Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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Moving Beyond the Easter Carnage

Posted by harimpeiris on May 11, 2019

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island Online on 09th May 2019)

As this article is being penned, the Parliament of Sri Lanka is engaging in a two-day adjournment debate on the devastating massacres launched against innocents on Easter Sunday in Colombo, Negombo and Batticala. In the course of the debate, President Sirisena, as Minister of Defense and Minister of Law and Order expressed confidence, that the security forces have got on top of the situation, arresting not only the conspirators but also negating the capacity for terrorism of the remaining culprits. The Commander of the Army echoed similar sentiments calling on the civil population to resume their normal day to day activities and that security has been reestablished. A relatively quick return to normalcy after the devastating terrorist massacres.

A legal framework and oversight of intelligence operations

We could only hope that parliamentary debate would reveal why intelligence information from India, was not acted upon, why as alleged by no less than government ministers our own intelligence services was allegedly paying off, the accused leaders and some members of the National Thowheed Jamath besides other unsavory organizations such as the Bodu Bala Sena. Making the accused persons, actually assets of our intelligence agencies. It is clear that unlike the uniformed security services, there is insufficient oversight of the intelligence services and an inadequate legal framework for their work. The United States for instance as a global superpower has serious congressional oversight of intelligence operations, besides the executive, ensuring that intelligence services, whose work is secretive and covert by nature, is not unaccountable to civilian authority in a structured and legal manner. In a highly politicized society like ours, good oversight and accountability prevents or manages politicization of the intelligence services.

Deradicalization of extremists

In the wake of the deadly Easter Sunday massacres, Muslim leaders themselves have been complaining that they have for over a decade been informing and seeking to get remedial action by the relevant authorities regarding the extremist elements in their midst and their potential for violence. Particularly the most recent call to arms and violence by National Thowheed Jamath leader Zaharan, now freely available on social media, had previously been brought to the notice of the authorities, but to no avail. The reason one suspects, is political. The extremist elements were seen as political opponents of their more moderate political leaders and therefore nurtured, including through intelligence service payoffs, as alternate leaders and given the space to grow and operate. Sri Lanka’s unfinished nation building exercise means, that the focus of the state establishment, is to weaken and keep at bay, the political leadership of minority communities, where Tamil or Muslim and this has meant that potential alternative leaders, though more extreme, are nurtured. For instance, In the case of the Tamil community, the LTTE remnants in Sri Lanka, KP, Karuna and Piliyan are not with the moderate ITAK dominated TNA, who will have nothing to do with them, but with the so called national parties, dominated by the majority community, particularly its more nationalist ones, who are the most keen to keep the minorities divided. A dubious policy with potentially disastrous consequences.

But the deradicalizing of those Sri Lankans who claim to kill in the name of Islam, whether identified with ISIS, another foreign terrorist group or not, is something that has to come from within the Sri Lankan Muslim community itself and their leadership, especially their religious leadership. Within any faith community the interpretation of scripture will always have a degree of diversity, otherwise there would be no need for institutions of religious study and scholarship. However, what cannot and is not allowed in any civilized society, is the law of the jungle with murderous random violence against innocents. Preventing the violence, is a state security responsibility. Challenging any understanding or articulation of theology which provides a cover for that violence, is the responsibility of that religion’s scholars and religious leaders. A challenge with considerable work to do in the future.

The debate on the Counter Terrorism Bill (CTA) vs the PT

Dragged into the debate following the Easter Sunday attacks has been the proposal to replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), with the Counter Terrorism Act (CTA). The government is rather keen to see the enactment of the CTA, committed as it is to fight terrorism within international best practice and in cooperation with the international community of nations. This undertaking has also been given in terms of the UNHRC process. There are however valid concerns regarding the proposed CTA, including the definition of terrorism which is so broad as to make any political dissent, a terrorist offence and these need to be amended. But it is a big improvement on the existing PTA.

The SLPP and Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapakse has been attacking the proposed CTA, which rather like many of their other attacks on policy matters, seems high on rhetoric, low on specifics and designed to inflame passions, especially in an election year. Fishing in troubled waters, may be the rather uncharitable way to describe it. The rather obvious objective of seeking to prevent the enactment of the CTA, is to retain the PTA, which in the past has been a tool of political repression, like in the imprisonment of journalist Tissanayagam. The PTA when introduced was meant to be temporary. Sri Lanka requires a new legal framework for anti-terror security and the Easter Sunday massacres should not be allowed to derail much needed and long overdue legal reforms.

