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16th July 2000
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Focus on Rights

A breach of faith in reform process

By Kishali Pinto Jayawardene
It was with typical bullheadedness that a state media cartoonist this week depicted President Kumaratunga and Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe joining hands in a display of camaraderie, spoilt only by a particularly vile looking Damo-cles's sword of the private media hanging over the two. And it seems a worthwhile exercise to try and dissect the thinking behind the whole. Purely for amusements' sake, that is. image

For weeks now, people in this country have been bombarded with ebullient reports of progress being made between the Government and the opposition in finalising the constitutional reform proposals. We are told that a "historic consensus" has been reached in perfecting the draft constitution. Various reports reach us from time to time. According to the most recent grapevine,we are told that agreement has been reached on the composition of numerous Commissions aimed at restoring credibility in the police and the public service in this troubled country. Finality has also been reached in the matter of high appointments to the judiciary and elsewhere. 

Areas of uncertainty remain however over transitional provisions retaining the executive presidency. And the latest justification for this, incredible as it may sound, appears to be that a strong executive presidency is needed for winning the war. Another bone of contention centers on the reluctance of the Government to set up an Elections Commission along with its push for electoral reform, before they sympathised with, considering the insuperable parliamentary elections. This reluctance must also, after all, be difficulties that such a Commission will present to the Government in terms of electoral reality come September.

Witticisms aside however, the grapevine reports that this new. Constitution will be presented before Parliament for debate in early August and a referendum held later amidst continuing talk of cross-over Bills and so on.But the point must be made. All the above is speculation strictly through the grapevine. We remain starved of official statements as to what exactly is going on. We remain starved of a draft of the amended proposals currently being presented to the Tamil parties for discussion, at the close of which, the draft will be returned to the Government and the Opposition prior to being presented before Parliament. We remain unaware of the exact nature of these talks that are going on and this "historic consensus" that is supposedly to have been reached. And we, as a people, therefore remain totally and utterly deprived of our sovereignty that the existing

Constitution guarantees us, let alone what might conceivably be granted to us in future drafts, the substance of which, in any event, we remainblissfully ignorant of. 

In effect, could there be a more ridiculous situation devised than this, ever? On the one hand, could there be a better example of political chicanery than this on the part of our politicians, irrespective of their political colour? On the other hand, could there be a better example of a more lethargic and complacent citizenry, sublimely unconscious and indeed, to a large extent, unconcerned with the hijacking of their authority? For the citizens in this country seem to have accepted the fact that they do not have any authority any more, whether it is in the case of constitutional reforms, clearing up the rampant corruption that flourishes or dealing with crime in all its various manifestations. 

From the standpoint of the Government, the grandiloquent announcement has been made that the response of the Sri Lankan people to the finalised constitutional reform proposals is "crucial" and that the consensus proposals will be taken to the mass of the people and interest groups.

One ventures to ask however as to when and how exactly will this be done,particu-larly in view of the tight time frame that is now being contemplated for reasons of political expediency? 

Or does this grand consultation mean nothing more than that the people will be asked to vote this way or that with regard to the proposals in a Referendum? For those who would trot out this convenient little excuse, it remains only to be said that effective consultation with the people cannot only mean this little. And more so in the present context where the controversy and dissent swirling round the devolution package at a Referendum will surely eclipse many other important reform issues on which the continued existence of this country as a civilised society depends. And in this regard, it must surely be said that the Opposition is no better than the Government. Three examples should suffice for the moment. Firstly, it was as a result of representations made by legal counsel on behalf of the Opposition that social and economic rights (an important part of the draft1997 proposals) were pulled out of the draft proposals this month.

As news of this began to filter down to civil society groups, frantic lobbying was initiated with the Opposition as a result of which the rights were again re-incorporated into the draft. But as to which form and whether to the same extent as before, only the devil knows at this moment in time. That such a stand could have been taken by the UNP at all in a context where countries such as South Africa, Nepal and Ghana have written such rights into their Constitutions and where the importance of such rights have been increasingly acknowledged is, by itself, deserving of strong condemnation. 

