Sunday Leader editor, Late Lasatha Wickrematunge, predicted his death (reproduced below) in the hands of the state goons on 8 January 2009 and his very thought of death is to befall on the despotic regime of Rajapaksa on 8 January 2015, six years later. The people of Sri Lanka should give a collective homage to the very worthy sole, that will pave the way for the perpetrators of his heinous killing is brought to justice to reflect a sigh of relieve Sri Lanka needs to emerge out of its progressing decay.
The outcome of the Presidential election is a forgone one. In a democracy where accountable election processes are not material and independent opinion polls are non-existent, it is a referee less field for the game players. The resourceful foul player will win the game at any cost. Vote rigging plays its important role to turn the trend in favour of the ruler. With the exhilarating campaign process for the first time in many decades, waves of defections are taking place to replace a regime that has failed to understand the real feelings of the people.
With the authoritarian rule of Mahinda Rajapaksa that heavily manipulates the judiciary with his imprudent judges, any legal challenge on election jilmarts will not be judicious, as the very existential circumstances of the post-election survival of the judges depends on the victory for the incumbent president.
Grasping the heavily restricted media to assess the possible outcome of the Presidential election is a painstaking one. Even the few political columns that give fair insight into the affairs of the government are cautious in their reporting on the possible election outcome. However, one could gauge the underlying trend from their spell outs. If the election is true and fair, the outcome will not be similar to the 2005 or 2010 Presidential election results. Some efforts have been taken by the Election Commissioner to scrutinize any computer jilmart allegedly practiced in the past elections.
The President bestowed himself as the ‘statesman’ of the nation in his election campaigns without realising that he squandered an unique opportunity in May 2009 to become a ‘national leader cum statesman’ without indulging in shameful parochial politics. His self-promoted statesmanship is now in the voters and the Election Commissioners hands on the 8 January 2015.
Odds are clearly in favour of the opposition candidate Maithiripala Sirisena to become the next President. He is said to have gone further than what the incumbent President could achieve in the 2010 Presidential election with the backing of the cross section of the political support base.
The Presidential election of 2010 and 2005 confirms that both main candidates secured total votes of 10,189,119 of the 10,393,613 total valid votes (2010) and 9,593,518 of the 9,717,039 total valid votes (2005) respectively. Of the valid votes, the incumbent President secured 59% (2010) and 51% (2005) respectively.
The 2010 Presidential election was said to be a war win election and President Mahinda Rajapaksa was anticipated to score a fantastic victory. The euphoria propagated did not translate into an overwhelming victory in favour of the sitting President Mahinda Rajapaksa. With the high degree of razzle-dazzle and pandering, he was only able to increase his stakes by a meagre 8%(9% in 2010 , – 1% in 2005). The main opposition lost 533,181 votes in 2010 compared to 2005 results, whilst Mahinda gained an overall 1,128,782 votes in the last election. The grand coalition of UPFA and the war victory brought the additional votes for the President in the 2010 elections.
In percentage term, the swing was only 8% which must be seen as the decisive factor in the 2015 Presidential election. Will Maithiripala Sirisena be able to swing the turnover (minimum 51%) in his favour this time?
The arithmetic is simple. According available statistics:
Two main opposition candidate votes 4,173,185 (4,706,366 -2005)
Add on factors:
JHU vote bank based on 2004 parliamentary election 550,000
JVP vote bank based on 2010 parliamentary election 440,000
Assume Maithiripala Sirisene factor of 5% (min) of Mahinda’s vote in 2010 300,000
Assume Chandrika factor of 2% (min) of Mahinda’s vote in 2010 120,000
Tamil votes 50% of UPFA votes in Tamil areas in the 2010 parliamentary election 170,000
Discontent Muslim votes 100,000
General voter discontent with Mahinda and switchovers of 5% (min) 300,000 1,980,000
Total estimated vote for Maithiripala Sirisena in 2015 6,153,185
The voter turnout in 2005 was 73.73% and in 2010 61.26%. Assuming the turnout to be 75% of the 14,752,168 voters, Maithiripala Sirisena would achieve 55% votes cast in the election.
