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Midweek Review

Genocide charge reiterated

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August 20, 2020, parliament: President Gotabaya Rajapaksa delivers his policy statement.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Lawmaker Gajendrakumar Ponnanbalam, 46, on August 21, in Parliament, alleged that the Tamil community, in the North-East, had been subjected to genocide, Sri Lanka committed war crimes during phase IV of the war and that they wanted international accountability.

Ponnambalam deviated from the Geneva Accountability Resolution, co-sponsored by the previous UNP-SLFP/UPFA coalition, in Oct 2015. That resolution was meant to set up hybrid war crimes courts, comprising local and foreign judges, in terms of a tripartite agreement, involving Sri Lanka, the US and the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA).

Having represented the LTTE mouthpiece, the TNA twice, in Parliament, in 2001 and 2004, Ponnambalam addressed Parliament, last week, as the leader of the Ahila Illankai Tamil Congress (AITC), a constituent of the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF). The TNPF, established in 2010, had never been previously represented in Parliament, though it contested both the 2010 April and 2015 August parliamentary polls. In addition to Ponnanbalam, the TNPF secured one National List slot. Ponnambalam accommodated Selvarasa Gajenthiran, who quit TNA, along with him in 2010, on the National List.

Angajan Ramanathan, elected to Parliament on the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) ticket, from the Jaffna electoral district, was in the chair at the time Ponnambalam delivered his explosive statement. Former UPFA National List member Ramanathan is the Deputy Chairman of Committees.

Gajendrakumar dismissed an attempt made by the State Minister of Provincial Councils and Local Government, retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera, to intervene. In fact, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna member Weerasekera was the only one to make an attempt to challenge Ponnambalam, in Parliament, on that day. The former Navy Chief of Staff was not successful.  On the previous day, Weerasekera wanted to respond to C.V. Wigneswaran, leader of the Thamizh Makkal Kootani (TMK), though was asked by his party not to, as only party leaders addressed Parliament, during the inaugural session.

 

GP, Wiggy mount frontal assault

Both Ponnambalam and Wigneswaran represented the R. Sampanthan-led TNA earlier. Ponnambalam quit the TNA, in March 2010, having successfully contested the Jaffna district twice, in 2001 and 2004, with the blessings of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). At that time, TNA nominations, as well as the National List, were subjected to the LTTE’s approval. Former Supreme Court Judge Wigneswaran functioned as the first Chief Minister of the TNA-run Northern Province, during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure as the President.

The TNA stood solidly with the LTTE as it declared Eelam War IV, in August 2006, with simultaneous attacks on the Army, both in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

Ponnambalam attacked President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s policy statement. The lawmaker targeted the following section in particular: “It is equally important to precisely interpret the mandate given by the people. We respect the trust that the people have placed in me and the Prime Minister and the newly elected people’s representatives. We have a clear understanding of the expectations with which the people gave such a powerful mandate to the government. We will leave no room for such expectations to be dashed for any reason. It should always be remembered that the prime responsibility of a people’s representative is to serve the public. We will be sensitive to fulfilling the needs of the people, keeping in mind that all these positions are responsibilities and not privileges.”

Ponnanmalam declared that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s mandate (2019 November presidential and 2020 August parliamentary polls) did not extend to the North-East region. Ponnambalam depicted the vote received by all Tamils, including SLFP’s Ramanathan and the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) Douglas Devananda, elected to the new Parliament, as one that overwhelmingly endorsed self-determination of the Tamil speaking people. Ponnambalam justified international intervention on the basis of the Tamil community being deprived of the security it deserved.

Declaring them (Tamil lawmakers) received a mandate for Tamil rights to be recognized, Ponnambalam declared: “two nations exist in this country.”

 

Int’l intervention justified

“Sovereignty can never be a defence. This country has gone through a war and the whole world says that heinous crimes have been committed and the state is the number one accused party,” Ponnambalam declared, adding “Under no circumstances can any President, or any country, for that matter, try to hide behind the concept of sovereignty, to prevent accountability for heinous crimes. The victims of these heinous crimes stand as Tamils… the major victims stand as Tamils and they have consistently said that genocide has been committed and that they want international accountability.”

When Ponnambalam went on and on repeating war crimes allegations, in Parliament, former Presidents and Commanders-in-Chief, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena, as well as war-winning Army Chief Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, were present. Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, too, was present.

It would be pertinent to ask lawmaker Ponnambalam whether, as a member of the TNA, he endorsed the party’s decision to vote for the then common presidential candidate General Sarath Fonseka at the January 26, 2010 presidential election. Did the TNA decision to join the UNP-led coalition, comprising the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) et al unanimously approved by all constituents of the TNA?

 

Why North, East endorsed Fonseka?

