By G K Nathan –
Deception of Minority Nations is a Continuing Saga in Sri Lanka, Successive Governments Failed to Respect Political Democracy
The “political democracy is founded on the equal sharing of political power among all citizens”; this was the basis for different Nations coming together as one country called Ceylon (Sri Lanka) which gained independence from the British Colonial Empire, on 4 February 1948. Ceylon was constituted as one country by bringing together three former independent monarchies of the pre-colonial era by British Colonial Government in 1833. Ceylon was given independence in a platter without a struggle or sacrifices made by the peoples, after India won its freedom pursuing a long drawn out liberation struggle and making numerous sacrifices by almost all Nations in India, against the same Colonial Power. Probably, this may be the reason Sri Lanka failed right from beginning as an Independent country to respect political democracy in the country? Immediate neighbour, India with multiethnic, multilingual and multireligious country consolidated their freedom recognizing the differences between Nations with quasi-federal state governments and built itself as the largest enduring democracy in the world. Indian constitution recognizes 22 scheduled languages and they are used as official language in the regions where it is spoken. Even though, Tamil language is spoken by less than 10 percent of total population of India, it was declared as a classical language, in 2004, the first one to be honoured by the Indian Government. There were many lessons for Sri Lanka, with lesser complexities compared to India, but Sri Lanka failed to emulate the success story of India with only two languages: Sinhala and Tamil spoken in the country, beside English. Sri Lankan politicians of post independence era exploited the ethnic, religious and lingual differences between Nations to gain political power for themselves; exploitation of differences between Sinhala and Tamil Nations started, immediately after independence and it continues to date. India has intervened in Sri Lanka, but all attempts: military, enforcing amendment to the Sri Lankan unitary constitution, friendly political diplomacy, initiating economic activities and economic aid failed to bring peace within Sri Lanka, to date. At times, to find amicable relationship between India and Sri Lanka because of geopolitical needs of India, the rights of Tamil Nation were overlooked, even though Tamil homeland coastal area is in a strategic position in the Indian Ocean. The geopolitical position of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean and rising power of China with interest in Indian Ocean keep the international community too interested in Sri Lanka. The first International intervention took place by bringing both combatants, Tamil Militants and Government of Sri Lanka, to sign a Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) in 2002. Following signing of CFA, all efforts of International community failed to establish peace in the country, because both warring parties went for a military outcome. Sri Lanka with support of a number of countries: military equipment from China, Russia and Pakistan; valuable intelligence inputs from India and a few Western countries ended the Sinhala-Tamil military conflict in May 2009 with victory for the Sri Lanka Armed Forces, but both warring parties face serious allegation of breach of International human rights law and International humanitarian law, as determined by United Nation initiated study. Failure of Sri Lanka to pursue “Truth and Reconciliation” made the International community, led by the USA to take an initiative to pursue the inquiry into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity through United Nation Human Rights Councils (UNHRC). India as the immediate neighbour with interest in welfare of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka, who have their brethrens in India, has attempted to bring about a peaceful resolution by putting forward proposals to share power between Nations, but of no avail, so far. As International community pursue justice for the victims in Sri Lanka, through International mechanism; for how long will India watch from the sideline, as Tamil Nadu brethren making their voices heard in New Delhi?
The Soulbury constitution proclaimed at the time of independence provided with of minimum of protection to minority Nations by sharing power with the majority Nation, at 40/60 ratio. In comparison to many newly independent countries, adulterated democracy in Sri Lanka survived for more than six decades, initial camaraderie between Nations failed to continue in the post independence era, because the Sinhala Nation neither shared power nor respected the democratic rights of minority Nations. Contrary to expectation in the Soulbury Constitution, power of individual or a group of parliamentarian became transferable or tradable, ignoring peoples’ democratic rights exercised at elections of parliamentarians; instead victory at the elections was taken for granted and used to fulfil politicians’ own self interest or wishes, turncoatism became a permanent feature. The first turncoatism in Sri Lanka, occurred in September 1948, a section of All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) led by its then leader GG Ponnambalam, who once demanded fifty-fifty sharing of power between the majority Nation and other minority Nations, abandoned that principle and joined with the government and turncoats were rewarded with cabinet positions. GG Ponnambalam and members of ACTC voted with the United National Party (UNP) government to pass the Ceylon Citizenship Act No 18 of 1948, a controversial law passed by the Ceylon Parliament, which denied citizenship to 11% of Sri Lankans of Indian origin and disenfranchised a substantial section of population in Sri Lanka, which made the country a Sinhala majority state; the main protection in the Soulbury constitution which guaranteed minimum of 40 percent representation for minority Nations became void. Looking back at history at this point in time, Ceylon Tamils have paid for their sins or “karma” for disfranchising the Upcountry Tamils; only time will tell the others who did similar acts, will also pay for their sin or “karma”? Members, who wanted to uphold their pledge given to the Tamil people at that election, withdrew from the ACTC and formed, the Federal Party (FP) under the leadership of SJV Chelvanayagam; the FP called for a federal constitution to guarantee the rights of the minority Nations within the country and to equally share power between all Nations, the majority Sinhala Nation is continuing to ignore the call.
