On My Watch
- Lucien Rajakarunanayake
Polls watchers and prophets of violence
The elections to provincial councils to the North Central and
Sabaragamuwa Provinces being held today are not showing any major
deviation from the type of elections that we have been having for
several decades, especially after the election of the UNP in 1977, which
was followed by the introduction of the current Presidential System of
Government under the 1978 Constitution, and the obnoxious District-based
system of Proportional Representation with the added menace of the “manaapey”.
To deny the existence of violence in the campaigns is to turn a blind
eye to reality. Similarly, to keep screaming that all is lost for
democracy through violence is a downright exaggeration of the truth.
The latter appears to be the defeatist tactic of the UNP and whatever
allies it may be having, especially among the infantile reds that are
once again having dreams nightmares of a bloody trail to power, giving
nightmares to the people, having squandered the opportunity they had of
a more peaceful approach to governance.
If in earlier elections PAFFREL led the way in polls monitoring,
doing it much better and more reliably than the questionably funded CMEV
that I have said was an acronym for the Centre for Manufacturing
Election Violence than monitoring it, the sections of the media that see
in the UNP the greatest defenders of democracy today, have latched on to
the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections or CaFFE, which has more of a
cafeteria approach to polls watching, very much akin to the questionable
reporting of polls violence by the CMEV.
Not surprisingly, the names and faces that come to light from CaFFE
are not much different from the CMEV, and their song sheet is no
contrast to that of the UNP.
This convergence of allegedly pro-democratic forces gives much cause
for concern. These are forces that take their cue from the neo-liberal
thrust of the Bush-Cheney-backed Rose Revolution in Georgia and the
Orange Revolution in the Ukraine, and look forward eagerly to the day
when they can bring about a Pomelo or Jambola Revolution in Sri Lanka.
That their path to democracy is only paved with a thin veneer of good
intentions is evident by the reliable reports that were received on
Thursday (21) evening, after campaigning had been officially stopped, of
moves being made by the UNP to flout the law and put on a show of
strength in the NCP, especially the Anuradhapura District, by holding
demonstrations that would be provocative and leading to clashes that
would make the violence of the past month mere mock exercises for a
greater battle ahead.
While the cafeteria monitors of polls violence were mum on what would
be a major threat to the poll, (with cafe‚ vision having little if no
pre-emptive insight) the government was quick to act through the
Commissioner General of Elections, who is also now at the receiving end
of the ire of the caf‚ types, whose skill in inflating incidents of
polls violence is as easy as their false pretensions of defending
women’s rights for the cameras at Lipton Circus.
The build up to the planned violence in the NCP came via a press
conference in Colombo where the green-cafeteria sang a new concert song
that warned of UNP and JVP violence unless the police neutralized
government gangs. That the police should neutralise govt. or any gangs
that resort to violence goes without question.
But it is interesting how these recent doctoral types, who have
always lived on the largesse of western votaries of neo-liberalism, see
only the violence carried out by pro-govt. gangs and remain like the
three monkeys who see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil when it
emanates from the new UNP/JVP “Axis of Evil”.
The danger today is in this attempt that is being made to justify a
situation of violence, not confined to polling day, which is bad enough,
but which can ominously continue even after, if the strategies of these
forces that are eager to take the country back to a ceasefire situation
that will be advantageous to the strategy of terror of the separatist
LTTE, are worked out according to plan.
In a twist
Today’s Caf‚ Mother of Peace of Rajarata, in the form of Nimalka
Fernando of Kollupitiya, accuses the Rajapaksa government of turning the
PC elections to a mini-referendum to facilitate the prosecution of the
war. She’s obviously got her nether garment in a twist, if she believes
there is any referendum needed to prosecute the ongoing battle against
the LTTE’s terror.
The battle was on before the Eastern Polls, which was able to be held
and the UNP-led opposition was able to get minority representation in
the PC there, because of those military operations.
They are proceeding on three fronts in the North, despite the
attentions of the Government, and a good number of Security Forces
personnel having to be shifted away from areas where they could help the
push against the Tigers faster and stronger; to preserve the peace in
the two provinces where polling takes place today; where there are
ominous warnings of retaliatory violence by the dreamers of a Jambola
revolution helped on by the stripes of the Tigers.
