I. Amanda Hodge: “Dirt files open on eve of Sri Lanka election,” in The Australian, 14 August 2015
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe yesterday predicted a “comfortable majority” for his United National Front in Monday’s crucial parliamentary elections. The confident call came as his once all-powerful rival Mahinda Rajapaksa faced allegations he paid millions of dollars to Tamil Tiger commanders to enforce a boycott of the 2005 polls.
Just seven months after Mr Rajapaksa’s shock defeat in January presidential elections by his former health minister Maithripala Sirisena, he is contesting the parliamentary polls with an eye on the prime ministership. With his legacy now marred by serious corruption allegations, the former president has been forced to campaign on his credentials as the leader who ended the three-decade long civil war.
His Sri Lankan Freedom Party has also been peddling warnings that the vanquished Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam could renew its violent insurgency, although the message has been gaining little traction with a population focused on economic reform six years after the war’s end.
In Colombo yesterday, Mr Wickremasinghe said his alliance would “preserve the gains of the January revolution” to ensure the interests of all would be served and not just those of one family. “Our plan is to make a new country, a disciplined country where everyone is equal, where everyone has a job, where equal opportunity is given to all,” he said. “It is a country where people can speak freely and a country where natural resources will be protected. It’s a country where everybody can practise their own religion, a country where women can walk freely. Instead of protecting one particular family, we want a country where all families are protected. And we want to make this country in the next 60 months.”
The Prime Minister left it to his coalition allies to make more pointed allegations against his rival, with Rajapaksa government fisheries minister Rajitha Senaratne repeating claims the family paid up to $1.7 million in bribes to LTTE leaders to enforce a Tamil boycott of the 2005 election.
Mr Rajapaksa went on to narrowly win that election against Mr Wickremsinghe and remained in power for the next decade, installing family members in key positions across government and the bureaucracy. The latest accusations have been circulating for years and featured in several US diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks.
These elections are already being hailed as the cleanest in decades of murky, often thuggish Sri Lankan politics with electoral commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya enforcing polling rules that have been more notable by their absence than application in recent memory. Gone are the towering cut-outs of politicians, the plastered political posters and the co-opting of public servants and security forces in campaigns. Election monitors estimate there have been at least three dozen notable incidents of campaign violence, less than half the number of the 2010 election.
Though analysts are tipping at least a narrow victory for the UNF, the International Crisis Group warned yesterday that Mr Rajapaksa’s leadership of a large ethnic Sinhala nationalist bloc in parliament could still stymie the leadership’s reform and reconciliation agenda.
In a pre-election report, the ICG praised Mr Sirisena and Mr Wickremesinghe for fulfilling key reform promises in the first six months of office, including reducing the powers of the president and launching scores of investigations into alleged corruption while noting “the lack of indictments thus far has fed rumours of backroom deals”. “The August 17 parliamentary elections will test the continued appeal of the former president’s hard-line Sinhala nationalism and provide a chance for the fresh start needed for a lasting solution to the country’s social divisions.”
II. Raj Gonsalkorale: “President Sirisena — Principled Man or an Emperor without clothes…??” …. courtesy of Asian Tribune
Whatever one’s view is about the letter President Sirisena, as the President of the SLFP, has written to Mahinda Rajapaksa, the contents of the letter are unambiguously political, and it is bound to favour the UNP and the UNFGG combine as well as other political parties opposed to Mahinda Rajapaksa.
In the interest of democracy and a free and fair election, the Elections Commissioner should instruct the immediate withdrawal of this letter from public circulation as it is not befitting of the President of the country, who took a position that he will not support any political party or combine directly or indirectly, implicitly or explicitly at this election, to have made this letter a public document on the eve of the general election.
That would be a fair outcome for all concerned.
In the 5 page letter which President Sirisena would have burnt much mid night oil writing it and pouring his vitriol out, he has mentioned once in the dying embers of his political inferno, that he hopes the UPFA will win enough seats to form a government. Although he has made this grudging after thought, there is no doubt in the letter where his preference is and who he would want to have as the government and the Prime Minister although he is the President of the SLFP and the Chairman of the UPFA.
