Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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Archive for April, 2015

After 100 days the stark contrast between the Rajapakse and Sirisena Administrations

Posted by harimpeiris on April 30, 2015

After 100 days the stark contrast between the Rajapakse and Sirisena Administrations

By Harim Peiris

(Published in Groundviews & due for publication in the Daily News)

 The conclusion of the one hundred (100) days is a good time to compare and indeed contrast the Maithripala Sirisena Administration from the Rajapakse rule that it replaced. This is particularly relevant in the context that Brother number two (no pun intended), Gotabhaya Rajapakse, has suggested that Mahinda Rajapakse should be prime minister, under President Sirisena. This suggestion of the Mahinda Rajapakse premiership is also what motivates the small appendages of the UPFA, the MEP, the NFF, the EPDP etc and a section of a Rajapakse old guard of about thirty SLFP MPs and declining following the removal of some of their number from the SLFP Central Committee.

Negating the people’s mandate

 The biggest objection of course to a Mahinda Rajapakse premiership is that it is actually a complete negation of the mandate of the people given on January 8th this year. The Maithripala Sirisena presidential campaign was not just an election, it was a campaign to end Rajapakse misrule and replace it with a Sirisena era of “yahapalanya” or good governance. Every aspect of Rajapakse misrule was placed before the sovereign people of Sri Lanka and the people delivered their verdict. The people are sovereign their voice needs to be heeded. “vox populi, vox dei” or the voice of the people is the voice of god, was the rallying cry of the ancient Greek movements which led to representative democracy. We hear a lot of talk about the 5.8 million who voted for Mahinda Rajapakse, but what of the 6.2 million plus who voted for Maithripala Sirisena. A public mandate was sought and given to end Rajapakse misrule. Rajapakse lost, hence he and his fan club need to accept that.

A tainted vote

 Further the 5.8 million was also a tainted vote. With alleged abuse of TRC, Divineguma and other government funds, fraudulent documents, state sector staff and a campaign long defamation by the state media of Maithripala Sirisena.  The forthcoming general election, without the abuse of the state resources and media would see Rajapakse acolytes’ loose considerable support. Further the vast bulk of the 5.8 million votes which Rajapakse received were SLFP votes and these should provide no further support for a Rajapakse return. The presidential election was not an inter SLFP caucus or primary for the result to be a mere seat swop and pecking order change between Maithripala Sirisena and Mahinda Rajapakse.

A world of a difference

 However the biggest impediment to a Rajapakse premiership under a Sirisena Presidency is simply this. The two world views, visions for the country, governing style, political philosophy (ideology if you like) and leadership lifestyle are not just poles apart but completely and diametrically opposed to each other.

President Sirisena believes and calls himself the chief servant of the people, while Mahinda Rajapakse encouraged and allowed himself, to be called and referred to as a king. 6.2 million Sri Lankans prefer to be citizens of a republic rather than subjects in a monarchy. President Sirisena believes in an inclusive, tolerant and pluralistic Sri Lanka while Mahinda Rajapakse allowed, at best (and encouraged at worst) discord and disharmony. There have been no violent mob attacks on mosques, Muslim owned businesses or Koran burnings after Maithripala Sirisena became president and Gotabaya Rajapakse was sent packing. The extremists are still there but defanged and reduced to doing violence to the national flag by removing the two stripes representing minorities. The apologetic Dulles Allaperuma should be more careful about the company he keeps and the nature of the rent a mob that is hired. Distorting the national flag is an offence under the Penal Code and the police, while producing the suspects for being in contempt of court, for their demonstration outside the Bribery Commission, should also investigate the distortion of the national flag.

The long list of contrasts and hence incompatibility between Mahinda Rajapakse and Maithripala Sirisena is very long.  President Sirisena’s governance is consultative and consensus seeking while Mahinda Rajapakse bulldozes his say and way. President Sirisena keeps his family strictly personal and out of governance, while the Rajapakse’s transformed themselves into a ruling family.  The Sirisena Administration seeks to be transparent and accountable, while governance under the Rajapakse’s from the mega deals to the constitutional reforms were shrouded in secrecy and accountability was not included in the Rajapakse dictionary. President Sirisena and indeed Prime Minister Wickramasinghe are generally simple and not given to illusions of grandeur and waste of public funds. In contrast, President Rajapakse and his regime believed that public funds and state resources from the state media, to the national carrier to state lands, even private lands, state coffers, government posts, were all personal property to be dispensed as he wishes to his family and friends, for their use and abuse. The list is endless and will need to be explored further, in future articles.

However the most substantive objections to a Rajapakse premiership are these.

  1. 1.Mahinda Rajapakse does not believe his misrule was wrong, has made no expression of regret for his rank excesses, which promises for the electorate, of more of the same Rajapakse abuse if reelected.
  2. Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe and for that matter Opposition Leader Nimal Siripala de Silva have accepted and submit to President Sirisena’s public mandate and political leadership, while Mahinda  Rajapakse and acolytes clearly do not.

