Daily Archives: January 10, 2015
Wickremesinghe is premier; minority votes did the wonder
Sri Lankan voters on Friday gave a marching order to President Mahinda Rajapaksa ending his 10-year rule that was marked by allegations of dynasty politics, corruption and authoritarianism and in his place, they chose his one-time minister Maithripala Sirisena.
Hours after the results were declared, 63-year-old Sirisena, who led a revolt and defected to the opposition camp on the eve of the elections, was sworn-in as president symbolising a smooth transition of power.
Sworn in along with him was new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who till now was the leader of opposition. Both took the oath of office at a ceremony in the Independence Square. Supreme Court Justice K Sripavan administered the oath to Sirisena.
“I will ensure I deliver the change I promised. I will strengthen Sri Lanka’s foreign relations to maintain friendly relations with all nations,” Sirisena said. “We will have a foreign policy that will mend our ties with the international community and all international organisations in order that we derive maximum benefit for our people,” he said.
Sirisena said he will not seek a second term. What was considered impossible till a few weeks ago became possible when the voters showed the door to 69-year-old Rajapaksa, who was suave but ruthless when it came to decimating the dreaded LTTE that had earned him the title of ‘King’ among the majority Sinhalese and unpopularity with the minority Tamils.
Health Minister under Rajapaksa and General Secretary of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party till he defected, Sirisena got 6,217,162 or 51.2 per cent of the votes against Rajapaksa’s 5,768,090.
“I declare that Maithripala Sirisena has been duly elected as the President of Sri Lanka,” announced Commissioner of Elections Mahinda Deshapriya bringing the curtains down on the closely fought elections that was advanced by two years by Rajapaksa who had amended the constitution for seeking an unprecedented third term.
Much before the declaration, Rajapaksa, who was accused of practising dynasty politics, conceded defeat early in the morning and left the presidential house ‘Temple Trees’. After his victory, Sirisena thanked Rajapaksa for ensuring a fair poll.
United Nations, Jan 10 Welcoming the peaceful political transition in Sri Lanka following the presidential election, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Friday praised an adversary of the world body, Mahinda Rajapaksa, for upholding democracy.
Former Sri Lankan President, Rajapaksa had often clashed with the UN over its criticism of his government’s human rights record and its probe of abuses.
UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters that Ban “commends the efforts of the candidates, including in particular, (those of) the outgoing President Mahinda Rajapaksa, law enforcement agencies and (the) civil society for upholding and respecting democratic governance”.
Soon after losing his bid for a third term, Rajapaksa conceded defeat and left his official residence, paving the way for the victor, his former minister, Maithripala Sirisena, to assume the presidency.
Haq added, “The Secretary-General looks forward to working with President Maithripala Sirisena and the people of Sri Lanka. He affirms the continuous support of the United Nations for development, reconciliation, political dialogue and accountability in Sri Lanka.”
Sri Lanka has been been under consistent criticism at UN bodies for its treatment of the Tamil minority and the mass deaths that accompanied the crushing of the Tamil Tiger-led insurgency in 2009.
Rajapaksa, in the latest round of confrontation, vehemently opposed the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC)-mandated probe into alleged human rights violations and abuses by both sides in the Sri Lankan conflict, calling it a “political tool” for “motivated agendas”.
In November, UN Human Rights High Commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein condemned what he said were the Rajapaksa government’s attempts to block investigations and “creating a wall of fear” to prevent people from providing evidence of human rights abuses.
Amnesty International, on the other hand, called on the new government to cooperate with the UN probe. Its Deputy Asia Pacific Director, David Griffiths, said in a statement, “Sri Lanka has for years resisted all international efforts to investigate the conflict years, and instead relied on domestic investigation bodies that toed the government line. This has to end…the new government should cooperate fully with the UN investigation”.
However, Human Rights Watch’s Asia Executive Director, Brad Adams, told IANS he did not expect the Sirisena administration to cooperate with the UN investigation.
