Cake walk for MR as Opposition wavers and West’s double standards

  • Opposition wavers over Presidential candidate
  • Second term for Mahinda?
  • West still cock-eyed on Sri Lanka
  • Non aligned aid helps development

Following recent announcements by several government high- ups about a possible Presidential Poll early next year, most political parties have begun bracing for the big event that could determine their political future.

However, the dissention-wracked – UNP has found itself in the grip of another crisis over the question of picking its Presidential candidate. The JVP has begun an island-wide poster campaign with two slogans: ` Abolish Presidential system ‘ and `Say `no’ to another Presidential election’. The JVP usually remembers their aversion to the Executive Presidency only when a Presidential election is round the corner.

When Chandrika Kumaratunga came forward as the candidate of the United People’s Front in 1994, The JVP obtained a pledge from her that she would abolish the Executive Presidency if she were elected. The JVP, in turn, pledged to support her at the election and they did support her as pledged. However, Kumaratunga failed to take any meaningful action towards abolishing the Presidency during her 11 year rule.

Mahinda Rajapaksa successfully contested the 2005 Presidential election on the UPFA ticket. By then, the JVP had entered into a 13-clause agreement with Rajapaksa. The abolition of Executive Presidency was one of the 13 clauses. The JVP worked hard for Rajapaksa’s victory at the Presidential Poll and later became a partner of the government. However, shortly afterwards, JVP quit the government.

Soon after the announcement that the Presidential election would be held early next year, the JVP maintained that holding the election at this stage is a serious breach of the agreement they had signed with Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2005. In fact, JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe had told a media briefing that the Presidential election should not be held, and the President should take steps to abolish the Executive Presidency in terms of the agreement signed with them.

Agreement now a dead letter

However, government spokesman Media Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena replied that there was no agreement with the JVP in operation any longer, as it became a dead letter when the JVP quit the government willfully violating it.
Meanwhile, former Minister Mangala Samaraweera who formed the SLFP (M) after breaking away from the government, had made a statement assuring the support of all Parliamentarians except that of the Speaker, for a Constitutional amendment providing for the abolition of the Executive Presidency.

According to the guarantee he has given, he will secure the support of all Ministers including the Prime Minister, the other government members as well as members from all opposition parties for the passage of the proposed constitutional amendment.
It is pertinent to recall in this context, that Samaraweera after quitting the government, planned to topple the government by defeating the 2007 Budget. He had assured UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe on that occasion that there were 18 government Parliamentarians prepared to vote against the Budget. But when the vote on the Budget was taken following the third reading, only he and Sripati Suriarachchi voted against the Budget. The late Anura Bandaranaike and Wijedasa Rajapakse abstained from voting. The Budget was passed with a large majority voting for it.

Mangala ‘s assurance to secure the support of the entire Parliament for the proposed Constitutional amendment, in the backdrop of his failure to win over the support of 18 Parliamentarians on a previous occasion, would sound hollow and it has only evoked guffaws in political circles!

The UNP has not made an official statement so far to the effect that the Executive Presidency should be scrapped. It has all along stood for the continuity of the Executive Presidency. However, the party recently slightly shifted their stand saying that the Executive President should be made accountable to Parliament.

The minority parties like Ceylon Workers Congress and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress have always backed the Presidential system. These parties hold the view that the Presidential system provides a safeguard for the minority communities.
UNP wavering over Presidential candidate

Meanwhile, the UNP is yet to decide on their Presidential candidate. The UNP rebels such as Lakshman Seneviratne, and Johnston Fernando say that the party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe should contest as the party candidate.

With a popular opposition candidate of national stature yet to appear in the political horizon, all present indications point to the possibility of Mahinda Rajapaksa bagging a resounding victory for a second term. Wickremesinghe’s possible defeat at the next Presidential Poll which appears to be a foregone conclusion, might mark his exit from politics for good, say political analysts. Given this obvious certainty, Wickremesinghe is wavering between two minds about contesting the upcoming Presidential election, say the party insiders.

Another section of the UNP strongly feels that the party should field Karu Jayasuriya as the party candidate at the next Presidential election. Jayasuriya too is willing to come forward as the party candidate, according to his close associates.
Meanwhile, UNP’s National organiser and opposition leader of the Central Provincial Council is too, vying for the party candidature at the Presidential election, say party sources.

SLFP (M) Leader Mangala Samaraweera has compounded the confusion within the UNP by advocating the feasibility of fielding a common opposition candidate at the poll. He is reportedly looking for a suitable candidate who could win wide acceptance in the country. According to sources close to Samaraweera, he has already held discussions with a retired high ranking judicial officer and a retired Army commander in this connection.

Two lines of thinking over the upcoming Presidential election have emerged in the JVP. A group led Anura Kuamara Dissanayake has taken up the position that the party should support a possible common Presidential candidate, while the party leader Somawansa Amarasinghe and general Secretary Tilvin Silva are strongly advocating the idea of boycotting the election. This issue is to come up for further discussion at the JVP’s politbureau which is due to meet shortly.

Negative attitude towards Sri Lanka

Despite the obvious fact that the government is riding on a wave of popularity at home, winning election after election, certain Western countries are adopting a negative attitude towards it, which also could be euphemistically described as uncharitable, say political analysts.

Although three months have passed since the decimation of the Tiger terrorism in the North by the government security forces, the Western countries have yet to call a halt to their spiteful activity against Sri Lanka.
The countries such as the United States, UK, France and Norway, which brought pressure on Sri Lanka to stop the military operations in the North, saying that civilians in large numbers were getting killed in the cross- fire, have now begun pressing the government to send the IDPs now sheltered in relief camps, back to their villages.