Mahinda Rajapakse should retire with grace and dignity rather than being the godfather of a circus seeking his return.

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Rajapakse rear guard fighting hard to obstruct corruption investigations and stage a comeback

Posted by harimpeiris on April 23, 2015


Rajapakse rear guard fighting hard to obstruct corruption investigations and stage a comeback

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island of 23rd April 2015)

The defeated Rajapakse regime has a few die hard cheer leaders, about thirty SLFP Members of Parliament at the last count and leading them are a slightly lesser number of MP’s from the smaller constituent parties of the UPFA, such as the MEP, the NFF and the EPDP. Unable to accept the reality that their political hero, lost the presidential election, in fact with a much bigger margin of defeat than his razor thin first victory in 2005, these relics of the ancient regime are obstructing the new Sirisena Administration from fulfilling its promised and popularly mandated reform program.

Opposing the 19th A is obstructing the people’s mandate

 

As the son of a founder member of the SLFP, it is appalling to witness sections of the SLFP obstructing the implementation of the one hundred day program of the new government. Everything which the Sirisena Administration is seeking to do, has the moral and political authority of the people’s mandate. In the republic of Sri Lanka, it is the people who are sovereign and the state and its agencies derive their authority from the expressed will of the people, who made their choice quite clear on 8th January 2015 and ended Rajapakse rule. The 19th amendment to the constitution, especially once amended according to the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court, is a key aspect of the people’s mandate.

Obstructing corruption investigations

 

Similarly the ending of unprecedented and rampant corruption in government and the introduction of good governance is another key electoral promise of the Sirisena Administration. A charge leveled against the Government if at all has been that it is slow and dragging its feet on investigating and charging corrupt former government officials and political leaders. The Attorney General’s Department which lost its independence and became an appendage of the presidency during the Rajapakse era has indeed been slow to prosecute, such as in the Avante Garde case, where a prima farci offences abound, even to the casual observing public. In that context, the Justice Minister, himself a renowned lawyer as well as the Deputy Foreign Minister, is on record criticizing the decision of the Speaker of Parliament also a brother of President Rajapakse, for hauling in the Chairman of the Bribery Commission, regarding its ongoing investigations.

The relics of the Rajapakse regime in Parliament, should be especially careful of anything that smacks of interfering with judicial and quasi judicial processes, as well as public mandated investigation of massive government corruption. The Gunawardena duo, Dinesh and Bandula as well as Wimal Weerawansa should realize, that their previous assault on the judiciary, the purported removal of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranaike, after a flawed process, was accordingly deemed null and void and resulted in the anomalous situation of Mohan Peiris, interloping in the office of Chief Justice for close upon two years. Accordingly it is best to leave the Bribery Commission to do its job without a further assault on corruption investigations. If Mahinda Rajapakse, his family or political friends are aggrieved by any decisions of the law enforcement, they have access to the appellate and superior courts. Neither the streets outside Parliament, nor the well of the Chamber of that august assembly, are venues for settling judicial disputes.

Harassment verses investigation  

 

The rear guard of the Rajapakse regime is calling corruption investigations, as political harassment. Their claims would at least have some moral authority if they had raised their voices and opposed the jailing of Field Marshall (then General) Fonseka by a military tribunal after his retirement. Mahinda Rajapakse did not retire, he lost. He is fighting tooth and nail to make a comeback, ashamed at being the only incumbent president to have lost a presidential reelection bid in Sri Lanka.

The allegations of bribery, nepotism and corruption against the Rajapakse regime is very long, was presented to the people at the presidential election and even the allegations can claim the political credibility of the surprise victory of Maithripala Sirisena over his deeply entrenched rival. There are the instances of (i) the world’s most expensive highways per kilometer (ii) the missing vehicles from the presidential secretariat, (iii) the sovereignty selling giveaway terms of the port city project (iv) a long list of unsolicited projects approved without tender processes (v) floating armories and unlicensed weapons to private parties (vi) massive corruption at Sri Lankan Airlines, (vii) favored treatment for one special naval cadet (viii) casinos made strategic enterprises, (ix) using TRC funds for the election campaign (x) presidential palaces termed international retreat centers on expropriated private lands and designated as high security zones (xii) diplomatic passports to kith and kin (xiii) fraudulent documents at elections (xi) the white van abductions, assaults on journalists, impeachment of a chief justice, jailing a presidential election opponent, murder of Lasantha Wickramatunga, disappearance of Prageeth Ekneligoda to name, just some of a long and non exhaustive list of what was wrong  with life under Rajapakse rule. This is what the defeated elements of the SLFP are demanding be not investigated. Really!!