Now that Ponnambalam reiterated genocide allegations, he owed an explanation why the Tamil community overwhelmingly endorsed Fonseka at the presidential election. Fonseka comfortably won all electoral districts, in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, though the South ensured Mahinda Rajapaksa secured a second term, with a staggering 1.8 mn majority. Mahinda Rajapaksa polled 6,015,934 votes (57.88%) whereas Fonseka received 4,173,185 votes (40.15%). Fonseka comfortably won the predominantly Tamil electoral districts of Jaffna, Vanni, Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Digamadulla and Nuwara-Eliya. 

The 2010 presidential election was held less than a year after the armed forces eradicated the LTTE. Blindly accusing Sri Lanka of war crimes, and genocide, seemed ridiculous, after having voted for the very man who conducted the ground offensive that brought the LTTE to its knees, in May 2009.

Accusing the Sri Lankan state of attacking Tamils, Ponnambalam justified international intervention here. But not so much as even a word about many Tamils, including so many moderates who were butchered by the terrorists in cold blood like internationally respected jurist and TULFer Dr Neelan Thiruchelvam or even a person like TULF Leader Appapillai Amirthalingam for merely ruffling the feathers of the LTTE. Both Ponnambalam and Wigneswaran conveniently forgot how India transformed a low level insurgency, in the North, to an unprecedented terrorist campaign.  

 

Interpreting ‘own citizens’

Ponnambalam advised President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who, during his 20-year service as a frontline combat officer of the Sri Lanka Army, fought Indian-sponsored terrorist groups.  “What the President must also realize is that when it comes to international relations, sovereignty comes with a certain baggage, one of the most cornerstone principles on which sovereignty will be compromised is if within the country the state does not protect its own citizens, or, even worse, if, within the country, the state attacks its own citizens,” Ponnambalam declared.

 Perhaps, other members of Parliament should remind Ponnambalam that the LTTE, as well as half a dozen other Tamil groups, that consisted of Tamils who waged war on the State. Fighting among Tamil groups claimed the lives of hundreds before they all, except the LTTE, renounced violence, in 1990. Those who had been categorized as ‘own citizens’ also killed over 1,300 Indian servicemen and wounded over 2,500 (Oct 1987-January 1990) and blew up one-time Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Former Indian High Commissioner in Colombo J.N. Dixit, didn’t mince his words when he admitted direct Indian involvement in destabilizing Sri Lanka in ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun to Yashwant Sinha.’ India paid a terrible price for destabilizing Sri Lanka. Indian-trained Sri Lankan terrorists tried to capture power, in the Maldives, in Nov 1988. The Tamil community cannot absolve itself of the culpability for the mass killings perpetrated in the name of ‘Eelam.’ Where were those elected representatives of the Tamil people when the LTTE used the Vanni population as human shield in its last bastion Mullaitivu?

Perhaps, those propagating war crimes allegations, in Parliament, should peruse Australia-based ex-terrorist Niromi de Soyza’s ‘Tamil Tigress’, first published in 2011, two years after Sri Lankan military finished off the LTTE on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon. S. Attanayake of Kottawa, Pannipitiya, sent the writer ‘Tamil Tigress’ having read the Midweek piece, titled ‘Chargie’s predicament  inspires novel, highlights Lanka’s pathetic response to external threats,’ published on March 18, 2020. It was a comment on award-winning author Sena Thoradeniya’s ‘Nimala Mala-Miya Giya Soldaduwekuge Nomiyena Kathawa’ (Immortal Story of a Dead Soldier). Attanayake quite rightly guessed the writer hadn’t read ‘Tamil Tigress’ hence sending it by post soon after the government lifted the ‘Covid lockdown.’

 

GP’s entry into TNA politics

Qualified as a barrister-at-law, in the UK, in 1997, Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam received Sri Lanka qualification as an attorney-at-law, two years later, before entering active politics, in the wake of his father Kumar Ponnambalam’s assassination, in early January 2000.

Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam’s All Ceylon Tamil Congress/Ahila Illankai Tamil Congress. Its roots can be traced to his legendary grandfather G.G. Ponnambalam QC, who was a colossus as a lawyer and politician. ACTC had been among the four parties which formed the TNA, in Oct, 2001, at the behest of the LTTE. Constituents included, in addition to Ahila Illankai Tamil Congress, the TULF (Tamil United Liberation Front) and two former terrorist groups TELO (Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization) and the PLOTE (People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam). The TNA functioned as the political wing of the LTTE. The TNA had been subservient to the LTTE to such an extent; it recognized Prabhakaran as the sole representative of the Tamils.

The TNA remained mum when the sole representative quit the negotiating table, in April 2003, to pave the way for the presidential takeover of ministries and, subsequently, the sacking of the UNP government.  Kumaratunga called for early general election, in April 2004. The LTTE unleashed violence against those who dared to challenge the TNA in the then temporarily merged North-East region. Thanks to the LTTE intervention, the TNA secured 22 seats. Having won the lion’s share of seats in the North-East region, the TNA-LTTE combine, in Nov 2005, ordered Tamils to boycott the presidential election. The move was meant to ensure UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s defeat. The UNPer lost by 186,000 votes. Those who allege the Rajapaksa Camp bribed the LTTE to disrupt election in the North and East to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s advantage should explain whether the LTTE received money from them. As the TNA announced the polls boycott, on behalf of the LTTE, it owed an explanation to the public. Did the LTTE receive money from the Rajapaksa Camp?

