Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Mangala sets the record straight on UNHRC resolution

Posted by harimpeiris on April 5, 2019

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island on 4th April 2019)

Earlier this week, former Foreign Minister and current Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, who recently celebrated his unbroken thirty years of public service as a parliamentarian, issued a lengthy statement which sought to set the record straight and correct misconceptions about the UNHRC process and Sri Lanka’s policy and position in that regard. The situation was aggravated by the conduct of one member of Sri Lanka’s delegation who had a solo press conference and claimed to have corrected the UN High Commissioner, a former president of Chile, who promptly denied the same. Later in the week, the opposition JO / SLPP has challenged the Government to correct what they claim are contradictions, between Minister Mangala’s statement and the statement of current Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana, who is undoubtedly fortunate to be Sri Lanka’s foreign minister, as a national list MP, who was forced to resign his previous portfolio in 2015, after public and his ministerial colleagues outrage over his unconscionable defense of the Avant Garde floating armory. However, the issues raised are more important than the personalities involved and deserve objective examination.

Sri Lanka requires reconciliation

There is one self-evident fact, which Minister Mangala Samaraweera reiterates, and what the Rajapakse era Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission Report (LLRC) documents and articulates most clearly, which is that a nation after a violent decades long fratricidal civil war, requires healing through addressing the effects, causes and the conduct of such a brutal conflict. Fundamental political theory would teach us that non reoccurrence of such conflict requires addressing these issues. Unresolved they lead to renewed conflict. About two decades after the first JVP uprising, we experienced a second uprising.

While all Sri Lankans suffered in many ways from the conflict, there are direct victims, who lost their lives, family members, limbs, homes, properties and businesses in the conflict. Many others were traumatized by the war, in different ways. The war widows, the orphans, the maimed, the families of the missing, the PTA detainees, unskilled and socially non-integrated ex combatants and the conflict caused destitute are a constant reminder to all Sri Lankans, ten years after the end of the war, that significant unfinished work of reconciliation, still exists.

Our reconciliation process is internationalized

Sri Lanka, does not live in isolation in the world.  Our economy is closely integrated and globally dependent and so Sri Lanka’s foreign policy and our engagement with the world is crucial in our national interest. We did not even fight our war against the LTTE in isolation. With no domestic armaments industry, we fought our war, with globally purchased weapons and more importantly with international cooperation in intelligence and freezing of LTTE financing. Post 9/11, the West banned the LTTE front organizations and their funds, while India supplied the intelligence which enabled the Sri Lankan Navy to sink the LTTE weapons ships, in mid sea. The world demonstrated an interest in Sri Lanka’s war and post war reconciliation, because our conflict was internationalized especially through the dispersion of the Tamil communities around the world, post the 1983 pogrom. There are over one hundred thousand Sri Lankan refugees still in India, more than double that number in UK and Canada, with many others scattered throughout the western world and influential in the land of their adoption.  All of whom have families, relatives, properties and memories about Sri Lanka, giving those countries a legitimate interest in non-reoccurrence. It is a testament of this internationalization that the first foreign visitor to Sri Lanka when the war ended was the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon The joint statement between then President Rajapakse on behalf of Sri Lanka and the UN Secretary General, clearly lays out Sri Lanka’s international commitments and obligation to establish post war reconciliation through a political solution, address the effects of the conflict and provide accountability for the conduct of the war. It is the Rajapakse Administration’s unwillingness to implement its own commitments which saw increasing international strictures and growing concern, through the UNHRC resolutions of pre 2015. Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of resolutions post 2015, took back the ownership and control of the reconciliation process, from being foreign driven to being locally owned and managed.

