Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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Archive for February, 2018

An open letter to Prof. G.L. Peiris

Posted by harimpeiris on February 27, 2018

(Published in the Daily News of 6th February 2018)

Prof. G.L Peiris

Chairman / SLPP

 

Dear Professor Peiris,

I thought I should write to you at this time and at the outset may I congratulate you on the performance of the SLPP, the new political party in which you are the Chairman. The performance of the SLPP was somewhat better than many expected, though as you are well aware, fell far short of what a successful comeback by the Rajapaksa’s would require. The basic political formulae of 2015, that of Rajapakse verses the rest, still held true and while you garnered an impressive 4.9 million votes nationally this is considerably less than the 5.7 million, unsuccessful effort of Mahinda Rajapakse in January 2015. The percentage vote also of the SLPP at 44% percent, is also less than the loosing 47% polled by Mahinda Rajapakse in 2015. This however is still a creditable performance but probably owes more to the fact that the rainbow coalition’s progeny, the national unity government of the UNP and the SLFP had not delivered on the high expectations, hopes and aspirations the people reposed in them in January and indeed August, 2015. Tempting though it must be, I hope you would not be obstructionist with regard to the attempted reforms by the government going forward.

However, I write with regard to several concerns and issues, which would profit from your attention.

  1. Post-election violence

The first area of concern has been reports of some of your successful candidates at the election engaging in post-election violence, intimidation and harassment against their opponents and shockingly against women candidates. While the primary reason was lax policing after the election, the responsibility should be with the perpetrators, who are unfortunately mostly from your party. Reports are emerging that the integrity and moral quotient of some or many of your candidates are quite suspect. You may not want to further promote such individuals nor condone their violence. Frankly if this is the response to wining a local election, we can well anticipate the night of the long knives which would likely be unleased in the eventuality of success at a general election.

  1. Opposing constitutional reforms and anti-minority rhetoric

It has been particularly distressing to witness the politics, policies and rhetoric utilized by the Rajapakse comeback project in opposing reforms and reconciliation. While parochial narrow ethno-religious nationalism is always morally repugnant and intellectually hollow, as you have discovered, the appeal to baser instincts are always electorally attractive though at a huge collective social cost. I would appeal that you and the JO front bench, which is notably mono-ethnic be mindful of the diversity of Sri Lankan society and the need for political reforms in a post war environment. The tone, tenor and content of the political rhetoric emanating from your party’s senior political leadership has been anti-minority.  You are no doubt aware of the allegations made in Parliament by the Leader of the Opposition and the TNA, regarding the misinformation carried on by your party before, during and after the election. Your counter that the TNA ceded Tamil political space and authority to LTTE during the war years, is rather disingenuous considering that your chief allies in the Tamil areas of the Eastern Province, are all former leaders and fighters in the LTTE. Moreover the “support” by the ITAK to the LTTE was obtained through the barrel of a gun and through the murder of many of their leaders. Really post-war reconciliation and healing a polarized society requires more statesmanship or responsibility than your political masters and co-travelers have demonstrated.

I also read with interest your post-election statement that there is a conspiracy to drive a wedge between the Muslim Community and the SLPP and its Rajapakse comeback project. You would no doubt be aware that the SLPP fared disastrously among both the Muslim as well as the Tamil community voters. Your party secured just 1% of the vote in the Jaffna District and 1.5% of the vote in the Batticalo District. The attacks on Mosques, the anti halal movement and the burning of Koran’s started in the post war period under the Rajapakse Administration. The extremist organizations, which in-fact welcomed your electoral successes were provided both covert and even overt assistance during the Rajapakse years. They have been defanged since 2015 but have received a fresh lease of life from the politics and rhetoric of the SLPP.

  1. The Leader of the Opposition and a general election

I must say I was very surprised that for a party headed by a professor of laws, that there seems a demonstrated ignorance of the basic tenants of constitutional governance. Firstly, by what stretch of the imagination can a plurality of the vote in local municipal elections give rise to negating the mandate of the people at an earlier general election. Really the former president should be better advised by you. Demanding that the President sack the Prime Minister is neither justified constitutionally under the 19th Amendment, the signature achievement of the unity government nor indeed even politically. The concurrent exercise of independent public mandates cannot be a concept unknown to you.

Then there was a ludicrous demand by your allies for the position of the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament to be handed over to former President Rajapakse. The serious obstacle to this arises from the fact that he is elected to Parliament as a member of the UPFA. The President as head of the Cabinet and Government is also head of the UPFA and the UPFA is formally part of the Government as most recently confirmed in Parliament by the General Secretary of the UPFA. You would no doubt agree that it would be ridiculous for both the head of government and the leader of the opposition, to be from the same party.

I trust the above would be of assistance in the days ahead as the SLPP / JO charts its future course.

