Geneva and PC elections

March 7, 2014

un_sri lanka-flagsPresident J.R. Jayewardene, whatever his faults, was not without wisdom. At a time when non-alignment was a buzzword, he remarked that there were only two non-aligned nations in the world and they were the United States and the Soviet Union. Once the Soviet Union disintegrated, only the US which was the sole remaining superpower, remains unaligned to any other country. It is aligned solely to its own interests as the world knows very well. This is the country with dirty hands that is leading the ongoing effort at the UN Human Rights Council to impose human rights accountability on small Sri Lanka. We, after nearly three decades of civil war, overcame a terrorist force that many, including the United States, believed was invincible.

No wars in the course of history have been fought without human rights violations and ours was no exception. But it cannot be said that such violation was one sided and only on the part of the State of Sri Lanka. It is common knowledge that the LTTE was by far the bigger offender with its acts of sheer brutal terror, mostly inflicted on innocent civilians, legion.

Our newspapers and other media channels have in the last few days been full of what is going on at the UNHRC in Geneva. Most of our people share President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s view that the whole business will end with what he called “a small black mark’’ placed on our country.

The chances of Sri Lanka’s friends defeating the US-led resolution, as has been done at previous UNHRC sessions, are non-existent. This time round, the resolution will probably have less muscle than its sponsors hope because they will be forced to dilute it with a view to broad basing support. Very few Lankans are interested in the nuances of the Geneva happenings and they are not a major global news event. However our opposition, and particularly the UNP, is convinced that Rajapaksa sees political mileage in Geneva to be exploited at the forthcoming elections in the populous Western and Southern Provinces. In our view the biggest advantage the ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance has is the perception that they are the winning side. We, after all, are a country that is vasi paththata hoiya (hurrah for the winning side) as the pithy Sinhala idiom has it. The opposition UNP has been written off as perennial losers and the green party has its work cut out in getting its not inconsiderable support base to the polls.

Quite apart from Geneva, there are many issues on which it is incumbent on electors to state their views. We have often stated in these columns that we subscribe to the view that the Provincial Councils do little for the people whose tax rupees support them. They are a white elephant that nobody, except the people of the North and East, long hungering for regional autonomy in predominantly Tamil areas, ever wanted or demanded. But as the late Mr. Lalith Athulathmudali once famously said, “you cannot give to Jaffna what you will not give Hambantota.’’ So the country has since been saddled with a system that benefits the political class more than any other. Most of those seeking election to the Provincial Councils have their sights on Parliament. They find the PCs a convenient ladder which will help them to climb higher.

Also, the perks and privileges that provincial councilors enjoy are considerable as clearly demonstrated by the number of close kinsmen of national politicians running for office. For the government, it is important to demonstrate to the country and the wider world outside that the president’s and its own popularity is largely undiminished however loudly tubs are thumped in Geneva.

The Tamil National Alliance, the only opposition party controlling a Provincial Council right now, was commonly labeled an “LTTE proxy’’ during the decades the war was being waged and thereafter. Given that the TNA had tamely accepted the LTTE as the “sole representatives of the Tamil people’’ despite many of its own leaders being massacred by the Tigers during the war years, that was a predictable outcome. Any Tamil standing up to the LTTE was as good as dead in those years as tragically demonstrated by the Lakshman Kadirgamar assassination. So the TNA was compelled to remain submissive to the LTTE during the period the Tigers were a potent force and were no doubt proxies in many senses of that word. In that context it is necessary for the larger polity of this country to realize that as far as the Tamil voters in the Northern Province were concerned, that was not a reason to deny the TNA their votes at the NPC election. The fact that the party was a proxy for the LTTE, either by choice or compulsion, did not stop it from winning an overwhelming mandate at that election. That does not mean the electorate was Tiger loving; more probably the voters regarded the TNA, which fielded an attractive candidate for the chief ministry, as their best option.

It is therefore necessary that the center should work with the elected council. It appears that both President Rajapaksa and Chief Minister Wigneswaran, even at the cost of displeasing the more extremist fringes of their respective constituencies, are willing to do this whatever the public posturing. That having been said, let us hope that the ongoing campaigns in the Western and Southern Provinces will throw up some real issues. There are many including corruption and bad governance that are crying for attention. There is also the drug problem that is growing by the day with the related issues of political godfathers dispensing patronage narcotics kingpins.

Given that the UNP’s track record in office was far from impeccable, the voter will have trouble choosing between Tweedledum and Tweedledee and may even say a “plague on both your houses’’ and not vote at all. Nevertheless how General Fonseka and the JVP under its new leader will do will interest a broader public rather than analysts alone.

Courtesy: Island :

The Editor

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