Fernando’s caf‚ thinking is critical of the government for focusing
its attention on the war and thereby denying the people of the two
provinces to decide on provincial administration “which would strive to
meet the requirements of the people”.
Little does she, and the caf‚ types yearning for a phony peace with
the Tigers, seem to be aware that no provincial administration would be
able to take on the terror of the type that was unleashed when that
claymore mine killed more than 60 civilians - men, women and children at
Kebitigollewa, in the NCP, long before the Rajapaksa Government
abrogated that cozy exchange of greetings between Prabhakaran and Ranil
Wickremesinghe, couriered by Norway, that was passed off as a Ceasefire
It would be interesting to see the reaction of the people to Fernando
and the caf‚ types if they took a fancy to stopping by the Sri Maha
Bodhi and handing over leaflets opposing the battle against LTTE terror
to pilgrims on their way to worship the sacred tree, that was chosen as
the site for one of the earliest acts of carnage by the LTTE.
The glow of arms
While those who promote the UNP from so-called organisations of civil
society aka questionable NGOs and INGOs, oppose the battle against
terror, and charge that the PC polls are a means of pushing the military
agenda of the Rajapaksa Administration, they see nothing questionable in
the manner in which the UNP’s non-resident candidate for Chief Minister
of the NCP, makes use of the military uniform to impress upon voters
that he’s the guy they can depend on to pursue their most pressing cause
- the defeat of the LTTE terror.
It was many years ago that Lt. Gen (Ret.) Janaka Perera hung up his
boots and lay abroad for his country in the very civilian role of High
Commissioner down under. Those who have retired from active service are
very rarely seen in the uniforms of their former regiments, except at
gatherings of their respective corps or special ceremonial occasions
such as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day for those who laid down their
lives in battle.
But the doves of the UNP and its dwindling allies are obviously
thrilled to see their candidate showing off his old fatigues on every
possible occasion, putting up cut-outs wherever they are allowed or not,
displaying him in a great show of military attire.
The message comes very clear that while his party is still eager to
appease the LTTE, Janaka Perera thinks the best way to garner votes for
himself, and possibly get an official residence in the NCP, instead of
being a candidate with IDP status next time too, is to let the glow of
arms that has caught the imagination of the people, as the troops move
deeper into the ever shrinking Tiger held territory, reflect on him as
much as possible.
In fact there are reports that all this anti-war rhetoric of the NGO
types that support the UNP in its efforts to make even the slightest
turn in its tide of electoral defeats, has been causing much
embarrassment to Janaka Perera, who feels that he is in quite a jam, not
of the bottled type he is more familiar with, but of the political type,
with the yes to jaw-jaw and no to war-war talk of his supporters, taking
away what is left of the shine on his old uniform.
While Janaka Perera is trying to make hay in the sunshine of today’s
troops who are driving the Tigers out of their bunkers and other
strongholds, ironically trying to win votes through the popularity of
the troops whose battle is being strongly opposed by the party that has
nominated him, and those who support it, there are signs that his
electioneering is showing him to be much less of both an officer and a
gentleman, that one would imagine a person of his rank to be.
Reports of some of his campaign speeches have alluded to a UPFA
candidate who was a much lower noncommissioned ranker of the 1st Gajaba
Regiment, Upali Wijekoon, who left service as Warrant Officer 2 who at
one time served as batman to a high ranking soldier killed by the LTTE.
In references the retired Lt. Gen. sought to give the impression that
Wijekoon and such others were lowly servants, fetching and carrying for
higher officers, in an effort to make the voters think the UPFA
candidate was of the serving kind and not one of those who orders around
in the Security Forces.
In an interview with the media Upali Wijekoon has said that the
success of the Armed Forces today is attributable to the absence of
officers epitomised by Janaka Perera, who look down almost with contempt
on the lesser ranks, being replaced by a much more understanding officer
corps, that can keep the respect of their rank very well without having
to denigrate their subordinates.
