Daily Archives: January 7, 2015

Tensions rise as Sri Lanka prepares for tight presidential race

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Sri Lanka will go to the polls on January 8 to elect a new president in what is set to be a closely fought election.

Incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa seeks a record third term amid growing criticism and incidents of violence. Last November, and nearly two years ahead of schedule, 69-year-old Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa called early elections in an attempt to seek a fresh six-year mandate amid signs of fading popularity. But any hope for an easy victory has now vanished as the Sri Lankan leader will be contesting the poll with 18 other candidates, including his former health minister Maithripala Sirisena.

The candidacy of Sirisena, who until recently was also the General Secretary of Rajapaksa’s own Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP), has split the ruling party as Sirisena has been joined by a number of other senior SLFP members who have assembled a formidable opposition coalition. Backed by the main opposition United National Party, the 63-year old farmer-turned-politician has won many supporters among disaffected Sri Lankans and vowed to limit the president’s executive powers and strengthen parliament and the judiciary.

At the same time, President Rajapaksa, who first came to power in 2005, remains popular among the 74 percent Sinhalese majority in the South Asian nation. He is largely viewed as a skilled politician who has the ability, if not the authority, to marshal the full resources of the state in his favor. But the 69-year-old, whose administration has been accused of corruption and nepotism, is also under international pressure to probe war crimes allegations and promote reconciliation with the country’s Tamil minority following a bloody civil war.

Many challenges For 25 years, Sri Lankan armed forces fought against militant separatists seeking to create an independent state for the Tamil-speaking minority in the north and the east of the island nation.

Only in May 2009 did the central government in Colombo, led by the ethnic Sinhalese majority, manage to recapture the last area controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), putting an end to a civil war that had cost the lives of more than 100,000 people, according to United Nations estimates.

There are a number of challenges in the Tamil-dominated north, ranging from the militarization of the region, an absence of land rights and job opportunities, to demands for a devolution of powers to the province and the reconciliation process. Alan Keenan, Sri Lanka analyst at the International Crisis Group, reports many Tamils are particularly disturbed by Sirisena’s alliance with the Sinhala nationalist Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), which is opposed to any investigation of or accountability for alleged war crimes by the Sri Lankan military and which wants to revoke even the limited devolution of power allowed under Sri Lanka’s constitution. That said, Keenan points out that the Tamils – who make up about 12 percent of the population – have suffered heavily from Sri Lanka’s excessive concentration of power and lack of independent checks on executive power, and they would benefit from the democratic reforms the opposition is proposing. “This is why the main Tamil political grouping, the Tamil National Alliance, eventually decided to endorse Sirisena, despite misgivings from some Tamils,” the analyst stressed.

Unfortunately, many of the issues most important to Tamils are not on the agenda of either Rajapaksa or the combined opposition, he added. ‘Matter of grave concern’ But there are other issues overshadowing the upcoming poll. As Sri Lanka’s more than 14.5 million registered voters prepare to select their next leader, there has been an increasing number of reports of harassment and violence during the election campaign.

Analysts believe the incidents are designed to scare off voters in opposition and minority areas. Amnesty International says that in some of the latest incidents on January 5, three opposition activists were shot and wounded by unidentified gunmen in the southern town of Kahawatte, while two prominent civil society activists found severed heads of dogs outside their homes.

David Griffiths, the human rights group’s deputy Asia Pacific director, referred to these assaults against campaigners “deeply troubling.” He also described reports of a potential organized plan to obstruct voters on Election Day – allegedly orchestrated by the government through the military – as a “matter of grave concern.” “The authorities have a responsibility to ensure that all people in Sri Lanka can exercise their rights to political participation and freedom of expression without facing threats or violence, and that on Election Day they can vote without fear,” said Griffiths. In addition, the independent Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) accused the ruling party of tolerating “flagrant violation of election laws” and said opposition party offices had been targeted, according to news agency AFP.

The CMEV, which is deploying more than 4,000 monitors across the country, said it had documented 420 incidences of violence since the election was announced on November 20. It said the Tamil-dominated northern Jaffna district, scene of a bloody civil war with separatist rebels, was worst hit. Some 65,000 officers have been deployed to guard polling booths and counting centers during Thursday’s presidential election, according to local media reports.

