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Written by Amali Dissanayaka
Published on Sunday, 04 August 2013 08:33
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Sunday Pol logo*Govt’s lack of progress under scrutiny
*Weliweriya incident a setback in Rajapaksas’ plan

Sunday Politics
With Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

“…we cannot address terrorism of the weak against the powerful without also confronting the unmentionable but far more extreme terrorism of the powerful against the weak”
- Noam Chomsky


President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s latest tactic of trying to checkmate the public suffered a great setback following the mayhem in Weliweriya, Gampaha last Thursday. The video footage of the incident that has been uploaded on to many websites (unedited) will not stand well for a military that is being accused by the international community of violating human rights during the period of the war.
Until the Weliweriya incident where the attack by military personnel resulted in the death of a villager demanding clean drinking water, the Rajapaksa government was engaged in its latest strategy of scoring points through blind side manoeuvres.
The strategy this time around was a little difficult to gauge given the surreptitious manner in which it was implemented.
However, it was the government’s move to allow its former North Western Provincial Councillor Sarath Kumara, who was arrested after he demanded that a teacher kneels because she reprimanded his daughter, to submit his nomination papers and later denying him a slot in the nominations list that the Rajapaksa government’s strategy came out in the open.
The strategy was to create an environment for people to object and agitate and to then give in to the public demand creating an impression of a government that heeded the people’s voice.
The reason to focus on the latest Rajapaksa manoeuvre – given the public statement made by the President that he has shut all doors for opposition MPs to cross over to the government – is the rumour doing the rounds that there was a likelihood of the Northern Provincial Council elections not being held in September.
Many opposition politicians and members of the diplomatic corps in Colombo have been expressing sentiments to the effect that the Rajapaksas were unlikely to hold the Northern Provincial Council election given the discussion on the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and the allocation of powers to the provinces.
President Rajapaksa on Tuesday said his stance on the issue of distribution of police and land powers to Provincial Councils (PC) has not changed and reiterated that those powers will remain with the government.
He made this comment during the monthly breakfast meeting with the heads of electronic and print media at Temple Trees.
The President said police and land powers were not implemented since the introduction of the Provincial Council system to the country and that he doesn’t consider that the issue should be given special attention now.
Nevertheless, it is widely believed that the Rajapaksa government would manipulate one of its allies agitating for the abolition of the 13th Amendment and the Provincial Council system in the country to initiate legal action against the Provincial Councils system and the Northern PC poll. The court case is expected to temporarily halt the holding of the Northern Provincial Council election.
Be that as it may, harbouring such a notion and making public comments to that effect under the current context would mean playing into the Rajapaksas’ hands.
The reality is that in order to save face at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions next month and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo this November, the Rajapaksa administration would have to stage manage certain scenarios in order to boost its flailing image.
In the event one of its extremist allies resorts to legal action against the 13th Amendment and the Provincial Council system, the government would immediately receive the opportunity of portraying an image of an administration that upholds democratic principles by manipulating the judiciary to issue a verdict nullifying the petition. The government would then go ahead with the Provincial Council elections.
Such a situation would be a win-win situation for the government, its communalist allies and the judiciary as well.
Therefore the propagation of the sentiment that the Rajapaksa government might not hold the Northern Provincial Council election would actually be a push for the latest Madamulana strategy.

PSC blues

The Rajapaksa government has now set its focus on the CHOGM and it main goal is to ensure that the summit will proceed in Colombo at any cost without any major hiccups.
The administration has suddenly sprung into action during the past few weeks and some progress has beenSunday P-August 4 2013 made in several controversial murders that took place during the period of the war like the murder of five university students in Trincomalee and that of 17 aid workers in Muttur.
The President has also ordered a Presidential commission to probe the disappearances that have taken place during the period of the war.
The Elections Commissioner has also announced the date for the Provincial Council election as September 21st.
The Rajapaksa government, it is evident, is now trying to address issues that could be raised by the international community in the run up to CHOGM.
Even the parliamentary select committee (PSC) that was appointed to decide on the amendments to the 13th Amendment is now buying time to ensure that a final decision would not be announced until after the Provincial Council polls.
The PSC that was appointed last month has met twice so far and is scheduled to meet on Wednesday (7).
The PSC has already decided to allocate more time for the public to express their views on proposed amendments.
The PSC’s delaying tactic has nevertheless irked some of the governing party allies in the committee that consists only of government members. The JHU and NFF have said that they will withdraw from the PSC if the committee delays its proceedings.
The Rajapaksa government will ignore these comments at least until November.
However, the actions of the military in the North and the conduct of pre-election campaigning in the North will pose a challenge to the government.
The TNA last week said that some of its candidates contesting for the Northern Provincial Council elections were intimidated by military personnel.
The TNA has said the Army had intimidated two candidates soon after they had filed their nominations.
TNA Spokesman Parliamentarian Suresh Premachandran has alleged that military personnel had gone to the residences of S. Sayanthan, a TNA candidate from Chavakachcheri, and Ananthi Sasitharan, the wife of the LTTE’s former Trincomalee political wing leader, Elilan, and had questioned them on their political activities.
Premachandran said that this is a violation of election laws.
He has pointed out that the President had promised TNA Leader, R. Sampanthan, that he would ensure free and fair polls without interference by military personnel in the Northern Province.
According to Premachandran, the matter has been brought to the notice of the Commissioner of Elections.
The TNA has also called on the Elections Commissioner to ensure that the military in the North will be confined to barracks during the period of the election.

