Nomination Day is always one with much thrills and excitement for the politicians involved, their parties and supporters, and the public. It is especially so for the leading candidates in the fray. Yet, the major thrill of the day was easily gained by the current national president and UPFA candidate, Mahinda Rajapaksa, by welcoming Tissa Attanayake, the General Secretary of the United National Party, the main party in the alliance that opposes him, into the folds of the UPFA.
It was a crossover of considerable importance in the current politics of Sri Lanka, not merely a tit-for-tat for the departure of the SLFP’s General Secretary to be the “common candidate” against him, whose commonality remains in question; but one of much wider impact, for the campaign of the UPFA and Mahinda Rajapaksa.
It is important to note that the UNP, from which Tissa Attanayake came over, is the oldest non-Marxist democratic political party in the country, which has had an exceptional record as a national party. It has been in power for many years since independence was won in 1948, being the first party to form a government after independence, and was also the party that introduced the Executive Presidency to Sri Lanka, for which the current election is taking place.
Under its present leadership it did have a highly questionable policy in dealing with the terrorism of the LTTE, especially in the Ceasefire Agreement reached with it through Norway, and in not supporting the final military operations that saw the defeat of the LTTE in 2009.
The arrival of Tissa Attanayake to the party and the campaign of Mahinda Rajapaksa was clearly a major bombshell for the UNP, which has been trying hard over the years – since the Presidential election of 1994, to take over the reins of government. It has suffered considerable internal clashes over the policies to follow to reclaim the national leadership, and remain led by a person, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who holds the unenviable record of being the person with the longest record as leader of the Opposition.
Attanayake did go through the political agony of seeing the long record of defeat of the UNP and the rivalries within the party, as well as the lack of a proper policy on issues of national importance, all of which saw the guidance of the party being transferred to a Leadership Council, in what was a desperate bid to save the unity of the party. He has seen renegade members of the party carry out public campaigns against it, and still held on with strong support, hopefully for the best to the party and its leader, who was never ready to give up his hold on the leadership, that saw many questions raised about his commitment to democratic practice.
What is even more important at this time of the presidential election, is the abandonment of principle by the UNP in the rush to form alliances with former, present and even future opponents of the party in what seems to be a desperate bid to find a “common candidate” to run against Mahinda Rajapaksa, who clearly stands out as a politician with unquestioned claims to leadership, that cannot be matched by the strategies of the common candidacy.
The departure of Tissa Attanayake from the UNP, apart from the immediate gap it created in the leadership of this party, also saw the exposure of the dictatorial tendencies within the party, which were largely shown by the letter of resignation he submitted to the party leader. This dictatorial attitude within the UNP was clearly seen by the speed witch the vacancy for the post of General Secretary was filled by the party leader, without even reference to the Deputy Leader and other key members of the party’s leadership. It has created an unwholesome situation of the party chairman also being the general secretary. There is much rumbling, reportedly going on within the UNP today, as a result of what led to this departure of Tissa Attanayake, and the manner in which his vacancy was a filled.
Of greater relevance in the context of the current presidential election campaign, and the challenge that the alliance in which the UNP is involved in fielding the common candidate against Mahinda Rajapaksa, is the exposure by Tissa Attanayake of the secrecy in the forming of various alliances for the support of the “common candidate” and how these agreements were kept away from him, while being General Secretary of the UNP.
Tissa Attanayake also raised important questions about the very nature of the multiple agreements that have been signed by various political parties, political groups and NGOs for the support of the common candidate, which have not been made public and remain well kept secrets among the signatories, be they politicians, members of the Maha Sangha, activists in civil society and independent personalities. This is hardly a democratic approach for the contesting of an election where the mandate of the public is being sought for the most important political office in the country.
This also raises the question as to where exactly the UNP and its allies stand in the campaign for the common candidate, with regard to the main issues being raised by Mahinda Rajapaksa - in his campaign for re-election.
* The issue of national security, in the context of the efforts that are being made by pro-LTTE groups, both here and abroad, to revive the tactics and strategies of separatism;
* The clear policy of the alliance/s ranged against Mahinda Rajapaksa on the defeat of the LTTE and the policies that have been taken by the government to ensure peace and stability;
* The policies that this government have carried out with regard to infrastructure development, rural development, and Information Technology and Education, that will take this country forward to a new era of progress; and,
* The position of the UNP and its current “common candidate” allies, on what is clearly seen as an international conspiracy, through the agencies of the United Nations and Western powers, against the national leadership and the heroes of war who defeated terrorism after three decades, and haul them before international tribunals for so-called, hardly established, allegations of war crimes and violation of humanitarian law.
This last issue is of the highest importance, as it stands out as the attempt by international forces, aligned with the pro-LTTE Tamil forces abroad, to bring about regime change in this country, based on false allegations, as they did in Iraq, which is suffering all of its tragic consequences today; what these forces have done in Libya making it a failed state, as well as how these same forces are acquiescing in the attacks on democracy in Egypt today.
All of these need clear answer to a public, who remain committed to democracy and wholly opposed to the influences of foreign forces against the freedom, sovereignty and national integrity of Sri Lanka.
Foreign interference and US denial
As the polls campaign moves on with the UPFA’s warning of an international conspiracy for regime change by western powers who have links with the pro-LTTE forces abroad, we are reminded again of the allegation made by Rehabilitation Minister Gunaratne Weerakoon that the former US Ambassador Michele J Sison had offered him bribes or inducements to pursue the political agenda of the US vis-a-vis Sri Lanka.
Not surprisingly, the US Embassy in Colombo did issue a denial of the claim by Minister Weerakoon that it had offered his two children US scholarships, green cards and a house to live in the US in return for his cooperation to pursue the US agenda. Minister Weerakoon’s allegation underscores the charge made by the UPFA, in the context of crossovers from government to the “common candidate alliance” against President Rajapaksa, of how foreign agents are buying government politicians and pumping money to defeat the President in the coming election.
The denial by the US Embassy states the Minister’s allegations “reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of our engagement with senior government officials and our policy towards Sri Lanka as well as the US political and economic system”. This denial can have credibility, but for the fact that the US is well known for such denials in the face of allegations of interference in the internal affairs of foreign countries, even with friendly countries, and also with regard to moves for regime change.
Matters are made worse for the US just now with the publication of the highly redacted 400-page, version of a 6,000 page classified report into the CIA’s role in carrying out torture and other gross violations of human rights of prisoners it has held, most with no charges against them. The US has for the past several years denied any such allegations of torture. It has been wholly exposed today… and is being strongly criticized even by its closest allies, such as Afghanistan, as well as the friendly countries that it transferred prisoners to, with no indication of them being tortured in those countries, too.
The Guardian, UK of December 9 states: “The torture program was bad enough. But the CIA also lied about it. It lied about it to the American people. But it also lied about it within government too. CIA directors gave inadequate information to the White House. But the feuding White House kept key members of the administration, including Codlin Powell, out of the loop anyway. Within government, and even within the CIA, criticisms were blocked and critics marginalised. Attempts by Congress at oversight were rebuffed, especially once concerns had been aroused about conditions in Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. The administration and the agency – along with parts of US civil society – were in the grip of a group think that said the 9/11 attack justified the use of torture and that the war on terror justified covering it up.”
Is there any more need to blandly accept any denial of controversial action made by the US Embassy, about dealings with a friendly country, when the record on lying to the US public and the world is so well exposed, today?
By Lucien Rajakarunanayake