Fear of violence Fears are growing that President Rajapaksa and his powerful brothers may resist leaving power even if Sirisena receives a majority of the votes. According to Keenan, one possible scenario in the event of a Sirisena victory by a narrow margin would be for Rajapaksa to challenge the count in the courts, which could result in a period of extended uncertainty. But a legal challenge would likely ultimately be heard by the Supreme Court, which few observers consider an independent body following the installation of a Rajapaksa loyalist as chief justice in 2013, the analyst added. On the other hand, Keenan believes that should Rajapaksa claim victory through a means that the opposition considers illegal, there are fears that the military, which is under the control of the president and his brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, could be called in to ensure Rajapaksa remains in power.

“The tighter the race for the presidency, the more violent it threatens to be,” said Keenan. Analysts fear, however, that should Sirisena win, he may have trouble finding the two-thirds majority in parliament that is needed for constitutional reforms, or winning such a majority through the election of a new parliament. In the case of a Rajapaksa win, Keenan believes his government would still have to face serious questions at the UN Human Rights Council, and to address the deep concerns over corruption and concentration of power that the current opposition campaign is highlighting.

DW

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Sri Lanka EC Probing Troops Deployment Reports

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COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s Election Commission today said it is investigating reports that armed forces were being deployed in the country’s Tamil-dominated north to influence voter-turnout ahead of tomorrow’s bitterly-fought presidential poll already marred by violence.

Chief Election Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya said he has received complaints that troops were being deployed in the northern Wanni region in violation of the election laws.

“I have already taken this up with the army commander, who says he has not ordered troops to deploy,” Deshapriya told reporters on the eve of the election.

“I have been told that there had been ‘stand-by orders’ given to send the army to police stations and other vital institutions,” he said.

The northern region is dominated by the country’s minority Tamil among whom President Rajapaksa stands quite unpopular for speaheading Sri Lanka’s win over the LTTE in 2009.

Rajapaksa is also criticised in these areas because of the tardy reconcilitaion and rehabilitaion process and war crimes allegation against the Sri Lankan troops during the nearly three-decade war.

The Tamils, who make up the largest minority in Sri Lanka, could be the deciders as the majority Sinhalese, who account for 70 per cent of its 21 million population, appear likely to be evenly distributed between Rajapaksa and his arch rival Maithripala Sirisena.

The Election Commissioner has also warned two state-owned television networks and radio broadcaster for broadcasting election propaganda, violating election laws.

The broadcasters were told they would be taken off the list of media houses allowed to broadcast election results if they continue to violate election laws.

Meanwhile, the High Court today refused to vacate a District Court order barring the Independent Television Network (ITN), Rupavahini, Swarnavahini and Derana from broadcasting election campaign propaganda.

Deshapriya said troops had no role in the polls and police were capable of esuring free and fair polling at 49 counting centres and 12,314 polling booths, at which 15 million people are eligible to vote.

The Police Department today said that 66,100 police personnel have been deployed on election duties and they would be armed with a T56 automatic assault rifles.

PTI

Sri Lanka polls: Rajapaksa’s astrologer faces test of his life

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Colombo, Jan 7: Sri Lanka’s “royal astrologer” Sumanadasa Abeygunawardena, who has stood beside the country’s current president Mahinda Rajapaksa for a long time is set to face perhaps the biggest test of his skills on Thursday when the presidential election will be held.

Rajapaksa, who is contesting an unprecedented third presidential term against his former colleague Maithripala Sirisena, is believed to be facing a tough test this time.

According to a report published in the New York Times, Abeygunawardena’s main duty nowadays is to identify auspicious timing for President Rajapaksa’s political acts. He even recommends to the president on whether to submit the nomination papers to the election commissioner’s right or left side, the report added.

But did the astrologer predict the sudden emergence of Sirisena, a former minister and general secretary of Rajapaksa’s own party, when the president decide to prepone the elections two years ahead of the schedule? Abeygunawardena said January 8 will be an “immensely fortunate” date for President Rajapaksa but adding that he had no role in selecting the date, the NYT report said.

Rajapaksa, who was first elected in 2005, is not the first leader to engage astrologers to predict the future. A former president Ranasinghe Premadasa even changed the spelling of the country to Shri Lanka for he was advised it was an auspicious move.

In 2009, an astrologer named Chandrasiri Bandara was arrested and questioned after he predicted that Rajapakse might lose the elections, the report said.