That vexatious issue of Commonwealth or foreign Judges

Unarguably, between the three issues of the effects, causes and conduct of the war, the most politically sensitive issue is dealing the conduct of our war. It is this issue which the Rajapakse return project and the JO political opposition and their allies seeks to capitalize on. The controversy is over the phrase “foreign or commonwealth judges, investigators, prosecutors.” etc. in the resolution. Firstly, that we require accountability for the conduct of the conflict is unarguable. That the LTTE was designated a terrorist organization by most of the world, was due to them being held accountable for their actions, including attacks on civilians and civilian targets. Accountability is two-fold. We cannot expect global cooperation in managing the international remnant of the LTTE, their funds and possible progeny without our own accountability and clear commitment to conduct our own national security and defense in keeping with international best practices and the rule of law, including international humanitarian law (IHL). It is in the interest of Sri Lanka’s military, now an increasingly important part of the UN’s global peace keeping forces, to demonstrate our professionalism and commitment to the highest standards and cooperate with UN processes. As recent CID investigations and indictments served by the Attorney General indicate particularly with regards some Naval personal and rogue elements in Naval intelligence, that human rights violations were not just part of the “war effort” but personal vendettas and brutality for profit.

At the outset it must be recognized that UNHRC resolution 30/1 of 2015, which Sri Lanka co-sponsored commits Sri Lanka to a “domestic process of accountability”. Very Sri Lankan and based in Sri Lanka. That the administration of justice in Sri Lanka is cross border is not alien to our justice system at all. Until 1972 our highest court of appeal was the Privy Council of the House of Lords in UK and in fact the Army officers accused of plotting a coup against Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike was acquitted by the Privy Council. Contrast that with the war winning, “best army commander in the world” Field Marshall Fonseka who was thrown in a local jail, after a dubious and seriously flawed local process, when he failed in his political challenge to the Rajapakses’ in a democratic election. Similarly, we impeached our Chief Justice after her court ruled against the Rajapakse regime. We started getting our house back in order only post 2015.

The Rajapakse era International Group of Eminent Persons (IGEP), headed by a foreign (Indian) chief justice Bhagwatti, set up in consort with a Presidential Commission of Inquiry perhaps lays out a Rajapakse model for international involvement in domestic justice processes. As Minister Mangala Samaraweera correctly notes at length in his statement, UNHRC Resolution 30/1 of 2015, takes back to Sri Lanka, our process of reconciliation with a firmly enshrined domestic accountability process.

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SLPP and the Gotabaya Chinthanaya

Posted by harimpeiris on March 19, 2019

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island on 19th March 2019)

The press in Sri Lanka, especially the Sinhala press has been avidly following the progress of the proposed alliance between the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) quite closely. The center piece of this attraction has been the choice of its presidential candidate, seemingly a choice between incumbent President Sirisena and former Defense Secretary and Rajapakse sibling, Gotabaya Rajapakse. Furthermore, the first-place finish of the SLPP in last year’s local government election, does make its candidate a serious contender if not the front runner in such an election. In that context, political insiders state that at a family conclave late last week, the Rajapakses decided on the presidential candidacy of Gotabaya Rajapakse. Media reports regarding the same stated that the strategy adopted, given that there is still about seven or eight months more for the constitutionally mandated November or December election, is that Gotabaya will continue to promote his candidacy through his own organization “Eliya” while the SLPP will continue with building its grass roots network through the process of community consultations in the villages. Accordingly, the policies and politics followed by the SLPP and its presumptive presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapakse, merits serious consideration, given its potential for being national policy under a new Rajapakse presidency. Albeit, Gotabaya rather than Mahinda.

The Mahinda Chinthanaya in retrospect

Sri Lankan politics post the war’s end in 2009, is indeed a new era, now entering its second decade in May 2019. Mahinda Rajapakse understood this very well, when as president addressing parliament after the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, he stated that there was now, no longer the excuse of a war to blame for a lack of national development. Accordingly, Sri Lanka, her economy and her society must take off on a development drive of peace and prosperity. The people of Sri Lanka accepted him at his word and the following year in 2010 accorded him Sri Lanka’s second highest presidential election mandate at 57.8% of the popular vote, second only to former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s record setting mandate of 62.3% of the popular vote at the presidential election of 1994. It is worth noting that Mahinda at his zenith in 2010, was significantly behind CBK at her own high point in 1994.