Robert O Blake, former US ambassador in Colombo, now the Assistant Secretary in charge of Asian Affairs of the US State department had recently met a delegation from the Tamil diaspora in the States. According to media reports, Blake at these talks had emphasised the urgent need to provide a solution to the problems of Sri Lankan Tamils and to resettle the war-displaced people in their original homes.

Meanwhile, US State department’s Assistant Secretary in charge of Refugees and Immigrants Eric Schwartz had told media that the Sri Lankan government should take immediate steps to send the displaced people in refugee camps in Vavuniya, back to their homes before the onset of monsoonal rains.

More calls to re-settle IDPs

A group of professionals representing an India-based organisation called ` Concerned Citizens’ Forum of South Asia’, in the meantime, had submitted a document entitled ` A Road Map for Sri Lanka government to carry out Resettlement, Rehabilitation and Relief provision for the war-displaced People ‘ to Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna on August 13. SLFP (M) leader Mangala Samaraweera is also among the signatories to this document which also calls on the Indian government to pressurise the Sri Lankan government to resettle the displaced civilians without further delay.
They have in this document compared the IDP camps in Vavuniya to concentration camps where the persecuted Jews were held in Germany by Hitler during the Second World War.

UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, party’s general secretary Tissa Attanayake, and the party spokesman Lakshman Kiriella too these days are harping on the urgent need to resettle the displaced people in the North.
They point out that the resettlement process of the displaced people should be expedited as they are undergoing much inconvenience and hardship due to heavy rains lashing the area.

Gotabhaya explains

However, Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa points out that the displaced people would be exposed to a life-threatening risk if they are sent back to their villages before the areas are cleared of land mines. The Defense Secretary also says that an estimated 10,000 LTTE cadres have merged their identity in the large numbers of IDPs and they have to be first identified for rehabilitation.

The countries such as Norway, Germany and France which pressed for a ceasefire when the military operations were on, are reportedly now making preparations to present an anti-Sri Lanka resolution on this issue which has now been blown out of proportions.

It is no secret that these countries turned a blind eye to Tigers using Tamil civilians as a human shield in the battles that raged from Mannar to Pudumatalan in Mullaitivu. Accompanying possessions of these human shield -Tamil civilians which began as lorry-loads at the inception, had been reduced to the travelling bag-size by the time they had ended their plodding trek in Pudumatalan. According to tales of woe recounted by Tamil civilians there had been instances where some of them had been compelled to exchange their push cycle for a kilo of rice.

The Western countries and some INGOs did not raise their voice on behalf of civilians who had to undergo such misery and hardship. They exerted pressures only to rescue the Tiger leaders from the impending decimation.

It is an undeniable fact, that the countries like the United States, UK, France, Germany and Norway had come forward to look after the interests of Tigers, due to the clout wielded by sizable Tamil populations domiciled in their countries. It is no secret that Tamil diaspora in the United States who banded together to form an organisation called `Tamils for Obama’ made large contributions to Obama’s campaign fund at the last US Presidential election. There were reports that the Tamil diaspora in the US extended their financial backing to Hillary Clinton at the preliminaries held to pick the Democratic party candidate. It is evident that US Assistant Secretary of State Robert O Blake is being sympathetic towards Tigers only as a gesture of gratitude.
Rudrakumaran operates unhindered in US

The United States listed the LTTE as a terrorist organisation in 1997. Former US President George Bush extended this ban on the LTTE for a further five years. However, V. Rudrakumaran, a well known leader of the LTTE, now an American citizen, is openly working to resurrect the outfit in that country. Rudrakumaran shared Kumaran Pathmanathan’s initiative to declare the so called `Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam’. Why is the US government turning a blind eye to Rudrakumaran’s activity? The US government would never allow anyone to openly represent the banned Al-Quaida or Taleban on American soil. The American authorities, so much concerned about security measures as to ward off possible terrorist threats, had gone to the extent of retaining India’s super-film star Shah Rukh Khan for two hours for questioning at the New York airport. But they are passively looking on when Rudrakumaran is flaunting the Tiger credentials in that country. Is the US adopting a double standard on terrorism ?

A section of international media like the CNN, Al-Jazeera, Channel 4, London Times, and Daily Telegraph continuously churned out news stories critical of the Sri Lankan security forces during the military operations in the North. But, for them the arrest of Kumaran Pathmanathan alias KP and his being brought back to Sri Lanka made hardly any news! However, the British TV Channel 4 considered KP a good enough news maker when they decided to televise to the entire world an interview given by him in Malaysia!

Neither US State Secretary Hillary Clinton, nor British Foreign Secretary Miliband or Norwegian Minister of International Development Eric Solheim , has so far made any comment on the arrest of KP.
At a time when the countries such as US, UK, and France had suspended providing military aid to Sri Lanka, countries like China, Pakistan and Ukraine came to Sri Lanka’s rescue. It is quite clear from their attitude that they never expected this government to defeat the LTTE militarily.

Aid inflow continues

Sri Lanka has been able to obtain assistance from many countries thanks to the non-aligned policy being followed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. When China is funding the Hambantota harbour project, India is busy setting up a coal-fired power plant in Trincomalee. Meanwhile, Iran is helping us to renovate the Oil Refinery at Sapugaskanda. These signify the direct benefits being derived from our non-aligned foreign policy.

In this context, the countries such as the US and UK have been placed in a situation where they have to provide economic aid to Sri Lanka. Kissing the proverbial hand that cannot be cut, the US last week granted US $ 68 million to Sri Lanka to meet the needs of the IDPs. The British government too has extended similar aid.

Meanwhile, neighboring India has come forward to help resettle the displaced people in practical terms. India as part of their aid package has sent here a team of Army personnel to carry out de-mining in the North. This has accelerated de-mining now underway, and the government hopes that the situation about six month hence, would be conducive for resettling the war-displaced people.