2020 general election:
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), expected to comfortably win today’s parliamentary polls, has never been represented in parliament.
The SLPP is confident of a comfortable, simple majority, though, publicly, its leadership vows to secure a two-thirds majority. A two-thirds majority that hadn’t been achieved by any political party since the introduction of the Proportional Representation (PR) system, at the 1989 parliamentary polls, seems unrealistic.
The Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), certain to win the second highest number of seats, has also never been in parliament. The SLPP and SJB are led by prime ministerial aspirants, Mahinda Rajapaksa (74) and Sajith Premadasa (53), respectively.
There are similarities in the SLPP and the SJB. Political strategist Basil Rajapaksa got the Lanka Jathika Peramuna (LJP) re-named as the Ape Sri Lanka Nidahas Peramuna, a few weeks before the 2015 August parliamentary polls, and then again registered the party as Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, on Nov 1, 2016. Former external affairs minister Prof. G.L. Peiris and Attorney-at-Law Sagara Kariyawasam received appointment as the Chairman, and Secretary, of the SLPP, respectively.
If not for the last minute agreement, between the Mahinda Rajapaksa’s group and the SLFP, the former was to contest the 2015 August parliamentary election, under the Ape Sri Lanka Nidahas Peramuna ticket.
In early 2020, Ape Jathika Peramuna (AJP) was re-named Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB). Sajith Premadasa and Ranjith Madduma Bandara received appointments as the Leader, and the Secretary of the SJB respectively. Both the LJP and the AJP had been totally ineffective, as political parties, though, today, they enjoyed political clout.
Of the seven previous general elections, since 1989, simple majority had been secured by the winning party twice, in 1989 (UNP) and 2010 (UPFA) during the second JVP-inspired insurgency, and the first countrywide poll, after the annihilation of the LTTE, in May 2009.
For the first time, the parliament will recognize two parties hitherto not represented in the House. Both the SLPP and the SJB emerged as major parties, at the expense of the SLFP and the UNP respectively, during the previous administration. The newcomers changed the political landscape completely. The SLFP ended up, at the 2020 general election, contesting all districts, except Jaffna and Kalutara, under the SLPP ticket, whereas the badly depleted UNP is likely to take a distant third place, in terms of the numbers of seats. The SLFP, too, is expected to be reduced to less than 10 seats.
The SJB is most likely to secure more than double, perhaps treble the number of seats won by the UNP at today’s poll, the third since the successful conclusion of the war, 11 years ago.
Before discussing the delayed 2020 poll further, it would be pertinent to mention the composition of the last parliament (August 2015-March 2020). As the writer pointed out earlier, the SLPP and the SJB hadn’t been represented in any of the previous parliaments. The last parliament consisted of UNP (106), UPFA (95), TNA (16), JVP (6), SLMC (1) and EPDP (1). Having fielded its candidates, under the UNP ticket, in most districts, at the last election, the SLMC won just one seat.
The JHU, ACMC and Tamil Progressive Front, too contested under the UNP ticket at the last election, but have now switched their allegiance to Sajith Premadasa like the SLMC, at the expense of beleaguered Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Of the 106 elected, and appointed, on the UNP ticket, at the last election, over 80 are in the fray, on the SJB ticket, whereas Wickremesinghe managed to retain about a dozen. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya is among those who opted not to contest again. Jayasuriya, who had received significant backing from some members of the party, as well as a section of the civil society, to come forward as their presidential candidate, in 2019, quit the parliamentary contest, after having failed to thwart the break-up of the party.
Former National List member, Malik Samarawickrema, a close associate of Wickremesinghe, too, quit parliamentary politics. So did Mangala Samaraweera after having entered the fray from the Matara District on the SJB ticket.
Deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri, who headed the high profile parliamentary probe into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, ended up in the SJB’s Moneragala District nominations list.
Having handsomely won the 2018 February Local Government election and the 2019 November presidential poll, the SLPP faces the parliamentary poll confidently. The SJB knows of its inevitable defeat at today’s poll, though it seems happy breaking away from Wickremesinghe for once and for all.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who never bothered to take the membership of the SLPP, in spite being its presidential candidate, spearheaded the parliamentary polls campaign. There had never been a president, previously, who shunned political party membership. In other words, the cabinet is headed by a person, who is apolitical, a situation never experienced before.
Politicians, former Member of Parliament and various other interested parties, speculated about the number of seats that could be obtained by contesting parties. A former lawmaker, a respected professional, asserted that the SLPP might secure about 118, SJB 64, UNP 15, Tamil political parties 19 and the JVP 9. The former MP is of the view that frustrated UNPers and Muslims may vote for the JVP led Jathika Jana Balavegaya, hence the opportunity to improve its position in parliament. But its image has been somewhat tarnished after having been seen as a passive partner of the UNP during the last regime. The UNP being a right wing party throughout its history is anathema to any true Marxist and its leader was clearly involved in the brutal crushing of the JVP’s second uprising in the late 80s and killing of its then entire leadership, barring late Somawansa Amarasinghe, who survived by fleeing abroad.
