|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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.