Regime Change in Sri Lanka
Posted on April 13th, 2015

 Author, Colonialism in Sri Lanka, The Separatist Conflict in Sri Lanka and many other publications.- Courtesy huffingtonpost.com

The defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Sri Lankan Presidential elections on January 8 is hailed internationally as a victory for the rule of law, democracy, freedom of expression and good governance. The Rajapkasa government (2005-2015) defeated the terrorist LTTE in 2009 ending the longest running conflict in Asia. It also contributed to substantial economic growth turning Sri Lanka into a middle-income country in a region with the greatest concentration of poor. Despite these political and economic achievements, Rajapaksa narrowly lost the elections due to charges of corruption and authoritarianism of his government.

Rajapaksa was defeated by Maithripala Sirisena, the so-called ‘Common Candidate’ of a new political alliance which claimed that the extent of corruption in the last few years of the Rajapaksa government was “unprecedented and unheard of before” in Sri Lanka. The current government, however, is not entirely a new regime; only Rajapaksa and his core circle were replaced. Sirisena, like a number of others in his administration served as senior Ministers of the Rajapaksa administration until the election campaign. As such, they too bear responsibility for alleged excesses of the Rajapaksa regime.

Sirisena promised to bring in a new era of morality, compassion, freedom, democracy and good governance (yahapalayanaya). His Election Manifesto promised to address urgent issues during the first 100 days of his regime, notably the abolition of the Executive Presidency and the 18th Amendment to the Constitution that Rajapaksa had introduced to remove term limits to the Executive Presidency. Sirisena also promised to implement a six-year program with the government to be established after the parliamentary elections to be held after the 100 days. Given relative absence of international media coverage following the euphoria over the January 8 election, it is necessary to look at how good governance is progressing in Sri Lanka.

Rule of Law

Sirisena came to power calling for the abolition of the ‘unlimited powers’ of the Executive Presidency that Rajapaksa was accused of abusing. Ironically, Sirisena himself has misused the powers of the Executive Presidency. The Sri Lankan Constitution does not call for change of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet along with a change of the President. Not only did Sirisena immediately appoint a new Prime Minister, Ranil Wickramasinghe, but he has allowed Wickramasinghe to become the Executive Prime Minister making all the important decisions in the government. This has reduced the Presidency largely to a ceremonial function. The legality of this role reversal accomplished without parliamentary elections or a change in the Constitution, is a cause for much concern in the country. People voted to bring Sirisena to power: not Wickramasinghe. As Prime Minister in the 2001-2004 period, Wickramasinghe empowered the LTTE during the Norwegian brokered Peace Process and subsequently lost the Presidential elections to Rajapaksa in 2005.

Another controversy pertaining to respect for the rule of law by the new Sri Lankan government involved the removal of the Chief Justice (CJ) Mohan Pieris and reinstatement of former CJ Shirani Bandaranayake on January 30 (she retired the next day when Justice K. Sivapalan was appointed CJ) Wickramasinghe stated in Parliament that the process by which Bandaranaike had been removed by Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2013 was ‘flawed’. Her removal, however, had come after a parliamentary majority vote, a move then supported by Maithripala Sirisena and other members of the current Cabinet. In contrast, Mohan Pieris, a close confidant of Rajapaksa was removed merely with a letter from President Sirisena, without even a ‘flawed’ legal process. As critics point out, “The only process at work was intimidation and thuggery in the form of street demonstrations demanding his removal.” There is public concern that if the Chief Justice can be removed in such a manner, the removal of persons in lesser offices can also be accomplished extra-legally and even more easily to satisfy the interests of those in power.

