Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

  • June 2020
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Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) of Sajith Premadasa

Posted by harimpeiris on March 4, 2020

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island on 03rd March 2020)

A successful challenge to the SLPP led Rajapaksa Administration will require the coming together of the disparate forces arraigned against its largely mono ethno-religious political constituency and its singular interests.

Even as Parliament is dissolved on the night of March 2nd to pave the way for parliamentary elections in April, dominating the news, is the formation of the main opposition political force, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) headed by Sajith Premadasa. The former housing minister and UNP Deputy Leader, garnered a respectable forty two percent (42%) of the national vote, in his unsuccessful bid to do the near impossible and halt the demise and bring about the reelection of the hopelessly fractious and consequently ineffective Yahapalana Administration at last year’s presidential election. Consequently, the political mantle of the leadership of the non-Rajapakse political forces in the country, including the office of the Leader of the Opposition fell upon Mr. Premadasa. These did not come to Mr. Premadasa by default but through the conscious decision of the opposition political forces in the country, who see in Mr. Premadasa, the most viable and likely democratic alternative to the SLPP led Rajapakse Administration.

A broad alliance

The Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), literally meaning the national peace force, is a rather quixotic though entirely appropriate name for a political alliance in a polarized and deeply divided society. A political force which in peace, brings together (as its name suggests), a wide range of political opinion and interests, ranging from the Sinhala nationalist Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), to the ethnic minority parties of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and the Tamil Peoples Alliance (TPA) and including such socialist parties as the United Left Front (ULF). The nature of the SJB’s composition, including as it does, Sinhala nationalists and ethnic minority parties, contain the contours and outlines of the political alliance which will eventually be needed in 2024 to mount an effective challenge to the newly elected SLPP Administration. It is particularly significant, because contrary to the claim to be inclusive and heterogenous, the SLPP still largely draws its support from Sri Lanka’s majority ethno-religious community, with little attraction outside of it. A case in point, is the voting patten of the largely Sinhala but Catholic Christian Negombo electorate, where Mr. Premadasa won 53% to 38% and the adjacent but albeit more religiously diverse Wattala electorate which he also won more narrowly by 47% to 46%. This in the Gampaha district which was overall won handsomely by his opponent 59% to 34%. So, the Sinhala but Roman Catholic / Christian Negombo, bucked the trend in the largely Sinhala south, to support Sajith Premadasa. This should also be salutary to some elements of the Roman Catholic Church, which regrettably and notwithstanding the 2019 electoral cycle, threw numerous brickbats, perhaps justifiably so, in the context of the Easter Sunday attacks, at the then Yahapalana Administration, only to find its bastion of Negombo voting for the Yahapalana standard bearer, showing a healthy political disconnect between the basilica and the electorate. Roman Catholic Christian majority Mannar District voted 85% to 10% in favor of Sajith Premadasa. It is also a recognition that in the aftermath of the dastardly Easter bomb attack, that then Minister Sajith Premadasa was quick to demonstrate decisive political leadership, not only visiting all three bombed churches, including the Pentecostal and largely ethnically Tamil, Zion Church in Batticalo but also visited the mosques the North Western Province, which were opportunistically attacked with impunity and damaged in the mini pogrom which followed the said attacks. He was quick to dispense reconstruction funds through the common amenities section of his housing ministry budget for the reconstruction of the damaged places of religious worship, both Roman Catholic, non-RC Christian and Muslim. Truly a national peace force and a force for peace.

The SJB though currently in political opposition, presents an inclusive and civic alternative to what is a dominant, majoritarian and exclusivist view of Sri Lanka. A successful challenge to the SLPP led Rajapaksa Administration will require the coming together of the disparate forces arraigned against its largely mono ethno-religious political constituency and its singular interests. Similar to the rainbow coalition which dislodged a deeply entrenched and populist, previous Rajapaksa Administration in 2015. It doesn’t require a particularly astute political scientist or a sophisticated political analysis, to recognize that the parliamentary elections of April 2020, will not result in a reversal of the manner in which Sri Lankan the public voted in the November 2019 presidential election. In fact, a significant decrease in voter turnout among opposition supporters, the usual trend following an electoral defeat, especially in the more rural electorates, is likely to result in a significantly greater public mandate for the SLPP. Providing the interesting phenomena, that Mahinda Rajapaksa leading the parliamentary elections for the SLPP will get a bigger mandate through a higher percentage of the popular vote, than President Gotabaya Rajapaksa did at last November’s presidential poll.