The JVP fielded its candidates, through a coalition, in a bid to attract wider support at the expense of contesting under its own symbol. The JVP will find it difficult to at least retain the number of seats it received at the last parliamentary election. The six-member JVP parliamentary group included two National List members (defeated candidates Sunil Handunnetti and Bimal Ratnayake).
SJB survives unexpected onslaught
Sajith Premadasa’s SJB experienced unexpected onslaught in the run-up to the Aug 5 poll. UNP
Colombo district candidate, Oshala Herath, caused quite a stir by challenging the EC over the re-naming of the Ape Jathika Peramuna (AJP) as the SJB under controversial circumstances. The deal earned AJP Secretary Diana Gamage a slot in the SJB National List.
Having unsuccessfully moved the Supreme Court against the EC, in this regard, Herath, who had twice served President Maithripla Sirisena’s staff, received UNP membership and an opportunity to contest.
Before Herath received UNP membership, as well as nomination, Sirikotha declared that the party had nothing to do with the court action. Subsequently, Herath lodged a complaint with the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) as he pushed hard to disqualify the SJB.
In spite of his own party disowning him, the social media activist took on EC Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya. Herath released recorded conversations with Deshapriya as well as recordings at a church in Rajagiriya where he met Deshapriya in the company of UNP Assistant Leader Ravi Karunanayake in a bid to settle the matter. However, the SJB had the last laugh when all other contesting political parties accepted the EC’s version of events.
The UNP refrained from exploiting Herath’s shocking revelations that may have caused quite serious problems for the SJB. In a way, the SJB should be grateful to the UNP for not jeopardizing its campaign.
The SLPP and the JVP, too, conveniently refrained from taking up the issue, while election monitors, too, played it safe, much to the disappointment of Herath whose emergence as a UNP candidate, especially from Colombo, was made possible by the unprecedented UNP split.
Of the 11 elected from the Colombo district, at the last general election, eight (Patali Champika Ranawaka, Hirunika Premachandra, Dr. Harsha de Silva, Mujibur Rahman, S.M. Marikkar, Mano Ganesan, Eran Wickramaratne and Sujeewa Senasinghe), switched allegiance to Sajith Premadasa, who moved from Hambantota to Colombo. Except Eran Wickremaratne who opted to join the SJB National List, others are in the fray. Only Ravi Karunanayake remained with Wickremesinghe while the remaining ex-lawmaker Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, joined the SLPP.
A humiliated UNP struggled to field a team in Colombo. Its list is undoubtedly the weakest ever fielded in Colombo. The UNP in its desperation even accommodated tainted businessman A.S.P. Liyanage, who had received diplomatic postings both from Presidents, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena for being publicly servile to them. Of the 22 UNP candidates fielded in Colombo, there were only four former members of parliament (Ranil Wickremesinghe, Ravi Karunanayake, Daya Gamage and Sunethra Ranasinghe). Daya Gamage contested the last parliamentary polls from Digamadulla, while Sunethra Ranasinghe hadn’t been in parliament in its last term.
Oshala Herath is among those lucky to receive UNP nomination due to damaging split caused by dissidents. However, he proved his mettle as a fighter by pursuing an unprecedented strategy that exposed the utterly corrupt political set up.
UNP leader Wickremesinghe, SJB leader Premadasa and JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake are in the fray in Colombo. Premadasa, who lost the last presidential election by a staggering 1.3 mn votes to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, is expected to win his contest with his former leader. Will Premadasa be able to poll the highest number of preferences in Colombo by a candidate representing any party? Or will retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera, or National Freedom Front leader Wimal Weerawansa, both contesting on the SLPP ticket take the honours.
Weerasekera is among nine candidates fielded by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, through his ‘Viyathmaga’ organization. Other ‘Viyathmaga’ contestants are Dr. Nalaka Godahewa (Gampaha), Anura Fernando (Colombo), Engineer Nalaka Kottegoda (Matale), Dr. Tilak Rajapaksha (Digamadulla), Dr. Upul Galapatti (Hambantota), Prof. Channa Jayasumana (Anuradhapura), Prof. Gunapala Ratnasekera (Kurunegala) and Attorney-at-Law Udayana Kirindigoda (Mahanuwara). The SLPP has also accommodated two ‘Viyathmaga’ members, Ajith Nivard Cabraal and Dr. Seetha Arambepola, on its National List.
Ratnapura HC ruling, other issues rattle SLPP
If not for the unprecedented crisis caused by the corona epidemic, the SLPP could have easily secured victory at the parliamentary polls, originally scheduled to take place on April 25. Unfortunately, for the SLPP, corona derailed its plans. However, even if election was held in a corona-free environment, as previously scheduled, the ruling party couldn’t have obtained a two-thirds majority. Seeking two-thirds, in terms of the PR system, is not possible at all.
Had the election been held on April 25 as previously scheduled, the SLPP could have avoided the fallout of the demolition of a part of an historical building in Kurunegala and death sentence given to an SLPP candidate. The delay, on the part of the government, resulted in some protests. A section of the assembly hall of King Bhuvanaikabahu II had been demolished on the orders of the Kurunegala Mayor. A divided SLPP struggled to cope up with the issue as Kurunegala heavyweight Johnston Fernando; one-time UNPer threw his weight behind the Kurunegala Mayor. The SLPP could have also avoided Ratnapura HC sentencing Ratnapura District candidate Premalal Jayasekera to death over his involvement in the 2015 January political murder, in the Kahawatte area on the eve of the January 2015 presidential election.
