Bid to bring in New Constitution in the balance
In the wake of UNP-SLFP rift
The then Gen. Sarath Fonseka, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya at an event in Colombo before the breakup of the team that spearheaded the war against the LTTE
Yahapalana leaders as well as those who had furiously campaigned to thwart war-winning president Mahinda Rajapaksa securing a third term at the Jan. 2015 presidential polls, attributed the humiliating defeat suffered by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe coalition at Feb. 10, 2018 countrywide local government polls, to its failure to honour pledges made at the 2015 presidential and parliamentary polls.
Addressing the media, at the Center for Society and Religion (CSR), Maradana, on Feb. 13, co-convenor of the Purawesi Balaya, Gamini Viyangoda, flanked by former Ravaya editor K.W. Janarangana and Saman Ratnapriya asserted that the ruling coalition lost because of its failure to enact a new Constitution, subject to a countrywide referendum, and robust police-judicial action against corrupt and murderous Rajapaksas and their henchmen. The briefing at CSR was their first response to the LG polls outcome.
Two days later, Ven. Dambara Amila of the same outfit and at the same venue, called for the immediate appointment of Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka at the expense of Wickremesinghe loyalist, Sagala Ratnayake to carry out a special operation against the robber barons and murderous Rajapaksa clan. Interestingly, among those who had participated at the media briefing, under the ‘Purawesi Balaya’ banner, were executive director of the Center for Policy Alternatives, Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, and Nimalka Fernando at the forefront at a campaign to inquire into accountability issues during the conflict, with the focus on Eelam War IV (Aug 2006-May 2009). The first briefing at CSR too had been held under the banner of ‘Purawesi Peramuna’, with Viyangoda and Janaranjana attacking the administration’s failure to enact the new Constitution, though progress was made in parliament to a certain extent.
Janaranjana also pointed out how the inordinate delay in enacting the much-touted National Audit Bill and taking action against the bond scams, involving the Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL), influenced the electorate.
An influential section of the UNP blamed party leader and Premier Wickremesinghe for the latest electoral drubbing, while President Sirisena, whose SLFP too experienced a shameful defeat, exploited the opportunity to oust his partner.
Sirisena’s so far failed plan was meant to pave the way for some sort of a political arrangement with his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa whose Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna/Joint Opposition dealt a massive blow to both the UNP and the SLFP.
Yahapalana proponent, the JVP, and the much troubled Tamil National Alliance (TNA) too suffered significant setbacks in the South and the North, respectively.
The JVP’s situation is far worse than that of the TNA with the electorate in no uncertain terms rejecting its efforts to attract voters on the basis of corruption charges levelled against the UNP, the SLFP and the Joint Opposition.
A spate of issues influenced the electorate with cost of living, waste, corruption, mismanagement, treasury bond scams, garbage mountains, breakdown in fertilizer supply, problems in school uniform material distribution, foolish move to lift existing restrictions on women buying alcohol and unemployment. The electorate dismissed as ridiculous a promise on the eve of the election to provide free Wi-Fi with disdain.
Both winners and losers obviously ignored perhaps one of the major influencing factors in respect of the Sinhala electorate in their post-poll analysis.
Hostility caused by a failed bid by President Sirisena to oust Premier Wickremesinghe will certainly undermine the project to enact a new Constitution, by end of this year, as demanded by the TNA.
LG polls outcome could have been worse for govt…
Had the UNP – UNP coalition tried to enact a new Constitution, on the basis of Geneva directives the ruling coalition would have had suffered a far bigger defeat. Geneva prescribed a new Constitution, in accordance with overall remedial measures to address accountability issues. Although two years later Lord Naseby produced irrefutable evidence, in the House of Lords, to justify reexamination of the Geneva Resolution 30/1, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government steadfastly refused to act. For nearly five months, the government ignored nationalist group and JO/SLPP calls to back Lord Naseby, much to the anger and disappointment of a vast majority of people. There had never been an instance of a government refusing to defend its own armed forces at an international forum.
Lord Naseby delivered a stunning blow to the conspiracy involving Western powers, foreign NGOs, civil society groups here, the TNA, LTTE rump and the incumbent regime against Sri Lanka by proving in no uncertain terms that 40,000 Tamil civilians hadn’t been killed during the Vanni offensive.
The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government refused to act on Lord Naseby’s revelation made on the basis of confidential wartime (Jan-May 2009) British High Commission dispatches from the Office of the Defence Attaché. Reexamination of Geneva Resolution would have derailed the project to introduce a new Constitution.
Outgoing UNHRC chief, Zeid-Hussein, at the 32 Geneva sessions, on June 28, 2016, dealt extensively with Sri Lanka. The former Jordanian career diplomat, in a statement headlined ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’, explained, in no uncertain terms, what Geneva expected Sri Lanka to do.
The project to introduce a new Constitution should be examined along with Zeid-Hussein’s statement on June 28, 2016 and the findings and conclusion of the so-called comprehensive investigation undertaken by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Zeid-Hussein wanted Sri Lanka to implement recommendations contained therein. The Jordanian also wanted other countries to abide by the recommendations, in line with his request. Australia, last year, denied a visa to Maj. Gen. Chagi Gallage, Director General of Infantry. They found fault with the Gajaba Regiment veteran for commanding a fighting formation on the Vanni east front, during the last phase of the offensive.
