Sri Lanka: Question marks over the timing of ‘communal’ violence
Posted on March 11th, 2018

Kalinga Seneviratne BY  ON

Bangkok: The damage has already been done. Buddhists are accused of Islamaphobic communal attacks in Sri Lanka and tourists are cancelling their trips to the country, while the international media follow a common formula denigrating the Buddhist majority, while ignoring questions that are being raised in Sri Lanka on the timing of these latest communal” attacks.

The attack on Muslim businesses and homes in Central Sri Lanka and in the East came a day before a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe was to be presented in parliament by the opposition. It was expected to be supported by a number of MPs of his own government. The opposition was forced to withhold the motion when the riots broke out and the PM as the Minister for Law and Order immediately imposed a state of emergency across the country.

The flare up between Muslims and Buddhists came as a result of drunken behavior by a group of youth from both communities. Ironically both Islam and Buddhism strongly reject the partaking of alcohol of any form.

In the eastern city of Ampare a group of drunken Sinhalese youth filmed a video clip of a staff member of a Muslim owned café admitting to glazing food served to Buddhist customers with a substance that is claimed to be an infertility drug. This video soon gathered traction on social media. Meanwhile near the central hill country city of Kandy, a group of drunken Muslim youth allegedly assaulted a truck driver who refused to allow them to overtake the vehicle. He later died in hospital due to the injuries sustained.

According to Sri Lankan media report, the spiraling violence against Muslim property especially near Kandy has been instigated by outside groups who rushed to the area within minutes of these incidents, that hints of an organized attempt to create a communal conflict in Sri Lanka. These extremist Buddhist groups are largely resented by the mainstream Buddhists in Sri Lanka because they create a bad image for Buddhism in the country. When one such group Bodu Bala Sena formed a political party and contested the July 2015 general elections, they had a rude shock, when they could muster only 19,000 votes nationwide. Over 11 million Buddhist voters did not vote for them and this fact was ignored by the international media, who often labeled them as Buddhist nationalists”.

On 10 February this year, former President Mahinda Rajapakse who led a new political party Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (Sri Lanka Commonman Party) or SLPP, won a sweeping victory in island-wide local government (LG) elections, which triggered calls for the government led by Wickremasinghe to resign. SLPP is mainly supported by the Sinhala Buddhist masses, especially in rural areas, but, they were also able to make inroads into Muslim areas in the east and south of the island, even winning the southern costal Beruwala council that consists mainly of Muslim voters – there was a major Buddhist-Muslim fare-up here in 2014 during Rajapakse’s presidency.

SLPP focused their national campaign on corruption, an issue which outsted Rajapakse from power in January 2015. The new government grabbed power campaigning on an anti-corruption platform promising to bring good governance” known as yahapalana” a slogan coined together and promoted by western-funded NGOs in the country. But, since coming to power they have been embroiled in corruption scandals one of which is what is now known as the Central Bank Bond Scam” the biggest financial fraud in Sri Lanka’s history. The new Central Bank Governor, Arjuna Mahendran, a close friend of Wickremasinghe, is the chief instigator of this scam that benefitted his son-in-law and an Interpol warrant is out for his arrest at the moment. The PM is seen as protecting his friend and thus implicated in the scandal.

The SLPP campaign for the LG elections was mainly focused on this scandal that has plunged the country into an economic crisis and disgusted a large segment of the Sri Lankan population, who are now willing to forgive the Rajapakse’s for their alleged corruption because they see the Rajapakse regime as more efficient in bringing development and economic growth in close alliance with Chinese assistance.

In a media briefing on Thursday, opposition MP Udaya Gamanpila, who was the main organizer of the no-confidence motion against Wickremasinghe lamented the fact that the communal violence in the last few days seriously dented the opposition campaign to oust the PM. After winning the votes of the Sinhalese, he said, they were now in the process of winning the votes of minorities, especially the Muslims (who strongly backed the Rajapakse regime during the war against Tamil Tiger terrorism).

Since February 10th the main issue in this country was to get rid of the prime minster. Before that the issue was that those who were involved in the bond scam were not brought to justice and the PM was not making any attempt to get Mahendran back to the country to face justice” he pointed out, adding, but, after these violence, the concerns within his own party and the government about the PMs conduct has subsided”.

Meanwhile, in a media briefing on Wednesday, Health Minister Ranjitha Senaratne – a staunch Rajapakse foe – hinted that the government may place the blame, especially for the Kandy violence, on the SLPP (they won these areas convincingly in the LG elections). The Minister said that there were seven persons involved in the conspiracy so far; two recently appointed local government councillors, two Members of Parliament, a monk affiliated to their political party, a secretary of one of the MPs and one of their party organisers.