What about Sirisena’s chances? Abeygunawardena said the former’s horoscope isn’t strong.

OI

Rajapaksa faces toughest challenge as Sri Lanka goes to polls tomorrow

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Colombo, Jan 7: Sri Lanka will go to the polls on Thursday to elect a new President in the most closely fought presidential race in the country for decades as incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa seeks a record third term amid a flurry of defections and criticism over his authoritarian rule.

Sixty-nine-year-old Rajapaksa’s decision to call early elections in the hope of an easy victory over a fragmented opposition now appears a tough task with a broad coalition of parties rallying behind his former associate turned rival, Maithripala Sirisena. Some 1,586,598 of the country’s 21 million population are eligible to vote. About 1,076 polling stations have been set for elections.

A confident Rajapaksa had called the election two years ahead of schedule, hoping to win a record third six-year term before the defeat of the Tamil Tigers fades in the memory of the people of the island which saw a three decades war over the demand of a separate Tamil Eelam.

Rajapaksa is popular among the 74 per cent Sinhala majority. He was regarded as hero for his military campaign which ended the LTTE’s terror campaign in 2009.

The veteran politician was taken by surprise by the candidacy of former health minister, Sirisena, 63, who walked out of the government a day after polls were called. That set off a wave of political turmoil and energised a long-dispirited opposition that had not been looking forward to the election.

Achala Jagoda became the 26th legislator to join the opposition unity candidate Sirisena in the endless stream of defections.

Both the president and his challenger belong to the majority Sinhala Buddhist community and much depends on how the minorities Tamils and Muslims vote in the elections.

The biggest Tamil political grouping has endorsed Sirisena’s candidacy. Muslim parties concerned by rising violence from a range of hardline Buddhist groups which have emerged in recent years have also joined the opposition.

Grievances for Tamils include the continuing heavy presence of the Sri Lankan army in northern areas and a lack of local political autonomy.

In a bid to woo the Tamils, Rajapaksa campaigned in Vavuniya and appealed to the people there to vote “a known devil instead of an unknown angel”. The opposition campaign accuses Rajapaksa of nepotism, misrule, corruption and authoritarianism.

“I will end the Rajapaksa family rule,” Sirisena said at his final campaign rally on Monday. Rajapaksa’s brothers – Gotabhaya and Basil – are defence and economic ministers respectively besides a number of his family members who are holding key posts and positions. Elected first in 2005, Rajapaksa won a landslide in 2010 after bringing Sri Lanka’s 26-year-old civil war to a conclusion.

PTI

AT JUDGMENT THEY STAND

Sri Lanka, Jan. 7 — The campaign rallies have ended, the trumpets have sounded. At judgment before the Court of the Sovereign People stand Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena, the main contenders at the crucial Presidential Election, which could mark a historic turning point in politics in Sri Lanka.

Both contenders had repeatedly pledged they would instruct their party members and supporters to ensure a free, fair and peaceful election campaign. But during the past month supporters or goons have indulged in acts of violence and threats of violence while some authorities have repeatedly refused to give venues for rallies. In some instances, stages were burnt or broken while party offices were attacked.

Fortunately, Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya has been acting with a degree of independence, though he had earlier said that his hands were tied because of the withdrawal of the 17th Amendment and the imposition of the 18th Amendment. In addition to the presiding officers and others, the Commissioner will deploy about 3,000 officers to supervise the voting in about 12,300 polling booths countrywide. The local election monitoring groups, mainly People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) and the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) have been doing an excellent job recording and reporting hundreds of complaints of violence and violations of election laws. A majority of these complaints relate to the blatant abuse of State resources – public money, property and public servants – for crude party propaganda work.

Among the worst offenders were the State electronic and print media. They have now become Government media with stooging and servile flattery opening the doors for posts and promotions. Opposition leaders have pledged legal action would be taken against State media bosses who promoted the large-scale abuse of public funds for party propaganda. Jail terms or huge fines for them would be valid to ensure that such yellow journalism does not take place again. On Monday at least one private mobile phone operator broke election laws by giving two-minute calls from a candidate. The ringing abuse sounded like a noisy gong and most wise customers cut the calls. We wonder whether the Government-controlled Telecom Regulatory Authority had pulled any wires in this telephoney business.