The truth is that the LTTE and the TNA really believed they could take care of Mahinda Rajapaksa far more easily than Wickremesinghe. Having dug its own grave, the LTTE faced a relentless three-year military onslaught, once it initiated a military offensive in the second week of August 2006.

The armed forces eradicated the LTTE, in May 2009. In the following year, the TNA backed the very man who led the campaign against the LTTE at the presidential poll.

Accusations pertaining to war crimes and genocide, in Parliament, should be examined against the backdrop of the TNA losing political clout, following the poor performance at the general election. The TNA parliamentary group now comprises 10 lawmakers. In the last Parliament, the TNA group consisted of 16. The TNA won 16 seats when it contested the general election, for the very first time, in 2001. At the 2004 general election, the LTTE threw its full weight behind the TNA to enable the coalition to win 22 seats, 14 seats in 2010 and 16 in 2015.  In spite of the setback suffered by the TNA, Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam and Wigneswaran are likely to go flat out against the government.

In the wake of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa presenting his policy statement, a section of the much-depleted TNA met the Indian High Commissioner. The meeting took place on Friday, August 21. The TNA, in a  brief statement issued on the same day, quoted Indian High Commissioner Gopal Bagley as having assured India’s continuing commitments to finding a resolution to the Tamil national question in Sri Lanka. The TNA delegation consisted of  R. Sampanthan Mavai Senathirajah, Dharmalingam Siddarthan, Selvam Adaikalanathan and M.A. Sumanthiran. ITAK (Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi) leader Mavai Senathirajah is no longer an MP having been defeated at the August 05 general election.

It would be interesting to see whether Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam and Wigneswaran received invitations from the Indian High Commission.

 

Over 100 LTTE cadres in

custody poisoned

Let me finish this piece by reminding how the likes of Wigneswaran propagated lies. Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara’s brother-in-law, Wigneswaran, chided the government over the July1983 violence, while insisting the need to consult India, if the government wanted to do away with the 13th Amendment, introduced in line with the Indo-Lanka Accord. Wigneswaran should know that the July 1983 violence wouldn’t have happened if not for India providing the LTTE expertise to wipe out a mobile military patrol. India sponsored terrorism here to create the conditions required for direct military intervention. The incumbent government should set the record straight, at least now.

Sri Lanka never took tangible measures against those who propagated lies as part of an overall strategy to ruin the country. Some cannot stomach the LTTE’s annihilation, on the Vanni east front, over a decade ago. Wigneswaran is one such person. Wigneswaran, and a section of the Tamil media, in August 2016, accused the military of killing over 100 LTTE combatants, in custody, by poisoning them. The PTI and NDTV were among the international media which reported unsubstantiated allegations.

Accusers placed the number of such deaths at 104. Accusations were made while the U.S. Pacific Command’s ‘Pacific Angel’ exercise was underway, in the Jaffna peninsula.

Wigneswaran brashly declared that the U.S. Air Force’s medical team, in Jaffna, would examine the former rehabilitated LTTE cadres, who, he alleged, had fallen sick because they were injected with poisonous substances, at government detention, or rehabilitation camps.

The then State Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene and Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne dismissed the vicious accusations. Wijewardene offered the international community access to rehabilitation facilities. What the Minister didn’t realize was that by August 2016, the vast majority of ex-LTTE combatants had been released.

The US conveniently refrained from making its position clear on Wigneswaran’s claim when the writer raised the issue with the US Embassy in Colombo. There had never been such a claim, before Wigneswaran sought to humiliate Sri Lanka with it. It would be pertinent to mention that one-time LTTE subordinate, the TNA, backed common candidate Maithripala Sirisena, at the 2015 presidential poll, having earlier supported Gen. Sarath Fonseka at the previous poll. On both occasions, the TNA delivered all northern and eastern electoral districts to Fonseka and Sirisena, who contested on the New Democratic Front (NDF) ticket with the ‘Swan’ as its symbol. The TNA did the same for Sajith Premadasa, in the North and the East at the last presidential poll, though the South overwhelmingly defeated the UNPer.

In answer to several questions The Island posed, regarding ex-LTTE cadres being poisoned, the US Embassy said: “Operation Pacific Angel is providing assistance, based on the specific needs of the local communities. Among the nearly 70 members of this multilateral assistance programme – including some medical staff and engineers from Bangladesh, Nepal, and the Maldives, as well as the United States – are over 40 doctors, providing basic medical services: dental procedures; physical therapy; general medical assistance; and optometry. These are the only services being provided.”