As part of the state of emergency the government has introduced draconian measures such as shutting up social media sites across the broad and threatening to arrest and jail for 20 years anyone campaigning against reconciliation. The latter will have serious implications on freedom of speech especially at the a time when there is widespread opposition among Sinhalese Buddhist voters to a new proposed constitution that the government is trying to imposed on the country on the dictates of western powers exercised via the Geneva based UN Human Rights Council, who are due to meet this month to discuss Sri Lanka’s accountability” measures.

In a dramatic turn of events replete with irony, the yahapalana government has had to adopt some stringent, if not draconian, measures which some of its leaders condemned vehemently while they were in the Opposition”, noted the Island newspaper in an editorial, arguing that what is needed is for the president to set up independent task forces to study the reasons for such violence from time to time taking into account views of all communities.

It seems that certain sections that are greedy for power are planning various ploys and acts of sabotage and the disruption of normalcy. Their only trump card in arousing racism,’ argued Wickemasinghe making a statement to parliament on the violence, adding, their only objective is to obtain power by creating violence in the country. It is clearly seen that false and misleading information creating hatred among communities is being spread using social media in an organized manner”.

This is the same argument he used during the LG election campaign against the SLPP, which badly misfired.

Rajapakse was quick to respond. In a media statement, he warned that some sinister forces were at work. The local and foreign forces seeking to destabilise this country are trying to engineer another 1983 (when Tamils were attacked island-wide) style conflagration to drum up support for their constitutional reforms which seek to divide this country into several semi-independent states,” he argues. I call on citizens belonging to all communities to reflect intelligently on what has been happening and to refrain from all acts of violence”.

Such statements about constitutional reforms could be construed as campaigning against the western-prescribed idea of reconciliation via unpopular constitutional changes. Thus, misgivings of Sinhala Buddhists against this could be suppressed by the new censorship measured driving them towards the small extremist groups within the community. The western funded NGOs such as the National Peace Council have been silent on these measures. But, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka warned the government to ensure that only those who were really involved in the acts of violence were arrested under the emergency regulations.

Former diplomat and political analyst Dr Dayan Jayatileka, in a commentary published in the Island, while warning the Sinhalese Buddhist community not to force young Muslims to run into the arms of the Islamic terror groups that could open up a new front in Sri Lanka, he also noted that the timing of the latest communal violence is amazing” and it raise crucial questions.

Mahinda Rajapaksa has just beaten both (Wickremasinghe’s) UNP and (Sirisena’s) SLFP and pretty much swept the board at the local elections. He has won back some Muslim votes and his supporters have even won Beruwela, which has a Muslim majority. He certainly does not benefit from attacks on Muslims,” he noted. Ranil Wickremesinghe is on the ropes with an imminent ‘No Confidence’ motion. And Hey presto!’ the violent Islamophobic attacks act as a giant eraser, switching the discourse, and making the political threat go away at least for the moment”.

I would not be surprised if there are attacks on Catholics too, given that the Sinhala Catholics swung back to Mahinda at the recent election,” he added.

The author is an Op-ed writer from Sri Lanka

Kalinga Seneviratne

13 Responses to “Sri Lanka: Question marks over the timing of ‘communal’ violence”

  1. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    I would not be surprised if there are attacks on Catholics too, given that the Sinhala Catholics swung back to Mahinda at the recent election,”

    Very true Kalinga

    President tells secret facts behind communal riots in Kandy

    In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Leader on the recent unrest in the country President Maithripala Sirisena said the Ampara incident was clearly a well-planned attack on Muslim by some politicians. It’s not a coincidence nor a sudden occurrence. An organized event. President further said Two Muslim shops in Kuliyapitiya were also attacked recently. On investigation police found that a UNP candidate who has contested in the recent LG polls has gone out in his vehicle to attack the shop.

    In the meantime, literally the government found the ideal scape-goat by the name of Amith Weerasinghe, a resident of Naththaranpotha in Kengalle in the neighbourhood of Digana. Who happened to be presiding over an extremist group known as Mahasohon Balakaya or Devils’ Force operating against the Muslim expansionism.

    The biblical word scape-goat was the most appropriate for this act since in biblical time a goat sent into the wilderness after the Jewish chief priest had symbolically laid the sins of the people upon it (Lev. 16).

    The Sri Lankan Police said on Friday that they were investigating whether the 10 suspected Sinhalese Buddhist leaders of the anti-Muslim incidents had received foreign funding, Reuters reported. The 10 were detained on Friday on suspicion that they had instigated the attacks on mosques and Muslim businesses in Kandy.

    Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who met security forces and state officials in Kandy on Saturday, said it was common belief that the communal violence against Muslims was an organised act, calling for a “comprehensive investigation” into the attacks.

  2. Nanda Says:

    Meanwhile stealing of public wealth continues. So many engineers in RDA but cannot to this feasibility study ?
    Why need to get loads formm Indian banks when BOC can give a load to pay RDA engineers , BOC can buy so much worth of CB bonds ?

