Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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Reflections on the President’s Inauguration Speech

Posted by harimpeiris on November 25, 2010

January 2010 election, the best presidential election ever

The State media called the President’s oaths taking ceremony, simple, dignified and elegant. Undoubtedly the latter two it certainly was, while the former was debatable. However, it would be churlish for anyone to begrudge Mahinda Rajapakse his moment in the sun or us Sri Lankans a celebration of our democratic choice for president.

Certainly presidential election 2010 was better than any of its predecessors. In 2005, we had an enforced boycott by the Tamil community at the point of the LTTE gun which certainly impacted the result. In 1999 we had the winning candidate former President Kumaratunga’s attempted assassination by an LTTE suicide bomber at the final election rally in Colombo and her consequential partial blindness in one eye. In 1994, UNP presidential candidate Gamini Dissanaike was assassinated before the election while in 1993, President DB Wijetunga took oaths as his predecessor had been assassinated in the May Day bomb attack. The 1989 presidential election, held at the height of the JVP’s violent insurrection, was so fraudulent it probably robbed Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike of a rightful victory while the first ever presidential election of 1982 was held with the main challenger and opposition leader deprived of her civic rights. So the best presidential election we have had in this country would be in January 2010 and hats off to the man from Madamullane, Hambanthota on his resounding victory. This is not to ignore the obvious shortcomings of the election, notably the blatant misuse of state resources and the extreme partisan actions and behavior of law enforcement but to state that President Rajapakse can rightfully claim a democratic mandate and we celebrated that fact last Friday.

 

The achievements of the first term

In his short but substantive speech, the President dwelt on the accomplishments of this first term and his vision, for the second term. It is clear that the victory over the LTTE is the dominant and overarching achievement of the first term and indeed it is a huge national strategic achievement and a blessing to all Sri Lankans. That the fighting has ended is a huge relief for us all, including the Tamil civilians of the North and East, as well as probably even the young conscripted cadres of the LTTE, who certainly did not fight to the last man and the last bullet. It is correct that President Rajapakse gave political leadership to this war effort and the electorate subsequently gave him the political credit and re-election. As commendable as the war victory was, as desperate as the need to end the fighting, the victory was achieved at the cost of a deep ethnic polarization and a barely disguised racism. Our battle against the Tamil LTTE, came across as also against the Tamils than just the LTTE. Hence even after the defeat of the LTTE, we interred three hundred thousand Tamils, not LTTE, in camps with less rights than remand prisoners. We have now sent them back to destroyed and bombed out villages with five tin roof sheets, a bag of dry rations and some INGO handouts per family. The root causes of the conflict remain unresolved and the opportunity to address them is now.

 

The goals of the second term

President Rajapakse, at his inauguration once again outlined his goal of rapid economic development. His application of this goal to the Tamil people or the post war context was that it was now possible for the Tamil people of the North to enjoy the fruits of development. It is clear that the Rajapakse presidency for whatever reason, has limited the causes of the ethnic conflict and the resultant war to economic inequality, a deficiency he hopes to rectify. There is some merit to this argument, but not to the exclusion of all else. There is also a need for reconciliation, for healing the social wounds of ethnic conflict, like in Rwanda (though not on that scale) and bringing the former parties to the conflict together for a shared tomorrow. This requires dialogue with the elected Tamil leaders, (read TNA, the TPPF is characterized by its leaders inability to be elected by the people), inclusiveness, a commitment to pluralism and tolerance. While there was no acknowledgement of even the existence of an ethnic problem, we hope that realists rather than ethno nationalist ideologues will carry the day in President Rajapakse’s second term.

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