“Federalism and war crimes investigation” Sivajilingam: The wildcard Tamil candidate : Kumar David (The Island)

Sivajilingam M KTNA parliamentarian, K. Sivajilingam, will probably come third, and if he succeeds in attracting a fair proportion of the TNA’s base he may receive more than three hundred thousand votes. However if the TNA and other Tamil leaders undercut him he will fall below 100,000. My reasoning is as follows. The Tamils of the N&E number 10-12% of the population, and 10% of the 14 million registered voters is 1.4 million – I prefer the lower percentage because of demographic uncertainties of Tamil population movement and migration. Usually we expect over 70% poll in an exciting election, however massive numbers are unregistered or displaced and since the TNA is not officially contesting there will be abstentions. We have to opt for a much lower percentage; at a guess 50% (700,00) N&E bred Tamil voters, wherever they live, may turn out, if encouraged by their leaders.

Douglas, Sritharan and possibly Pillayan will root for Rajapakse till they are hoarse, some Tamils will pick Fonseka directly, and the Left candidates – especially Bahu – will attract Tamil votes. After these allowances, would it be unreasonable to guess that 300,000 will pick Sivaji? If, however, jealous Tamil leaders undermine him, which is quite possible, this number will fall precipitately.

This kind of pie in the sky arithmetic may turn out to be silly; we will know in 30 days. But the ballpark numbers make the Sivaji phenomenon interesting for three reasons; in the absence of a landslide in the Sinhalese vote it may cause both major candidates to fall short of a 50% poll. Second, if it goes to recount Sivaji’s voters’ second preferences will decide the outcome. Third, and very important, a large Tamil turnout (for Sivaji or for others) will revitalize Tamil politics at home and throw up new leaders. It will also debunk the boycott-craze of numskull sections in the post-LTTE Tamil diaspora and in the TNA.

If the Bahu- Shivaji linkup becomes strong, long-lasting and is built on mutual trust it could lay the foundations for an important and long awaited trend reversing the decline that started at the fateful 1964 LSSP Party Conference.

Who is this Sivajilingam?

Sivaji is not known in the South so some brief bio may be useful. He is one of the early pioneers of Tamil resistance from the Thangathurai-Kuttimani, pre-Prabakaran era and is probably the only pioneer militant who is still active in Tamil resistance today. He has been identified with emancipation and social justice campaigns on behalf of socially oppressed Tamils and when in the Federal Party, Sivaji campaigned against his uncle Mothilal Nehru in support of oppressed caste candidates.

He was a bridge between the old and new political trends in Tamil nationalism in the 1970s and 1980s. There is an anecdote, which I cannot confirm, that when Prabakharan was stuck in Sri Lanka in the early 1980s, he turned in desperation to Sivaji who arranged a boat to India for VP and his mates. Nevertheless, many of Sivaji’s contemporaries were killed in the LTTE-TELO fratricidal war of 1986.

Troubled TNA waters

The TNA is sliced like a pizza; the three slices are of about equal significance. A leadership group including Sampanthan wishes to support Fonseka and opposes posting a TNA candidate. Another section, dinosaurs that have not been reincarnated from their cringing-before-LTTE previous life, cry boycott. The third slice was determined to put forward a Tamil candidate, refused to pull back and nominated Sivaji, but offered to withdraw if there was an official TNA nominee. Now they have forced a campaign dilemma on the leadership: Dare the TNA sabotage a Tamil parliamentarian and support an erstwhile Tiger hunter and recently retired Rajapakse trooper, Fonseka?

Sampanthan and the TNA are caught by the short and curlies. How can they traverse the North and East campaigning for LTTE vanquisher Fonseka against one of their own? Nor can they refrain from campaigning all together; that would be a walkover –point, set and match – to Douglas! Foist by its own petard the TNA may still do the only thing it can, and accidentally turn it into a shrewd move. It could, for appearances, support Sivaji, but slip in the second preference for Fonseka recommendation in the campaign, thus hanging on to both baby and bathwater. If the TNA gets semi-officially into tow, the Tamil poll may increase substantially and Fonseka’s eventual gain could be large.

War crimes investigations

Sivaji’s two-point manifesto has my endorsement: Federalism as the solution to the national question and a demand for an internationally credible investigation of war crimes. Fonseka, in a newspaper interview, asserted that he had information that persons coming forward to surrender with white flags raised were shot dead, in cold blood, by the army, pursuant to a premeditated decision by government leaders. The next day he tried his darndest to backtrack since there was a storm of protest; “You are a traitor letting the side down by exposing these things” was the gist of the protests – apparently even war crimes are military secrets! In his capitulation he went on to say that that there was no violation of international law and that as the then army commander he would take full responsibility for the behaviour of his legions.

