20 September, 2020

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Elections And The Geneva Advantage

By Dharisha Bastians –

Dharisha Bastians

Dharisha Bastians

As long suspected, allegiances are shifting far right in the upper echelons of the ruling administration. As the country gears up for battle in two key provinces and a frantic effort to rescue a deteriorating situation overseas, Geneva offers the ruling party a massive advantage

In a strange irony, the first major controversy of this season’s provincial polls campaign erupted on the stage of the self-professed ‘Mr. Clean’ contesting on the ruling party ticket.

Since his days as Chairman of the Central Environmental Authority and throughout his career as a provincial councillor, the Jathika Hela Urumaya’s Udaya Gammanpila has purported to champion good governance and transparency. For the upcoming provincial election, Gammanpila has tried to style himself as a Sri Lankan Aravind Kejriwal, the New Delhi Chief Minister and electoral wild card whose Aam Aadmi Party made a stunning debut at the Delhi Assembly elections last December. Kejriwal may have resigned on principle after a 49-day stint in office, but the former Indian tax-collector’s anti-corruption crusade has resonated with Gammanpila. With the candidate field that flooded with unscrupulous, cosmetic and sometimes downright criminal elements, the JHU politician has chosen to tap into voter disillusionment about politics as usual in a corruption ridden state. Gammanpila’s Rs. 100 public campaign financing programme is a first for a country in which political parties and candidates are traditionally financed by businessmen with vested interests. He has championed the call for all electoral candidates to declare assets and liabilities ahead of polls. His party refused to support the Rajapaksa Administration’s mega casino plans last year, forcing the Government to withdraw legislation that would permit James Packer’s Crown Casinos to set up operations in Colombo.

A flaw in the plan

Despite its Sinhala nationalist ideology, JHU members have a reputation for running Ministries and state institutions efficiently. Minister Champika Ranawaka, in fact was considered to have run his Power Ministry too efficiently, standing in the way of bad energy deals and proposed projects earning him a demotion to Science and Technology in last year’s cabinet reshuffle.

But Udaya Gammanpila’s decision to invite Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to speak at his inaugural election rally last week drew fire from the opposition, polls monitors and the Elections Commissioner. Ironically, opening Gammanpila’s campaign, the senior defence official hailed the Rajapaksa Administration’s commitment to good governance. His appearance on campaign platforms also frequently draws criticism because despite the power he wields over Government policy, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa remains an appointed member of the public service and a bureaucrat whose conduct is governed by the Establishment Code. The E-Code is most famously known for prohibiting public officials or civil servants from participating in election campaigning on behalf of any party. The clause was written in long before the public service was heavily politicised following the removal of permanent secretaries to ministries, and was intended to insulate the country’s professional administrative service and bureaucracy from the hurly burly of electoral politics. Despite the erosion of those standards and the rampant politicisation of the public service in recent times, the infusion of ministry secretaries and chairman of statutory boards and state banks into the campaigning process remains a technical violation of government regulations and an abuse of state resources and a reason for Government critics and independent observers to cry foul.

Forced to apologise

Last Thursday was hardly the first time that the Defence Secretary has campaigned on behalf of ruling party hopefuls. He often picks and chooses which candidates to campaign for. It was the first time however that his appearance forced the candidate who had hosted him to apologise publicly for the move. That he was encouraging errant behaviour by high officials in the Government bureaucracy was out of tune with Gammanpila’s good-governance themed campaign in the Western Province. Acknowledging that Polls Chief Mahinda Deshapriya shared the view of the opposition and other critics about public campaigning by the Defence Secretary, Gammanpila has pledged to never invite public servants to campaign events again. His response to criticism from opposition candidate President’s Counsel Srinath Perera however, revealed his position on the issue was far removed from the opinion of the Elections Commissioner. The JHU politico, a lawyer by profession claims that as a politically appointed member of the bureaucracy, Rajapaksa is not bound by the regulations governing the conduct of public servants and free to campaign. The second facet of Gammanpila’s response to Perera’s criticism was more revealing. The UNP candidate charged that it was deeply ironic that a JHU candidate was drawing onto his stage a member of the ruling Government that had thrown his weight behind casinos, when the party was so vehemently opposed to the projects. Gammanpila claims that the Defence Secretary has never backed casinos and challenges Perera to prove the senior official’s involvement.

For the main opposition UNP and Perera, the challenge should be simple enough.