Tomorrow will be the important day for the Elections Commissioner. Mr. Deshapriya may have done a fairly good job up to now. What he does or does not do tomorrow will change the course of Sri Lanka’s history. We hope Mr. Deshapriya will have the courage of his convictions to rise to the occasion and act for the common good of the sovereign people. If large-scale rigging or the infamous computer jilmart is allowed to take place, then the ballot box might turn out to be a garbage bin for the Commissioner.

For the party-politicised Police, the record so far has been like spit on the polish. The Police spokesman especially has been more or less putting a spoke in the wheel of law and order. We hope that at least on these vital two days, with a credible alternative appearing to be more likely, the Police will redeem their reputation by upholding the rule of law. The armed forces also have been given Police powers, but independent observers say they hope the military will not mar its reputation by diverting from its mission to provide security for the sovereign people of Sri Lanka, not just for the Government. Much is at stake and we hope a majority of the 15 million eligible voters will act wisely and with civic consciousness by going to their polling booths and casting their precious ballots, which is the onlypreciousthingmost people are left with.

DM

Lasantha THE WRITING ON THE WALL

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Sri Lanka, Jan. 7 — January 8 is a day of triple significance for us Sri Lankans. It is the birth date of Sri Lanka Freedom Party Founder President and former Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who was born 1899. It is also the day on which the country faces a crucial presidential election when the people will have the opportunity of making an informed choice, in electing Sri Lanka’s new president for the next six years, keeping in mind the future direction of this Island Nation and the future of our children and our children’s children.

It is also on a day such as this in 2009 that Sunday Leader Newspaper’s fearless and candidly outspoken Editor LasanthaWickramatunga was brutally murdered in broad daylight near a High Security Zone at Ratmalana while on his way to work. His crime was his refusal to bow down to the powers-that-be or to be cowed down by them. His many well documented and audacious exposes of fraud and corruption and the use and abuse of state resources rattled and gnawed at the conscience of those in authority and their sycophants. Lasantha’s disclosures pricked their conscience and deflated their pumped up egos sealing his fate when they could not stomach it any longer.

Lasantha’s journalism called power to account by pulling aside the curtains so that the people could peep into what was happening behind the facades and under the rocks. We need this kind of journalism so that they will be well armed with the information to fight injustice.

The following are excerpts from a powerful and moving editorial Lasantha wrote was published posthumously a week after his car was obstructed by assassins who arrived on motorbikes and bludgeoned him to death:

“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 past few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print-media institutions have been burnt, 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.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 are 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 Niem”ller. In his youth he was an antiSemite and an admirer of Hitler.As Nazism took hold in 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. Niem”ller 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, Niem”ller 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.”

This Government which times without end continues to boast of having destroyed the world’s ruthless terrorist outfit has failed to arrest and prosecute those who so callously and ruthlessly snuffed out Lasantha’s life at the young age of 50.

In today’s political culture we have seen and continue to see attacks on opposition election rallies and the attacks on people who refuse to collude with the Government. These activities are bound to create doubts in the minds of the people about a level playing field for all candidates and the holding of a free and fair election.

Sri Lanka is composed of people from multi-ethnic, multi-racial and multi-religious backgrounds and it goes without saying that they are bound to hold dissenting views. That’s a people’s birth right and it is the government’s responsibility to foster unity in diversity without cultivating the differences for its political ends.

“Do not think of knocking out another person’s brains because he differs in opinion from you. It would be as rational to knock yourself on the head because you differ from yourself ten years ago.” Horace Mann.

DM

NEXT PRESIDENT Must Embrace Race Relations, Media Freedom – Wickrema

Sri Lanka, Jan. 7 — Dr. Wickrema Weerasooria, a celebrated lawyer, legal academic and author of some twenty legal texts, who served in several senior public-sector positions and was also Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Australia and New Zealand, stated in an interview with the DailyMirror that regardless of who wins next Thursday’s presidential election, race, relation and media freedom must be given priority in the next government’s agenda.

Q Dr Weerasooria, what, in your mind, should be the priorities of the president who takes office following the election due on 8th January?

I have followed Sri Lankan politics closely for the past 45 years and also held public office during much of that time.As you know, I have also had a close association with the law and with legal issues. In these contexts, looking back, I feel that two vital issues we need to address through law and political reform are the issues of racial harmony and media freedom.

Q But doesn’t the 1978 Constitution already contain safeguards against racial discrimination?

