By Brian Senewiratne –
The election was called by Rajapaksa two years before it was due because of a slide in his popularity as judged from the recent Provincial Council Elections. It is important to know that he had two more years as President when he called the election. The importance is that he has claimed, with some strange reasoning, that even if he loses, he will continue as President for two more years (if he wins, the two years will be added to the 6-year term – making it 8 years).
With the Opposition in disarray and unable to find a credible candidate, Rajapaksa was so sure of victory that he even said that he would be the only candidate. He failed to see that the possible candidate was Maithripala Sirisena, his own Health Minister and General Secretary of his party (the Sri Lanka Freedom Party – SLFP).
With no warning, on 21 November 2014, Sirisena said that he would be the “Common Opposition Candidate’ to contest Rajapaksa. He blasted the Rajapaksa regime:
“The entire socioeconomic and political systems of this country have been taken over by one family. They have ruined this country that is now engulfed in corruption and blatant abuse of power. It is against this that I am coming forward as the common candidate of the opposition”.
Holding the President responsible, he said, “thuggery, embezzlement, crime, drug mafia, nepotism and corruption have institutionalized under the Executive Presidency but alas President Rajapaksa or his government has done little to arrest this horrible and dangerous situation”.
Going on to say what he would do, if elected, he went on:
“I will abolish the Executive Presidency in 100 days after being elected as the President. I will restore the rule of law by reactivating the 17th Amendment to the Constitution and make the Police, Elections, Public Service and the Judicial Service Commissions fully independent. The President will be made answerable to the legislature and create a people’s government that enjoy real peace, prosperity and happiness”.
Unfortunately he did not say what he will do about the serious problems facing the Tamil people in the North and East who are under military rule, the absolute need to demilitarise the Tamil area or allow internationally credible human rights organisations into the country.
He was well aware of the risks. Referring to the Rajapaksa junta he said, “They will do everything possible to tarnish my image and will even go to the extent of murder”.
I would rather not print the words used by Rajapaksa when Sirisena went to hand in his resignation as Health Minister. Security staff advised Sirisena to leave while he was still in a position to do so. It was sound advice given what happened to ‘Loku Athula’, a senior SLFP politician, who had decided to back Sirisena. I will describe this outrage later.
The support Sirisena had was overwhelming and cut across political and party divisions and has continued to grow.
The election is more than an attempt at a regime change. It is an attempt to dismantle the Rajapaksa Family autocracy and replace it with something that is more acceptable. It is, by far, one of the most important elections in recent times in Sri Lanka which could have far reaching consequences for the country.
Being a contest between two Sinhalese politicians to elect what in effect is a Sinhalese President, there has been some speculation whether this is of any consequence to the Tamil people in the North and East – the suggestion being that they should boycott the election as they did in 2005. However, the feeling today is very different. Many Tamils in the North and East want to vote. The question is whether they will be able to do so in an area which is an Army-run military state.
With no credible election monitors and with plans afoot to commit extensive vote rigging, including violence to prevent people from voting, the validity of the result will be doubtful, especially if Rajapaksa wins. On 29 December 2014, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon telephoned the Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister and conveyed his “strong expectation” that the Government of Sri Lanka will ensure “the peaceful and credible conduct” of its upcoming Presidential election. Ban Ki-moon would have restored his vanishing credibility had he said that the UN was sending election monitors to see that the results were credible.
Some crucially important points
- President Mahinda Rajapaksa, his brothers and scores of his family have run (or, as Sirisena put it, “ruined”) Sri Lanka. Some 70% of Government expenditure is in the hands of this family. It has become a ‘family business’. If Rajapaksa goes, so will they.
- Gotabaya Rajapaksa, President Rajapaksa’a brother, an American citizen, is one of the most powerful people, if not the most powerful person in Sri Lanka.
Supposedly the ‘Defence Secretary’, in reality he is the de facto President of Sri Lanka, his brother only being the de jure President.
He is also one of the most violent people Sri Lanka has ever produced. He could call the senior editor of a major newspaper a “f…..g pig who eats shit! Shit! Shit!” and get away with it.
A former Army Officer, he has absolute control of the Armed Forces and Police. He is more than capable of launching a military coup to take over the country.