UDA land

James Packer’s Crown Sri Lanka integrated resort with gaming facilities is a USD 350-400 million investment on 2.5 acres of waterfront property at D.R. Wijewardane Mawatha, Colombo. The land has been transferred to Crown and its local partner on a 50 year lease by the Urban Development Authority at Rs. 2.9 billion. The Defence Secretary is also Secretary of the Urban Development Ministry. In August last year, Secretary Rajapaksa requested Crown’s local partner Rank Holdings to shift the location of the Crown Casino to another area along D.R. Wijewardane Mawatha, so that the resort would not block the view on the lake and specifically the Lotus Tower that is currently under construction and will be Sri Lanka’s tallest building once complete. He told a newspaper last August that the UDA’s old plans had envisioned that all casinos would be situated along one particular stretch of D.R. Wijewardane Mawatha. No opposition to the lease of the property to casino mogul Packer or the tax holidays granted to the project by the Government was registered by the usually vocal senior official.

The attempt to distinguish certain officials of the Rajapaksa administration from other more allegedly corrupt and run of the mill political movers and shakers is a hallmark of right wing political parties and hardline movements. It is telling that the Defence Secretary attended the inaugural rally of a candidate from the JHU, a small constituent ally of the ruling UPFA, instead of a member from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, to which his brother, the President belongs. But it is equally symbolic that President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed the JHU strongman Gammanpila as the UPFA Group Leader for the Western Provincial Council election, overlooking Prasanna Ranatunga, the staunch SLFP candidate and former Chief Minister of the province for the top slot.

Shifting to the far-right

The move has fuelled speculation that the regime is now mulling appointing Gammanpila its Chief Minister in the Western Province if the JHU candidate performs reasonably well at the March election. The subtle but crucial moves illustrate clearly now what has long been suspected about the trajectory of the ruling administration. While the JHU may be a small minority in the ruling coalition, it continues to be a loud voice within the regime because its ideologies find partnership and resonance among the administration’s top officials. Much more so than the beleaguered and sidelined SLFP. While the Blues have traditionally been more right wing than the UNP, with the party’s founder having harnessed the power of nationalist monks, the inclusion of parties like the JHU and the regime’s own proclivities have pushed the ruling coalition to extreme nationalist politics. The ruling UPFA may be a colourful mix of political parties, communities and ideologies, playing host to the Muslim Congress, Douglas Devananda and parties of the Old Left movement, but it is the JHU rhetoric and narrative that rings out loudest from the heart of the Rajapaksa Administration.

This position alienates minority communities and the liberal citizenry, but it galvanises the Rajapaksa regime’s core support base within the Sinhala Buddhist community. It permits the administration to find favour with this critical mass of voters by flogging the triumph over the LTTE to death at election campaign after election campaign. It is the only electoral constituency that will be moved to tears and righteous indignation over Presidential proclamations that the international community was attempting to send Sri Lanka’s war winning head of state to the electric chair with resolutions in Geneva. It is whipped up into frenzy over claims of international conspiracies and war crimes investigations against heroic troops. Poll after poll, it will vote to keep the defenders of the nation in power. As far as the Rajapaksa administration is concerned, it is the only constituency it needs.

The crucial polling date

The Government’s decision to hold the Western and Southern polls on 29 January was motivated by keeping this constituency on its toes after what promises to be a month filled with dire threats about the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva. Street protests and media campaigns about international intervention will accompany hectic polls campaigns throughout the month of March. It remains a mystery that Elections Commissioner Deshapriya gave into the Government’s timeline on the date of the polls. Long before the nominations process was begun, a UPFA Minister claimed that elections would be held for the two provinces on 29 March. Although the Polls Chief has the prerogative to set the election date anytime before the lapse of eight weeks after the nomination period ends, Deshapriya pulled 29 March out of his hat, one day after D-Day for the Rajapaksa Government in Geneva.

On 28 March, after the Council votes on what will be the third US sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka – that may or may not call for an international mechanism to investigate allegations of major abuses during the last phase of the war, it is widely expected that President Rajapaksa will make an address to the nation. In the event this prediction is realised, the address will be an electoral call to arms, a rallying of the citizenry against neo-imperialism and attempts at regime change by powerful and unscrupulous nations.

Flash in the pan?

