Monthly Archives: February 2008
Democracy without elections is like a cat in hell. Both have the same chances of survival. Therefore, it is said, some election is always better than no election at all. Elections may not be one hundred per cent free and fair in some situations but they must be held on schedule lest dictatorial tendencies of the powers that be raise their ugly head. Franchise, as we argued the other day, must be exercised regularly like the human body to ward off disuse atrophy.
It is thanks to elections that this country remains a functional democracy. Elections have been marred by violence and rigging in the past but they have helped keep democracy alive. In a country embroiled in a protracted conflict with the military having come to dwarf democratic institutions, elections are needed more than anywhere else, if disasters are to be avoided. Similarly, elections are the best antidote to terrorism.
The UNP deserves plaudits for having conducted elections in the late 1980s amidst JVP violence aimed at sabotaging them and destroying democracy. Those elections were not free and fair but the fact that they were held stood the country in good stead. If the UNP had not replaced a general election with a referendum in 1982, perhaps the JVP’s second uprising would not have occurred, as a change of guard or a reduced majority for the UNP government at an election would have obviated the factors such as arrogance of power and suppression of dissent that fuelled public consternation which the JVP capitalised on to take up arms on the pretext of opposing the Indo-Lanka Accord etc. Ironically, today, we have the UNP boycotting the eastern polls.
No true democrat will ever oppose elections under any circumstances. We are intrigued by the reports that a collective of NGOs has called for the cancellation of the local government polls in Batticaloa scheduled for March 10. We wouldn’t have been surprised if that call had come from Pillaiyan or any other terrorist averse to democracy. Those civil organisations have demanded that the government disarm the armed groups in the area, prevent fuelling of ethnic tension, improve freedom of movement, allow Batticaloa IDPs to be registered as voters and reappoint the Constitutional Council. We can’t but endorse these demands, which must be met by the government. But, should elections wait till all these conditions are satisfied?
This is not the first election to be held in the Eastern Province since the inception of the conflict. Presidential and general elections were held in the East under far worse conditions at a time when the LTTE was active there. Why didn’t any civil society organisations object to those elections? We have also had elections in the North including some of the so-called LTTE-held areas. And several MPs have been returned on the basis of the outcome of past elections marred by large scale rigging and violence in those parts of the country. There are 22 TNA representatives in Parliament. But for the LTTE which used unbridled terror and rigging in their favour, their election wouldn’t have been possible. And today, they are speaking for the Tamil people! Anyway, we have no alternative but to go on the basis that some MPs are better than no MPs at all!
Displacement of voters is, no doubt, a big problem. But, this is not the only election where the people have been deprived of their voting rights. Tens of thousands of Muslims, Sinhalese and anti-terror Tamils were chased from the North by the LTTE but elections have taken place there several times. Parliament has passed many laws with the participation of MPs elected from those areas. Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers whose hard earned money keeps the economy ticking have been denied their right to vote. So, if the displacement of voters or denial of voting rights to some people is a reason for cancelling an election, then no electoral exercise is possible in this country.
The NGO collective concerned wants armed groups stripped of their weapons. One couldn’t agree with them more! Only the security forces and the police must be allowed to carry arms. What about the North? Why didn’t those outfits make that demand prior to elections in the North and the East when the LTTE was in a position rig them? And why is it that they don’t demand that the government disarm all the armed groups including the LTTE? Do they believe the Wanni Tigers are more equal than the Eastern Tigers? And how do they think elections should be conducted in the North in the future? Will they urge the government to seize the weapons of the LTTE before holding polls?
Worthy members of the civil society may learn from their donors the importance of elections. The US-led forces went to the extent of invading Afghanistan and Iraq to rekindle democracy in those countries through elections. The elections they held were far from free and fair but the fact remains that they served a useful purpose as the people were empowered and entrusted with the running of their own affairs to some extent. The situation in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka is not as bad as that in either Afghanistan or Iraq, is it?
A prerequisite for demilitarising the Eastern Province is the strengthening of democratic institutions at the grassroots level through elections. There are, of course, problems, as the NGOs have pointed out. The Pillaiyan Group is running riot and the LTTE is resorting to the Montessori level terrorism or hit and run tactics. There are complaints of IDPs not being registered as voters. But, if we are to wait till normalcy returns to have elections in the East, we will have to wait till kingdom come.
The eastern democracy is like a patient recuperating from a major operation. It must be made to be on its feet however painful that exercise may be. That needs to be done for the sake of its well-being. Let other matters like Pillaiyan’s violence, the reappointment of the Constitutional Council etc., be dealt with separately. First things first!
A UNP delegation comprising its Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, Chairman Rukman Senanayake and Choksy M.P. met the President at Temple Trees on (26 Feb) on an invitation extended to them by the President.
At the meeting which was cordial, Wickremesinghe explained that the UNP which introduced the 13th amendment was committed to its full implementation. As it is law already there should be no obstacles in its implementation.
Rajapakse agreed to look into the establishment of the much controversial and much delayed Constitutional Council due to Govt. lethargy, when Wickremesinghe raised this issue and underscored the need for good governance.
Story published by: Eraj Daluwatte at firstname.lastname@example.org
* No indiscriminate bombing by SLAF – Lord Neasby
* Tamils want independence – Gajendran P
by Sujeeva Nivunhella in London
Lord Malloch Brown warned the Tamils in London not to take Kosovo as a precedent in a bid to claim independence.
He said Kosovo was a unique case and a number of European and Asian countries are concerned about it.
In a lighter vein Lord Brown said the British Government was also worried that Scotland might claim Independence.
