Its relevance and worthiness for Tamils
By: Thambu Kanagasabai, LLM [Lond.] Former Lecturer in Law, University of Ceylon
The seventh Presidential election is due to be held on November 16, 2019. The presidential system was introduced by Late J. R. Jayawardena in 1978 with the passing of a new constitution. An executive style President with vast powers, while minimising the powers of the prime minister has come to stay until the 19th amendment which restricted some powers of the president.
This article dwells with the painful experiences of Tamils from the hands of the past Presidents from 1978 to October 2019.
The first President J.R. Jayawardene unleashed the weapons of racialism, communalism and Sinhala chauvinism by initiating, supporting, assisting, justifying and condoning the genocidal killings in 1983 which engulfed the whole of Sri Lanka targeting the Tamils and their properties all over the island. He was also instrumental for the 1977 mayhem which targeted the plantation Tamils as well in the hill country.
Justifying the reasons for the killings by the security forces and Sinhalese mobs, he said, ”It is a natural reaction of Sinhalese,” and told the London Daily Telegraph reporter on July 11 1983 “:- “I am not worried about the opinion of the Jaffna people now.. Now we cannot think of them. Not about their lives or their opinion about us…The more you put pressure in the north, the happier the Sinhalese people will be here… really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy.”
Jayawardene institutionalised the culture of impunity for the criminals and their crimes committed against the minority communities. The culture of impunity is now well and fully entrenched and has become part and parcel of the administrative and judicial system in Sri Lanka. As a result, no person has been so far convicted for the genocidal crimes against Tamils. His bloodstained rule lasted until 1989 which also resulted in the exodus of Tamils from Sri Lanka.
In the 1989 election, R. Premadasa, a popular leader of the Sinhala masses was elected as president. Though Premadasa did not devote his time and energy to thrive on racialism and Sinhalese hegemony, he failed to fulfil his promise to settle the ethnic problem. He was determined to send back the Indian Peace Keeping Force [IPKF] which landed in 1987 under the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987. For this purpose, he utilized the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE]’s similar hostility towards IPKF for the brutal and inhuman treatment of Tamils. It has to be stated that Premadasa after his victory [to send out the IPKF] and in order to win the support of the Tamils, he promised to deliver everything except Tamil-Eelam [a separate state for Tamils]. He was opposed to the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord due to his dislike of India’s role in Sri Lanka’s problems. He was assassinated by a suicide bomber in 1993. His promises were as usual casual and mere rhetoric.
Premadasa was succeeded by D.B. Wijeyatunge who held the office for one year until 1994. He showed his chauvinistic feelings by once stating that “Tamils and other minority communities are like creepers that entwine and grow on trees,” meaning they are parasites.
In the 1994 elections, Ms Chandrika Kumaratunge swept to victory gaining support among the Tamils who pinned hopes on her election promises and the goodwill gestures made to Tamils by lifting the economic embargo of the North. Her settlement proposals were more accommodating and elicited cautious welcome and optimism among the Tamils. However, the Sinhala extremists, the United National Party in the opposition and Buddhist clergy scuttled the peace initiative which led to “Back to square one” position, leading to Chandrika’s hostile attitude towards the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE] and the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe [the current Prime Minister]. She also fell as a leader who lacked political will and determination and falling for chauvinism, mooting the slogan of “One country and one people”.
In the 2005 elections, Mahinda Rajapakshe became the President. As usual, he promised 13+ [plus] for Tamils and full implementation of the 13th Amendment. Various rounds of peace talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE] finally ended as expected in zero results, paving way for a showdown between Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE] and Sri Lankan security forces. His genocidal war against Tamils commenced in Mavilaru in July 2006 with a full-scale offensive being launched in the North and East. The war ended in May 18th 2009 with the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE] who faced not only Sri Lanka’s Security Forces, but also the military, logistical and intelligence support provided by more than 22 countries including India.
Mahinda Rajapakshe’s war was a ‘WAR WITHOUT WITNESS’ when he ordered the United Nations, Red Cross and the NGOs to leave the war zone and battlegrounds who are supposed to be on duty to deliver humanitarian services to the civilians and monitor any violation of human rights under UN Charter.