The protests by Colombo port workers, over Sri Lanka’s deal with India against the transfer of control of the ECT (East Container Terminal), too, disturbed the government as it sought Indian financial backing to overcome the crises caused by the corona pandemic. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Premier Mahinda
Rajapaksa seeking Indian Premier Modi’s intervention, in the last week of May, led to July negotiations on re-scheduling of Lanka’s debt repayments.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa faces an unprecedented challenge. In fact, the economic challenge is even bigger than the conventional LTTE threat, previous presidents faced. Under the former Defence Secretary’s leadership, the new administration will have to work with the Opposition, whether it likes it or not, if it is genuinely interested in the wellbeing of the country. However, the SJB is unlikely to provide the required support, in parliament, to do away with the 19th Amendment, though the two parties can explore ways and means of reaching consensus on some matters.
With the country is in such a bad shape, economically, pivotal importance of consensus, among those political parties represented in parliament, at least between the government and the main Opposition, cannot be ignored.
The SLPP cannot pursue strategies, disregarding ground realities. With nearly one fifth of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s five-year term over, the SLPP has no option but to move fast, without getting embroiled in useless political dogfights.
Let us hope political parties wouldn’t seek to do away with the provision in the 19th Amendment to appoint no more than 30 ministers. The UNP conveniently reached an agreement with a section of the SLFP to form a national government in the wake of the 2015 general election. The UNP-SLFP arrangement paved the way for them to appoint more than 30 ministers, at the expense of the much-touted good governance promise.
Challenges in 2020 and beyond
The parliament comprises 196 elected and 29 appointed members. The SLPP and the SJB will face daunting challenge in picking their National List members. In the last parliament, the UNP had 13 National List slots, the UPFA 12, the TNA 2 and the JVP 2. The lion’s share of 29 National List slots is expected to be shared by the SLPP and the SJB, with the UNP most likely to obtain a couple of slots, though very much lower than the last time. The SLPP faces the daunting task in forming a 30-member cabinet with the inclusion of some new members. Will any successful ‘Viyathmaga’ candidates receive cabinet portfolios?
With the new parliament, scheduled to meet on August 20, the SLPP will have an opportunity to explore the possibility in reaching a consensus, with the Opposition, to secure the required two-thirds. If not there is bound to be plenty of horse trading to secure that illusive majority.
The case of misappropriation of billions of rupees that was lying at the Central Cultural Fund is certain to be a big stink with the active support of the UNP as was seen in the document leaked to the Sunday Times last weekend. Since Sajith Premadasa has much to answer it would be quite interesting how he deals with the victorious SLPP.
The government will have to address several issues. Among the contentious issues are (1) the proposed agreements with the US (MCC and SOFA) as President Sirisena finalized ACSA in August 2017, the controversial Singapore–Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement, entered into in January 2018, co-sponsorship of the Geneva Resolution, in Oct 2015, bringing investigations into Central Bank bond scams to a successful end, tangible action on forensic reports that dealt with Treasury bond scams, and other major financial irregularities, both during UPFA and UNP-SLFP administrations, and the toxic UK garbage dumped, in the port of Colombo, et al. With the national economy in tatters, the parliament, as an institution, will have to play its classic role.
Ensuring financial discipline, and the introduction of new laws, must be the parliament’s primary objective, neglected by successive governments, over the years. It would be pertinent to remind what no less a person than the former Central Bank Governor Dr. Indrajith Coomaraswamy said before the Presidential Commission, probing public sector corruption. Coomaraswamy urged the electorate to elect lawmakers capable of understanding public finance.
Dr Coomaraswamy said that the country was facing a non-virtuous cycle of debt and it was a very fragile situation which could even lead to a debt crisis. Arjuna Mahendran’s successor said that people should elect MPs who were prudent enough to handle fiscal and monetary matters of the country. “I’m not referring to any government, but it’s been the case ever since independence.
Closure of Norwegian Embassy in Colombo and other matters (Part II)
Wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa is one of those who strongly believed that the LTTE could be defeated. The Gajaba Regiment veteran didn’t mince his words when he met Norwegian officials on April 06, 2006 in the run-up to the closure of the Mavil-aru sluice gates in the third week of July 2006. According to a NorwegianForeign Ministry document in the public domain: “On April 06, 2006, Hanssen-Bauer and Brattskar had a tense meeting with Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. In response to a question about whether the ethnic and political problems in Sri Lanka could be solved by military means, Gotabaya answers, ‘yes’. The LTTE launched Eelam War IV in August 2006. Within two years and 10 months the Sri Lankan military brought the war to a successful end.
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Colombo-based Norwegian diplomats burnt their fingers by seeking information from the Maldivian High Commission in Colombo as regards an Indian fishing craft (Sri Krishna) that had been commandeered by Sea Tigers and was intercepted and sunk by the Maldivian Coast Guard in May 2007.
The Norwegian Embassy reached the Maldivian HC soon after the Maldivians intercepted ‘Sri Krishna’ that was reported missing several days before while fishing in Indian waters.