It is quite a shift in the psychology that prevails within the army
today, and as Wijekoon says it, this could very well be one good reason
why the Armed Services are scoring so many quick successes against an
enemy that was touted as invincible by many an expert in military
strategy from the West, whose views were repeated with glee by the
“peace at any cost” lobby here, which included the UNP that is making a
big show of Janaka Perera and his old uniform today.
Media Freedom activists both here and abroad have been making much,
and at times with some justification too, about the prolonged detention
and investigations into the suspicions about the alleged activities of
journalist J. S. Tissainayagam, a Tamil journalist who has been held
under the Prevention of Terrorism Act since March 2008.
When a Government minister recently said he is to be charged with
“terrorism” on the basis of articles written in 2006 and his activities
as the editor of a website, Reporters without Borders (RSF) that is most
strident in its defence of media freedom once again demanded the
immediate release of the suspect.
There is no question that there can be many questionable aspects
about the Prevention of Terrorism Act and other emergency regulations
that are enforced in the country and the call for their amendment or
even repeal is understandable, even by interfering foreign bodies such
as RsF, that did not consider it wrong to abuse the Media Accreditation
passes of its members to stage a protest about the alleged Chinese
occupation of Tibet, when the Beijing Olympic torch began its run at
Athens earlier this year.
The situation now is that the Attorney General has filed indictments
against Tissanayagam, and it is up to the courts to judge whether these
indictments merit further inquiry or trial.
This applied both to foreign and local bodies that are so loud in
slating Sri Lanka, and downright rude in their letters and missives to
the Sri Lankan authorities about media freedom and due process of law
here, but see hardly any evil in how the media and journalists, other
than the embedded types, are dealt with in many other parts of allegedly
The attempts now being made to pooh-pooh the charges in the
indictment filed against Tissanayagam, rather than seen as any part of a
vibrant campaign for media freedom, can be seen as an attempt at
interfering with the judiciary and judicial process of this country.
The debate on media freedom in Sri Lanka, which is a necessity, must
not be allowed to be hijacked by the forces who are now showing their
real interests in how they report on the “crisis” in Georgia, and the
sharp contrast in the attitudes towards media freedom and democracy in
Zimbabwe and Egypt, where apart from the level of inflation in Zimbabwe,
the process of democracy is as much flawed in Egypt, but still gains
millions of dollars of military and economic aid from the USA in its
commitment to promote democracy in the Middle East.
The resignation of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf did not come
as a major surprise considering the volatile situation in the country.
Sri Lanka has some association with his ascent to power, as it was on
his return flight from an official visit here as Chief of Staff in 1999
that he was informed of a plot to have him arrested, and while still in
the air put into action the plan that made it possible to him to seize
power by effecting coup d’etat.
He took power on the elected Prime Minister, dismissed the national
and provincial legislative assemblies, assumed the title of Chief
Executive and became Pakistan’s de facto head of Government, thereby
becoming the fourth Army chief of Pakistan to have assumed executive
control. Later in 2001, Musharraf appointed himself to the office of
President of Pakistan.
The record shows impressive economic growth in Pakistan during his
regime, and it also brought Pakistan much closer to the US and Western
backed “War on Terror”, which ultimately cost him much in popularity.
Although removed by the newly elected Parliament Musharraf gets the
credit for holding a largely free and fair election, which saw the
parties range against him get a majority of seats in parliament and the
state assemblies, that ultimately let to his threatened impeachment and
resignation earlier this week.
The consequences of his resignation will remain the stuff of the
internal politics of Pakistan, no doubt impacted upon by the West
because of its armed involvement in Afghanistan that is now a SAARC
Whatever the outcome for Pervez Musharraf, we in Sri Lanka must
remain grateful to him and consider both him and Pakistan as a great
friend of Sri Lanka, for the ready assistance he gave the country, and
at such speed too, when the LTTE was making its strongest bid to take
over Jaffna, after having captured Elephant Pass.
That was a time when closer neighbour only offered transport ships as
humanitarian assistance to transport the Sri Lankan troops out of the
Tiger threatened Jaffna peninsula.
But for the multi-barrels supplied by Musharraf, and all the other
necessary assistance given at the time, and later too, the progress of
the fight against LTTE terror would be much different today. It is time
to say thank you to a good and staunch friend of Sri Lanka.