Yes, it does. Article 12 of the Constitution says that ‘No citizen shall be discriminated against on the grounds of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, place of birth or any such grounds’. But the problem is that such constitutional guarantees what we refer to collectively as ‘fundamental rights’, are difficult to enforce. Only the Supreme Court can adjudicate on cases in which these rights are claimed to have been infringed. But it is difficult for an ordinary citizen to go before the Supreme Court. In many cases the discrimination, though painful to the victim, may seem too trivial to take all the way to the highest court in the land.

Q Could you give an example?

Yes. Say a Tamil-speaking and Sinhala-speaking person have a civil dispute, for example about a shared property boundary. They wish to take the matter to the police and make statements. If the local police station has no Tamil-speaking officer, it is impossible for one [the Tamil speaking person] to do so. Even if a translation is recorded, he has no means of knowing what the contents of his statement is. The Tamil-speaking complainant thus clearly suffers discrimination. But surely this is not a case for the Supreme Court?

Q What steps would you advise?

The Supreme Court should be a court of last resort, not a court that hears routine cases. The Supreme Court is also circumscribed by not having the same procedures as lower courts. For example, the ability to summon witnesses and have them to be cross-examined by counsel. Also, many cases in which racial or other discrimination occurs such issues could be resolved through mediation or conciliation, or the revision of administrative procedures. A softer, more constructive approach is likely to be more effective. It was the late Mr Appapillai Amirthalingam who pointed out that the problems faced by Sri Lanka’s minorities fall into two categories: grievances and aspirations. Grievances are issues faced by ordinary people on a day- to- day basis and must have faster means of resolution than a Supreme Court case. Aspirations, on the other hand, are matters for the political process to deal with. What he meant was that politicians are interested primarily in aspirations, whereas what ordinary people have to deal with are grievances.

Q So, what is the best way to deal with grievances?

As you know, our Human Rights Commission has no teeth. I would suggest the establishment of a more powerful body such as Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission. This is a powerful, independent body that is empowered to give orders to individuals and institutions that infringe basic rights, and to prosecute those who do not comply or commit serious offences. It is a successful institution with which I am familiar and know of its proceedings first-hand. It is able to deal promptly with most grievances before they go to court, and even to issue legally-binding injunctions. The commission A lot of the corruption and abuse we see in Sri Lanka today is a direct consequence of the media being intimidated. Editors impose self-censorship because they fear consequences, be it a loss of advertising revenue or a knock on the door at night. can even conduct its own investigations. It is a good model for Sri Lanka, but we can also take inspiration from similar institutions created in countries such as the United States, Australia and Canada.

Q You also mentioned media freedom.

Yes, that is just as important. There is no question that media freedom in Sri Lanka has been seriously eroded during the past few decades. In part this was because of the emergency precipitated by the LTTE’s terrorist activities. But even before that, governments used pretexts such as the JVP insurrections of 1971 and 1987 to curb the media, through censorship and on occasion even sealing presses. And in many cases governments were doing these things to prevent the people from knowing the true facts about governmental mismanagement, abuse or corruption. But in recent years the degree of suppression has become altogether intolerable, with journalists such as Lasantha Wickrematunge and Prageeth Eknaligoda being assassinated or simply being made to disappear.

Q At the same time the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression?

Yes, Article 14 does this, but this guarantee also has no teeth. And the teeth need to come from two sides. One is the legal safeguards. But more important should be the unwillingness of the people to accept anything but the freest media in the world. A free press is something a free society has to continually fight for: no government allows it willingly. In the wake of the phone-tapping scandal in the UK in 2011 the News of the World had to be closed down by Rupert Murdoch, not because of government action or a court order, but because of public pressure. And even in that case, despite members of the media having committed the most serious offences against ordinary people, the British people and their government were loath to introduce laws to curb the media. They thought about it, but eventually decided against it.

Q In that case how has the situation in Sri Lanka got so bad?

When Subramaniyam Sugirdharajan was murdered in Trincomalee, many Sinhalese shrugged it off on the grounds that he was a Tiger sympathiser. When Sampath de Silva was brutally shot dead, they said he was critical of the military. The issue is not what journalists might have said: it is their right, I would say their duty, to say it. Even today, I often hear people say they have little sympathy for Lasantha because he was a mud-slinger, which he certainly was not, but they do not realise that with every journalist who is killed, assaulted or intimidated all of us lose a part of our freedom. The issue is not that we should like or even agree with everything a journalist writes or says; our duty as a free and independent people is to protect him or her even if we don’t agree. A lot of the corruption and abuse we see in Sri Lanka today is a direct consequence of the media being intimidated. Editors impose self-censorship because they fear consequences, be it a loss of advertising revenue or a knock on the door at night.

