When the Boxing Day-Tsunami struck, Sinhalese, Tamils & Muslims attempted to help each other irrespective of race caste or religion. But the chance to shed our differences in the face of a national calamity seemed to pass us by, as the waves withdrew…
On January 8, 2015 (this year) once again the country united to change a President…
Yes, the elections –both presidential and parliamentary-- are over and done. At the Presidential election, a common candidate --Maithripala Sirisena— supported by an amalgamation of political parties irrespective of race, language, ideology and religion, emerged victorious receiving 51.28% while his challenger received 47.58% of the popular vote.
The common candidate Sirisena received his largest margin of victory in the Tamil-dominated North and East.
As Table I (Courtesy INDI.CA) shows in all regions of the country, except in the south, the common candidate secured a larger number of votes than Mahinda Rajapaksa –the immediate past President.
Much to everyone’s surprise, the ex-President conceded defeat before the results were officially announced.
MR telephoned his opponent to congratulate him, announce he had accepted the people’s verdict and would be moving out of his official residence with immediate effect.
Many had anticipated the former President would use his executive powers, or unduly influence the government officials conducting the election to swing the results in his favour. Indeed by early January 9, 2015, a rumour had it that the Defence Secretary had attempted to stop the count, but had been thwarted by the Elections Commissioner. These rumours were subsequently denied by the EC at a press conference when media personnel questioned him regarding the alleged incidents.
Some of MR’s supporters saw in his defeat and the victory of Sirisena a plot hatched by foreign powers and local NGOs.
According to this school of thought, a large section of the majority community -- the Sinhalese -- voted for MR. According to them, the minority communities and Western powers conspired to bring about the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa.
What this school of thought forgot was that the defeat of President Rajapaksa was brought about as a result of a decision taken by the then President himself. It was he, who called for a presidential election two years in advance of its due date. It was this decision which commenced the cataclysmic chain of events which led the mind boggling defeat of the political leader who stood head and shoulders above his political rivals.
In reality, it was the corruption, family bandyism and nepotism, culture of impunity and racist politics that prevailed under him which brought about his downfall.
It was the simple ballot of the masses of this country, which made this happen.
A look at TABLE II (courtesy INDI.CA) clearly reveals MR received only 2% more votes than his opponents in the Sinhala dominated areas.
The poll result was and is, that Rajapaksa received only 51% of the votes in even the south Sinhala dominated areas. Forty-nine percent of the voters outside of the Tamil dominated North and East rejected MR’s bid for re-election.
The theory that Maithripala Sirisena won solely because of the minorities, therefore does not hold water.
In keeping with his pledge to call for parliamentary elections after a hundred days of his election as President; he called for parliamentary elections to be held on August 17, 2015.
Unfortunately, the ex-President let himself be deceived by his inner circle, which twisted ground realities and made him believe that he –Rajapaksa- was THE leader of the Sinhala people, and they were looking to him to save the Sinhala race from the clutches of traitorous local forces –the cats’ paw of US imperialism.
Either believing the rose tinted pictures painted by this coterie of followers; or in fear that an electoral victory for his erstwhile opponents, would unleash a process whereby he and his family would be prosecuted for alleged crimes committed during his two-term reign, MR entered the fray to contest the parliamentary elections.
Not surprisingly he and his party were defeated at the poll.
The new government was voted into power on a broad platform promising to:
These were among the main pledges the new government made in the run-up to the presidential and parliamentary elections.
One of the first actions of the new regime was to hand over lands belonging to Tamil people living in the Jaffna district which had been appropriated by the military.
This was seen by the Tamil people as a good beginning to a long process of reconciliation and an important confidence building measure.
D. Sidthadthan, the PLOTE head and TNA parliamentarian for the Jaffna District said that since the new President was elected, the fear psychosis which gripped the Tamil community had disappeared. He added the return of lands belonging to the Tamil people by the new President was a good sign of intent to the community which had been at the receiving end of State terrorism over the years.
He added however the anguish of those whose sons, daughters, mothers and fathers who had disappeared, or are being held in captivity, under the Lankan version of the ‘war on terror’ needed to be healed.
“If these people are in custody, the Government should either charge them or in the alternative, set them free. If they are dead, it is the right of the families to be informed of this fact. It is important these matters be brought to a closure,” he emphasized.
