14 August, 2018

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Will Sri Lanka Elect A Moral Leader In 2020?

By Niranjan Canagasooryam

Niranjan Canagasooryam

With the end of the civil war in 2009, the Rajapaksas’ deceitful claim of zero civilian casualties had inadvertently trapped their regime into an irreversible position. This absurd claim meant the inability to acknowledge the losses of a battered society that suffered the brunt of terrorism and faced the horror of the unacceptable death toll of their loved ones during the final stages of the war. It also resulted in the missing of a historic opportunity for a genuine reconciliation. It is estimated around 100,000 civilians died from the inception of the civil war in 1983 (although the uprisings commenced much earlier) with further estimates of up to 60,000 lives brutally lost in the final stages of the war. The majority of the victims were from the minority Tamil ethnicity. The tragic loss of lives of their loved ones is not easy to let go and the Sri Lankan government must address this and deploy an action plan to have a genuine and sincere reconciliation to ensure that this tragedy does not reoccur.

Successive governments have failed to carry out genuine reconciliation. Instead, there was the casual public display of unity among communities by merely showcasing acts such as Independence Day celebrations with children from all communities parading in their unique cultural dresses, religious leaders from all communities seated next to each other and heads of states making great speeches of unity as their commitment towards reconciliation. None of these public displays and speeches has addressed the true grievances of a minority community or resulted in the execution of any reconciliation actions that have had a real impact to the society at large.  

Genuine Reconciliation 

Though true reconciliation and the healing process may take decades, the following could serve as a starting point. 

Acknowledging the Truth – The first step is acknowledgement. The government should utilise the strong roots of democracy to reach out to the marginalised society by acknowledging the tragedy and informing the truth to the victims. This is the only way the people who lost their loved ones will be able to accept and commence the process to move on. GOSL should not shy away from publicly seeking and delivering the truth in fear of extremist and ultra nationalist reactions taking political mileage. Grief cannot, and should not, be suppressed. If GOSL omits this initial step of delivering the truth, it is accepting to its fellow citizens the notion that some lives matter less.

Though it frequently is viewed from this perspective, seeking and delivering the truth is not to be taken as revenge or to bring the perpetrators to justice. It needs to be carefully noted that this process is indeed different. Instead, pardoning by way of granting amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution should be applied. Perpetrators are to be forgiven, provided there is an equal attempt to restore the honour and dignity of the victims and to give effect to repatriations.

Whilst this may seem idealistic, a similar approach was carried out quite successfully in South Africa. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up in 1994 where victims of gross human rights violations by the Apartheid regime were invited to give statements about their experiences, and some selected for public hearings. Perpetrators of violence could also give testimony and request for general amnesty. This was hauled a great success in the healing process and South Africa moving forward. This is unlike the Nuremberg style prosecution of violators where perpetrators were sentenced depending on the level of injustice carried out.

National Apology – The head of state must deliver a national apology representing the country to all citizens, particularly to those who have lost their loved ones. It is not a personal responsibility but a claim of nationalistic sorrow for all the people, your people, who were unfairly affected by this civil war. 

Even though there will be many reasons to feel let down by a national apology, and the lack of action, it is still important to acknowledge the emotion felt by the many survivors who will feel their stories have finally been acknowledged. An apology is not just an admission of guilt, it is also an expression of sorrow. It is not a case of “get over it’, ‘move on’, ‘let it go’ or ‘forgive and forget’. Never underestimate the power of “sorry” – it is an integral part of a healing process.

The national apology delivered by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on 13th February 2008 formally acknowledging the suffering caused by decades of mistreatment of Indigenous Australians was one of the defining moments in modern Australian history. 

