General election: GTF discourages voters from backing major parties…
…warns of authoritarian rule
The UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum (GTF), which has been working closely with Tamil National Alliance (TNA), has urged the Tamils to vote for those only contesting the northern and eastern regions. In addition to the TNA, the Thamizhi Makkal Tesiya Kootani or the Tamil People’’s National Alliance led by former Northern Province CM C.V. Wigneswaran are in the fray in the former war zones.
The GTF, in a statement issued yesterday said: “First and foremost, ensure that people appreciate the significance of this election and the power of their vote – every vote matters. Second, no vote should be wasted on the multitude of independent groups and those representing countrywide parties, as these could only dilute the strength of the Tamil representation for future political engagements. Overly unrealistic agenda and an inward-looking insular political strategy is not the most suited in the present circumstances. The question for the Tamil voters is among the parties that represent Tamil national interest, which party and candidates are the best suited to navigate Tamil politics through the turbulent times ahead.”
The GTF urged all citizens of Sri Lanka, including those from Tamil and Muslim communities, to view the election with long-term perspective and exercise their franchise prudently and responsibly. Otherwise, the price of apathy could be too high.
The GTF alleged the election was being held amidst authoritarian presidential rule through decrees and task forces, key civilian functions entrusted to serving and retired military officers (some of whom credibly implicated in serious human rights violations), an atmosphere of intimidation and fear leading to media self-censorship and silencing of civil society activists, and insecurity among the minority communities.
The GTF said: “It is in this atmosphere that Rajapaksas are seeking 2/3rd majority to change the constitution, in particular, to abolish the 19th Amendment. It is not difficult to contemplate where this will lead to – executive power without checks and balances, marginalisation of Parliament and Judiciary, and key institutions made irrelevant. In such a quasi-democracy, rule of law and human rights will become expendable, and impunity will reign. The argument that a strong leader with unconstrained power is a must for development and prosperity is phony and self-serving.”
The GTF statement: “The last two attempts at constitution making (1972 and 1978), where the political parties that drove the process had 2/3rd majority, were disastrous, and their effects are still crippling the country. Democratic fundamentals and the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious character of the state were severely compromised to satisfy the power greed of the rulers. There is no indication that politics or statesmanship will be any different this time. In fact, if history is a guide, the outcome could be worse than what was achieved during the last two attempts. It is crucial, therefore, that all citizens should unite in denying the present rulers unfettered freedom for constitution making, rather ensure that only a widely consulted and compromised charter will be possible.
“While a functioning democracy with checks and balances are important for all citizens, it is so paramount for the minority communities. When the fangs of the majoritarian state unfairly target minority communities, even the theoretical possibility of legal recourse can be significant. So, it is vital that Tamil, Muslim and Christian communities study their electoral options and act wisely.
“Eleven years after the end of war, re-evaluating political circumstances and electoral possibilities is a must for the Tamil community. Gaining a respectable and secure status in the country is still a dream and there are many disappointments to contend with – no tangible outcomes on constitutional and accountability fronts, lack of momentum in returning to normalcy for the war-affected, and lingering concerns about protecting identity of the Tamil majority North-East. However, it is also undeniable that during the last five years there was notable relief for the Tamil people due to de-escalation of the military stranglehold in the North-East and people enjoyed some normalcy and freedom which included the right to memorialize the war-dead. How much of these could be lost due to the electoral outcomes is one important question to consider.
“The Tamil political leadership during the last decade has earned some positive marks on the national politics of the country – its role in the 2018 constitutional crisis being one notable example. A far-sighted political approach has somewhat weakened the apprehensions and animosities existed between the Tamil and other communities. Further, the Tamil nationalistic politics in Sri Lanka is viewed in the major capitals of the world as a far more progressive one than what it used to be. These fundamental building blocks are crucial for future political settlements, and need to be further strengthened, not weakened, as Tamil struggle moves on.
“Tamils in Sri Lanka is a significantly weakened community today – the population is relatively small with reduced electoral strength, and its educational and economic performances are among the worst in the country. Meeting political aspirations, though overwhelmingly the dominant issue for Tamils, is one of many objectives for the rest of the country. While the Tamil community should never take its eyes off from achieving political outcomes, it is no longer tenable that it be approached in a sequential manner, i.e. – ‘political resolution first, economic development later’. It is crucial that the Tamil political leadership become more cognizant of this reality and take necessary initiatives in this direction.
“The Sri Lankan political leadership’s intransigence in accommodating the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil community, made the Tamils look to the international community and India, with hope and expectation. While this is an integral part of the Tamil political struggle and need to be strengthened and leveraged to the maximum, this cannot substitute an effective political and civil society engagement with all communities in the country. This, too, needs to be a factor when Tamils consider their political choices.
