Democracy in Sri Lanka

General Election, April 8 2010

On April 8, Sri Lankans went to the polls to elect a new parliament. This was the first general election since the defeat of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) in May 2009. It was the first general election in almost thirty years which effectively covered the whole nation.

In terms of seats won it was a resounding victory for the governing coalition (main party the SLFP ”“ Sri Lanka Freedom Party) headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The UPFA (United People’s Freedom Alliance) are certain of 144 seats (some results are still awaited as I write); the main opposition coalition the UNF (United National Front) won 46 seats; the DNA (Democratic National Alliance) consisting of a rump of the Marxist JVP (People’s Liberation Front) and supporters of retired general Sarath Fonseka won five seats. Fonseka himself won a seat in a Colombo ward.

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Presidential Election, January 26 2010

The United National Front (UNF) which opposed incumbent president Rajapaksa was a motley crew of 18 parties. The UNF chose General Fonseka as their ”œcommon candidate”. The main parties in the UNF were the UNP (United National Party) a long-established party which had formed the first post-colonial government in 1948; the JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna ”“ People’s Liberation Front), whose fanatical anti-western stance led to comparisons with Pol Pot just a couple of decades ago when they staged two bloody revolutions in pursuit of an extreme Marxist Sinhala nationalist agenda; the TNA (Tamil National Alliance), which had been the LTTE’s proxy in parliament.

The incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa won 60% of the vote. Fonseka and his supporters tried to put a positive spin on this saying that the general had only been in politics for 40 days compared to Rajapaksa’s 40 years but had gained 40% of the vote. There were accusations, mainly from the JVP element of the alliance, that the vote had been rigged through computer fraud. Veteran opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe graciously conceded that the vote was fair. There was election violence and misuse of government resources but most reasonable people would accept that Rajapaksa was undoubtedly the people’s choice. Fonseka’s reputation is based on his part in the defeat of the Tamil Tigers but ironically he bested Rajapaksa in voting in the Tigers’ former strongholds in the north and east. Surprisingly, he lost in his own home territory of Ambalangoda.

Sarath Fonseka

Before the presidential election, rumours had been flying around about the possibility of a military coup. There were newspaper reports that India was on standby after hearing from the Sri Lankan government that a coup was imminent. India denied this. There was an attempted military coup in 1962 which was easily quashed. Lingering fears of a coup against the government led to major changes in Colombo’s security, with soldiers of the Sinha regiment, Fonseka’s regiment, who were guarding sensitive installations being replaced by soldiers of the Gajaba regiment, the regiment of the new army commander, Lt General Jagath Jayasuriya. Fonseka’s team that served at the Chief of Defence Staff office was disbanded and transferred around the country.

After his defeat Fonseka was accused of plotting to overthrow the government and assassinate the president. He was arrested and fought the parliamentary election from custody in a naval base. The charges brought against him at a court martial did not include plotting a military coup.

I am not a great fan of counterfactual history but I would speculate that military coup would have been highly likely if Fonseka had won the presidency. The coalition that promoted and supported his candidacy was so fragile that it would have fallen apart and he would find excuses for taking over.

Serge Halimi wrote in the January issue of Le Monde diplomatique: ”œPolitical combat sometimes stresses personal antagonisms and obsessive antipathies too much. The need for an all-out attack on an opponent makes for diverse alliances motivated solely by the desire to destroy the common enemy. But once that enemy has been brought down, the problems begin. What next? To make political decisions, the grey areas which in opposition had made an alliance possible have to be dispelled, and that brings disenchantment.” In this case the opponent was not brought down but disenchantment followed anyway.

