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  Politics  


 

 
EU re-lists LTTE as terrorists
  • EU action: Shot in the arm for govt.
  • Poll violence on the rise
  • AG’s meeting with Ki-moon hushed up
  • Police actions in Upeksha’s case questioned
A fluid political situation prevails over the country, ever since the government announced its intention to hold elections for the local councils throughout the country a few weeks ago.
The election, to a greater extent, will serve as a barometer to gauge the popularity of the government, which is largely responsible for crushing terrorism and restoring normalcy in the Northern and Eastern parts of the country.
Hardly one year after the Presidential election and the General election, the government yet again is keen to go to the people, which according to many analysts, would rather be an acid test on the prevailing situation, than on what the government had achieved in the past.
The current political situation is rather gloomy for the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) since the people are facing many a hardship owing to the skyrocketing cost of living and unemployment.
Many people supportive of the government shrug this argument off as inconceivable and saying that the heat of the economic downturn is felt only in the urban areas and the rural peasant is very much sound socially and economically. However, this position is contentious and debatable.

No impact
Nevertheless, it appears now that the government is determined to convince the people that the local council election would not in any way have a bearing or impact on the government and could change the administrative machinery and that it would only make things worse for the people, since the opposition political parties could not do much in the localities without the support of the centre.
The political rivalry between the government and the opposition political parties have intensified with an increase in the incidence of political violence reported from various provinces, while the political parties themselves had locked horns in legal battles over nominations.
It is in this backdrop that the Commissioner of Elections decided to put off election in nearly 60 councils where there are disputes and before the Court of Appeal for adjudication.
Opposition political parties, including the main opposition UNP and the JVP, are outraged over the decision of the Commissioner of Elections to put off elections in 60 local bodies citing various reasons.
Of course, the Commissioner’s decision comes in the wake of a directive by the Court of Appeal, to put off elections in three local bodies, namely Akmeemana, Akuressa and Moneragala.
The court decision was sequel to a careful consideration of material facts before the court and since the Court is satisfied that holding elections on the scheduled date is not the best option available under the circumstances.
The Commissioner of Elections in fact had gone one step ahead to cancel and put off the elections of over 60 local councils where there are disputes and the rejection of nomination papers by the Election Officials acting on behalf of the Commissioner of Elections have been challenged before the Court of Appeal.

Staggered elections
The opposition, however, alleges that the Commissioner General is not vested with such power to put off elections under the Local Government Election Act or any other law and acted arbitrarily to put off elections. The opposition alleges that the Attorney General too was biased in his opinion, if the decision was taken on the advice of the Attorney General.
UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya criticised the action of the Elections Commissioner as illegal. He said that the Elections Commissioner was trying to provide a lifeline to the government by postponing elections and allowing elections to be held on staggered basis where the government could exert its pressure and undue influence on the innocent elector to win elections in a bid to avoid the sheer embarrassment that would be caused to the ruling UPFA.
Not only the UNP, but several other opposition political leaders too criticised the action of the Elections Commissioner as unacceptable and acting without a proper mandate.
However, the Elections Commissioner has cited reasons for his decision and said that if he holds postal voting in the challenged councils he would be compelled to file reports with the Court of Appeal, which he said would be a tedious job for the officials and the decision was taken to avoid complications and hassles in the process. The explanation given by the Elections Commissioner is not of any satisfactory nature for the opposition parties who smell a rat in the Commissioner’s decision. The UNP accused that there is an unseen hand operating behind the decision of the Commissioner.

Cricket World Cup
UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake, meanwhile, told the vernacular press that his party was exploring the possibility of challenging the decision of the Commissioner and that a team of legal experts are studying the case in hand.
Simultaneously, the UNP moved strategically to withdraw its petition challenging the nominations of the Maharagama and Nikaweratiya local councils leaving the Commissioner of Elections with no option but to hold the election in these two councils on the scheduled date.
Initially though, the government decided to hold elections for 301 local bodies out of a total of 335, barring Municipal Councils and other local councils where the venues for the Cricket World Cup are located, the decision of the Commissioner of Elections had further reduced this to 235, causing ripples in the body polity of Sri Lanka. However, on Friday the Court of Appeal decided to suspend the elections of 19 local bodies in the Jaffna and Kilinochchi Districts, after considering petitions filed by the UPFA challenging the decision of the Election officials rejecting their nominations.

