Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Prez poll: EU intervenes as campaign ends



by Shamindra Ferdinando

The European Union stressed the importance of Sri Lanka's presidential election process being peaceful, credible and transparent. In a brief missive, issued on January 2, 2015, the EU Heads of Mission, in Colombo, underscored the necessity for a peaceful environment for credible elections. "Sri Lankan citizens must be free to choose their leaders without violence or fear. All parties have a role in upholding Sri Lanka's strong democratic tradition."

That message, titled joint local statement on Sri Lanka's presidential election process, reflected the stance of those who had backed the US-sponsored resolution at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) last March. In accordance with that resolution, an international war crimes probe is now underway, under the supervision of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The EU backs the Geneva resolution. The investigation report is expected to be submitted to the next Geneva session, in March, 2015.

Over 14.8 million voters are eligible to exercise their franchise at the January 8, 2015, presidential poll - the seventh presidential election, since 1982. Incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa seeks a third term, thanks to the passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, whereas Opposition candidate, Maithripala Sirisena, seeks to thwart Rajapaksa's bid.

Regardless of allegations, as regards polls violence, the run-up to the polls, tomorrow, has been relatively peaceful.

The LTTE assassinated UNP presidential candidate, Gamini Dissanayake, ahead of the Dec. 1994, presidential poll, made an abortive bid to assassinate PA presidential candidate, Mrs Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, at the final presidential poll rally, in Dec. 1999, and in Nov. 2005, the LTTE-TNA sabotaged the presidential poll. The international community never expressed concern at the LTTE-TNA strategies.

The External Affairs Ministry (EAM) swiftly responded to the EU statement. "Sri Lanka has a vibrant tradition of democratic practice, since 1931, and has been conducting elections at regular intervals, in a peaceful and orderly manner, while the electorate has continued to cast their vote freely, in large numbers," the EAM said in a statement, dated January 2.

"Domestic elections are not for foreign government representatives to be prescriptive about, that too, a few days ahead of the polls. It is therefore surprising that the EU Heads of Mission in Colombo should have resorted to a press statement on an issue of a strictly domestic nature. Such an initiative could bring into question the bona-fides and objectivity of their intervention."

"The Elections Commissioner, who is an independent authority, has been mandated by the statutory powers vested in him, with the task of conducting free and fair elections."

Polls under Indian army supervision

Unfortunately, the EAM failed, at least, to mention the EU turning a blind eye to what was happening here during national as well as provincial council polls during the conflict. In the late 80s, the national level polls, as well as the first North-Eastern Provincial Council poll, had to be conducted under the supervision of the Indian military, deployed in Northern and Eastern districts, in accordance with the Indo-Lanka peace accord of July 29, 1987.

For want of a comprehensive examination of the conflict, engineered by India, during the then Premier Indira Gandhi tenure in the 80s, Sri Lanka had experienced unprecedented violence, with the electoral process being seriously affected. Both Tamil terrorist groups, formed by India, as well as the JVP, interfered with the electoral process. Those who had been demanding accountability, on the part of Sri Lanka for alleged atrocities committed during the conflict here, turned a Nelsonian eye to what was happening on the ground. There couldn't be a better example than the Indian military rigging the first ever North-Eastern Provincial Council poll, held on Nov 19, 1988, to enable the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) to take over the temporarily merged North-Eastern Province. India had no option but install an administration loyal to New Delhi in keeping with their policy vis a vis Sri Lanka at that time. India never formally explained its intervention here nor apologized for the massive death and destruction caused in a neighboring country which never posed a threat to its national security.

The Northern and Eastern districts had been under Indian military occupation during the second presidential poll, held on Dec 19, 1988. The UNP presidential candidate and the then Premier Ranasinghe Premadasa defeated SLFP's Sirimavo Bandaranaike to succeed JRJ. India destabilized Sri Lanka to pave the way for its military intervention here before withdrawing in early March, 1990, after having established, the Tamil National Army (TNA) to strengthen the EPRLF administration. India's puppet provincial administration's UDI (unilateral declaration of independence) failed to make an impact. In fact, the EPRLF's foolish move dealt a debilitating setback to India's strategy here.