Q What legal safeguards can we introduce?

What is the point of legal safeguards in an atmosphere where a journalist hears a knock on his door at night and he is afraid to open it? We need to remember that between 2002 and now, Sri Lanka has sunk from number 51 in the World Press Freedom Index to number 165, and that is out of 180 countries. Even Zimbabwe, well known as a failed state and brutal dictatorship, is ranked above us, at 135. All 15 countries worse than us in this respect are dictatorships. At the end of the day people get only as much media freedom as they are willing to fight for. Laws can do very little to help.

Q So from where must reform come?

It must come from the very top. The president himself-whoever that might be- must lead and open his life and his actions to the scrutiny of the media. Every public official must recognise that he is accountable to the people. When he seeks office he relinquishes the right to privacy. Otherwise [he] shouldn’t go into politics. If the media oversteps the mark, libel and slander laws are available to all. I feel the law as it stands is sufficient; what is needed is some humility from politicians, who must come to terms with the fact that they are ordinary people like you and me, not gods.

Q What would you like Sri Lanka’s next president to do first?

Bring his ministers down to earth. Make them accountable, as he himself should be. And a good place to start is to prevent politicians bullying the public on highways, breaking road rules with sirens, lights and convoys. This is a good indication of things being wrong with a government. There is no security threat to ministers now, and they should go about their business like ordinary people. However, I have yet to hear either of the presidential candidates voicing such a view.

Q What else do you think the new president should prioritise?

The recent campaign raised many issues. The cost of living, care of the poor and differently abled sections of our society, corruption, wastage, nepotism, rule of law, judicial independence and so on. However, since the campaign has closed, it is not correct for me to discuss these issues. But I think the two issues I raised here, that is the strengthening of communal and racial harmony and the freedom of the media, are not controversial. I doubt if any politician would dispute me on this. Further, as a teacher of law, I want to add that Sri Lanka’s common law recognises the multi-religious, multi-racial and multi-ethnic nature of our society. For example, Kandyan Law is available for the Kandyan people, Thesavalamai for the people of Jaffna and elements of Sharia for the Muslim community. In other words, our legal system already reflects our inherent diversity, so there is nothing new in this. Without racial harmony and media freedom there is no hope of Sri Lanka ever progressing to the level of socio-economic pre-eminence it seeks.

DM

A FINAL LETTER TO PRESIDENT RAJAPAKSE

HERE’S AN EXCELLENT PIECE NOT ONLY TO PRESIDENT RAJAPAKSA, but alludes sincere guidance TO A LOT OF THOSE THAT LIVE IN Vainglory, boastfullness, lies and denial or truth, even in their own homes. Similar to that of the Soldiers the Writer has mentioned in 3rd para of this article.

A Final Letter To President Rajapakse

| by Sunanda Deshapriya

Dear Mr. President,   (January 5, 2014, Geneva, Sri Lanka Guardian)

This is the final letter I will be writing to you as President Rajapakse. This is because, if, on the 8th of January, the people of this country are given the opportunity to vote in freedom and without fear, then the days of your presidency are, indeed, numbered. It will not be easy to turn this approaching presidential election into a plunder of votes. This is because, like we have not had the privilege of seeing in recent times, this election has exploded into a people’s election. There has not been an election that has awakened the people of this country, in this manner, in the recent past. It has taken us all by surprise.

Political power is not something that lasts forever. When the time comes to let it go, getting ready to leave in peace is a vital component of a democratic society. Now the only thing left for you to do is listen to the free vote of the people of this country and on the 9th of January, leave peacefully.

You must be aware by now, that the Joint Opposition has been able to harness an unanticipated reach and depth of popularity. That such a surge of inspiration would carry them forward is something that probably even the opposition leadership didn’t anticipate. The verdict of this presidential election has already been declared by the people of this country.  What remains to be done is just to mark the box. Do you, by any change, not have even a moment to reflect on why your people; once mesmerised by your image, your actions, your words, your smile; are now abandoning you? Or is it possible that you are victim of a truly dense level of self-delusion?

