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DateLine Saturday, 23 August 2008

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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.

Concert song

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 Agreement.

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.

Batman Polish

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.

Emergency regulations

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 flourishing democracies.

Media freedom

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.

Musharraf

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 member.

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.

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