Mangala Samaraweera was a member of the current governing party, the SLFP, but became the opposition UNF’s mastermind and kingmaker. He was the chief strategist instrumental in getting the SLFP’s Mahinda Rajapaksa elected as president in 2005 and one of the crucial elements in his fixing was to win the support of the JVP. The former revolutionaries had re-invented themselves as a legitimate parliamentary party and joined a coalition with then President Chandrika Kumaratunga despite the fact that they had killed her husband. The current JVP strongly pressed for a military defeat of the Tamil Tigers. They made strange bedfellows in the UNF with the Tiger supporting-TNA. The JVP have always hated UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe for being too accommodating to the Tigers and for unleashing death squads upon their comrades in 1989. There are rumours that Ranil was directly involved in torturing JVP cadres. During the presidential campaign the JVP announced they would accept Ranil as caretaker prime minister if Fonseka won.

Mangala decided the best strategy was to focus on concerns that many have about nepotism, corruption, human rights and media freedom. Fonseka is on a sticky wicket (cricket is the main adhesive factor in this fissiparous nation) mouthing platitudes about human rights and press freedom. Fonseka is certainly no Aung San Suu Kyi.

He is inexperienced as a politician and his minders could not control what he said. The UNF carefully drafted Fonseka’s resignation letter when he stepped down from his post as Chief of Defence Staff and released it to the world. He made substantive amendments to the draft and released his own version. According to Kumar David in the Sunday Island newspaper, ”œThe alterations are all retrogressive, reactionary and militaristic; unwelcome by democrats and unacceptable to Tamils”.

In 1990, there were large-scale massacres of Tamil youths in the Amparai District which was under Fonseka’s command. His hand was suspected in some attacks on journalists. Tamils, Muslims and Burghers have taken exception to derogatory remarks he made about minorities in October 2008.

His accusations of corruption and nepotism against Rajapaksa were strongly countered. The president said no one could even open a wayside eatery without the Rajapaksas being accusing of buying it. The Asian Tribune alleges that Fonseka’s son-in-law living in the USA became a multi-millionaire because of the war and had used his family connections to submit false evidence to win tenders with the Sri Lankan security forces. The Tribune alleges ”œa few Generals and others got involved in the deals under the instruction of Gen Fonseka and covered up the issue”. The court martial charges relate to arms procurement and political activity while serving in the army.

Fonseka called for a Freedom of Information Act and a parliamentary bill to ensure the safety of journalists. He was no champion of press freedom before becoming a candidate. In order to stop anti-democratic outbursts by army officers on state-run TV networks, the Defence Ministry ordered that armed forces commanders would require prior approval for media interviews. When Fonseka was army commander, a journalist paid the price for reporting a controversial and derogatory reference Fonseka made to South Indian politicians and activists during the final phase of the Eelam War IV. To avoid a possible diplomatic row over the irresponsible comment, the newspaper editor was removed from his post.

Mangala also is not a convincing champion of press freedom. He was President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s media minister and in his dealings with the press employed her personal ”˜security’ personnel (the gang of underworld thugs with which she surrounded herself). The Sri Lanka Sunday Times described his activities when media minister as a ”˜witch hunt’.

One of the reasons Fonseka did not reach a high military rank earlier is that there were persistent rumours about his character, misconduct, bullying and arrogance. According to the Colombo grapevine (no-one has any secrets from domestic workers) he repeatedly threw food around when in a drunken rage and forced his staff to cook the whole lot again in the small hours of the morning.

He was popular with the rank and file of the army but heartily detested by other officers. His personal courage and military acumen are much admired but his huge ego caused friction. In an interview with Business Today in December 2008 he said: ”œWherever I served, in whatever capacity, I did my job. I never failed”. There was a long-standing rivalry between Fonseka and Wasantha Karannagoda, then chief of the navy. Fonseka’s difficult personality is said by some to have got in the way of organising the campaign against the Tigers. Coordination should have been the task of former Air Force Chief and Chief of Defence Staff Donald Perera but Fonseka ignored Perera. Battle-hardened Brigadier Rajaguru remarked: ”œIf we go front there is Johnny and if we fall back there is Fonny”. Johnny refers to the LTTE’s anti-personnel mines and Fonny is Fonseka.

Former Navy Chief Admiral (Rtd) Wasantha Karannagoda has sent a letter of demand seeking Rs. 500 million from Fonseka for making a statement defamatory of him in an interview on December 24 in which Fonseka said that when Karannagoda was asked to leave office in 48 hours he had cried like a small child.