“The Tamil community faces monumental challenges today. The Rajapaksas-led political ‘movement’ does not have many parallels in Sri Lanka’s history. It relies entirely on Sinhala-Buddhist vote and highly insensitive to the concerns and aspirations of the minority communities. No commitment to accountability and reconciliation (withdrew from co-sponsorship of UNHRC resolution), increased militarisation of civil functions (military officers for every village in the North-East), and the appointment of all-Sinhala task force to ‘preserve the historical heritage of Sri Lanka’ in the multi-ethnic Eastern Province are a few examples. More ominous is the possibility of losing some of the fundamental reforms such as power devolution under 13th Amendment and the parity status for Tamil language. A major economic contraction Sri Lanka is expected to undergo could lead to intensifying authoritarianism and militarisation, and in all likelihood the minority communities will be used as scapegoats for the wrong doings of the powerful.
“The period ahead will test the capability of the Tamil political leadership. Forming effective partnerships with the elected representatives from all minority communities and with those from the majority community with progressive views could be critical, so is fostering effective engagement strategies with the international community and India. If Rajapaksas are denied 2/3rd majority, such coalitions would be particularly powerful in preventing the constitution being amended on their own right. Perhaps the better strategy for the Tamil community could be protecting its hard-won gains, while exploring opportunities for furthering its community interests.
” Despite the fundamental weaknesses in Sri Lanka’s democracy, the country is often viewed favourably by the international community because it unfailingly conducts elections which are viewed largely as free and fair. In such circumstances, voting is fundamental and in fact the most powerful tool available to effect political, social and economic transformations in the country. The Global Tamil Forum (GTF) appeals to every citizen of Sri Lanka, and the Tamil people in particular, to cast their precious votes and cast it wisely, keeping the long-term interest of the country and their political, economic and democratic rights in mind.”
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AG not bound by its recommendations, yet to receive report
PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks:
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC is not bound by recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, or presidential directives in that regard, according to authoritative sources.
They said that the AG couldn’t under any circumstances initiate legal proceedings until he had received the full PCoI report.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the PCoI report on Feb 1. The President’s Office delivered a set of PCoI reports to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Feb 23, a day after the report was presented to the cabinet of ministers. The Island raised the matter with relevant authorities in the wake of a section of the media reporting the PCoI recommending punitive measures against former President Maithripala Sirisena, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, IGP Pujitha Jayasundera, Chief of State Intelligence Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, Chief of National Intelligence retired DIG Sisira Mendis and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader and Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Rishad Bathiudeen et al over the Easter Sunday carnage.
Sources pointed out that due to the inordinate delay in sharing the PCoI report with the AG, the department hadn’t been able to take preliminary measures required to initiate the proceedings. Sources said that a team of officers would take at least six weeks or more to examine the report before tangible measures could be taken.
With the AG scheduled to retire on May 24, 2021, even if the AG Department received the P CoI it would be quite a tough task to initiate proceedings ahead of retirement, sources said. However, in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in last October, both the AG and the IGP could receive extensions beyond 60 at the President’s discretion.
Dappula de Livera received an Acting appointment as the AG a week after the Easter Sunday carnage whereas his predecessor Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, was elevated to Chief Justice.
Responding to another query, sources said that the Attorney General two weeks ago requested Secretary to the President for a copy of the P CoI. However, the AG was yet to receive one, sources said. In spite of the AG not receiving a P CoI copy, the AG had instructed the IGP to obtain a copy of the report when he requested the police to complete investigations into the Easter Sunday carnage. The AG issued specific instructions after having examined police files pertaining to the investigations.
The IGP, too, hadn’t received a copy so far though some sections of the report were in the public domain.
Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage displayed at a live political programme on Derana a copy of the P CoI report he received at the cabinet meeting earlier in the day.
Sources said that the Attorney General’s Department couldn’t decide on a course of action in respect of the Easter carnage on the basis of a section of the report. In terms of the Commission of Inquiry Act (Section 24), the AG enjoyed significant powers/authority in respect of investigations; sources said adding that the Department urgently required both the P CoI report and police investigations report. The Attorney General’s Department has raised the delay in receiving a P CoI report amidst the Catholic Church attacking the government over the same issue.