Let us take this matter in two distinct steps. Is the assertion of cold-blooded murder true or false? This and this alone is the primary factual issue that overrides everything else in importance. The conflict between Fonseka and the Rajapakse brothers, electioneering, these are ethically and legally irrelevant; the truth or falsity of the alleged cold-blooded shooting is of primary import. It is so serious a matter and emotions are in overdrive, so there has to be an investigation with international participation. Presidential Commissions have become such shams that only unimpeachably respected international participation can restore a modicum of credibility.

The second step follows after that. Fonseka’s opinion that no international law was violated is tendentious; his personal involvement is implicit and he has an interest in the outcome. Once an independent investigation is completed, if it is found that there is prima facie evidence of indictable offences, there must be prosecutions. None of this should be prejudged, that would be wrong. All persons, if any, held indictable must be prosecuted – Generals, Defence Secretaries, even Heads of State; there is no indemnity for war crimes.

The terms of reference of the investigation must include a probe of alleged LTTE war crimes; it must not be confined to a probe of the state. This may seem pointless if possible offenders are deceased; not so, moral responsibility must to be assigned, even posthumously. Let us take a cool-headed, mature, unemotional approach to alleged war crimes, whichever political party or presidential candidate one supports or what community one belongs to. There is no alternative if we want to be a civilised nation. Sivaji could not be more right than to demand a probe, on behalf of his people, into this and allegedly 50,000 other deaths, but he needs to extend the scope of his demand to include alleged war crimes by both sides.


Mucking around with the 13th Amendment, plus minus or zilch is getting nowhere; 13A has become contentious for the way in which it was enacted as much as for what it says. A new constitution needs to be written making 13A, in its locale as an amendment, irrelevant. Why should the national question be confined to an amendment? Decentralisation in general, and the devolution of power to address minority concerns, are aspects of the balance of power between centre, regions and minorities; they are central to, and must be located in, the heart and body of the constitution. There is near universal agreement that the executive presidency must be abolished or muzzled, that the existing proportional representation system must be discarded, the 17th Amendment enforced and a slew of other changes made. Clearly, a wholly new constitution, bottom up, has to be drafted incorporating a new structure of power with the national question uppermost but not the only issue to be addressed.

I am in agreement with Sivaji that the federal option is the best. A group at the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) led by Rohan Edirisinha and Asanga Welikala has done essential theoretical groundwork and the material is accessible in books and scholarly papers. Without detracting from the quality of this work I raise two concerns, the number of federal units, and asymmetrical rather than symmetrical devolution. The CPA group has retained a putative eight-unit federal model (one Tamil unit plus seven others) based on Sri Lanka’s nine provinces. I understand but do not agree with their reasoning, which is that to try to change units, merge provinces, or shift districts around will end in dispute and failure. But, federalism envisages substantial autonomy and an eight way split of so much autonomy in a small country will be a mad-hatters tea party. There has to be just one Tamil unit consisting of the whole of the North and still to be demarcated portions of the East. A new delineation of the rest of the country, limited to just two, or maybe three at most federal units needs to be worked out.

Asymmetrical devolution

In conversations, the CPA group concedes the logic of an asymmetrical relationship; that is the centre relates to the Tamil unit differently from its relationship to other units – be they three or eight. Asymmetry in inter-unit relationships, in so far as the Tamil unit is concerned, is also necessary. However the CPA group is reluctant to formally support the concept of asymmetry. They opine, “It is too complicated to sell; the devil is in the details; there will be so much opposition to an asymmetrical package from stakeholders that the exercise will flounder”. My view is that the political relationship between a putative Tamil unit and the centre, and the relationship between this unit and the other (“Sinhalese”) units, will need to be different, from the relationship between these units and the centre, and the relationship among these units themselves. The UK (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland) arrangement is radically asymmetrical and the EU is also a supra-scale asymmetrical relationship between confederate states; all to accommodate diversity. Sri Lanka must construct its own asymmetrical model sui generis, but learn from elsewhere as need be.

Sivaji is on the right track in standing for Federalism; it is the model that can sort out the ethnic conflict; however fleshing it out needs a lot more work. But first one must sell the idea and Sivaji has made a good start by making it one of the pillars

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  • Ajith

    Sivaji is right or wrong what he is going to achieve by contesting this elecetion. Is there any reward for third place? It is open truth tamils demand above federalism is well established over the past 60 years. You don’t need to contest to prove this. Douglas to Karuna(Pilliyan);TNF to LTTE all are indifferent in this matter. It is difficult to find who is the agent of who. Rjapakse’s agents like KT Rajasingham already discovered that there is going to be a militray coup by Sarath Fonseka, JVP and UNP (It is very interesting and thrilling article by KT in the Asian Tribune). It is alleged these groups also work with India to support Sivaji in order to stop tamils votes going to Sarath Fonseka. Then it is alleged some TNF members associated with US to support Sarath Fonseka.It is generally belived tamils working against tamils are more active than those tamils work for tamils. It is understand that Rajapakse regime has already spent billions to his agents like KT and his group including those in London. I also understand this group has already bokked flights to Colombo for campagining.

