Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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The SLFP crafting a third way

Posted by harimpeiris on September 17, 2019

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island on 15th September 2019)

It was the political scientist and theorist Anthony Giddens who coined the term, a third way, to describe a political alternative between the conservative right and the socialist left, a middle ground that avoided either the extremes of neo-liberalism or the dogmas of Marxist class struggle. Listening to President Maithripala Sirisena, most recently at the SLFP’s annual party convention at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium and in other public comments subsequently, the President as the leader of the SLFP has been making some effort to articulate a political position which is seemingly distinct from either the governing UNP or the main opposition SLPP. With presidential elections around the corner and parliamentary and provincial polls also due subsequently, the potential political space for the SLFP deserves examination. The SLFP though seeking an alliance with either the SLPP and reportedly even the UNP, under a possible Premadasa candidacy, is also exploring the option articulated by President Sirisena of sitting out the presidential poll and launching themselves into the subsequent parliamentary elections.

Could an independent SLFP break the two-party system?

Sri Lanka has long had a two-party system and our presidential system of government, has only served to solidify that trend. However, both the two major parties the UNP and the SLFP had seen it necessary to incorporate and form alliances and coalitions to win elections and establish administrations, both parliamentary and presidential, the existence of the UPFA and the UNF being the most recent examples. President Sirisena himself won the presidency at the helm of a multi-party coalition which styled itself the National Democratic Front (NDF). The UNP is currently in talks with its governing allies to form an alliance for the upcoming presidential elections. The choice of their presidential candidate being perhaps the sticking point in the formation of that alliance.

Sri Lanka’s most recent election was the local government elections of February 2018 and it demonstrated a significantly diversified electoral landscape, where essentially the SLPP emerged as the largest party with 40% of the vote, the UNP a poor second with 30%, the SLFP a creditable third with 13%, the JVP next with 6% and the TNA fifth with 3% of the vote, the other minor parties and independents, accounting for the balance. The February 2018 election results could be read in different ways. A charitable explanation was that the 52% polled by President Sirisena as the NDF candidate, demonstrated its constituent parts once broken down, when the votes of the UNP, SLFP, JVP & TNA was combined, making it 52% of the vote. Interestingly, should this coalition have held together, which of course it didn’t and hasn’t, it would like in 2015, be a winning alliance for the presidential poll.

The JVP has, as have many left parties in the world, and like the CPI (M) in neighbouring India, sought to be an ideologically driven third political force in national politics, an alternative to a two-party system. It is accordingly a credit to the SLFP that it beat the JVP and emerged as the third force in 2018. Now while many might plausibly have thought the SLFP would be 2nd largest party and the SLPP the 3rd, the reality was that the SLPP, formed by the anti-government elements of the SLFP, had by 2018, captured the major opposition political space in Sri Lanka. Not least through its own self-styled name and brand of the “joint opposition” (JO), it moved into the political vacuum of the dissenting voices against the “Yahapalana” administration. The SLFP in the presidency and also holding cabinet posts could not successfully run with the hare and hunt with the hound, be simultaneously in the government and occupy the opposition space at the same time. The vacuum it created was filled by the SLPP.

No room for a non-Rajapakse leadership of SLPP

Today, the SLFP which ended its alliance with the UNP government, just before last October’s constitutional coup, has quite correctly despite numerous efforts failed to enter into a successful alliance with the SLPP. This is unsurprising and the SLFP should be cautious in seeking an alliance for the presidential election, a poll in which it may not field a candidate.

SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera has been the most vocal of all the current crop of SLFP leaders, in arguing for a radical independence from both the UNP and the SLPP and also is quite critical of the SLPP. Both President Sirisena and General Secretary Jayasekera believe and have articulated that the SLFP, though coming in a distant third, would well hold the balance of power in a hung parliament after the next general elections and accordingly will be king makers and an influential political player.

