26 October, 2020

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Factors Making For Governmental Victory At Any Cost

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The Sri Lankan government continues to be unyielding in its approach to governance and reconciliation issues. Having fought against the United States for two successive years in the diplomatic arena at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and failed to win against it, the government now appears to have changed its strategy. It has hired not one but two US companies that it believes are adept at public relations campaigning and are paying them to get the government’s message across. This action gives an indication of the government’s approach. PR firms are known to give a positive spin to their client’s activities.  The hiring of PR firms for lobbying in the United States suggests that the Sri Lankan government is not thinking of changing its own policies.  Instead it is thinking it can change the US government by projecting a positive image of developments in the country.

Whether the government will act differently on the ground in regard to good governance and reconciliation within Sri Lanka is doubtful.  Addressing Parliament, External Affairs Minister Prof GL  Peiris made it clear that the government was not going to yield on substance.  He said “there is no change of government policy towards the United States.  We do not concur with their resolution and our representative in Geneva distanced Sri Lanka very clearly from its contents.”   The government has therefore taken a public stand with the its Sri Lankan constituency in mind to say that it does not agree with the UNHRC resolution, which it voted against. There are certain aspects of the resolution that the government would be very much opposed to, such as the UN Human Rights Commissioner’s recommendation for an independent international commission to probe alleged war crimes.   The majority of the Sri Lankan population, especially those drawn from the Sinhalese ethnic majority, will be in agreement with the government.

The government’s strategy is a dual one.  With regard to the international community, it is to show that it is delivering on its commitments.  It seeks to project this image while retaining its credibility with the Sri Lankan population.  The main international commitment at this time is to deliver on the implementation of the two Geneva resolutions that were passed over its objections.  A key component of the UNHRC resolution is the implementation of the government appointed LLRC commissioners’ report.  The government has said that it will implement this and has prepared its governmental action plan for LLRC implementation.  The government now looks set to implement visible elements of this action plan, including the holding of Northern Provincial elections which is a follow up to the UNHRC resolution.  This is how the government will attempt to balance its internal political imperatives with those of the international community.

Early Elections

One of the key elements of the LLRC recommendations, which was included in the government’s action plan, is the holding of the Northern Provincial Council elections.  However, these are not elections that the government has wished to hold.  These are elections that the government promised to hold shortly after the end of the war.  This was a strategy to get the international community on its side or at least neutralized during the last war.  But nearly four years have elapsed and the government has offered many excuses for not holding those elections.  The reasons given have included the resettlement of voters, demining of territory and preparation of voter registers.  The government is concerned that these are elections it runs the risk of losing.  This will enhance the political strength of the Tamil minority and their representatives.  It can also send a message to the larger Sri Lankan population that the government is not politically invincible.

There is an increasing belief that the government is contemplating early national elections, including Presidential elections although little more than half of the President’s term of office has elapsed.  There is increasing international pressure on the country, which is also being reflected in the economic difficulties being experienced due to the loss of economic concessions such as GSP plus from the European Union.  There is also a sense that Sinhalese nationalism is growing outside of the control of the government and may pose a challenge to it in the future.  This may make the government feel that the only way out for it is to reaffirm its popular mandate with yet another election victory.  If the government is indeed contemplating early national elections, then securing victory at the Northern Provincial elections scheduled for September this year becomes imperative.  It now appears that the government is determined to win those elections at any cost.

The burning of the printing press of the Uthayan newspaper in Jaffna shortly after an attack on its distribution point in Kilinochchi is evidence that the government is getting itself prepared for a no-holds barred election season.  This is denied by the government.  A government spokesperson has said the latest attack is an inside job to discredit the government.   However, these targeted acts of violence perpetrated on the largest circulation newspaper in the Northern Province have taken place despite the very large presence of security forces.  They also follow another violent attack on a meeting of the largest opposition Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance, in Kilinochchi where the security forces present on the scene of the attack remained inactive. The TNA, as well as the Leader of the Opposition, have alleged that these attacks are carried out by soldiers in civil clothing.

