Presidential polls and diplomatic opportunism

After weeks of what seemed to be a lull in the controversy, the now infamous Channel Four video aired in Britain, which allegedly depicts Sri Lankan troops killing unarmed Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) cadres at point-blank range, surfaced this week again.

That was because the United Nations (UN) Independent Special Rapporteur Philip Alston claimed that the video was authentic, contradicting the position of the Sri Lankan government. Alston claimed that three independent experts had certified that the video was not doctored. Sri Lanka had earlier claimed that expert evidence suggested the video was a fake.

The immediate fallout from this claim in Colombo was not dramatic. In fact, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon was to distance himself from Alston’s allegations, saying, the latter acted independently, and that the UN neither endorsed nor rejected his claims.

What is intriguing, however, is the timing of this particular statement. The controversy over the video, when it was first aired, hit international headlines, and there were concerns that it could lead to allegations of war crimes against the armed forces of this country.
Subsequently, however, the authenticity of the video was questioned, and it appeared to not have stood the test of scrutiny. Thereafter, the issue seemed to die a natural death, until Alston chose to resurrect it this week, with his new allegations.

Alston could not have been unaware that Sri Lanka was in the midst of a presidential election. He also could not have been unaware that the two main contenders in that contest were the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and the former Commander of the Sri Lanka Army, both in a sense, being parties to the allegations that Alston was making.

In that context, Alston’s attempt to re-ignite the controversy, smacks of diplomatic opportunism, and we must question his bona fides in trying to do so at this particular moment in time. If his intention was to embarrass Colombo in the eyes of the international community, it didn’t work, because the UN Secretary General virtually disowned the allegations.

Surely, it is high time that self-appointed guardians of human rights, such as Alston and other likeminded western nations and so-called humanitarian organisations come to terms with the fact that Sri Lanka has well and truly won the battle against the LTTE. Yes, there may have been some excesses in the final stages of the battle, but then, one can hardly be expected to play by the Queensberry rules when dealing with the most ruthless terrorist organisation in the world.

We have repeatedly said in these columns that it is high time that the international community and the world at large acknowledge Sri Lanka’s signal achievement in defeating terrorism, and work with Colombo, instead of working against it, and only then, can a fair deal for the country and all its communities become a reality.
Sadly, with the likes of Philip Alston holding responsible positions, which they can easily abuse, such sentiments appear to be falling on deaf ears.

Let the free will be expressed
The spectre of election violence has always haunted recent elections in this country, and the upcoming presidential election has proved to be no exception. Regretfully, this unsavoury trend claimed its first life this week, when a woman was killed in the Hambantota district.
There have also been other incidents in Polonnaruwa and Kolonnawa that portend an unfavourable run up to Election Day: The complaints of election violence are increasing, as is the intensity with which it is being indulged in.

Elections are supposed to be an exercise in democracy, where the free will of the people is expressed. Preventing that negates the very purpose of the poll, and invariably results in a higher degree of resentment against the perpetrators.

We must also note that the Police, the law enforcement authority that has been tasked with ensuring law and order during the run up to the election, have not performed up to expectations. Theirs may be a difficult role, caught as they are between two political forces hell bent on gaining the upper hand, but that is no excuse to turning a blind eye, or worse, acting in a partial manner.

Sri Lanka has witnessed some shameful incidents of election violence and intimidation, the ‘gold standard’ of which appears to be the infamous ‘Wayamba’ provincial council election during the Chandrika Kumaratunga presidency.

Already, there are some indications that this presidential election could descend to those dark depths. If indeed that becomes a reality, it will spawn a vicious cycle of violence that will be difficult to control.
We can only hope that all stakeholders in the electoral process realise this and act with restraint. As a nation that has freed itself remarkably from the clutches of terrorism, surely, we are looking for an era of peace and stability, not violence and anarchy.