Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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Archive for March, 2015

President Sirisena must arrest the SLFP’s retreat to the past

Posted by harimpeiris on March 31, 2015


President Sirisena must arrest the SLFP’s retreat to the past

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island)

 

The contours of a national unity government or a grand coalition government of the two major parties took on more definition a few days ago when over twenty SLFP seniors were inducted as cabinet ministers, state and deputy ministers in the Administration of President Maithripala Sirisena. The move is a vivid picture of what a post election national government would look like.

The reform process of 100 days

 

President Maithripala Sirisena and the National Democratic Front (NDF) coalition promised a new Sri Lanka in one hundred days. The biggest and most significant change of all was achieved by the people of Sri Lanka under the leadership of Mathripala Sirisena and the NDF when Mahinda Rajapakse, his brothers, sons and cohorts were sent packing back to Medamulane on January 9th and with that the white vans, the corruption, the cronyism, the casinos, the ethanol abuse and lawlessness was also made a relic of the past. Consolidating and institutionalizing these gains is the objective of the one hundred day program and indeed of the subsequent and essential general election as well.

A section of the SLFP obstructing reform

 

A section of the SLFP, having lost the presidential election has now decided to try and run with the hare and hunt with the hound. Sitting in the Government of President Sirisena, it is in fact trying to obstruct the reform process. How ridiculous for the Leader of the Opposition also from the SLFP, to be insisting that electoral reforms and constitutional reforms should both be enacted and implemented before parliament is dissolved and general elections held. Electoral reform can be passed and implemented later after delimitation. However, no one seems to have told the Honorable Nimal Siripala Silva that his former leader and candidate for re-election, lost the presidency and the candidate they opposed won and is now president. A defeated SLFP is trying to set the agenda, using its numbers in parliament. Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe should insist on the general election as promised in the NDF manifesto and mandated by the people to President Sirisena.

The SLFP which has spent close upon two decades in office should have and could have implemented any reform it desired when in office. To be insisting on the impossible, after losing is neither credible nor defensible. The SLFP is using its parliamentary numbers which are a phenomenon of the 2010 election and no longer reflect the mandate of the people expressed in January 2015. Given the divergent views expressed regarding constitutional reform, the best option for the Sirisena Administration is to pass a bare bones 19th amendment to the constitution, which rescinds the 18th amendment and reinstates the 17th amendment, with some modification, thereby going back to the status quo ante and then have a general election, when the parliament so elected becomes a constituent assembly for constitutional reform. The government formed after the general election should be a grand national coalition government formed for the purpose of reform and Sri Lanka’s unfinished re-democratization and national institutional building task that also seeks to resolve the issues of minority communities.

No rationale for a Rajapakse comeback

 

Meanwhile, some SLFP political lightweights, led by the misguided Chief Minister of the Western Province, are hankering to take the SLFP back to the past, with a rather politically shortsighted nostalgia for a third Rajapakse era, this time astoundingly as prime minister under President Sirisena. What aspects of Rajapakse rule, does Chief Minister Prassana Ranatunga, who would really be better off trying to serve his constituents in the Western Province rather than dabbling in national politics above his political weight class want to impose on the people. Is it the massive corruption, the nepotism, the white vans, the assaults on the independence of the judiciary, the attacks on the free media, casino’s, the ethanol abuse, presidential kids in Lamborghini’s; what is attractive about a Rajapakse return? President Sirisena did not defeat Rajapakse rule, to let it raise its head in three months time. If the grand national coalition of the UNP and the SLFP is mind boggling to some, then the phenomena of a “coalition” between Sirisena, Kumaratunga and Rajapakse would only exist in the realm of the possible to someone not living on planet earth. As a first step perhaps Mahinda Rajapakse should publicly apologize to President Sirisena for the slander carried out by the state electronic media during the campaign. As a former Chairman of Rupavahini Corporation, it was nauseating to watch the state electronic media during the elections.

Corruption in the mega deals and Chinese Port City

 

As President Sirisena is in China on a state visit much attention would be diverted to the mega Chinese port city project, which has been stopped by the NDF Administration pending a full review. The basic and widespread belief and thesis is that the Rajapakse’s were hugely “paid off” or bribed to give the concessions or “sell out” as many term it, to the Chinese semi government company. The real issue is can the Chinese who themselves are struggling with massive corruption, having convicted over two thousand Chinese officials themselves in 2014 alone for corruption, give Sri Lanka any guarantees that the Rajapakse’s and their cohorts were not bribed and massive corruption was not involved. Even if such assurances are given, what would be the credibility or the veracity of such assurance? President Sirisena’s state visit to China is important to reestablish Sri Lanka’s traditional friendship with the middle kingdom, which emphasizes traditional neutrality and avoids aberrations such as the docking of nuclear naval submarines and unsolicited mega deals at exorbitant interest rates. China misread Sri Lankan politics and went overboard with the Rajapakse’s, a return to a more balanced relationship is required.