Comprehending at last that the Government will campaign primarily on a Geneva platform at the March provincial election, the slumbering and rift-ridden United National Party made a surprise move last week. Issuing its first clearly articulated position on the country’s human rights crisis, the UNP laid blame for Sri Lanka’s dire predicament internationally squarely at the door of President Rajapaksa and his Government. His Government’s inaction and false promises about domestic investigations into alleged abuses in war time to the international community for five years after the war ended had placed Sri Lanka on a razor’s edge of devastating international action, the UNP said in a hard-hitting statement last week. The country’s main opposition said it was trying to rise above partisanship in the national interest and pledged its full support for a credible, independent domestic probe into the allegations being made about the last phase of the war, in order to ward off international action against Sri Lanka next month. Refusing to stop with the last phase of the war, the UNP raised the issue of the Mannar and Matale mass graves, Weliweriya and the prison riots in the south post-war that require urgent attention and credible inquiry and called for an investigation into atrocities by the LTTE and the prosecution of those members of the organisation that remain within the Government’s capacity to haul to trial. It was a master stroke uncharacteristic of the UNP in recent times. The demand for a domestic probe by Sri Lanka’s main opposition, just ahead of the UNHRC session next month, drew international attention. For the first time in years, on paper at least on this one issue, the UNP made a brief appearance as an alternative political leadership with the move that may be criticised locally in the short-term, but will be hailed globally.

In times of such acute international crisis, that is at least as crucial as winning public support at home.

Courtesy Daily FT

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Latest comments

  • 5
    1

    Gammanpila Invited, but a Law-abiding Public Servant would have refused the Invitation!
    Who is to Blame?

    • 2
      2

      whos to blame? well they would blame US lead western world or Ranil Wickramasinghe, Sambanthan/Wigneshvaran or JR thus please the deaf & dumb village idiots to get 100 rupees plus their votes.

      • 2
        2

        Today almost by accident I heard a Sinhala radio channel and then listened more carefully to some others. Sinhala radio channels are full of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s HATE SPEECH against Tamils, and re-enacting the good old days of “war and LTTE terror in the border areas” and promising NOT to ever let people forget the brutality of Tamils. The Sinhala racist political propaganda of the Jarapassa dictatorship.

        This brings us to the relevance of Madam Pillay’s first recommendation on the need for a Bill against Incitement to Hatred..

        • 0
          1

          Don stanly,
          “Sinhala radio channels are full of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s HATE SPEECH against Tamils,”
          Could you elaborate on this? What Radio Station? What exactly were the words of “hate speech”?
          I listen to SL Sinhala Radio stations but NEVER heard such hate speech. Are you just lying to win publicity for Tamil cause?
          Colombo Telegraph should verify this kind of postings and remove them if found false.

      • 2
        1

        Dharisha: The Ministry of Defense has NO TRANSPARENCY OR ACCOUNTABILITY and while it commands the biggest potion of the national budget, NO accounts are presented in the name of “national security”. MOD is the MOST CORRUPT and untransparent ministry so how can Gamanpillar claim to be Mr. Clean like Kerjiwal? This is an insult to the Aam Aadmi Party!

        Gamanpilla is a DISTORTION SPECIALIST – equating Gota the goon with Buddha, Jesus etc.!

  • 3
    5

    Wonder whether Ms Pillai has set the date for the 2015 Geneva show !!!,

    With the 2014 going to issue another warrant for “Rajapaksa’s Arrest” and being the third and final call. the next one definitely will be “Hang Him” by dragging him to Geneva with Ms Pillai’s UN forces with the help of the SAS from Cameron.

    Two weeks after the next show will be the ideal time for the next Presidential Election.

    • 0
      0

      What if the Geneva dates undergo changes – so will his EC find dates to
      suit!!!

  • 6
    4

    The ‘ Electric Chair’ should become the election symbol of the UPFA in the coming years, until thee Geneva process is on its current course. Our ‘ Aney Pow!’ people will turn out in droves to vote for the UPFA! The beetle leaf , which represents good news, hope, good times, blessings , respect and reconciliation, is no longer appropriate as an election symbol

    Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

  • 6
    2

    Comparing Udaya Gamanpila with Arivind Kejriwal is pathetic. Kejriwal is not a racist. Udaya Gamanpila and his JHU party are out and racist. Remember it was Gamanpila who told the world that a riot against the Muslims was ‘imminent’. And it was his boss Gotabaya Rajapkasa who bundled Tamils in Colombo and send them packing to the north a la Hitler. Udaya Gamanpila and his racist JHU applauded the move. The Nazis and the Zionists would be proud of him!

  • 5
    3

    Arabic racists and South Indian racists are the curse of the world.

    Thankfully they are on fire throughout the world.

    • 3
      0

      ic, but your moda-choon gonraja loves to lick arabic nuts for his benifits.
      you also should join him next time when he goes to lick them.
      that could be a remedy for your chronic sickness since medication doesnt seems to work.

    • 0
      0

      You as Sinhalese are mostly South Indian and Bengali. Bulk of Bengalis are racially very similar to South Indians. You can try to delude youself into thinking you are Aryan or different or South Indians but history and genographic testing say otherwise.