A major obstacle for an alliance between the SLPP and the SLFP lies in the Rajapakse family domination of the SLPP. The SLPP is the political vehicle of the Rajapakse clan. Its leader is Mahinda Rajapakse, the presidential candidate is brother Gotabaya, the party convener is brother number one Basil, the heir apparent is son Namal and the patron is elder brother Chamal leaving not much room for any other politician to blossom or spread their wings. During the previous two terms of the Rajapakse Administration, senior SLFP leaders at the national level like Maithripala Sirisena himself or Nimal Siripala and provincial leaders like late Berty Premalal Dissanayake or MKDS Gunawardena, found themselves not just shut out from the system, but actively politically undermined in their home turfs, by challengers supported by the party leadership. Senior politicians realise that there is a certain glass ceiling which exists within the SLPP if you’re not a member of the clan. It would be unwise for President Sirisena, running down the period of his single term presidency, to blindly support the political forces against whom he led the charge and ousted nearly five years ago. President Kumaratunga did not actively campaign for Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2005 but let him campaign on his own for the narrowest of all wins, aided by the LTTE enforced poll boycott in Jaffna. Perhaps, President Sirisena should and could lead the SLFP, to remain neutral at the presidential poll, save its resources and energy for the subsequent general elections and be a dynamic third force in Sri Lankan politics and arguably king makers in the post 2020 Government.

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Gota clinches the SLPP nomination

Posted by harimpeiris on August 16, 2019

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island on 15th August 2019)

Ending months of speculation, last weekend witnessed the crowning of Gotabaya Rajapakse as the presidential candidate of the main opposition Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP), essentially the political vehicle of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. It is a political credit to the Rajapaksas or a reflection of the divided leadership of the Sirisena/Wickremesinghe Administration, which has enabled the Rajapaksas to bounce back from their twin electoral defeats of 2015 and win last year’s local government elections and thereby plausibly lay claim to their candidate being the front runner in the constitutionally mandated year end presidential election.

There were several Rajapaksas in the fray for the essential role of political heir to term limit bared Mahinda Rajapaksa, each with his own unique claim to the prize. There was the outside chance for Chamal as the consensus builder, Basil as the architect and operator of the SLPP party machinery but the passion, energy and drive of pro Rajapaksa activists was always Gota, almost from 2015, when a comeback path was being chartered. Gotabaya Rajapaksa also left nothing to chance. Eschewing existing and potential political parties, he mobilised through several civil society organisations established for that very purpose. As Mahinda conceded in his nomination speech last week, when election time came, Gota had already sewed up the nomination by dominating the political imagination of pro-Rajapaksa activists and political allies. There were significant naysayers, the most prominent of whom was former Minister and SLFP and SLPP stalwart and district leader from Kalutara, Kumara Welgama, the scion of an old political family. He questioned why only a Rajapaksa could aspire to be the presidential candidate and strongly opposed the Gotabaya candidacy. His views may influence the swing Kalutara District in a closely contested election.

Another feature of the impending 2019/20 elections is the more overt role played by organisations led by Buddhist monks. Now, the presence of Buddhist monks in active politics is not new to Sri Lanka. Late Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike was assassinated by a monk and the first accused in the case was a monk. Members of the Buddhist clergy sit in Parliament, the first ever MP elected to Parliament being Ven. Baddegama Samitha from the old left, the LSSP. However, the new organisations and the monks that lead it, such as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), are essentially engaged in the task of changing the contours of Sinhala nationalism from an ethnic nationalism to an ethno-religious nationalism. In so doing, they are making the identity politics, which form the essential core of Sri Lankan politics, potentially more divisive, emotive and in the contestation for political power, much more toxic. It also makes it much more difficult for Sri Lankan democracy to mature, for our politics to move from being about identity to being policy and ideas based and discourse in a civil and reasoned manner, with give and take. Instead our identity politics will be emotive, the discourse virulent and intolerant violence against the “other” never far from the surface. From 2010 onwards, this has been evident in the violence against Muslims at Durga town, Ampara and more recently in Digana. Now, the BBS contested the 2015 August parliamentary elections as irrelevant also-rans, who lost their deposits, but it has been in their perceived and claimed relationship to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, that their real role in current and future politics lies.