The Rajapakse second term or the implementation of the Chinthanaya’s “idiri dekma” or way forward, resulted in the imprisonment of the war winning army commander who was his presidential election opponent, the impeachment of the Chief Justice, a China centric foreign policy detrimental to Sri Lanka’s regional and wider global interests, high foreign debt driven white elephant projects of little utility value, the reduction of democratic space and personal freedoms, the rise of majoritarian extremist organizations engaged in anti-Muslim violence and the complete absence of any post war reconciliation as per the recommendations of either the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and / or President Rajapaksa’s own All Party Conference (APC) and its executive arm, the All Party Representative Committee (APRC). The Rajapakse Administration’s second term, engaged in massive political overreach in the democracy truncating 18th amendment to the constitution and mercifully ended one year ahead of its five-year term, by calling and losing an early election in 2015, to seek an unprecedented third term after four years.

Gotabaya – old wine in a new bottle

So, what would a third Rajapakse Administration, but a Gotabaya Chinthanaya look like? The noises emanating from both “Eliya” and the SLPP seem to indicate, that despite the new packaging, the game plan remains the same. Polarize society through a ratcheting up of ethnic Sinhala nationalist rhetoric and also seek to capitalize on dissatisfaction on non-delivery of expectations and promises by the political forces, now in government, which defeated them in 2015.

There is also on display a distressing disregard for democratic, civil, political and human rights, with the general thrust, that what Sri Lanka requires is a strong leadership, which has been weakened as a result of democratic discourse and processes. This argument of course is not new, but several thousand years old, articulated first in the Senate of the old Roman Empire, during its decline. Where the Roman Senate centralized more and more powers in the emperor for the protection of the empire, but to no avail. In fact, the term dictator originates from an appointment during an emergency of a Roman Magistrate by the Roman Senate as “Dictator” whose diktat or decree was absolute and law. Fascist political theory and practice, mostly in Europe in the middle of the last century, came closest to a modern articulation of these theories and practices.

The Rajapakse have learnt one lesson from their defeat in 2015, which is that governance matters. The Sri Lankan electorate was not short on nationalist rhetoric during that election. We had Rajapakse propaganda which rivalled that of Kim Jong-un’s North Korea, but ultimately insufficient to win the election. Sri Lankans just did not feel that they were well governed or their interests served by the Rajapakse Administration. Towards this end, Gotabaya is being packaged by his handlers, as a non-politician, a professional who can get the job done. A technocrat.

It is interesting that Gotabaya and Eliya sat out the local government elections last year, which the SLPP won, with Gotabaya watching from the US and Eliya studiously silent. Currently they articulate a critique of the UNF, but have not clearly articulated their own program. Moreover, had Mahinda’s “October 2018” revolution succeeded it would have put a damper on Gotabaya’s presidential prospects, but that is water under the bridge. However, Rajapakse policies and politics have lost thrice now, the latest being the failure to obtain a parliamentary majority in October / November last year despite the President’s own estimation of an inducement of several hundred million Rupees per potential cross over MP. The SLPP did secure 40% of the vote in February 2018, well short of the 50% required for a presidential election victory.  Whether Eliya can persuade another 10% of the electorate, perhaps those who voted SLFP in 2018, to support Mr. Rajapakse in a presidential election, we will know by year end.  Current previews of what Gotabaya Chinthanaya may look like, most likely resembles, the Mahinda Chinthanaya repackaged with a fresh face. Fine wine does improve with age, if produced, bottled and stored properly. Given the taste of Rajapakse rule from 2010-2014, many Sri Lankans may think closely about wanting the latest vintage from Madamullane in Belliatte.