The Island last week dealt with the Norwegian decision to close down its diplomatic mission in Colombo next year, two decades after Oslo arranged a highly controversial secret Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) (Not even the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga was aware of it till it had been signed) between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The US, EU, Japan and Norway functioned as Co-Chairs to the peace process.
The Norwegian effort received the backing of New Delhi though the Indians were skeptical. Nevertheless, they fully cooperated.
The LTTE quit the negotiating table in April 2003, one year and three months after the signing of the CFA. But, the Norwegians went out of their way to appease the LTTE regardless of the consequences. The diplomatic intervention made on behalf of the Tigers involved in the incident in the Maldivian waters is a case in point. In a way, the LTTE and its sidekick the Tamil National Alliance failed to utilize the Norwegian effort to advance the peace process, whether sincere or not. Instead, the LTTE exploited the Norwegian initiative so much that the negotiating process finally collapsed. Their strategy undermined the then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, who meekly towed the Norwegian line. On the other hand, their actions bolstered the nationalist groups and those opposed to the Norwegian questionable initiatives.
Dissolution of Parliament and calling for fresh parliamentary elections in April 2004 should be examined against the backdrop of utterly irresponsible LTTE strategy and its appeasers. However, the elections allowed the TNA, with the LTTE openly stuffing ballot boxes in areas it controlled, to secure the lion’s share of seats in the then amalgamated Northern and Eastern Provinces. Peace Co-Chair EU in its Election Observation report declared that the TNA colluded with the LTTE. Unfortunately, Co-Chairs, including the EU didn’t take the report into consideration.
The incident in the Maldivian waters should be examined basically against the backdrop of the overall deterioration of the situation for want of clear guidelines to handle the peace process.
The Norwegians wouldn’t have intervened without being asked by the LTTE with a nod from a powerful Western interest. We must also note that Norwegian peacemaking efforts in Palestine with obvious American backing that brought about the Oslo Accord with much promise fared even worse with the Palestinians continuing to be humiliated and pasted by the Israelis almost on a daily basis. Where the hell is UNHRC? No war crimes there on your watch Michelle Bachelet? At least the UN should have given her a Nelsonian eye patch.
The Norwegian mission here definitely cleared its move with Oslo. However, by the time they got in touch with the Maldivian HC, Male had cleared Sri Lankan Navy intelligence to interrogate the apprehended LTTE cadres in the custody of the Maldivian. The Island reported the Norwegian intervention in its May 26, 2007 edition. The LTTE had used the ill-fated vessel to transfer weapons from its floating armories to Wanni and was on such a mission when the Maldivians intervened.
At the time the Maldivians sank Sri Krishna, Tamil Nadu had accused the Sri Lanka Navy of destroying that particular vessel. What Tamil Nadu as well as India never expected was another country intervening in the clandestine LTTE arms smuggling operation.
The Maldivian Coast Guard made the intervention on May 16, 2007. The Maldivian Coast Guard engaged a vessel carrying the Sri Lankan flag after the latter fired at a Maldivian fishing craft.
Following a 12-hour standoff, the Maldivians sank the craft flying the Sri Lankan flag.
Interestingly, there had been some Indian naval personnel onboard the Maldivian craft engaged in the operation against the Tiger commandeered vessel.
The LTTE would have never expected its cadres who commandeered the vessel to surrender as they are noted for biting their cyanide vials to prevent capture. The Maldivians however rescued five Tigers who jumped overboard from the sinking vessel, subsequently identified as Sri Krishna. The rescued men told the Maldivians and their Indian instructors (The Indians were helping the Maldivian Coast Guard personnel to familiarize with CG vessel Huravee, gifted by New Delhi to Male) the circumstances under which they were found in Maldivian waters, while engaged in transferring armaments from a floating warehouse.
Sri Krishna’s skipper, Simon Soza had been among the five rescued by the Maldivians. The Sea Tigers admitted that the remaining Indians were being held in a camp in the Vanni (Maldives sinks Indian craft hijacked by Sea Tigers – The Island May 18, 2007).
The sinking of the Sri Krishna was the second high profile incident involving an Indian trained terrorist group in the Maldivian territory. The raid on Male during the first week of November, 1988 by sea borne PLOTE (People’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) terrorists at the behest of a Colombo-based Maldivian businessman, Abdulla Luthufee was the first. Interestingly, the Indian Navy sank MV Progress Light commandeered by Luthufee’s mercenaries while trying to reach Sri Lankan waters.
Former Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, who led the then UNP government’s negotiating team for talks with the LTTE in 2002-2003 period, appreciated the role played by the Scandinavian country.
GL, Palihakkara, Salter,Jehan comment
Prof. Peiris, now a leading member in one of the SLPP rebel groups said: “The Norwegian government was significantly involved in the economic development of Sri Lanka, long before its association with the peace process. In particular, there had been substantial Norwegian support for infrastructure development, especially rural roads in the South of Sri Lanka, in addition to assistance in the fisheries sector, human resources development and community work of various kinds.
In the aftermath of its facilitation role in the peace process in the late 1990s and early in the present century, the government of Norway commissioned an independent evaluation of their role here with a view to ascertaining its strengths and weaknesses. I believe this study led to more useful insights.