    TTamils should understand this election is to elect which of the monster is capable of completely wipe out tamils from Sri Lanka. I don’t understand where this author got his statistics about tamil population of North East. The 12% is pre 1983 statistics. Over 200,000 tamils were killed since 1983 and over 800,000 left the island. Nearly half of the 12% are dead or migrated. The election is going to happen under the terror of over 100,000 military and paramilitary groups like Douglas, Sitharthan, Pilliyar and Karunna. I understand India also sending over 5000 ENDLF carders from India as they did the peace accord in support of Rajapakse. So, whether you contest or not, all these votes will be used beacuse no independent media will be allowed.

    Again who ever wins this election, plans are there to have another 1983. Both candidates are capeable of this and India will back both.So, do we need a choice?

  • Veera

    Puli Padai (LTTE) no longer an asset to Tamils But a Liability!

    · Puli Padai (LTTE – Tigers) should be dismantled Completely, because they are no longer an asset to Tamils, but a liability and a new organisation should be formed, learning from the mistake of LTTE, in the event of Sri Lankan Government refusing to grant rights to Tamils.
    · Though Talaivar (Pirabaharan) and his boys made lot of blunders, Tamil people whole heartily supported them, as they were fighting and won several battle, specially Elephant Pass battle and Katunayaka Airport attack.
    · Tigers were having a de facto state and managing it in a Totalitarian Dictatorship manner and Tamil people tolerated this because Tamil people believed one day we will get Eelam and we can run a Democratic Government and if puligal (LTTE) refused to give Democracy after establishing Eelam, Tamil people would have revolt against them.
    · Pirabaharan is puligal (Tigers) and Puligal (Tigers) is Pirabaharan and he maintained a one-man rule during the existence of Puli Padai (LTTE)
    · He made several mistakes and led us to the present position. First mistake is killing individuals. First Killing as admitted by him is that of Duraiappa. Duraiappa was a Young Mayor of Jaffna, Lawyer and defeated GG Ponnambalam at Jaffna Electorate. He was very popular among the poor people of Jaffna electorate and helped Jaffna Town people a lot. During 1970 Parliamentary Election Amirthalingam, Sivasithamparam and GG Ponnampalam lost the election. GG Ponnampalam gave up politics and abandoned Tamils and look after his wealth accumulated by him.
    · Amirthalingam and Sivasithamparam wanted to win the next election at any cost. S.J.V Selvanayagam After telling the Tamils that he is the leader who could safeguard Tamils, at the end he said, only God has to save Tamils and he could not do any thing, Tamils wasted their time with him.
    · Yogeshwaran wanted to contest Jaffna seat, but Duraiappa was a stumbling block. The Trio Amir, Siva and Yogeshwaran spread slanders about Duraiappa and branded him as Police informant and instigated Young boys to kill him, Young and immature Prabahana and Amir’s eldest son plot to kill Duraiappa and Pirabaharan carried out the murder.
    · Amirthalingam became Leader of Opposition and told Tamil people that he will get Eelam, other wise his body will come to eelam, covered by Raising Son Flag of TULF. But he ended up getting DDC- District Development Council and cheated Tamils.Jaffna Library was burned by UNP during DDC election
    · Pirabaharn and Umamaheswaran had a gunfight in Chennai and were in Madras jail. They were released on bail pending the Criminal case hearing. Pirabaharan jumped the bail and came to Jaffna and organized the Thinnaveli attack.
    · JR and UNP organized 1983 riots and Promoted Pirabaharan as Tamil leader and Indra Gandhi gave Training and Arms.
    · After the unfortunate death of Indra Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi came to power and Pirabaharan was about to lose Vadamarachi Operation and Rajiv Gandi Saved him by intervening and send Indian Army and signed the Indo Sri Lanka agreement.
    · After the Indian Army leaving Sri Lanka with the joined action of LTTE and Premadasa, Pirabhan Killed Arirthalingam, Premadasa and Rajiv Gandhi. These are major mistakes on the one-man ruler.
    · LTTE chased out Muslims from Jaffna and Karuna and Karikalam led this Muslim eviction because some Muslim thugs and home guards attacked Tamils in Batticaloa. Karuna and LTTE killed Muslims civilians in Mosque.
    · Puli Padai (LTTE) also forcibly evicted half a million Tamils from Jaffna Peninsula and herded them into Vanni after the defeat of LTTE in Jaffna during 1995.
    · LTTE killed Premadasa and helped Chandrika to come to power and Chandrika is equally bad as Premadasa. Chandrika captured Jaffna and started war against LTTE and ended up in lousing Vanni and Elaphatpass.
    · LTTE forced thirteen EROS MPs to resign at gunpoint after 1989 election and allowed Douglus Devananda to become a minister.
    · Instead of fighting one enemy at a time, Pirabaharan fought ten enemies at a time and he only wanted money and Children of Tamils and never seek or listen their advice
    · Whether we like it or not Mahinda will be the leader for very many years and he will be the next one-man ruler of whole of Sri Lanka. No more Democracy for Singhalese, Tamils and Muslims.
    · LTTE used Tamils as human shield during the 2009 Vanni War and prevented Tamils leaving war zone at gun point (Taliban did not do this in Swat Valley in 2009) and gave a chance to Singhalese Army to Killed several innocent Tamils and several are wounded and disabled. LTTE said that they are the sole representative of Tamil and sole protectors of Tamils and now say that only god can save Tamils. Tamils have wasted 30 years with LTTE for nothing
    · It will be a good tactics for Tamils to work with Mahinda to release 300,000 Tamils and Thousands of Tiger Boys and Girls trapped because of Pirabaharan’s and Puli Padai’s –(LTTE) mistakes.
    · Tamils should join Sri Lankan Army and Police in large numbers, the Diaspora Tamils Boys and Girls should join UK, USA, Australia, Canada, NATO, Indian and European Army. WITH OUT A TAMIL ARMY, TAMILS HAVE NOTHING.
    · Educated and Diaspora Tamils and Tamils living in Sri Lanka should get involved Sri Lankan National Political Parties, sixty years of experience shows regional parties getting involved in Parliamentary Politics are of no use and detrimental to Tamils other wise Karuna, Pillaiyan and Douglus will be our Tamil Leaders. Regional Parties may get involved in Local and Provincial Politics.