He is basically asking the voters to give the UPFA a majority but not to vote for them because of Mahinda Rajapaksa! He also seems to be saying do not vote for those supported him to be the President, but give them a majority so that he can ask Ranil Wickremasinghe to be the Prime Minister. Confused? No doubt the entire electorate is.
Those who wish to see this latest act surpassing what Brutus did to Caesar, as a principled position, the argument will be that Maithripala Sirisena as the President of the SLFP has written this letter as he is entitled to do so considering Mahinda Rajapaksa is a candidate of the SLFP. However, what is difficult to sustain here is that the President of the SLFP is also expressing an opinion as to what he will do as the President of the country, and also expressing an opinion on something that is hypothetical at the moment, and which can favour a particular political group at the election which is not his group, and which clearly muddies the water as to where he draws the line as the President of the country and President of the SLFP.
If the matter was one of principle, he could have expressed his wish as the President of the SLFP that Mahinda Rajapaksa and all SLFP and UPFA candidates conduct the election campaign free of violence or intimidation and not say or do anything to inflame racial hatred, and to project an image of inclusiveness. He could have a written a similar letter to all political parties as the President of the country.
However, his diatribe is entirely about Mahinda Rajapaksa, as the President of the SLFP and the President of the country (considering his expression as to who he would and would not select as the Prime Minister in the event the UPFA wins an absolute majority in Parliament).
This cannot be regarded as expressing a principled position on the eve of the general election.
Some may feel he has stuck to his principles but many will feel he is now the proverbial Emperor without clothes, totally exposed, and his attack is personal and not on principles. They will also question whether such a person is fit to be the President of a country that boasts of being the cradle of Theravada Buddhism and boasts of a rich cultural heritage spanning more than 2600 years. They will also wonder whether he is the latest in the line of traitors who have sold the country to foreign elements considering that the entire regime change plan, hatched and executed, had the finger prints of a particular powerful foreign government which is well known for the destabilization and destruction they leave behind wherever they have been involved in interfering in the domestic affairs of other countries.
Contrary to what Maithripala Sirisena may have expected from writing and making public this letter, and contrary to what those who would have drafted this letter would have expected, the person who will gain most will be Mahinda Rajapaksa, as Maithripala Sirisena does not command the respect and regard of a majority of people in the country and as he has identified himself with those who have attacked Mahinda Rajapaksa the person, mercilessly, and not given any credit to him, ironically, for giving back the very environment to make these attacks by ending the 30 years scourge that sapped the country’s spirit, its belief in itself, and its wealth.
In a sense this letter is a disservice to those who are opposing Mahinda Rajapaksa and the UPFA, as it is bound to favour the very person and the political combine they are opposing. It is also a letter which is challenging and setting a precedent in regard to how one interprets the peoples mandate at elections. The lingering question will be whether one person should have the power over the mandate of the people, and if so the purpose served by asking for a mandate from the people.
Maithripala Sirisena’s energies should have been directed to making structural changes within the SLFP to prevent a recurrence of everything he accuses Mahinda Rajapaksa of having done during his tenure. While it may have been Mahinda Rajapaksa in the past, it could be Maithripala Sirisena today, and it could be someone else tomorrow who could abuse their positions. Removing Mahinda Rajapaksa does not address the structural weaknesses that allow someone to exploit such weaknesses.
As the President of the country, like taking leadership for the passage of the 19th Amendment and the re-introduction of the independent commissions, Maithripala Sirisena should have devoted his time and energy to address national constitutional weaknesses that impacts negatively on democratic practices. He should also have taken a lead in addressing the national question in regard to issues with the Tamil and Muslim communities. When there is so much to do, and so much he could do to so many people, it is perplexing why he devoted so much energy to destroy one person.
– Asian Tribune –