Although President Sirisena assured the Army that he would look into foreign governments causing embarrassment to senior military officers, the government did absolutely nothing. Among those who had been present at the time the assurance was given were Defence Secretary Kapila Waidyaratne and Army Chief Lt.Gen. Mahesh Senanayake.
The bottom line is that Zeid-Hussein unveiled a despicable political agenda meant to transform Sri Lanka at the expense of its unitary status.
Western powers and India, at the onset of 2015, caused the change of government to enable the intended transformation. Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism in May 2009 had been used as a rallying point twice; against the war-winning President on the basis his armed forces committed war crimes. Although the first project, in which they used General Sarath Fonseka failed in January 2010, the second attempt succeeded. Maithripala Sirisena’s election was meant to ensure political transformation. The handing over of the Interim Report of the Steering Committee, tasked with framing a new Constitution, to the Constitutional Assembly, by Premier Wickremesinghe last year, marked an important step towards achieving that overall political objective, namely a brand new Constitution.
Delayed new Constitution project lessens impact
Although, the Geneva project has been delayed, it has been on track until the electorate inflicted a heavy defeat on those pushing for a new Constitution. Although, they hadn’t commented on how the project to introduce a new Constitution could have had caused/contributed to debilitating polls setback, they cannot ignore the Geneva factor with the next sessions scheduled to commence next week. Before discussing the matter further, let me reproduce verbatim what Zeid-Hussein stated in respect of the proposed new Constitution being pushed by them in his June 28, 2016, address in Geneva:
* Significant momentum has been achieved in the process of constitutional reform. On 10 March 2016, Parliament adopted a resolution establishing a constitutional assembly to draft and approve a new constitution or amendments by the end of 2016, which would then be put to a referendum in 2017. The drafting process has benefited from an inclusive public consultation process overseen by a Public Representations Committee that received submissions and held district level consultations in the first quarter of 2016.
= From a human rights perspective, the constitutional reform process presents an important opportunity to rectify structural deficiencies that contributed to human rights violations and abuses in the past and reinforce guarantees of non-recurrence. These could include a more comprehensive Bill of Rights, stronger institutional checks and balances, enhanced constitutional review, improved guarantees for the independence of the judiciary, effective individual complaints mechanisms and greater direct enforceability of international human rights treaty. Also, as demonstrated by other countries’ experience, is the strengthening of civilian oversight over the military in the form of multiple oversight and accountability mechanisms over defense policy, discipline and promotion, budgeting and procurement. The new Constitution will also be important in facilitating the establishment of the transitional justice mechanisms envisaged by the Government, for instance the criminalization of international crimes in national law or allowing for the involvement of international judicial personnel. At the same time, the High Commissioner hopes that the political process of adopting constitutional changes will not involve tradeoffs and compromises on core issues of accountability, transitional justice and human rights.
For some strange reason, the previous Rajapaksa government steadfastly refused to make representations on behalf of Sri Lanka. In fact, their refusal facilitated the UN project. The previous government’s foolish response to war crimes allegations certainly facilitated the UN project in which the US played a significant role in forming a UNP-led alliance that involved the TNA, the JVP the SLMC and well paid civil society groupings.
Unholy alliance intact
Having suffered an LG polls debacle, an influential section of the government and those civil society groups repeatedly claimed that President Sirisena’s 2015 mandate was still intact therefore the government should go ahead with the project to introduce a new Constitution. They insisted that the anti-Mahinda vote comprising the UNP, SLFP, JVP, TNA and the SLMC among others still amounted to nearly 55 per cent, whereas the former president received approximately 44 per cent. They convincingly refrained from mentioning the so-called anti-Mahinda vote comprised the grouping that had received instructions from the US to bring Rajapaksa rule to an end in January 2010. The same grouping succeeded five years later. And in spite of the LG polls defeat, leading proponents of the yahapalana government seemed to be confident that even if President Sirisena quit his alliance with the UNP, the grouping can continue.
False, malicious and still unproven war crimes allegations remained intact and needed to be challenged in Geneva without further delay.
With crucial elections to nine Provincial Councils, including the Northern PC, now scheduled to be held in 2018 and 2019, in addition to presidential polls, in one year and 8 months, and parliamentary polls in two and half years, Sirisena and Wickremesinghe cannot continue to ignore the need to review their joint stand on the Geneva Resolution.
Yahapalana partners certainly paid a very heavy price for not addressing human rights issue in a professional manner. Instead of defending the country, they allowed the UN to pursue a high profile campaign against it on the basis of unproved allegations.
Foreign Ministry co-sponsored Geneva Resolution 30/1 just over a week after outgoing Sri Lankan’s Permanent Representative in Geneva, Ravinatha Aryasinha, rejected the original draft alleging it didn’t help post-war reconciliation process. Aryasinha will return to Colombo later this month.