A non-event regarding the JSB symbol

The current imbroglio regarding the electoral symbol of the SJB is a storm in a tea cup. The real issue is political support and this is largely with Mr. Premadasa. What matters is policies and political personalities and not symbols. In all this the younger opposition leader is ahead. The dispute over the symbol is reminiscent of the internecine conflict over the presidential candidature last year. The UNP and then opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe kept insisting until the eleventh hour that he will be the presidential candidate and then had the nomination wrested from him, by the political realities of the wishes of the political forces comprising the opposition. Those same realities resulted in him having to concede the position of leader of the opposition to his younger deputy, Mr. Premadasa, when his attempt to stay on as Prime Minister under the newly elected President Gotabaya Rajapakse was unsuccessful. Mostly due to the immediate resignation, once the election results were known of key members of his Government, including then Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, who insisted on stepping aside gracefully and respecting the wishes of the people reflected in the clear mandate given to the SLPP. The vast majority of the UNP’s active politicians, like its key allies are supporters of Sajith Premadasa. This support is not personal but political. Sajith Premadasa increased the share of the UNP voter base from the dismal 24% it polled in the Elpitiya Pradeshiya Saba local government election in October 2019 to considerably more nationally one month later. However, there is no reason why Mr. Wickremesinghe cannot like his erstwhile partner in government, former President Maithripala Sirisena now ensconced as Chairman of the SLPP led alliance, be accommodated as Chairman of the SJB, be promised space and facilities at the Opposition Leader’s office at Marcus Fernando Mawatha and in parliament and be given pride of place in representing the UNP in its membership meetings, dealings and activities with the International Democratic Union (IDU), all roles for which Mr. Wickremesinghe is ideally suited. A graceful promotion upstairs for him, rather like iconic Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike became a non-executive senior in the SLFP, in favor of her daughter, former president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga in 1993/94. A united UNP within the Jathika Samagi Balawegaya (JSB) will provide the best bet for the highest possible opposition representation in the 9th Parliament of the Republic of Sri Lanka, to be elected in April 2020.

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Navigating Geneva with national, not political, interests

Posted by harimpeiris on February 26, 2020

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island on 25th February 2020)

The bi-annual sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, is due to begin this week and will run through the month of March. Leading Sri Lanka’s delegation to the high-level segment would be Minister of Foreign Affairs, (Dinesh Gunawardena, and according to press reports, accompanied by Minsters Mahinda Samarasinghe and Nimal Siripala de Silva. Reportedly the Government is seeking to pull out of UN Resolution 30/1 and the underlying factors, relevant to this important issue deserve to be examined carefully. International belligerence for the purpose of domestic political advantage in the forthcoming general elections, is unwise.

An internationalized postwar reconciliation

The first ground reality that Sri Lanka faces is that our export driven, tourism and remittance dependent economy is firmly plugged to the global economy and very popularly so. Our garment exports, tourism and remittances are the lifeline to a vast swath of our working and lower middle classes. Similarly, our ethnic conflict is also internationalized. Not least through a Tamil Diaspora, scattered throughout the western world, following the July 1983 pogroms and now influential in those societies. Sri Lanka’s war effort and especially ending the war was unstintingly assisted by the international community, especially through the sale of armaments to Sri Lanka’s military, which has no domestic weapons industry. We fought the war using Israeli Kfir jets, Czechoslovak multi-barrel rocket launches and various weapon systems from all over the world. Instrumental in ending the war following the failure of the Norwegian facilitated cease fire agreement in 2006, was the banning of the LTTE and their fundraising and financing in most of the Western world such as UK, EU and Canada, including India.

Instrumental in the final phases of the war was the sinking of the LTTE ships in mid sea through intelligence information sharing and other assistance by India, including our deep-water naval capacity. So, Sri Lanka ended the war with international support and assistance. In 2009, the Administration of then President (& now Prime Minister) Mahinda Rajapaksa, invited the UN Secretary General as the first foreign visitor to visit the North following the end of the war, and made commitments through a joint statement of May 2009. This was followed by his administration co-sponsoring its own resolution at the UNHRC later that month, and adopted as Resolution A/HRC/S-11/2 (11/2 for short) of 27th May 2009, by a vote of 29 for and 12 against with 6 abstentions. So, both the international nature of the issues concerned and dealing with the same internationally is not new.