The Asian Tribune published the contents of a pamphlet that has long been circulating in the army about sex scandals surrounding him throughout his army career. The pamphlet mentioned 71 scandals so far and published the names of some involved. Even the Sunday Leader which supported Fonseka during the presidential election took up this theme in its February 14 edition. Faraz Shauketaly wrote: ”Somawansa Amarasinghe (JVP leader) was almost eloquent in his description of what he termed ”˜the humiliation and degrading treatment’ meted out to the General. That is almost rich for a man who leads a party that has been acknowledged to be one that inflicted immense terror on an unsuspecting public not so long ago. Yet he speaks of the anguish of the Fonsekas. What thoughts did Somawansa Amarasinghe have for the female victim during the time in the mid 1970’s when Sarath Fonseka was charged for conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman, in charge number 0/050/536? It is said that the victim to-date suffers acute mental trauma caused by that incident. Her suffering continues to this date despite those events taking place on Christmas Day 1975.” The charge sheet referred to concerned the rape of a domestic worker on 25 December 1975, at the Army Training centre in Diayatalawa. Fonseka was ”˜Severely Reprimanded’ by Colonel S.C. Ranatunga.

According to the Asian Tribune: ”˜Many women soldiers were molested. A case in point is of Nanda Menike. Sarath Fonseka repeatedly raped this woman solider and fathered two children. Before leaving the Army he arranged pension and other benefits to her.’ For further details see:

http://www.asiantribune.com/news/2009/11/29/sarath-fonseka-%E2%80%93-megalomaniac%E2%80%99s-tryst-fame-and-flame

The Asian Tribune links the allegations in the pamphlet with the misdeeds of other celebrity miscreants like Tiger Woods and Bill Clinton. ”œThe pamphlet vividly illustrates Fonseka’s pattern of sexual behaviour and how he had used his authority for relationships with those who were subordinates and under his command. It is alleged that several members of the fair sex who served under him had immoral liaisons with him because of his power and thus he had abused his authority. As this is common knowledge, when he retired his request for female soldiers and officers to serve him were outright rejected by the government.” The Asian Tribune alleges that he also fathered children by molesting several innocent Sinhala women soldiers who worked for him.

United National Party

A number of actors and sports personalities made a bid for parliament in this election. One starlet was asked why she chose the UNP. She replied that UNP politicians had always been ”˜gentlemen’. This may be surprising coming from someone so young. The UNP generally seems to have become the party of the elderly. There are certain elements of the middle class who will always support the UNP however inept they are. It’s a class thing. They feel that the UNP is the guardian of ”œvalues” of the westernised elite, whereas Rajapaksa is somewhat arriviste (in fact, he comes from the southern squirearchy and his family has long been involved in politics in Hambantota where Leonard Woolf was a colonial magistrate). He wears national dress and is more comfortable with Sinhala than English, (although he has made valiant attempts to speak in Tamil) which allows them to consider him uncouth. He dismissed western criticism by saying: ”œWhy should I listen to people who don’t wash their bottoms?!”

One of the kindest things said about Ranil Wickramesinghe in the wake of this general election is that he is ”˜personally hapless’. Most of Ranil’s favourites were rejected by the voters. He gained 230,000 preferential votes himself in Colombo but former JVP man Wimal Weerawansa made good his promise to win more votes than the UNP leader (he got 280,000).

Accusations of nepotism against the current regime ring somewhat hollow when one considers that Ranil is the nephew of former prime minister and president, JR Jayawardene and the UNP is often referred to as the Uncle Nephew Party.

Ranil has led the UNP for 16 years with ever-diminishing success. It is a mystery how he has managed to hang on. What lawyer and columnist Gomin Dayasri calls the ”˜Colombans’ – a westernised, public-school-educated, neo-con elite – favour Ranil and still run the UNP. Ranil’s critics believe he is still listening to advice from his Royal college friends. Prolific columnist Malinda Seneveriratne wrote: ”œThe on-the-ground business of getting people from armchair to polling booth was neglected…The UNP leadership has consistently pandered to interests that were anathema to the majority community”.