The writer asked the US Embassy whether it could confirm that US Pacific Command personnel, conducting medical tests on ex-LTTE cadres, allegedly poisoned by the previous government; whether they would be moved to overseas medical facility for further tests; whether the GoSL had been informed of the development; when did the TNA request the US intervention and whether the US military had conducted similar tests in other countries. For obvious reasons, the US refrained from responding to The Island queries.

The five-day ‘Operation Pacific Angle’ was launched, in Jaffna, by the then US Ambassador in Colombo Atul Keshap.

The New Indian Express quoted Wigneswaran as having said that the US Air Force’s medical team would examine ex-LTTE cadres who had been sick because they were injected with poisonous substances by the Sri Lankan armed military while they were undergoing detention, or rehabilitation. Wigneswaran, according to the New Indian Express, had told the NPC (Northern Provincial Council) that he had mentioned the plight of the former combatants in his conversation with the US Ambassador, Atul Keshap, and asked if the USAF team could examine them and give an independent report.

Wigneswaran’s allegations died a natural death. The TNA, or the US, never discussed the issue publicly. But, such calculated lies caused massive damage.

 

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ICRC on genocide accusation
 

A leaked cable, dated July 15, 2009, signed by the then Geneva-based US Ambassador, Clint Williamson, cleared the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) of crimes against humanity during the Vanni offensive. The cable addressed to the US State Department, was based on a confidential conversation Ambassador Williamson had with the then ICRC head of operations for South Asia, Jacque de Maio, on July 9, 2009. Ambassador Williamson wrote: “The army was determined not to let the LTTE escape from its shrinking territory, even though this meant the civilians being kept hostage by the LTTE were at an increasing risk. So, de Maio said, while one could safely say that there were ‘serious, widespread violations of international humanitarian law,’ by the Sri Lankan forces, it didn’t amount to genocide. He (Maio) could cite examples of where the army had stopped shelling when the ICRC informed them it was killing civilians. In fact, the army actually could have won the military battle faster with higher civilian casualties, yet chose a slower approach which led to a greater number of Sri Lankan military deaths. He concluded, however, by asserting that the GoSL failed to recognize its obligation to protect civilians, in spite of its approach resulting in higher military casualties.” Sri Lanka never properly used available information, including Wikileaks revelations, pertaining to Sri Lanka and Lord Naseby’s disclosure to counter lies. The travel ban slapped on Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva, as well as Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, by the US is evidence of Sri Lanka’s continuing failure to set the record straight.



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Midweek Review

Queues, Cues and More Queues

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By Kalinga Tudor Silva

One of the important ways, the current economic crisis in Sri Lanka has directly impacted our lives is having to go through long and seeming unending queues, to access petrol, diesel, kerosene and even our dear passports. Queues have multiplied, sprung up on either side of the road and across the road in some instances adding to traffic jams, accidents and related road risks and public grievances stemming from the economic crisis. Frustrations arising from the failure at the end of the queues to secure what they were queuing for long hours have also become an important driver of public protests and clashes between different groups of public, consumers and fuel station staff and the public and law enforcement personnel. This is not the first time that scarcities hit consumers in Sri Lanka, but this is the first time in our memory that queues have become a routine and blatantly visible sign of the desperate position we are in with our foreign reserves nearly exhausted and essential imports like fuel, consumer goods and medicines severely curtailed in consequence. While the rising cost of fuel in the wake of the war in Ukraine may have partly contributed to this situation, the totally irresponsible and reckless way our foreign reserves were handled and high-risk international credit using International Sovereign Bonds were obtained by our political leaders and their hand-picked bureaucrats at the top largely contributed to the economic meltdown producing heavy scarcities and the resulting queues. I am writing this short reflection based on my personal experience of long stays in petrol and LP gas queues and brief conversations I had with different stakeholders in the supply chain and the fellow victims in the queues.

Queue Jumping

While Sri Lankans are notorious for jumping the queues and doing so shamelessly at times wearing ties and all the external trappings of modernity, they have also found ingenious ways of blocking queue jumping. I came across two such devices in the two sets of queues in which I joined. One was the bumper-to-bumper vehicle parking in overnight queues blocking any big enough empty space to be occupied by intruders big or small. The other was tying of empty gas cylinders to one another forming their own queues using a metal chain to prevent any forcible insertions in between, with chains and empty gas cylinders serving as actants in this instance, as the social theorist Latour would identify them within his actor-network framework. In adaptation to the circumstances as well as in outsmarting the habitual queue-jumpers, it is as if queues take cues from one another. That said I find these multiple queues imposed upon us a total waste of our time and resources. For instance, some people exhaust the limited fuel stocks they have in their vehicles in the slow-moving vehicle queues, only to find when they reach their destination that there is no more fuel to be sold. This is the point at which some people get into serious conflict with either the fuel station employees or other parties perceived to be manipulating the supply lines. These confrontations have sometimes ended in serious injuries or even manslaughter.