Sirisena did not say anything in his campaign speech that indicated he would cooperate and instead, had spoken of a domestic inquiry, Adams said.
Sirisena may also make the Army chief Sarath Fonseka his defence minister, Adams said and pointed out that the record of Fonseka, who led the military campaign against the Tamil Tigers, is itself the subject of UN inquiry.
On the domestic front, though, Adams said that he was more hopeful of positive changes. He said he expected Sirisena to “relax pressure” on the media and non-governmental organisations. He noted that Sirisena has called for reducing the powers of the presidency and returning to a more prime ministerial system.
Adams also said that ending Rajapaksa’s nepotism, which had contributed to the concentration of power around the president, would be a positive step.
Another positive development, Adams said, was Sirisena’s reported refusal to be sworn in by Chief Justice Mohan Peiris, who was appointed by Rajapaksa after removing Shirani Bandaranayake, whom he did not consider pliant. Adams said that this could be a sign that Sirisena would restore the independence of the judiciary.
Amnesty International’s Griffiths said: “The new government now has an opportunity to usher in a new era of genuine respect for human rights. It is one that must not be missed.”
Among the priority issues identified by the Amnesty International was the repeal of the repressive Prevention of Terrorism Act, which granted security forces sweeping powers, and the controversial 18th constitutional amendment “which undermines judicial independence and other human rights safeguards by placing key state institutions into the hands of the President,” Griffiths said.
Griffiths also called upon the Sirisena government to protect journalists and human rights defenders and end attacks on religious minorities.
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday congratulated Maithripala Sirisena on his election as Sri Lanka’s new head of state, pledging to promote the strategic cooperative partnership between the two countries.
In the message, Xi said China and Sri Lanka were traditional friendly neighbours, and relations between the two countries have withstood the test of time since the establishment of diplomatic ties, becoming a paradigm of friendly coexistence and mutually beneficial cooperation between neighboring countries, Xinhua newes agency reported.
He said that, in recent years, China and Sri Lanka have set up a strategic cooperative partnership featuring sincere mutual assistance and friendship from generation to generation.
The two countries have kept expanding mutually beneficial cooperation in various fields, bringing tangible interests to the two peoples, he said, noting that China regarded Sri Lanka as a trustworthy friend and partner.
“Attaching great importance to the development of relations with Sri Lanka, I am willing to make concerted efforts with the Sri Lankan side to keep lifting the China-Sri Lanka strategic cooperative partnership to higher levels,” Xi said.
Sirisena, a former health minister, defeated incumbent president Mahinda Rajapaksa in Thursday’s presidential election.
WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama today congratulated Sri Lanka’s newly-elected President Maithripala Sirisena for his stunning electoral victory over Mahinda Rajapaksa.
“On behalf of the American people, I congratulate the people of Sri Lanka on the successful and peaceful conclusion of Sri Lanka’s presidential election and incoming PresidentMaithripala Sirisena on his victory,” Obama said in a statement.
He praised outgoing President Mahinda Rajapaksa for the smooth transition of power.
“I also commend the outgoing administration of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa for facilitating a swift and orderly transition of power,” Obama said, adding that beyond the significance of this election to Sri Lanka, it is also a symbol of hope for those who support democracy all around the world.
International and domestic monitors and observers were permitted to do their jobs, he said.
The US President further said Sri Lankans from all segments of society cast their ballots peacefully, and the voice of the people was respected.
“At this moment of hope, the United States looks forward to deepening its partnership with the people and government of Sri Lanka and to working with President Sirisena to advance peace, democracy, and prosperity for all Sri Lankans,” he said.
Sirisena– Health Minister under Rajapaksa and General Secretary of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party till he defected– got 51.2 per cent of the votes against Rajapaksa’s 47.6 per cent.
He took the oath of office along with his new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who till now was the leader of opposition.