By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
(President) Mahinda asked me to convey numerous messages to (LTTE leader) Prabhakaran. – Eric Solheim[i]
Mahinda Rajapaksa is willing to abolish the executive presidency in his third term.
Mahinda Rajapaksa wants to send every Muslim on Haj.
It is the season for fantastical lies and unreal promises. Soon the President may pledge to send all Buddhists to Dambadiva, all Christians to the Holy Land and all Hindus to whatever shrine in India they wish to visit.
Mahinda Rajapaksa is not quite sanguine about the upcoming elections, probably because he is aware of the growing discontent in his natural (Sinhala-Buddhist) constituency. The rumblings within the ruling coalition would be an added headache. The Communist Party had to ban its own paper to blackout internal dissension. Two LSSP trade union federations have refused to toe the ‘party line’ and back Mr. Rajapaksa. The JHU might be on the verge of a split. Admittedly none of these parties command many votes (the JHU’s heydays are long gone). But in a closely fought election, even the miniscule numbers these tiny parties can muster might make the difference between winning outright or being forced into a game-changing second round.
So the Rajapaksas are doing everything they can to keep the UPFA united and the opposition divided. Members of the ruling family are working as one man to achieve these interrelated purposes, obviously because they clearly understand what is really at stake – their own individual and collective futures. An excellent case in point is the way Uncle Basil and Nephew Namal set aside their squabbles and worked in tandem to bag Mangala Samaraweera. That operation failed[ii] but, going by media reports, the effort to neutralise Ven. Mduluwave Sobhitha Thero may succeed. (The Rajapaksas have a telling track record in bending dissenting monks to their will, including the four chief prelates.)
Stymieing a common candidate will give the Rajapaksas a considerable advantage. But even a divided opposition can make a comeback, so long as the parties and personalities do not descend into juvenile bickering. Thanks to the nature of the electoral system, several oppositional candidates can mount a challenge as potent as a single candidate if – and this is a big if – they adopt the strategy of marching separately and striking together. If the various candidates can come to a certain basic understanding and aim their political fire not at each other but at the Rajapaksas, it would still be possible to push the election into a second round.
A key problem facing the opposition would be voter-apathy, and consequently voter-absenteeism. Absenteeism for whatever purpose – especially as a mark of protest against an ‘illegal election’ – will work against the opposition and for Mahinda Rajapaksa. A low turnout is a particular danger with the minorities as well. A Tamil/Muslim candidate might actually hurt the Rajapaksas, if he/she succeeds in increasing the voter turnout among the minorities. The simple fact is that every vote which is not cast for Mahinda Rajapaksa is a vote against Mahinda Rajapaksa; every vote which is cast for a non-Rajapaksa candidate (including Rajapaksa proxies) can help to prevent an outright Rajapaksa victory and push the presidential election into a second round.
The opposition is clearly not out of the woods; but neither are the Rajapaksas. That is why in the coming weeks there will be plenty of lies and exaggerations, exorbitant claims and extravagant promises.
And the Tiger.
The Tiger will be used to demand gratitude, claim rights and spread fear, to cover oneself with glory and to attack the opposition, to look sagacious and sound patriotic.
An early signal of that imminent future is the President’s near hysterical attack on Eric Solheim.
Rajapaksa, Solheim and Pirapaharan – The Other History
Eric Solheim is going to testify before the UNHRC and the President is livid: “They gave money to the LTTE. The Norwegian government must investigate. We have evidence on how they funded the terrorists.”[iii] The President also “alleged that Solheim and the Norwegians discouraged him on pursuing the war saying the LTTE was an invisible military outfit that could never be defeated”[iv].
But was that really the truth? Wasn’t there a time when the Rajapaksas were as eager to obtain Mr. Solheim’s services vis-à-vis the LTTE, as Ranil Wickremesinghe ever was? Didn’t they use Mr. Solheim to send messages to the LTTE and to persuade the LTTE to re-commence negotiations?
By the time Mahinda Rajapaksa became President Rajapaksa, thanks to the election boycott imposed on Tamils by Vellupillai Pirapaharan, the ‘Peace Process’ was in a state of limbo. The two sides had not talked since the LTTE left negotiations in April 2003. The next and final round of talks happened during the first year of the Rajapaksa presidency, due to the efforts of Mr. Solheim. And Mr. Solheim did not go to Vanni behind President Rajapaksa’s back; on the contrary, he met the President both before and after meeting the LTTE[v]. When Mr. Solheim obtained the LTTE’s consent for another round of negotiations, the government rejoiced. And the President, instead of raving against the peace moves of the Tiger-loving Norwegians, reportedly cowed, “Didn’t I say so?”[vi]The news reports contained pictures of a smiling Mr. Solheim and a smiling Mr. Rajapaksa. That was a time Mr. Solheim could do no wrong in the Rajapaksa eyes.
Of course the Norwegians helped the LTTE; of course Mr. Solheim was pro-Tiger. But these were not secrets. And Mahinda Rajapaksa cared nothing for any of it then. He had no hesitation in using the pro-Tiger Norwegians to negotiate with the LTTE when it suited his purpose to do so.
According to a Wikileaks Cable, “Basil Rajapaksa conceded to (American) Ambassador that the pre-election contacts with the LTTE had taken place.”[vii]
Mahinda Rajapaksa, with the help of Sarath Fonseka and many others (including Vellupillai Pirapaharan) defeated the LTTE. That cannot and must not be gainsaid. But that is one part of the truth. The other part is that he about having dealings with the LTTE, both before and after elections. Some of those dealings happened in the limelight; others are still shrouded in darkness.
If Mahinda Rajapaksa wants to turn the dead Tiger into a key figure in this election season, the Opposition must ensure that the public is told not just a part of that history but all of it. If the past is going to reverberate in the present, it must be the whole past and not just bits and pieces, edited to suit Rajapaksa purposes.
The Rajapaksas cannot fight the election on the basis of either the present or the future, due to the steadily worsening economic conditions of the people. They will resort to false promises, abuses and violence. But clearly the lop-sided and pre-rigged electoral system and the usual politico-propaganda antics will not suffice this time. The Tiger will be used, with increasing frequency, to fill the resulting gap.
The Rajapaksas must not be allowed to lie about and manipulate history with impunity. The light of whole truth must be deployed to blunt the efficacy of their Tiger shadow-play.
[vii] Colombo Telegraph – 6.4.2012 – https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/wikileaks-basil-conceded-pre-election-contacts-with-the-ltte/