We regret the decision to close down the embassy in Colombo for the time being, but understand that it is part of a worldwide evaluation process.
The government of Norway has announced its commitment to and support for the people of Sri Lanka will continue. We appreciate this assurance.”
In response to The Island query regarding the Norwegian pull out, Executive Director of the National Peace Council (NPC), Dr. Jehan Perera has sent us the following statement: “The departure of the Norwegian Embassy from Sri Lanka is a big loss to us. This is a time when we need all the assistance and friendship we can from the international community, especially those who have helped us in the past. The Ambassador has stated that Norway will continue to provide Sri Lanka with assistance and will engage in development activities. However, Sri Lanka will lose out because remote support is not the same as in-country support where Norwegian diplomats and embassy staff are in constant interaction with Sri Lankan people. We also need to acknowledge the huge investment Norway made to help us resolve our ethnic war through negotiations and a political solution. They supported organisations such as the National Peace Council to build bridges between the communities, which we continue to do. Norwegian support for peace-building work got reduced after the failure of the ceasefire agreement and peace process. NPC did not receive Norwegian financial support over the past decade. But the capacity for peace-building work that Norway supported us to achieve, and which continues to remain with us, is a cause for gratitude and we regret very much the closure of their embassy.”
The author of ‘To End a Civil War: Norway’s Peace Engagement in Sri Lanka’ Mark Salter said: “The closure of the Norwegian Embassy in Colombo ends an important chapter in relations between the two countries. At the joint invitation of the government and the LTTE leadership, in 1999-2000 Oslo accepted the role of peace facilitator between the two parties. To their great credit, over the following decade the Norwegians stuck at their appointed ‘peace diplomacy’ task through thick and thin – possibly the most sustained instance of external engagement with a peace process to date. And this including when, in the aftermath of the return to war in autumn 2006 and the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) the Norwegians brokered in 2002 looked increasingly dead in the water, they became the subject of increasing domestic attacks, notably by both the government itself and Sinhala nationalists who tarred them with the brush of ‘White Tigers’.
As we know, theirs (and other) peace efforts ultimately failed. A messenger, however, is only as good as the message they carry – a fact that often seems completely lost on the legions of Lankan critics of the Norwegian’s ‘messenger’ role. As Erik Solheim and others have long since acknowledged, Oslo undoubtedly made mistakes along the way – notably the failure to foster an initial bipartisan Sinhala political consensus in support of the peace process. Ultimately, however, the failure of the peace process comes down to the failure in their different ways of both parties to continue to engage seriously with the process itself.”
For those who are genuinely interested in knowing the Norwegian-led process, perusal of Salter’s work is a must. Former BBC journalist and analyst, Mark Salter who launched ‘To End a Civil War: Norway’s Peace Engagement in Sri Lanka’ in Colombo several years after Norway released ‘Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009)’ meticulously addressed the issues. Salter’s work help the readers to understand what really went wrong if the official Norwegian examination didn’t achieve what was expected. Chr. Michelsen Institute and School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, jointly put out that report. The team responsible for the official version comprised Gunnar Sørbø, Jonathan Goodhand, Bart Klem, Ada Elisabeth Nissen and Hilde Selbervik. The Wikileaks revelations should be of pivotal importance for those keen to know the developments here.
One-time Foreign Secretary H.M.G.S. Palihakkara who served as the Governor of the Northern Province during the Yahapalana administration, has sent us the following statement in response to a query posed to him: “It does not look like a singular decision by one country, at least optics-wise, since both countries announced the intended closures within a space of a few months this year, Sri Lanka being the first in April and Norway following in September. Embassy closing of course is news one can hardly celebrate esp. in bilateral diplomacy. The notion that reciprocity is the first lesson in diplomacy still has some currency. And that factor may have weighed in at some stage of this decision-making process. However, speculating on that won’t help either side.
What is of promise is that both countries have been quick to emphasize that the decisions are derived from ‘structural’, rather than bilateral considerations and will not impinge on relations.
Sri Lanka has further qualified closure as ‘temporary’ while Norway has recommitted itself to ‘further the constructive and friendly relations’. It would be reasonable to say these relations have endured many decades and vicissitudes including a complicated and even controversial ‘peace process’ with the LTTE through a vain facilitation effort by Norway.
The Norwegian envoy in Colombo, Ambassador Trine Jøranli Eskedal in her media comments has quite professionally put these positives at a higher notch saying ‘ We will continue to maintain our warm bilateral relations with Sri Lanka and development assistance will also continue.’ So the ‘distancing’ signified by these closures at first glance, may be more apparent than real. The fact remains that SL has benefitted from several billions of NKR bilateral ODA for projects ranging from the well-known Cey-Nor in the North to extensive rural development in the South. Since modern diplomacy is often about building on what you have rather than imagining the ideal, it is up to both sides to do just that-build on the positives.”
Whatever the views expressed by interested parties regarding the planned Norwegian closure of its embassy here the fact remains the move is detrimental to Sri Lanka, especially at a time the country is experiencing its worst post-independence economic crisis. Norway spent lavishly on its Sri Lanka project. Civil society groups benefited immensely. A simmering dispute between the Norwegians and the late Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe, one of the largest beneficiaries of the Norwegian funding highlighted the controversial relationship between the embassy and the civil society. The Norwegians ended up squandering their taxpayers’ money even on the LTTE and its front organizations. That is the undeniable truth.