Law and order to be strictly enforced – Since Independence, successive governments have failed in enforcing the laws as opposed to the failure of the law itself. Every racial riot that has taken place post-Independence right up to the recent riots in March 2018 in Digana, Kandy, the government either had a complicit hand in promoting the racial riots or did not carry out adequate measures to curtail such riots in a timely manner. Following which, the perpetrators of such inhuman acts were not dealt with severely due to fear of backlash. This is a stark difference between Malaysia and Sri Lanka. Malaysia too experienced racial riots. Take for instance the Sino – Malay sectarian violence that took place on 13th May 1969 where an estimate of 600 deaths took place with the majority of deaths being the minority Chinese. Despite the Malaysian government introducing racially discriminatory laws favouring the Bumiputra or Malays following the racial riots, there was still a strict enforcement of the law where no civilians or their collaterals could be harmed or damaged thus fostering a culture of a safe place to live. Any violation was severely dealt with regardless of their ethnicity. In Sri Lanka, we have consistently lacked the strict enforcement of the law from post-independence to today, where perpetrators of racial riots roam freely.

Repatriation – There should be a process of repatriation where the government should compensate the reasonable needs and wishes of the victims in order to start a new life in their respective areas. Though it is impossible to attach a monetary value to the various degrees of suffering, the government should accept the moral obligation to make reparations to the victims of the civil war. The fact is that without providing for some measure of reparation to the victims, healing and reconciliation will not take place. Ironically, as Christian Tomuschat (1999) remarks, “the beneficiaries of these repatriation claims would have to pay themselves for the monies granted to them since public money is invariably levied from the tax-payer. After a democratic government has been established, the distinction between ‘them’ and ‘us’ does not work anymore. The debts of the State are debts affecting everyone”.

Remembrance Day – It was a significant and bold step by the current Yahapalana government to change May 18th from Victory Day to Remembrance Day. However, this is not publicised due to fear of extremist and ultra-nationalistic elements taking undue political advantage. When the Rajapaksa regime named May 18th as Victory day, it demonstrates a failure in realisation this would create a bigger divide. Celebrating this day, the Rajapaksa regime only fueled the euphoria of ultranationalists. The rightful renaming to Remembrance Day by the current GOSL should further a step and be publicly commemorated as a day of mourning in respect of all the citizens who lost their lives as a result of this tragic civil war on both sides. Losses of large Tamil civilian deaths and the tears born by Army families too should not be forgotten. There can be a national song composed remembering the lives lost in vain in the name of war. Songs have always been a unique and important way of storytelling, and for helping people find empathy for the experiences of others. Never has this been truer than the impact these songs have had on the national consciousness. This will help heal wounds of the victims and also make future generations understand that this should never repeat. 

Constitutional Reforms – The root cause of any uprising or terrorism is as a result of a political failure. Despite ending terrorism in 2009, we cannot ignore the political failures of past governments that caused the uprisings in the first place. It is similar to cutting down a tree without taking removing the roots. There should be constitutional reforms addressing these political failures, grievances and the reasonable demands of a battered society. These reforms should be put forward to the people of this country and gain acceptance by the majority of this country by way of a referendum. Historic experience demonstrates that backdoor deals and pacts have not delivered any fruitful progress.

Post Conflict Aid for Economic Development – The economic policy of the government should aim to be inclusive one where all ethnic groups should be given a stake in the success of the post-war economy. A quick summary of an initiative driven by economics is for the government to establish economic zones in war-torn areas to encourage entrepreneurship by offering financial assistance and land leases to set up focus industries such as in Agriculture, Fishing, Tourism and Technology. The industries this creates will rebuild and revitalize the area and lead to the creation of sustainable livelihoods especially for war-affected citizens.

Conclusion 

After the end of the war in 2009, the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime enjoyed unprecedented popularity and absolute power. The perfect mix to execute a genuine reconciliation process.  Instead, they chose personal victory and short-term popularity due to the greed for power over the long-term interests of the country. 

President Maithripala Sirisena took office in January 2015 with a possible desire to carry out true reconciliation. However, with 3 years in power, he has displayed a lack of moral courage to carry out a genuine reconciliation process as he has become a prisoner to the whips and whims of the ultranationalist and extremist elements.

2020 will mark over a decade after the end of the civil war and will Sri Lankans be able to put their bitter past behind them and elect a leader who has the moral courage and leadership to defeat the forces of ultranationalists by carrying out a genuine reconciliation process in order to leave behind a legacy of a revitalized, united Sri Lanka, or would Sri Lankans continue to lose hope and be faced by yet another leader in charge with a personal agenda?