Meanwhile, the composition of the proposed Elections Commission is reported to remain weighted in favour of the Government and with regard to which Opposition protests were not made strongly or sufficiently at the time consensus was reached. And dissatisfaction has also been expressed over provisions proposed by the UNP relating to the independence of the judiciary which have been graciously accepted by the Peoples Alliance but which fall far short of what is required. 

There is, in addition, considerable confusion as to what the exact provisions themselves are, with columnists stating that the UNP proposals specify that the President "consult" the Chief Justice before finalising the appointments to the higher judiciary while others maintain that the proposals only impose a duty on the President to "ascertain the views" of the Chief Justice, a difference that may well be crucial when it comes to questions of legal interpretation at a particular time.

It also goes without saying that other areas of concern particularly regarding fundamental rights challenges to future laws being restricted to two years remain as they are with no change for the better. The artificiality in retaining this two year time limit was pointed out at a Consultation on the Draft Constitution hosted by the Law and Society. Trust this month. This Consultation which included delegates from here and abroad and at which Justice Minister G.L. Peiris chaired one session, was itself a rare and perhaps solitary instance in recent times where concerned civil society members attempted to discuss the ongoing reform process, notwithstanding the fact that discussions were being held with regard to draft constitutional reform proposals, the contents of which remained shrouded in secrecy. 

It is this secrecy which is so disturbing. The sum total of it necessarily amounts to nothing more than an acknowledgement that this process of constitutional reform that has dragged on so painfully for over the last three years has been a colossal failure as far as people participation is concerned. The political impetus will, of course, continue regardless on its own expedient way, aided and abetted by politicians with their own particular agendas. And it is for pointing out these questions that, nodoubt, the accusing accusing finger will continue to be directed against the media.


Countdown

UNP caught up in PA's 4F formula

by H. Chanda
The bustling suburb of Nugegoda was all agog on Wednesday. The ever enthusiastic Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) had begun its general election campaign and the public rally had all the hallmarks of the JVP an eye-catching stage, fiery oratory and young, red clad party members doing the rounds, canvassing support for their cause.

The rhetoric at the rally, mostly in racy Sinhala, is greeted with cheers by the small but partisan crowd but observing all this, two facts come to mind. Firstly, the jibes and jests are mostly at the expense of the UNP and its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and not at the PA or President Chandrika Kumaratunga. 

Then secondly, it poses the serious question what the hell is the UNP doing? The JVP, the rather diminutive 'third force' in contemporary Sri Lankan politics, has already got its show on the road, but the UNP is largely silent. Indeed, as one speaker at the rally pointed out, all the UNP seemed to be doing was going for talks and tea with the President at Temple Trees.

The underlying reasons for the UNP's lethargy are the various disputes simmering within the party. There are various issues involved personality clashes, regional battles, differences with the leadership but the net result is that the once ruthless and effective party machinery of the UNP seemed now come to a standstill. 

Now, events in the UNP are moving in a vicious circle. The unease and the disputes erupt in a defection and the defection generates more unease and dissent and the cycle continues because the leadership has done nothing to break it. And the average voters who probably say they do not have confidence in the government to re-elect it, feel that they have even less confidence in the UNP. And they are left with a Hobson's choice with some considering voting for the JVP or even the new 'Sihala Urumaya'. 

Political history in Sri Lanka amply demonstrates that parties in the opposition are often afflicted with such strife. 

Dudley Senanayake and J. R. Jayewardene fought with each other in the UNP in the seventies; Sirima Bandaranaike and Maithripala Senanayake battled for the SLFP headquarters and leadership in the early eighties and Anura Bandaranaike and Chandrika Kumaratunga quarrelled for the SLFP leadership in the early nineties. 

But then, there is an election to contest and if that is lost, there would be many more long years in the opposition for the UNP. So, a hallmark of a good leader would be to rally the diverse sections within his party to fight their political opponents and not to fight amongst each other. This, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe doesn't seem to be doing. 

