajaba Regiment. There had never been a previous instance of an officer having the courage to declare at a farewell banquet, that he had been categorized as a war criminal. It would be pertinent to examine why Gallage declared: "So, I’m happy to be retired being a tiny particle of that proud chapter of the history, though designated as a ‘War Criminal.’

The writer revealed Gallage’s predicament on the March 23, 2017 edition of The Island in a front-page lead story headlined "Chagie denied Australian visa over ‘war crimes’ allegations" with the strap line "Unsubstantiated UN claim cited as reason".

Fonseka’s plight overlooked

Thoradeniya’s effort should be appreciated. However, the absence of reference to Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka being denied a US visa also during the yahapalanaya administration on more than one occasion is certainly an inadequacy on the author’s part. The assertion that the then President Maithripala Sirisena hadn’t been consulted and therefore unaware of the Geneva Resolution cannot be accepted under any circumstances. Perhaps the author hadn’t taken all factors into consideration before coming to that conclusion. President Sirisena and the SLFP cannot absolve themselves of the responsibility for Geneva betrayal as the latter was a full yahapalana partner at the time the then Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative there, Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha accepted it. But overall there hadn’t been a similar novel before though several authors dealt with the war and related issues, both during the conflict and after the successful conclusion of the war.

Former Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera set the record straight immediately after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government withdrew the sponsorship of the 2015 Geneva Resolution. Let me reproduce the relevant section from Samaraweera’s statement: "The final text of the resolution was largely negotiated over the telephone, with the President and I at the same hotel in New York, and the Prime Minister in Colombo accompanied by the Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the time and the Ambassador of the US and High Commissioner of the UK. Once consensus was reached, the Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the time who was in Colombo had coordinated with Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva and conveyed the decision of the Government of Sri Lanka to the Human Rights Council.

"Once the resolution was adopted by the Council, it was tabled in Parliament on 23 October 2015. There was broad consensus in the House. Members from the major political parties represented in Parliament – including the UNP, SLFP, TNA, and JHU – spoke in favour of the resolution. We all agreed that Sri Lanka had to come to terms with its past and reflect and introspect in order to move forward and achieve reconciliation, peace, stability, and prosperity that had eluded our nation since Independence.

Author Thoradeniya lambasted the reportage of the conflict, particularly a section of the English press hell-bent on undermining the war effort. Thoradeniya also found fault with some sections of the military, too. Having covered the security round since 1987, the writer realized Thoradeniya’s well-founded concerns. Having read ‘Nimala Mala – Miya Giya Soldaduwekuge Nomiyena Kathawa’, Thoradeniya’s presence at a recent event at Nelum Pokuna Theatre to mark National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa’s 20 years’ service as a member of parliament is understandable. The main speakers at the event, Ven. Induragare Dharnarathana and Prof. Raj Somadeva dealt with the external threats on the Sri Lankan State and the government. They pointed out how the government could be weakened by deterioration of the State.

Parliament exploited

With the next parliamentary election scheduled to be held on April 25, 2020, it would be pertinent to examine the challenges faced by Sri Lanka. Thoradeniya dealt with the growing threat posed by those proposing to choose a President by way of a vote in parliament. The JVP pushed hard for an Amendment to do away with the executive presidency in the run-up to the last presidential poll in Nov 2019. Coupled with the 19th Amendment enacted in early 2015, the 20th Amendment would have placed the country totally at the mercy of those propagating separatist agenda.

Actually, Thoradeniya’s novel can be useful to the media, both print and electronic, as well. In the absence of cohesive effort on the part of media organizations to enhance the knowledge of journalists, perhaps Thoradeniya’s novel can be quite useful to those really interested in knowing the real situation. The media, too, is manipulated by interested parties and there are some who enjoyed being used by foreign interests. Unfortunately, the yahapapana government actually co-operated with those pursuing an anti-Sri Lanka agenda, both here and abroad. Co-sponsoring of the Geneva Resolution in 2015 can be easily considered as the culmination of their operation, having engineered the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat.

Thoradeniya meticulously dealt with the UNP-TNA-JVP-SLMC forming an alliance ahead of the 2010 presidential election to create an environment to promote separatist agenda. Having failed to ensure General Sarath Fonseka’s victory at the 2010 presidential election, the UNP-led coalition achieved its objective at the 2015 presidential election though it couldn’t bring the project to a successful conclusion.

Wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s emergence as the SLPP candidate in August 2019 and his eventual triumph at the Nov 2019 presidential poll should be examined against the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s failure to set the record straight. For want of proper strategy, Western powers had been able to use unsubstantiated war crimes allegations to clear a path for external intervention. Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva and Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage had been victimized as part of their overall strategy meant to weaken the Sri Lankan State as well as the government.

From South to the North

Thoradeniya narrated how protagonist Jayashankar, having engaged in counter-insurgency operations against the JVP in the 80s, subsequently joined the Army in its northern campaigns and how quickly he realized the difference in southern and northern theatres. The author discussed the developments over three decades with the war-winning Army at the receiving end much to the disappointment of the ordinary people. A government betraying its own Army is certainly unheard of until President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe sold out the country at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). In fact, betrayal in Geneva had been part of the high profile that brought the UNP-TNA-JVP and the SLMC together with the blessing of Uncle Sam. It was nothing but a well hatched conspiracy. Unfortunately, the Sri Lanka electorate turned a blind eye to the TNA backing General Sarath Fonseka at the 2010 presidential poll. Having accused Fonseka’s Army of massacring thousands of civilians on the Vanni east front, in 2009, the TNA conveniently forgot its own accusations. The Tamil electorate, too, had no qualms in exercising their franchise in support of Fonseka. They ensured Fonseka comfortably taking all northern and eastern electorates though the districts, outside the predominantly Tamil areas, overwhelmingly voted for Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Four war criminals

The then US Ambassador Patricia Butenis having declared in mid-January 2010 three Rajapaksa brothers and Sarath Fonseka war criminals arranged the TNA support for the latter at the January 26, 2010, presidential poll. Had the project succeeded, a resolution against the Sri Lankan military could have been presented to Geneva in 2011. President Rajapaksa’s government never really took the Western powers backed political project seriously. Instead of properly countering the challenge, President Rajapaksa, having a second term, played politics with the issue. His administration also squandered millions of USD on a futile propaganda project in US at the expense of those struggling to make ends meet. The parliament simply let down the armed forces. President Sirisena, in spite of promising to take up the issue of senior military officers being denied US, Australian visa, did absolutely nothing. None of the Defence Secretaries appointed by President Sirisena took any interest in the matter either. President Sirisena’s last choice as the Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando in January 2019 openly declared that his military personnel would be prosecuted within two weeks over what he called the most heinous murders in recent history. Fernando was referring to 11 wartime abductions allegedly carried out by the Navy. Addressing an event at Nalanda College to felicitate him, Fernando requested the Tamil diaspora to furnish evidence, if available, against any Sri Lankan soldier involved in war crimes.

"Everyone who joins the Army does not become a war hero. To become a war hero, a soldier has to earn a medal and their accomplishments should be announced by way of a gazette. As of now, there are only 39,000 war heroes in Sri Lanka. Of them, 34,000 belong to the Army. Nearly 4400 represent the Navy and 868 belong to the Air Force. A soldier who joined the Army just three months ago is not a war hero," Fernando explained. "Especially a murderer cannot become a war hero. He is only a murderer," he said.

Fernando displayed his incompetence when he declared that the government didn’t take Indian intelligence warning on National Thowheed Jaamat (NTJ) threat in April 2019. Fernando, in the immediate aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks, had no qualms in declaring that it was not the responsibility of the government to provide security to hotels. President Sirisena, contesting the April 25 general election on the SLPP ticket certainly owed an explanation how he picked Fernando, who was ever ready to find fault with his men, to be the Defence Secretary.

Thoradeniya’s novel discussed how those responsible for the protection of the State and the government deliberately jeopardized them. Jayashankar’s contribution to the crushing of the second JVP inspired insurrection even at the risks faced by his loved ones and the subsequent northern campaigns underscored the pivotal importance of the Army’s readiness to suppress threats to elected governments from whomsoever that took up arms. Protagonist Jayashankar’s looking down on brother officers also reminded the reader of those who sought to exploit and abuse their rank, in some instances at the expense of the war effort.

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

2020 General Election: UN pushing for House reforms


By Shamindra Ferdinando

The United Nations wants to influence the Sri Lankan electorate. The global body expects the Sri Lankan electorate to vote for women at the forthcoming Parliamentary election. Obviously, the UN wants major political parties to field more women in their nomination lists for the electorate to choose from.