But, perhaps their biggest mistake that had been influenced by interested parties here was the assertion as acknowledged in ‘Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka (1997-2009)’ that the LTTE cannot be defeated.
The Norwegians as well as other Co- Chairs operated on the premise the Sri Lankan military couldn’t match the LTTE’s strategy or the fighting will. Those who benefited from the Norwegian largesse propagated that myth wherever possible like their Western pay masters. That assessment was proved wrong in May 2009 when a soldier shot Velupillai Prabhakaran on his head on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon.
The Isle on a High
By Lynn Ockersz
At the Lotus Tower’s highest point,
Where the pain of living eases for a while,
And delirium takes over minds and hearts,
Sightseers look down and find nothing wrong,
With gold chain-grabbing turning a way of life,
Poor women calling at mushrooming spas,
And elders hitting the streets in despair;
All happening amid a rash of plush malls,
And palatial houses seeing steady demand,
Making up quite a skewed state-of-affairs,
Which serve to remind the few of clear mind,
That Lotus Towers and other lulling ploys,
Are aimed at silencing the revolting mind.
Oslo pullout, new Geneva resolution and origins of terrorism (part 1)
” Norway will never forget how LTTE influenced the worst ever act of terrorism on its soil. Far right Norwegian Andres Breivik, 32, responsible for the July 22, 2011 massacre of 77 persons, mostly teenagers in two successive attacks in Norway was inspired by the LTTE. A few hours before, Breivik went on the rampage, he made reference to the LTTE’s eviction of the Muslim community from the Northern Province in Oct/Nov 1990, in his so-called manifesto released online. The following are the references (1) Pro-Sri Lanka (supports the deportation of all Muslims from Sri Lanka) (Page 1235) and (2) Fourth Generation War is normally characterized by a ‘stateless’ entity fighting a state or regime (the EUSSR). Fighting can be physically such as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to use a modern example. (Page 1479). Perhaps, Sri Lanka should ask for an international inquiry. One of Sri Lanka’s foremost diplomats Jayantha Dhanapala appearing before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in 2010 stressed the accountability on the part of foreign governments. The then Mahinda Rajapaksa government probably blinded by unfathomable victory was not bothered. It only sought political advantage of the developments even at the expense of Sri Lanka.”
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Norway on Sept 09 announced that its diplomatic mission in Colombo will be closed at the end of July 2023. The Norwegian Embassy in Colombo declared that this would be among five diplomatic missions to be closed as part of the planned structural reforms in its network of diplomatic missions. The Embassy didn’t mention the other diplomatic missions facing closure.
Norway established a diplomatic mission here in 1996 during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s presidency. The setting up of that mission was primarily to facilitate negotiations between Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The establishment of the Colombo mission took place in the wake of the military consolidating its position in the Jaffna peninsula. Jaffna town was brought under government control in early Dec 1995.
The signing of the one-sided Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) in Feb 2002 can be considered the highpoint of the Norwegian intervention here that allowed the LTTE to expand its sphere of influence. Who really drafted the CFA? Did the then top Norwegian negotiator Erik Solheim draft it as he claimed in an interview with the late Kumar Rupesinghe? Whatever the circumstances, the CFA certainly didn’t take into consideration concerns of the military.
However, the Norwegian Embassy made available the Norwegian Foreign Ministry press release that dealt with the proposed closure of some diplomatic missions. Accordingly, the diplomatic missions in Slovakia, Kosovo and Sri Lanka and the Embassy office in Madagascar and the Consulate General in Houston, Texas, are to be closed. It would be pertinent to mention that Norway established a diplomatic mission in Slovakia in Sept. 2004, just a year after Slovakia moved out of the Czechoslovakian Federation and in Kosovo four years later. NATO member Norway participated in large scale air offensive to drive out Serbian forces from Kosovo-Norway set up Embassy office in Madagascar in 2004 and the Houston ‘mission’ back in 1977.
The closure of the Norwegian Embassy in Colombo should be also examined against the backdrop of cash- strapped Sri Lanka closing down our missions in Norway and Iraq and the Consulate General in Sydney, Australia, early this year.
Norway has thrown its weight behind a new six-page draft resolution before the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council, (UNHRC) handed in by the UK. The UK leads Sri Lanka Core Chairs and the resolution is widely regarded as the strongest since the successful conclusion of the war against the LTTE in May 2009.
A vote on this new resolution is due before the sessions end on October 7. Sessions commenced on Sept 12.
The resolution is co-sponsored by the United States, Canada, Germany, Malawi, Montenegro, and North Macedonia. Sri Lanka’s rejection of the latest resolution is irrelevant. Therefore, another heavy defeat at the UNHRC is quite possible. But, Sri Lanka conveniently failed so far to set the record straight in Geneva and at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Successive governments allowed Geneva to dictate terms by failing to present Sri Lanka’s case. The incumbent government is no exception.