Addressing a group of Tamils, from the British Tamil Forum, in Room 4, of the committee corridor in the House of Lords on 25th February, Lord Brown said that the British Government could not push the Commonwealth to impose sanctions against Sri Lanka since the Sri Lankan Government had not committed any offence like Pakistan.
However, the British Government could push Norway and the European countries to have a dialogue with Sri Lanka to go for a negotiated settlement, he said.
He said they could support the efforts of Louis Arbour, Radhika Kumaraswamy and John Holmes to address the human rights issues.
He said that former Prime Minister Tony Blair had taken President Mahinda Rajapakse to Northern Ireland to show him how he could help Sri Lanka achieve a political solution, but the Sri Lankan Government had placed more emphasis on its war effort than on the peace process.
Lord Brown said that Norwegian Government’s influence had failed to take the desired impact because of the change of government.
He said it was in order for the Tamils in Britain to ask the British Government to pressure the Sri Lanka Government to stop bombing in the North but the LTTE should also stop terrorist attacks in the South. He was referring to the bus bombing in Mount Lavinia the day before.
He said the Tamil Diaspora should not fund the LTTE. Speaking at the meeting Lord Neasby said he had been to Sri Lanka recently and he could not see any indiscriminate bombing in the North. However, in a war it is difficult to avoid civilians being killed, he said. He said that there was no point enforcing economic sanctions against Sri Lanka since it was not going to work.
Lord Neasby also said that the Sri Lanka government put forward the All Party Representative Committee proposals for the problem and neighbouring India too was also supportive of them.He said the British Tamil Forum did not represent all Tamils.
The other MPs like Simon Hughes, Barry Gardiner, Jeromy Corbyn, David Burrows, Susan Kramer and Edward Davy also spoke. Most of them were of the view that the Sri Lanka Government should be questioned about the human rights violations and the International Community should bring pressure to bear on the Sri Lankan government. Andy Love, MP, was present but did not speak. The notable absentee was Keith Vass MP.
Before the discussion started a member of the British Tamil Forum presented a slide show titled "Concerns and Moving Forward". There he tried to portray the Sri Lanka Government indiscriminately bombing and that the Kosovo example should be taken and Tamils be given independence.
TNA MP Gajan Ponnambalam, who was also there, said that majority of Tamils were now seeking independence.
He said although he was an elected member of Parliament he could not talk about independence which most Tamils wanted because of the Sixth Amendment to the Sri Lanka Constitution.
He urged the British Government to impose a Trade and Travel ban on Sri Lanka.
Story published by: Eraj Daluwatte at email@example.com
via The Island
Former premier Thaksin Shinawatra will return home later this week to defend himself against corruption charges, a leading member of the People Power Party (PPP) said yesterday (Feb 25).
A pro-Thaksin website, Hi-Thaksin.net, yesterday urged his supporters to gather at the Suvarnabhumi Airport on Thursday morning (Feb 28) to “welcome home Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whom we love, miss and have been waiting for his return for over a year”.
The PPP member, who asked not to be named, said Thaksin would issue a statement giving the schedule for his return, including the date and flight number. The statement will be uploaded to a pro-Thaksin website, www.truethaksin.com, today.
TULF leader V. Anandasangaree has cautioned security forces against targeting civilians when they engaged LTTE targets in the Vanni.
The TULF leader, in a statement issued yesterday, severely criticised the recent SLAF strike targeting a Sea Tiger facility at Kiranchi in the Pooneryn area causing loss of civilian life.
The following is the full text of his statement:
The bombing of the Sea Tiger base at Kiranchi in the Poonakari Division of the Kilinochchi Electorate is highly deplorable. I am deeply concerned about the civilian casualties in this aerial attack, in which men, women and small children numbering eight were killed and fourteen injured some of whom are very serious and awaiting at the Kilinochchi Hospital to be transferred for specialised treatment elsewhere."
"Kilinochchi was an electorate represented by me in Parliament for several years. It is a very quiet village where over 50 years back 200 peasant families were settled is 5 acre plots of a coconut colonisation scheme along with some middle class families in larger extents of land. I do not dispute the fact that there was a Sea Tiger base, may be along the coast. What I wish to know is whether it is the fault of the innocent civilians if the LTTE cowardly and foolishly locate their base in the midst of civilian population."
"In a situation like this it is obligatory on the part of the Government Forces to safeguard the civilians at any cost. There had been a number of instances in which various countries had spent several millions to save one life. In this instance, the Air Force that had knowledge of a Sea Tiger base there, should have also known that the base itself is in the midst of civilians and acted with extreme caution. The civilians should have been alerted before commencing the attack. The LTTE can descend to any level but the Government Forces can’t behave like the Tigers. This incident is a serious violation of human rights of a group of people living peacefully at least 35 km away from the combat zone. This type of incidents should be avoided by the Forces, lest they should lose their credibility."
"The LTTE, in turn, should learn to show their strength to the Forces and not to the innocent unarmed civilians. The bomb explosion in a bus at Mount Lavinia on Saturday caused injury to 18 persons only, fortunately because of the timely warning of a passenger. If not for this, it would have ended up in a far worse disaster. The discovery of 20 kg of explosives in Kerawalapitiya is another irresponsible act of the LTTE, fortunately detected in time on some information received. LTTE is very well aware that the Tamils who fled their homes out of fear for the LTTE are now living in peace among the Sinhalese. What the LTTE wants is a backlash. The LTTE is blood thirsty and is all out to shed innocent blood. The task of the forces is to prevent it. The duty of every citizen is to pass on any information available to the authorities to help to detect and prevent disaster."