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Latest comments

  • 8
    0

    Wishful thinking. First of all you need a moral leader as an option to elect, Even so you need moral citizens to make a moral decision. Lanka dosent have any of these possibilities. Since the independence amoral has been normalized to the extent one could claim human loss as”zero casualty” and a tragic war as “humanitarian mission”. Is there one leader who is just decent , leave alone being moral.

    • 0
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      We do have Nagananda Kodituwakku, lest you have forgotten.

  • 7
    1

    A very good thoughtful and a balanced analysis of the needs of a nation that lost its values, principles for almost seven decades with blood, loss of lives, destruction to the economy and loss of peace for every citizen. Our body and mind are now filled with dirt and dust and unless we clean our body and mind there is no future for us. First of all we should think that we all are humans. Throughout our history we have developed some values and practices that lead to families, communities, races, languages, religions etc. We have to preserve those values and practices. When our family member dies we all grief and get together in sharing the grief. When we loose a soldier, it is a lose to the nation. If that soldier is Sinhala, it is the loss to the Nation. If that soldier is Tamil, it is the loss to the nation. It is the same for a Teacher or a Doctor or any citizen. Once you dead, you are not a Sinhala or Tamil. You are a Human.
    The nation need a change in Politics, change in Religion, people need change in our attitude, believes and practices. It is a great challenge! Break the barriers! March together!

    • 1
      7

      Ajith: IF we all are human. See the sinhala side ad how we Sinhala people think. Sinhala youth were killed both by JVP insurrection and LTTE terrorism. Our culture is in shambles, first by Rajaja Like South Indians, then by Europena colonails, now by both the Middle eastern religions, Tamils and muslims. Our people are culturally destroyed. Now they dewstroy both in the North and East the sinhala buddhist civilization. No one is offering any reconciliation to use. Tamils killed for 30 years US. Now they are grieiving the loss of the war. those days all these moderate people were no where to be found. Even to date wigneswaran, Vijayakala M are all asking for LTTE time war sceans. What are you talking ?DO you Think we are dumb, deaf and blind ? Why after 30 years of war, The Tamil population increased. IS it because Tamilnadu is too hostile to Tamils ?

      • 3
        3

        I don’t know where did you get this Sinhala side ad and I don’t know how many Sinhala people agree with that ad. First of all, who is JVP and Who is LTTE. Are they aliens? Who else killed Sinhala youth other than JVP and LTTE? Can you describe your culture that is in shambles? and Why couldn’t you get back your culture within past 70 years? You say Sinhala Buddhist? Do you know Buddhism came from India? If you have a culture before Buddhism what is that and how it is different from Buddhist Culture? You say Tamils killed US (Do you mean United States?)
        Who said you are Dumb? Who said you are blind? Who said you are deaf? Probably Lord Buddha? or Lord Mahinda? Can you guess who is Mahinda?

      • 0
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        you ate worse than deaf and blind

  • 0
    0

    Citizens are only given choices from parties where the candidate are selected by the party. The problem is the party chooses not whos best for the country but who will best serve their own interest. This is where the problem starts as citizen we end up not having a choice of the best but to choose the least worst from the worst!!!

  • 2
    0

    We can certainly find moral leaders, if we look OUTSIDE our current, hacked, corrupt political spectrum. Disregard EVERYONE in the present political field made-up of fossilized, arrogant well-known rogues, who sleep in parliament and look at leaders in the mercantile sector, banking, armed forces, who are plentiful amongst civil society. Do not specifically look for a Sinhala Buddhist, “govi”, but a man or woman, maybe a Hindu, Christian, Muslim, and not necessarily a Sinhala Buddhist

  • 1
    0

    The answer to the question – the heading – depends on what is perceived as moral and just, by the Sri Lankan society.
    If we have/had such a society, we would not be in the present state of immorality and injustice.
    Nations – affluent and moral – are progressing socially, economically and morally, and have become havens for immigrants who have become part of a ‘multicultural society’, to contribute their mite to those nations – while, Lankans are trying to ‘escape’ from their motherland.

  • 1
    1

    Niranjan Kanagasooriyan: got to vishavamadu and talk with them. IF not publish statistics of Tamil from, particularly the North, moving to south. Now, Even Deep south has Tamils. Were Tamils against sinhala people first ? IT is you like LTTE rump who are feeling lost ? what happened you di dnot get the desired homeland where you now naturalized ?