Violence increase
The locally set-up monitoring bodies say that elections on a staggered basis would provide necessary conditions for high incidence of violence, which would virtually disturb the day-to-day lives of the people and destroy property causing immense damage.
The UNP made it a point to brief the visiting European Union delegation on the local government elections and the volatile environment under which the elections are held. The UNP delegation led by Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya had pointed out the discriminatory treatment the opposition was being subjected to due to undue postponement of elections in some councils, by the Elections Commissioner and the difficulties faced by the journalists in general, owing to the repressive actions by the government. The government, however, is in a dilemma over the actions of the Elections Commissioner, according to Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella. He said that even the government is confused over what was going on and said that they were groping in the dark, as far as the decisions of the Commissioner are concerned. The UNP, however, was emphatic that it was the government’s intention to put off elections in many local government bodies fearing a debacle.
Meanwhile, Western Provincial Council member A J M Muzammil told this column that he was contemplating filing action in the appropriate court, to restrain the Elections Commissioner from releasing results of the Councils of which the elections would be held as scheduled, until the elections for the postponed local councils are completed.

Temporary setback
The UNP, especially the Sajith Premadasa faction, was in for a shock on Thursday when they learned of the premature death of one of the most active members of the group Bodhi Ranasinghe. Ranasinghe acted as the convenor of the faction and gave the much needed lifeline in most occasions with his organisational skills. A one-time close associate of UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, Ranasinghe was appointed as the organiser of Colombo East and a member of the UNP Working Committee. He was also one-time Chairman of the Hotels Corporation, who tirelessly worked for the party over the past decade or so.
Ranasinghe’s demise creates a void in the Sajith Premadasa faction and a temporary setback since he played an important role in forming a formidable faction in the UNP against Ranil Wickremesinghe. It is their opinion that Wickremesinghe should step down paving the way for a new leadership in the party. Premadasa is also set to lose two important votes in the Working Committee, if an election is held in April, to elect the leader as per the calendar of events of the UNP.
Sarathchandra Rajakaruna and Bodhi Ranasinghe, two strong supporters of the Premadasa, are no more and it is unlikely that the vacancies would be filled changing the constitution of the Working Committee according to an undertaking given by the party leadership.

Political dilemma
Politically, both the government and the opposition are in a dilemma. The opposition’s problem is the decision of the Elections Commissioner exceeding his powers under the local government election law, but the government is facing severe problems locally and internationally owing to matters beyond their control.
Nevertheless, politically it was a shot in the arm for the government of Sri Lanka when the European Union announced their decision to re-list the LTTE as a terrorist group following a comprehensive review of listed terrorist groups. The EU announcement was made through Council Implementing Regulation (EU) No 83/2011 of January 31, 2011 published in the official journal of the European Union. Under the EU terrorist listings, specific restrictive measures are directed against certain persons with a view of combating terrorism in EU member states.
Though there were apprehensions among local politicians that the EU delegation might make this a fact finding mission on alleged war crime probe against Sri Lanka, the head of the visiting EU delegation specifically mentioned in Vavuniya that they do not intend discussing on the question of alleged war crimes. Their mission, she said, was to see whether the people in the North were benefited by the assistance given by the European Union.