Moving from war to peace

A serious conversation on moving from a protracted civil conflict spanning almost three decades to a sustainable post-war peace, is rather obviously a more complex exercise than simply ending the fighting. Both the effects and the causes of the conflict need to be addressed. There is international experience with a sound theoretical basis and very valid reasons as to why brutally fought wars are followed by sustained efforts to secure peace. For example, the Second World War in Europe was followed by the Marshall Plan on rebuilding Germany mostly, while the war in Asia was followed by massive American assistance to Japan, post-war. The intent is always to turn the vanquished into an ally, an adversary into a partner and a foe into a friend. This in the context of Sri Lanka, though promised in 2009, was not really done by the then Mahinda Rajapaksa Administration, notwithstanding the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), the Maxwell Paranagama Commission and the Tissa Vitharana All Parties Representatives Committee (APRC) processes all initiatives and processes under that Administration, but not implemented. The world was taking note that we seemed intent on pursuing the peace, in the manner of fighting a war, rather than making the essential pivotal changes from polarization to inclusivity, from intolerance of dissent to tolerance, from emergency law to constitutional governance, from limiting human rights to robust democratic freedoms, from draconian anti-terror regulations to internationally accepted norms in counter terrorism legislation.

The UN and US have within just the first 100 days of the new Administration shown some indication of where things may be headed. Sri Lanka’s military contribution to UN international peacekeeping operations, extremely popular in our military, due to the hefty UN allowances paid to both troops and the Army was curtailed. Army commander Gen. Shavendra Silva was listed for human rights violations and together with his family, banned from travelling or visiting the United States.

A clear domestic process

UNHRC resolution 30/1, following on from similar such prior resolutions of the UNHRC, adopted unanimously by the Council and co-sponsored by Sri Lanka, was an attempt to ensure that the international partnership so successful in ending the war was also continued in securing the peace. Resolution 30/1 makes clear that the reconciliation process is a domestic Sri Lankan one, with such international expertise, technical assistance and practical partnership in the processes, as may be required. The entire debate on securing Cabinet approval for co-sponsoring a resolution is an irrelevant diversion. Resolution 11/2 of 2009 did not have Cabinet approval either. They are political decisions rather than executive ones. The Governments of the day supported it. President Sirisena’s own lack of support is more likely driven by his political transformation over the period of his term, from being an anti-Rajapaksa challenger in 2015, to being an avid supporter of an SLPP two-third majority in 2020.

Former Foreign (& then Finance) Minister Mangala Samaraweera summed it up best when he tweeted over the weekend “Sri Lanka’s great leap backwards: within the first 100 days of the GR regime the economy is in shambles, reconciliation in tatters and now with the withdrawal of the Geneva 30/1 we face international isolation and pariah status”.

(The writer served as Advisor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2016-2017)

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The challenges ahead in Independence

Posted by harimpeiris on February 6, 2020

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island on 06th February 2020)

Sri Lanka’s 72nd Independence Day celebrations are now over. The ceremony was held with the pomp and pageantry traditionally associated with the occasion and it provided an opportunity for the nation to both look back at its recent history, learn its lessons, as well as to look ahead to the challenges and the shared future which lies ahead of us as a nation.

Sri Lanka’s independence itself, is a clear occasion for celebration. To celebrate what was achieved seventy-two long years ago. Where a united national political leadership, successfully negotiated the transition from a British crown colony to a representative democracy. Sri Lanka’s independence heroes, were a diverse group, including those from the Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and Burgher communities. Sri Lanka’s democratic achievements have been significant. Becoming one of the first countries in the world to have universal adult franchise in 1932 and also producing the world’s first woman prime minister in late Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Since then Sri Lanka has also had a woman president, a woman Chief Justice, many women Cabinet Ministers, deputy ministers, MPs, Mayors and other political and civic leaders. In recent times, we have succeeded in having a gender quota for women in local government, ensuring that a minimum of 25% of all elected local government representatives are women. Sri Lanka’s basic free education and health care systems have ensured among other gains that we remain high on the global human development index, with a literacy rate of over 90%, long life expectancy and low infant mortality among other quality of life indicators. So, Sri Lanka’s achievements have been not insignificant in our post-independence period.

