November 28, 2007
By Lt. General Denis Perera (Rtd)
Currently there seem to be diverse views on Sri Lanka’s internal conflict that can be resolved. Various opinions have been expressed in the media and debates are taking place in numerous forums as to the best solution to end the conflict.
If one looks at the contemporary situation in which the United States is currently involved in, there are certain lessons to be learned by us in Sri Lanka. The mighty United States army supported by its Navy, Air Force and Marine corps quickly and easily defeated Saddam Hussein’s forces. But the conventional war turned into a grinding occupation, a multifaceted insurgency and something very close to a civil war, the U.S. military with all its fire power and technology could not control. Read the rest of this entry »
November 28, 2007
CAN A DIVIDED MEDIA FACE THE CHALLENGE?
One would think that politicians would be used to criticism. After all, that is part and parcel of public life specially in a democracy. But in Sri Lanka, the higher one reaches in political life, the less tolerant they become. President Mahinda Rajapaksa is a case in point. For most of his political career of over 30 years, Rajapaksa wooed the media. With his easy-going style, most journalists liked him. He was shrewd enough to use these personal relationships to further his political career and undermine those of his opponents.
All that changed once he became the all powerful Executive President. Even the mildest criticism in the media was enough for him to go ballistic. Surrounded by acolytes who praise his every move, the once easy going Rajapaksa can no longer tolerate criticism. Every newspaper article critical of him or his administration is seen as part of a conspiracy against him. And in his mind there are many conspiracies to topple him and the government. The UNP with the LTTE, the elite business community, the western nations with local and international NGOs are all seen as part of this conspiracy.
No wonder then that freedom of expression has come under tremendous pressure during his regime. Not only are individual journalists harassed, threatened, killed and intimidated, owners of media institutions have been frightened by a possible backlash to their business interests.
It seems that we are back to the same dark days of Presidents Premadasa and Kumaratunga. In the 15 years since the Premadasa regime, our leaders have not learned the lesson that oppressing the media is not a recipe for longevity. In fact the ability of the media to force regime change is almost non existent.
But the unfortunate truth is the more successful the Sri Lankan politicians become, the more egocentric and paranoid they grow.
The Sri Lankan media is in for another period of tough times. Whether it can resist successfully will depend on whether the media has learned the lessons from earlier periods of such oppression. The signs are not positive. Journalists are as divided as they were earlier and therefore not in a position to face down the government as one united front. This disunity will be the biggest strength to the government which will play one media group against the other, one journalist against the other, until finally the entire media will succumb to being the government’s “kept media”.
September 30, 2007
By Sumanasiri Liyanage
Even if one were to operate within the framework of conventional thinking and assume that the Government of Sri Lanka has the right of recapturing the territory previously held by the LTTE, which was not a legitimate power, she or he cannot miss the logic of Sambandan’s argument. Both at the parliamentary election held in April 2004 and the presidential election held in November 2005, a significant number of people, especially its Tamil population, voted against the parties that exercise governmental power in Colombo today. A military victory over its opponent, the LTTE, in itself does not make the incumbent government a legitimate power in the Eastern Province.
One may argue that the Government of Sri Lanka has launched its reconstruction and development programme in order to gain legitimacy by proving that it is genuinely interested in addressing the basic needs and issues of the people and redressing their
grievances, which they have been facing since the recommencement of the Trincomalee District MP R. Sambandan raised a valid point by questioning the legitimacy of the government in Colombo in initiating a plan of reconstruction and development in the Eastern Province. armed conflict in 1983. However, the legitimacy of the state depends on many things, among which the critical aspect is whether the state receives the consent of the governed and it represents their interests. As Seyla Benhabib writes, “the basis of legitimacy in democracy is to be traced back to the presumption that the institutions that claim obligatory power do so because their decisions represent standpoint equally in the interests of all.” Therefore, such decisions should be open to appropriate processes of public deliberation by free and equalcitizens. Sambandan has noted that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has opted out of this process. SLMC Leader, Minister Rauf Hakeem has also expressed his dissatisfaction about the ongoing process.
September 29, 2007
By Indrajit Samarajiva
Woke up to like 5 cops in my living room, rifling through my stuff. Literally, there’s a guy with a T-56 looking through my DVDs. Re-tie my sarong and sleepily locate my ID. No warrant, no nothing. This is Emergency. Thank God we’re not Tamil. It’s a Tamil neighbourhood, which is otherwise lovely. Last week we saw this procession down the street, women with harvesty things on their head. Now I presume they’re getting their underwear looked through. Asking where they’re from, what their business is here. There’s an army female at least. Kinda cute.