  • Sampanthan

    The mutiny in the TNA

    One of the more significant developments that has resulted from the presidential election is the split within the hitherto monolithic Tamil National Alliance. The TNA is composed of four different parties, the Federal Party, the EPRLF, TELO, and the ACTC, and several independent MPs who were all kept together by the diktat of the LTTE. Even after the LTTE was wiped out, the TNA continued to remain one entity and at the last Jaffna municipal elections and the Vavuniya urban council elections, they were able to give better account of themselves than many expected. TNA was able to show that they had an independent existence even without the LTTE. It appeared as if the TNA had consolidated into a new post-LTTE Tamil political formation that would continue to play a significant if not dominant part in the politics of the north and at least in parts of the east. However with the announcement of the presidential election, the TNA seems to have dissolved into bickering factions. Nomination day for the presidential elections has come and gone, but feuding within the TNA has not ceased. In fact it would be a miracle if the TNA emerges intact from this presidential election.

    One of the reasons why the TNA appeared to be a monolithic political entity at least to outsiders, was because of the pre-eminent position enjoyed by its leader R Sambandan. This time around however, the majority of the parliamentarians in the TNA have not fallen in line with their leader on the issue of what the TNA should do at the presidential elections. Sambandan wants the TNA to support the opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka and three other MPs, – all from the Jaffna district – Suresh Premachandran, Mavai Senathirajah, and Sivashakthi Ananthan support his view. But the four TELO parliamentarians, N.Srikantha and M.K.Sivajilingam from Jaffna, and Selvam Adaikalanathan and Vino Noharathalingam of the Vanni district, hold that neither of the two main contenders should be supported and that the Tamils should field their own candidate. Sivajilingam has already filed his nominations as a candidate. These are the two main core factions within the TNA. The TNA has 22 parliamentarians, and the positions taken by the other MPs are as follows.

    Vanni MP Sivanathan Kisshor has been making pro-government noises and it is widely believed that he will openly support the government at the presidential election. The only Muslim parliamentarian in the TNA, a national list MP, R.M.Imam is completely non-committal and evasive, and nobody knows where he stands. Batticaloa district MPs S.Jeganandamoorthy and T.Kanagasabai are overseas. Other than these parliamentarians, there is a solid block in the TNA which holds that their party should not support either of the two main contenders. Into this group falls Jaffna district MPs Selvarajah Kajendran, Mrs P.Sithamparanathan, Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, S.Solomon Cyril and Batticaloa district parliamentarian, P.Ariyanethiran, national list MP Chandrakanthan Chandranehru, Trincomalee district MP K Thureiratnasingham, and Amparai district parliamentarian T.T.William.Vanni district MP Sathasivam Kanagaratnam is in detention, having been found among the IDPs in Puthumathalan. He is due to be released shortly, and he too supports the latter faction.