- Sri Lanka’s politically active Buddhist monks, the curse of Sri Lanka for more than half a century, are as bigoted as they come. They will oppose any degree of power-sharing, however minimal, with the Tamils. For these Sinhala-Buddhist ethnoreligious bigots, Sri Lanka is a Sinhala-Buddhist nation. Neither Rajapaksa nor Sirisena will be prepared to challenge their bigotry and send them back to their temples to preach one of the great religions in the world, Buddhism, and not get into ethnoreligious chauvinism and violence.
If Sirisena has to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with one of these chauvinist groups, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), which he has done to get their support to get elected as President (as Prime Minister S.W. R. D. Bandaranaike did in 1956 and was later assassinated by one of them), one wonders how he can do anything to address the ‘National Problem’ facing the Tamils.
A rundown of the candidates
A rundown is necessary to remind the Sinhalese people of the regime that they are under. The Tamils do not need to be reminded – it is a daily fact of life.
Since his election he has launched what was clearly a genocidal war against the Tamil people. Claiming that this was to ‘defeat Tamil Tiger terrorism’ it was much more than that. It was to crush the Tamil people into accepting Sri Lanka as a Sinhala-Buddhist nation.
He has continued to destroy the Tamil people in what is best described as ‘slow genocide’. The Tamil people in the North and East have been handed over to the Sri Lankan (Sinhalese) Armed Forces who can do what they want with no accountability. It is one of the most brutal armies in the world that treats the area they run as ‘occupied territory’ and the people in it (Tamils and Muslims) as the ‘spoils of war’.
The Tamil people have lost their lands in land-grabs by the Armed Forces, and they have been prevented from earning a living (agriculture, fishing and commercial activity – all of which have been taken over by the Armed Forces or handed over to Sinhalese brought from the South).
Torture, sexual violence, detention without charge or trial at undisclosed locations, and involuntary disappearances are daily occurrences for the Tamils in the North and East.
Militarisation is at an unprecedented and completely unacceptable level with one member of the military for every five (Tamil) civilians.
Sinhalese people are being relocated in the Tamil North and East by the Rajapaksa regime in a determined effort to change the demography and make the Tamils a minority even in the area where they are a majority. This ‘Sinhalisation’ might well not be reversible whoever takes over as President now or ever.
Buddhism is being forced down the throats of the Tamils who are Hindu or Christian in what has been called ‘Buddhistisation’.
Tamil children are being taught by Sinhalese (many of them soldiers) who have no expertise in teaching or even of the language (Tamil).
The Tamil people have suffered immensely under Rajapaksa’s regime. The question of the Tamil people in the North and East voting for him simply does not arise. The only exceptions are those who support Tamil thugs whose leaders are in Rajapaksa’s government.
The international investigation into human rights abuse, currently being conducted by a team appointed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has been obstructed in every possible way by Rajapaksa and his cronies. It is likely to come down hard on the Rajapaksa regime when their Report is submitted in March 2015.
In addition to gross violation of human rights and crimes against humanity, Rajapaksa has tampered with the Constitution to suit his own political interests and hunger for power. This will affect all the ethnic groups in the country.
His decision to scrap a two-term limit for Presidents via the 18th Amendment has been criticized across the board, for ignoring democratic conventions. The Amendment reeks of authoritarianism, typical of Rajapaksa. Under it, the President has the power to appoint the Chairman and members of the Election Commission, Public Service Commission, National Police Commission, Human Rights Commission, Permanent Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption, Finance Commission, Delimitation Commission, Chief Justice and Judges of the Supreme Court, the President and Judges of the Court of Appeal, Members of the Judicial Service Commission, Attorney General, Auditor General, Ombudsman and Secretary General of Parliament. There is no doubt whatsoever that Rajapaksa has used this to ensure that his loyalists are appointed to these powerful constitutional posts to profligate his writ unabatedly. The United Nations Human Rights Council has already criticized this amendment as being violative of the human rights of the citizens of Sri Lanka.
Since the announcement of the election which will take place on 8 January 2015, there has been no space for any voice of dissent, as Rajapaksa is abusing the state machinery to conduct arbitrary surveillance, detention, and much more, of his detractors. The democratic fabric of Sri Lanka is under serious stress, with authoritarianism having crept into governance as well. The state apparatus is subservient to the Rajapaksa family, rather than the people of the country. the Police and Armed Forces are openly putting up placards praising Rajapaksa. What they will do on election day is obvious.