Gotabaya is clearly a champion of the Sinhala nationalists and the Rajapaksas have always had a game plan of winning elections with a preponderance of the Sinhala vote with little or no minority support. It barely worked for them in 2005, worked handsomely in the unique political environment of the post-war 2010 election and failed them in 2015. As Finance Minister and UNP heavy weight Mangala Samaraweera observed in his Face Book statement right after Gota’s nomination, though there is a new Rajapaksa candidate in the 2019/20 election, the game plan and governance will be the same. There is really no message or attraction to anybody else other than Sinhala Buddhists, not when the political allies and ideologues are the likes of the leadership of the BBS and their fellow travellers, who seemingly inspire hate against the “other” in their followers and rather obviously create fear and loathing among the objects of their hate, the ethnic and religious minorities in the country, who collectively make up a not inconsiderable 30% of the population or almost one in every three Sri Lankans.

Fortune favours the bold as the saying goes and Sri Lanka’s justice system has indeed been kind and fortunate for Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Facing potential legal jeopardy and accused in a variety of cases and issues, in the superior courts and courts of first instance, the legal proceedings against Rajapaksa went nowhere. The only real pending legal challenge is the civil suit in the United States brought by the daughter of slain Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickramatunga, who this week wrote a scathing public letter to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, copied to UNP MPs and their Working Committee, alleging the Attorney General (AG)’s Department and government’s acquiescence in stonewalling legal proceedings and investigations.

The dynamics of the 2019 presidential election is much more likely to be similar to and along the lines of the 2005 presidential elections. A resurgent and independent Elections Commission will, like President CBK did in 2005, ensure a reasonably free and fair poll, albeit somewhat more violent. The real decider is likely to be the minority vote. It was so in 2015, when President Sirisena’s victory margin in the Northern and Eastern Provinces overturned his narrow losses elsewhere. In 2005, a very close election resulted in the victory of Mahinda Rajapaksa over current Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, due to the LTTE inspired Tamil voter boycott of the presidential poll. There are rumblings among Tamil elites along those lines. Tamil nationalists have never objected to a mono ethno religious Sinhala state, believing that it makes their case for a Tamil Eelam, more logical and an easier sell.

It is the idea of a democratic, pluralistic and multi ethnic Sri Lankan state, which has been the really elusive ideal to pursue, whether by CBK, Neelan Tiruchelvam, Sambanthan, Sumanthiran or Anura Kumara Dissanayake. Post war, the rainbow coalition of 2015 preached it, promised it and started down that road, with the 19th amendment, the RTI, Independent Commissions, the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) and land releases, housing and rehabilitation programmes in the North and East, but at best faltered or stalled. Whether the UNP led government, whose as yet unannounced candidate can marshal these diverse political forces, to ensure that the Rajapaksa verses the rest, political formula will prevail the December election will tell. Either way the SLPP candidate is now announced. In February last year, the party secured 40% of the popular vote and needs to make up another 10%. The events of April 2019 have clearly helped their cause. A hard-fought campaign and a potentially close election seem likely, at least at this point in time.

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UNP formation of National Democratic Front – lessons from CBK / UPFA

Posted by harimpeiris on August 8, 2019

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island on 07th August 2019)

The onset of the presidential election season has seen hectic political activity towards the formation of political alliances, aimed at creating coalitions which would be electorally viable in an essentially two-person presidential contest. Which will require the winning candidate to secure more than half the votes cast. A sophisticated electorate generally disregarding the also rans.

The past weekend saw the near birth of a UNP led National Democratic Front (NDF), which was ultimately still born, due to the protests of several UNP heavyweights and reformers, the sticking point seemingly the decision-making powers ceded to the NDF by the UNP. Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe who had been procrastinating on the formation of the Front, since the restoration of his government, after last October’s short lived constitutional coup Rajapakse administration, had moved into high gear in seeking to establish the Front, which also creates the political space and framework for a small SLFP breakaway group to formally join the UNP led alliance.

The concept of the NDF, which incidentally is the same name as the alliance which succeeded in electing Maithripala Sirisena as president in 2015, is essentially an attempt to formalize the remnants of the 2015 rainbow coalition, sans its successful candidate Maithripala Sirisena, who is engaged in talks at returning to the Rajapakse fold from whence he came. The political alliance between the SLPP and the SLFP is a more natural one, reflecting that the two parties, draw their support from essentially the same socio-political segments, largely a rural and suburban ethnic Sinhala constituency. Efforts however are underway within UNP circles to formalize the NDF constitution, the issues being a proxy for the underlying issue of who would be the UNP’s / NDF’s presidential candidate.