    TNA MPs unconvinced

    Thus, out of the 20 TNA parliamentarians in the country, one supports Rajapaksa, four support Fonseka, and a block of 13 does not want to support either of the two main candidates. Sambandan’s argument against the four TELO MPs is that by fielding a Tamil candidate, the TNA would block Tamil votes which would otherwise go to Fonseka. He contends that by absorbing Tamil votes in this manner, the TNA would be indirectly helping Mahinda Rajapaksa to win. Sambandan has been going around telling everyone that M.K.Sivajilingam has been put forward as a Tamil candidate because the TELO theoretician N.Srikantha wants to curry favour with Rajapaksa and become a president’s counsel!

    Despite the invective, the majority of TNA parliamentarians remain unconvinced as to what benefit there will be for them from either Rajapaksa or Fonseka. Even though Sambandan has been arguing strenuously for Fonseka, he has not been able to show what Fonseka can deliver to the TNA. Sambandan has taken a ‘Mahinda defeated the Tamil liberation struggle, so let’s defeat Mahinda’ kind of stand. While this may undoubtedly have some resonance among certain sections of the Tamil public, what most TNA parliamentarians fear is the fallout if their support for Fonseka does not produce concrete results for the Tamil cause. While Fonseka has promised a political package that ‘goes beyond’ the 13th amendment, this does not seem convincing to most TNA MPs. The question they pose is, `what exactly is meant by ‘beyond the 13th amendment’? The 13th amendment is itself so hackneyed that the mere mention of it tends to put people to sleep.

    The majority in the TNA want something more concrete such as a statement on the merger of the north and east, on land and police powers, etcetera. Some even blame Sambandan for extending his support to the opposition candidate without negotiating for any significant concessions. The fact that one of Fonseka’s main backers, the JVP has consistently opposed the devolution of power, the granting of land and police powers to the provincial councils and the north-east merger, has not helped either. The TNA now does not have the LTTE backed preeminence that it had earlier, and in the present competitive environment, most TNA parliamentarians are wary about making mistakes.

    They came second in the Jaffna MC elections, and that was not for want of trying to come first. They came first in Vavuniya, but there too, they merely have the larger slice of a pie that has been divided three ways. Others are eating into the TNA base, and if they make just one false move, they could be relegated to a rump. In Sambandan’s case, he’s now pushing eighty, and probably is not too concerned about making mistakes because the present presidential and forthcoming parliamentary election may be his last elections. The other TNA parliamentarians seem to be acutely aware of this fact.

    Originally, the split was between Sambandan’s group of four who wanted to support Fonseka, and the others who did not want to support either candidate. This latter group was not advocating a boycott as such – it was more a case of hiding their heads in the sand and refusing to acknowledge the election. They did not advocate the fielding of a Tamil candidate either. The fielding of Sivajilingam as the Tamil candidate by TELO, can be described as a deft piece of political entrepreneurship on their part. A Tamil candidate has come forward at a presidential election only once before in 1982, when Kumar Ponnambalam contested against J.R.Jayewardene and Hector Kobbekaduwa. This gave him a foot hold in Tamil politics which he held till his death. When his son Gagendra Kumar Ponnambalam contested the 2004 parliamentary election in the Jaffna district in 2004, the reason why he came third on the TNA list, with over 60,000 preference votes, well ahead of TNA seniors Suresh Premachandran and Mavai Senathirajah, is obviously because of the name recognition.

    Given the fact that Sambandan is on his last lap in politics, a power vacuum is opening up within the TNA which will be filled by the individual or group that has the most recognition. Fielding Sivajilingam as the Tamil candidate, has given TELO the opportunity to seize the day. Sivajilingam is not a name that rings any bells in the south, but he is a veteran of Tamil politics. In 1976, at the age of 18, he became the youngest member of the Tamil United Liberation Front central committee and rubbed shoulders with the giants of Tamil politics like Amirthalingam, Sivasittamparam, Yogeswaran and others.

    The reason why he made it to the TULF CC at that age had been because of his phenomenal popularity among the youth of Jaffna. Sivajilingam is of the Karaiyar caste and hails from the Velvettithurai area and is also distantly related to Prabhakaran. He was a founding member of TELO and associated closely with pioneering leaders of the Tamil terrorist movement like Thangathurai, Kuttimani and Jegan. Sivajilingam did not get that many votes at the 2004 parliamentary election. He came in third from the bottom in the Jaffna district with a little over 42,000 votes. In contrast to this, his TELO colleague Selvam Adaikalanathan came first in the Vanni district. Sivajilingam was obviously chosen over Adaikalanathan because of his experience in Tamil politics.