However, equally noteworthy have been Sri Lanka’s significant failures. Failures which are instrumental in ensuring that we are still a part of the global south, a developing rather than a developed society. These failures lie at the very heart of our society, regarding our identity as to who we are as a nation and the ability of our democratic institutions to resolve the complex issues and competing interests, manifest in any nation or society. Sri Lanka has witnessed massive politically motivated violence in both our south and north, among the majority Sinhala youth, organizing themselves through the JVP and the Tamil youth through the LTTE and similar organizations. The Sinhala Southern JVP uprisings were based on issues which could be broadly categorized on the underlying political theme of economic and social rights, while the Northern and Eastern LTTE struggle, which was anti-democratic in its elimination of internal dissent, merciless and criminal in its conscription of children and terroristic in its attacks on civilians, had its origins and drew its political support broadly due to issues in the areas of civil and political rights.

The prevalence of such issues in itself is actually not uncommon. Any society has competing interests and complex and competing claims to resources and political power. These claims and issues are usually resolved democratically through dialogue, debate and a civilized discourse. Sri Lanka’s failure has been the failure of our political institutions in every area, including the executive, the legislative and judicial branches of government to address these issues in an equitable manner, to be seen and widely accepted as equitable. Resulting in natural conflicts in society being addressed through organized political violence rather than through democratic institutions and processes. Consequently, for almost half our post-independence period of seventy-two years, we have been governed under a period of national emergency, monthly renewed by Parliament, overriding constitutional liberties. We still persist in having on our statue books, the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), introduced as a temporary measure over forty (40) years ago, and currently significantly lacking in internationally accepted norms and standards applicable to counter terrorism legislation.

Economic and Social Rights

Almost thirty years after the end of the second JVP uprising, while we have that political movement as a political party and a distant third leftist force in national politics, Sri Lanka still remains an economically very inequitable society. The top tenth percentile of the population earns nearly forty percent of the national income, and the second percentile approximately another thirty percent or more, leading to one of the more skewed income distribution and wealth disparities of a democratic society. The rest of South Asia is not much better, indicating that the end of the mercantilist economy of the colonial period, has economically benefited some but not the majority in our society. As the world rapidly changes to a knowledge-based economy, driven by technology and information, Sri Lanka is seemingly unprepared to face either the challenges of or benefit from the opportunities of the new economy.

Civil and Political Rights

Over a decade after the end of Sri Lanka’s ruinous, near three decades long civil war, we seem not much nearer to a post war reconciliation process which brings healing and unity to our divided and polarized society. Our divisions were perhaps best exemplified when the most widely debated issue about our Independence Day was whether the national anthem should be sung in Sinhala only or in both Sinhala and Tamil. It was LTTE suicide bomb victim, Member of Parliament and leading lawyer, late Neelen Tiruchelvam, who best in a single sentence described our dilemma, which he described as “the anomaly of having imposed a mono-ethnic state on a multi-ethnic polity”.

Sri Lankan society is diverse, ethnically and in terms of religious belief and practice. Our failures of the past and the challenge of our future, is to ensure that the Sri Lankan state accommodates and indeed protects that diversity. A diversity, which actually enriches us and strengthens us. It is then that all Sri Lankans will truly enjoy the benefits and privileges of the independence, which we won with such expectations and hope, seventy-two long years ago.

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The irrelevant UNP leadership struggle

Posted by harimpeiris on January 23, 2020

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island on 21st January 2020)

United National Party leader of over 25 years, Ranil Wickremesinghe, is obviously an avid baseball fan. Clearly believing that the rules of that quintessential American sport, applies to the UNP leadership states. In baseball, you need three strikes to be out. Mr. Wickremesinghe has already struck out twice. He lost the party’s nomination for the presidential election, something he sought and fought for until the eleventh hour. He subsequently also lost the attempt to be the leader of the opposition. Both these losses despite holding the levers of party power. Now, there is another rather irrelevant struggle to hold on to the UNP party leadership, for a last hurrah or curtain call performance from 2020 to 2024. It is also a struggle, he is likely to lose, simply because the dynamics that led to his two previous leadership defeats to Sajith Premadasa, still hold true.