Mr.Wickremesinghe was recently requested by UNP parliamentarian and former minister Dharmadasa Banda to consider accommodating Sirisena Cooray and Wijeyapala Mendis again in the UNP. The UNP leader had scoffed at the suggestion and said: "Don't even talk about Sirisena." 

The opposition leader is apparently averse to the kind of politics where your foe today is your friend tomorrow and he doesn't seem to realise that politics makes strange bedfellows for short periods, of course! 

More and more personalities are pondering their future and seriously considering leaving the fold not because they love the UNP less, but because they love themselves more. So, there is speculation that among those considering a 'jump' to the 'other' side are former Coconut Industries Minister Harold Herath, the man from Nattandiya who reportedly hopes for an ambassadorial appointment to Tokyo and Mervyn Silva who is fed up of organizing Hambantota where Sajith Premadasa is making inroads into his vote base. 

Then, some are unhappy that the unwritten rule of not giving nomination to members of the same family has been broken, with Alick Aluvihare organising Matale and his son Ranjith, Dambulla. This could set a precedent for the Premadasas, Dissanayakes, Mohammeds and a host of others seeking nomination, creating more headaches for the leadership.

Some members of the UNP do worry about the party's future and have urged urgent remedial action to stem the outward flow of members. They also want to unsettle the government and create a ripple in political circles by toppling the minority PA administrations in three provincial councils Western, Central and Uva probably with the help of other parties, notably the JVP.

But Mr. Wickremesinghe is not very interested in such strategies, hoping instead that an electorate disgruntled with the PA will usher in a UNP regime, even though the latter has done nothing to deserve it! That then, is the sad scenario in the opposition camp.

On the other side though, the sense of urgency is being felt and it must be conceded that President Kumaratunga, whatever her shortcomings as president, is proving to possess much more political acumen than she has been given credit for. Her political cunning seems to be second only to the wily ingenuity of J. R. Jayewardene himself.

The President, while having tea with Mr. Wickremesinghe and talking of a 'historical consensus' between the UNP and the PA is not averse to plotting and planning the UNP's political demise via a series of constitutional manoeuvres. She apparently wants to get her own back on J. R. Jayewardene who used similar constitutional ploys disenfranchising Sirima Bandaranaike and then holding a referendum to send the SLFP into political oblivion for seventeen years. 

What Ms. Kumaratunga is planning is to legislate the Crossover Bill and introduce the first-past-the post Westminster system of elections into law before the dissolution of this Parliament. With this strategy, the President is hoping to negate the electoral gains of the UNP under the proportional representation system and also woo UNPers who are at risk of losing either nomination or the elections at the forthcoming poll. They will, the President believes prefer the security of being government MPs rather than take a gamble of being either an opposition MP or a defeated candidate. 

Of course UNP loyalists will argue that the plan will never see the light of day because that would require a two-thirds majority and that the President will be hard pressed to find that many UNPers who are desperate and there is some merit in that argument too. 

Therefore, whether President Kumaratunga will succeed with her strategy in the harsh world of real politik remains to be seen but with more defections from in the UNP the possibility of this plan becoming a reality increases by the day. 

The President's strategy is not lost on the UNP leadership, though they seem to be at a loss in trying to prevent it and an interesting anecdote provides an insight into the situation. No less a person than the President's brother, Anura Bandaranaike when at a recent party was told a story of an advice given by a well-known Casanova of yesteryear on what to do with ladies: they should be dealt with the four 'F's, the Casanova said find them, feed them and forget them, with another 'F' thrown in between! Well past midnight that day, AB phoned a barrister friend to say, 'I say, isn't that what my sister is doing to the UNP?" 

The irony is that this is being done to the UNP by a lady. But even if Anura Bandaranaike is having nightmares about the fate of the party his father helped to found and worries about it, his party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe refuses to bestir himself from peaceful slumber. And that might be the tragedy of not only the UNP but also of democracy in this country.