The war ended in the genocidal killings of more than 70,000 civilians, 60,000 disappearances and thousands injured due to the usage of weapons of mass destruction and heavy weapons. He, his brother Gotabaya Rajapakshe, and the Army Commanders are accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity by the United Nations, UN Human Rights Council and many Human Rights Groups. He and others are yet to face any culpability and liability for the crimes committed during the war under the principle of command responsibility. He will go down in history as a ruthless dictatorial ruler violating all norms of human values, dignity and rights.
The 2015 elections brought Maithiripala Srisena as the sixth President and he is due to face an election on November 16, 2019. The majority of Tamils voted for him not out of love for him but out of hatred towards Mahinda Rajapakshe. The Tamils, however, nursed hopes and trusted him like the Tamil’s leader Sampanthan to work towards a just political settlement. However, he proved to be a vacillating, deceptive and shaky leader lacking the political will and determination to settle the problems of Tamils.
As usual and expected, Maithirpala Sirisena has chosen to follow the hard-line path of Sinhala Buddhist attitude and chauvinistic approach. He has almost abandoned peace initiatives and is ignoring the plight and grievances of Tamils, though he could have worked out with his political rival Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe. He has ignored the United Nations and UNHRC recommendations and has even rejected them as external interference. Adding insult to injury to Tamils, he has recently appointed Major General Shavendra Silva, who is accused of war crimes by United Nations and UNHRC, as the Army Commander. Such is the fate of accountability and justice in Sri Lanka’s political history.
In the forthcoming Presidential Elections, the following candidates have announced their contests, the most prominent being Gotabaya Rajapakshe [SLPP], Anurakumara Dissanayale [JVP], Sajith Premadasa [UNP], and Naganand Koddituwakku [Independent]
Gotabaya Rajapakshe, the former defence secretary and a retired army officer, being the brother of former President Mahinda Rajapakshe, assumed full control and command of the war operations in 2005 with the full blessings of his brother. He brushed aside human rights and humanitarian laws and launched an inhuman and brutal war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE] and Tamil civilians trapped in the battle zones. He is accused of war crimes, and crimes against humanity amounting to genocide. He scorned international and United Nations pleadings and finished the war using banned cluster bombs and chemical weapons. According to the wife of Prageeth Ekneligoda, the political columnist and cartoonist who has been missing since 24 January 2010, the main reason for his disappearance is an investigation he carried out on the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Sri Lanka forces in 2008. https://www.bbc.com/sinhala/news/story/2011/01/110128_prageeth_galle.shtml
For the Buddhist clergy and the extremist Sinhala chauvinists, Gotabaya is regarded as a hero, but for the Tamils in Sri Lanka and all over the world he is regarded as a war criminal and villain who is responsible for the brutal killings of more than 70,000 Tamil civilians as per United Nations estimate. His experience is in military affairs and not in politics or governance of ordinary citizen and has never occupied a political chair or position except being the brother of former President and the present leader of the opposition Mahinda Rajapakshe. As he said, he relies upon and believes in his victory with the Sinhalese votes only. This should be considered as writing on the wall for the Tamils who could face another genocidal chapter if he is elected as the president. He is yet to be convicted for the alleged crimes and offences against him.
Jathika Vimukthi Perumuna [JVP] Anura Kumara Dissanayake, a firebrand leftist party member is trying to make amends with Tamil voters by softening their stand on Tamils. Needless to say that JVP relies heavily on Sinhala rural votes and youths and can ill-afford to offer any acceptance political settlement proposals. JVP who won the de-merger of the Northeastern Province through Supreme Court verdict still insists on a separate North and East Provincial Council. JVP candidate has already declared his opposition for a Federal system of Government. To expect JVP to deliver an acceptable political solution to the Tamils will remain only as a wishful thinking and pipe dream.
