Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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Archive for May, 2015

A tale of two Presidents, six years after the war

Posted by harimpeiris on May 25, 2015

A tale of two Presidents, six years after the war

By Harim Peiris, B.Sc MBA

May 19th 2015, marked six years since the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war, which at that time had been the world’s second longest running civil conflict, after Lebanon. The end of the war was commemorated in two very different ways from two very different leaders, one present and forward looking, the other defeated and backward looking, who lead a very real battle for the soul and spirit of our nation.

 

A tale of two presidents

President Maithripala Sirisena officiated at the official celebration in Matara, renamed “remembrance day” as opposed to “victory day” under the previous dispensation, on the basis that in a country torn by violence and war, it is more appropriate to remember with deep gratitude than it is to celebrate with fanfare. The remembrance was focused on those who paid the supreme sacrifice and was devoid of the adulation in song, verse and dance to the leader, which had been a hall mark of the Rajapakse years.

In his speech, President Sirisena was forthright that the scourge of terrorism would never again be allowed to raise its head and that national security would be strengthened through a new national defense policy, which takes into account the future security needs of the nation. He very correctly articulated the priority of development but also started introducing the very social democratic concept of focusing and investing in people as opposed to solely focusing on hard infrastructure. President Sirisena spoke constantly of reconciliation or “sanghindiyawa” as he termed it in Sinhala and was very forthright that development and reconciliation needs to go hand in hand. He spoke of the need to heal hearts and minds, besides rebuilding infrastructure and acknowledged the failures of past governments, which had resulted in the ethnic polarization we have in our society today. Such sentiments were entirely missing during the past six years after the war. The term reconciliation was almost anathema to President Rajapakse.

In contrast to the official remembrance of the Sri Lankan State under President Sirisena,  the night before at the Vihara Maha Devi Park’s open air theatre, an unofficial “victory day” vigil was held under the patronage of defeated President Mahinda Rajapakse. He loved in the past to be adulated as a king, songs were sung in his honor and it was all about him. There his political allies, their most vociferous spokesmen most notable for their barely disguised racism, spoke darkly of the need to protect the victory won, insinuated about the threats from various quarters, real or imagined and focused for purposes of personal political gain to perpetuate the polarization we have in our society. It was political fear and hate mongering at a slightly sophisticated level and one could easily draw the direct parallel between perceived paranoia of the Rajapakse allies and their “rent a mob” goon squads of extremist ethno religious organizations, reduced now to distorting the national flag, a violation of the penal code now that their godfather had been removed from the apex of the national security apparatus.

 

The SLFP old guard suffering from a lack of political and moral imagination

It was Oxford political science scholar John Paul Lederach, who a decade ago expounded on the theme of the moral imagination, which he described as the ability to recognize turning points and possibilities in order to venture down unknown paths. It is such a moral imagination which some of the old guard of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) seem to lack today. Instinctively after the Presidential election, the vast bulk of the SLFP came and collapsed onto the lap of President Sirisena. This despite the best efforts of the defeated President Rajapakse, to hang onto the party leadership.

President Sirisena boldly charted a new course. As promised in his election manifesto he established a national government and proceeded with reforms, the boldest being the successful, if somewhat diluted 19th amendment. Further, to the willfully ignorant who claim that the UNP was appointed to Government without a mandate, it must have been because they were ignoring election pledges. Common candidate Maithripala Sirisena, pledged again and again, that he would appoint Ranil Wickramasinghe as Prime Minister, the day after he is elected. Accordingly the NDF (Swan) mandate included a mandate for the new government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe. This is exactly why, despite the propaganda of the “counter revolutionists” as President Sirisena terms them, the Government has legitimacy, public acceptance and the consent of the governed.

As the SLFP and indeed all political parties view an upcoming general election to Parliament, the SLFP old guard lacking a moral imagination wants an enemy to run against. The Rajapakse mentality of identity politics and polarization tactics, requires the “other” the enemy. It cannot contemplate the lack of a domestic adversary. On the other hand, a brand new possibility exists, the reality of a government in which candidates are elected on a party basis, with party affiliation and discipline of the parliamentary party whips, but cooperating together, more along the lines of the old Ceylon State Council days. This is a road untraveled but pregnant with real possibilities for genuine state reform and nation building. The absence of an adversarial system of governance for a term may be just the real new beginning, Sri Lanka needs to consolidate and sustain the sacrificially and hard won end of a violent civil war.

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An open letter to Opposition Leader Nimal Siripala de Silva

Posted by harimpeiris on May 12, 2015

An open letter to Opposition Leader Nimal Siripala de Silva

By Harim Peiris

Hon.Nimal Siripala de Silva MP

Leader of the Opposition

Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha

Colombo 7.

