Sweet honey for Mahinda’s ears


As the sordid drama in Geneva came to a close, a no less sordid drama was in the making back home in relation to domestic politics and the political party system. On Monday, UNP Provincial Councillor Srinath Perera handed in the report of the committee of inquiry appointed to look into the attack on Sirikotha that took place on 19 December 2011. The committee was chaired by Srinath Perera, PC, a former Additional Solicitor General, and its other members were Nissanka Nanayakkara, Rajiv Seneviratne and Upali Perera. The committee based its findings on representations made to them by interested individuals and also by viewing video footage of the incident – presumably the same video footage that party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has been showing at every party gathering attended by him over the past few months.

Based on this oral and video evidence, the Srinath Perera committee has arrived at the following conclusions.  

1. On the day in question a crowd of about 500 had assembled outside Sirikotha.

2.  The majority of those present were those who supported the candidacies of Karu Jayasuriya, Sajith Premadasa and Dayasiri Jayasekera.

3. Those who had assembled outside Sirikotha had come at the instigation of those who led the group opposed to the party leadership. In other words, it was an organised crowd that had assembled outside the party headquarters. The committee had also found that Shiral Laktilleke had brought printed posters and placards with slogans supportive of the candidacies of Karu, Sajith and Dayasiri.

4. The crowd had behaved in a peaceful manner at first probably in the expectation that their group would win the election that day.

5. However with the announcement of the result, at least a part of the crowd had behaved in an unruly and violent manner.

Thereafter, the report goes on to separate the crowd into three categories – the leaders, those who engaged in violent acts and those who did not engage in violence but were seen together with the first and second categories. The leaders of the crowd have been identified as Lal Perera, Shiral Laktilleke, Chandima Nayanajith (a former Kotte UNP Municipal Councillor) Lakshman Abeygunaratne and Maithree Gunaratne.  Eighteen individuals had been identified as those who engaged in violent acts. Among them were the leader of the opposition of the Udubaddawa Pradesheeya Sabha,  members of the Tangalle, Hambantota, Ambalantota, Biyagama, Balapitiya, Katana Pradesheeya sabhas  – a total of ten sitting PS members and one Buddhist monk from Wadduwa. There was also one member of the JSS, two members of the Jathika Yovun Peramuna and so on, making up the total of 18 identified miscreants.

Ranil’s Kangaroo court

Then there is a list of 40 other identified individuals who had been in the crowd but had not taken part in the violence and vandalism.   Among the people in this category are Ravi Jayawardana (the former organiser for Horana), Mayantha Dissanayake, Ariyaratne Santiago (sitting Colombo Municipal Councillor), Vijitha Kadiragonne (former CMC member) Mahen Gunasekera and Anura Bastian both former parliamentarians. It is unclear as to why the names of this last category of 40 people were mentioned at all, if they did not participate in the violence.  Simply being outside their own party headquarters cannot be construed an offence.  It is not said anywhere in the report that Sajith or Karu were responsible for the violence but the report does state accusingly that when the violence started, both Karu and Sajith had been told that their supporters were turning violent outside and that they should have come out immediately and taken steps to calm them down but that they had neglected to do so. The report avers that if Karu and Sajith had taken early action to calm the crowd down, that the damage to Sirikotha would have been minimised. That is the first salvo fired at the Sajith group which stands accused of an act of omission.  It turns out that Karu in fact had offered to go outside and talk to the crowd but the MSD personnel in charge of their security had not allowed anyone to go out – which does make sense because no security detail worth their salt would allow a VIP to go out into the midst of an enraged crowd.

There are also a series of accusations aimed at establishing the guilt of certain individuals. The foremost among these is that after the vandalism had taken place, both Sajith and Karu had come out and ‘thanked the crowd’ for the support extended to them.  The report appears to imply that Karu and Sajith were thanking the vandals for destroying Sirikotha! Then it says that both Laktilleke and Maithree Gunaratne were constantly talking over the phone, thereby implying that they were coordinating things with others not present at the venue.  The report also says that ‘before the violence started’ Shiral Laktilleke had established control over the crowd. Thereby the implication is that since Shiral had control over them, he could have prevented them for engaging in violence and that if that did not happen it is because Shiral wanted them to engage in violence.

The report also says that evidence has surfaced as to the fact that Mrs Hema Premadasa was distributing food parcels to those assembled outside. It would appear that this has been said to establish a direct link between the crowd and Sajith Premadasa. To this, Maithree Gunaratne wanted to know what was wrong if Mrs Premadasa was present at the venue because her son was contesting the leadership. The report has also attempted to create divisions among the reformists. It observes that parliamentarians Palitha Thavarapperuma and Palitha Range Bandara had tried to calm down the enraged crowd, thereby giving credit to these two MPs. Palitha Thavarapperuma is known to be sympathetic to the Sajith faction and by praising him, they seek to create divisions in the Sajith camp. This becomes even more obvious when Asoka Abeysinghe the Kurunegala district MP is praised for having prevented a scurrilous poster about Ranil Wickremesinghe from being displayed. Abeysinghe has been identified with the Sajith group and praising him was a way of isolating Dayasiri Jayasekera in the Kurunegala district. Even Sajith’s protégé in the Hambantota district, Dilip Wedaarachchi is praised for having taken steps to put an end to a fast started by a youth outside party headquarters.  Thereby they have tried to split Wedaarachchi from Sajith as well. These could also be feints to show that the committee of inquiry is not out on a witch hunt but is willing to give credit where it’s due – even to UNP reformists.