Rajapaksa heads one of the biggest governments in the world, with more than 100 ministers and deputy ministers in office. It is a vast network of patronage and control. Politicians only thrive if they are inside this ‘ruling club’. The real government is much smaller, concentrated around the three Rajapaksa brothers, who manage nearly 70% of the state budget. Only one family has captured the country’s economy, administration as well as the management of the ruling Political party.
The President’s brother, Gotabaya, presides over the powerful Defence ministry. Another brother, Basil, is effectively in charge of the Economy, as Minister for economic development. Just to round things off, elder brother Chamal is the parliamentary speaker, while Mahinda’s son is a wheeler and dealer member in many matters.
It is through this network that the Rajapaksa family has been exercising improper influences by carrying out inducements, pressures, threats or interference in the working of the legislature, judiciary and the executive. With the electoral process underway, Rajapaksa and his coteries have diverted their might to preparations for large scale rigging.
Cronies of Rajapaksa control the major businesses of the country. An election needs funding, and this one, needs more of it, for rigging and malpractices! This money is readily found by members of the family and their cronies who have robbed Sri Lanka since Rajapaksa came into power. Money is not a problem – as we will see.
Media censorship is so tight that even the Sinhalese (72% of the country) do not know what is going on in the country. What they do know is that the cost of living has soared due to maladministration, stealing by Rajapaksa cronies and his family, the ‘need’ to maintain a massive Army of some 300,000 – the highest per capita of the civilian population in the world. This is claimed to be for the protection of the country. in reality it is for protection of the regime.
Law and order have collapsed and been replaced by the rule of the armed thug and hooligans.
Bribery and corruption are rampant at all levels from the very top to the bottom – adding to the cost of living since it is not possible to get anything done without a bribe.
Democracy has been replaced by a Totalitarian regime under one family – the Rajapaksas.
There is an atmosphere of fear in the Sinhalese South, as there is to a much greater degree in the Tamil North and East.
It is difficult to see why the Sinhalese would want to vote for more of the same.
Rajapaksa boasts that he has brought peace, security and prosperity’ to the country with the ‘defeat of Tamil ‘terrorism’. Yet he has refused to allow internationally credible human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to enter the country. The reason is that State terrorism today is far worse than any terrorism that existed earlier.
A relatively unknown entity even in Sri Lanka, Sirisena has been in the Cabinet and has been the General Secretary of the SLFP (the party to which Rajapaksa and his predecessor, Chandrika Kumaratunga belong) since 2001.
To give credit where credit is due, he had the courage to come forward as the common Opposition candidate to contest Rajapaksa. He has taken the not inconsiderable risk of being murdered – a risk he acknowledged.
His account of Rajapaksa’s poor governance was accurate but he was a member of this regime, and a senior one at that, for much of this time. His excuse was that he was too afraid to speak.
Of more serious concern is that he said nothing about the major problems faced by the Tamil people in the North and East. Perhaps he was too afraid to address this critical issue for fear of losing Sinhalese-Buddhist votes. If so, it is difficult to see how as President he will address the major problems faced by the Tamils.
Sirisena’s main agenda seems to be that he will get rid of the Executive Presidency ‘within 100 days’ of being elected as President. There is no doubt that this will be a welcome step towards democracy but the question is whether that it will be sufficient. It must be remembered that Hitler rose to power in a functioning democracy in Germany. Hitler simply manipulated the existing laws to suit his intention to be a dictator.
Simply getting rid of the Executive Presidency and returning power to Parliament is insufficient. There is much more that needs to be done such as the separation of powers which is the corner stone of democracy.
There was not a word about demilitarisation of the North and East – an essential step in addressing the enormous problems faced by the Tamil people in that area. As such, the change to a Sirsena government might be of no benefit to the Tamils.
Sirisena’s closeness to the most extreme ethnoreligius chauvinists, the political party of Buddhist monks – the Jathika Hela Urumaya – is of serious concern. He has just signed a Memorandum of Understanding with them. If it is necessary for him to get into bed with a rabid anti-Tamil party of Sinhala-Buddhist extremists, it is difficult to see how he can deliver peace with justice to the Tamil people.