A week long nomination period begins tomorrow (12).

Hanaa Singer, UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka, in a special statement headlined ‘More women in power please’, issued to mark International Women’s Day, underscored the need for more women in Parliament.

The statement coincided with media reports pertaining to the possibility of former member of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), Ambika Satkunanathan, joining the parliamentary polls fray. The lawyer and human rights advocate quit HRCSL on March 7. If Satkunanathan reached consensus with the four party, Tamil National Alliance (TNA), she’ll contest the Jaffna electoral district on the TNA ticket.

Satkunanathan had served in various roles at the UN offices, in Sri Lanka, including as the national legal advisor to the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Office of the Senior Human Rights Advisor and national consultant on gender integration/evaluation at the Office of the Resident Coordinator.

She is the chairperson of the Neelan Tiruchelvam Trust in Colombo, vice chairperson of Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights–Asia Pacific, a regional feminist women’s fund, and an advisory board member of the Suriya Women’s Development Centre, Batticaloa.

The LTTE assassinated internationally recognized scholar TULF MP Tiruchelvam on July 29, 1999-two years before the LTTE formed the TNA to do its bidding in and outside Parliament. The TNA, at the behest of Velupllai Prabahakaran, recognized the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people.

Singer who leads the United Nations Country Team as the designated representative of the UN Secretary General for development operations, said: "In Sri Lanka, women have seen dramatic development gains over the years. Today, Sri Lankan women have long life spans, inroads with education and health, and a high literacy rate. Yet power gaps persist. The last Parliament had only 12 women in the 225-seat legislative body, short of the global tally of one-quarter. However, the upcoming Parliamentary elections are an opportunity to increase women’s meaningful participation in public life."

Singer added: "And the run-up to the elections present the perfect time for women to engage, enter public life, dismantle bias, and watch development gains grow, because with diversity in representation comes diversity in policies. We need more women in public and political life. We cannot afford to slide backwards. We must forge ahead with women’s equality and make this last decade for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals a Decade of Action and also a Decade of Equality. Gender equality can be achieved in our lifetimes. It begins with a mindset shift and is supported by policy changes, enabling environments, and transformational change in all areas of life."

Perhaps, Singer has conveniently forgotten how women suffered during the war that was brought to a successful conclusion in May 2009. The UN Resident Coordinator also seems to have forgotten how girls/women inflicted death and destruction on behalf of the LTTE. The global community never made a determined effort to stop the LTTE from using girls/women in suicide missions and combat operations. The LTTE used girls/women as cannon fodder, until the very end, on the Vanni east front.

Singer took over the Sri Lanka mission, in early September 2018, following the death of Una McCauley, who passed away in Colombo, at the age of 54, from cancer.

Women as instruments of war

The brutal use of women, as instruments of war continued until Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion a decade ago. A Sri Lankan female suicide bomber assassinated former Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi at Sriperumbudur, Chennai, in Tamil Nadu, on 21 May 1991. In addition to Gandhi, at least 14 others perished in the first suicide bombing carried out in India. Thenmozhi Rajaratnam, also known as Dhanu, was the assassin. Thenmozhi’s accomplice, another girl of her age, committed suicide to avoid being captured by Indian security services.

Rajiv Gandhi assassination convict S Nalini Sriharan, who has been serving a life term for over 28 years, in May 2017 sought UN help to secure her release. In a six-page letter, addressed to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nalini explained how she and six others were still in prison after serving more than a life term.

Would it be possible to improve parliamentary standards by increasing the number of women in parliament? Surangika Ariyawansha, Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights (CHR) recently urged the government to increase the female quota in both provincial councils and Parliament.

Ariyawansha, addressing the media to mark the International Women’s Day, said that the 25% female

quota for Local Government bodies had opened the door for many women to enter politics.

"They must now be assisted to enter provincial councils and Parliament. Local councils are a stepping stone for politicians. Given our electoral system and political culture it is difficult for a woman to contest and win elections. The quotas are an effective temporary measure,"Ariyawansha said.