It must be stated here that while some fuel stations have done a reasonable job of handling this difficult situation, others have made a mess of distributing the limited supplies. In one fuel station that I visited I came to know that there was one long queue to secure tokens for the next day and another even longer queue using the tokens to access fuel. Despite all the seemingly logical efforts such as allocating different days for accessing fuel according to the last number in the license plate, and the introduction of the QR code system, they have further complicated the distribution of fuel and made life difficult for the consumers. The token system was introduced to do away with the queues, but it has in fact multiplied queues, with queues for obtaining the tokens superimposed upon separate fuel queues. It appears to be the case that there is no monitoring or follow up of the various interventions made by the Energy Ministry to make sure that these interventions work in the way expected and fix any inevitable mistakes in the system. As of now some of the interventions such as the token system has only served to make life difficult for the consumers simultaneously hit by the scarcities on the one hand and sharp and repeated escalation of commodity prices on the other. Where yesterday’s queues end, today’s queues begin in anticipation of tomorrow’s uncertain supplies. In the meantime, the number of people collapsing and instantly dying in the queues has recorded an all-time high in this land of prosperity and splendour!

Black Market

Another unhealthy development we are witnessing currently is the emergence of a black market for fuel and perhaps other commodities in short supply. This black market has several manifestations. One is that the fuel issued for one legitimate purpose such as operation of mechanised fishing boats essential for the fishing industry being diverted to the black-market catering to the motorists. The relevant boat operators perhaps make a good income by illegally selling their fuel supplies instead of catching any fish. Another is that hired vehicles such as three wheelers being used for securing fuel supplies for the black market, these vehicle operators making more money illegally selling their fuel stocks than by hiring their vehicles as expected. This also perhaps partly explains why the fuel queues keep extending despite the supply chain being in operation and replenished from time to time. The police have successfully caught some of these illegal operators, but the number caught may simply be the tip of the iceberg. Some black-market operators reportedly dilute their fuel supplies with whatever bubbling substances at their disposal causing havoc in the vehicle engines to which they are introduced. This again may be a lucrative income avenue for the expert mechanics, but a serious risk faced by the motorists compelled to turn to the black market to obtain fuel supplies during emergencies. Thirdly charges by commercial vehicles such as trucks, taxis and three wheelers have risen so much because of the fuel scarcity and the black market in fuel supply that they rely on to an extent that many users have virtually given them up. The QR code introduced to overcome the resulting problems such as diversion of fuel supplies to the black market, is yet to be implemented across the board and adopted by all parties concerned. Obviously, the ground situation has not been properly assessed in respect of availability of devises and the competence of the fuel station staff and the latter have not been prepared for adoption of this intervention prior to its introduction.

Muscle Power

Another parallel development to the black market is the control of certain terminal points in the fuel distribution system by a mafia-like local group with muscle power, heavy street presence and possible connections to the long arms of the law and at times law makers themselves. This group obviously benefits from the black market and perhaps tries to perpetuate it because it serves their interests. This will make it difficult to go back to a free market of the type that prevailed prior to the onset of the economic crisis even when economy has recovered, and the fuel supplies are back to normal. This group can either subvert the efforts to regularise the fuel supply or manipulate them for maximising their own benefits in ways that entrench the black market and enhance their control over it.

Considering the adverse effects of this black market and its potentially irreversible social consequences, it is essential that innovative approaches are pursued in order to prevent it from advancing to the next stage. While the queues may be here to stay for some time, we must find ways and means to ensure that they do not get out of control and destabilise the entire social system and the market economy connected with it. Allocating different types of motor vehicles for fuel supply on different days or to different fuel stations, proper implementation of the QR codes having done the necessary groundwork and preparations, fuel supply for essential services through approved government outlets with required police protection are among the steps that can be introduced on a pilot basis and expanded to the whole system if they prove to help overcome the current crisis. Finally, a systematic assessment of the current situation must be made by a team of competent people also getting feedback from the public with a view to identify the way forward.

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Midweek Review

Orwellian Isle Ordeals

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By Lynn Ockersz

‘Big Brother’s’ surveillance lens,

Is now at greatly magnified strength,

In the Isle thrashed by crisis waves,

Piercing every prospect of the land,

With scorching interrogatory rays,

Aiming to cow into silence,

Citizens demanding real change,

And the deliverance of Justice,

To crime victims long forgotten by time,

But all that would be left in the end,

We are compelled but sorry to say,

Is a fear-driven, straitjacketed state,

Where ‘Big Brother’, with his all-seeing eye,

Will be the power with which to contend.