It is actually destabilizing for a society when such horrors are not investigated, the facts established and dealt with. For those nostalgic for a Rajapakse return, one wonders what aspects of its corrupt, despotic and authoritarian rule, they desire to foist on people again, except perhaps to alleviate their own political orphaned state.

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Why SLFP must support the 19th Amendment

Posted by harimpeiris on April 9, 2015

Why SLFP must support the 19th Amendment

(Published in the Island of 9th April 2015)

 

The SLFP has been governing Sri Lanka now for twenty years since 1994, with two of those in cohabitation with a UNP Government. Every indicator is that post the next general election, Sri Lanka is likely to witness a national government of the two major parties, coming together for the purpose of nation building or national institution building in an attempt at a serious program of state reform.

The sovereign people of Sri Lanka were faced with a clear choice in January this year, between the Rajapakse promise of a developmental state with a Rajapakse government that was populist in nature, dynastic in ambition and corrupt in practice on the one hand and opposing that was the mild mannered, soft spoken then General Secretary of the SLFP, Maithripala Sirisena, backed by a rainbow coalition led by the UNP which argued for a democratic state with a national government of the two major parties which would promote good governance, strengthen democracy and effect state reform. The people made their choice. Despite every trick the Rajapakse’s could pull and with not quite the Queensberry rules either.

The SLFP did not pre election defect en bloc to the Sirisena camp but post election, having lost they quite rightly elected President Sirisena as leader of the SLFP and also more recently joined his government in support of the one hundred day program. There is now a need for the SLFP to support the 19th Amendment in good faith and with its best efforts, instead of deceptive methods of delay and denial.

The Sri Lankan State requires reform  

 

There is fairly overwhelming support within the Sri Lankan polity for state sector reform. It is the nature and extent of the reforms that is still being debated. However the reform effort does require that the foremost pledge to reform the executive presidency should be successful. The Mahinda Rajapakse presidency demonstrated that the Sri Lankan constitution essentially has created an elected dictatorship. Not since the decline of the Roman empire, when that country’s senate heaped more and more powers on its elected emperors, did any other republic vest so much unchecked state power in a single individual as Sri Lanka did in its executive presidency especially post the 19th amendment to the constitution. Sri Lanka under Rajapakse was a multi party democracy transforming into an absolute monarchy.

The statement on the constitutionality of the 19thamendment by the good Professor GL Peiris, who as foreign minister was publicly addressing the young Namal Rajapakse as sir, is laughable. Firstly it is a pity that Professor Peiris was not aware of his constitutional procedures when the 18th amendment was presented and passed by parliament effectively in half a day. The reform or abolition of the executive presidency was presented to the people by President Sirisena at the presidential election and received a popular and legitimate mandate. The same cannot be said of the 18th amendment, which was an aberration and should be repealed by the 19thamendment.

The SLFP’s call for immediate and concurrent electoral reform is deceptive. Firstly it is never possible to push through electoral reform and especially the task of delimitation in several weeks. Hence the demand is in the realm of the impossible. Further the SLFP having been in office for two decades could well have implemented electoral reform or the recommendations of the Dinesh Gunawardena headed Parliamentary Select Committee on electoral reforms if it so wanted to. Clearly such reforms were not on the radar screens of the SLFP under the Rajapakse and must be respected when presented by President Sirisena.

The choice for the SLFP after electoral defeat

 

The SLFP has a stark choice subsequent to its historic defeat, the first ever of a sitting president. It can coalesce around the leadership of President Sirisena ably advised and assisted by former President Kumaratunga, the daughter of the founders of the Party and support the reform effort of a national government for a five year term. The offer of a national government promises for the SLFP, the unprecedented continuous run in office for close upon twenty five years. This would be the preferred option and the most beneficial to the country.

The alternative to such an approach is for the SLFP to try and seek to oppose the Sirisena presidency, but it is opposing something in which it is now an integral part of and tries to capture power in a general election, off its own steam. This is the partisan, opportunistic and self centered option for the SLFP, which while attractive to a few leaders faces the real obstacle of a leadership vacuum. The real option the SLFP had was to decide on whether it goes with the Sirisena and Kumaratunga leadership or the Rajapakse leadership. It made that decision post election when Rajapakse was compelled to hand over the leadership to President Sirisena. The pipe dream of all three presidents, present and former, Sirisena, Kumaratunga and Rajapakse coming together will not work, not least because it would negate the very choice the people made on January 8th this year. The Rajapakse’s’ were sent packing back to Medamulane by the people, not to make a sceruptious reentry by the back door.

Mahinda Rajapakse was clearly and comprehensively defeated at the polls. He and indeed the SLFP must accept the verdict of the people not only in the political persona of President Sirisena but also in the implementation of the one hundred day program and the commitment to real state reform. The SLFP must not be mislead by the political lightweights of the UPFA’s smaller parties, who in their politically orphaned state are desperately seeking a life line.

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