  • 2
    1

    All these LTTE rump people lived their whole life in the West. They never came to do any charity work in Sri lanka. They are only asking. give us more. On the other hand, whart civilains asking were give us schools, roads, employment; now they are asking give us good houses, cars, money.and ask so-called high caste Tamils to stay away from us. Even Sambanthan knows it.

  • 1
    1

    YOu di dnit propose that who should be proposed as the moral leader because none of the politicians are worth while as leders with a conscience, integrety or desire to accomplish.

    • 3
      1

      Jim da Dimwit:
      Too bad Sinhala Buddhists moral leader is a jail bird now otherwise you could have proposed the name.

      • 1
        3

        Burt: Your kind of Tamils may scream, but your kind won’t be king makers in the north.

        • 0
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          Jim da Dimwit:
          What kind is that?
          We don’t want to be king makers or kings, being equal without discrimination is just fine.

  • 2
    1

    Of the lot Karu J is the best. Yes, he is a bit old but younger to the age at which JR won. Absolutely clean. No bond scam baggage. Has committed himself to January 08 ideals. No one can accuse him of selling country to anyone. Can get Sinahala Buddhist as well as minority votes. Not the ideal but far ahead of the others. I root for him.

  • 0
    0

    Contesting an election has become very expensive. Those contesting invest money hoping to harvest more – the investment comes from vaults of ‘immoral wealth. Some regimes tolerate those who talk morals, some actively persecute.
    Morality have ceased to be part of politics and this is the trend all over the world. For example Boris Johnson has redefined ‘Hate Speech’. His ambition is to become the next British PM.
    It is unfortunate that we are in a stage where Niranjan Canagasooryam ideals are ‘chicken feed’.

  • 1
    1

    UNP Canagasooryam could not write one sentence blaming Ranil for protecting Old Royals in every aspect. He just patted on the back pretending spanking on the butt of Old Royals & New Royals.
    UNP Canagasooryam could not write one sentence about the UNHRC and the resolution pending implementation. Canagasooryam has to know resolution is based on established for principles. South African TRC was majority which was about to take over the power, not to seek revenge after the power minority and bring the back to standstill. Mandela wanted country’s (white owned) economy protected. That is not for Lankawe. Tamils did not do the crime and are not controlling the economy.
    UNP Canagasooryam could not write one sentence about the real numbers of death. Even the Old Brother Prince who has now accepted that there were deaths and it is not Zero Casualty. So now, he is taking on that. Even the UN international inquiry and eventual OISL reports has put the death number beyond 100,000 (much above 60,000). The famous estimate is from and anti-Tiger Priest that is 156,000.
    UNP Canagasooryam could not write one sentence the 150,000 army stationed in North. He is only talking about economic looting of the Rapist Army.
    UNP Canagasooryam could not write one sentence about the cost of Hangbangtota, Colombo Pong Cing, CB Looting, $18b deposit to Tamils, who were stolen even Thalikoddies, but struggling explain the repatriation cost.
    UNP Canagasooryam could not write one sentence to tell Ranil working with Old King in spreading “You want one country or Two Country” in the LG election. But only talking about getting referendum passed.
    Balanced judgement is not when a thief has stolen $100 from victim, then telling the victim to share the money 50:50 with the thief.

  • 2
    0

    First Rajapaksa did not say zero civilian casualty happened. He said the government followed a policy of zero casualty. There is a difference in it. And we have records from anti SL sections which prove SL government did take action to minimize the damage to civilians.
    And I dont think any Sri Lankan government should apologize for crimes done by LTTE like holding a human shield and putting people across harm’s way.