United National Party [UNP] There is nothing extra special to add to the UNP candidate, as he will be bound by the decisions of its party/working committee/Maha Sanga. The past history of UNP with a record of betrayals, breach of pacts, pledges and understandings is a pointer and guide as to how its election promises will go astray with the passage of time. Tamil National Alliance [TNA] leadership is now shedding tears as to how they were cheated and treated by Maithiri and Ranil forgetting and not learning lessons from the past history of betrayals by all Sinhala leaders. Oral promises will remain dead from the start and the written agreements could collapse unable to withstand the opposition emanating from Maha Sanga and Sinhala extremists, racist Buddhist Monks and opposition parties. Sajith has undertaken to build more than1000 Buddhist Viharas in the North and East [Tamils homeland] where a very few/no Buddhist live. This is to expedite the agenda of Buddhisisation process bent on making Sri Lanka a Buddhist Sinhala State – the hidden agenda and the dream of the Buddhist Clergy and Maha Sanga.
To sum up, all the Presidents used or better abused their powers anti-democratically and dictatorially, and the targeted victims were mostly Tamils without any remedies. It is to be noted that 196 massacres were carried by the security forces commencing from 1958 presided by past Presidents/Prime Ministers including the pogroms in 1958, 1977. 1981, 1983, 1987, 1996 and from 2006-2009. They were part of hidden genocide against the Tamils including structural genocide.
The foregone conclusion is that a President or any future President is of no value or importance to the Tamils, as all the political leaders in the South are lock, stock and barrel bound and tied to the dictates of MAHA SANGA and south politicians of hegemony and chauvinism who are duty-bound to execute the process of Buddhisisation and Sinhalisation to make Sri Lanka A BUDDHIST SINHALA STATE [only for the Buddhist Sinhalese].
The irony is after documenting a long litany of massacres, atrocities, human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity, the author of the article had not offered a viable solution to the problems and tribulations faced by the Tamils. We all know the disease, the problem is with diagnosis and treatment!
The aIt is an axiomatic truth that the victor in a war writes his own history and draws the borders of the country. This is what happened in Sri Lanka.
The LTTE after fighting a protracted war for 26 years was finally defeated. Of course, the war was forced on the LTTE and they knew they could be defeated by the Sri Lankan armed forces. The irony is after documenting a long litany of massacres, atrocities, human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity, he had not offered a viable solution to the problems and tribulations faced by the Tamils. It is an axiomatic truth that the victor in a war writes his own history and draws the borders of the country. This is what happened in Sri Lanka.In war, the side with manpower, weapons and better intelligence from friendly countries will ultimately clinch victory. This is exactly what happened to the LTTE. They defeated the LTTE because of the superior manpower and firepower. One result of defeat in a war is the victor occupies the land of the vanquished.
There were three wars mounted by the Palestinians against Israel and each time they lost the war they lost their lands as well. At the time Palestine was carved out between Palestinians and Israelis, the latter secured 55% and Palestinians 45%. But today after losing 3 wars Palestinians hold only 15% of the land. And Israel has built vast housing schemes on occupied land funded by the US.
When the war ended on 18 May 2009 the Sri Lankan army held a total of roughly 100,000 acres state as well as private lands. Since 2015, the armed forces have given up at least 80% of the land. Had Mahinda Rajapaksa won the presidential elections, he would not have released even 10% of the land. Voting for the common candidate was the obvious choice considering real politick!
The Tamils cannot simply walk away. We have to fight using soft power to win our lost rights. Fortunately, unlike during the time of LTTE, we can count on the support of the international community, notably US, UK, EU, Canada etc, UNHRC Resolution 30/1 of October 01, 2015 is hanging like the proverbial Achilles sword over the head of Sri Lanka. Recently we saw the UNHRC sending back non-essential Sri Lankan staff from peacekeeping duties following the appointment of Shavendra Silva as Army Commander.
It is, therefore, puerile for some to make the claim that nothing was gained and everything was lost. The woes of the Tamils have been compounded by the exodus of more than a million Tamils from our homeland. About 100,000 are In Tamil Nadu and conditions must be created for them to return. In democracy number counts.
Finally, instead of ranting and wailing let us think and act rationally.
Politics is the art of the possible, choosing the next best.