Many UNP MPs crossed over to the government as a result of inducements of ministerial jobs with attendant perks. UNP meetings are opportunities for abuse to be hurled at Ranil. It would be a farce if he ended up running the country. Chief critic Johnson Fernando crossed over to the government and got a ministerial post. He was handsomely elected in a new constituency under the UPFA banner.

The voters see Rajapaksa as the man who had the courage and firmness to press ahead until a military victory over the Tigers was certain. Ranil is the man who, when he was prime minister, agreed to a humiliating cease-fire which allowed the Tigers to regroup and re-arm, the man who kow-towed to foreign interference by Norwegian ”œpeacemakers” and compromised the nation’s sovereignty. Even when victory over the Tigers was nigh, Wickremesinghe was seen to be curmudgeonly about the government’s achievements and passive in the face of international pressure to let the terrorists off the hook.

Monaragala is the next district to where I live. By most measures it is agreed to be the poorest district in Sri Lanka. In spite of that there is still some residual support for the UNP. After some jiggery-pokery involving Tippex and the approved list of UNP candidates, Ranil personally took over the local campaign and instructed Monaragala not to vote for RM Bandara. Ranil was ignored and Bandara was duly elected.
In the aftermath of a humiliating defeat Ranil announced: ”œI am not resigning from the leadership. There is no reason for me to do so. We know from sources that people still have faith in me as leader. I feel no pressure to give up the post. ”
”œSources” means a tight circle of privileged people out of touch with the rural masses.

JVP

Every year on April 5, the JVP marks the death anniversary of their leader Rohan Wijiweera who was killed by government forces in 1971. This year no-one turned up. JVP activists are unhappy and giving up politics and even leaving the country. The JVP recovered from the defeat by torture and death squad in 1989 to become a constitutional party that earned respect in many quarters for its grass-roots approach to the problems encountered by ordinary Sinhalese. It was seen as a party free of corruption.

The decision to withdraw support from the Rajapaksa government and ally itself with an opposition focused on General Fonseka has cost it dear. In the previous parliament it had 39 seats. It now has three.

The DNA was dominated by the old JVP and did badly. Signing up with Fonseka was their ruination and they lost their solid bases in Tissamarahama, Matara and Hambantota. The eleven JVPers who stuck to the alliance with the UPFA as the new NFF did better. NFF leader Wimal Weerawansa topped the Colombo list with 280,000 votes, beating UNP leader Ranil Wickramesinghe.

Minorities

Since 1947, there has been satisfactory representation for Muslims and Tamils in Colombo. Now there is only one Muslim member for Colombo. AHM Fowzie, UPFA member and petroleum minister who distinguished himself for inefficiency and alleged involvement in corrupt hedging deals, is the only Muslim member for Colombo. There are no UNP Muslim members for Colombo.

The Tamil National Alliance has transformed itself into ITKA (Illanka Thamil Arasu Katchi) and won only 15 seats, compared with the TNA’s 22.

The UPFA won Nuwara Eliya, with its large population of plantation Tamils, from the UNF and the district now has seven Tamil MPs. Another district with a large population of plantation Tamils, Badulla, (where I live) did not elect a single Tamil MP.

There was only one Tamil on the UNP list in Colombo- Prabha Ganesan. The UNP tried to woo the minorities but failed abysmally. Mano Ganesan, Prabha’s brother, who allied his PDF party with Fonseka in the presidential election lost his seat. There are signs that the dominant UPFA will become a national party with serious clout in the Tamil-majority areas of the north and east and that the TNA (ITAK) will decline without the muscle of the LTTE. The UPFA will probably extend its influence in the north through its ability to fund development and provide jobs and patronage. ITAK support will probably decline still further.