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Mangala Samaraweera, thirty years in public life – A reflection

Posted by harimpeiris on March 6, 2019

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island on 6th March 2019)

Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera is the man of the moment, as the first budget of the UNF government, sans its UPFA partner is presented as the basic policy framework of the UNP and its allies before the decisive year end presidential elections come upon us. Last week, Minister Samaraweera celebrated thirty years in public life, with a series of events, the highlight of which was a lecture by the former Obama Administration cabinet rank Ambassador Samantha Power. In a welcome development and maturity of Sri Lanka’s political ethos, the event was bi partisan with high level participation with President Sirisena and Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapakse attending along with Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe and UNF front liners. This was similar to the wedding celebration of the youngest Rajapakse offspring recently which was also a celebration sans political difference and partisan divides.

My earliest encounters with Minister Mangala Samaraweera was when he was then, the newly appointed Minister of Posts, Telecommunications and Media in the CBK Administration of 1994 and I, a consultant in the Public Enterprise Reform Commission (PERC) tasked with implementing state sector reforms, including telecommunications of which Mangala Samaraweera was minister. The Minster had inherited a telecommunications sector, which was at that time, still a government owned monopoly of Sri Lanka Telecom, where getting a land or fixed phone line was still considered a political favor, with a waiting list of over two hundred thousand. Mangala took on the huge task of reforming Sri Lanka’s Telecommunications sector, which required implementing a regulatory framework of the TRC, attracting a foreign investor in Japan’s Nippon telco NTT and most importantly perhaps as a left of center government, handling the Telecom unions, which were adamantly opposed to the privatization. Mangala handled this all with great skill, both politically and professionally and the results are evident today where Sri Lanka has 21 million people and 22 million phone connections.  If Sri Lanka has South Asia’s most advanced telecoms infrastructure, the credit must then surely go to Mangala.

Mangala first entered Parliament in 1989, at a youthful thirty-three years, when the country was in the throes of the second JVP insurrection. Fortune favored his bravery, in that the then SLFP strongman in Matara, Ariya Bullegoda succumbed to JVP threats and intimidation to boycott the 1989 general elections and did not contest, keeping the SLFP field more open for the relatively new youthful human rights activist. When Mangala Samaraweera launched his first parliamentary election campaign, it was the old-fashioned way with his mother carrying the posters and Mangala the bucket of paste to publicize his preference number in the first parliamentary elections to be held under the proportional representation system. Mangala’s commitment to human rights and pluralism was born in the crucible of Sri Lanka’s brutal second JVP uprising of that period and has remained consistent and steadfast, even at a personal and political price.

Mangala has always been a great believer in political alliances and coalitions. Elected an opposition MP in 1989 and despite being a newcomer to parliament, politics and the party and he threw himself in to what might have been thought of as the near impossible task of modernizing the SLFP after its abysmal defeat of 1977. This required among other things, an easing upstairs of the iconic Madam Sirimavo and enabling a younger, more dynamic and fresh thinking leadership to takeover. Mangala was arguably one of the most influential in persuading the widowed and single parent Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to return to Sri Lanka and take over the reigns of the SLFP.

Mangala was instrumental in the formation of the People’s Alliance (PA), that alliance of the SLFP and the traditional left parties which swept the polls in 1994, beginning in fact with the SLFP’s shock win in the Southern Provincial Council elections in 1993. Interestingly Mangala’s father Mahanama Samaraweera who was also MP for Matara was first elected from the Communist Party of Sri Lanka and the Communist Party’s only electoral base in Sri Lanka even today, sufficient for parliamentary representation, continues to be in Matara, with MP Chandasiri Gajadeera, flying the CP’s sole insignia in Parliament from Matara, in tribute to Mahanama Samaraweera’s groundwork for the CP in the South.

However, in keeping with the times, Mangala was then and now, a political centrist and modernist. His favorite political author and theorist has been neither Karl Marx nor the neo liberal Friedrich Hayek but rather the Anthony Giddens and his arguments for a third way. A radical center, which was reformist and pragmatic.