 Strengthening Extremism 

Along with the government’s plans to secure its own future, there is a danger of self-fulfilling prophecies that are detrimental to it and to the country at large.  The government’s concern is that the Western dominated section of the international community is looking for reasons to intervene in the internal affairs of the country.   If this is not to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, it is imperative that these elections be held according to internationally acceptable standards. The issue of the Northern Provincial election was referred to in the resolution on reconciliation in Sri Lanka of the UN Human Rights Council last month.   There is no doubt that the democratically elected government has the responsibility to stop these types of attacks, find the culprits and bring them to justice.  If not, the credibility of the government as one that follows democratic norms will collapse.  In particular, the government should show to the International community that the elections are being held to give the Tamil minority an opportunity to enjoy the devolution of power already provided for in the Constitution.

The failure to conduct a free and fair election in the Northern Province will only nullify this option and strengthen the demands emanating from extremist groups in Tamil Nadu and other places in the world.  There is a growing danger that the international community will begin to see that the government’s conduct of the Northern Provincial Council elections as being a deceptive  exercise in which the worst unfair and undemocratic tactics are used for the purpose of winning or undermining the Tamil National Alliance’s vote base. The government needs to ensure the rule of law and provide security to all its citizens in the North.  The failure of the government to protect its citizens will give rise to heightened international scrutiny and to strengthened demands for international intervention to determine the future of the Tamils within Sri Lanka.  Tamil Nadu state in India is already making such demands, with its legislative assembly having passed a unanimous resolution calling on the Indian government to stop considering Sri Lanka to be a friendly country and asking for the UN to conduct a referendum in the North and East of Sri Lanka on a separate state of Tamil Eelam.

At the same time, those in the international community who are genuinely concerned about the present trajectory of the Sri Lankan government, and its increasingly authoritarian actions, need to consider the thinking of the generality of the Sri Lankan population.  The perception of the great majority of Sri Lankan people is that there is an unnecessary international emphasis on war crimes in Sri Lanka in a world that is full of them.  To them the real issue is that the LTTE, which was a terrorist organisation that wreaked havoc in the country, is no more.  Getting rid of the LTTE was due to the government’s military action.  So long as the international community appears to be hounding the government for what it did in the war, there will be popular sympathy for the government leadership which is very adept at mobilizing this sentiment to its advantage.

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    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

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      Good article Jehan!
      Rajapakse’s game plan is DIVIDE, DISTRACT AND RULE and so fueling extremism and destroying Lanka’s multicultural social fabric is its endgame.
      The brothers are following the Pakistan model of gunning for minorities and cultivating a military business economic development model that is exclusively for the corrupt and criminal Rajapassa brothers, sons and their cronies..
      The great neoliberal economic development model of the uneducated idiot and petrol pump attendant Basil to a long term ENVIRONMENTAL AND HUMAN disaster – just check out Hambantota with all its green areas stripped, six lane concrete highways, port and airport sans ships and planes and water holes closed – while its people are farmers and fishers! Hambantota is a model of how NOT to do economic development!

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    How horrifying it is to find that the author, instead of uplifting the ”thinking of the generality of the Sri Lankan population” on the need to learn about the International Law, is trying to take the international community down to their sentiment – the sentiment of the ”thinking of the generality of the Sri Lankan population”.
    Nanthikadal battle is not the last of Sri Lanka – it has to find peace and prosperity in the currents of the globe and find its place in mankind’s survival in the planet.

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      I agree

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      Not only he does not even attempt to change this ‘thinking’ he refers to, but it is exactly the kind of ‘thinking’ Jehan has been promoting.
      He is very good in advocating ways and means to avoid external pressure to change this barbaric ways thereby revealing his true desire to continue the oppression of the Tamils.
      In fact people like him are more damaging to the nation than the rather obviously crude and barbaric ruling clan.