Yours sincerely

Harim Peiris 

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A January 8th way forward

Posted by harimpeiris on February 22, 2018

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Daily News of 20th February 2018)

 

The local government elections being over, the focus has shifted to Parliament where moves have been underway to reconstitute the government. Now a government makeover, reconstitution or reformation is a desirable exercise, given the public dissatisfaction overall, regarding the government’s performance at present. The main Sinhala opposition and its political vehicle the SLPP had a higher than expected public response as the election results demonstrate, providing a wake-up call to the coalition government and especially the two main parties that constitute the same. Some salient facts of the current situation and a way forward are as follows.

 

Mahinda Rajapakse did not improve on his losing 2015 performance

 

It was young Oxford scholar Gehan Gunatilleke, who in a well-argued piece right after the election first pointed out that the SLPP, the political comeback vehicle of the Rajapaksa’s, did not even secure the unsuccessful 5.2 million votes, Mahinda Rajapakse polled in 2015, despite a higher number of registered voters and a similar turnout. Hence, the vote was more a mid-term protest vote at the government, than sufficient nostalgia for a Rajapakse return, otherwise Mahinda needed to better his own loosing performance.

 

Hot on the heels though of the SLPP polling more votes than the two government parties, the UNP and the SLFP, the JO led SLPP called and still calls for a dissolution of parliament and the holding of early general elections. It is surprising for a political party led by a former professor of laws, GL Peiris (no relative I hasten to add) being the titular chairman of the SLPP, that the SLPP and the JO demonstrates an ignorance of either the letter or the ethos of constitutional government. The SLPP claims and indeed has a mandate in the local government institutions it has won outright though failing to have a majority in many of the councils in which it is the largest party. However, to use a local government result to try and secure a change in the national government is disingenuous and is neither supported by the letter or the practice of constitutional governance.

 

What Sri Lanka presently has is the concurrent operation of three mandates, each distinct from each other. President Sirisena has a mandate from the January 8th 2015 presidential election, Prime Minister Wickramasinghe has a mandate from the August 2015 general election to parliament, in which his party secured the largest number of seats and formed a unity government, which passed its most recent budget, the hallmark of any government by a 2/3rd majority two months ago. The possible crossover of some SLFP members from the government to the opposition does not detract from the parliamentary election mandate, unless the opposition successfully passes a motion of no confidence in parliament. What the SLPP has is a mandate in a majority of the local government institutions, it should roll up its sleeves and fulfil its responsibilities, not play politics.

 

A commitment to the mandate of 2015

 

It has been surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly) the TNA as the third largest party and the official opposition in Parliament which has captured the moral high ground and has argued on principal, for the continuation of the good governance reform mandates of 2015, mandates which were backed fully by their constituencies in the North and East and indeed convincingly in the rest of the country. Now JO theoreticians and indeed Mahinda Rajapakse have articulated that the minority voice does not count and their now clearly dominant faction of the SLFP reflects the wishes of the majority ethno-religious community. But mercifully despite Sri Lanka’s many shortcomings as a pluralist state, we do not constitutionally have second class citizens and everyone’s vote counts equally.

 

The real lesson of both the 2015 elections and the 2018 election would be that the people supported then the good governance reforms platform on which President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickramasinghe were elected. Hence their disappointment is more likely with the poor implementation of the needed reforms they backed, rather than a lack of support for the reforms. The way forward then is to recommit to and work towards the implementation of the good governance reform program, the economic, governance and reconciliation reforms Sri Lanka so badly needs. What we don’t require is a return to the past.

 

It has been Prime Minister Wickramasinghe who in a wide-ranging press conference after the LG election results, attributed the government’s poor showing to sub-optimal economic performance. Also mentioned by other leaders including the President during the election campaign has been the government’s inability to bring to book many of the culprits of the previous regime accused of corruption, gross mismanagement and abuse of power. In the best traditions of democracy, the law and order minister who holds direct responsibility for the criminal justice system and investigative agencies has offered to resign and may well be assigned a different portfolio in an impending cabinet reshuffle.

 

JO weak in Parliament

 

The political reality in Sri Lanka, is that defeated in 2015, the Rajapaksa’s lost the presidency, a parliamentary majority and indeed control of the SLFP. It may well have compensated for the latter by successfully launching the SLPP. Certainly, the Pohotuwa party never seems to be short of money. Wonder where it all comes from? But the numbers in Parliament still stand largely in support of a reconstituted government but continued implementation of the mandates of 2015.

 

The 19th amendment to the constitution’s non-dissolving feature actually first proposed by the JVP, was created for just a situation such as now. To prevent an exercise of executive political power to overturn a public mandate. Parliament needs to run its term or decide themselves to go for a dissolution. The mandate of 2015 has two components, one is a term of office, five years and the other is the program of reforms. Both are important and neither has been completed. For the good of Sri Lanka, both must continue.

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