The recommendation of the committee of inquiry is that those responsible for the violence and those who gave leadership to them should be subject to disciplinary proceedings and if found guilty, should be severely dealt with. It should be noted that neither Sajith nor Karu have been identified as those leading the attackers. Those identified as having led the unruly crowd are those whose names were mentioned earlier in this article and presumably, the threatened disciplinary action will affect only those whose names have been mentioned in the report. This committee was appointed only to go into the question of the attack that took place on the party headquarters. But the committee has clearly overstepped their mandate and recommended that the UNP constitution be amended so that the election of office bearers need not be held once a year but only once in several years. The committee has even recommended that the office bearers elected last December should be allowed to continue until the next presidential or parliamentary election. This latter recommendation, if implemented, will be the UNP’s Aluth Avurudu gift to president Mahinda Rajapaksa – something that will definitely cheer the president up after the Geneva setback. The domestic front is going to be secure for the foreseeable future despite all the price increases, and shooting of demonstrators and resolutions in Geneva and all the other untoward things that have been happening to his government over the past several months!

A major faux pas had been made by Srinath Perera because the names of the miscreants had been included in the report without first calling them for an inquiry. Ananda Palitha, the Secretary of the JSS branch in the Ceylon Petrolem Corporation, had phoned Srinath Perera and taken strong exception to the fact that his name had been included in a list of miscreants that had been released to the press. Palitha had told Perera that he was a trade unionist who played a major role in exposing the low-quality petrol racket and that as a responsible trade union leader his reputation had been irreparably sullied by the fact that he had been included in a list of miscreants that vandalised the party headquarters.

The present columnist contacted Srinath Perera over the phone of Saturday and said that this was C.A.Chandraprema from The Island to which Mr Perera answered "Yes Mr Chandraprema". The present columnist then asked him about the report on the December incidents that he had submitted to the party leader. The first question I asked was whether he had summoned those who he had mentioned in his report as miscreants for an inquiry to get their side of the story before putting their names down on that list. His response was that he had submitted the report in accordance with the principles he believed in, and that he does not feel called upon to comment on that report to anybody. He even said "I don’t know who you are". The present columnist hopes that this latter comment was made only because Mr Perera lost his cool and not because he actually does not know who the present columnist is.

It’s bad for the Sunday Island too if he actually did not know who I am. Anyway, his refusal to talk about the report meant that we had to get the details from the other side. We spoke to Maithree Gunaratne and Shiral Laktilleke and asked them how many of the listed miscreants were actually called before the committee of inquiry and they said that 18 of them had voluntarily appeared before the committee and given their side of the story. They had taken a whole day from 9.00am to 6.00pm to give evidence. They had said that the incident was spontaneous. When the crowd outside got to know that the ballot papers had been numbered and that the poll was taken in the party leader’s room, they had come to the conclusion that the election was manipulated. Laktilleke says that those inside party headquarters had provoked those outside by lighting crackers as the result was announced and two of those who had gone inside had been assaulted.  

Ananda Palitha the trade unionist mentioned earlier had an interesting angle to the whole issue. If this was all about damage to party property, then for UNP protestors to even overturn police barricades or engage in running street battles with the police will be a violation of party discipline because public property is as sacred as party property. Once a crowd assembles and the crowd is challenged or provoked, there’s no telling which way things will go. If the party takes action over damage to party property, then when the media announces that public property was damaged during a UNP demonstration, the party should take disciplinary action against those present at the protest as well.

The Jaffna misadventure

On top of all this, the UNP has made arrangements to hold a joint May Day rally with the Tamil National Alliance in Jaffna. This is seen by many as a bad mistake. Until very recently the TNA was openly acting as the proxies of a terrorist organisation and they would have continued to do so if not for the fact that the terrorist organisation was destroyed by the government. Even today, the TNA acts as the local representatives of the LTTE diaspora and the TNA along with the political parties in Tamil Nadu is one of the forces rallying international pressure against Sri Lanka.  To hold a joint rally with an organisation that has never apologised for having been in cahoots with the LTTE and is still promoting the same agenda, is not going to do the UNP any good. Coming so soon after the US sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka, it shows Wickremesinghe’s  insensitivity. No politician in this country has such a record for being a master of the inappropriate act at the inappropriate moment.