The internationally backed project, to accommodate more women in Local Government, ultimately resulted in the number of LG members being increased by over 4,000, at a tremendous cost to the taxpayer. Political parties endorsed this project foolishly at the expense of those struggling to make ends meet. Today, those who backed enhanced quota for women in Local Government, remained silent. When the writer raised the contentious issue with the Chairman of the Elections Commission Mahinda Deshapriya over a year ago, of accountability as regards the colossal waste of public funds due to the increase of the number of Local Government members from 4,000 to 8,600, he said that the Parliament endorsed it. Deshapriya asserted that as the decision had been taken by the Parliament hence he couldn’t be held responsible.

The then President Maithripala Sirisena publicly admitted that the expansion of the Local Government system was a mistake. Sirisena promised to take remedial measures though nothing was done about it, so typical of the man on many issues.

Nearly 2,000 women secured Local Government seats, taking an impressive 23 percent of slots compared to the less than 2 percent of seats they held just a few years ago. The USAID also backed the project to expand women representation in Local Government bodies.

Now, the civil society wants the Parliament to provide enhanced quota for female members of the Local Government bodies to enter Provincial Councils and Parliament as well.

Sarojini Yogeswaran

UN’s constitution making

project here

Singer, in her statement, made reference to the last Parliament having only 12 women in Parliament.

Thanks to the then UNP lawmaker, Ranjan Ramanayake’s leaked audio clips, how one female ruined the reputation of the August assembly is in the public domain. Perhaps, the UN as well as other interested parties, felt that larger the women representation in Parliament it would make it easier to promote their agenda here.

During the previous yahapalana government, the UN by way of a statement issued by the then High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, dealt with constitutional reforms, including the proposed referendum in his June 2016 oral update to the rights body. The project went awry due to a mixture of reasons. Let me reproduce verbatim Al-Hussein’s statement: "Significant momentum has been achieved in the process of constitutional reform. On 10 March 2016, Parliament adopted a resolution establishing a constitutional assembly to draft and approve a new constitution or amendments by the end of 2016, which would then be put to a referendum in 2017. The drafting process has benefited from an inclusive public consultation process overseen by a Public Representations Committee that received submissions and held district level consultations in the first quarter of 2016".

The UN seems to be seriously interested in changing Sri Lanka. The UN pursued a high profile agenda to suit Western policy, vis-a-vis Sri Lanka. The UN exploited unsubstantiated war crimes allegations to create an environment conducive for international intervention here. The previous government owed an explanation as to how the Geneva, based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) got involved in a process here to completely change the country’s constitution. Over a decade after the end of the conflict, Western powers are pushing Sri Lanka to change its political set up. They also want far reaching security sector reforms in terms of the OISL report, prepared by a special investigation team within the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The OISL report which followed the highly controversial Darusman dossier, paved the way for UN Resolution 30/1. The OISL Report’s list of recommendations included security sector reform. The OISL particularly highlighted the importance of vetting security forces personnel to remove those in respect of whom there are reasonable grounds to believe they were involved in human rights violations.

Against the backdrop of the OISL recommendation, the UN stepped-up scrutiny of Sri Lankan military assigned for overseas deployment under UN command. In accordance with an understanding between the UN and Sri Lanka, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) initiated a project to vet those assigned for UN missions. The screening process was undertaken on the basis of unverified war crimes accusations. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka is yet to take tangible measures to make representations to the UN as regards unsubstantiated war crimes allegations though Foreign Relations Minister Dinesh Gunawardena discussed the issue at the ongoing Geneva sessions. Gunawardena made his statement on Feb 26, 2020.

OISL recommended (1) The formulation of an overall plan for security sector reform to guarantee the civilian nature, independence and professionalism of the law and order forces, and reducing the role of the military in internal security matters (2) Clarify the roles and chain of command for all branches of the security forces, including the different intelligence services, the CID and the TID (3) Develop a fully-fledged vetting process respecting due process to remove from office military and security forces personnel and any other public official where there are reasonable grounds to believe that they were involved in human rights violations and (4) Ensure that no member of the Sri Lankan security forces is sent on a UN peacekeeping mission without vetting to establish that the individual, including commanders, have not in any way been involved in human rights violations or criminal acts. Any allegations of abuses by Sri Lankan peacekeepers while on peacekeeping duties must be fully investigated by the authorities. The above were just a few of the recommendations made in the OISL report under institutional reforms, justice, truth/right to know, reparations in addition to recommendations to the UN system and member states as well as general.