    Sivajilingam, is a ‘people’s man’ type of politician. Having studied up to his A/Ls, he later worked for a while in the Highways department as a supervisor. As such he does not represent the Tamil professional/social elite. But how many elitist Tamils are left among the voters of Jaffna? Sivajilingam’s profile probably closely matches that of the voters left in the north. When Kumar Ponnambalam contested as the Tamil candidate in 1982, he got less votes than the combined total of the two mainline party candidates. In Jaffna district he got 87,000 votes as against the combined total of 122,000 for JRJ and Hector Kobbekaduwa. In Vanni it was 11,500 against 56,000 and in Batticaloa, it was over 47,000 against nearly 70,000. If Sivajilingam is able to put up a proportionate showing as against the two main contenders, TELO will be up on the deal, and contesting would have been better than simply sitting passively and pretending that there was no election.

    Yet, if it does come to a second count with neither of the main runners getting 50% of the vote, the second preferences count. Will those voting for Sivajilingam express a second preference, and if so for whom? Or will they be divided on this score? Only time will tell but both main candidates are very well aware of the importance of the Tamil votes and are looking to harvest them.

    Snags in the campaign

    As was to be expected, the joint opposition campaign has not been proceeding too smoothly. The maiden rally of the joint opposition was held in Kandy on the 18th of December and since then, joint opposition meetings have been held in Ambalangoda on the 19th, Anuradhapura on the 21st, Mawanella on the 22nd and Ratnapura on the 23rd. There was to have been a meeting in Amparai, on the 24th, but that was cancelled. Of all these meetings, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe attended only one – the first meeting in Kandy. If anyone was expecting to see the triumphant progress of the opposition candidate as the TV cameras followed him from one district to another, we did not see that last week.

    One major reason for this was the absence of the opposition leader on the platforms. The absence of the leader of the main opposition party, diminishes the rally. Besides, as this column pointed out, Wickremesinghe is now the most forceful speaker on the opposition platform and without him, there’s little for the TV cameras to pick up for the news broadcasts. Even at the North Central Province and Sabaragamuwa provincial council elections, news broadcasters largely ignored the two UNP candidates Janaka Perera and Ranjan Ramanayake and reported mainly what Wickremesinghe said. The problem with newcomers to politics is that they tend to be uninspiring speakers and to repeat themselves all the time. Sarath Fonseka in this respect, is no different to Janaka Perera and Ramanayaka. There’s nothing new in what Fonseka says at these meetings, and it would be impossible to give the same coverage to what the opposition candidate says in the news broadcasts day after day, as that would be a monotonous repetition of what was said at the previous meeting.

    Why then is Wickremesinghe not attending these joint opposition rallies to liven things up a bit for the media, one may ask. The first reason could of course be that Fonseka’s victory would mean the end of Wickremesinghe’s own career and one cannot reasonably expect him to dig his own grave by working too hard for Fonseka. Wickremesinghe has absolutely nothing to gain from this election. The JVP announced early on that Wickremesinghe would not be appointed the prime minister of the caretaker government that would be formed after Fonseka won, mainly in order to avoid the very damaging accusation that they were exerting themselves to bring Wickremesinghe into power. Since the common aim was to abolish the executive presidency and revert to a prime ministerial form of government, the appointment of Wickremesinghe as the prime minister would be tantamount to handing over power to him. Because of the JVP’s ideological and political differences with the UNP and the past history of massacring one another’s activists, the JVP cannot afford to be seen pasting posters and canvassing for a political project that brings Wickremesinghe into power.

    When the JVP was challenged by the press, they denied that Wickremesinghe would be the prime minister of the caretaker government that Fonseka would form before holding the parliamentary election. Wickremesinghe too for his part, made a public declaration that he was not interested in the premiership of a caretaker government. At this point, Fonseka should have made a public statement saying that whatever anybody may say, Wickremesinghe was going to be the prime minister of his caretaker government as the leader of the largest opposition party. But Fonseka kept quiet and said nothing. So now there’s nothing in this election for Wickremesinghe. He’ll have neither the presidency nor the premiership although he is on record saying he aspires to be prime minister after the parliamentary election which will follow the presidential contest.

    There were mumblings last week to the effect that UNP regional organizers were not working hard enough for the joint opposition candidate. There’s nothing surprising in this either. Unlike the JVP, UNP regional leaders and even the rank and file tend to think of themselves first. Having Sarath Fonseka may titillate their anti-government sentiments and may motivate them to hold forth at bus stops and do a little jig on the street, but to actually go out and exert themselves for the common opposition candidate, they will need something more concrete. This column pointed out quite early on that, unless Fonseka can assure each and every UNP regional leader personally, that he will be well looked after, they are not going to put their best foot forward. They’ll do the minimum and not the maximum.