Oslo has announced the termination of its mission here over a decade after the eradication of the LTTE’s conventional military capability. Had the Western sinister project succeeded, Sri Lanka would have been divided on ethnic lines. The CFA allowed the LTTE freedom to operate in the Northern and Eastern Province as it did away with restrictions placed on Tiger armed cadres entering government-held areas. The Norwegian led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) that was empowered to oversee the Ceasefire Agreement, continued to mollycoddle the LTTE in spite of a spate of blatant CFA violations by the Tigers.
In the wake of the then treacherous UNP government exposing the covert intelligence operation carried out by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) behind enemy lines, the LTTE went after its operatives with a vengeance. The Norwegians went to the extent of providing funding to the LTTE and its front organizations, much to the dismay of those who really believed in a genuine effort to bring peace.
The Norwegian funding continued even after the LTTE quit the negotiating table in late April 2003. There had never been a proper examination of the Norwegian intervention here though Norway funded the costly joint study undertaken by Gunnar Sorbo of the Chr. Michelsens Institute (CMI) and Jonathan Goodhand of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Their report titled Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka 1997-2009, released in September 2011 made specific reference to the SLMM, having accessibility to best possible intelligence.
High profile Oslo project
According to the report, the SLMM received intelligence from both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and India’s premier intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).
Thanks to NATO and India, those running the peace process couldn’t have been unaware of the LTTE’s rapid preparations for war. Norway received NATO support as a member of the military alliance (Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka 1997-2009, page 100).
The Norwegian study quoted the then SLMM head as having said that RAW only reached them through informal channels, therefore they couldn’t be fully trusted. “They weren’t giving it to us to be nice. We would always ask ourselves why they want us to know this. Intelligence provided by NATO only confirmed what they already knew”, the SLMM chief was quoted as having said.
The RAW destabilized Sri Lanka to such an extent, beginning with the election of J.R. Jayewardene, because of his overt tilt to the West, Sri Lanka was compelled to transform its ceremonial army into a lethal fighting force.
But, those who had been pursuing hostile agenda against us in Geneva quite conveniently forget how major powers ruined Sri Lanka by sponsoring, particularly the LTTE terrorism, and also giving them a free hand. Can the so-called leader of the Core Group, the UK, absolve itself of the responsibility for promoting terrorism here? The UK allowed LTTE’s International Secretariat to propagate the war against a Commonwealth country from London, granted citizenship to the late Anton Balasingham who advised Prabhakaran on terror project and even allowed secret talks therein between the LTTE theoretician and top Norwegian diplomats in the wake of the then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar’s assassination by the Tigers. The UK has also given refuge to his wife Adele despite her having nourished Tamil young girls to take up violence. She was photographed donning cyanide capsules around the necks of such girls as they passed out after training.
The LTTE assassinated Kadirgamar on Aug 12, 2005, while the CFA, supervised by Scandinavian countries, was in operation. On April 25, 2006, the LTTE almost succeeded in assassinating Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka at the Army headquarters. On Oct 01, 2006, the LTTE made an abortive bid to assassinate Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa near Piththala junction, Kollupitiya. The Norwegians and Peace Co-Chairs comprising the US, Japan and the EU remained inactive. The LTTE continued to advance its project. The CFA didn’t prevent the LTTE from unloading ship loads of armaments or carrying out high profile assassinations.
The Norwegian role should be examined taking into consideration the Japanese involvement in the peace initiative.
Dr. John Gooneratne, who had been with the government Peace Secretariat from its inception in January 2002 to May 2006, explained serious shortcomings in the CFA over a year after the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009. Appearing before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) on September 15, 2010, Dr. Gooneratne revealed that four key matters proposed by the government weren’t included in the CFA. (A) There had been no reference to the requirement to use the CFA to pave the way for talks to find a negotiated settlement. (B) Specific reference to the prohibition of unlawful importation of arms, ammunition and equipment was not included. (C) Although the LTTE was allowed to engage in ‘political work’ in government controlled areas, other political parties weren’t given access to areas under the LTTE control (D) Forcible conscription of personnel to the LTTE’s fighting cadre, too, was not added to the list of prohibited activities.
Dr. Gooneratne, a veteran career diplomat, faulted the then UNP government as well as the Norwegians for being hasty in their approach. Dr. Gooneratne said: “What lessons can we learn from this experience? Firstly, negotiating on such security and military matters should have been a more inclusive format than by just the party in power. Secondly, in negotiating documents, such as the CFA, thoroughness should be the standard, and not just the speed.”
The CFA created an environment that allowed the LTTE to exploit the situation. Defence Secretary General Kamal Gunaratne in his book ‘Road to Nanthikadal’ launched in 2016 dealt with the CFA and how the LTTE abused and misused it. Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva, former The Island columnist and prolific writer C.A. Chandraprema, in his book ‘Gota’s War’, too, dealt with the Norwegian role here. But, those who really desired to know about the Norwegian project should definitely peruse ‘Peaceful Intervention in Intra-State Conflicts: Norwegian Involvement in the Sri Lankan Peace Process.’
Career diplomat Dr. Chanaka Thalpahewa had dared to go the whole hog and lucidly explain the Oslo initiative harmful to Sri Lanka.
