Sri Lanka: keeping the Rajapaksa happy over war crimes can harm President Sirisena’s reconciliation policy!
-Dr. Abdul Ruff
Obviously, former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is just down but not fully out. This comfort could offer him some extra hopes for his political future and he certainly looks for fatal mistakes and wrong moves by the Sirisena government so that Singhalese could leave the trust zone created by president Sirisena, opting for him once again.
The ball is surely in president Sirisena’s court. Anti-incumbency factor has ruined many faulty governments in the polls. People who rejected Mahinda Rajapaksa could reconsider him if opportunity is provided to them as they do not hesitate to dethrone any regime they consider dangerous, unfit or unnecessary. .
Though defeated twice one after the other by Lankans both in presidency and parliament polls, and having diminished his popularity even among his Singhalese majority, the ousted President Rajapaksa cannot be expected to call it a day. A shrewd politician who is well knit in manipulations, Rajapaksa was almost sure that he would stage a perfect come back in the parliamentary polls because peole were not satisfied with his unfulfilled promises. He had expected the majority Singhalese population to stand behind him solidly to save themselves from the rising Tamils on account of Sirisena’s reconciliation efforts. .
Clearly, even a sizeable majority of Singhalese population also has disowned the former dictator of Srilanka because they feel he is return would be disastrous for the nation and even for themselves. Singhalese, like Tamils, Muslims and other communities, cannot approve of the rise of Rajapaksa family mightier than ever before.
Rajapaksa can claim he still commands a core vote that responds to his majoritarian populism liberally laced with fear about the fate of the Sinhala community and of war heroes being turned into war criminals for ultra brutality against Tamils. .
During the Rajapaksa era the country was controlled by the country’s most powerful Rajapaksa family, which was accused of stealing US$18 billion from the government and stashing the money in four countries overseas. The Sirisena government is seeking to repatriate as much as possible. So far, only US$2 billion has been traced, according to government officials. Interestingly, Sirisena seems to be making a real effort to repatriate the stolen funds and restore them to government coffers. Obviously Rajapaksa interferes in the process as well. .
Rajapaksa wants to put his family back to power and he is eager to undo what President Sirisena has done so far. He wants to bring Tamils and others to the grip of fear and create a permanent wedge between them and majority Singhalese by generating false alarms about the return of LTTE – just like the US terror gimmicks of “insurgency” in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, elsewhere.
Singhalese population has no reason to dislike or disbelieve President Sirisena as he is not seen as opposed to Singhalese people even in his reconciliation bid. People would appreciate, on the other hand, his sincerity in bringing about a genuinely united Srilanka. It is here that Lankans see the hidden agenda of Rajapaksa.
Rajapaksa still claims he brought the 26-year Sri Lankan civil war to a brutal end in 2009, with the army driving north mercilessly into Tamil territory, killing thousands mercilessly. He has been hailed then as a “hero” of modern times by the majority Sinhalese population and he proceeded to rule the island nation as a near dictator following the defeat. Numerous journalists and civil rights activists were abducted, beaten, murdered or jailed. President Sirisena is pushing for investigation over ghastly war crimes committed by Rajapaksa in Tamil areas but the former president is trying to arm-twist the Sirisena administration to just skip that and save his family and military criminals.
Sirisena faces challenges like growth generation, bloated public sector, debt and unemployment and the fact that Sri Lanka has an ageing population with all this entails for the health sector and pensions. The crucial challenge he faces is war crimes and crimes against humanity by Rajapaksa. UN investigations have already made Rajapaksa nervous. And a long-delayed report of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, which deals with allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the last phase of what it turn out to be the war on Lankan Tamils. The report will be formally presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in the last week of September but shared with the government soon. It is expected to be a strong condemnation concluding that such crimes did take place.
It appears, Rajapaksa has managed to influence the Sirisena government to go slow on the war crimes issue and Sirisena seems to have requested the White House to help his government with war crimes in favor of Rajapaksa.
President Sirisena doesn’t require a crash course on Rajapaksa politics as he was part of h Rajapaksa government before ousting him from power. But now, if he tries to save him and his family as well as others involved in corruption and war crimes, he would be inviting trouble for his government on his own.
People of Lanka woke to the dangerous situation emerging there as Rajapaksa sought equate democracy with authoritarianism and justified it.
Upon winning nation’s trust, President Sirisena vowed during the first 100 days to reduce the powers of the executive presidency, reintroduce independent oversight commissions for the police, public service, elections and, in particular, human rights, change the electoral system to a mix of proportional representation and first-past-the-post and to introduce Right to Information legislation. So far, Sirisena has been performing to the satisfaction of people. But supporting Rajapaksa over the war crimes could harm him and his government while ultimate beneficiary would be the Rajapaksa family.
Sirisena is not fighting the military or police but the extra constitutional action of the military and policy and their criminal operations against Tamil population in the country. He must be firm on delivering justice to them as the victims of Rajapaksa authoritarianism.
Justice for Tamils in Lanka can not only ensure Tamils their place in the island nation but, more importantly, boost the image of the Sirisena government as it would herald a new era of genuine reconciliation in the country.
The future of Sri Lanka as well as the Sirisena government could, more than economic lift, depends on how the president pursues the war crimes.