Mangala Samaraweera together with the late Lakshman Kadirgama were the two Ministers who were the then President Kumaratunga’s brain trust on national reconciliation, together with GL Peiris.  It was Mangala who organized both the “Sudu Nelum movement” and the thavalama street dramas which took the message of conflict transformation and reconciliation to the village level, in the form of drama and open forums. Consequently, by even the year 2000, opinion polls and surveys showed a clear and significant majority in favor of a political accommodation and reforms to ensure that the Sri Lankan state reflected the real diversity of her society.

In recent times and especially post war, as a front bencher of the UNF, to which he now belonged, having previously crossed over in principled opposition to Rajapakse rule, Mangala has been a strong advocate of both reconciliation and economic development. I was privileged to have served as Advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, during Mangala’s tenure as Foreign Minister. Unlike many in public life Mangala is not ego centric and certainly not insecure. He can distil professional advice, accepting the good, while ignoring the bad and is inclusive and consultative in his decision making and policy formulation.

Minister Samaraweera was responsible for bringing Sri Lanka back from the brink of near pariah status to which we had almost descended during the disastrous China centric, no post war reconciliation policies of the Rajapakse second term. It was he who rebalanced and repaired Sri Lanka’s relationship with India and led Sri Lanka in the UN to commit to her own domestic accountability and reconciliation process, believing and arguing what the Rajapakse era LLRC Commission Report had clearly spelt out, that every nation engaged in a brutal civil war needed healing through addressing the effects, causes and conduct of the conflict to ensure non-reoccurrence.

As the 2019 election season moves into high gear, Mangala Samaraweera, together with his deputy Eran Wickramaratne has the enormous task of laying out the economic framework that would lay the foundation for the re-election of the centrist and pluralist political forces in the country. Somehow one feels, that as significant as Mangala’s past thirty years in public life has been, it is only set to increase post 2019. Khema’s boy has done her proud and, in the process, served the people of his native Matara and indeed the whole of Sri Lanka well.

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Sinhala nationalist critique of democracy – a mistake

Posted by harimpeiris on February 21, 2019

By Harim Peiris

(Published online in the Island on 19th February 2019)

The undeclared front runner for the Rajapaksa clan / SLPP / JO nomination is undoubtedly former Defence Secretary. So his views and vision for Sri Lanka, which he is now periodically presenting as his undeclared presidential candidacy commences, merit serious attention. A democracy requires that there be debate and dialogue on policies and decisions affecting national life and, in that respect, the military is the last institution one wants to learn democratic norms from. The military personnel are trained are over a lifetime to obey lawful orders without question and have orders carried out without question.

Accordingly, in recent times, opinion leaders in support of a Gotabaya candidacy and Mr. Rajapaksa himself have been making comments that indicate that within the new Sinhala nationalist political project, which is what the Gotabaya candidacy is about, there is a general disdain for democracy and a belief in what might be termed a faith in a strongman. A well-intentioned dictator or an enlightened despot, as renaissance era political thinkers may have termed it. First there was a call, a couple of months back, by a very senior religious prelate for a military government like Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. The attempt to backtrack on the comments or give it a benign spin was not successful with the unforgiving video records on social media. Just last week, a retired Navy commander, now involved with other military officers around the former Defence Secretary has gone on record saying that countries should not emphasize democracy and human rights. He reportedly further stated that democracy had, only brought ethnic division and strife to the country. Then, there is Mr. Rajapaksa himself stressing the need for guaranteeing economic and social rights and not civil and political rights. It is clear that Mr. Rajapaksa and the retired generals around him are seeking to run the country in much the same way as they ran the military and defence ministry, and preparing the people to accept, under their potential rule, vastly reduced democratic and human rights.

A flawed democracy should be strengthened not further weakened

There is one thing on which the new Sinhala nationalist project and all others can agree on, and that is that Sri Lanka’s democracy is flawed and weak. This, of course, is contrary to what we argue in international fora, but that contradiction is another story. That criticism is clearly made by Mr. Rajapaksa and those around him. Others such as Tamil nationalists, make the same criticism for entirely different reasons, but come to the same conclusion, a correct one, that Sri Lankan democracy has not really served them or indeed anyone.