History might well repeat itself since this is exactly what S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike (from Rajapksa’s party) did in 1956 – to ride to power on the backs of politically- active Buddhist monks and found that he had to get into serious discrimination against the Tamils. When he tried to water this down (minimally), he was assassinated by one of them. Today, the Buddhist monks are far more violent that they have ever been. Sirisena will have to be firm – something that is unlikely to happen. If it does, his survival will be in doubt.
Sirisena has clearly stated that he will not allow an international investigation into war crimes or allow those found guilty to face justice. That will make him an accomplice to war crimes.
What is the choice facing Sri Lankan on 8 January 2015?
The choice is to vote for more of the same or for a (possible) change.
The options facing the Tamil people in the North and East are set out in some detail below. To summarise it here, they have the choice of voting for more of the same which they will not do, or for voting for Sirisena. The question is whether they will be able to get to the polls with a murderous Army watching every step. For the Tamils to abstain from voting (as they did in the 2005 Presidential election) is to vote for Rajapaksa, a mistake they will not make this time.
The Sinhalese have a choice. They can vote for Rajapaksa and a continuation of a Totalitarian state which is absolutely corrupt, where there is no law and order; a regime characterised by a lack of governance, nepotism, police and army brutality which was unleashed on the Tamil people but is now being unleashed on them; where the media are muzzled and the dissenting voice silenced; a sky-rocketing cost of living because their money is being stolen by their rulers and their relatives and the usual problems of living in a Totalitarian state.
They can vote for a change – hopefully a change for the better since it cannot be a change for the worse.
There will, without doubt, be escalating violence both in the Tamil North and East organised by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces and Rajapaksa’s violent supporters; in the South by goon-squads supported by the Government.
The violence will include assault and even murder as was seen recently in the President’s home.
The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) says that more than 300 cases of violations of law have been reported thus far. In most of these cases pro-government armed goon-squads have been involved. This violence will escalate as more defections from Rajapaksa’s camp cement the defeat of President Rajapaksa.
The mildest violence, but a serious one, was on 26 December 2014, in Beruwela, a suburb near Colombo. After an election rally in favour of Sirisena, the former President, Chandrika Kumaratunga and Western Province Councillor Ms Premchandra visited Western Provincial Councillor Jemine Marika Mohamed’s house for dinner. Goon squads attacked the house damaging Kumaratunga’s vehicle and injuring an Opposition Urban Councillore Mansoor Dalhan. Dalhan was taken to the Beruwela base hospital but refused admission. The outpatient doctor in a report sent to the CMEV stated that police had instructed her not to admit any casualties to the hospital.
The violence unleashed by the goons was so serious that the Police and Securiy staff had to run for cover.
A much more serious event involving the President himself occurred on 29 November 2014 – the death of ‘Loku Athula’.
The ‘Loku Athula’ death (29 November 2014)
‘Loku Athula’ (Nimalasiri Jayasinghe) is a former deputy Minister in Rajapaksa’s government and the current SLFP organiser in a rural area (Gampaha). He was once the leader of the JVP insurrection in 1971, and then joined the SLFP to further his political career.
After he had had revealed to his close party associates that he was going to support Sirisena , he was summoned to ‘Temple Trees’ (the residence of President Rajapaksa) on the night of 29 November 2014 to hold discussions with a view to influencing him to change his mind.
In compliance with the request he visited the ‘Temple Trees’ at 7.30pm and had discussions with a high profile team comprising Mahinda Rajapaksa , Basil Rajapaksa, Dallas Alahaperuma, Susil Premajayantha and Anura Priyadharshana Yapa.
This went on till about 9.00 p.m. At the end of the discussion, Mahinda Rajapaksa had called Loku Athula into a room to have ‘further discussions’. What happened thereafter is known only to the two of them. What is known is that screams were heard, the ‘resident’ ambulance at the Temple Trees was brought and Loku Athula was taken to hospital. When he arrived there he was dead.
Evidence has leaked out that when Loku Athula was being taken into the ambulance he was dead. .
In such circumstances, a post-mortem should be conducted compulsorily to ascertain the cause of the death, and an open magisterial verdict delivered after the inquest. Yet , this procedure had not been followed. What is worse, all moves are being made to suppress this incident which has serious evidence of homicide committed within ‘Temple Trees’.
How did Athula who was hale and hearty suddenly die? Was he murdered ? Did he die due to a fatal fall when he was being assaulted by somebody? What were the screams all about? Why was a post-mortem and inquest not done? These are questions that the last person to see Loku Athula alive, President Rajapaksa, will have to answer.
