Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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Archive for January 20th, 2015

President Kumaratunga and President Sirisena – winning the battle for the SLFP

Posted by harimpeiris on January 20, 2015

 President Kumaratunga and President Sirisena – winning the battle for the SLFP

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island of 17th January 2015)

 President Maithripala Sirisena ‘s election victory at the head of the National Democratic Front (NDF), was an amazing democratic exercise of a beleagued opposition which only a few weeks before the elections, no one would have believed would ever be a politically viable alternative to the mighty Rajapakse regime, came from behind to topple a deeply entrenched and authoritarian regime. The credit for the victory and this amazing turn of events has to largely go to the political foresight and adroit hard work of former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, who quite early on realized that the simple but near impossible formulae to defeat the Rajapakse regime, was a united opposition, a divided regime and a high turnout. It was President Kumaratunga who had the relationships and the political trust of both Ranil Wickramasinghe and Maithripala Sirisena to craft the deal that led to the formation of the National Democratic Front. The rest is now history.

The election defeat was not even considered a possibility by the inner circle of the Rajapakse regime, including the brothers and propagandists Dallas Alaperuma and Wimal Weerawansa. They forgot or disregarded to their peril a key teaching of Buddhism, that nothing is permanent in life. The Rajapakse regime, acted like it was a monarchy organizing a coronation rather than a political party contesting an election. Leading lights of the regime issued dire threats against those that dare oppose them. President Rajapakse himself spoke darkly of the famous ‘files” and violence was unleashed upon the Maithri campaign, with a number of meetings attacked and sadly one fatality. The NDF’s swan campaign hardly had a grassroots presence except in a few places and was completely outnumbered in terms of airtime on TV. But a mature electorate watched the Rajapakse antics quietly and delivered their verdict last week on 8th January, which resulted in only forty five (45%) to Mahinda Rajapakse and over fifty one (51%) to Maithripala Sirisena, now president of Sri Lanka.

A possible violent response to the defeat

 The initial response of the Rajapakse regime to imminent defeat was hardly democratic.  According to former Maithri campaign spokesman and current Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s formal complaint to the CID, the Rajapakse camp facing the inevitability of an electoral defeat conspired to thwart the democratic will of the people through the use of military force. A week or so before the election, there was a massive military troop deployment plan drawn up by a section of the security establishment by passing the normal channels and without the knowledge of the Commissioner of Elections or the concurrence of the Inspector General of Police. However, the democratic elements and wiser counsel in the state apparatus asserted itself, especially in the person of the Elections Commissioner and the IGP, who denied ad any request for military deployment and thwarted the attempt. The complaint to the CID by the new Foreign Minister is that his predecessor and an inner coterie of Rajapakse loyalists including Mohan Peiris were present during the plans to thwart the election results. The military’s lack of support for any illegal and extra constitutional measures meant that the Rajapakse family was on an early morning flight back to Hambanthota.

Parliamentary politics and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)

 It was apparently not clear to the inner coterie of the Rajapakse’s, that with their defeat at the polls the center of political gravity had shifted away from the Rajapakse’s and towards the Sirisena, Wickramasinghe, Kumaratunga combine. If this wasn’t apparent due to the results, the post election defection of yet more SLFPers to President Sirisena resulted in the parties of the NDF now enjoying a simple majority in the parliament. However, parliamentary polls are to be held within three months (or at the end of the one hundred days) and it has to be a particularly politically fool hardly exercise of anyone to hitch their wagon to a fading Rajapakse brand.

The breaking news as this article is being penned is that Mahinda Rajapakse is prepared concede the Chairmanship of the SLFP to Maithripala Sirisena, acknowledging perhaps the inevitability of the political trend. This situation, where President Sirisena controls the SLFP, actively supported by former President Kumaratunga and the UNP led by Ranil Wickramasinghe, promises the unique opportunity a truly national government or a grand coalition of the two principal political formations in the country towards implementing a nation building agenda. There is much to do to rebuild and repair the damage which the Rajapakse years did to the fabric of a democratic and free society in Sri Lanka, including the judiciary.

Electoral Reforms and the General Elections

 The one hundred day program of the National Democratic Front (NDF) promises electoral reforms and the introduction of a mixed electoral system, where there will be voting in constituencies and a “top up” of the seats proportionately to parties which poll higher than their seat allocation. The NDF is well advised to try and contest as an alliance, denying nomination to the tainted elements of the previous regime and exploring a grand national governing coalition which works towards creating a genuinely new Sri Lanka.