It was State Minister of Finance Eran Wickramaratne, who during the abortive 52-day Rajapaksa regime late last year, stated that the current political set up served only the rulers and not the governed. He was speaking to a group of professionals and was arguing for taking governance from populists to professionals. This same argument was the basic rallying cry of the rainbow coalition of 2015, which built a socio- political movement on good governance and consequently challenged and overthrew the president who ended the war.

There is little doubt that Sri Lankan democracy, or our institutions of governance, has not in the past delivered for our people. We have been unable to manage the political debate, make the compromises and achieve the minimum consensus required to have a cohesive and integrated society within our democratic institutions.

That failure resulted in political and communal violence. The failure was not just on ethnic relations. The two JVP insurrections of the 1970s and 1980s clearly demonstrated that even with regard the economic and socio-political aspirations of the Sinhala community our institutions of governance were unable to deliver.

But the answer to that must be, as declared in January 2015 by the rainbow coalition, is for democracy to be strengthened and for good governance to be established. Towards this end, this dream and political vision, 6.2 million Sri Lankans, comprising a majority of the voting public gave their mandate. The 19th Amendment was a step in this direction; the Constitutional Council was a step in the same direction––small steps but definitely the right direction. Four years on, the criticisms of these by the Rajapaksa’s and their acolytes are a clear indication of their desire to roll back the clock. When democracy is weak, the solution is not to kill it but strengthen it.

A Rainbow coalition must come back

The assault, during this election year 2019, on the democratic institutions of the Constitutional Council, the 19th Amendment, the Human Rights Commission are all indicators of what a Rajapaksa return would entail for Sri Lanka. An elected dictatorship, benign to its supporters and brutal with its opponents; an unmitigated disaster for a post war, pluralist society like ours. The last time, when the fascist experiment of one folk, one Fuhrer and one fatherland was attempted in Europe, it resulted in both a holocaust and a world war. What is needed is to strengthen Sri Lankan democracy not truncate it.

The answer to this, of course, is a repeat of the politics of 2014/15, five years later. The actors would be different. Instead of the term limit barred Mahinda, or the age-limit-barred Namal, the candidate may be Gota and heading a rainbow coalition; the candidate may be the UNP leader, or his current or former deputy. But irrespective of the candidates the basic political formulae of the Rajapaksa clan verses the rest, would still pose a significant political challenge to the Rajapaksa come-back project, and the resultant diminution of Sri Lanka’s democratic, civil and political rights.

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The 19th Amendment is the Sirisena Administration’s achievement – It must be defended

Posted by harimpeiris on February 15, 2019

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island on 13th February 2019)

 

In January 2015, 6.2 million Sri Lankans voted for a new Sri Lanka, giving a mandate for far reaching reforms, even as a rainbow coalition of disparate opposition parties and civil society organizations backed a common candidate for the presidency and Maithripala Sirisena, who had defected from the Rajapakse Administration shortly before and launched a blistering criticism of his erstwhile boss, defeated a deeply entrenched and populist president who sought to leverage his war ending legacy into an unprecedented 18thamendment enabled third term.

The signature achievement of the Sirisena Administration during its second 100 or so days in office, was the 19th amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution, which essentially reversed the 18th amendment and reduced the sole discretionary executive powers of the presidency, established independent commissions and strengthened the role of the Constitutional Council in key state appointments. This has in fact led to a renewed Sri Lanka, where senior police officers are institutionally independent of politicians now in their professional work and careers, the judiciary has recovered from the low point of the sacking of Chief Justice Shiranie Bandaranaike, a collective decision making on senior state appointments through the Constitutional Council and the establishment of key independent Commissions including the National Human Rights Commission has occurred. This was and is important progress and crucial state reform for Sri Lanka. President Sirisena throughout 2015, 2016 and 2017 praised the 19th Amendment to the Constitution and he was right. That legacy must be protected and nurtured.