The new government received an electoral mandate to democratize the ‘autocratic’ Executive Presidency, However, most people expect a judicious transition under a new parliament and a new Prime Minister after electoral reforms are passed along with other necessary constitutional changes. In contrast, the controversial methods being used by the interim government to abolish the Executive Presidency through the 19th Amendment violate Sri Lanka’s Constitutional process in significant ways. The proposed 19th Amendment to the Constitution upholds every Sri Lankan citizen’s right of access to information. Yet, the process being followed does not give the public the opportunity to express their views on this important legislation. There are some 18 petitions against the bill. However, it is reported that in the rush to enact the 19th Amendment, the legal Counselors appearing for the cases before the Supreme Court have not been given the chance to study the proposed amendments. Basic differencesexist between the version of the 19th Amendment that was presented in the Sri Lankan Parliament on March 24 by Prime Minister Wickramasinghe and the version presented to the Supreme Court on April 1. Even some Ministers in Sirisena’s shaky government suspect a ‘constitutional conspiracy’: a hasty and secretive transfer of power from the Presidency to the Prime Minister with the ulterior motive of destabilizing and breaking up the country in the near term.

Local and international print media continues to bring charges against the former Rajapaksa government but overlooks the dangers posed by the current Sri Lankan regime to the rule of law, democracy and freedom of expression. Discontent and protest are growing: massive rallies organized around the country by opposition parties are calling Mahinda Rajapaksa to contest the parliamentary elections. If the current regime does not honor its pledge to dissolve Parliament after the completion of its 100 days and hold parliamentary elections, greater resistance is bound to emerge.

 

10 Responses to “Regime Change in Sri Lanka”

  1. L Perera Says:

    If Srilanka’s economic clock is turned back to the time of the end of the ethnic wars and is on a trajectory to do so ATM , it will be a sad day for all its people. We may end up being another Egypt or Libya and only then will we realise what he have lost. Pardon the pessimism.

  2. Christie Says:

    Namaste:
    1951 Indian Empire get Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranayke to be the Governor of the Island Colony and was voted in 1956.
    2005: Empire makes an error of judgment by backing Mahinda Rajapaksa instead of Ranil Wickramasinge.
    2015: Indian Empire corrects its error.
    Jai Hind

  3. Kumari Says:

    The Yahapalana Junta had no plans for the country. In fact they didn’t even think they could win. All what they are good is at Mud Slinging. Therefore, we should not expect anything productive or worthwhile from these politicians. The rush to get the amendments through the parliament is to please the coup masters (West and India).

    The laughable matter is Modi’s statement that it is one of his government’s priorities to provide Toilet facilities to 42% of Indian population who hasn’t got that luxury at the moment. I wonder what facilities he is going to give to the Sri Lankan Northerners. He has more problems in his country and put his finger in our country.

    If he had any clear vision, he would not go with the bankrupt US and the West, but would stay with his BRICS partners Russia and China and develop our part of the world. I am sure the rest of the BRICS partners must be re-aligning their policies with the new reality. India is a pawn in the hands of the West & the US. I know there are lot of Asians who cannot get over that White man (White skin) is supreme and worthy of worship. United SL is a guarantee of a United India. Modi should give a few years to see how the US will break up his country. See what they did to Iraq and Libya.

  4. Fran Diaz Says:

    Asoka Bandarage has written a fine article warning the present illegal govt not to let down the People of Lanka. Thank you, Asoka.

    I agree with Kumari : “The Yahapalana Junta had no plans for the country. In fact they didn’t even think they could win. All what they are good is at Mud Slinging. Therefore, we should not expect anything productive or worthwhile from these politicians. The rush to get the amendments through the parliament is to please the coup masters (West and India)”.

    I might add that India is still in some sort of ‘colonial’ mode. Being an immediate neighbor to Russia & China, the favored countries for the west to hammer at, is no easy task for India, and Sri Lanka feels the heat too.

    After Pres. Obama’s visit to India, Mr Modi is going shopping for nuclear gear (for peaceful purposes) from Canada, France and Germany. There is plenty of RENEWABLE GREEN energy (solar, wind etc) that India can use to generate her energy needs, but India goes shopping for nuclear gear !! And cables are to be laid for energy transfer from India to Lanka. See what I mean ?
    Control. Control. And more control from the control machines !!

    ———

    Lankans have to use GOVERNMENT POWER TO CORRECT THE ILLS THAT ARE DAILY PERPETRATED ON LANKA AND HER PEOPLE.