These efforts can draw some lessons from Sri Lanka’s recent political history, in the SLFP’s formation of the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and its precursor the Peoples Alliance (PA), two / three decades ago. The SLFP had been languishing in opposition for seventeen long years prior to 1994, its leadership dominated by the iconic Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the world’s first woman prime minister, a leader in the likes of other great women political leaders like Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir and Margret Thatcher. She lost the close contest of the 1989 presidential election, to Ranasinghe Premadasa, largely due to the electoral boycott enforced by the second JVP uprising, in much the same way as Ranil Wickremesinghe lost the closely fought 2005 election to Mahinda Rajapakse, largely due to the LTTE enforced boycott of that election.

But by 1994, sections of the SLFP was convinced that their icon of “Mathini” as she was fondly known was not a politically viable candidate for an electorate looking to the future and not the past. Then young SLFP stalwarts like current UNP front bencher Mangala Samaraweera, was instrumental in the formation of the Peoples Alliance (PA), which brought on board the traditional left parties of the LSSP, the CP and range of other smaller parties, which were instrumental in selecting Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga as the Alliance’s presidential candidate and who consequently won the 1994 election with 62.25% of the popular vote, the record victory margin ever, which even Mahinda Rajapakse in 2010 could not eclipse, winning as he did with 57.8% of the vote at the zenith of his post war popularity.

In reality, the UNP will always dominate a political alliance or front its creates, in much the same way as the SLFP dominated the People’s Alliance and its successor the UPFA, in the manner in which the SLPP will always dominate the alliance it is in the process of creating and as a Northern example, the manner in which the Illankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK / Federal Party), dominates the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), much to the chagrin of its smaller allies.

The real issue for the UNP is the choice of its presidential candidate. IN 1994, when the PA was formed, Madam Sirimavo was the choice of the old guard in the SLFP but the People’s Alliance (PA) partners were crucial in providing support for the young SLFP reformers to maneuver CBK as the presidential candidate. In the current situation for the UNP, seemingly the allies may be more comfortable with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, with whom they have worked together over the years, while UNP reformers may be looking ahead and hungry for change. The result is a proxy war over the NDF constitution, the real issue being the choice of candidate.

Sajith Premadasa has risen to the top as Deputy Leader of the UNP, by creating no enemies, causing no controversies and generally working hard in his constituency as an opposition MP, holding his own in the Rajapakses’ political backyard and then even harder as Housing Minister, seeking to realize his father’s vision of “shelter for all”. But, the political challenge for the UNP candidate is to be acceptable and attractive to a much more diverse constituency than the SLPP’s candidate, who is clearly targeting an election victory on a Sinhala only constituency, based on ethnic Sinhala nationalism. The UNP / NDF candidate will have to coalesce everybody else together to repeat in 2019, what was achieved in January 2015.

The UNP and its allies, with or without a formal alliance will face the 2019 presidential election with the considerable disadvantage of the anti-incumbency factor, which it did not have in 2015. Accordingly, the challenge for its candidate is greater than five years ago. It is well advised to gather all its allies in a big tent to create a viable coalition for the presidential election. A united opposition and a fractured government is a recipe for defeat which the Rajapakse’ experienced in 2015 and the UNP will be seeking to avoid in 2019.

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Rainbow coalition intact with defeat of no-faith motion

Posted by harimpeiris on July 17, 2019

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island on 14th July 2019)

The No-Confidence motion (NCM) against the government, presented by the JVP was defeated in Parliament a few days back, by one hundred and nineteen (119) votes to ninety-two (92) or by a majority of twenty-seven (27) votes. Voting in favor of the motion were three of the main opposition parties, the SLPP and the SLFP sitting in Parliament as the UPFA and the JVP. Opposing the same and having a comfortable margin above the threshold of one hundred and thirteen (113) members required for a simple majority of the House, was the UNP and the TNA.

The politics of whether the government should stand or fall provides some useful insights into the political alliances and coalitions that currently exist, and are an indicator of the balance of political and social forces, for the much-anticipated year end presidential election.