I am sorry to be including women under the heading of ”˜minorities’ but that does seem to be how they are treated. Although women may indeed be a majority of the population they only gained ten seats. One of those elected was Rosy Sennanayake for the UNP. She was Miss World in 1985 and has been a Sri Lankan ambassador. Nepal has followed groundbreaking policies to ensure that at least 33% of its legislature is female and India is to follow suit. Sri Lanka should give it a try.

Low Turnout

Some have sought to question the validity of the government’s mandate by pointing to the low turnout. There was a record number of candidates but voting itself was at a record low which indicates that the politicians were more interested than the electorate who will have to pay them. Sri Lanka has usually boasted a healthy turnout compared to most democracies ”“ around 75%. Even during the grisly times of the 1989 uprising when the JVP were killing people who tried to vote, the turnout was 63%. This time it was around 50% (still better than EU elections). In the north it was a mere 23%.

In the Sunday Leader, Tisaranee Gunasekera wrote: ”œSuch a sense of cynicism and disassociation indicate a growing public perception of politics as a cornucopia for politicians and a burden to the general population”.

Some have blamed the apathy of the electorate on the impotence of the opposition ”“ the voters were happy enough with the government but it was futile for them to endorse the ruling party yet again and certainly no point in going out of the house to vote for the useless morons opposing the government.

Certainly, there must have been an element of election fatigue. Taking a relaxed breath after the end of thirty years of war the people were immediately subjected to provincial elections. Soon after getting an early presidential election out of the way they have to roll up for a parliamentary election. Perhaps the public mood is echoing WC Fields’s response when told he cannot get a drink because it is election day: ”œThat’s carrying democracy too far”.

The low turnout was in the absence of terrorism and also the absence of the kind of violence that is common in elections here. There were far fewer casualties than in the presidential election. Most of the violence that did occur was of an intra-party nature with candidates of the same party fighting over the pecking order on the preferential lists, with old-stagers being resentful of young hopefuls. In my home territory of Badulla there was a pitched battle between rival representatives of plantation Tamils. UNP Range Bandara was hospitalised with serious injuries after being attacked by a gang of supporters of a rival UNP candidate, Shanta Abeysekera. The expectation of violence may have been off-putting to the voter even if it did not materialise.

The timing of the election may have been a factor. Coming just before the Tamil and Sinhala New Year the shops were full while the polling booths were empty. Many people work far away from the areas in which they are registered to vote and they were unwilling to spend on fares to get home and back for the election and for the new year.

The voters may have decided that the election was issue-less. There are many important issues facing the country for the future but they were not being addressed during the campaign. The Sunday Leader editorial said: ”œOne chapter of the country’s history is now closed ”“ the flickering light of democracy has gone out. The ailing opposition, the clapped-out General, the toothless UNP, will never be able to restore the people’s right to democracy. Instead, if it is ever to return … it will have to take hold again in the hearts and minds of the people. ”œ

Voters’ Verdict

Are the voters mindless morons to be manipulated by the politicians? Well, nine cabinet ministers were given their marching orders by the voters. Foreign minister Rohitha Bogallagama was booted out. The voters did not like Boggles’s arrogance and spendthrift ways and told him so. Boggles had crossed over from the UNP to the UPFA in search of preferment and perks and foreign travel.

Another crossover, Minister of Justice Milinda Moragoda, lost his seat. Lakbima News said: ”œThis arch charlatan who had the audacity to pose as a decent politician after being found guilty by a court of engineering divestitures of cash-cow public enterprises for a song to private entities was a sophisticated con-man who was given the justice department when the Attorney General should have been investigating his own conduct”œ.

On the other hand, some dubious characters have been surprisingly endorsed by the electorate. Raisa Wickrematunge wrote in the Sunday Leader: ”œFrom clandestine drug barons to outright thugs ”“ they are all there. The law-breakers will now lay out the law if the land”œ. She listed a number of actress-abductors, passport ”“forgers, thugs, ranters and ball-squeezers.

