Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

People Power!

by V Gunaratnam, February 19, 2010

All this is just background to what Rajapaksa is trying to do today, and where he is headed in the aftermath of the war, capitalizing on his war-victory to establish a new political order in the country...

The upcoming parliamentary elections are crucial for the Sinhalese...In its wake, the constitution will come under attack...

When the constitution is to be made an instrument of oppression and self-aggrandizement, and there is contempt for the law, then there must be consequences. Something has to be done to stop the descent into this state.

People- power, the might of the Sinhalese, is the only force that can stop this. It will take a massive tide of Sinhala public opinion against Rajapaksa, in a stunning rebuke of his presidency, expressed through their vote in the upcoming parliamentary elections, to bring his regime down to earth, before sovereign power is taken away from the people.

Lord Acton's words, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” is a dictum that perfectly fits Mahinda Rajapaksa as his political manoeuvers and attempts to subvert the existing political order in the country and usurp the power of the people gains in intensity.

The guns have fallen silent, the war on the Tamils has come to an end, and with the presidential election over, and Rajapaksa assured of another seven years as president, the world had expected him to be generous in victory, instead it was stunned to see him more concerned with consolidating his hold on power with more harsh measures, and designing to stay in power beyond his welcome.

The Tamils are now a forgotten people, sidelined, and constrained from being significant players in Sri Lanka politics. Subdued, war-weary, chastened, neglected, and hounded by the security forces, life is a daily struggle for them to have been overly concerned about the outcome of the presidential election.

In any event, Colombo is not where the fate of the Tamils is being decided these days, but New Delhi. There was nothing to inspire the Tamils in the recent news that India was working with Sri Lanka on devolution of power, because they have been at it for decades without getting anything done. The question is, when will India resume the dialogue with the aim of getting some real results.

Rajapaksa did everything in the name of fighting terrorism. The most inhuman acts were perpetrated in its name to crush the political agitation of the Tamils. Nothing was allowed to stand in the way, not the constitution, not the laws of the land, and not even humanitarian laws. A whole array of illegal weapons and firepower were secretly used to obliterate the fighters, and civilians in the way.

International calls for a halt to the carnage were simply ignored. Now it has emerged that crimes against humanity were committed and are hanging over the Rajapaksa regime. The worry for Rajapaksa is that these accusations are not going to go away, and will dog them for years. 

All this is just background to what Rajapaksa is trying to do today, and where he is headed in the aftermath of the war, capitalizing on his war-victory to establish a new political order in the country.

The end of the war has only caused more chaos and political turmoil for the people. While the Sinhalese are still drinking in the euphoria of war-victory, their civil liberties are being slowly eroded away by Rajapaksa's machinations; parliament has been put to sleep; and the abuse of  power is seen in the selection and appointment to the highest offices in the judiciary and public service.

Rajapaksa's time in office has been severely marred by lawlessness, violence, and bloodshed that have far exceeded anything experienced in the past. All this can be traced back to JR Jayawardena's devilishly constructed constitution of 1978 that created the executive presidency, and conferred total immunity on the office. But it was left to Rajapaksa to exploit it more fully and to his advantage.

There is no press freedom or room for dissent in Sri Lanka. So many journalists have paid with their lives for bravely exposing the abuse of power, corruption, the breakdown of law and order, and human rights violations. Everyone knows about the 'white vans' and how they are being allowed to operate freely inside tightly controlled security zones, like death-squads on state business. Crimes never seem to get solved. Presidential Commissions are no better, and hardly ever heard from after their creation. It is not very surprising then to see the culture of impunity continuing without abatement.

Parliament from being the focal point of national debate, has been reduced to an auction house where members of parliament can be 'bought' over with the promise of ministerial office and very generous perks, to play the numbers game in parliament.

Rajapaksa avoided the creation of the Constitutional Council charged with the power to select appointees to the highest offices in the land, and usurped its power to himself. Thus his hand-picked appointees are today in the powerful positions of Chief Justice, Governor of the Central Bank, Army Commander, and IGP. Recent happenings in Colombo are a reflection of how they are being exploited to do the government's bidding.

With these and other acts of commission and omission, Rajapaksa has a stranglehold on the police, armed services, state controlled media and, not unexpectedly, even the courts seem to be bending to his will, seemingly without any intervention on his part! But a more sinister purpose can be discerned  behind these developments.

Government is degenerating into tyranny, and rule by executive fiat, answerable only to itself!

The upcoming parliamentary elections are crucial for the Sinhalese, but it is not going to be a problem for Rajapaksa, however. With his well-oiled state machinery and his hold on power, he will 'steer' his way to victory, like what happened in the presidential election. That will be the beginning of the descent into degeneracy, for the country and the people as a whole.

In its wake, the constitution will come under attack. Opposition MPs will be falling over each other to join the cabinet, and bring the numbers in parliament to 150, the magic number needed for effecting constitutional changes, using a cavalcade of cabinet ministers, ministers of state, deputy ministers, junior ministers, and perhaps 'do-nothing' ministers, to line up and vote with the government to secure its political and legislative agenda, which quite possibly could also mean a new constitution!

When the constitution is to be made an instrument of oppression and self-aggrandizement, and there is contempt for the law, then there must be consequences. Something has to be done to stop the descent into this state.

People- power, the might of the Sinhalese, is the only force that can stop this. It will take a massive tide of Sinhala public opinion against Rajapaksa, in a stunning rebuke of his presidency, expressed through their vote in the upcoming parliamentary elections, to bring his regime down to earth, before sovereign power is taken away from the people.

They must not allow themselves to be overtaken by events, and be swamped by the monstrosity called the executive presidency. Once the new order gets installed, it will be tremendously difficult to dismantle it. Zimbabwe's Mugabe is still ruling, having first come to power in 1980, and in Myanmar* the generals have been ruling the country with an iron hand since 1962.

It's not a time for reflection, but action!

* Recall that it was probably not without purpose that General Than Shwe, the universally condemned, detested and reviled head of Myanmar, was invited and  visited Sri Lanka in November 2009.