Reconciliation
The decision of the EU is a boost for Sri Lanka at a stage when the country is facing various difficulties internationally. The EU decision clearly indicates that the European countries renounce terrorism irrespective of the county or region from which it emanates. Terrorism has now become a global issue where it needs a consorted effort to combat and contain its tentacles. The advantage Sri Lanka is having is that Sri Lanka has achieved its goal through sheer commitment by the security forces and the political leadership. Now it is time for reconciliation and to restore democracy and correct the wrongs of the past and uphold the rule of law while respecting human rights, but what the Sri Lankans are undergoing today is something diametrically opposed to their aspirations, and hence Sri Lanka is facing problems in the hands of the global community.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa alleged during a discussion with the Editors and heads of media institutions that the opposition is providing ammunitions to the Tamil Diaspora in the West to carry out an inimical smear campaign against Sri Lanka. In the same breath, he stated that steps would be taken to invite sections of the Diaspora to have a first hand knowledge of what is happening in the North and East.
However, the opposition has a different view of the problem altogether. In their view, Sri Lanka’s image is not tarnished either by the opposition or anybody connected to the opposition, but by the government itself and by its own parochial ways of looking at problems in the global context and handling issues.
Opposition political activists are ready to cite examples where the government had blundered inviting international criticism. One such occasion was the refusal of a visa to the Swedish Foreign Minister who was one-time Prime Minster of Sweden and the handling of the Nepal issue and the recent utterances made by the Foreign Ministry relating to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting to be held in Sri Lanka.
In fact, the Ministry of External Affairs appears to be groping in the dark relating to issues concerning Sri Lanka in the international arena or deliberately trying to hush up things from the local media.

Local media hoodwinked
The meeting between UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Attorney General Mohan Peiris had in fact taken place contrary to denials by Deputy Minister Neomal Perera as reported in the local media.
External Affairs Ministry Secretary Romesh Jayasinghe and Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Shavendra Silva attended the meeting in addition to the Sri Lanka’s Attorney General while Vijaya Nambiar, Chief of Staff of the UNSG (United Nations Secretary-General) also participated.
The meeting was sequel to the submission of the report of the UN expert panel on Sri Lanka, which apparently had sifted through nearly 5,000 to 6,000 petitions received by them. On an earlier occasion, the UN Secretary-General’s Office sent in a questionnaire for the Sri Lankan authorities to provide its responses to the office of the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

It is unlikely that the report of the expert panel on Sri Lanka would surface at the soon-to-be-held UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, but the Secretary-General would most probably forward this for the observations of the Sri Lankan authorities. However, it is the prerogative of the UNSG to rake his own decision on the matter or shrug it off, but the UNSG, which is under pressure from the US and UK human rights activists, may place it for the consideration of the United Nations Security Council for its observations or consequent action. A collective group of International Non-Governmental Organisations who are more concerned on the humanitarian efforts in Sri Lanka and human rights in general met in London towards the fag end of the last year to review the situation and the lessons could be learnt from the conflict and its aftermath.

War on terror
They were of the opinion that there was a collective failure on their part to prevent large-scale abuse of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in Sri Lanka. They were of the opinion, though the IHL is designed to strike some sort of a balance between military necessity and humanity, there had been an extreme imbalance in Sri Lanka causing untold human suffering. They elaborated on the political manoeuvring adopted by the Sri Lankan Government to play the trump card ‘war on terror’ and simultaneously taking up the position locally that they were standing up against Western colonialism. The collection of the NGO community was critical of the role played by the United Nations and categorical about the failure of the UN and was of the opinion that the international pressure build-up against Sri Lanka was far too late.
The inner city press reported that the controversial panel collecting data on Sri Lanka may now visit the country to interview top officials and make representations, but it was not quite sure of the modalities and arrangements for such meetings in Sri Lanka or whether it could be done via satellite.