UN's unbelievable double-speak

By Kumbakarana
The United Na tions Human Development Report for year 2000, takes up the theme of Human Rights and human Development. Here a host of rights; child rights, gender equality, right to education and all that is 'in fashion' among the liberal intelligentsia are listed and quantified. This is ironic, since the most blatant violator of human rights today is the UN itself. By imposing crippling sanctions on the Iraqi people, the UN is responsible for the starvation and ill-health of over a million Iraqi children, women and men. Their stated crime, is that of the inability to depose an autocratic leader by the only way possible, that is by popular and violent revolt! Further,the sanctions have effectively arrested any form of development, instead imposed a unique process of under - development for its people, unknown in modern history. According to its listing, Iraq has fallen in its ranking, down to a low one hundred and twenty-six and competing for a position among the desperately poor nations of the world. Iraq which was, and remains a secular state, was once proud of its relatively balanced development and even formed a model for gender equality for the middle eastern region. One can imagine the crippling effect that a decade-long UN mediated sanctions have had on a country and its people. Sri Lanka ranks eighty-fourth, above the half way mark, in spite of an ongoing brutish civil conflict, and Cuba is way above at a comfortable fifty sixth position. If one were to speak metaphorically, the UN advocacy of human rights is akin to a deaf mute moralising on speech . We are not grudging the UN for its advantageous position, but they should stop throwing stones from glass cages. 

Kumbakarana is more than aware that clever propaganda is effective by that which it remains silent on. That is that silence is more effective than a thousand words. This was the strength of the liberal capitalist concept of the freedom of expression . You simply express what is convenient and leave out the rest. The UN report on human development therefore remains condemned by its lack of comment on Iraq, and the former Yugoslavia. Those who wish to really understand the causes of the brutish civil conflict in Sri Lanka, should learn lessons from these. The 'liberal intelligentsia' are masters at the propaganda game, who make a clever apology for the LTTE, by a judicious choice of half truths. The July 1983 riots against innocent Tamils is portrayed as a genocidal move by the majority Sinhala against an oppressed Tamil minority. That it was clearly a state sponsored riot is never mentioned. A series of atrocities, directly designed as provocative acts, committed by the militant Tamil polity against all communities, we repeat against all communities, is not mentioned, or by its silence credited to some 'unknown' hand. Attacks on the Sri Maha Bodhi, Aranthalawa, Dalada Maligawa, the Batticoloa bombs at the Temple on Vesak day, the ethnic cleansing of numerous regions are not mentioned or excused as being a punishment for July, 83 . This is similar in kind to the persecution of the Iraqi people for ten long years, for acts committed by its autocratic leadership. The killing of Neelan Thiru-chelvam is mentioned and eulogies paid to him, but it appears from ommision, that his assassins are an 'unidentifiable' group. An insult and injustice to a more peace loving Tamil of recent times. The fact that for seventeen long years of provocation there has been no reaction from the south is simply not discussed, or rather outrageous reasons attributed in private. These rather outrageous reasons, such as the fear of the LTTE are not mentioned in public, as they are simply too outrageous to be taken seriously. The fact that the JVP had control of areas in which Tamils also lived, and killed exclusively the Sinhala leadership is simply forgotten. And they are misrepresented as a Sinhala chauvinistic band of terrorists! The brutish reaction from the government of the day to the JVP violence, left around eighty thousand Sinhala dead, or rather disappeared with not even a death certificate to claim the rights of the dead. Here is another rights violation, the rights of the deceased, which the UN could innovatively include in their next double-speak document, the 2001 report on Human Development!

The double speak in modern times is simply unbelievable. It is 'minority rights' 'human rights' for the third world while in the western sphere any terrorist activity is roundly condemned, for instance the attacks by the Basque guerrillas and more recently attacks in Greece against British army personnel are highlighted with calls for severe reprimands by all European governments. The 'socialistic' Labour government in Britain harbours on its soil, perhaps the most brutish terrorist group in the world, the LTTE, while at the same time waxing eloquent to all and sundry, on something it terms as Human rights. At the same time it blocks any moves in the Security Council to lift the crippling sanctions on the regime in Iraq. Instead from time to time, it provides from a safe height, a live target of Iraqis, as practice for its air force. 

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