    • 0
      0

      One more thing Fathima,
      How come you are critical of Muslims now, when you were busy kissing their ass in countless past posts.

  • 1
    1

    The Elections in Sri Lanka always fought on ethnic policies instead of economic policies or foreign policies. UNP and SLFP, the two major political parties compete based on who is good at removing the rights of Tamils. The difference between these two are minimal because both have to convince to Buddhist Sinhala racists votes. They are very good at creating opportunities and this is happening even well before independence. So, Geneva is an excuse but racism is well rooted within the Sinhala community.

  • 1
    0

    Come the time, out will come the trump card. The Regime and all who hang on will flash the western conspiracy/outside threat, ad nauseam, and the Sinhala-Buddhist will close ranks to ensure that our kurakkan heroes will never face the wrath of the evil world outside our golden shores. All that aside, a little of hope appeared in the wilds of Wanathamulla. A brave little mongoose snarled at King Cobra and…guess what…the King Cobra retreated. Afterwards, the dummy rat snake too came to ‘nikang balanda’ and got a lovely send off from the courageous Wanatha folk. The rest of the us are watching!

  • 4
    0

    Kejriwal is against all types of corrupt practices by the Govt and Opposition but Gamanpila is known for racism and SB Chauvanistic rule. He claims that he did not know that GR is a public servant whereas Article 41(3) of the constitution clearly states

    ‘Such Secretaries, officers and staff shall be deemed to be public officers except that the dismissal and disciplinary control of such Secretaries, officers and staff shall be vested in the President, who may delegate to any such Secretary his powers of dismissal and disciplinary control in respect of any such officers or staff.’

    Gamanpila is not that law abiding either. In 2007 he was involved in an abduction and cover up – http://www.bbc.co.uk/sinhala/news/story/2007/08/070806_champika_hemantha.shtml

    ‘Munsiri Kankanamge Indika Dilruk Hemantha accused a close ally of President Mahinda Rajapaksa of threatening, abducting and trying to kill him.

    Hemantha who has bought the luxury vehicle from leader of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) party, Ellawala Medhananda thero, said he was threatened to sell the car back by two senior JHU leaders.

    Minister ‘superviced’ abduction

    Environmental Affairs minister, Champika Ranawaka, and head of Environmental Authority, Udaya Gammanpila, personally supervised the abduction in which Hemantha was kept in a vehicle overnight, he told journalists in Colombo.’

  • 2
    0

    There are no principles, no ethics and no morals for this government. They follow no rules either. How on earth could a senior public servant address a political rally? In which country do such things happen except perhaps in Russia and China? All this talk of good governance by these crooks is nothing but rubbish talk!

    Sengodan. M

  • 6
    2

    Where analysts like Dharisha Bastians go astray is in their inability to set aside their personal political sympathies (allegiances?) based on their class interests and look at things from a holistic national perspective. If the mostly rural lower middle class Sinhala Buddhists are the majority in the country it is not their fault.

    • 0
      2

      Well then I guess it would be ok for Whites to oppress Blacks in America since the former are the majority.

      • 3
        0

        Palmsquirrel(l)

        Who said anything about oppression?
        By the way you are the only squirrel
        that I’ve come across that misspells
        its name.

  • 4
    0

    According to the British Tiger Forum – (BTF) Spokesperson, Mr Surendran and his PM have intensely lobbied 23 Governments to vote for the Pillai Resolution against Srilanka,

    Actually it should be 24 with the UNP which has already agreed with Pillai that our brave soldiers need to be punished.

    Although UNP it is not a Govt but it is more important for the simple reason that the whole agenda of the West is to install Ranil and his UNP crooks in place of Rajapakas.

    And ensure Ranil and Mangala .to take care of Rajaoaksas and the brave soldiers who finished off the LTTE.

    The whole and sole Aim of Ms Pillai’s resolution is to drag Rajapaksas and the soldiers who killed Prabakaran and his Terrorists to face Geneva justice.

    Which also fulfils the Western agenda of Regime change.

    Failing to get the Rajapaksa to Geneva, means the imposition of Trade Embargos and Economic sanctions to cripple the Srilankan Nation hoping the inhabitants will riot , and cause mayhem, and send the UN to put UNP in power..

    If the UNP and the other Opposition groups like the country , and want the inhabitant population to live in peace and prosperity as equals, they should be able to tell the Foreigners to but out and help the Govt to find a solution through the PSC.

    Will they do it?

    Never, because peaceful and prosperous Srilanka is detrimental to their survival.

  • 5
    0

    UNP is sacred even if a candidate takes a foto with Kothapaya fearing he will win 100,000 votes!

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