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A national government verses a Rajapakse come back

Posted by harimpeiris on March 3, 2015


A national government verses a Rajapakse come back

By Harim Peiris

(published in the Daily Island)

 

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) dominated and led United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) met its political Waterloo, two months back when Mahinda Rajapakse was defeated in the presidential elections by Maithripala Sirisena from the UNP led National Democratic Front. That stark reality, which is that they lost the presidential election, has obviously been lost on Mahinda, Dinesh, Wimal, Vasu and co. That reality was rather obvious to most of the SLFP seniors, who fairly quickly decided that their bread was buttered on the side of President Maithripala and elected him as their leader. Now the SLFP sits in opposition but in support of the one hundred (100) day program of the NDF Administration.

General Election Options

 

The offer which the NDF presents to the SLFP is quite a generous one and after a daylong seminar, the SLFP has decided in principal to support a “national government”. The concept of a national government is not new and Premier Ranil Wickramasinghe has been a firm believer for quite some time, that the best way for a nation building and reform agenda in Sri Lanka is to share political power with the opposition and create a broad based or a grand coalition, to use the European term for a government of the two main parties.

Particularly with regard to the ethnic issues and post war reconciliation, Sri Lanka faces an unfinished task of nation building or a post war nation rebuilding, sustainable peace creating situation. The ethnic and perhaps religious minorities, who are alienated from the Sri Lankan State, need to be brought in, a theme which occurs throughout in the report of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) interim and final reports. A national government or broad coalition provides the best and actually the only method of dealing with such a national issue, to prevent it from being kicked around as a political football by the rivals for political power. A smaller extreme ethno nationalist entity like the NFF or BBS on the Sinhala side and the lunatic fringe on the Tamil side such as the Ponnambalam, Gurubaran ACTC can reduce the moderate center but not have the clout to be real spoilers. On the Tamil side the reason why the extremist ACTC is lunatic in not because their leaders and spokesmen are not educated, articulate and erudite, which they are, but because just like their counterparts in the Sinhala polity, they have no real solution to the problem and the logical end result of their intransigence would only be renewed conflict, which even does not produce a solution.

The lunatic rationale of a Rajapakse comeback

 

Failing to see rather obvious political reality is the alternate view put forward by the minor parties of the UPFA and some political lightweights in the SLFP, who having lost one election with Mahinda Rajapakse, would like the winner, President Sirisena to gloss over their lack of political foresight and political courage by dumping the reform agenda and his allies in the NDF to accommodate the Rajapakse losers, on the premise that they are all in one party. Well, President Sirisena also heads the NDF Administration, he is in government with the UNP.

But what is the real attraction of a Rajapakse comeback? Do we need more corruption, white vans, abductions, kickbacks, anti Muslim violence, VIP kids in Lamborghinis? Or perhaps it is to bring back the casinos, the ethanol rackets, the drug smuggling through VIP channels and other hallmarks which marked the practical expression of the Mahinda Chinthanaya.

Regarding corruption in the Rajapakse regime and the slow pace of investigation, especially with regards the large Chinese funded projects, the Sri Lankan Government should coordinate with China’s own anti corruption agency, the CCDI, which has been targeting high level corruption within China, but also has a mandate with regard to state and semi state agencies operating abroad. Seemingly the Chinese seem to have a problem with state corruption, going by their own conviction of over three thousand officials in the past year alone.

So instead, how could the SLFP go into the general elections? With a commitment to the national government, which would mean that it would be guaranteed to be in government and hold office and the genuinely popular individuals in both the major parties would be elected and with the outside chance that they might pip the UNP in the seat count.

The canard of the “Eelam vote” 

 

Mahinda Rajapakse just cannot accept that he has been defeated at the polls. He wants to blame the ethnic minorities for his defeat. Mercifully for Sri Lanka, despite our many weaknesses in national integration, we do still have one person one vote, irrespective of ethnicity or religion. Mahinda Rajapakse to his eternal shame should be the first leader to publicly try and distinguish and try and demean and devalue a vote based on ethnicity and geographic location. Dr.Dayan Jayatileke, the seemingly newly appointed spokesman for President Rajapakse, who did after all read out the former president’s speech at a large public gathering, has taken great pains to argue that the Nugegoda meeting was not ethno nationalist but patriotic. That distinction and debate for another occasion. However, examining the electoral results of the presidential election, Maithripala Sirisena did not just win in the North and East, which he did handsomely but he also won the districts of Colombo, Gampaha, Kandy, Polonaruwa, Puttlam, Badulla and Nuwara Eliya, a nice cross section of districts outside the North and East.

What Mahinda Rajapakse learnt in 2015, was the reality that in a multi ethnic and multi religious society, broad based support that cuts across ethnic and religious divides are necessary for national leadership. The senior SLFP leaders have always understood this, except for the Rajapakse coterie. The 2010 election was a unique exception in the euphoria of a war victory but the equilibrium is back now to the previous status quo and the SLFP should understand the political ground realities and shift from Rajapakse extremism to Sirisena moderation.

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