But I digress. The cops here can come into your home, they can lock you up for months, anything in the name of the state. Understandable with the LTTE, but my problem is that I definitely don’t trust the cops. They are complicit in abductions, bribery, murder, etc. Don’t take my word for it, that’s the word of the IGP. The cops are undertrained, underpaid and overpowered. They’re not especially qualified or trustworthy to be looking through peoples’ homes at 5 in the morning, but that’s how it is. This is Emergency.
September 28, 2007
By Victor Ivan
Yet another crisis in Sri Lanka’s education system-triggered by the drafting of new guidelines for state school admissions-drags on. That such a sensitive issue has caused such strong reactions is no surprise. What’s surprising is that it’s taken so many twists and turns in the space of just a few months.
The present crisis is based on several fundamental rights petitions filed against a circular presenting a new framework for admission of pupils to grade one. The Supreme Court declared that the circular violated the principle of equal opportunity guaranteed by the Constitution. The Court correctly ordered the Secretary to the President to submit a circular that would not violate people’s fundamental rights. As a result, the responsibility
of preparing guidelines was handed over to the National Education Commission (NEC). Thereafter, the Commission recommended a good, reasonable framework. Surprisingly,
this framework was not submitted to the the Supreme court. Instead, a different set of guidelines reached the judiciary.
It was then that the Supreme Court put forward its own detailed guidelines. But they recommended a system that would sharpen the dissimilarities and would push the process of admitting children to a greater mess. It was severely criticized by the educationists who pointed out the destructive effects the implementation of those recommendations might cause. Ranil Wickremesinghe a former minister of education, took up the matter in parliament. He made an excellent analysis of the recommendations of the Supreme Court, basically tearing it apart. The parliament then took the issue up for discussion. As a better alternative to the Supreme Court recommendations could not be found immediately, it was decided to use the previous system with some amendments for the coming year only, pending the introduction of a new system.
September 26, 2007
There’s an old tale about a frog in a pot of water. If you turn the heat up very slowly, the frog just sits there and boils to death. In case you didn’t notice, it’s been getting awfully hot in Sri Lanka. More people are dead, more are without homes, and inflation and corruption are picking the pockets of all. Are you hopping mad, or are you sitting still?
Sri Lanka is actually a perfect fit for the ‘boiled frog’ metaphor. We are literally a small pond where everyone thinks they’re a big fish. Thirdtier feudals like the Rajapaksa family behave like generational kings. Everybody and their uncle is a Minister, entitled to a security detail of six and their choice of imported cars. Each Minister, in turn, appoints scores of their cronies to redundant government posts and promises even more to agitated university students. However, in the grand scheme of things, these people are barely qualified to manage a 7-11. Everyone feels like a big fish, when they are really just warty toads.
Take those two metaphors, and you have a small pond on slow boil. We have generations of feudal leaders who feel entitled to power, cars, attendants and more. We have new money politicians who have no scruples at all, turning Parliament into a mafia, simply taxing, borrowing, extorting, robbing and often assaulting the public while delivering nothing. In the midst of it all you have Sri Lankan citizens, blinking stupidly wherestheir blood should be boiling.
Hundreds of thousands of our citizens live in tents. You may not have noticed, but nobody has civil rights. Under Emergency Regulations our Constitution effectively doesn’t exist – we can be searched, seized and jailed on the whim of the state. Meanwhile, the state is run like a mafia and our ‘security’ forces are implicated in abductions, killings of aid workers and more. We have given up our national rights with nary a peep, letting the threat of the LTTE lower the level of our basic civilization. Our very Constitution and identity as a democratic nation is melting into so much pulp.
But Sri Lankans sit still. We might go to a protest if we get a lunchpacket. We might yell ‘Mahinda Chinthaney’ when food prices go up at the office canteen. But it’s not enough. The Rajapaksa family is stealing more generational wealth every day. Our young soldiers are sleeping and dying in the jungle while Mahinda’s naval son has been shipped off to
train in the UK. The rampant inflation is making each paycheck carry a bit less far. The war is taking us down a well-worn path. The slow boil is rising fast. If you feel it, maybe you should do something. Doesn’t have to be anything drastic, just kick, flap and make some noise. Perhaps the toads selling us out will start feeling the heat as well.