The current voting trends
The current figures released by an independent agency is that support for Rajapaksa was 15%, for Sirisena 85%. However, this can change dramatically due to violence, vote buying or plain election fraud.
The fall-back position
If things turn bad for Rajapaksa, his brother Gotabaya, can launch a coup ‘to restore law and order’. To create disorder there is some information that plans are afoot to detonate two massive explosives in Colombo two days before the Election. There will then be ‘disorder’ and the ‘need’ for a military take-over.
If the worst comes to the worst and Sirisena wins, arrangements are in place to get the Rajapaksas, families and cronies flown out of Sri Lanka.
Based on informed sources in Diplomatic circles, if the Rajapakse regime is unable to use the Sri Lankan planes (which impediment might occur), the regime has already made arrangements with two Indian Charter plane companies to get down planes , for which the regime has paid in full.
One of these companies is ‘Air Charters India’ while the name of the other company is still not definitely known. ‘Air Charters India’ had said that it must be notified at least 12 hours ahead if it is to send a plane to Katunayake or Mattala airport . In any case, payments have been made in full to two Indian charter companies so that if one company fails to comply with the request urgently, the other company can be relied on as a stand by.
The Rajapaksa family has already sold a huge amount of gold it has robbed from the country, to a Japanese millionaire Keiji Matsumura. Matsumara represents a Japanese Company , Japuga Holdings Private Ltd, that has bought the gold. I do know the amount of gold that was sold but it is so large that I have opted not to state the exact figure until it has been checked.
This gold has been illegally shipped via 16 containers loaded at the Colombo Port . A very senior official in the Port had seen to it that has been shipped without it being recorded in any of the registers. The cash amount realized by the Rajapaksa family is US $ 38,000 per kilogram. I am told that the total amount collected by the sale is US $13,300 million. This transaction had taken place with the knowledge of HSBC bank.
Sirisena, if he wins the election, might like to look into this. On the other hand, he might think it wiser not to do so. However to look into the death of ‘Loku Athula’ is mandatory.
The Tamil people in the North and East and the Elections
As has been mentioned, there was some speculation as to whether the Tamils in the North and East should simply boycott the Elections as they did in 2005 – with disastrous consequences – this being the election of Mahinda Rajapaksa as President. This time it is going to be different, very different. They have suffered so much under the Rajapaksa junta that there is no way they will vote for him or abstain from voting.
The problem facing the Tamil people is that they have no leaders -.at least not in Parliament. They do have leaders – the most noteworthy being Rt Rev Bishop Dr Rayappu Joseph of Mannar, former Justice Wigneswaran, Head of the Northern Provincial Council and Tamil Civil Society, an outstanding group of academics and professionals in Jaffna.
Their ‘elected representatives’ – the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) are a joke. After weeks of silence, the TNA has just woken up and said that the Tamil people should vote for Sirisena. I think the Tamil people had realised this some tome ago while the TNA was asleep..
Sirisena might not be in a position to address any of the major problems faced by the Tamils especially because of his close relations with rabid Buddhist monks.
What the Tamils cannot do is to elect a Sinhalese President, be it Rajapaksa or Sirisena, sit back and hope that their significant problems will be addressed. They should know from long experience spanning more than half a century,that this will not be done.
The Tamil people must draw up a political program to fulfil their aspirations and mobilise themselves around such a program with the leaders I have just mentioned. The priority in this program is to pressure for the right of self-determination to ascertain what the Tamil people in the North and East want.
They must insist on the immediate admission of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch into the country in general, the Tamil North and East in particular. It is a reasonable request that the world must support. Amazingly, this crucial action has not even been mentioned, let alone pursued.
A possible result
All that has been written might come to naught, if Rajapaksa sweeps to victory using fair means or foul and starts his eight year term, possibly to recontest in eight years for another six years, buys back the gold, and locks up Sirisena for life. Nothing is impossible in Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka. This has been documented for a long time. It might not be about to change. It will then be for the majority Sinhalese to deal with the problem.
They can take heart from history. No dictator has lasted for ever. Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin – they have all come and gone. Rajapaksa is unlikely to be the exception. The only question is how much damage he will do to the country and its people before he goes.