The second notable turncoatism that occurred was in 1951, but this happened with a section of Sinhala Nation led by SWRD Bandaranaike abandoned the UNP government with his fellow Sinhala Maha Sabha faction members and formed the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) with that “Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism” gained ground and sewed the seed of disunity in the country. The SLFP led four party coalition promised to make “Sinhala only” the official language of the country, contrary to promise that was made prior to independence that both Sinhala and Tamil will be made the official languages of administration in Sri Lanka. As the leader of the SLFP coalition, SWRD Bandaranaike became the fourth Prime Minister of Sri Lanka on 12th April 1956 and as promised, the “Sinhala only act of 1956” was passed that cemented “Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism” and all Tamil speaking Hindus, Muslims and Christians became the first victim of this language policy of extremism. When Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike came under pressure to resolve the peaceful demand for rights of Tamils, he granted “self rule in Tamil homeland” and was gunned down by an assassin in Buddhist robe on 26th September 1959. From then on politics in Sri Lanka became a struggle between both SLFP and UNP to convince the Sinhala majority that their party will do more for the Sinhala Buddhists at the expense of rights of minority Nations. The other key turncoatism in politics occurred on 3rd December 1964 when C P de Silva, a senior cabinet member of the SLFP government with 13 other Members of Parliament crossed over to the opposition UNP and defeated the SLFP led government that was led by Mrs Srimavo Bandaranaike, the widow of murdered Prime Minister. Since, then, turncoatism has become a common feature in Sri Lankan politics, exploited by both major parties UNP and SLFP to entice minor parties in the country either to form or bring down a government. The forth coming Presidential election on 8th January 2015 is a grand exhibition of turncoatism which will reach the pinnacle once the election results are announced. Unfortunately, minority Nations will become the victims once more, even though the struggle for presidency is between, two factions of the SLFP; but one faction is supported by the UNP. For sometime politics in Sri Lanka is the laughing stock of the world, minority Nations continue to be victims of imposition of extreme policy to placate the majority Sinhala Buddhists.
Presidential Election is a Contest between Two SLFP Stalwarts?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa called for Presidential election two years ahead of time, which now will be held on 8th January 2015. This is in the hope to repeat the success President Rajapaksa had at the Presidential election on 26th January 2010 and the Parliamentary election on 20th April 2010, following the military victory against Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009. Parliamentary election resulted, in just short of two-third majority, which did not help President Rajapaksa to achieve his wish to become a President for life by removing the two term restriction. Politicians from the opposition parties were enticed with offer of Ministry in the government and many politicians accepted the offer; others in the party were kept in the fold by offering ministry; almost 100 members became ministers in the government, probably a “Guinness book of record” for any government in the world. President Mahinda Rajapaksa used his two-third majority and introduced the 18th Amendment to the constitution, which removed the restriction of Presidency to two terms by any individual, under the new amendment, life time presidency is assured. President Mahinda Rajapaksa is also grooming members of his close family to take over from him, the military under his family’s control, there is a suspicion that he is setting up a family dynasty, like in North Korea. The forthcoming Presidential election gives the people of Sri Lanka, an option to stop it happening.
