Ever since President Sirisena used his madu walge (stingray tail) on his prime minister and deposed Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sri Lankans abroad have had their eyes glued on the changing political scene at home. The comings, goings, stayings and the may-be goings, may-be comings, as the wavering politicians rushed to their family astrologers, have provided enough [...]


Comings, goings and other happenings


Ever since President Sirisena used his madu walge (stingray tail) on his prime minister and deposed Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sri Lankans abroad have had their eyes glued on the changing political scene at home.

The comings, goings, stayings and the may-be goings, may-be comings, as the wavering politicians rushed to their family astrologers, have provided enough delectation for many of those here shivering from the early onset of what appears will be a really cold winter.

Jeremy Hunt responding to Hugo Swire's question on the political crisis in Sri Lanka

As the temperature dropped, tempers rose among many of our brethren who normally treat politicians of most hues with a healthy scepticism. They were watching one of Asia’s oldest democracies going into what they believed was a political tailspin.

Back in what was once their home, the black-coated fraternity has been busy splitting so many legal hairs that even the few still on their heads seem to be in danger of being torn apart as they scratched their pates looking for argumentative defences to protect the barricades behind whichever side they stood.

As though many Sri Lankans here had carried some of their hereditary characteristics all the way to their new homes the political turn-around engineered by the President has spread to the diaspora where different groups bashed each other, metaphorically speaking, over the pros and cons of the presidential contortions.

Those who are fed up of Sri Lankan politics would say with Shakespeare’s Mercutio “a plague o‘ both your houses” and turn away to sort out their own problems as the UK’s Brexit endeavour appears to be coming unhinged.

Yet one cannot forget the political parallel that comes to mind. Here, in the UK, the Tory party — or some prominent members in it — has been conspiring to oust Prime Minister Theresa May from the leadership of the party and from her position as prime minister. She continues to battle those who have been plotting to do an “Et tu Brute” on her.  She is not alone in trying to fight against a putsch from within her own ranks. The miasma of political rottenness continues to pollute the atmosphere already contaminated by other toxins.

But there are differences between what is happening here in London and in Sri Lanka. Theresa May is struggling to hang on to the premiership. The threat to her position is an intra-party feud. The plans to oust her come from within her own party.

Ranil Wickremesinghe’s official ouster is an inter-party issue, the result of a clash between the President who belongs to one party in the coalition and the prime minister from the largest party in the so-called unity government which was increasingly losing any sense of unity.

Although there are rumblings within the UNP with some calling for a change of leadership, it has not gelled into a cohesive force unlike among the Conservatives where the daggers have been drawn for some time now but not plunged in an act of political homicide.

The face-off in Colombo is between the two principal parties in the grand coalition which came together holding out a myriad promises to the people who were tired  of the same old rulers hogging the political stage and believed in the pledges made by those who promised a new dawn for the Sri Lankan people.

There is another noteworthy difference. Unlike in the UK, where political debate has been essentially internal, Sri Lanka’s political clashes have caused external forces to stick their oars into what is domestic politics.

So we have several countries and non-governmental institutions — mainly from the West — issuing statements and advice on how Sri Lanka’s rulers and political class should conduct themselves and adhere to values that the west holds sacred.

While the debates inside the Conservative Party and between the Conservatives and Labour remain domestic even on the troubling issue of pulling out of the European Union, Sri Lanka’s politics has an external dimension which cannot be ignored, especially because of our geographical location and geopolitics.

The number of countries that have issued statements and advice with regard to constitutional propriety, the rule of law and the suspension of parliament is a sign of the ‘interest’ they are taking in Sri Lankan affairs, undue interest some might say.

At the Commons on October 30, questions were asked of Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and his Foreign Office Minister Mark Field who oversees Sri Lanka in a portfolio that covers Asia and the Pacific.

Though the questions were rather wide-ranging the core issue concerned the current political developments and the constitutionality of President Sirisena’s action.

The initial question was posed by Sir Hugo Swire who was once a Foreign Office Minister overseeing Sri Lanka. Let me quote the MP in full and the Foreign Secretary’s response.

“When my Rt Hon friend speaks to the President of Sri Lanka later on this week will he point out that his recent actions are in direct contravention of the 19th Amendment, that the international community continues to recognise PM Ranil Wickremesinghe as the legitimate Prime Minister and that this can only change by a vote in Parliament and that Parliament must be recalled as a matter of urgency in order that such a vote can take place?

In reply Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt MP said: “I will be making those points when I speak to President Sirisena; I know that a number of people are concerned about the safety of Mr. Wickremesinghe and we are watching the situation with a great deal of concern”.

Following up on Hugo Swire, the MP for New Hampshire Ranil Jayawardena who has a Sri Lankan ancestry asked the Foreign Secretary to confirm that Britain’s position will be to back the rule of law as a guiding principle in Sri Lanka and elsewhere.

Said the Foreign Secretary: “Absolutely happy to confirm that and upholding the constitution in Sri Lanka.”

Interestingly, the questions then veered in a different direction.

Theresa Villiers MP then chipped in saying “In light of the worrying developments in Sri Lanka, will he urge the Government there to make good on their promises to deliver justice for the Tamil people and accountability for the war crimes committed against them?

Mark Field FCO Minister for Asia & Pacific: ” May I thank my Rt Hon Friend for this, I was in Sri Lanka at the beginning of the month and like my Rt Hon Friend the Foreign Secretary I’m deeply concerned by the developing political situation in Sri Lanka – it is fast developing and not only do we want to stand up for the constitution, but my Rt Hon Friend is right in continuing to urge Sri Lanka to honour the commitments that it has willingly made to the UN Human Rights Council.

The last question was asked by Gareth Thomas whose constituency in Harrow has a sizeable Sri Lankan Tamil community and has over the years supported several Tamil/LTTE events. Even in this question Gareth Thomas referred to Mahinda Rajapaksa as a “man with a terrible human rights record”.

It would be funny if it was not so serious that Gareth Thomas should talk of human rights when he comes from a country that supplies arms to a Saudi-led coalition that bombs the daylights out of an impoverished and devastated country called Yemen, killing thousands of innocent men, women and children.

Mr Thomas seems to forget that his one-time leader Tony Blair stopped an investigation into alleged corruption in arms deals between a British manufacturer and Saudi Arabia.

Now Saudi Arabia has admitted that its agents killed a Saudi journalist who was done to death inside a Saudi diplomatic mission. But Mr Thomas apparently has no interest in such human rights violations.

While British violations of human rights and international law go not only unpunished but are also buried by the ruling parties, they are quite prepared to point the finger at poorer countries that faced terrorist threats.

Those who have followed British inaction over the years even after the UK introduced a terrorist law and banned the LTTE as a foreign terrorist organisation the LTTE publicly collected funds apparently to finance the terrorist war, the Gareth Thomas’s of this world seem incapable of seeing their own warts which are big enough for even the blind to see.

This constant effort to denigrate other nations while closing the eyes to their own infamy has little to do with a genuine concern for human rights or for the people on whose behalf they say they speak.

Like politicians everywhere it is to collect votes and continue to cling on to power never mind all this rubbish about defending human rights.


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