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The Maithri Presidency – The triumph of hope over fear

Posted by harimpeiris on January 20, 2015

The Maithri Presidency – The triumph of hope over fear

By Harim Peiris

 

President Maithripala Sirisena‘s election victory was a triumph of hope over fear. Maithripala Sirisena, dared us to hope, to hope and believe in a better Sri Lanka, a “Maithri palanaya” where Sri Lanka would be re-democratized, the rule of law restored, where cronyism would not be endemic, where corruption would not be an occupational past time of the rulers and where all Sri Lanka’s diverse peoples, including ethnic and religious minorities can live free from fear. Mahinda Rajapakse on the other hand, tried desperately to continue the polarization in our society, to frighten especially the Sinhala people about vague threats from various sources. We were asked to fear our fellow countrymen, be they Tamil or Muslim demonstrating that while Mahinda Rajapakse had to his credit led our country to a post war situation, he was completely unable to take us to a post conflict or harmonious, Maithri if you like, stage.

Initial stages of “Maithri Palanaya”  

 

The initial, first week of a “Maithri era” started off commendably. Winning against all odds and especially the unconscionable vitriol of the state media, the new president took his oath of office in a simple ceremony at Independence Square, to which the public were just welcomed to turn up. The clear message against post election violence has kept the same to a minimum, with law enforcement acting swiftly. More commendably there have been no visible signs of revenge taking on the defeated elements in Rajapakse regime, though eventually the law may take its course against law breaking, unless President Rajapakse negotiates a quiet retirement from political life in return for immunity from prosecution for many alleged misdeeds not least being an attempted coup in the face of electoral defeat, as well as corruption in the mega scale, untendered Chinese projects.

The alleged attempted coup

 

Former Maithri campaign spokesman and current Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera has taken the lead in making a formal complaint to the CID about the alleged coup attempt by the Rajapakse’s as the inevitability of the electoral defeat became apparent late on election night and in the early hours of January 9th morning.  From about a week before the election, talks of a possible coup or attempts by the Rajapakse regime to hang on to power notwithstanding the election results was doing the rounds in the NDF campaign, diplomatic missions and political circles. The factual basis for the concern was a massive military troop deployment plan drawn up by the Chief of Defense staff, not only by passing the normal security channels, but more importantly without the knowledge of the Commissioner of Elections or the concurrence of the Inspector General of Police. The core of the plan was to deploy the military to take over key communications installations in Colombo, including the TRC and the state media, supposedly for their protection. Mercifully the democratic elements and wiser counsel in the state apparatus asserted itself, especially in the person of the Elections Commissioner and the IGP, who denied ad any request for military deployment and thwarted the attempt. The complaint to the CID by the new Foreign Minister is that his predecessor and an inner coterie of Rajapakse loyalists including Mohan Peiris were present during the plans to thwart the election results. The military’s lack of support for any illegal and extra constitutional measures meant that the Rajapakse family was on an early morning flight back to Hambanthota.

Restoring Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranaike to the Supreme Court Bench

 

The impeachment of Chief Justice Bandaranaike in a farcical process or rather the absence of any due process, completed with a boycott of the then opposition in the parliamentary committee proceedings and against the rulings of the Appeal Court, together with military searches of the Supreme Court access roads, has resulted in the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, the apex body of all lawyers in the country resolving that Mohan Peiris, the former defense ministry advisor appointed to head the bench after impeaching Justice Bandaranaike should vacate the bench and Justice Bandaranaike allowed to resume functioning in the office of Chief Justice. The legal position largely favored by the Bar Association is that Shirani Bandaranaike was never legally removed, so accordingly was never duly appointed and that his purported appointment was null and void and of no force and avail in law. President Sirisena demonstrated his own views on the matter very clearly when he chose not to sully the start of his “Maithri Palanya” by taking his oath of office in front of Mohan Peiris. Accordingly the senior most judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Sripavan presided over the swearing in of President Maithripala Sirisena.

A mature Sri Lankan democracy

Sri Lanka has drawn the admiration of the international community once again on its mature democracy and the ability of our society to change political power peacefully. The election also showed a strong commitment by all Sri Lankans to a democratic process and way of life. Irrespective of ethnicity or religion there was high turnout and more importantly the Sri Lankan State system showed a strong systemic bias towards respecting the wishes of the people through election. The main government officials demonstrated a commitment to a free election, the police withstood enormous pressure and strove to be politically neutral and the military refused to be drawn into a political contest and use force on a democratic exercise. The underlying people’s support for a re-democratization of Sri Lanka, post the Rajapakse’s or a Maithri palanaye has begun.

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