The other important reason for early election is that his administration is under international pressure to investigate both combatants for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity that occurred during his presidency, though President Mahinda Rajapaksa claimed, the war was fought against “Tamil terrorists” with “zero civilian casualties”. Contrary to his claims, evidence from the Sri Lanka military personnel and others have emerged that both combatants are answerable to the claim of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the conflict. It is reported; in the final stages of the war 40 thousands were killed by UN Panel of Experts, later Review Panel increased the number to 70 thousands, both were appointed by the United Nation Secretary General. The initiative taken by the members of the UNHRC passed a resolution to request the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to conduct an Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) which will be released on 25th March 2015. President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s gambit of calling early Presidential election to consolidate his power before the release of OISL report brought the major challenge from his own party, the General Secretary of the SLFP, Maithripala Sirisena. He resigned from a senior position in the “Rajapaksa government” and contesting as the “common opposition candidate”. The Presidential election contest between two stalwarts of the SLFP throws many challenges; more details about the election can be found from this source: Presidential Election 2015. A brief summary is given below of both candidates. The final outcome in this election will be decided by the people, provided a fair election is held, but irrespective of who wins the Presidential election, finding of the OISL will define the new direction for the country?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR) was born on 18th November 1945 as son of D A Rajapaksa one of the founding members of the SLFP together with SWRD Bandaranaike in 1951 and DA Rajapaksa was a cabinet minister in 1959 SLFP government. Mahinda Rajapaksa, having had a political lineage from childhood, was elected as the youngest Member of Parliament in 1970. He experienced his first defeat in 1977 parliamentary election, in which JR Jayewardene had a unexpected landslide victory that led to the establishment of Presidential system of government. Since then, every Presidential candidate has made reference to scrapping of the Presidential system of government, but so far promises remain unfilled. Mahinda Rajapaksa was re-elected as Member of Parliament in 1989, prior to that 1988-1989 worked as human rights lawyer on behalf of mothers of disappeared JVP insurgents; following the defeat of Sinhala youth uprising to set-up a socialist state. He was Minister of Labor (1994-2001), Leader of Opposition (2002-2004) and Prime Minister (2004-2005). He was elected as the President of Sri Lanka in November 2005 with the narrowest of margin 50.29%, because LTTE called for the boycott of Presidential election, a substantial number of voters from the North East did not participate in the election; the participation of Tamil voters would have produced a different history of Sri Lanka in comparison to present one. During President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime, a number of Tamil youth disappeared and the number is put at about 13,000; the same human rights lawyer who appeared for the mothers of Sinhala youths has gone quiet on disappeared Tamil youth, when their mothers were demonstrating. A person of his credentials; will he be the best person to bring all peoples in Sri Lanka together?
Maithripala Sirisena (MS) was born on 3rd September 1951 and had a humble beginning in politics compared to his opponent; rose up the rank working with ordinary people. Maithripala started his political career in 1967, as the Secretary of SLFP youth organization, Polonnaruwa. Following the JVP insurgency in 1971 Maithripala was jailed and later he was released. Maithripala was elected to the SLFP, as central committee member from Polonnaruwa in 1977; became the Polonnaruwa district organizer in 1980; Treasurer of All Island SLFP youth organization in 1981, continued in that position till 1982 and became President of the youth organization; became the SLFP Assistant Secretary, in 1997; General Secretary in 2001 and held that position until he resigned to contest the Presidential election in 2015. Working through the ranks, he was first elected as a Member of Parliament in 1989, again in 1994, 2001, 2004 and 2010. He has in all held party positions for 47 years and as SLFP Member of Parliament for 25 years, which must be a record for any politician in Sri Lanka. He has been also a cabinet minister from 1997 to 2014, less three years when the UNP was in power from 2001 to 2004. If President Mahinda Rajapaksa did not start the process, to set up life time Presidency; Maithripala, the General Secretary of SLFP, would have been entitled to be a candidate of SLFP; now he has decided to be a candidate and has become the “common presidential candidate” of opposition parties including the UNP. Should Maithripala, voted in to be next President of Sri Lanka, to prevent Sri Lanka going down the path of North Korea and setting up a Rajapaksa dynasty, will Sri Lankans prevent it from happening?
Maithripala rose from the ranks of SLFP and Mahinda entered politics as a member of the Rajapaksa clan with recognized political lineage; currently there are about three dozen members of Rajapaksa clan in various powerful positions in politics and administration and holding high profile positions. The fight for the Presidency of Sri Lanka has created a cleavage in the Sinhala Buddhist majority community and it is divided down the middle; the final outcome of the Presidential election will be greatly influenced by the voters from Tamil and Muslim Nations who make up a third of the population, provided they decide to participate in the Presidential election? Also, Maithripala, himself who suffered as a prisoner after the Sinhala youth insurgency; will he have a better understanding of innocent people who are being held in prison in Sri Lanka, following the end of military conflict in 2009? If the past outcomes are to be taken as evidence, the final scenario either prior or post Presidential election will be hard to pin-point on any one of the following grounds: loser may peacefully hand over power to the victor or loser may hold on to power with military or judicial intervention; loss of election by the current President may look for scapegoats and minority Nations may become the victims of another pogrom?