August 31, 2007
By Malith Mendis
The “Gujral Doctrine” as pronounced by former Indian Prime Minister I K Gujral in a speech made at the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies on January 20 th 1997 consisted of five points on which the Foreign policy of India was proposed to be based. The points were that first, with neighbours like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, India would not ask for reciprocity, but would give and accommodate what it could in good faith and trust. Second, that no South Asian country should allow its territory to be used against the interests of another country of the region. Third, that no one should interfere in the internal affairs of another. Fourth, that all South Asian countries should respect each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. And finally, that they should settle all their disputes through peaceful bilateral negotiations.
The Sethusamudram Sea Canal project (SSCP) is a kick in the face of the Gujral Doctrine. Sri Lanka was kept in the dark until construction was about to begin. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study did not consult a main stakeholder, Sri Lanka. Hence, the EIA is fundamentally flawed. Several bilateral meetings have not yielded meaningful results. Meanwhile, India goes ahead with the project stubbornly…..
August 30, 2007
By Indrajit Samarajiva
I’m no particular fan of Mangala. For one thing, he was vital to getting Mahinda elected – a cardinal sin in itself. However, one thing he does have is political courage, catalyzed by expediency. People that do not have political courage – and who have disappointed me greatly – are the crossovers like Prof Peiris, Karu Jayasuriya, and Milinda Moragoda. I don’t know the former, but I used to have some faith in Milinda as a young person, but now I don’t. If he can join a government that evicts its own citizens and spends our retirement money on cars and corruption, then he’s no leader of mine. It is obvious that this country needs a vocal opposition to check the tyrannical and corrupt presidency. Some politicians are standing up and some are selling out, and they’re not the ones you’d expect. Milinda Moragoda is a sell-out. For all his talk of honest politics, when this country most needs an opposition he has abandoned us. Mangala is an opportunist, but at least he is here when his country needs him, not on water-carrying jaunts abroad. Forget the cross-overs and long live the Opposition.
August 29, 2007
It was a sunny morning on Saturday, July 28. The swirling rotors of an Air Force Bell VIP helicopter stirred up a cloud of dust and dry grass as it slowly settled down in an open patch surrounded by thick jungle.
Troops clapped as the door swung open.
The visitors dismounted. They were Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Chief of Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Donald Perera and Commander of the Army, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka. Unlike the highly publicised event at Independence Square on July 19, there were no television cameras, radio commentators or media corps. A lone official camera operator took photographs of this short ceremony. It was being held at Thoppigala. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa laid a commemorative plaque watched by the VIP visitors and troops.
He was then at his residence in Los Angeles and thus chose to give a slip, like his brother Basil Rajapaksa, to the Independence Square ceremonies. They were telecast live countrywide on TV and broadcast on radio. The move was intended to obviate criticism that together with their brother President Percy Mahinda Rajapaksa, they ran the military and the country. Whether the absence helped erase that wide public perception is doubtful. Even if the nation did not see him, the Defence Secretary wanted the troops to know that he, the one who ran the military machine, acknowledged their role.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa had declared in an address to the nation that the Tiger rebels have all been driven out of the East. He wanted to be able to say that, more than anything else, to shore up the image of his Government. Allegations of human rights violations, killings, abductions, kidnappings, and the breakdown in law and order have all been having a telling effect on President Rajapaksa. He grew impatient when the military operations in the East dragged on.
August 29, 2007
By D.B.S Jeyaraj
Sri Lanka’s Eastern province will be experiencing a new sunrise, according to Government propaganda. The Rajapaksa regime claims to have vanquished the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and cleared the province of two – legged felines. Now the focus will be on development of the region. If Colombo is to be believed, the east is rising!
Naturally, the LTTE disputes this. The tigers say that they have merely executed a strategic withdrawal. Rasiah Ilanthiraiyan, the LTTE spokesperson on Defence affairs – an eastern son of the soil himself – was candid enough to admit on the BBC that the tigers had suffered a “setback”. It was not a “defeat,” he said. The LTTE is abandoning positional warfare and adopting guerilla tactics in the future.
There was a time when the LTTE controlled extensive territory in the East. The tigers claimed then that 70% of the East was under them. When Jaffna fell in 1996, LTTE propagandists tried to make the best of a difficult situation by pointing out that more “land” in the east had come under their control than what was lost in the north.
In Trincomalee district, the LTTE had areas north of Trinco town and the greater part of Muttur and Eechilampatru divisions in the South. It also had a small portion of the Seruwila division.
In Batticaloa district, the LTTE controlled the bulk of territory in the hinterland to the west of Batticaloa lagoon, the Vaharai region and also the Kudumbimalai /Thoppigala areas.
In Amparai district, the LTTE controlled the Kanchikudicharu – Rufuskulam jungle areas and adjacent villages. It also maintained a presence in the Lahugala and Pottuvil jungle areas.