TNA, GTF on prez poll

The EU statement, on the forthcoming presidential poll, should be examined in the backdrop of the UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum (GTF), as well as Opposition presidential candidate, Maithripala Sirisena's camp, calling for incumbent President Rajapaksa's defeat for different reasons. The GTF, in late last month, declared that the war-winning president would be hauled up before the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) once he lost the forthcoming poll. The UK-based GTF spokesman, Suren Surendiran, compared President Rajapaksa's fate with that of former Liberian President Charles Taylor and Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic. Surendiran didn't mince his words when he asserted that President Rajapaksa's defeat would facilitate their project. But Surendiran stop short of calling for the Tamil electorate to exercise their franchise for Maithripala Sirisena.

Two days after the EU statement, on the presidential poll, the GTF reiterated its call for the Tamil electorate to exercise their franchise at the forthcoming presidential election. Surendiran sent the following statement to The Island, on behalf of the GTF’s President, Rev Father S J Emmanuel:"I prefer to give only one answer as to why Tamils are asked by GTF to vote and that is for the survival of democracy and the rule of law.

"We, Tamils of Sri Lanka, are unfortunately caught up in a pseudo democracy, bequeathed by the British colonials to the then Ceylon, namely a Sinhalese-Buddhist-authoritarian democracy, which, from the beginning, was an exclusive Sinhala Buddhist nationalism detrimental to all minorities.

For the last 66 years we have been victims of the worst human right violations and our democratic protests as well as our militant struggle have been crushed and even today we are labeled as separatists and terrorists and considered scape-goats for all evils in the country.

"This presidential election is unique in that it does not even speak a word about the decades of conflict, or war or the post-war atrocities, but only about failure of democracy and rule of law in the country.

"Hence Tamils, though victimized for decades, and even marginalized in this election, still have the good of the country and of all peoples at heart and wish the triumph of democracy and rule of law. It is in this spirit that Tamils have been called to exercise their franchise for the survival of democracy and rule of law."

Both, Rev. Father Emmanuel and Surendiran, called for President Rajapaksa's defeat without actually urging the Tamil electorate to vote for Maithripala Sirisena. The GTF strategy is similar to that of the JVP campaigning for President Rajapaksa's defeat without actually calling its supporters to vote for Maithripala Sirisena.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference called for people to exercise their franchise to a candidate of their choice while urging the loser to accept defeat without causing political turmoil. The Church released the statement last Friday in the wake of President Rajapaksa visiting the Madhu shrine.

Gajendrakumar takes different stand

However, the GTF political ally, the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) on Dec 30, 2014, declared its support for Maithripala Sirisena. Although the electorate anticipated the TNA throwing its weight behind Maithripala Sirisena, in the wake of the SLMC quitting the government, the GTF decision is surprising. However, their decision to participate in the electoral process angered an influential section of the Tamil community, wanting the electorate to boycott the presidential poll. Leader of Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF), Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, has urged the Tamil electorate to boycott the January 8 election. Ponnambalam has strongly opposed the TNA's decision. Ponnambalam is of the opinion that the Tamil electorate should boycott the poll, as they did in Nov. 2005. The LTTE-TNA combine ordered the Nov. 2005, boycott that deprived UNP presidential candidate, Ranil Wickremesinghe, of over 400,000 anticipated votes. Wickremesinghe lost to Rajapaksa by less than 200,000 votes. Having helped Rajapaksa to win that election, the TNA backed former army commander, Gen. Sarath Fonseka, at the last presidential poll, in January, 2010.

The Tamil Net too has been generally supportive of Gajendrakumar's argument. The Tamil Net targeted TNA National List MP M.A. Sumanthiran for going for an alliance with Maithripala Sirisena to ensure President Rajapaksa's defeat. Those wanting the Tamil electorate to boycott the forthcoming poll are of the opinion that their participation in the electoral process is not beneficial to the community. The TNA - run Northern Provincial Council, too, has been divided over the same issue with some members wanting to follow the TNPF. Regardless of the TNPF's opposition, the majority seem to be satisfied with an opportunity to freely exercise their franchise.