The UNP has still not learnt its lesson by trying to woo minority community votes by going through communal parties. If the UNP was going to hold a May day rally all on its own in Jaffna, that would have been a laudable exercise indeed.  But to hold a May Day rally in Jaffna together with the TNA is the height of insanity. By doing so, they are sending a signal to the people of Jaffna that there is no difference between them and the TNA. The end result of this is going to be that the UNP will hand over even the few votes they have in the Jaffna peninsula to the TNA. The UNP managed to get one MP, Vijayakala Maheswaran appointed to parliament from the Jaffna peninsula. By now getting onto the same platform with the TNA they have taken the first step to handing even Mrs Maheswaran to the TNA on a platter.

The UNP’s harebrained schemes to win over the minority vote by pandering to communal political parties have resulted in a situation where the UNP has neither the minority nor the majority vote.  What the UNP’s standing among the minority communities is can be gauged from the results of the last local government elections. In the VVT urban council, the UNP got 93 votes, in Point Pedro 117, In Chavakachcheri it was 28 with the UNP coming fourth after the United Socialist Party which got a handsome 38 votes. In Valikamam East, it was 113 votes. Even in Vavuniya where the UNP once had a Tamil MP (Mrs Pulendran) representing them, the UNP got 608 votes in Vavuniya North, 117 votes in the Venkalacheddikulam PS, and in the Vavuniya South PS, they got  1,400 votes. If Wickremesinghe is going to Jaffna with his travelling show of political eccentrics who have parties with no voters, like Wickremabahu Karunaratne, Siritunga Jayasuriya and others, then in the north at least, Wickremesinghe is in the right company – because in that part of the country, the UNP gets the kind of vote that Karunaratne and Siritunga get in the South. Perhaps this trip to the north is a kind gesture on Wickremesinghe’s part so that his new found friends in the lunatic left will not feel too bad at the unkind media comments about their lack of votes.

The UNP first handed over the eastern province Muslim vote to the SLMC on a platter. The SLMC was able to force the UNP to sideline loyal UNP Muslims in exchange for support in forming governments. Now they are about to hand over even the few dozen votes they have in the north to the TNA. Thanks to that colourful character Tiyagarajah Maheswaran, the UNP has one parliamentarian from the Jaffna district today. After this joint rally with the TNA,  they will probably create a situation where even Mrs Maheswaran is unable to get re-elected without coming through the TNA. At the next elections, the number of parliamentary seats allocated to the Jaffna district will be reduced due to adjustments in relation to the population. It is vital for the TNA to ensure that no seat goes to the UNP from the Jaffna district as that will further restrict their influence in Jaffna.   

Israel will show the way

Last week in fact was good all round for the Sri Lankan government.  Fast on the heels of the resolution against Sri Lanka, came the announcement by Israel that they would not play ball with the UN Human Rights Council and allow any UN inspectors to come into their country to look into the question of settlements in the occupied areas. There were no less than five separate resolutions passed against Israel in the HRC at the last sessions on the following topics.

Human rights in the occupied Golan Heights belonging to Syria

The right of the Palestinian people to self determination

Human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory including East Jerusalem

Follow up to the report of the fact finding mission to the Gaza

Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory including East Jerusalem

The US which moved a resolution against Sri Lanka, voted with Israel and they even went on record as saying that the Human Rights Council was biased against Israel. Among the other things that the USA said on Israel’s behalf at these sessions was that passing such resolutions will not conduce to building peace in Israel. The arguments that the USA presented on behalf of Israel were identical to the arguments presented on Sri Lanka’s behalf by our own delegation as well as friendly countries that opposed the US resolution against Sri Lanka. The rank hypocrisy of the US was exposed when she considered the UNHRC a competent and unbiased body to pass resolutions against Sri Lanka but incompetent and biased when it comes to passing resolutions against Israel. We do not for a moment suggest that the resolutions against Israel were justified. Israel has every right to combat terrorism effectively and to do what it takes to ensure the security of its citizens.  We are only highlighting the contradiction in the US positions taken in the same sessions of the HRC.  

The contradictory positions taken by the USA on Sri Lanka and Israel shows beyond a shadow of doubt that the USA is just using the HRC as a foreign policy tool. This in fact has been the suspicion of many countries on the HRC which is why virtually all non-western countries demanded a reduction in the number of western staffers in the Office of the UN Human Rights Commissioner. Nobody could have anticipated that the USA would stand exposed and hoist with its own petard so fast. Sri Lanka has now officially declared that it will do an Israel, and refuse to cooperate with the UNHRC resolution. When this comes up for review at the 22nd session of the HRC, the USA won’t be able to justify taking follow up action in Sri Lanka while refusing to do so with regard to Israel. What all this means is that the UNHRC, as an institution, will be on its way down the drainpipe, with diminished credibility. We might just manage to ride piggy-back on Israel out of this mess. In any case, Israel is a country that has helped Sri Lanka when the western world turned its back on the conservative pro-western government of J.R.Jayewardene. They sold good arms to us when the West refused and as a country beset by terrorism, they have always sympathised with us. Now we might just be able to ride to safety on their shoulders.

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