In view of the foregoing, the government has to be prepared for a barrage of questions to be answered in international forums, in the circumstances it is important to have a case study on the events that unfolded in the past and take corrective measures to ensure that justice is not denied to any community or individual.
According to political sources, this is where India becomes important to Sri Lanka, and could play a vital role, as a member of the UN Security Council, though it does not hold a permanent position there.
India is not certainly interested in digging the past and prevailing upon Sri Lanka on charges of alleged war crimes. India’s interest in the matter is to see that the reconciliation process takes off the ground with expeditious resettlement programme of the internally displaced persons owing to the conflict. It is their view that it has to be coupled with a suitable political solution, in place for the Tamils living in the North and East.
If the government defaults and shows its apathy in acting in good faith, then India could sit back and allow the UN and the Western agenda overtake our concerns as a nation.
In the circumstances, it is important that Sri Lanka discuss its diplomatic concerns with India in the proper context to avoid and avert international pressure against Sri Lanka.

Nevertheless, Indian diplomatic community here is perturbed over the media reports that the India’s Consul General in Jaffna interfered with the judicial process to secure the release of the Indian fishermen who were allegedly arrested by the Sri Lankan fishermen in the Northern waters off Sri Lanka. The Indians have an explanation and says that it was true that the Consul General was present outside the residence of the Jaffna Magistrate, when they were produced before the Magistrate. The Consul General who was watching the interests of the Indian fishermen were inside his car parked near the residence of the Magistrate. It was only when he was asked to come he walked into the residence of the Magistrate who asked him if he had anything to say. The Consul General at this stage had replied that he was made to understand that the Attorney General would move for the release of the fishermen who were produced before the Magistrate. The Magistrate, who said that he had no instructions to the effect, remanded the fishermen at the instance of the Police who produced them before him. The Indians denied any kind of interference with the judicial process and takes up the position that it was a bilateral issue between the two countries and was settled amicably.

MP assault case
In the heat of all this comes the assault case where Parliamentarian Upeksha Swarnamali was involved. The MP and celebrity had been allegedly assaulted by the husband that fringes on a case of domestic violence. However, there was little or no response from the women activists who are against and denounce domestic violence against women. It was also a classic case where Police inaction is portrayed, as against the case involving the son of Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal, Chatura Vishvajith.
When the young Cabraal made a complaint with the Crime Division, four Police vehicles swoop down on the suspected engineer attached to the Port and arrested him when the matter could be categorised as a case of simple hurt. The Police also objected to bail requesting for an identification parade and until then to remand the suspect. In the case of Upeksha Swarnamanli, who is also an MP supportive of the government, the Police acted differently and allowed the suspect to surrender to the Police and thereafter produced in Court and released him on bail. The Police did not object though the victim was hospitalised with a cut above the eye and assault wounds. The victim was later admitted to the Lanka Hospitals for a plastic surgery in order to erase off the scars of the assault. It shows that Police act differently on the level of influence one wields. It is a case where the victim’s husband wields more power than the victim who is also an MP of the government. It is alleged that it was the husband who exerted pressure on the MP to join hands with the government.
As far as the Police are concerned, they have done an excellent job by immediately arresting a victim who allegedly insulted and assaulted the son of an influential government bureaucrat and acted similarly in allowing the suspect in the Upeksha Swarnamali assault case to surrender to the Police leisurely at his convenience. The public can see for themselves how the Sri Lanka Police act in public interest.

Independent Police
Under normal circumstances, the Police ask the aggrieved party and the suspect to appear in the Police station to determine whether the matter could be resolved amicably. If it is a case of burglary, they want the victim himself to provide the Police with transport and other facilities because they are pressed to the limit. This, according to what is happening today, could be described as one way of promoting and enhancing Police-public relations of which the Inspector General is boasting about. The Police, under these circumstances, no doubt are in the process of building a vibrant people-friendly Police Department whose commitment is to work for the well-being of the public, come what may. In the political context, Police at times go blue, or go green, and shift their allegiances according to the colour in power. This is why law-abiding people feel the necessity to establish an Independent Police Commission to enable the Police to work independently, devoid of political influence. The decay has obviously been set into the Police Department that has a long history in the whole of South East Asia. However, this is not to say that there are no honest and forthright Police officers even today, but they are rare.
What is important today is to realise that the duty of the Police is to discharge their duties according to the accepted norms upholding the rule of law and not please the people in high echelons of power.