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After The Election: What Will Happen To The President’s Promises?

[Press Release, Saturday, 9 January 2010 19:34 No Comment]

As a person involved in international human rights advocacy for the last two decades, I would like to share my personal analysis on the forthcoming election for the Sixth Executive President of Sri Lanka. Good analysis should be based on realities and practicalities. British mathematician and philosopher, the late Alfred North Whitehead once said, ‘it requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious.’

It is well known that Sri Lanka is under the international community’s spotlight for its record of human rights violations, which I trust I do not have to list here. Even though the forthcoming presidential election has a record breaking number of candidates, there is no chance for anyone other than the opposition’s common candidate, General Sarath Fonseka or President Mahinda Rajapaksa who courageously called for an early poll — two years before his actual term ends. Whether he will regret or celebrate his decision is purely in the hands of voters. Therefore this is the right time to ask these two leading candidates about their respect for human rights, not regarding specific incidents, but human rights in general.

Shortly after youths were ‘disappearing’ and being summarily executed in the south in the late ‘80s, I personally saw then Member of Parliament Mahinda Rajapaksa waiting with files in the ‘Serpentine bar’ in the UN building in Geneva, meeting VIPs and explaining the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, in the early ‘90s. Anyhow, this one-time human rights champion could neither find the culprits nor allow independent inquiries into, the many violations including disappearances and arbitrary killings which have been taking place during his term in office.

I can still recall what some TNA MPs told us in the past about what was said by General Sarath Fonseka at Temple Trees, in front of President Rajapaksa — when they complained about soldiers shooting and killing innocent people in the north and east. Sarath Fonseka had said, “I have trained my soldiers to shoot directly and not to miss the targets.” This incident suggests that then General Sarath Fonseka was not ambitious to contest the election for the presidency.

These two examples typify the respect these two candidates have for human rights. Having said that, should the voters lose confidence in either of these two candidates? Especially in the present situation, the Tamils should not miss this golden opportunity to use the right diplomacy, having consecutively failed for the last six decades. When one explains the failed Accords of 1957, 1965 and various other matters internationally, the difficult question posed by non-Tamils is, “What were the Tamils’ reaction when they were cheated, or when Accords failed?”

It is no secret that we have no unity; we are too suspicious of everyone and jealous of each other; each of us thinking that we are the genius; believing that what one says is the reality while anything one doesn’t agree with should not be put on the agenda. Our narrow-minded ideas have continued for generations and eventually we have come to a stage where, if there were a referendum on political rights in the  north and east in another 10 years, we would have negative results not only due to the rate of colonisation, but also because of our failed diplomacy. We should not forget the fact that the sweetest ‘lemon juice’ comes from very sour lemons. It is a question of how we approach and process affairs.

The forthcoming presidential election should not be missed by any Tamils who understand diplomacy and the suffering of innocent people. Those who call for the boycott of this election should not only think of the past histories of these two candidates, but should also think positively of how to make them useful to the people.

If a boycott is called by Tamil parliamentarians, purely for the reason that the new President is not going to do the Tamils any good, then is it the right time for those parliamentarians to consider what they have done for the suffering people, having been in Parliament for so long. Maybe it is the right time for those MPs to resign and pave the way for capable hands to make use of the same parliament for the benefit of the Tamils. Here we should not mix the humanitarian crisis with political rights.

As far as the presidential election is concerned, we should admit “so far so good”. Common candidate, General Sarath Fonseka has uttered something which will be very useful in human rights cases.  Even though there is both rejection and acceptance of what he said, we should thank the courageous newspaper The Sunday Leader and its Editor Frederica Jansz.

Even without fully going though the manifesto of General Sarath Fonseka, matters like fighting   corruption and nepotism, as well as for democracy, etc. are attractive to voters. Certainly, these failures were not noticed by General Sarath Fonseka overnight or only after he fell out with Rajapaksas. If he is really thinking about the people and corruption, nepotism, democracy, etc. — he should have resigned his post long ago. This shortcoming goes along with the accusation that he wanted to be the president by any means. One of his election demands on democracy rejects the new slogan by Mangala Samaraweera, “longest democracy in South Asia”.

As far as the government’s respect (or not) for anti-corruption is concerned, it is worth bearing in mind two international conferences — one in November 2006  in Warsaw, Poland and the second in December  2006 in Jordan. At the Poland conference – “UN Conference on Anti-corruption Measures, Good Governance and Human Rights” the government representative who came from Colombo and the then ambassador in Poland simply justified all the accusations against the government. In fact, they both ended up in an argument with a well respected one time Sri Lankan VIP, who was one of the guest speakers in this conference.

Then again at the Dead Sea, Jordan, the “First Session of the Conference of State Parties (CoSP) to the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC)”, Sri Lanka’s seat was empty as no government representative even bothered to attend this conference.

As far as President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s candidacy is concerned, there is not much to see in his manifesto, because the voters have already witnessed and experienced his performance within his four years in office.

Now the question is how would the people benefit from either candidate?  It is well known that these two candidates were good friends at one time. There is no guarantee that they will not unite again — otherwise they could not be good politicians and democrats. If now General Sarath Fonseka says that he is a politician, after winning the election he could say that as commander in chief of all the forces, he is a politician-cum-commander. Being the president of the country, he is unlikely to make any statements against the former president and his family.

If the people want to benefit, General Sarath Fonseka should lose this election, which is unlikely. If he wins the election, there is a greater chance that old friends will be united. In the unlikely scenario of Rajapaksa winning the election, Sarath Fonseka would probably spill more beans and he may be encouraged by his advisors to contest parliamentary elections. In the meantime, the Rajapaksas may be preparing their law suit against him with false allegations and evidence.

Whatever said and done, after the Presidential election, there will be more friends becoming enemies and vice versa. General Sarath Fonseka has already denied his statement and demanded rectification in The Sunday Leader. If that is the case, what will happen to his election promises?

S. V. Kirubaharan
General Secretary
Tamil Centre for Human Rights – TCHR

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