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Midweek Review

Proposed all-party govt: Prez wins support from unexpected quarters

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The secret vote on the new President as well as the Emergency sharply divided the SLFP. In spite of talks among members of its parliamentary group, the party, led by one-time President Maithripala Sirisena, has not been able to reach a consensus on a strategy to deal with the new President. Of the 14 SLFPers, including National List MP Dr. Suren Raghavan, five have thrown their weight behind Wickremesinghe’s move to impose the Emergency rule. The remaining SLFPers abstained at the vote on the Emergency, though all 14 members exercised their freedom at the secret vote to elect the new President by parliament. The SLFP parliamentary group was reduced to 09 in the wake of 05 switching their allegiance to Wickremesinghe. Even out of the 09, Lasantha Akagiyawanna, Duminda Dissanayake, Ranjith Siyambalapitiya and Jagath Pushpakumara wanted to vote for the Emergency, whereas Maithripala Sirisena, Dayasiri Jayasekera, Angajan Ramanathan, Shan Wijelal and Sarathi Dushmantha felt the party should vote against.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Lawmakers sharply differ on a solution to developing the political-economic-social crisis. Election of UNP National List MP Ranil Wickremesinghe as the 8th Executive President and the vote on Emergency on July 20 and July 27 respectively further highlighted the growing differences among political parties, represented in Parliament, as well as individual members.

The Parliament consists of 196 elected and 29 appointed (National List) members. They have entered Parliament on the ticket of political parties mentioned below: The parties are Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (145 seats), Samagi Jana Balavegaya (54), Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (10), Jathika Jana Balavegaya (03) Ahila Illankai Tamil Congress (02), Eelam People’s Democratic Party (02), United National Party (01), Sri Lanka Freedom Party (01), Our Power of People Party (01), Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (01) Muslim National Alliance (01), Tamil Makkal Thesiya Kutani (01), All Ceylon Makkal Congress (01), National Congress (01) and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (01).

In the wake of the UNP leader receiving parliamentary blessings to complete the remainder of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s five-year term, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has emerged as one of the leading demanders of an immediate parliamentary election, notwithstanding the perilous state of the country. The MEP with just three members (Dinesh Gunawardena, his son Yadamini (National List) and Sisira Jayakody) received the premiership.

The three-member Jathika Jana Balavegaya (JJB) parliamentary group, comprising JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake (Colombo district), Vijitha Herath (Gampaha district) and Dr. Harini Amarasuriya (National List) campaigns for an early general election. The JVP leader, one of the three contestants, received just three votes, including his own, at the July 20 vote.

Having backed Dullas Alahapperuma (Matara district) at the presidential contest, the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), too, campaigns for an early general election. The 54 member SJB parliamentary group is obviously divided over its political strategy, though its leader, Sajith Premadasa seems confident an early general election can resolve the crisis. The SJB group includes seven National List members.

The SJB and the JVP believe an early general election is the panacea for the worst-ever crisis that has brought Sri Lanka to its knees, thereby facilitating external interventions at an unprecedented level.

The rapid developments and the growing uncertainties should be examined, taking into consideration President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s stand on an early general election and that of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). Both Wickremesinghe and the SLPP are unlikely to accept the holding of a hasty national election, under any circumstances, in the current situation. They agree on Wickremesinghe finishing his predecessor’s five-year term and the Parliament continuing its stipulated period. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, fielded by the SLPP won the last presidential election, conducted in mid-November 2019, and the general election in August, 2020.

Dissident SLPP National List member Gevindu Cumaratunga discussed the issues at hand on ‘Thulawa’, anchored by Sudarman Radaliyagoda, on the Independent Television Network (ITN) on July 28.

Responding to former JVP MP Nalinda Jayatissa’s declaration that general election was nothing but a prerequisite as bankrupted Sri Lanka struggled to cope up with an unprecedented economic crisis, lawmaker Cumaratunga strongly argued for an all-party government as the urgent need to restore the gravely ill country.

The outspoken nationalist politician stressed the need for a consensus on what he called an ‘all-party-arrangement’ and the responsibility on the part of President Wickremesinghe to take tangible measures to achieve the desired objective. Civil society group ‘Yuthukama’ leader Cumaratunga explained how a dissident group of SLPP MPs and others tried to convince the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to dissolve the Cabinet-of-Ministers to pave the way for an all-party government.

Cumaratunga asserted that consensus on an ‘all party arrangement’ was required as a fresh general election couldn’t guarantee a stable government. The civil society activist asked whether anyone could guarantee how long a government elected at a hastily called general election will last.

Referring to the fate of world leaders, such as the UK’s Boris Johnson, elected in 2019, but forced to announce his resignation recently, Cumaratunga stressed that political parties should be mindful of the impact the corrosive and highly manipulated (especially by foreign interests) social media was having on the entire political party system here.

The MP was obviously commenting on the fate that befell elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa with an overwhelming majority and the SLPP. The first time entrant to Parliament pointed out that today posters weren’t required. The MP explained how social media platforms could influence the electorate to topple any elected administration by poisoning the minds of the people against it. Therefore, it would be sensible to have a consensus among those political parties represented in Parliament than going for a fresh election that may not facilitate a solution at all.

Rebels divided over political strategy

Lawmakers Cumaratunga and ‘Yuthumaka’ activist Anupa Pasqual (Kalutara district) elected on the SLPP ticket at the last general election, voted for the Emergency, the day before the live telecast of ‘Thulawa.’ Of those lawmakers representing 10 political parties and groups affiliated with the SLPP, Gevindu Cumaratunga and Anura Pasqual joined Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila in backing the continuation of the Emergency rule.