Mervyn Silva is a national treasure in Sri Lanka, popularly known as Mervyn the Vermin or Merve the Perve. He was Minister of Labour in the previous administration although he had not been elected. He was in parliament on the National List. This was intended to allow intellectuals into the legislature but has in practice been a way of getting cronies into the chamber. He calls himself ”˜Dr’ but there is no evidence of an academic or medical career. He was involved in an ugly incident at a TV station when he did not like the way they were portraying him. His son, Malaka, bleached blond, muscle-bound, and tattooed, was involved in an incident at Colombo’s Irish pub, Clancy’s. The bouncers frisked him and told him he could not come in with his hand gun. The next night he returned accompanied by government SUVs and three-wheelers full of men with firearms, clubs and knives. Some say daddy was along for the ride. The mob trashed the club, Sopranos, next door to Clancy’s and went through the place stealing mobile phones from customers. Mervyn himself was proud to boast to President Chandrika Kumaratunga that he had squeezed the balls of a monk MP so hard that the man had to be hospitalized.
Mervyn was elected by 151,085 of the people of Gampaha.

Dynasty

Many have expressed concern that the Rajapaksa family are setting up a dictatorial dynasty. In the monthly magazine, Montage, Frederica Jansz wrote before the presidential election: ”œAlmost four years in the Presidency has made Rajapaksa believe that he is God or more likely that he is King.” There is certainly evidence of a personality cult of Albanian Communist proportions. It is difficult to escape images of the president. In a park in Colombo there was a cut-out 100 feet high of Rajapaksa striding purposefully somewhere or other. Near where I live (which used to be UNP territory) large holes have been punched out of the face and groin area of these billboards. During the presidential campaign, one picture of Fonseka appeared occasionally ”“ it is perhaps unfortunate that he was in full military fig. For the general election pictures of Fonseka behind prison bars were favored. My representative of the voice of the people, Upali the driver, gestured with scorn at rare pictures of Ranil and Mangala: ”œgirl boys”, he snorted. ”œNo children”. Fonseka was once a hero for Upali. Now he points at Fonseka’s posters and says: ”Very bad man. If president Sri Lanka finished.” If Fonseka was president no doubt his family would be occupying positions of power just like the Rajapaksas and the Bandaranaikes.

Fonseka and Mangala Samaraweera fought their campaigns mainly on the basis of their personal animosity towards Rajapaksa and his extensive family. It is true that the president has gathered much power to himself and his unelected brother Gotabhaya wields great influence as defence minister. Another previously unelected brother, Basil is important to the project as a strategist and adviser. A third brother Chamal is a government minister.

The president’s nephew, Shashindran, was convincingly elected chief minister of Uva province.

While this may be a matter of concern to commentators, it does not seem to trouble the voters. Mahinda Rajapaksa got 60% of the vote in the presidential election. In the general election, Basil got an astounding 425,861 preference votes. Three Rajapaksas were elected in Hambantota district: Mahinda’s son Namal got 147,566, elder brother Chamal 79,648 and cousin Nirupama 39,025.

When I encountered Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Nuwara Eliya flower show in 2003, there was no indication that he had the capacity to establish a dictatorial dynasty. He had been a respected human rights lawyer from a political family in the Hambantota area. When i saw him, he was prime minister but had little power because he was sidelined by the president Chandrika Kumaratunga who, from her lofty position as a member of the Bandaranaike dynasty, regarded him as a provincial upstart. (She worked against him in the 2010 election.) I was surprised on that day how little security he had. He did not gain the presidency easily but now has reached a position where the nation is transformed in his image. This has happened because he has played a canny political game but mainly because, whatever their personal feelings about him might be, people of all ages, classes, religious or ethnic groups are grateful to him because children can travel safely to school and one can shop without fear of being blown up. People living in the west might find it difficult to grasp just how great it feels that after thirty years of vicious war we have not experienced any terrorist incidents for over a year.

Future of Democracy

The unassailability of the government and the ineptitude of the opposition is cause for concern for many but there has long been a body of opinion that dreams about strong government verging on dictatorship.

One might hope that Rajapaksa’s success over the LTTE, his win over Fonseka and now his majority in parliament will allow a fresh start at exploiting the peace dividend. It is now a year since the LTTE was defeated.