The above assumptions are based on minimum to avoid euphoric hypes and excessive assumptions.
Unlike in 2010, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has lost the support base of professional bodies, academics, civil society groups and even the armed forces in a greater scale.
Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) leaving the government, the violent Boddu Bala Sena (BBS) backing Mahinda and the erosion of the President’s SLFP support base is of serious consequential losses for Mahinda Rajapaksa. The Muslims have walked away from the Mahinda camp altogether, due to state backed violence of the extremist BBS and other groups in the south.
Having weakened his wider support base, Mahinda had to pander the national associations of the undertakers and astrologers to support him. He had gone to the extent of rewarding the Astrologers association to computerise their astrological skills to standardise their predictions. Unfortunately, the President failed to realise Astrology is a very deep subject and to give a fair prediction, human touch and deep professionalism is needed from the astrologers. This gesture to the astrologers comes at the time his own astrological positions are showing thumps down signs for him.
Belly aching hard pressed voters voted for Mahinda in 2010 as a gesture for closing the war theatre in the north in May 2009. But his theatrics since his election in 2010 has alienated him from the people. The tuk-tuk drivers were strong supporters of Mahinda in the 2010 election, but they too have overtly moved away from him by publicly supporting Maithiripala Sirisena.
According to statistics, there are over one million wider focussed new voters who are engaged in social media. News reports confirm Maithiripala Sirisena is more popular amongst this group.
Mahinda’s anti-TNA campaign of linking them to the Tamil Tigers has boomeranged on him. TNA’s powerful and uncompromising statement in support of Maithiri and many Tamil Tiger lap dogs including KP and Karuna pampered by the government has not gone well with the Sinhala voters.
Desperation has already sunk into the President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s camp, as odds are very clearly against him in the election outcome. The regime that has gone to the extra ordinary length to manufacture figures-financial and of the elections is in a hopeless situation to engage in the game of skulduggery. In the past, according to a very reliable source, 10% computer jilmart factor played an important part in the outcome of the election- experienced in visibly in the first Eastern Provincial election.
With the hyphened awareness of tricks of the Mahinda regime, the defectors and rebels are scrutinising every move by the disparaging government.
Sri Lanka needs to release its clutches to join the wider political spectrum of the world to transform itself into a well governed country that embodies basic good governance practices.
The Presidential election takes place on the day the high-profile Sri Lankan anti-government Journalist, Politician and Human Rights Activist Lasantha Manilal Wickrematunge was assassinated (8 January 2009). Time has come to pay the rightful homage to a true Sri Lankan who paid his life for being a fearless and a formidable journalist. He said many fearless and heartfelt comments in his last ‘open letter’ anticipating his death in the hands of the state goons.
The time is opportune to fulfil the yearns of Lasantha and he rightly said before his death: ‘I hope my murder will be seen not as a defeat of freedom but an inspiration’. This extraordinary article (reproduced below) was published three days after he was shot dead in Colombo.
The letter is reproduced herein:
No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces – and, in Sri Lanka, journalism. In the course of the last few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print institutions have been burned, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honour to belong to all those categories, and now especially the last.
I have been in the business of journalism a good long time. Indeed, 2009 will be the Sunday Leader’s 15th year. Many things have changed in Sri Lanka during that time, and it does not need me to tell you that the greater part of that change has been for the worse. We find ourselves in the midst of a civil war ruthlessly prosecuted by protagonists whose bloodlust knows no bounds. Terror, whether perpetrated by terrorists or the state, has become the order of the day. Indeed, murder has become the primary tool whereby the state seeks to control the organs of liberty. Today it is the journalists, tomorrow it will be the judges. For neither group have the risks ever been higher or the stakes lower.
Why then do we do it? I often wonder that. After all, I too am a husband, and the father of three wonderful children. I too have responsibilities and obligations that transcend my profession, be it the law or journalism. Is it worth the risk? Many people tell me it is not. Friends tell me to revert to the bar, and goodness knows it offers a better and safer livelihood.
