EU and Miliband play key roles in Swan Lake
Posted on December 18th, 2009

Lucian Rajakarunanayake Courtesy Daily News

As the Presidential Election campaign progresses, the election will have to make a clear choice between the incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who led the nation to victory against terror, and the so-called Common Candidate Sarath Fonseka, the former Army Commander who shed his uniform to run against his immediate Commander-in-Chief.

Twenty-two candidates being in the fray is significant proof that representative democracy remains very much alive in Sri Lanka, after 78 years since universal franchise was introduced under British rule in 1931, making this the oldest democracy in Asia.

The coming weeks will give Sri Lankan voters the chance to decide both on policies to be followed in the next six years, laying the groundwork for full restoration of peace after three decades of war, violence and mistrust, and, hopefully pave the way for national reconciliation in a pluralist society.

This period will also show what the voters think of how the war on LTTE terror was ended, and who they will credit to for this major achievement in the modern history of Sri Lanka.

It will also raise major questions about a political party that has shed both symbol and colour, to hang on to the fading uniform of a retired General.

Freedom of choice

The democratic process is best practised when the members of a society can make their choice for leadership and policy on their own, given the methods of publicity and propaganda of rival candidates and parties, the influence of personalities, the ability of the media to influence opinion, as well as the whims and fancies of voters.

One has to expect the countries that preach democracy to the world, and have taken it upon themselves to be the crusaders of democracy in lands and regions that look at the system with major questions, to understand the necessity for a society to be allowed to choose its leaders and government for itself and by itself.

The voters of Sri Lanka have had their freedom of choice constrained to a large extent in elections that took place, in recent decades, although by and large they made informed choices in the midst of many obstacles.

The LTTE terror that prevailed in the North and East in this period hampered the people there from making known their preference for leadership and governance. This was best seen by the denial of the vote to the Tamil people of the North and East by the LTTE in 2005, and to a substantial extent in several earlier polls, too.

There were also the massive electoral frauds carried out with voters in many parts of the South being prevented from polling, through the terror of the JVP and the UNP’s counter terror of the State in 1989. After all these tortuous years for democracy, one had reason to believe the country had come to a situation, when there would be no interference with the freedom of choice of the people in this crucial election.

Beyond our shores

But it appears there are other forces at play, outside the shores of Sri Lanka, to influence and interfere with the way our voters would act on January 26. Even though the United States signalled a major shift in policy over Sri Lanka, recognizing her strategic importance in the region, and the fact that the country had achieved a major victory against terrorism; it is now apparent that the ageing powers of Europe, led by our last colonizer, the United Kingdom, are very much interested in poking their interfering fingers in the internal politics of Sri Lanka, through the European Union.

It is not only the norms of diplomacy, but also the sensitivity of nations to developments in other countries they have good or historic relations with, that would dictate the appropriate time for action to pursue an agenda in a manner that would not amount to a blatant attempt at manipulating the democratic process in a country. Developments in the UK and EU, vis-a-vis Sri Lanka today, show that together they lack such sensitivity. The negotiations over GSP+ have been going on for some time, and both sides have repeatedly affirmed their interest in keeping the contacts, exchanges and discussions over the issue alive. Yet, it is now evident that the UK and the EU are jointly trying to use GSP+ to influence, or rather manipulate the Sri Lankan electorate to suit the needs that are not those of Sri Lanka and its people.

Although the argument of coincidence would be proffered, it could hardly be accepted as such, for David Miliband, the UK Foreign Secretary to make his statement last Tuesday, when he commended the freedom of movement now available to the IDPs in the North, and the progress of their resettlement; yet, cautioned that on GSP+ Sri Lanka had to necessarily fulfill all requirements being sought by the EU.

Miliband was meddling with the Sri Lankan polls. Similarly, the EU Commission statement on GSP+ and Sri Lanka, where the warnings of the facility being suspended, restricted or withdrawn being issued on the same day, as the political heat was building up for the nominations, also gives cause for genuine suspicion that the timing was aimed at having an impact on the Sri Lankan polls. This is crude interference in the politics of a democracy, older than many in Europe.

Forces of terror

We are not unaware how some western leaders who swore by the existence of WMDs in Iraq ready to be launched in 45 minutes, to invade Iraq for regime change, now say that even if Saddam Hussein had no WMDs at the time, it was right to carry out regime change in Iraq. Countries and leaders that think in such manner, and regional groupings that think alike, are not unlikely to time statements targeted at the equivalent of regime change, in a country they could not compel to toe their line of appeasement to the forces of terror.

The timing of the statements by Miliband and the EU Commission, call into question the objectivity of those who decided on the moment to strike, their commitment to the process of engagement with Sri Lanka, as well as, the freedom of choice of the Sri Lankan voter. The suspicions grow larger when one realizes that the final decision on the GSP+ and Sri Lanka is now scheduled for January 26, the very day of the Presidential Election. This is hardly an example of accidental insensitivity to the politics of Sri Lanka. Rather, it shows keen and determined interest in the possibilities of manipulating the politics here; knowing how much concern the issue can have among a large segment of people who may well fear being affected by the decision of the EU.

Pushing GSP+

What we see Miliband and the EU doing is to push the GSP+ issue to the forefront of the polls campaign here, trying to divert the attention of people from the commendable victory against terrorism, and the moves towards reconciliation; while serving the interests of those forces in the West ready throw their money and votes to elect mouthpieces of the so-called Tamil Diaspora at elections due soon in the UK, and also maintain their influence in European politics.

There is little cause for concern if this is a matter confined to political games in Europe. But, in reality this timing is well in sync with what the repeatedly defeated opposition in Sri Lanka, led by the UNP and Ranil Wickremesinghe, has been aiming at through the past two years. It also calls for a re-examination of the statement by the so-called “Common Candidate”, who is unable to contest either from the UNP or the JVP, that make up his rival supporters, about acts of alleged war crimes against possible surrendees from the LTTE, in the final stages of the war. The retired general has said he was misquoted or misreported, but the newspaper to which he gave the interview stands firmly by its story, and there is still no letter of demand or warnings of legal action being heard of. The fact is that the statement, whether erroneously reported or not, had in its essence the intent of alerting anti-Sri Lankan forces in the West, to a fresh opportunity to take a bash at the regime here, that defeated terrorism so convincingly.

New threat

It is no blind coincidence that the Times of London, also chose this same week to publish its story that sought to confirm the veracity of the Channel 4 video of summary executions by alleged SL Forces. There is a clear uniformity of purpose and action.

As the EU plays politics with GSP+ in Sri Lanka, it is now clearer what the retired General meant in saying he would take funds for his campaign even from the parents of Prabhakaran. He was not only referring to the hidden funds of the LTTE that could be at his disposal, but also to the fund of support he can get from western forces that are still licking the wounds suffered in seeking to alter the determination of Mahinda Rajapaksa to take the fight against the LTTE to a finish.

The voters of Sri Lanka will now have to look beyond the much touted capability of the swan to separate milk from water, and think what those who parade with the swan can extract from the machinations of the West for their own political ambitions and dreams of power in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka now has a new threat to its democracy to contend with. It is the strategy for regime change here, not merely through the puppet strings of the JVP’s remote control governance, and the efforts of an ever weakening UNP. One has also to be aware of the puppet strings that will be pulled from London and Brussels, if the GSP+ strategists have their way. The hope for Sri Lanka in this labyrinth of manoeuvre by western powers lies firmly in ensuring the political swansong of the retired General.

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