    Even a UNP leader would have had to touch base personally with the party’s regional satraps if he expected their cooperation and dedication. Every man has to feel that there is something in it for him. However, any such hopes have been taken away from the UNP. The only thing that is in this election for the UNP is the satisfaction of rubbing Mahinda’s snout on the ground and the probability that a defeat for MR would improve the prospects of the UNP. But in a situation where both the presidency and premiership would be in the hands of other opposition figures in the event of a Fonseka victory, the thought has begun to cross the minds of the UNP that victory may not benefit them much after all. These obviously are the reasons for the sagging enthusiasm in the opposition campaign.

    Another story that went around last week, was that the joint opposition campaign was short of money. That is a near impossibility. Even the SLFP, during their worst days in the 1980s, always had sufficient campaign funds. There was always some left over – enough for the party to live off until the next election. In this case, when the opposition had at last found a candidate who could give MR a run for his money, sacks of cash should be coming in. If money is short, then someone has been siphoning it away. In the case of the UNP, they have no incentive to give the money they receive to the common campaign because they will need every cent they get for the parliamentary election that is to soon follow. If Fonseka wins this election, the caretaker government he forms will not have a UNP prime minister.

    So in the post-election scenario there’ll be the government led by Fonseka and the prime minister, then there’ll be the opposition which will be the UPFA and the UNP will have to contest as a third party scrambling to defeat both the government and the UPFA to get at the executive prime minsitership. To manage this, the UNP will need every cent it gets, which is probably why the money has been disappearing.

    The strains show

    The UNP also seems to be acutely aware that there could be a dissolution of parliament at any moment, even before the presidential election is held. Since the UNP will get neither the presidency nor the premiership from this election, what matters to them is the parliamentary election after which they will be able to make a bid for the premiership. The UNP and its allies have begun holding their own meetings around the country. This started with the exclusively UNF rally in Matara on 20/12, which was attended by Wickremesinghe even though he did not attend the joint opposition meeting the previous day in Ambalangoda or the one in Anuradhapura the following day. Wickremesighe was scheduled to address the joint opposition meeting in Homagama yesterday, (We went to press before the meeting was held) and it was easy to see why – there were two UNF meetings scheduled in Horana and Agalawatte on the same day. Wickremesinghe could not be seen in Horana without attending the joint rally in Homagama. Even though he would attend the Homagama joint opposition meeting, it will be interesting to see how many joint opposition meetings Wickremesinghe will attend in the days and weeks ahead.

    Two joint opposition rallies have been scheduled for today in Hatton and Kundasale, in Badulla and Balangoda tomorrow, Hingurakgoda and Kantale the day after, Dambulla on 30/12, Baticaloa/Amparai on 5 January, Muttur/Trinco on 6/1, Chilaw 7/1, Beruwela/Kaduwela on 8/1, Pelmadulla/Avissawella on 9/1 and so on. One positive thing is that the UNP has managed to prevent the JVP from dominating these joint rallies the way they did the first rally in Kandy. At the Ambalangoda rally the UNP also had taken steps to decorate the town in green; but the JVP cadres had brought red banners with them and therefore red still prevailed over green. It was the same at the Anuradhapura joint rally. It was only at the Mawanella rally that the green eclipsed the red as it should. Kabir Hashim apparently had not only put up green decorations, but had also ensured that UNPers brought green flags to the venue with them.

    Presumably that pattern would prevail at future meetings, because the instinct for self preservation has manifested itself in the UNP’s regional organizers with the jitters over the impending parliamentary election which could be upon them at any moment.

    This election campaign has been becoming a farce with each passing day. Last week, there was the rather amusing spectacle of the JVP’s Dambara Amila Thero trying to justify Fonseka’a lack of political experience by saying that one did not need long years of experience to get into politics, and comparing him to two others who entered politics recently. The two examples that the monk came up with, were Anarkali and Sashindra Rajapakse the former a cutie in her early twenties and the latter in his early thirties. If even his most ardent supporters can only come up with such comparisons, then Fonseka’s goose is cooked.

    Much more damaging than this, was JVP parliamentarian K.D.Lal Kantha’s public statement that had Sarath Fonseka actually made that statement to the Sunday Leader about Gotabhaya Rajapakse, having ordered the shooting of LTTE leaders without allowing them to surrender, that would indeed be tantamount to treachery. Lal Kantha was banking on the Sunday Leader editor not having a recording of what had been said. However, the editor had made a statement to Ada Derana saying that she did have the tape with her – where then does this leave Fonseka? The newspaper carried a Fonseka clarification the Sunday after the original controversial interview appeared. It had no editor’s note.