Sudarshini enters Parliament

UN Resident Coordinator, Singer, in her statement, made reference to the last Parliament having only 12 women lawmakers. Among them was Dr. Mrs. Sudarshini Fernandopulle, who was elected on the UPFA ticket. Sudarshini entered active politics after the LTTE assassinated her husband Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle on the morning of April 08, 2008, at Weliweriya, using a suicide bomber. The LTTE assassinations paved the way for several women to enter politics during the conflict. The late Srima Dissanayake entered the presidential fray after an LTTE suicide bomber blasted her husband Gamini Dissanayake along with scores of other top UNPers at a presidential election rally, at Thotalanga, in late Oct. 1994.

At the next presidential election, in Dec 1999, the LTTE made an abortive bid to assassinate Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. She survived the suicide attack to comfortably defeat UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe. The global community turned a blind eye to Sri Lanka’s plight. The country’s political system withered under LTTE pressure.

The global community ignored the LTTE assassination of Jaffna Mayoress Sarojini Yogeswaran on the morning of May 17, 1998, during Kumaratunga’s presidency.

Sarojiri was gunned down by a gunman who called at her home. The gunman fired a T56 at her as she

was talking with the Deputy Mayor, who subsequently quit his post. Sarojini posed a tremendous threat to the LTTE. Although she was cautious and never criticized the LTTE publicly, the group recognized the growing threat posed by her. She earned the respect of the Army top brass in Jaffna and embassies. The LTTE resented this and silenced her. The TULF expected the LTTE to leave Sarojini Yogeswaran alone.

If the TULF leadership thought the LTTE would not assassinate both husband and wife, the LTTE proved what it was capable of. Her husband Vettivelu was gunned down by LTTE gunmen on July 13, 1989, at TULF leader Amirthalingam’s Colombo 7 residence. This was shortly after Sarojini served refreshments to the would be assassins. They also killed TULF leader Amirthalingham before his bodyguards gunned them down. Before the police reacted, former Udupiddy MP M. Sivasiththamparam too received gunshot injuries.

Sarojini’s murder was greeted with a deafening silence. Practically all civil institutions, including the church and the TULF, played into the hands of the LTTE by not naming the LTTE as being responsible for the despicable act. A section of the TULF, obviously, on the instructions of the LTTE, blamed other Tamil groups.

Had Western powers acted decisively when the TULF Leader was assassinated or when former Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi was most daringly blown up, in India, Nanthikadal could have been avoided, definitely. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka, too, had squandered a timely opportunity to remind the international community how it had saved Tamil women from the LTTE, which went to the extent of forming exclusive women fighting units for deployment in high intensity battles. None of those who had been shedding crocodile tears for Tamil speaking women, since the conclusion of the conflict, had voiced concern when the LTTE used women in military operations. They should be challenged to produce at least a press release issued during the war critical of the use of females in combat and suicide missions.

Sri Lanka could rightfully be proud of having liberated all child soldiers from the clutches of terrorists and released them together with male and female fighters taken into custody during the final phase of the conflict.

Those promoting separatist sentiments wouldn’t hesitate to exploit international events to step up pressure on Sri Lanka. Statements issued by various interested parties highlighted their strategy.

The late LTTE theoretician Anton Balasingham’s wife Adele Balasingham publicly encouraged the use of women in combat and hung cyanide capsules around their necks was now living freely in the UK. The global community didn’ feel the need to take up the issue of women in war zones until the LTTE had lost the war. Thousands of lives could have been saved if the international community had intervened earlier.

Sri Lanka’s biggest achievement was bringing the war to an end almost single handedly while the self-proclaimed international community thought the LTTE was invincible and always plodded us to sue for peace or it was more like the peace of the graveyard, but by doing the impossible against the advice of international pundits, saved the lives of women and children. Unfortunately, even a decade after the end of the war, Sri Lanka is still struggling to properly defend the country with interested parties pursuing strategies to further weaken the State and the government. Increasing the number of women in Parliament certainly cannot be a priority for Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka needs to clean up Parliament. Regardless of statements attributed to the then Speaker Karu Jayasuriya regarding the status of Parliament, the House needs to be cleaned up.

Similarly the UN’s priorities shouldn’t be ours. What in the world is the UN doing here promoting more women in Parliament?