My dear Honorable Sir,

I thought of writing to you, due to the upcoming general election and the choices that face the SLFP in that context. My interest stems from my own personal association with the Party and is also motivated by my late father having been a founding member and Central Committee member of the SLFP in the 1950s, which fact seem to have been known to President Sirisena, who as the then General Secretary called and condoled with me on his demise last year.  However, I hasten to add that, though I previously served as Presidential Spokesman and currently as the Chairman of the Resettlement Authority, that the views expressed in this letter are strictly my own.

Firstly let me belatedly express my congratulations to you on the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution by a near unanimous vote, an achievement for which the SLFP should also take some credit, since it is after all the single largest party in Parliament. The greatest credit of course goes to President Sirisena, whose patient diplomacy crafted the compromises necessary to achieve a consensus and also showed that the SLFP and the UNP can work together for the greater good of the nation. It portends well for a possible national government after the general elections.

I must say though, I was rather surprised at some of the objections that were raised by the learned Professor G.L. Peiris on behalf of the SLFP earlier on, it was a pity he was unable to be as focused or articulate when the abominable 18th amendment was passed in essentially half a day, without a semblance of a debate. Perhaps in that avatar he believed that ignorance was bliss.

I must also congratulate you, my dear Nimal, on keeping your job as Leader of the Opposition in Parliament. It was only a few weeks ago, that Dinesh Gunawardena was making a valiant bid to oust you and occupy your seat and it struck me then, that a party (the MEP) with only himself elected to Parliament and his brother appointed through the national list, trying to be opposition leader was rather thick. It took the TNA, to remind the Speaker that in the event that the UPFA was unable to lead the opposition, that they were the third largest party in Parliament. Like much of the other non issues and hot air raised by die hard Mahinda supporters in Parliament, this too came to nothing. Except perhaps to give Dinesh some unexpected but nonetheless for him a welcome lime light before the general elections.

However, the real reason I wanted to write to you is to address the issues of the so called, “bring back Mahinda campaign” which has been launched by some of the erstwhile minor partners of the SLFP in the UPFA. Firstly of course their campaign seems to losing steam despite all the money thrown at it. Bussing the same rent a crowd around the country is expensive. But clearly the bring back Mahinda campaign is not short of funds and is unlikely to ever be so. But it runs against the majority mood in the country and the people’s mandate as well as some serious policy and political problems.

  1. Firstly, for Mahinda apologists who accuse the current national government of not having a parliamentary mandate, though their presidential campaign was the winner, it is mind boggling that the loser in the presidential election now wants to use the back door as it were to grab whatever residue power he can hold onto through the SLFP party structure. This despite the SLFP quite correctly opting to move with the winning President Sirisena into the future than to retreat with the losing Mahinda into the past.
  2. It is even more surprising that the few SLFP colleagues who are in the Mahinda camp, do not realize that the Maithripala Sirisena presidential campaign was very much about ending the misrule of the Rajapakse’s and with the voters having delivered their verdict, their voice and mandate should be respected. I am glad that President Sirisena was very public that he would not let down the 6.2 million Sri Lankans who voted for him.
  1. As a campaign activist and voter for President Sirisena, I must say I was appalled at the low down personal and vitriolic campaign that was run by Mahinda Rajapakse in his loosing reelection bid, where President Sirisena was called everything from a Diaspora lackey to a foreign stooge. Now nowhere do I see or hear any expression of regret, remorse or a recanting of these claims by Mahinda Rajapakse. Surely this must be a first step.
  1. I am also rather surprised at this call to not investigate allegations of corruption and misrule of the Rajapakse Administration, which was made a campaign issue, so that a public mandate has even been received for this. The allegations are rather long and voluminous and need no mention here. But voters have not forgotten and there needs to be accountability for the world’s most expensive highways per kilometer, the missing vehicles from the presidential secretariat, the sovereignty selling giveaway terms of the port city project, a long list of unsolicited projects approved without tender processes, floating armories and unlicensed weapons to private parties, massive corruption at Sri Lankan Airlines, casinos made strategic enterprises, using TRC funds for the election campaign to name just a few, of a very long list.

 

  1. Regarding the local councils, which have finished their term of office, I would not fight to be extending their term. This unwillingness to retire or give up office is a distressing Rajapakse trait and there is no need to pass on that toxic political virus to local government. The SLFP and indeed all local authorities can and must be prepared to contest regular elections and get a public mandate to hold office.
  1. My humble suggestion by the way, is for the SLFP to dump the pro Mahinda UPFA allies for the general elections and run an SLFP slate of candidates. Frankly more SLFPers will get elected that way and SLFP votes would not be going towards electing those stuck in the past.

I hope you will consider the above ideas and suggestions in the formulation of SLFP policies going forward. Please accept my best wishes for the same.

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