Political support verses party structures

There is a basic dynamic at play with UNP and the opposition political dynamics. It is simply that the political forces, of the rainbow coalition which came together to help elect Maithripala Sirisena as president in 2015, ranging from the JHU to the TNA, in the form of the National Democratic Front (NDF) and lost the election in 2019, just do not believe, that Ranil Wickremesinghe is the man to either lead the political challenge to the newly installed SLPP Rajapaksa Administration and eventually present himself as the political alternative in November 2024. That is why they bit the bullet and opted for Sajith Premadasa, first as the presidential candidate and later as the leader of the opposition. It is also why, barring the TNA which will contest independently in its Northern and Eastern strongholds, the vast majority of UNP MPs and its allied parties will contest the general election, as an alliance under Sajith Premadasa’s leadership, whether he is UNP leader or not. The Sajith Premadasa led alliance will end up being the second largest party in parliament behind the ruling SLPP and consequently Sajith Premadasa, will be leader of the opposition in the new parliament as well.

The rump UNP as a possible fifth force

A UNP from which Sajith Premadasa and the allies have decamped, would be in much the same state, as the SLFP from which the Rajapaksas’ decamped in 2015 and formed the SLPP. The SLFP survived those five years from 2015 to 2019 because its leader, Maithripala Sirisena was the executive president. The UNP on the other hand, has just lost an election. Its rising star and future, is clearly the younger Premadasa. While he may not have won the election in 2019, he captured the imagination and the support of the non Rajapaksa political forces in the country. A political ground reality, which procedural manoeuvring by Wickremesinghe loyalists as current UNP party bosses cannot alter.

It leaves the UNP facing irrelevance and decimation subsequent to the next general election. Should it run a separate party list, distinct from the Premadasa led Alliance, it is likely at best to get a few seats, as a fifth force, behind the ruling SLPP, the Sajith Premadasa led opposition alliance, the TNA and the JVP. It will end up as a small fifth force in 2020 and irrelevant thereafter.

The DUNF experience in 1990

History has a weird way of repeating itself in Sri Lanka and not in altogether pleasant ways. In 1990, there was a major split in the UNP and on that occasion it was current UNP National Organizer and Karu Jayasuriya’s son-in-law, Navin Dissanayake’s father, Gamini, who together with Lalith Athulathmudali split from the UNP led at that time by Sajith’s father, late president Ranasinghe Premadasa and formed the Democratic United National Front (DUNF). It garnered 13% of the popular vote in its first electoral outing, eating into the then opposition SLFP’s voter base and died a natural political death in due course. The failure of the Dissanayake breakaway in 1990 was because the UNP had just won an election. For the same reason, the success of Sajith Premadasa breakaway in 2020 will be because the UNP has just lost an election.

Ranil’s governance vs Premadasa candidacy

Ranil Wickremesinghe’s inner circle believe that Sajith Premadasa’s unsuccessful presidential bid has weakened him within opposition and UNP circles. On the contrary, the candidacy has legitimized and solidified his leadership, irrespective of the outcome. However, the reason for Ranil Wickremesinghe failing to gain the presidential nomination and the opposition leader post is because almost universally in Sri Lanka, the government of Ranil Wickremesinghe and Maithripala Sirisena from 2015 to 2019, was seen as a non-performer, which just did not deliver. This is more than just inefficiency. In seeking to woo the then opposition electorate, a divided government only managed to hamstring itself. Wickremesinghe’s last chance was probably the UNP government’s victory over the October 2018 constitutional coup. But rather than use the opportunity for a course correction in response to the UNP’s Local Government defeat in February 2018 he settled down for business as usual, resulting in the UNP defeat last November. A loss for which Ranil rather than Sajith gets the political blame.

Sajith Premadasa, largely escaped unscathed from the political vacillation and non-performance of the Sirisena/Wickremesinghe administration, both due to his very visible housing programme, together with a go getter approach to his Cabinet housing ministry and also because he was neither a member of Ranil’s inner circle nor an apologist for the non-performance. While not critical of his party leader in public, Sajith was silent and maintained his credibility. Hence the rather unanimous decision by the majority of the UNP parliamentary group and its allies to contest under a Sajith Premadasa led alliance at the forthcoming general elections. Ranil Wickremesinghe has already lost the political support of the UNP’s voter base and allies, though he retains the party’s namesake leadership. In baseball parlance, three strikes, you’re out!