Firstly, the hard core of the rainbow coalition which ended Rajapaksa rule in 2015 was the UNF together with its allies of the Muslim parties and the Tamil National Alliance. They were supported independently by the JVP. The UPFA at the January 2015 election was solidly behind Mahinda Rajapaksa, but the politics of Rajapaksa verses the rest, meant that the rest or a rainbow coalition defeated the deeply entrenched and seemingly invincible Rajapaksa political machine. The breakup of the UPFA post the presidential election, into the Rajapaksa SLPP and the Sirisena SLFP is again coalescing politically, though the talks to do so institutionally are still progressing very slowly.

For both Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa who cannot contest another presidential election due to being term barred, and President Maithripala Sirisena, who is extremely unlikely to receive presidential election nomination from either the UNP or the SLPP, a general election consequent to a successful no confidence motion against the government is to their advantage. Mahinda Rajapaksa can lead his party in a general election in which he is eligible for candidature, and President Sirisena can conduct such a campaign for his party, with all the trappings of his office and state power. Even for the JVP, a general election before a presidential election would be more favorable, since as a third force in national politics, it is not seriously in the game of the two horse presidential race. So, the votes in Parliament for the NCM demonstrated just that; as UPFA and JVP supported the NCM, while the UNP and the TNA opposed the same, leading to a resounding defeat for the NCM. The politics of the NCM, last week, demonstrated that at least in parliament the remnant of the rainbow coalition was holding, in much the same way it held together late last year, to defeat the constitutional coup premiership of Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Implications for the presidential election

The presidential election politics of 2015 was a rather simple formula, the Rajapaksas vs the rest. The rest, a rainbow coalition prevailed against all odds. The 2019 presidential election will in a sense be a re-run of that same election, but with different actors. Instead of Mahinda, another Rajapaksa will be candidate, most likely Gota; and instead of Maithripala Sirisena, another consensus candidate would be required who is a unifier of a disparate coalition, while simultaneously being attractive to a more diverse constituency, including at least about two fifths of the Sinhala constituency. The reality of the 2015 election is that Maithripala Sirisena did not win the popular vote outside the North and East, losing the other seven provinces combined by three hundred thousand votes, but winning big in the North and East with a combined majority of seven hundred and fifty thousand votes, leading to his national victory margin of almost half a million votes.

The big difference this time around, is that the UNP and its UNF partners have been in Government for the past five years and are likely seen, at least by the floating voter and definitely by those in the North and East, to have not fully delivered on their expectations. Expectations created in no small part by the coalition’s own rhetoric of good governance and sweeping reforms. The real issue is would many voters switch back to the Rajapaksa candidate as a repudiation of the one term of UNP rule, and would people vote along ethno-religious identity blocks or base their votes on governance track record and policies? In all likelihood, votes are garnered on a combination of these factors. But for a Rajapaksa candidate to win, he (or indeed she) would have to do better and improve on Mahinda Rajapaksa’s own electoral performance among Sinhala Buddhist voters in 2015 and his appeal to them.

Even as things stand now, the rhetoric and messaging of Gotabaya’s Eliya and Viyath Maga organizations and their fellow travelers is certainly more strident and nationalistic, than Mahinda Rajapaksa ever was or has been. The real issue is whether the votes that slipped away from the Rajapaksa’s in 2015, essentially all minorities and the more liberal minded, urban, sub-urban and youthful first time Sinhala voters, can be won back with ever higher doses of nationalism and stridency or a move back to a more moderate center? Neither in November – December last year nor six months later, have the Rajapaksa’s secured or demonstrated any new political allies, they didn’t have in January 2015. Whether they have done so with the voting public at large, we will know through the next presidential election, due before the year end.

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Moratorium on Death Penalty should be continued

Posted by harimpeiris on July 8, 2019

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island on 05th July 2019)