  • 2
    0

    Successive governments have failed to carry out genuine reconciliation
    I would like to ask what Tamils actually expect the Sri Lankan government to do for ‘genuine’ reconciliation? After the MR administration destroyed L TTE terrorism, MR did take every possible action to make lives better for the Tamils. Sri Lankan government cleared the mined areas and finished most of the demining with astonishing speed. This is when UN has been unable to do the job in other conflict areas like Cambodia. MR resettled people in North within record time. It is not easy to demine a former war zone and resettle people there, build infrastructure and bring that place to such a level where humans can settle again and live life. MR released 13000 former LTTE cadres after giving them vocational training and a limited jail term . I wonder whether similar examples can be provided from elsewhere. MR government sent the child soldiers back to school. They were given education at government expense. Have any one heard of a similar example in other part s of the world?
    Rajapaksa government let the LTTE proxy, TNA to continue in politics knowing very well they are a threat to Sri Lanka. The reason was whatever the apprehensions we had about T NA, it still represents a larger section of the Tamil people.
    Rajapaksa government held the first ever elections in NPC and it was thanks to Rajapaksa there is a functioning provincial council in North? Is not this a huge contribution he did for reconciliation? Why is not this acknowledged?

  • 1
    0

    The fact is that ever since The Great Liberator did his victory celebration tour, his government, and this government, only paid lip service to reconciliation. The lead for what little reconciliation has taken place has come from individuals and other organisations. The truth is that none of our Sinhalese politicians will risk their credentials in being seen to be soft with our Tamil community.

  • 0
    2

    The Australian PM didn’t apologize to any group of terrorist or to backers of terrorism. Have you heard Trump apologizing to people of Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan,
    There was reason for Australian PM’s to make an apology. Aboriginal persons were routinely killed legally during a series of campaigns now known as Australian frontier wars. In 1928 in Northern Territory, Australia, occurred the officially sanctioned massacre of Indigenous Australians.
    Also if MR won the war for the Tamils he would be like a rock-star for Tamil people around the world. Unfortunately MR is sinhaleese

  • 1
    0

    If the choice availed for the voter is to elect anyone among the amoral kleptocrats then what choice are we talking about. It is a Hobson’s choice. I can safely say that if what is expected is as per the article, someone will come forward to promise it and then provide an excuse not to do it. So the voter is taken for a ride. The real question therefore is if democracy is to prevail in this country must the expectation of the voter be lowered to satisfy the bunch of the available politicians?

  • 0
    0

    Most of the elite people in Sri Lanka are not practicing ethical governance in their conduct of business or any other actions involving assets/finance etc. This is very evident, as the tax consultants and financial advisors make merry out of the situation as none declares their income to the government and doctors are the NO.1 culprits to earn black money. When it comes to revenue taxes or import duties they don’t practice what they preach. Majority of the politicians got the bad taste of bribes by this bunch of people who parade with the politicians to win a lucrative deal at any cost disregarding national interests of the country. Therefore the point of electing a Moral Leader ever as the President of Sri Lanka is a million dollar question. In Sri Lanka majority of the politicians are having very low morale who give scant respect for rule of law. Therefore one to become a political leader in Sri Lanka, he or she should possess low morale. To put it in a nutshell ‘ALL ARE CORRUPTED TO THE CORE’, then who will bell the cat.

  • 0
    0

    Even moral people become immoral and racist when they know they are closer to power. .
    Boris Johnson is a good example. He wrote that Burka should not be banned in the UK and at the same time he made mockery of Muslim women wearing Burka, stating that they look like letter box and bank robbers.
    So he was appealing to Alt right white and alt left Muslim/immigrants
    very clever but immoral ploy as he knows he is closer to becoming the next conservative party leader and Prime Minister

  • 1
    1

    Sri Lanka should always elect a leader that is hostile towards the minorities. The day the minorities learn to behave themselves and learn to respect the majority we can elect a leader that is fair to everyone.

    I am not essentially referring to the Tamils here. They do try their Tamil Nadu tactics once in a while. But having thrashed them into oblivion at the war front they are somewhat subdued. It’s the Arab camel humpers we need to control.

  • 1
    0

    Rtd. Lt. Reginald Shamal Perera “Sri Lanka should always elect a leader that is hostile towards the minorities.”

    Your own admission that Sinhala leaders are animals.

    • 0
      1

      Rajash,

      You have no knowledge of leadership. You have always been a minority. You people have not had a country to call your own. Your knowledge of nationhood is ZERO. Nada.

      • 0
        0

        you think Sinhala people have a country to call your own?
        which one is that?

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