Others, including political leaders on both sides, have at various times sought to induce me to take to politics, going so far as to offer me ministries of my choice. Diplomats, recognising the risk journalists face in Sri Lanka, have offered me safe passage and the right of residence in their countries.
Whatever else I may have been stuck for, I have not been stuck for choice.
But there is a calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre and security. It is the call of conscience.
The Sunday Leader has been a controversial newspaper because we say it like we see it: whether it be a spade, a thief or a murderer, we call it by that name. We do not hide behind euphemism. The investigative articles we print are supported by documentary evidence thanks to the public-spiritedness of citizens who at great risk to themselves pass on this material to us. We have exposed scandal after scandal, and never once in these 15 years has anyone proved us wrong or successfully prosecuted us.
The free media serve as a mirror in which the public can see itself sans mascara and styling gel. From us you learn the state of your nation, and especially its management by the people you elected to give your children a better future. Sometimes the image you see in that mirror is not a pleasant one. But while you may grumble in the privacy of your armchair, the journalists who hold the mirror up to you do so publicly and at great risk to themselves. That is our calling, and we do not shirk it.
The Sunday Leader has never sought safety by unquestioningly articulating the majority view. Let’s face it, that is the way to sell newspapers. On the contrary, as our opinion pieces over the years amply demonstrate, we often voice ideas that many people find distasteful. For instance, we have consistently espoused the view that while separatist terrorism must be eradicated, it is more important to address the root causes of terrorism, and urge government to view Sri Lanka’s ethnic strife in the context of history and not through the telescope of terrorism. We have also agitated against state terrorism in the so-called war against terror, and made no secret of our horror that Sri Lanka is the only country in the world routinely to bomb its own citizens. For these views we have been labelled traitors; and if this be treachery, we wear that label proudly.
Many people suspect that the Sunday Leader has a political agenda: it does not. If we appear more critical of the government than of the opposition, it is only because we believe that – excuse cricketing argot – there is no point in bowling to the fielding side. Remember that for the few years of our existence in which the United National party was in office, we proved to be the biggest thorn in its flesh, exposing excess and corruption wherever it occurred.
Indeed, the stream of embarrassing expositions we published may well have served to precipitate the downfall of that government.
Neither should our distaste for the war be interpreted to mean that we support the Tamil Tigers. The LTTE is among the most ruthless and bloodthirsty organisations to have infested the planet. There is no gainsaying that it must be eradicated. But to do so by violating the rights of Tamil citizens, bombing and shooting mercilessly, is not only wrong but shames the Sinhalese, whose claim to be custodians of the dhamma is for ever called into question by this savagery – much of it unknown to the public because of censorship.
What is more, a military occupation of the country’s north and east will require the Tamil people of those regions to live eternally as second-class citizens, deprived of all self-respect. Do not imagine you can placate them by showering “development” and “reconstruction” on them in the postwar era. The wounds of war will scar them for ever, and you will have an even more bitter and hateful diaspora to contend with. A problem amenable to a political solution will thus become a festering wound that will yield strife for all eternity. If I seem angry and frustrated, it is only because most of my compatriots – and all the government – cannot see this writing so plainly on the wall.
It is well known that I was on two occasions brutally assaulted, while on another my house was sprayed with machine-gun fire. Despite the government’s sanctimonious assurances, there was never a serious police inquiry into the perpetrators of these attacks, and the attackers were never apprehended.
In all these cases, I have reason to believe the attacks were inspired by the government. When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me.
The irony in this is that, unknown to most of the public, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and I have been friends for more than a quarter-century. Indeed, I suspect that I am one of the few people remaining to routinely address him by his first name and use the familiar Sinhala address – oya – when talking to him.
Although I do not attend the meetings he periodically holds for newspaper editors, hardly a month passes when we do not meet, privately or with a few close friends present, late at night at President’s House. There we swap yarns, discuss politics and joke about the good old days. A few remarks to him would therefore be in order here.