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    Why would the Govt attack Uthayan if it wants to win votes from Uthayan readers?.

    Wouldn’t it be better for the Govt to hold elections and let the former LTTE capitives elect the LTTE proxies if they wish to?.

    Isn’t it most likely Sambandan and Co will do every thing under the Sun to create conflict and then demand the Govt to give him all LTTE wanted .

    And call upon their IC to intervene?

    Wouldn’t that be a the best opportunity to grind the Opposition including any Common candidates of Sobitha, who invariably will take the side of the TNA and canvass for them at the PSC election?.

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      1.LTTE blundered by going too violent when peaceful means of 28 yrs failed. Separatism was decided on by a majority of the Tamils and their parliamentarians.

      2.TNA would have reluctantly pretended to go by the LTTE, not genuinely willingly. Otherise they wouldn’t be walking amidst the living.

      3.But nothing works with the majority of the Sinhalese anyway – the last four years have been worse than the previous 62 yrs for the Tamils. The last four years have been much better than the previous 30yrs for most of the Sinhalese.

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      My friend, the government is not trying to WIN votes. It is trying to intimidate the population into not voting so that it can win. just like what the ltte did. The idea that all these attacks are self inflicted is incredible. How does the govt make such positive statements and not arrest anybody? If they know who did it they should arrest them. If they don’t they shouldn’t make accusations. given the security presence in jaffna it is reasonable to assume that these attacks are perpetrated by the government. To say otherwise would be to discredit the best security forces in the world.

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        It’s not new. In the post LTTE era, the government is trying to find others to take the blame for its actions hoping people like Samarasekara will buy into it. Guess what…….? Their minds are so blocked by prejudices they actually do!

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    PR is not a substitute for democracy and good governance. What can PR do but to create a false picture about development in the North and how well the Govt is treating the minorities while the reality is quite different. Of course PR can also mean bribery and corruption Sri Lankan style. Maybe the FBI should keep an eye on these PR firms and American Lawmakers fraternising with them. Their bank accounts would reveal the truth about Sri Lanka.

    Govt has started its election campaign in the North well in advance by attacking the free media. No need for Sherlok Holmes to know who dunnit. Here again fixing elections is simply a way of denying the rights of people and preventing self governance. This in turn will work negatively by breeding hostility and resentment. Rajapakses do not realise that they cannot play this game for ever. The day of reckoning will have to arrive.

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    Jehan,
    “unnecessary international emphasis on war crimes in Sri Lanka in a world that is full of them”

    Love to read it from you, perhaps after years of anti-lanka, bullshit HR talks from you.

    Talk about devolution guaranteed by constitution,wasn’t that 13-A forced upon us by intimidating big brother India ? & got it passed by JRJ by keeping UNP MP’s at a Hotel in Colombo & bussing them down to Diyawanna parliament ? & that day Colombo was burning, with unprecedented violent marches by at least half a million people ? & the birth of new terror, JVP (DJV)? I was an eyewitness to this as university student. So was this 13A democratic or Constitutional ? I doubt.

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    Democracy ( Demoncracy) Sri Lankan style :

    “Government of those we elect, by those we elect, for those we elect and their eternal self-gratification and self-glorification, shall always hold our land in its deadly embrace”- adapted from President Lincoln’s Gettysburg address.

    Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

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    Jehan
    For the loads of money you get from rich foundations, you should be updating this duly:
    http://www.peace-srilanka.org/media-centre/political-analysis

    Pl have some conscience.

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    Jehan Perera supports the allegation that the Govt is holding Northern Provice elections belatedly due to external pressure. However, the Muslim community believes it is still too early to hold elections in the North as the Muslims have still not been resettled in the North as their homes in the North, taken over by the Tigers are still occupied Tiger Mahavir families and by the Security forces. So Mr Perera, which claim is right? Elections held too late or too early?

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    It takes a long time to have free elections after a war.

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