Whether or not dictators are in possession of a conscience is a question for sociologists. It has been proven that individuals who serve in institutions of State repression like the Police and the Prisons, are capable of torturing juveniles during their work hours, and of petting and cuddling children of the same age in their own homes. Hitler, who ordered the deaths of six million Jews, was capable of tenderness towards his lover. Soldiers, who can kill innocent civilians in the rawness of war, also relax at home with parents, wives and children.

Thus even the most brutal of men have a place of softness within their hearts. I am not equalling you to the likes of Hitler. But even you know that your rule is arbitrary. If noting else, you are a Constitutional Dictator, someone who has closed off the last remaining paths to Democracy, set up a rule which is run by your family and aides, and who has changed the laws of the land to best secure this situation. But now the time has come for you to give way to that soft place in your heart. Reflect upon your own past and future.

Mr. President, at least now, listen to your conscience. The first thing that anyone, called upon to face such a historical juncture, needs to do, is listen to their conscience. Here is one simple fact that might help you find your way to the quiet whisperings of your innermost truth…

You know that the people who gather at your meetings are transported there, in their thousands, in bus-loads. In 2005, there was no need to drag people to your meetings in this manner. However, from the stage that you stand on, you thunder on about how large a crowd has gathered. When you raise your voice in this manner, is it to drown out what you hear close to your own soul? Do you not see that the thousands of people clapping and cheering you on would not be there if you did not pamper them with transport and treats of food and drink? And doesn’t knowing this bring you any sadness, any sense of loss? Do you not even, in the very least, question of yourself about why this has happened? When, in order to now entice their vote, you have to distribute cheap watches signed by you, calendars with your picture on it, to the very people who once raved on about the freedom you brought them; do you not feel any sadness? At the very least, some anger?

When you have to walk the streets of Borella with Salman Khan and the young actress Jaqueline, in order to bring in a few more votes, does your face not turn into the face of a desperate beggar of a politician? How phenomenal is the change and the tragedy that has occurred between now and the 1990s when we stood shoulder to shoulder and battled for human rights on the very streets of this country… History will judge you, not for that time of goodness and decency in our life; but for the time when, under your presidency, the democratic political culture of Sri Lanka was ravaged. Today, what is being recorded in the political triumphs of the Joint Opposition, is this judgement of you.

Think on this… has there been any president or prime minister before you, who brought their children into politics through creating Forces and troops around them and training them in violence? Has there ever been an offspring of a ruler of this country, for whom politics has been reduced to the abuse of State property and widespread violence against opposition groups, in the manner of the Nil Balakaya under the leadership of Namal Rajapakse?

Anura Bandaranaike, Sajith Premadasa, Ravi Jayawardena…none of these men turned politics into the suppression of opposition or dissent. If Namal Rajapakse is the political legacy you leave Sri Lanka with, then alas! What a disastrous future. His wasteful and shameless behaviour, such as him disregarding the pleas of the Malwathu Asgiri Prelates and conducting races in the town of Kandy in order to satiate some new hot craving, points to a destiny similar to the kind that the young autocrat, Baby Doc, acquired for Haiti. Baby Doc too had an army of thugs, a terror group, ‘Tonton Macoute’ named after a ghost who devours disobedient children.

After a 17-year UNP rule, when the 1994 Presidential Elections were upon us, we travelled this country with the concert ‘Biyen ath Midemu’ (Free yourselves from Fear). However not even one stone was aimed our way. We were never once hooted. When Lakshman Wijesekara sang on that stage, he returned home unharmed. Jayathilaka Bandara sang as well. No troops belonging to the president’s children turned up to attack him. Today Mr. President, how much has changed…

You have thrown away the appeals that were made to you, at the end of the war, to turn and reflect, to take us forward in truth of Dharmashoka. Unfortunately, now, this opportunity returns your way with the heralding of your departure from power. It is, indeed the time for you to listen to the innermost whisperings of your own soul.

Political power is not something that lasts forever. When the time comes to let it go, getting ready to leave in peace is a vital component of a democratic society. Now the only thing left for you to do is listen to the free vote of the people of this country and on the 9th of January, leave peacefully. At least, in this very last opportunity that is afforded to you, bow your head to the values of democracy. Do not try to stay on in power by force or through scheming. History has already judged you. It is better that you prepare to accept this.

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