However, regardless of a decision taken at a meeting of the group held at the Communist Party office, on the previous day, Vasudeva Nanayakkara (Democratic Left Front), Prof. Tissa Vitharana (Lanka Samasamaja Party), Weerasumana Weerasinghe (Communist Party) and Ven. Athureliye Rathana (Our Power of People Party) skipped the vote. The proposal to continue with the Emergency received 120 votes whereas 63 voted against the move. Quite a number of others abstained. Some of those who voted for Dullas Alahapperuma, at the presidential contest, voted for the Emergency, while some of his other supporters abstained. The dwindling Dullas Alahapperuma-Prof. G.L. Peiris camp voted against it though some of its members suffered in the hands of the protest movement. Did they quietly and conveniently forget the killing of MP Amarakeerthi Atukorale on May 09?

Appearing on ‘Thulawa’, MP Cumaratunga questioned the JVP strategy as regards an earlygeneral election, in spite of sensible assertions that an ‘all-party arrangement’ was required to deal with the current unprecedented situation.

The ‘Yuthukama’ chief recalled how the JVP intervened during CBK’s presidency to avert external interventions (reference was to the Pariwasa government) and how the party helped Mahinda Rajapaksa to win the 2005 presidential election at a time the UPFA candidate lacked the wherewithal. But, the JVP squandered the opportunity to achieve the desired objectives due to ill-fated decisions, the ardent nationalist MP asserted.

Lawmaker Cumaratunga didn’t mince his words when he accused the JVP of being part of the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s murderous strategy in the late 80s. The reference was to the second JVP-inspired insurgency, which was eventually crushed by the Premadasa regime itself by outmatching its mindless violence after all attempts made by him to appease its demands failed, after having come to power with some help from their brute violence that had been unleashed, especially in the aftermath of the forced Indo-Lanka accord.

MP Cumaratunga reiterated his call for the JVP et al to change their strategies as part of the overall measures to overcome the daunting challenges faced by the country.

Responding to the interviewer, lawmaker Cumaratunga declared that their proposal for an ‘all-party government’ handed over to the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is still valid. Urging President Wickremesinghe to initiate action required to achieve consensus on an action plan, MP Cumaratunga referred to two instances of US interventions. The lawmaker questioned the circumstances one-time Foreign Secretary Prasad Kariyawasam ended up as an USAID paid advisor to yahapalana Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, MP, and how the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), too, benefited from USAID funding.

Before voting for the emergency on July 27, the MP reminded the House how the military top brass, at a meeting chaired by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena at the parliamentary complex on July 13, sought a clear cut direction from the political leadership regarding the ways and means of countering the threat posed by those who sought to undermine the country’s democracy.

MP Cumaratunga said that attacks on SJB leader Sajith Premadasa and several of his MPs on May 09 afternoon near Taj Samudra, assault on MP Dr. Rajitha Senaratne at a different location and threats on JVP trade union activists, whether staged or not, revealed the dangerous intentions of those who masqueraded as peaceful protesters.

The Yuthukama leader urged President Wickremesinghe to go beyond the UNP’s thinking and take appropriate measures required to restore public confidence in his administration. He expressed confidence and faith in the new Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena whose appointment was described as the most apt at a time of crisis.

Protest movement slams Fonseka

SJB MP Sarath Fonseka’s declaration in Parliament on July 27 before the House extended the Emergency that a campaign, similar to the one that ousted Gotabaya Rajapaksa on July 09, would be mounted in Colombo on August 09, angered the protest movement. The Sinhala Regiment veteran urged the military not to interfere with the protest movement.

The protest movement appeared to have been quite surprised and angered by the Field Marshal declaration.

Though the Field Marshal has openly spoken sympathetically towards the protest movement, in actual fact he has no stomach for violent blood thirsty brutes conveniently wrapping themselves in the national flag to hoodwink the nation and the world.

Sarva Parkshika Aragalakaruwo in a hard hitting statement dated July 29 alleged that the Field Marshal’s declaration was meant to cause harm to the protest movement. They called the war-winning Army Chief’s action part of the government conspiracy. The grouping urged the public to be cautious of those seeking to exploit the developments to their advantage at the expense of the overall objectives of the protest movement. Obviously, since Wickremesinghe, on the invitation of then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa accepted the premiership on May 12, differences have emerged among those who backed the protest movement. Various parties have questioned the role played by the UNP and its leader Wickremesinghe in the protest movement.

While acknowledging the right to dissent, President Wickremesinghe has sought to consolidate government authority, regardless of serious concerns expressed by Western powers. President Wickremesignhe’s decision to clear the Presidential Secretariat and its environs of protesters on July 22 underscored the new President’s resolve. In fact, the UNP leader won the appreciation and the admiration of many, even from usually unlikely quarters, like perennial ardent critic of Wickremesinghe, Sri Lanka’s former Ambassador in Myanmar Prof. Nalin de Silva, for his prompt action.