The Norwegians had been careless, extremely reckless. There cannot be a better example than importing radio equipment in agreement with the then government that bent backwards to appease the LTTE. The then Norwegian Ambassador Jon Westborg earned the wrath of some Opposition political parties as well as Sinhala nationalist groups for directly playing a role. The political leadership tried to underscore the importation of state-of-the-art radio equipment by the Norwegian Embassy in agreement with the Peace Secretariat though all knew it was a political decision. CFA time Defence Secretary and one of those who negotiated with the LTTE Austin Fernando’s ‘My Belly is White’ launched in January 2008 at the height of the war, too, is a must read.
UNHRC, GTF silent on India’s accountability
The Island in its Sept 19, 2022 edition (both print and online) carried a statement issued by the UK-based Global Tamil Forum (GTF). The TNA’s partner called for a strong new resolution on Sri Lanka that reflected the recommendations of the High Commissioner’s Report. Having demanded punitive action against Sri Lanka, the GTF thanked India for backing their cause at the UNHRC. The GTF and the UNHRC owed an explanation whether they wanted to leave India out of the proposed investigations.
Can accountability pertaining to the Sri Lanka conflict be examined by turning a blind eye to Indian intervention here, ranging from sponsoring of terrorist groups, atrocities perpetrated by the Indian Army that prompted the LTTE to assassinate former Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi and the sea borne raid on the Maldives carried out by Indian trained PLOTE terrorists and the killing of TULF’s Jaffna MPs by TELO at the behest of RAW?
The UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report called on Sri Lanka to ‘re-launch a comprehensive, victim-centred strategy on Transitional Justice and accountability, to establish credible truth seeking mechanism and ad hoc special court’. Obviously, UNHRC and GTF are in a dilemma. India lost well over 1,000 officers and men here while approximately 3,000 others received injuries, some maimed for life.
Instead of opposing Geneva led investigations, Sri Lanka should request for a wider probe to establish how foreign support allowed the LTTE to wage war for nearly three decades and to ascertain the origins of terrorism.
The incumbent government should publicly ask those demanding accountability on Sri Lanka’s part to explain why the predominantly Tamil speaking northern and eastern electorates overwhelmingly voted for General Sarath Fonseka at the 2010 presidential poll after repeatedly accusing he and his Army of committing war crimes and how the TNA should be dealt with for recognizing the LTTE in late 2001 as the sole representatives of the Tamil speaking people. Those who are skeptical about alleged TNA-LTTE links should peruse the European Union Election Observation Mission report on the April 2004 general election. The EU explained how the TNA secured 22 seats at that poll with the direct help from the LTTE by stuffing ballot boxes in areas controlled by it. For some strange reason, Sri Lanka never bothered to raise these issues thereby allowed those pursuing extremely hostile agenda to humiliate the country.
Should the TNA be accountable for atrocities committed by the LTTE after their recognition of the organization as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people? Perhaps, the TNA and the very vociferous Tamil Diaspora should be asked to prove that they at least requested the LTTE not to take cover behind civilians and hold them as a human shield after the combined armed forces pushed the LTTE fighting forces across the A9 to the Mullaitivu coast by April- May 2009.
The role of the Sri Lankan Church, too, should be probed. There cannot be any justification in leaving the Church out if Geneva wants to establish the truth.
Can the proposed Truth Seeking Mechanism refrain from inquiring into the deaths of Sri Lankan Tamils in the hands of Indian law enforcement authorities in the aftermath of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination? How many died? What were their identities? Do they still remain in the missing persons lists? Perhaps, the female LTTE cadre who committed suicide in the process of blowing up Gandhi may still be categorized as a missing person. Would it be possible to identify those PLOTE cadres killed by the Indian Navy on the high seas as they fled the Maldives in early Nov 1989 following the abortive bid to assassinate the then President of that island nation?
However, the writer has no dispute with the GTF’s call for thorough investigation into corruption accusations and action against all those responsible regardless of their standing in society.
Foreign passport holders
For want of Western governments’ support, thousands of people, categorized as dead/missing, live abroad under assumed identities. Sri Lanka never succeeded in securing their cooperation as they hid the real identities of thousands of Sri Lankans issued with new passports. How many Sri Lankans have received foreign passports over the past 30 years, particularly since 2009? The missing persons issue must be examined taking into consideration the rapid expansion of the Tamil Diaspora and their capacity to influence major political parties in Western countries, where they now reside.
Take the case of newly elected Norwegian lawmaker of Sri Lankan origin Khamshajiny (Kamzy) Gunaratnam, who reached Norway in 1991. Her family fled Sri Lanka in the wake of the Indian Army withdrawal and was lucky to end up in Norway. India ended itse military mission in March 1990 with then President Ranasinghe Premadasa showing them the door. The LTTE assassinated Gandhi just over a year later. Another high profile case is the ex-LTTE terrorist Antonythasan Jesuthasan receiving an opportunity to play the lead role in notable French Director Jacques Audiard’s award-winning Dheepan (2015). Jesuthasan, too, may be on some missing persons list.
The much-touted Geneva investigation should ascertain the actual number of Sri Lankans living abroad under assumed names. No less a person than Ranil Wickremesinghe when he served as the Premier of a previous government denied the state holding any Tamils in any secret location other than those held officially in jails.
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