In recent times, clearly President Sirisena has done a political volte farce, a complete turnaround from having campaigned against the policies of the Rajapakse Administration to now seeking to hitch his own political fortunes and future to a Rajapakse return. This of necessity makes him advocate against his own legacy of reforms and change, as he seeks to champion or be associated with a different political agenda and culture going forward. That is the President’s political right, though the wisdom of the move may be doubtful. But the merits of the 2015 reforms, mandated by a majority of Sri Lankan requires a defense, as the politics of the impending year end presidential elections, overshadows the public policy debate.

The Collective of the Constitutional Council

 The Constitutional Council embodies that essential principle of key state appointments being independently vetted and approved by a collective leadership. Now in Sri Lanka, these are the appointments to the higher judiciary and the members of the independent commissions, which are by design meant to be independent of the executive arm of government. They are regulatory and oversight in nature, be it the Human Rights Commission, the Police Commission or the Anti-Bribery Commission to name a few.

Sri Lanka needs to make a transition from being a nation governed by populist strongmen (or women) to being governed by institutions, policies and laws and a government that is accountable and a governance that is transparent to the sovereign people of Sri Lanka. Through mechanisms and processes that move beyond periodic elections. It is in furtherance of this objective, that collective decision making on appointments to key judicial and regulatory bodies is being made by the Constitutional Council. The United States for instance, in which the SLPP front runner for the presidency is a citizen, requires most key state appointments to be confirmed by the US Senate. The adage, “I etat c’est moi” or “I am the state” of King Louis XIV, surely ended with the period of absolute monarchies.

This analysis does not seek to engage inappropriately in the merits or demerits of specific and particular appointments high level appointments. Merely to make the point that it surely boggles the mind and is inconceivable that a collective of ten members of the Constitutional Council, comprising ex officio the Speaker, the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, their nominees and three eminent non-partisan persons, can make a bigger mistake and be allegedly partisan, than a single individual, as would be the case of the executive president. As recent events have indicated, the presidency of Sri Lanka, is hardly removed from the partisan democratic contestation for political power and the criticism of the Constitutional Council is coming from one direction only, that of the political allies of the Rajapakses. This must also be viewed in the context of the remarkable events of November and December 2018, when the actions of the President and the short lived SLPP / UPFA Government were found to be ultra vires the constitution and relevant laws. It no doubt escapes the extreme Sinhala nationalist members of the JO, that attacking the appointment of Sri Lanka’s superior judiciary is surely counter-productive to insisting and arguing with the international community, for the efficacy of Sri Lanka’s judicial system.

In Defense of the National Human Rights Commission 

 Sri Lanka has had a long-term problem with the protection and safeguarding of human rights. At one time we were quite high on the list of countries where extra judicial executions took place. Generally, Sri Lankan society was willing to acquiesce in making human rights subservient to the security interests of our long running civil war, believing as Cicero argued in the Roman Senate, that “in the fight of good against evil, the laws are silent”. But post war, we must change. It is a credit to the reforms of post 2015, that the human rights and democratic freedoms in Sri Lanka were strengthened and the attempt to rule in peacetime as in wartime was defeated at the polls.

We cannot, as President Sirisena himself pledged, allow the white van culture, the killing of editors, journalists and ruggerites on the streets of our cities to reoccur again with impunity. The work of independent commissions is a must. A society’s strength is not measured by the extent of its defense of the powerful but in its defense of the weak. As Human Rights Commission Chairman Dr. Deepika Udugama, so eloquently stated in her dignified but sterling defense of the Commission’s excellent work “an independent commission protects the rights of all groups of citizens in the country, this includes even groups of people who have been marginalized and rejected from society, since the fundamental mark of a democratic and civilized society is guaranteeing humanity”.

The governance reforms of the 19th amendment have demonstrated a resilience and a robustness that strengthened Sri Lankan democracy. It must be defended by the 6.2 million who voted for that change in 2015, even if its champions and architects change course.

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