Sources said that ministerial committee appointed to study the P CoI report couldn’t decide on how to proceed with the recommendations and the matter was entirely in the hands of the AG. Sources pointed out that the delay on the part of the government to release the report had received the attention of sections of the international media, including the New York Times. Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera having met Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at the Bishop’s House on Dec 8, 2020 said that the AG would get a copy of the P CoI report once the President received it. Minister Weerasekera said that the CID had handed over the relevant files after having completed investigations into eight blasts. Referring to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) report on the Easter Sunday carnage, the former Navy Chief of Staff said that all such documents would have to be brought to one place and considered before initiating legal proceedings. Acknowledging that there could be delays, lawmaker Weerasekera said that on the instructions of the Attorney General a 12-member team of lawyers was working on the case. The minister vowed to expose the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday attacks. Investigations continued while some of those wanted were overseas, the minister said.
The minister acknowledged that the Attorney General couldn’t proceed without the P CoI report. Minister Weerasekera reiterated that once the President received the P CoI report, it would be sent to the Attorney General. The minister said that there were documents two to three feet high that needed scrutiny. The minister assured comprehensive investigation. The minister said that investigations pertaining to eight blasts had been completed and the reports handed over to the AG. However, the Attorney General had found shortcomings in those investigations.
JVP picks holes in PCoI report
By Saman Indrajith
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday bombings had failed to identify the mastermind of , the JVP said yesterday.
Addressing the media at the party headquarters in Pelawatte, JVP Propaganda Secretary MP Vijitha Herath said that the PCoI report had levelled accusations against former President Maithripala Sirisena, former IGP and head of intelligence for their dereliction of duty, shirking of responsibilities and not taking action to prevent the attacks and negligence. There were reference to the causes of the terror attacks and actions to be taken to avoid such attacks and the influence of extremist organisations. “However, there is no mention of the mastermind of the attacks, the handlers of the attackers and those whose interests the carnage served. It is also not mentioned whether there has been any foreign or local organisation behind those attacks. As per the PCoI report the attack took place as a result of culmination of extremism.
“According to the PCoI the extremist activities were a result of the prevailing political situation then. The entire nation was waiting to see who was responsible and who masterminded those attacks. The PCoI has failed to identify the true culprits responsible for the terror attacks. The report says that the leader of the suicide cadres killed himself in the attacks and it was a puzzle. That means those who are actually responsible for the attacks are still at large. The report does not provide exact details of the sources of the attacks. The PCoI had sittings for one year and five months. It summoned various persons and got their statements but it has failed to shed any light on the terror attacks. Everybody knows that the top leaders of the government and heads of security and intelligence establishments failed in their duties. Ranil Wickremesinghe was the second in command and he too is bound by the responsibility but the PCoI report fails to identify him as one of the persons against whom legal action should be instituted. The PCoI has treated Wickremesinghe and former President Maithripala Sirisena differently. We are not telling that this report is a total failure but we cannot accept this as a complete report. The PCoI handed over its report to the President on Feb 1. After 23 days it was sent to Parliament. Now, a copy of the report is there in the parliamentary library for the perusal of MPs.”
Herath said that the PCoI did not have powers to take punitive action. “It only has powers to name those responsible and recommend action to be taken against those named.
TNA MP faults govt. for delay in answering questions, gets under Johnston’s skin
By Saman Indrajith
It did not matter whether the MPs were wearing pressed clothes or had travelled long distances when their questions were answered, Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando told Parliament yesterday.
The Minister said so in response to a complaint by Batticaloa District TNA MP Shanikyan Rasamanikkam, who expressed his dismay for government taking time to answer a question raised by him.
MP Rasamanikkam has raised a question whether the Minister of Health is aware that the Dikkodai ospital, located in the Batticaloa district is not used for public purposes and the patients who visit the hospital for receiving services, face inconveniences, owing to that. On behalf of the Minister of Health, the Chief Government Whip and Minister asked for additional two weeks time.
MP Rasamanikkam: I come to parliament from Batticaloa, which is 422 km away. To attend Parliament we take great care including pressing our clothes. After taking so much trouble to come there braving the pandemic threat we do not get answers. There is a Health Minister and Acting Health Minister and neither of them is here. I saw Minister Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle in the House this morning. She too has gone out. I travel more than 800 km. We could attend to many other problems. It is because the government does not give answers we are conducting protest marches, but when we do so we are hauled up before courts.
Chief Government Whip Minister Johnston Fernando: Every MP comes here wearing pressed clothes. But that has nothing to do with questions and answers here. I have been requested by the subject minister to ask for two weeks’ time. The MPs have a right to ask questions and in the same way the ministers have the right to ask for time. On the other hand, whether you cover 400 km to reach parliament does not matter. The majority of MPs travel 200 to 250 kilometers to come to Parliament. It is for that purpose they contest elections and get elected. Once elected the distance is not an issue you have to come to Parliament. The government has answered all your questions. This is the first time the Minister has asked for additional time. It is unfair for you to level charges. A more responsible conduct is expected of you as an upcoming political leader.