Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Racist Tactics in Sri Lankan Politics

Mahinda Rajapakse who has created himself a cult-like image especially among the Sinhala Buddhist majority in the aftermath of the war victory of 2009 still commands a significant influence within the aforementioned vote base. Six years on after the defeat of the LTTE, Rajapaksa who was the only incumbent president to lose a presidential election in the history of SL when he was defeated by president Maithripala Sirisena in January 2015 elections is back in the limelight, this time running for the post of Prime Minister from the UPFA in the upcoming elections which is to be held in August 2015.

The UPFA are yet to put together a manifesto for the upcoming election, and the only salient message that we can derive from 'Rajapaksa For PM' campaign is that people should reinstate MR in power to solidify the war victory. Their propaganda machine seems to rely heavily on the personality of Rajapaksa than attempting to address the issue which led to their downfall in the January elections. The main accusation against the Rajapaksa government was the wide-spread corruptions that were being carried out under the pretext of infrastructure development. MR went to the extent of making a public statement that he protected certain corrupt MPs during his tenure as president but most of the members who are accused of corruption are back in the fray running for parliamentary seats from their respective districts.

Interestingly literally nothing is being spoken by the UPFA camp on the racial reconciliation front, while they continue to harp on an imminent awakening of the Tamil diaspora and Sri Lankan Muslim extremists. It is blatantly obvious that UPFA is employing racist tactics to win this election with hook or crook. Racial reconciliation is the need of the hour, it is quite sad the way they are trying to appease the Sinhala majority by spreading racist sentiments while inciting fear and distrust against the minority communities,threatening the ethnic harmony of the country. Political leaders should be more careful of the consequences of fueling racial tensions in a country like  Sri Lanka who has enough and more lessons to learn from such instigations like the Black July of 1983. It is no secret that Sri Lanka got a massive advantage by the events that unfolded post 2001 which resulted with LTTE being banned in many western countries and SL being able to get recognized as a nation engaged in a war against terrorism. With all these instigations by UPFA propagandists, Will Sri Lanka get a second chance should there be another incident akin to 1983?

If you are to solidify the war victory this country needs a lasting solution to the ethnic problem, rather than stoking the dying flames of racism. Sri Lankan voter, especially the Sinhalese voter will have to decide wisely in the upcoming election, now that the war is over we need leaders who can pave the way for a free and fair society and create lasting ethnic harmony. Sri Lankan citizenry wouldn't want to be embroiled in another civil war for a few more decades and squander this golden opportunity to put our country back on the right track.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

SL Sheds Anti-Western Dogma: Nail in the Coffin for Separatists

The US secretary of state John Kerry's visit to Sri Lanka this week sent the message that US-SL relations which reached an all-time low during the last nine years or so is back on track. As much as President Mahinda Rajapakse should be commended for resisting pressure exerted by the west to stop the war during the final stages of the war, President Sirisena and PM Wickemasinghe should win kudos for finally putting Sri Lanka's foreign policy on the right track.

Anti-Western sentiments were very much in fashion during the course of the Rajapakse regime, not only did it won him a lot of votes locally, it also gave a plausible justification for dealing almost exclusively with China when it came to development projects carried out in the country. SL had to put a lot of time and effort trying to deal with the UN resolution against SL which was engineered by the western powers who were sulking after the way they were snubbed during the latter stages of the war in 2009. Although it was woefully ineffective, this 'taking the bull by the horns' kind of approach made waves in the local political arena, President Rajapaksa was unstoppable winning election after election. Only real beneficiary of this exercise of  continued distancing from the west was the Tamil Diaspora who are hellbent on creating a separate state for Tamils within Sri Lankan soil. What the ultra-nationalists did not understand was the fact that if SL is to put and end to separatism it had to fight its battle at the right front which is in the west, but all they did was harping on anti-western rhetoric to reinforce local vote base.

It appears that this new approach to dealing with the west will alleviate some of the difficulties faced by SL in the international arena related to war crimes, one can also speculate that SL will win over significant economic and military assistance from the west. Another remarkable aspect of Sri Lanka's refreshed foreign policy is that it acknowledges the importance of keeping good relations with key players in the region like India, China and the rest, in keeping with the non-aligned policy which brought significant benefits to the country in the past.

There will no doubt be harsh criticism by ultra-nationalist political forces within the country regarding the new policy, but it is of profound importance for SL to engage with the west so that they can negate any threat of separatist forces rising its head and concentrate on economic development that was hindered by a three decade long civil war. It is however important that Sri Lanka make sure they do not over compensate in the process of mending fences with the west, like the previous regime did with China, bending over backwards for the military assistance they gained during the civil war.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Presidential Election | A Clear Mandate from People with a Strong Message.

The common candidate of the opposition Mr. Maithreepala Sirisena has secured a resounding victory in the presidential election held yesterday (8th). Apart from winning traditional UNP strongholds the president elect has managed to edge out his opponent by huge margins within the majority of the urban electorates in the south plus the north and the east. The large scale efforts by the government to woo the Sinhalese rural voters by means of propaganda designed to spread fears of another Ealam war in the event the opposition wins seems to have resonated well within these voters. Government media upon which the rural population place a higher credibility, kept harping on the importance of the executive presidency in ending the war and maintaining the country's status quo as a unitary state. In spite of the grave violations of the election laws related to the use of state media and state resources by the government MS backed by the newly formed alliance managed to secure victory by a reasonable margin.

Some of the ultra-nationalists have already started uttering racist sentiments, pointing out that given the amount of support MS has got from the minority voters, the majority Sinhalese will be sidelined and he will have to act according to the whims of separatist forces. However considering the fact that the joint opposition's decision to keep the provincial councils under the purview of the President and the fact that the main architects of the War victory (JHU, Gen. Fonseka) are key partners of the joint opposition, we can assume that such developments are highly unlikely. On the other hand government has only themselves to blame for failing to secure the support of the Muslims who had to face a series of attacks by BBS backed by the government in a bid to get cheap political mileage among their rural Sinhala Buddhist vote base. As far as the Tamil voters are concerned the government failed to address their issues related to resettlement and reconciliation, they were ignored simply because of the sense of complacency that was created within the government ranks that they can win any election by reinforcing the rural Sinhala vote base by spreading racial disharmony and mistrust.

One remarkable factor which helped the joint opposition victory was the widespread use of social media to undermine the government propaganda that was channeled through state media. Credit should go to Janatha Vmukthi Peramuna (JVP) led by Mr. Anura Kumara Dissanayake for keeping the masses informed through social media with his simple but sharp rhetoric. Mr. Dissanayake's efforts gave fresh impetus to the somewhat lukewarm efforts from the main opposition UNP (barring a handful of active individuals) which eventually found its way back on track during the latter half of the presidential campaign. It is a very positive sign for the democracy of this country that the people power prevailed over the might of state media propaganda.

What is even more remarkable is the fact that this phenomenon of emerging people power sends out a strong message along with their mandate to the opposition; that is the consequences that even someone like Mahinda Rajapakse who created himself a cult-like image after war victory will have to face if they go off track. One would think that Ranil, Chandrika and Maithreepala being astute and seasoned politicians would take this message seriously and start working towards the promises given to the people from day one, instead of learning the lesson the hard way.