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The Sirisena Presidency in retrospect

Posted by harimpeiris on January 9, 2020

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island on 08th January 2020)

January 8th 2020, marks the fifth anniversary of the election to office of Maithripala Sirisena as the sixth executive president of Sri Lanka, an occasion overshadowed by the recent election of his successor Gotabaya Rajapakse less than two months ago. With parliamentary and provincial elections due and expected by or before mid-year, it is worth reflecting on the Sirisena presidency and its impact on Sri Lankan society.

The current politicized election period has meant that the Sirisena presidency is viewed by how it ended. The unravelling of the rainbow coalition and the political alliance which elected Sirisena and its recent defeat at the presidential election. A president who strived to get re-nomination from both major political alliances and failed, the decline of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) into political irrelevance under his leadership and also for the bitter and counterproductive relationship between the president and his prime minster, Ranil Wickramasinghe, which ultimately contributed to impasse in governance and the stringing defeat of the centrist and moderate political forces, which elected them to office five years ago.

Currently former President Sirisena, seems intent on pursuing an active political future, as a parliamentarian and seeking to reorganize and re-energize the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) though at complete loggerheads with the matriarch of the party, former president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. The political struggle within the SLFP between Sirisena and CBK, is not about personalities, but a more fundamental one about the future direction of the SLFP. Former President Sirisena desires the SLFP to be an appendage of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP), while the political objective of former President Kumaratunga is for the SLFP to be a dynamic party in the opposition and play an important role as a check and balance on the new SLPP / Rajapaksa Administration. It is clear that the distinct identity and political future of the SLFP is surer as an opposition political party, rather than being swallowed up as an irrelevant side show to the SLPP juggernaut.

However, the Sirisena presidency, in 2015 started off with much promise. Beginning from its political platform of good governance. The good governance platform was especially meaningful, because it was a civic basis for a political alliance and not parochial or identity-based politics as much of Sri Lankan politics tends to be. Due to the very fact that the rainbow coalition, did not play on identity politics but was an unlikely alliance between such disparate forces as the JHU on the one side and the TNA on the other side, including the UNP and the Muslim parties, political pundits in 2014 did not credit the hastily patched together grand opposition alliance with much chance of winning the election. But five years ago, they did. It was a victory based on ideas and not identity. That was significant.

There were some notable gains in the early years and seeking to fulfil the promises of good governance made to the electorate during the election campaign. Foremost among these gains, is the 19th Amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution, which re-established the independent commissions, reduced the discretionary powers of the president and reintroduced term limits for the office of the executive president, among other democratic governance strengthening measures. While the 19th amendment has come in for criticism of late, including by President Sirisena, it remains an important piece of constitutional reform, perhaps even in the traditions of the Magna Carta in Britain, which reduced the absolute powers of the British monarchs and was an important step towards constitutional governance as opposed to an absolute monarchy in Britain.

However, the 19th Amendment was not the Sirisena Administration’s sole achievement. The Right to Information (RTI) Act, the release of private lands back to their owners in the North and East occupied by the military during the conflict, the resettlement of the conflict related internally displaced persons (IDPs), the establishment of the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) and a Reparations Office as part of the post war reconciliation process. The rebalancing of foreign relations from a China centric policy and the opening up of democratic space, the institutionalizing of judicial independence and greater media freedom. The then Joint Opposition (JO) political forces, elected to government in last November’s presidential election in the shape and form of the SLPP, may well relook at these and many other reforms effected by the previous government, with a view to rolling back the clock and indeed they may well succeed. Especially if the upcoming parliamentary election puts the SLPP government within sight of the constitution amending two third majority it seeks. However, this does not detract from the significance or the value of the above-mentioned civic policy platform and governance reforms effected by the Sirisena / Wickramasinghe Administration during its period of office.

The unravelling of the Sirisena presidency probably began with the miscalculation by both Sirisena and especially then premier Wickramasinghe, that the Rajapakses defeated in the 2015 election were politically down and out. Down they certainly were in 2015, but out they certainly were not, even then. The change in the political equation from the two way contest between the Rajapakse led political forces and the rest, to a three cornered one between Sirisena, Wickramasinghe and former president Mahinda Rajapakse, resulted in a divided government, an opposition unified under the Rajapakses and directly led to the decisive victory of the SLPP in the November presidential election, once again placing the nation under the leadership of the political first family from Medamullane, who are now elected to govern for the next five years and likely to do so with an iron fist inside a velvet glove.

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