President Mahinda Rajapaksa, a day after his return from New York, had an eventful day on Tuesday. First, he swore in the newly elected members of the Uva Provincial Council including his nephew Sashindra Rajapaksa as the Chief Minister for his second term. It was followed by the Cabinet session and the meeting with the leaders of political parties in his coalition.
On the agenda of the swearing-in ceremony, Irrigation and Water Management Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva has not been listed for speaking. It became a matter of concern for the President who instructed Skills Development and Vocational Training Minister Dullas Alahapperuma to correct it and invite Mr. de Silva.
The President sounded elated over his gains from interactions with the world leaders on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly Session in New York.
In particular, he referred to his meetings with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The President related his readings of these two bilateral meetings, to his Cabinet ministers.
"If any party teams up with the TNA, it will be an act running headlong into the interests of its popular vote base in the South. Any political alignment with the TNA is interpreted as joining hands with the LTTE rump, by the southern polity, and it will be reason enough for people in the South to vote against anyone maintaining political links with the TNA. Mindful of this ground reality, some TNA parties are working out new strategies that may yield results."
In reference to Mr. Kerry’s meeting, he noted the United States appeared to have softened its stance on Sri Lanka, and it was a positive development. The government’s reading is that the US has relented somewhat in its pursuit of Sri Lanka’s case at the moment. Sri Lanka’s issue has been put on the agenda of UNHRC for every six months, and, according to the government sources, the US looks tired of it as they have many other issues to focus on, in the broader context.
Likewise, the President reportedly noted that India would not be tough on Sri Lanka.
However, Mr. Modi had reiterated its call for the government to engage with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the key interlocutor of this problem and vice versa. Also, the Indian Prime Minister had recollected his rebuttal of the TNA’s request to appoint a special envoy to Sri Lanka. Instead, he had said the High Commissioner of India, accredited to Colombo, would deal with all such matters.
During his stay in New York, he had another key meeting with Iyad Madani, the Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC). During this meeting, Mr. Madani raised allegations about attacks on Muslims and their places of worship.
The OIC has the impression that the atrocities on Muslims continue with impunity, with people getting killed and Mosques burnt.
The President invited Mr. Madani to visit Sri Lanka for a better understanding of the ground situation, as there is no substitute for personal observation. Accordingly, he is slated to visit Sri Lanka shortly. The OIC is currently in contact with the External Affairs Ministry to chalk out a programme for the visit. Sri Lanka has applied for observer status in the OIC.
"The United States appeared to have softened its stance on Sri Lanka, and it was a positive development. The government’s reading is that the US has relented somewhat in its pursuit of Sri Lanka’s case at the moment. Sri Lanka’s issue has been put on the agenda of UNHRC for every six months, and, according to the government sources, the US looks tired of it as they have many other issues to focus on in the broader context"
On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly Session, the President also met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. Mr. Moon started his talk after complimenting the President on what he called ‘diplomatic skills’ that secured a number of Heads of State visiting Sri Lanka including Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe within a short span of time.
Besides, President Rajapaksa had talks with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyata who stressed the importance of grouping with like-minded countries to present the cases of the respective countries. The President also had talks with the leaders of countries such as Palestine, and Qatar.
In addition to the President’s interactions, External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris met with his counterparts from countries such as New Zealand, Ghana, Philippines, and Ivory Coast.
Another important dialogue that happened during the time, was the meeting with Asia Co-operation Dialogue, an international body evolving at the time to articulate the Asian point of view. Saudi Arabia is the current chair of this body.
TNA –SLMC bracing for new strategy
Speculation is rife in political circles about a snap presidential election early next year, and the political parties, both in the government and the opposition, are contemplating political strategies to be tried. A significant development among them is the attempt by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to explore the possibility of forming a common front with the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC).
The TNA is an amalgam of four Tamil parties- Ilankai Tamil Arachu Kachchi (ITAK), Eelam People’s Revolutionary Front (EPRLF), Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) and People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE). It controls the Northern Provincial Council and a bulk of the local authorities in the North. It has a sizeable chunk of votes in the East. SLMC also commands political power in the East, and in fact, it holds sway in running the Eastern Provincial Council with its eight members.
The two parties had planned a meeting early this week. However, it was postponed because SLMC leader and Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem could not turn up due to some other engagements on the day. Therefore, the meeting has now been re-scheduled for later this week.
In this effort, the idea is to make a political formation of the minority parties. Alongside the SLMC, the TNA is seeking to make overtures about this initiative to parties such as the Democratic People’s Party led by former MP Mano Ganeshan and a few other small parties like the United Socialist Alliance.
This seems to be an exercise to show the collective strength of the minorities as a force to reckon with, at the presidential election. At the 2010 Presidential Election, the TNA unsuccessfully sought to defeat President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The party publicly campaigned for former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, and the SLMC also did the same.
Bearing this in mind, the two parties may try to evolve novel strategies best suited for them under the changed political circumstances.
There is a different school of thought harboured by some parties within the TNA over supporting any main candidate publicly this time. If any party teams up with the TNA, it will be an act running headlong into the interests of its popular vote base in the South. Any political alignment with the TNA is interpreted as joining hands with the LTTE rump, by the southern polity, and it will be reason enough for people in the South to vote against anyone maintaining political links with the TNA. Mindful of this ground reality, some TNA parties are working out new strategies that may yield results.
International formation supporting SL
Twenty-two developing countries of the Like Minded Group (LMG) in Geneva, in a joint statement made through its Chair - Egypt have said the Group “believes that the intrusive mandate given to the OHCHR by Resolution 25/1 to carry out investigations on Sri Lanka is unwarranted, especially in the context where the country is implementing its own domestic processes”.
The countries joining this statement (see full text below) were; Algeria, Angola, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, China, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, DPRK, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Uganda, Venezuela, Zimbabwe. It was delivered on Thursday (25 September 2014) following the ‘Oral Update’ of the High Commissioner and the reply by Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative.
This group made this statement soon after UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein made an oral update on Sri Lanka’s situation. The government, in its foreign policy, paid greater focus on Latin America and Africa, even by establishing resident diplomatic missions with some capitals in these two regions. So, the LMG’s action is seen by the government analysts as a success of its foreign policy reaching out to Africa and Latin America at this hour.
However, there is a tough time ahead for the government in March next year, as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is to submit its comprehensive report on investigations into Sri Lanka’s case to the UNHRC followed by an interactive session.
Meanwhile, External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris held talks with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in New York, and discussed the issues. He briefed the High Commissioner on the stand that Sri Lanka could not submit itself to an international investigation. Apart from diplomatic and bilateral issues, the lighter side of their conversation was on their studies at Oxford University. Mr. Hussein recalled that he joined Oxford University the same year when Prof. Peiris left it.
During the tenure of the new High Commissioner, the government remains optimistic that his office will be open- minded and objective.
Sri Lanka, which hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), hosted a reception in New York together with Britain, and Malta which will host it next time. However, the British Foreign Minister could not stay for the function because he had to rush back to the United Kingdom to attend the debate in the House of Commons on airstrikes in Islamic States in Iraq and Syria.
At this meeting, Prof. Peiris reportedly highlighted the point that the developing countries should be given the chance to access the established markets, without making undue influences through subsidies that can distort the picture.