Mahinda, when you finally fought your way to the Sri Lanka Freedom party presidential nomination in 2005, nowhere were you welcomed more warmly than in this column. Indeed, we broke with a decade of tradition by referring to you throughout by your first name. So well known were your commitments to human rights and liberal values that we ushered you in like a breath of fresh air.
Then, through an act of folly, you got involved in the Helping Hambantota scandal. It was after a lot of soul-searching that we broke the story, urging you to return the money. By the time you did, several weeks later, a great blow had been struck to your reputation. It is one you are still trying to live down.
You have told me yourself that you were not greedy for the presidency. You did not have to hanker after it: it fell into your lap. You have told me that your sons are your greatest joy, and that you love spending time with them, leaving your brothers to operate the machinery of state. Now, it is clear to all who will see that that machinery has operated so well, my sons and daughter do not have a father.
In the wake of my death I know you will make all the usual sanctimonious noises and call upon the police to hold a swift and thorough inquiry.
But like all the inquiries you have ordered in the past, nothing will come of this one, too. For truth be told, we both know who will be behind my death, but dare not call his name. Not just my life but yours too depends on it.
As for me, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I walked tall and bowed to no man. And I have not travelled this journey alone. Fellow journalists in other branches of the media walked with me: most are now dead, imprisoned without trial or exiled in far-off lands. Others walk in the shadow of death that your presidency has cast on the freedoms for which you once fought so hard. You will never be allowed to forget that my death took place under your watch. As anguished as I know you will be, I also know that you will have no choice but to protect my killers: you will see to it that the guilty one is never convicted. You have no choice.
As for the readers of the Sunday Leader, what can I say but thank you for supporting our mission. We have espoused unpopular causes, stood up for those too feeble to stand up for themselves, locked horns with the high and mighty so swollen with power that they have forgotten their roots, exposed corruption and the waste of your hard-earned tax rupees, and made sure that whatever the propaganda of the day, you were allowed to hear a contrary view. For this I – and my family – have paid the price that I had long known I would one day have to pay. I am, and have always been, ready for that. I have done nothing to prevent this outcome: no security, no precautions. I want my murderer to know that I am not a coward like he is, hiding behind human shields while condemning thousands of innocents to death. What am I among so many? It has long been written that my life would be taken, and by whom. All that remained to be written was when.
That the Sunday Leader will continue fighting the good fight, too, is written. For I did not fight this fight alone. Many more of us have to be – and will be – killed before the Leader is laid to rest. I hope my assassination will be seen not as a defeat of freedom but an inspiration for those who survive to step up their efforts. Indeed, I hope that it will help galvanise forces that will usher in a new era of human liberty in our beloved motherland. I also hope it will open the eyes of your president to the fact that however many are slaughtered in the name of patriotism, the human spirit will endure and flourish.
People often ask me why I take such risks and tell me it is a matter of time before I am bumped off. Of course I know that: it is inevitable. But if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they be ethnic minorities, the disadvantaged or the persecuted. An example that has inspired me throughout my career in journalism has been that of the German theologian, Martin Niemöller. In his youth he was an antisemite and an admirer of Hitler. As nazism took hold of Germany, however, he saw nazism for what it was. It was not just the Jews Hitler sought to extirpate, it was just about anyone with an alternate point of view. Niemöller spoke out, and for his trouble was incarcerated in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1937 to 1945, and very nearly executed. While incarcerated, he wrote a poem that, from the first time I read it in my teenage years, stuck hauntingly in my mind:
First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.
If you remember nothing else, let it be this: the Leader is there for you, be you Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, low-caste, homosexual, dissident or disabled.
Its staff will fight on, unbowed and unafraid, with the courage to which you have become accustomed. Do not take that commitment for granted. Let there be no doubt that whatever sacrifices we journalists make, they are not made for our own glory or enrichment: they are made for you. Whether you deserve their sacrifice is another matter. As for me, God knows I tried.
This is an edited version of an article published in the Sunday Leader editorial column on 11 January. Its author, who co-founded the paper in 1994, was killed three days earlier by unidentified gunmen as he drove to work. He is believed to have written the editorial just days before his death. The full version is at www.thesundayleader.lk