The most influential plantation sector political party, the Ceylon Workers' Congress, found fault with the TNA stand on the forthcoming presidential poll. The CWC asserted that the TNA backing for Maithripala Sirisena was inimical to the interests of the Tamil community. The CWC backs President Rajapaksa's candidature, though many believed at the on set of the campaign Minister Arumugam Thondaman would join Maithripala Sirisena's camp, along with the SLMC and TNA. The SLMC and the TNA entered into a dialogue some time back. Their effort is meant to reach an understanding on the national issue. They seem to be confident that a victory for Maithripala Sirisena can help their cause.

UK singer calls for MR's defeat

President Rajapaksa has earned the wrath of many for giving resolute political leadership until the military brought the war against the LTTE to a successful conclusion.

Maya Arulpragasam, British national of Sri Lankan origin and ardent LTTE supporter tweeted on Friday night calling for President Rajapaksa's defeat.

The message sent from the twitter handle MIAuniverse read "Sri Lankan election is in 7 days. The people of Sri Lanka, defeat the dictatorship and get your rights back"

Arulpragasam, better known by her stage name MIA, is a British recording artist involved in an anti-Sri Lankan campaign together, with the LTTE groups active overseas.

Some pro-LTTE activists today staged a protest outside Bollywood actor Salman Khan’s residence in Mumbai on Sunday (January 4) for backing President Rajapaksa’s election campaign.

Khan was in Colombo last week with his "Kick" co-star, Jacqueline Fernandez. Maithripala Sirisena's camp took advantage of their presence in Colombo, in the wake of destructive floods, to ridicule the government. The government was accused of paying Rs 700 mn to get Khan down while the UPFA mercilessly beaten up local artistes backing Maithripala Sirisena's candidature.

"Salman Khan down down," the protestors shouted holding placards, condemning the superstar.

The demonstration, outside Salman’s Galaxy apartments in suburban Mumbai, lasted less than 15 minutes and later police detained some protestors.

MS camp on int'l sanctions

UPFA National List MP Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, UNP MP Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, as well as Sri Lanka's former ambassador in Teheran and one-time Rupavahini Chairman, M.M. Zuhair, PC, have called for President Rajapaksa's defeat. They have urged the electorate to ensure President Rajapaksa's defeat or face the consequences. Former PA National List MP Zuhair has declared that the country has no option but to elect Maithripala Sirisena to save the country from the wrath of Western countries. Addressing a delegation, from the Young Entrepreneurs Forum, headed by S L Rajiv Jayasinghe, last Friday, Zuhair said the present government had been taking the country on a course detrimental to the best interests of its people. "We had seen how the western powers had added post war issues such as religious confrontations to the list of charges against the Rajapaksa government in the UN Human Rights Council. If there is no democratic change of governance in Sri Lanka, the country must be ready for likely US and EU sanctions before the end of this year with crippling effect on trade, banking and the economy. People will be compelled to decide between saving the country or saving President Rajapaksa. Both can be saved if there is a peaceful change of power."

The MS camp should also explain whether it believed in war crimes allegations directed at the Sri Lankan government, particularly in the backdrop of Maithripala Sirisena proudly declaring that he had held defence portfolio for few days during the last phase of the Vanni offensive. The call for the electorate to defeat President Rajapaksa to save the country from international sanctions has raised many an eye brow. Over five years after the conclusion of the conflict, the national issue remains the main issue at the forthcoming presidential poll. Maithripala Sirisena's camp strongly believes that incumbent President can be overwhelmed by the Tamil speaking electorate throwing its weight behind its man in the wake of the Sinhala Buddhist and Sinhala Catholic vote being sharply divided. The Opposition is of the view that the JHU switching its allegiance to Maithripala Sirisena has dealt a crippling blow to President Rajapaksa bid to secure a third term. The government remains confident the JHU's move will not have any bearing on the outcome of the Presidential poll, 2015.