There are many issues to be addressed to develop the country and foster harmony to prevent further ethnic conflict.

Rajapaksa has promised to abolish the executive presidency , but so did his predecessor. It is not easy to do because a two-thirds vote in parliament is required for constitutional changes. This has generally been thought impossible under proportional representation but Rajapaksa has almost achieved the requisite number of seats and has shown his skill in the past at forging coalitions and inducing crossovers. He could gain the five or so members required.

Would abolition of the executive presidency be such a good thing? Some suspect that Rajapaksa wants to abolish it because he cannot serve any more terms as president and is plotting a Putinesque ploy to become executive prime minister in perpetuity.

Abolition has been the clarion call of the opposition including the UNP despite the fact that it was the UNP’s JR Jayawardene who introduced it and used it in an anti-democratic manner. Those in favor of abolition believe that too much power is vested in the president with too little control by the elected parliament.

However, government minister Professor GL Peiris argues that under the present proportional representation system strong government is impossible without the executive presidency. ”œIf there had been no executive presidency the war certainly could not have been won. If there had been no executive presidency but a parliament composed of fractured political groups, then there would not have been a leadership to successfully direct the military operation”. Peiris extrapolates this to other fields and says a reformed executive presidency has a better chance of achieving economic development than parliament.

There has been a lot of frustration over the huge size of the cabinet which has been seen as costly and inefficient, with duplication of work, poor co-ordination of policy and overweening and incompetent ministers milking the taxpayer for their perks. Rajapaksa has promised to reduce the cabinet from over a hundred to 30 ministers. His previous administration did not have a secure parliamentary majority and had terrible struggles to even get budgets through parliament in order to fight the war. Rajapaksa became adept at forging alliances and inducing opposition MPs to join him . This was costly as the turncoats expected to be rewarded with the fruits of office. This was a strategy devised by brother Basil and has been called ”˜Basilisation’. The recent election result ensures a solid majority so few crossovers need to be induced.

In order to prevent further separatist revolt it is seen to be important to ensure devolution of power to Tamil dominated areas. The 13th amendment to the constitution has been seen as the way forward on this but it has been in abeyance for some time. It was imposed by India and India is still promoting it. Not everyone, Tamil or Sinhalese agrees that it is the panacea.

The 17th amendment provides safeguards for human rights and curbs on police powers. Linked in with this are concerns about press freedom and corruption. There are plans to retire elderly civil servants and streamline government departments.

The cost of living continues to worry ordinary people. Unemployment, youth and graduate dissatisfaction led to bloody revolutions in the past and the education system is felt by many to be in need of reform. The infrastructure has improved greatly in the eight years that I have been living in Sri Lanka but now a huge task faces the government if it is to reintegrate the north and east into the national economy after thirty years of destruction by the LTTE.

There are interesting times ahead. Watch this space!

2 comments to Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • Michael Collins

    This nation and the people have suffered so much. It’s difficult to sort out what’s actually going on but this is a great help. The Tamil side in the civil was was actually crushed in a final battle, which was something new in these sorts of conflicts.

    What is the fate of the Tamil people. I noted the comment on the massacre of Tamil youth. Good grief! Any info on the general population of Tamils?

    Outstanding article.

  • Padraig Colman

    Padraig Colman

    Sorry for the delay in thanking you for your kind comments, Michael. The questions you ask about the situation of Sri Lankan Tamils require a detailed response and I plan to do a separate article. At this stage I will just say that I do not believe that, in spite of accusations of genocide and the terminology sometimes used in the western media, the government’s intention was to crush ‘Tamils’. The aim, in which it was successful, was to crush a vicious terrorist group called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Many Tamils, particularly in the diaspora would disagree with me. Many innocent Tamils were indeed killed or maimed and many are still homeless. As you say, it was a surprise that the LTTE was so comprehensively defeated.I believe that there is hope for the future and, whatever the many faults of the government, Tamils will be better off now that the LTTE is no more.

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