Presidential Election and Votes of Minority Nations
Recent provincial council elections are taken as advanced indicator of possible pattern of popular votes in a Presidential election, the votes will be divided down the middle if the candidates belong to SLFP and UNP alliance, but the forth coming Presidential election is between two SLFP stalwarts: Mahinda and Maithripala. The SLFP support to Mahinda will be greatly reduced because the opposing candidate Maithripala will have substantial support at grass root level resulting in reduced popular votes to Mahinda, in addition minor parties who were supporting SLFP at the provincial council have moved away from the SLFP alliance and supporting Maithripala. Maithripala as a “common opposition candidate” commands the support of the UNP block, a section of SLFP supporters and other minor parties; therefore, statistically Maithripala will command the majority of votes. Tamils and Muslims, especially from the North East, will decide the final outcome, if free and fair election is held without threat or intervention from the military which has substantial presence, around the country, but more in the North East. Many of the Tamil and Muslim voters will make an individual or collective action guided by their political parties, but there are divisions within too. Politically astute personalities are convinced that the Presidential system of government is a curse on the country and willing to make the changes by working for it and by making sacrifices.
It is reported that Ms Chandrika Kumaratunga said: Ex-Sri Lanka President warns of election “skulduggery” to secure an unprecedented third term by her successor who is the current President. She called on the outside observers to monitor the forthcoming election. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) told the Tamils of North East, Presidential Election will not solve the Tamil national question, it is the duty of every voter in Sri Lanka to uphold parliamentary democracy and human rights. Many international human rights organizations have repeated this call again and again, of no avail; under the Presidential system of government and the 18th Amendment introduced in 2010, restoration of true democracy is not possible. Amnesty International wants Sri Lanka presidential candidates to uphold human rights, will it be the current or the new president who is best placed to respond to this call?
Possible scenarios that need to be taken into considerations when voting at the Presidential election are:
- Early conclusions are that both key Presidential candidates will not publically declare their hands as to their position, with respect to the rights of minority Nations in Sri Lanka;
- Maithripala announced that he will not permit International inquiry on alleged war crimes, but he will conduct an independent inquiry within the country on alleged war crimes may lead to truth and reconciliation of Nations within the country, while Mahinda is continuing to bury his head in the sand and says alleged war crimes did not occur contrary all the evidence available;
- Looking back at past commitments and implementations by both UNP and SLFP led governments, it is doubtful any plans will be implemented in full, the past does not give much hope; will the new candidate Maithripala with a humble beginning compared to former leaders of Sri Lanka, be different and set new precedence to restore honour in Sri Lankan politics?
- Tamils/Muslims (minority Nations) openly declaring their support to any one of the two candidates, too early in the competition, will be counterproductive and may lead to repetition of political skulduggery of the past;
- If minority Nations give any advance indication of their preferred candidate, if he is from the opposition, propaganda machinery will be let lose to cause harassment of Minority Nations and opponents will work overtime to turn the support of Sinhala Nation against the opposition candidate with strong possibility of military intervention, especially in the North East;
- Past record of Muslim Nation and its actions, show that the Leadership focuses on what is in it to themselves, than to the community and always willing to work with the party in power to maximize the benefit to the leadership and to their Muslim Nation, they have very low record in sticking to the agreement, but exercise their wishes, independently for the benefit of their community;
- Whoever comes to power in Sri Lanka, after the Presidential election on 8th January 2015, Tamil Nation is in a catch 22 situation. Nevertheless, past is any guide, Tamil Nation has no option, but to participate in the forth coming Presidential election, but continue to exercise their right; but support the UNHRC process to advance amity between all Nations within the country? President Mahinda Rajapaksa, also the Commander in Chief of the Armed forces of Sri Lanka during the conflict, has failed to bring amity between the Nations for over ten years. Now the country needs a new leader who is not accused of breaching the International human rights law and International humanitarian law, to meet the challenges from OISL; is the country ready for a new leader?
Whoever is the next leader “political democracy founded on the equal sharing of political power among all citizens” will not be guaranteed and the basis for different Nations coming together as one country called Ceylon (Sri Lanka) to gain independence from the British Colonial Empire, on 4 February 1948 will not be honoured. Hopefully, the authoritarianism system of government will be buried for good. After which the like minded people from both minority and majority Nations with International support will continue to work together until true democracy prevails in Sri Lanka, respecting rights of every citizen as equal in the constitution.