Can the Rajapakse April 08 landslide unite fractured Sri Lanka ?

By Luxman Arvind

(April 29, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) Charles Haviland – BBC Correspondent in Colombo – reporting on the Parliamentary Elections 4 days before April 08 made reference in the Global World Service, the President and the Elections Commissioner assured the country the landscape will be free of election posters. But the very proliferation of it in almost every street corner of the Island belied this preposterous claim.That, in a way, is one single aspect of the integrity of the election process and the way it was conducted. The State – without compunction – used many resources unabashedly for its own benefit. Street posters, TV-Radio, the government-controlled media, vehicles, unlimited fuel (in a land where it is priced exceptionally high) local heavy-handedness by thugs and criminals of the area – being just some. The Police and some sections of the army made their own contribution to the government’s election machinery – patently unlawful. In Nawalapitiya and Kumburrupitti (Trinco) counting was called off on election day and set for another date. All due to blatant obstruction and violence on opposition election officials and counting agents by government ministers and the like. It may be noted this is perhaps the first time in the country’s history where such a thing had happened. The editorial of a popular daily journal sums up the mood of the people as follows. “The most unpopular bureaucrat in Sri Lanka today is the Commissioner of Elections – whose credibility is challenged all over the country. He is seen to have greatly compromised the electoral process. Under the Constitutional provisions he has no business being in his position – in the 1st place (Lanka Guardian – April 09, 2010) In a post-poll Press Conference Ranil Wickramasinghe claimed the next Parliament would be one without the people’s mandate. He said more voters (over 50%) stayed away having lost confidence in the questionable manner in which the elections were conducted. He added normally a minimum of 80% vote in General Elections vote - including those held under more difficult conditions during the JVP terror period and in the background of the war. He announced steps are being taken to complain to UN agencies entrusted with looking into improper electioneering procedure, absence of media freedom and the like. Col. R. Hariharan is one analyst whom many have been critical he is too generous in presenting MR's regime overlooking many flaws – just to be on the good side of the regime. Yet, this is what he has to say in his latest comment “…diplomacy has never been Sri Lanka ’s strongest suite….President Rajapakse is riding the crest of popularity with success after success but does not appear to be fully conscious of the importance of maintaining cordial relations with the US , India ..”

Although I have questioned the validity of the last Presidential Election and the previous General Election, I believe President Rajapakse could be described as having won in this instance – despite many shortcomings. That is largely due to the fact there was hardly any semblance on April 08 to the strong show put up by the opposition in the January 28 Presidential Election - buoyed by the presence of the Buddhist Sinhala hero – “the Generaaal” The deflated opposition lead by serial-loser Ranil Wickramasinghe, was concentrating only on preventing Rajapakse ending up with a 2/3rd victory rather than seeking to win the election for the UNP coalition. Those in the fence believing in the old “everybody loves a winner” theory did not miss the point.

The people are weary of elections and suspect it is a dressed up fraud to cover the regime’s weaknesses and poor record in the past five years to engage the more pressing problems of the people. This is best illustrated by the fact less than 50% went to the polls. Significantly, people in the more sensitive Tamil-dominated areas of the North East Province (the Tamil Homeland, if you will) hardly showed any enthusiasm. The official estimate is 22% voted while others puts it around 18% Apologists for the State did not dissappoint us. They present us with attractive computer-aided graphs claiming most people actually voted. I certainly am not going to spoil their day although many who kept away I spoke to did so for the reasons I| enumerate. There is much room to say nearly half of the Southern Electorate established beyond doubt they are weary of the carnival of elections while the Tamil-speaking people virtually rejected the “charade” At the end of the day, Mahinda Rajapakse is in full control of the State machinery – whether one likes it or not. That pleasant situation also brings with it some awesome responsibilities now to a nation impatiently waiting for the Rajapakses to deliver in many fronts. Foremost being uniting the nation where around 1/3rd of the country, arguably, are backing political parties that may seek total separation if their persistent appeals to running their affairs in their now divided Homeland, the North East Province (merged in 1987 for nearly 20 years) is refused again.

The past week has been dominated by the formation of the Cabinet and the post of Prime Minister. All that is now settled although I suspect both are stop-gap arrangements that could well be revived in November. Dallas Allapperuma, very much an inner circle man, going down to accept the lesser Youth Affairs Ministry from the high profile Ministry of Transport he held earlier is an indication he has cooperated with the President to overcome the present run for Cabinet Posts until the “real one’ comes in 6 months time. It is good the question of PM was resolved without controversy. A wag even went to the extent of speculating we may have 3 PMs working on 8-hour shifts to overcome the impasse – as it almost happened in Delhi during the Bansi Lal-Charan Singh period a few years ago when . At least now that poor man from Gampola who made the news both in 1977 and 1983 pogroms (its all in Police records) can wear the suit he has been telling us he had ready for display for the swearing in. Looks like that talk of drastically reducing the Jumbo cabinet is meant for the marines. It is around 37 now and could be more by 5 by next week, which added with the Deputy Ministers – is not substantially less than what the country gained a dubious reputation with. A visiting journalist remarked with such a large Cabinet of Ministers working even in half "all your problems shoud be over by now." The appointment of the delinquent Mervyn Silva - widely believed to be the Godfather of the local underworld - surprises even party men. That he was placed high in the Media Ministry is viewed as in poor taste. Incredibly, the President’s comments in justifying the appointment – to a party politician reported in the media – provides much cause for concern. International media organizations have widely condemned this stubborn but appointment

which the local media community perceives as a threat to them "to behave - if not" signal.

The lacklustre Ranil Wickremasinghe has added one more tally to his run of major electoral losses and survives in the UNP only because of that strange clause that assures the President of the Party a life-tenure. How such a blatant clause went without resistance in a party, not short of brilliant legal talent, remains a mystery. In the matter of the reduced National Lot slots Ranil earned further umbrage by keeping out seniors in the party and coalition partners by an ill-considered pledge earlier no losing candidates will be accommodated in the list. He has proved to be his own suicide-bomber and could well have blasted his tottering leadership role in the party by this poor decision.

President Rajapakse has no more excuses but to get his act together and solve the National Question aided by the enormous mandate he has repeatedly received. He is a creature of SinhalaBuddhist supremacist section, the Mahanayakas and the Army – the trinity of real political power in the country. They can be persuaded by the ruling set not to place road-blocks on the path to national unity.

The TNA enjoys the reputation of speaking for the Tamil people of the NEP – although Minister Douglas Devananda, Col. Karuna and others are inducted into the Cabinet more for cosmetic purposes and international consumption. There is hardly any more reason for insisting on the formalities of preparatory events for “talks” with the representatives of the Tamils. The TNA-ITAK manifesto spells out what the immediate priorities of the Tamil people are – on which they received a resounding mandate of those who voted.

It is probably "Now or Never" for Sri Lanka's territorial integrity.