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Christian forgiveness the key to rebuilding unity after Easter massacres

Posted by harimpeiris on April 29, 2019

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island on 27th April 2019)

Sri Lanka, in 2019 was celebrating ten years of peace and quiet after the end of our brutal, decades long civil war and sadly that tranquility was shattered by the Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks on churches and hotels in Colombo, its suburbs, Negombo and Batticalo. The wanton targeting of innocents with extreme violence is contemptible and the horrific costs in terms of shattered lives is tragic and sorrowful. Emerging from the ashes of our civil war, Sri Lanka deserve better than renewed violence and sectarian conflict. Even as President Sirisena has convened an all-party conference and a multi religious forum to discuss the current state of affairs, a few preliminary observations can be made.

1) Colossal failure of state security

It is almost incomprehensible how a vast terror network could have been established and made operational in and around Sri Lanka, without the knowledge of our much-vaunted security establishment. This is not really a military failure, but a security failure for which the police and especially the state intelligence apparatus needs to held primarily responsible. The President has accordingly called for the resignation of the IGP and the Secretary to the Ministry of Defense. Holding somebody responsible for this colossal security failure would be an important first step in reestablishing confidence that the Sri Lankan state is able to perform that most basic responsibility of a nation state, namely the protection of its citizens. Specific security lapses, like how such a large amount of explosives were smuggled into the country, how they were moved around, bombs assembled, attacks planned, a suicide bomber who was arrested and then later released, widely reported as due to political pressure by a presidential governor appointee, why information from local Muslim leaders of radicalization was ignored or at least not monitored for a violent stream and why warnings from foreign intelligence agencies were ignored should all be fully investigated and those guilty of gross negligence and dereliction of duty held responsible.

 2) Christian forgiveness should be harnessed

It is laudable that after the Easter Sunday carnage that all Christian leaders, while still grieving the loss of innocents and loved ones, have unitedly advocated forgiveness in the midst of that pain and reassured the Muslim community that the actions of a depraved few were not being ascribed to all. Rev.Fr Jude Fernando, the priest who was celebrating Mass at St. Anthony’s Kochchikade, when the attack occurred and who survived, stated thus “we love peace. We forgive. Our God is a God of peace, He is not a God of revenge. We love each other. We forgive”.  Christian Parliamentarian MA Sumanthiran, speaking in parliament on the re-imposition of a state of national emergency stated “we are grieving, but we will not allow hate and revenge to overtake us… we do not respond to perpetrators who acted out of hate with hatred”. Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader Rauf Hakeem acknowledged this when he tweeted “I bow to the Christian community and the Reverend clergy who have proven their magnanimity in practicing the word of Christ “if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also”. It is crucial that neither a backlash against other innocents nor communal violence is allowed to reoccur. The very essence of Easter Sunday, is that Jesus Christ came into the world, suffered as we do, took humanity’s sin on Himself, was unjustly crucified and rose again. It is a celebration of new life. That reality the suicide bombers cannot rob and they should not be allowed to let their hatred bread hatred.

That Sri Lankan communities are coming together rather than pulling apart through these horrific incidents was even recognized internationally, where in the British House of Commons, debating the loss of British lives in the attacks, special mention was made, that Sri Lankans are coming together, rather than pulling apart in the face of this tragedy.

This does not however mean that the perpetrators of the Easter Sunday massacres are to go Scott free, especially to wreak more mayhem. They must be neutralized, held accountable and justice should prevail. The attacks were not just on the victims, not just on Christians, but on all of us. The most crucial aspect of justice for the entire Christian community is the fundamental right to worship in peace and safety, in association with fellow Christ followers. A fundamental practice, which Christ followers have adhered to, through millennia, whether persecuted by the Roman Empire in the first century, or various other groups, ideologies and isms in the twenty first century.

3) Muslim leaders must squash the extremist violence

Sri Lankan Muslim leaders, both their secular political leadership and the religious leaders, the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama have unequivocally condemned the Easter Sunday massacres, distanced their community from the same and expressed their sorrow and grief over the situation. They would however, need to do more to address violent radicalism within a small sliver of their number. The reality is that the Saudi Arabian funded Madrasa’s in the Eastern province and a particular interpretation of Wahhabism as preached by the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) advocates violence. Islamic scholars and theologians would need to do much more, to challenge, dilute and mitigate the violence advocated by the NTJ.

Sri Lanka can and must rise out of this carnage and once again proceed on the journey of peace and unity, a journey we began afresh, a decade ago at the end of the civil war. We cannot afford fresh violence on new fault lines. The security establishment has the responsibility to prevent violence, religious leaders to engender harmony and political leaders to foster social cohesiveness rather than divisiveness.

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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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