  5. nilwala Says:

    Dr. Bandarage’s excellent article is a timely one. especially since it is in the international media and bound to get a lot of attention from Sri Lanka watchers who have otherwise been fed only a version that presents it as a success story in regime change. Congratulations to her!

    Many problems raised by the effort to bring about regime change were because it was through a political conspiracy in which the elements that made the success possible were deceit, betrayal and subterfuge and one in which the effort was basically designed with external help as admitted by US Sec.of State John Kerry. The indecent rush to celebrate the regime change by India, Sri Lanka’s harasser through the centuries was no surprise.

    The lack of honesty and transparency continues to haunt the interim Yahapalana regime up to today, and resulted in daily changes to the clauses of the 19th Amendment – one that was fundamentally aimed at diluting the powers of the Executive President, but now removed/shelved as the Supreme Court has determined that several clauses require a vote by the people at a Referendum. What does that leave of the pledges made to the nation by the new President regarding the elimination of the Executive Presidency?
    Result is a mirage of a 19A with many contradictions that need clarification and ironing out, and basically demonstrating that such legislation cannot be rushed through.

    As Kumari suggests and FranD endorses, the new regime was likely unprepared for the win they received and is still struggling with how to achieve their Constitutional objectives, but are prepared to pull the wool over the eyes of Parliamentarians and the voting public in order to get the Amendment passed. Concentrating on allegations against members of the previous regime, some valid, but others simply designed to harass and vilify as a means to keeping their political base satisfied are inadequate to convince the general public including some of their own supporters of their competence to handle the transition, and which has turned out to be much rockier than what they were made to expect.
    The worst threat is that the current trend of loosening up security measures adopted by the previous regime will leave a national security weakened and vulnerable to secessionists gaining advantage leading to a nullification of what was gained through enormous loss of blood and treasure. Is there an Opposition in Parliament that will focus on all this in the upcoming debate?

  6. Lorenzo Says:

    Well said Asoka.

  7. crobe Says:

    In response to Fran’s comment,

    “I might add that India is still in some sort of ‘colonial’ mode. Being an immediate neighbor to Russia & China, the favored countries for the west to hammer at, is no easy task for India, and Sri Lanka feels the heat too.”

    India and Sri Lanka are, in fact, in colonial mode. Anytime we have an internal issue, people demand for an “International Investigation”, aka an investigation by the West, aka the White man.
    The SL people are so servile to the White man that they believe only the White man can do something right or that only the White man will be fair.
    This is sheer nonsense. Until our people get over this mentality, we will be slaves to the White man and the White man will continue to rule us remotely through their Sepoy’s in SL.

  8. nilwala Says:

    crobe says – “India and Sri Lanka are, in fact, in colonial mode. Anytime we have an internal issue, people demand for an “International Investigation”, aka an investigation by the West, aka the White man.
    The SL people are so servile to the White man that they believe only the White man can do something right or that only the White man will be fair.”

    YOU CAN SAY THAT AGAIN !!

  9. Fran Diaz Says:

    crobe & nilwala,

    Agree with you.

    ——–

    I have been watching Episodes 1-5 of the BBC series “Empire” on the British Empire. The videos are a fair assessment of the British Empire spanning 3 centuries. What the Brits left behind in those colonies (according the producer of the film) are education, roads, and trade. In an INTERVIEW with an Englishman who had served the Empire in one of the African states, the Englishman says that imposing strong British styled governments on the colonised countries were an imperative act because of the Empire’s TRADE !! Everything was done to enhance TRADE. And governance was done mainly through the LOCAL representatives who bowed before the Masters of the Empire. The tradition continues to date ….

  10. Fran Diaz Says:

    The videos show that all protests by the colonised were put down ruthlessly by the then British govts. Sri Lanka experience was the same as for Africa …. ruthlessly put down. Fear of the Empire was put in place – absolute obedience was demanded by the Empire. I dare say that the governments of the Empire were Fascist type. Correct me if I am wrong here.

    Resist re-Colonisation through Tamil Separatism. Resist with all means available.

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