“In my view Ranil is good for the Tamil people and is the best candidate for the post of Prime Minister, as he is very approachable”.
“The Tamil people are faced with pressing and urgent needs. For instance, a large number of persons who were displaced during the war need to be resettled…”
“The causes leading to the past decades of war have yet to be addressed, but, I don’t think even this Government could do much to give full devolution of power to meet the expectations of the Tamil people” he said.
These factors need to be addressed for reconciliation to commence he said.
The two decades of war that had brought the standard of education among young people, especially in the north to a new low. However the number of students now entering schools and other educational institutes are increasing he said. In this connection, the Mahindodaya Labs provided to schools have proved to be a big help. “I have personally seen this,” he emphasized.
Another very important area that needs to be looked into is the plight of female-headed households. A very little was done to help these innocent victims of the conflict. Market oriented small industries like poultry farming and dairy industry are possible means of helping female-headed households. New and creative initiatives need to be developed to help these people.
Mr. Sidthadthan emphasized that the appointment of R. Sampanthan as Leader of the Opposition was another big step toward bringing about the reconciliation between Tamils and Sinhalese. He added that the gesture showed the changed outlook of the new regime towards the Tamil people.
But much more remains to be done. One of the President’s pledges prior to his election was to enact a “Right to Information Act”.
So far no progress has been made on this.
There is also a growing belief that MR may reach a deal with premier Wickremesinghe and the charges of corruption, abduction, misappropriation etc., which were made against him and his inner circle would be dropped.
Recent moves by the Attorney General, i.e. the termination of the Magisterial inquiry into the ‘Avant Grande case’, the reported statement by the AG that there is no evidence to indict or charge LTTE leader Kumaran Pathmanathan (KP) and the sudden burst of publicity to statements of an ex-JMO that there is no evidence that ruggerite Waseem Thajudeen was killed indicate that ‘something is rotting in the State of Lanka’.
But Dr. Jehan Perera, leader of the National Peace Council and an outspoken activist for peace even during the height of the war said he felt confident the present Prime Minister and President would work towards fulfilling their election promises.
“You must remember” he said “during the 100-day regime; Premier Wickremesinghe was hamstrung, as he headed a minority government. That they managed to do whatever little they did was really an achievement” he said, adding that the PM had never changed his stance on the minority question.
“I have no doubt we will soon see the setting up of the Independent Commissions. Ranil is a systematic man and he will set up the system in which these commissions can operate without interference… but we need to give him a bit more time” he said
Javid Yusuf, a prominent activist and former diplomat said immediately after the January 8th presidential election, the Muslims began to breathe freely.
“From around 2012, the Muslim community was targeted and attacked; leading to a feeling of insecurity and alienation. There is a need for concrete steps to be taken to assure the community that this type of things will not get repeated,” he said.
There is a need for institutional change, systems have to be set in place to ensure that the executive arms of the judiciary are free of politicization and the men in uniform are able to act in an independent manner.
The Aluthgama incidents for instance, the police and the armed forces were unable to act to stop organised attacks on Muslims.
Systems need to be put in place to empower communities to come together to nip the racial or religious problems in the bud.
“However, as I said earlier, since the presidential and parliamentary elections we saw signs of hope for the future. Both the President and the Prime Minister have stressed on the need for reconciliation” he said.
The people of this country have spoken. They had shown that they are totally against the excesses and other malpractices of the previous regime. They have used the only means at their disposal – the ballot— to try and change a system and bring the culprits to book.
But are the authorities serious in the pledges they made? For example, the holding of a domestic inquiry into the ‘excesses’ committed during the final stages of the war against the LTTE?
No one it appears is keen to get on with the domestic inquiry.
Some in the Government believe that if such an inquiry were to be held, MR would use it as a means of rousing Sinhala nationalism and garner support for his cause.
The constituent parties of the UPFA do not want it. They call it a witch hunt.
Majority of the Sinhala people still revere MR as a war hero and do not want it, and most importantly, the Tamils have no faith in a domestic inquiry. If a domestic inquiry is held, it would only be held to appease the international community.
But the people have spoken loudly and clearly, and if the present rulers do not deliver, there is a danger that the bullet may defeat the ballot.
Society needs to be vigilant and ensure that pre election pledges do not turn into empty promises.