    Last Thursday, Sirasa TV broadcast an interview with Fonseka. It was a pre-recorded interview where he sought to answer some of the allegations hurled against him by the government. Undoubtedly, it was one of the most entertaining interviews ever given by a presidential candidate in this country. This election campaign has become interesting in a ‘Paalama Yata’ kind of way. When two basket women hurl invective against one another on the street, even educated people momentarily forget their refinement and drop everything to listen. Invective has always been a part of politics. But never has invective become more personal than this at an election.

    There was little or nothing in Fonseka’s interview other than complaints about what he did not get and fulminations about the Rajapakses. There was precious little about his plans for the country. This perhaps is a structural fault in this whole presidential campaign. Fonseka is not allowed to have plans for the country! It became clear during the interview, that this position of being a common candidate with a mandate to contest, but without a mandate to hold the position he wins is telling on the retired general. He stated that he has no written agreement with any party and therefore the question of violating agreements after he wins does not arise. The strains within the opposition alliance are gradually coming into the open. If by such statements he sends signals to the electorate (especially the UNP constituency) that he will not do what his backers say he will do, he may frighten many potential voters away from the polling booth.

  • sasi

    By PK Balachandran
    29 Dec 2009 11:45:44 PM IST

    ‘Sri Lanka cannot escape war crime charges’ COLOMBO: Although Sri Lanka is not a signatory to the Rome Convention which set up the International Criminal Court (ICC), the island nation can still be dragged before the ICC without its consent, senior cabinet minister and a former Professor of Law, G.L.Peiris, has said.
    He told The Sunday Island on December 20, that the UN Security Council had the right to request the Chief Prosecuting Officer (CPO) of the ICC to embark on an investigation of the complaints it had received with a view to prosecution. The CPO could, on his own, seek the approval of the Pre-Trial chamber of the ICC to conduct investigations.

    In the Sri Lankan case, the UN’s Special Rapporteur for Extrajuicial Killings and Arbitrarty Executiuons, Philip Alston, had called for clarifications on the allegation that the Sri Lankan army had killed three top leaders of the LTTE and their families when they had come to surrender waving white flags as per a prior arrangement between them and the Lankan government. The allegation had been made by no less a person than Gen.Sarath Fonseka, a former Army Commander who is now a candidate in the January 26 Presidential election..
    It is felt that Alston’s letter could well be the first step in a UN bid to get key Sri Lankan decision makers and officials to appear before the ICC.

    According to former diplomat Bandu de Silva, Sri Lanka might be able to block a Security Council initiative with the help of a Russian or a Chinese veto, but it should be borne in mind that the CPO could act independently. The CPO was already thinking of bringing the US before the court for war crimes, he said.
    In an article in The Sunday Island on December 27, Kalana Senaratne, said that the CPO could on his own make a case for prosecution by analyzing the seriousness of the charges made and seeking further material from UN organisations, rights bodies and inter-governmental bodies.
    “The statements made by Sarath Fonseka can only add to the evidence that is piling up in the CPO’s office right now.”
    “If the prosecutor comes up with a serious case, the Security Council would need to take note of it, which could result, not in the setting up of a special tribunal, but in approving and directing the ICC to initiate an inquiry – which is possible under Art 13 (b) of the Statute,” Senaratne said.
    Additionally, the ICC could come into the picture legitimately under the Rome Treaty on the grounds that Sri Lanka had failed to investigate the complaints on its own, and that external investigation was therefore necessary. Denial of Fonseka’s allegations would, therefore, not do.. Colombo would have to investigate, Senaratne said.

    Minister Peiris hinted at the possibility of other countries asserting jurisdiction on war crimes.
    A Spanish court heard a case against Israeli Generals under the “universal jurisdiction theory under a private plaint by relatives of the affected parties (Geneva Convention).”
    The District Court of Colombia heard the case against Israeli Lt.Gen.Moshe Ya’alon under a private plaint.

    Peiris had also said that there was a “real danger” of Sri Lanka’s Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa or the former commander of the 58 Army Division, Maj.Gen.Shavendra Silva, being questioned, if not arrested, when being abroad.
    According to Kalana Senaratne, the Westminster Magistrate’s Court had issued an arrest warrant against Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, for alleged war crimes committed by Israel during the operations in Gaza in December 2008.
    That the international community is not too pleased with Sri Lanka even now, six months after the end of the war against the LTTE, is evident from the fact that the European Council has recommended the denial of EU trade concesssions under the GSP Plus scheme on the grounds that Colombo has not kept its promise to safeguard human rights and work towards ethnic reconciliation.