The Foreign Ministry that had virtually turned a blind eye to Lord Naseby’s explosive revelations which could have been comfortably used in Sri Lanka’s defence, pounced on military attaché Brigadier Priyankara Fernando, attached to the Sri Lanka High Commission, in London, in the wake of his ‘throat slitting’ gesture during a protest outside the mission by British nationals of Sri Lankan origin. The Gemunu Watch officer is on record as having said that he only signalled the successful conclusion of the war against the LTTE. The writer, in the run up to the Feb. 10 polls, had an opportunity to present an alternative opinion regarding war crimes issue to authoritative British representatives. They reminded how former British HC translator Anton Balasingham, after having had received British nationality, ended up in the UK as LTTE theoretician ‘Dr Balasingham’ (although in actual fact he had no doctorate) and was allowed to operate with impunity, even after the assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, in Aug. 2005.
A dismal past
The UNP hasn’t been able to stomach Sri Lanka’s triumph over the LTTE contrary to predictions of many pundits, in May 2009. In fact, the UNP pursued its strategy on the basis that the LTTE cannot be defeated, militarily, under any circumstances. Throughout the combined security forces campaign, beginning with the seizure of Sampur, in early Sept. 2006, close on the heels of Mavil-aru battle, the UNP, Colombo based diplomatic community, so-called civil society, as well as an influential section of the media, believed it was only a matter of time before the LTTE inflicted an irrevocable defeat on the Army. They believed the LTTE had the wherewithal to crush the Army on the Vanni west. They were certain that the Jaffna-based fighting Divisions couldn’t break through the Vanni front-line in the peninsula extending from Kilali across Muhamalai-Eluththumaduval to Nagarkovil.
The LTTE strategy could have succeeded had its assassination attempts on the then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Fonseka and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa came through in late April and early Dec. 2006.
Soon after the armed forces brought the war to a successful conclusion, on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, on the morning of May 19, 2009, the UNP reached an understanding with the TNA and the JVP to field Fonseka against Rajapaksa. The UNP ignored that the TNA, until the very end of the war, stood by the LTTE after having declared it as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people in late 2001. The parliament never responded to the TNA endorsement of both locally and internationally proscribed terrorist organization. The parliament also conveniently ignored the EU Election Observation Mission report that dealt with the April 2004 parliamentary polls. The EU accused the TNA of being the direct beneficiary of violence directed by the LTTE at those who contested the parliamentary polls in the then temporarily merged northern and eastern province. It even accused Tigers of stuffing ballot boxes to help the LTTE to secure victory.
The Kumaratunga-Rajapaksa administrations are accountable for not taking action against the TNA until the grouping ended up in the UNP-led group. All major political parties and the Elections Commission cannot be excused for not taking up with the TNA its part accountability in the Eelam War IV. The electorate never pardoned the UNP for belittling the war effort and post-war treatment of the armed forces. Sirisena’s SLFP too cannot absolve itself of its failure to defend the armed forces during the past three years, though the writer firmly believes a comprehensive judicial inquiry with full participation of foreign judges and other experts is mandatory to clear bogus charges. Stepping up on the earlier accusation against Sri Lanka of massacring over 40,000 civilians within five months, a British MP told UK parliament in Sept, 2015 that the SLA massacred 100,000 Tamils, including 60,000 LTTE cadres in 2009. Western powers and the UN should have presented all available information/data for verification. They refused to do so for obvious reasons. Thanks to Lord Naseby, the world now knows what the British government refused to divulge officially so far. In fact, Lord Naseby’s assertion tallied with wartime UN report that estimated the number of dead, including LTTE combatants at 7,721, between Aug. 2008 and May 13, 2009.
Wickremesinghe’s UNP never appreciated the Rajapaksa’s strategy. Addressing a public rally in Galle in mid-2007, the then Opposition Leader Wickremesinghe questioned the importance of the Army capturing strategically vital Thoppigala in the eastern theater of operations. Wickremesinghe belittled the army’s success and queried why the government felt regaining Thoppigala was so important. Wickremesinghe declared: Thoppigala is a big jungle. What is so important about Thoppigala? When we implemented the Mahaweli project, we left Thoppigala. How many times Thoppigala was captured? It was nothing but a massive forest, comprising 700 square kms. Thoppigala is bigger than the Colombo district.”
Minister Rajitha Senaratne, who had been a member of the Rajapaksa’s cabinet responded to Wickremesinghe: “Clearing of LTTE bases in Thoppigala region marked the liberation of the entire Eastern Province. All Sri Lankans are happy about the armed forces victory over terrorism.” Referring to Wickremesinghe’s declaration that clearing of Thoppigala jungles didn’t matter and wasn’t militarily important, Dr. Senaratne said Wickremesinghe always made such blunders. Wickremesinghe had paid a heavy price for disparaging statements on the armed forces. Wickremesinghe hadn’t been able to achieve political victories for want of a sensible approach towards the armed forces, Dr. Senaratne said. Senaratne said that no sensible person could be unhappy over the LTTE’s defeat in the east. The outspoken politician declared that those who couldn’t appreciate the armed forces triumph over terrorism were traitors.
(To be continued on Feb. 28)
By Shamindra Ferdianndo