At the same time President Wickremesinghe shouldn’t risk causing further turmoil by any overhasty actions. Last Friday’s raid on the Nugegoda party office of the breakaway JVP faction, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), at least on the surface, seems an utterly idiotic move on the part of law enforcement authorities. Such actions wouldn’t help President Wickremesinghe’s efforts to secure cooperation of all political parties represented in Parliament. Instead, overzealous law enforcement operations might undermine the President’s efforts and result in pressure on those lawmakers who voted for the Emergency. Rethinking of strategy is required, urgently to prevent creation of an environment conducive for those hell-bent on ruining the country to come back to saner thinking. Maybe an iron fist in a velvet glove might be the answer.

However, we cannot blame the security apparatus for not taking any more chances. As not only Field Marshal Fonseka who warned of turmoil, but many in the JVP/FSP hierarchy have publicly vowed to drive out President Wickremesinghe the same way they chased out Gotabaya Rajapaksa. In fact just early this week IUSF leader Wasantha Mudalige vowed to bring Wickremesinghe to Galle Face on his knees.

The country has seen enough of those masquerading as non-partisan and non-violent protesters going on the rampage since March 31, when the opportunity permits. We were shocked to see how the US ambassador Julie Chung had the audacity to issue a statement urging the security establishment here not to use force against protesters on May 09, as well-prepared anti- government violent mobs were going on the rampage across the country. Maybe she should issue such statements to the US marines!

Civil society activist Chirantha Amarasinghe has released a taped conversation he had with President Wickremesinghe soon after the police and the military chased out protesters from the environs of the Presidential Secretariat. Amarasinghe questioned the rationale in President Wickremesinghe advising him to seek an explanation from IGP C.D. Wickremeratne as regards the July 22 incident against the backdrop of him personally briefing Colombo-based diplomats. Declaring their intention to mount an ‘operation’ in Colombo on August 09, Amarasinghe representing an origanisation called ‘Freedom Defenders’ insisted that the SLPP should be defeated for once and for all !

WW ready to cooperate with Prez

Having voted for the Emergency, considering the gravity of the situation facing the country, obviously instigated by his erstwhile colleagues in the JVP/FSP, National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa has offered the support of his party, comprising six parliamentarians, to the government depending on the new President’s readiness to pursue a strategy meant to counter external interventions.

The former firebrand JVPer declared his support for President Wickremesinghe’s all-party government depending on the latter’s response to their proposals. Lawmaker Weerawansa’s stand should be appreciated especially against the backdrop of long standing animosity between the UNP leader and the NFF leader. MP Weerawansa, in his letter dated July 28, has warned President Wickremesinghe that whether he accepted it or not, he too, had only two options namely (i) be part of the despicable Western operation meant to transform Sri Lanka to Haiti’s status and (ii) take tangible measures to address the issues at hand by taking advantage of the current political-economic-social crisis to reach consensus on what the former minister called a social contract.

Weerawansa lost his ministerial portfolio in early March this year. Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader Udaya Gammanpila, too, lost his ministerial portfolio at the same time. The then President sacked them in response to their leading role in a high profile campaign against the controversial Yugadanavi deal finalized in Sept 2021 under highly questionable hasty circumstances.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had to pay a very heavy price for not recognizing serious concerns expressed by SLPP constituents. Instead, the former President sought to justify the actions of those who exploited an utterly corrupt system to finalize the US energy deal. Many an eyebrow was raised when the then CEB Chairman M.M.C. Ferdinando defended the Yugadanavi deal at a media briefing arranged by the then presidential spokesperson Kingsley Ratnayake at the President’s Media Division (PMD). Ratnayake conveniently took leave before the cultivated public anger exploded at the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s private residence at Pangiriwatta, Mirihana. The former President’s Director General Media Sudewa Hettiarachchi quit several days before the protest movement overran the President’s House on July 09.

Weerawansa made a 12-point set of proposals including a mechanism to accommodate representatives of the protest movement. Amidst fears expressed by some that interested parties would take advantage of the crisis to appoint a jumbo-sized Cabinet, MP Weerawansa’s party has proposed that the Cabinet-of- Ministers should be restricted to 30 and they be deprived of current ministerial perks and privileges (suggestion number 09).

The readiness on the part of the likes of Wimal Weerawanwa and Gevindu Cumaratunga to explore ways and means of reaching a consensus on a recovery plan should be appreciated. The country is in such a desperate situation no one can stick to old policies and strategies unless they want the bankrupt country to collapse, thereby suffering irrevocable damage.However, MP Weerawansa’s recent response to Wickremesinghe invitation for talks indicated the extreme difficulties in reaching consensus on matters at hand. What all, including the President should keep in mind is that they need to address the concerns of the IMF or face the consequences.

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