The year 2019 for Sri Lanka should have been a year of renewed hope. Looking ahead to the second decade after the end of the war, a chance to elect (or much less likely re-elect) the president of the republic for a five-year term and move forward resolutely and build on the small but significant gains in nation building which we had achieved during the past five years. These gains include the democracy enhancing measures of the 19th amendment, the consequent robust independent institutions for human rights, anti-corruption and policing among other commissions thus created, the Right to Information Act (RTI), the Office of Missing Persons (OMP), private land releases and resettlement of the internally displaced in the North and East, among other gains. The Rajapakse presidency is not without its own high-water marks and achievements.
Instead however, in 2019, Sri Lanka witnessed the horrors of murderous violence against Christian worshipers and tourists on Easter Sunday in April, the equal horrors of anti-Muslim violence by opportunist communal and political elements thereafter, a loss of hope in a new Sri Lanka by many, not least foreign and local investors and tourists and into this sorry litany of retrograde steps backwards, we now have the prospect of the end of Sri Lanka’s near half century long moratorium on judicial executions.
Sri Lanka’s last judicial execution was in 1976, forty-three long years ago. The resumption of the death penalty is facing multiple legal challenges before Sri Lanka’s superior courts and the lawyers will doubt make the legal case, according to their briefs. However, this article seeks to examine the public policy, socio-political and national interests’ aspects of resuming judicial executions in Sri Lanka.

The lack of due process and adequate dialogue on the issue

Firstly, there has been inadequate dialogue, political debate and discussion on such an important issue and significant change in national life. President Sirisena seems to have decided through private consultations and has been announcing it and seeking to move forward the administrative machinery to give effect to the policy. Even administratively the Justice Ministry and the Prisons Department deny formal procedural measures to reintroduce the death penalty. It is clear, that the policy faces serious political and social opposition. Both Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapakse have voiced their serious concerns and reservations over reintroducing the death penalty and assuming that these leaders carry their respective parties on the issue, both the governing UNP and the main opposition SLPP oppose the reintroduction of the death penalty.
In the case of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, it was his uncle and a previous UNP president JR Jayewardene who introduced the indefinite moratorium on judicial executions in Sri Lanka and in the case of opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, during his own two terms as president, one of them during the final stages of a brutal civil war, the death penalty was not reintroduced, even as a law and order measure or tool of state policy.
Religious leaders of all faiths have opposed the reintroduction of the death penalty and have taken their case before the superior courts, many religious leaders being among the petitioners / appellants in superior court proceedings against the issue. Many Journalists, civil society activists and think tanks have also opposed reintroducing the death penalty.

The Challenge of Human Rights

Human rights have not been a strong suit in Sri Lankan national life. The reality of a long drawn civil war had meant a rather obvious reduction in civil liberties. Within the international community, Sri Lanka still has a distance to go before our past weaknesses and failures on the protection and promotion of human rights would be seen as remedied with institutional protection against reoccurrence. One of Sri Lanka’s few human rights victories have been that we had effectively abolished the death penalty through a moratorium on its implementation, which was continuing decade after decade and seemingly having a consensus in society that it should continue. It is not in our national interest, to eliminate this gain in human rights protection and reintroduce judicial executions by the state. Both the hard won GSP plus trade benefits from the EU crucial for our exports and even law and order cooperation with non-death penalty nations would be affected.

An incoherent and inconclusive law and order argument

The proponents of the death penalty, including our nation’s chief executive, make a law and order argument for the reintroduction of the death penalty. When first proposed, it was a narrow focus. Let us execute repeat drug offences, who are still leading their illegal operations from within the prisons. Firstly, if criminal enterprises are being organized and coordinated by prisoners, this can and should be stopped through appropriate prison and prisoner management measures, not through execution of the prisoners. The general principal is that once convicted and in the custody of the state, a person has been rendered harmless and of no further threat to society at least during the period of judicial custody. Ensuring this is the responsibility of the prisons department.
As numerous research and empirical data demonstrates, there is absolutely no correlation between the existence of the death penalty and reduced crime rates. In fact, on the contrary some of the countries with capital punishment have much higher crime rates than countries which do not. As an example, the United States is one of the few Western democracies to still implement the death penalty, but it has a significantly higher crime rate and higher rates of incarceration or per capita prison population than say the Western European countries which have all abolished the death penalty.
President Maithripala Sirisena, as he approaches the end of his presidential term and very likely seeing the end of his period as first citizen, would be well advised to reconsider his headlong dash down the path of reintroducing the death penalty. He will be remembered for many things, including being the first challenger to electorally defeat an incumbent president and for the rainbow coalition he led to victory in 2015. The early gains of his presidency are not insignificant though perhaps overshadowed now by his own political makeover in seeking the political mantle of the Rajapaksa’s he defeated five years ago. But to leave a legacy of tarnishing one of Sri Lanka’s few gains in human rights in the past half century would be unwise and best avoided.

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