Military under fire

The Rajapaksa government would however have to be mindful of exercising restraint in soliciting the servicesRathupawala 5 410px 04-08-1 of the military. Actions of the military were subjected to scrutiny on several occasions last week.
Apart from the incident reported by the TNA on nominations day, the key incident that made headlines in the local and foreign media is the military rampage in Weliweriya, Gampaha that killed a youth and injured many villagers who during the past few days were protesting demanding clean drinking water.
Video footage of the incident showed the shock of the villagers to be subjected to an attack by persons whom they have revered until then, as war heroes.
Among the injured were media personnel as well.
Journalists who were also attacked by the military personnel were receiving medical treatment even on Friday.
Journalists and camera crew who were covering the protest were prevented from covering the clash between the villagers and the security forces by masked military personnel.
Photojournalist of the Ada newspaper Chanuka Kulasekera was assaulted and his camera equipment was damaged when he was attacked by the military personnel. Kulasekera was admitted to the Gampaha hospital for treatment.
Also, Lankadeepa journalist Deepa Adhikari who was also covering the protest in Weliweriya was injured when military men attacked the media.
She was assaulted by a soldier with a pole when she was on a roof trying to escape the onslaught. Despite her injuries, Adhikari was unable to receive any medical attention until around 9.30 p.m. She had to stay in hiding from 6 p.m. till around 9.30 p.m. to escape from the military attack. The camera of the Rivira provincial correspondent was also taken by the military and the photographs deleted.
The journalists who were attacked last evening claim that they were subjected to such harassment even when they had identified themselves as media personnel covering the event. The military personnel have at the time referred to the media personnel as “dogs in the media”.
Media organizations have condemned the attack and have called for immediate action by the authorities.
The Army meanwhile on Friday announced that an investigation has been launched into the clashes at Weliweriya.
Army Commander Lieutenant General Daya Ratnayake reportedly appointed a special board of inquiry headed by Major General Jagath Dias to investigate the Army’s role in the clashes.
Army spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasuriya had said that most soldiers placed at Weliweriya have been withdrawn and only a few still remain there.
“They are there to assist the Police and we expect them to be removed from there soon. While assisting the Police with its investigations the Army is conducting its own internal investigation,” he had said.

Progress Vs. CHOGM

Last week’s incidents undoubtedly added many black marks to the Rajapaksa government’s score card, which it is desperately trying to keep clean.
The attempt to show progress in the fields of human rights and freedom of expression were diminished with the attacks on the media and innocent, unarmed villagers.
Furthermore, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the Sri Lankan government of not making real progress in meting out justice in the case of the execution style slaying of 17 aid workers seven years ago, despite renewed international calls for action.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the New York based human rights watch dog said the Sri Lankan government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, due to increasing international pressure, last month directed state lawyers and investigators to review the case and prepare a comprehensive list of witnesses but no real progress has been made yet in bringing the culprits to justice.
The HR organization says the government response was one of several recent moves to adopt previously disregarded recommendations by its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in 2011, which was created following the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009.
“The Rajapaksa government is good at throwing bones to the international community, but not at taking serious measures to find and punish those responsible for serious abuses,” said James Ross, Legal and Policy Director at Human Rights Watch. “If the families of 17 aid workers can’t get justice for their loss, it’s hard to be hopeful for anyone else,” Ross said in the statement.
The HRW called on the countries participating in the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Colombo in November to publicly express concern about the government’s minimal response to these and other serious abuses. “Governments seeking justice for the victims of atrocities during Sri Lanka’s long armed conflict should publicly demand an international inquiry,” Ross said. He said given Sri Lanka’s history of inaction on even prominent cases with strong evidence demonstrates the need for concerted international action.

Last Updated on Sunday, 04 August 2013 08:33