  3. Ananda-USA Says:

    Islamic Fundermentalists attack our Temples and properties
    Angulugalle Siri Jinananda Thero

  4. Ananda-USA Says:

    There is an URGENT NEED to UNRAVEL the TRUTH of who INSTIGATED the RECENT Communal CONFLICT.


    Some are pointing to UNP Govt Ministers, others to Opposition Politicians, others to Sinhala Movements such as the Mahason Balakaya, still others to Muslim jihadists, and some to Tamil Separatist Eelamists trying to leverage the UNHCR review in Geneva!

    The UNP-faction of the Yamapalana Govt has ALREADY BEGUN pointing fingers at the joint opposition, in an attempt to TRANSFER the BLAME from itself to its opponents.

    Since the UNP-faction of the Yamapalanaya is the PRIMARY BENEFICIARY of these attacks, the INVESTIGATION CANNOT BE LEFT to be CONDUCTED by it.

    This 3-person Presidential Commission of Inquiry (see below) appointed by President Sirisena is perhaps the VERY BEST of the BAD CHOICES AVAILABLE to handle this task, lacking a TRULY PATRIOTIC Govt in Power.

    President to appoint a commission to probe communal clashes in Kandy
    Sat, Mar 10, 2018, 11:45 am SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

    Mar 10, Colombo: Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has decided to appoint a Presidential Commission of Inquiry to investigate the communal clashes erupted in certain parts of the Kandy District during the past few days.

    Accordingly, a committee comprising three retired judges will be named in future.

    The Committee will investigate whether any violation of law and order is among the reasons for the clashes, evaluate the damages to lives and properties, probe whether there was any conspiratorial hand behind the incidents, recommend steps need to be taken to prevent such incidents in the future, and look into the conduct of relevant authorities in controlling the situation and their accountability.

    According to police, three people died, 20 others were wounded and more than 200 Muslim-owned businesses and homes were destroyed in four days of rioting that started on Monday following the funeral of a Sinhalese man, who died from injuries sustained in an assault by Muslim youths.

    The government deployed the tri forces and imposed a curfew from Wednesday in the Kandy Administrative district when the police were unable to control the Sinhala mob attacking Muslim establishments, shops and mosques.

  5. Dilrook Says:

    Allow me to disagree based on facts and figures. This is not entirely true.

    [Quote] SLPP………. was also able to make inroads into Muslim areas in the east and south of the island, even winning the southern costal Beruwala council that consists mainly of Muslim voters. [Unquote]

    It was an Independent group led by Muslims that narrowly won the Beruwala Urban Council (8 seats to SLPP, UNP 7 seats and JVP 1 seat). Although it was supported by SLPP, had SLPP contested as it is, it would have lost. There is a sizable Sinhala population in Beruwala UC area too. Similarly, UNP won the Hambantota Urban Council thanks mainly to the Muslim vote that went totally to the UNP while Sinhala votes were divided.

    Mahinda had limited Muslim support in the East even in 2015 when Muslims wholesale rejected him. There is no indication of growing support from the Muslim community. Muslims in CMC – the largest Muslim majority LG area totally rejected SLPP.

    Mahinda’s lowest came from Muslim majority Muttur electorate in 2015 which was less than 10%. It worsened to just 1% in 2018! A clear downward trend.

    Therefore, the above statement is factually incorrect and conclusions drawn from it are also inccorect. The incidents in Ampara and Kandy have no relationship to SLPP election wins or increasing Muslim support. In reality SLPP lost more Muslim votes in 2018 than 2015.

    However, it is true Sinhala Christians swung back to Mahinda very strongly after a lapse in 2015. There will not be similar incidents involving Christians because there is no connection between election results and riots.

    Sadly, all political parties have politicized riots since 1958. Each point the guilty finger at the other. Finally, nothing happens or the wrong persons are blamed! 1983 is a classic example of blaming the wrong people. JVP and SLMP were blamed for it. Ironically, at that time, they were the only mainstream parties that stood for Tamils.

    Protecting all people is the responsibility of the government and it failed.

  6. L Perera Says:

    It is ironic that thousands of Sri Lankans of diverse ethnic and religious back ground live all over the world including USA,
    Australia, Canada and Europe. Most of them have opted for citizenship in the host country and regularly sponsor other family members, who wish to follow them. They support SL cricket teams on tour and in Australia, they patronise the game waving a sea of Lion Flags, in unison to Lankan tunes. Happy to be where they are, yet patriotic to the land of their birth.

  7. Charles Says:

    This stupid Yahapalanaya does everything wrong. The President has no guts to stop Rajitha Senaratne from telling lies to hide whatever truth there is. He is not only the spokesman for the Government and its affairs but he also speaks for the police. He accuses unknown people for the Communal tension without any evidence. He should keep such matters strictly with the Police and the spokesmanfor the police.

  8. NeelaMahaYoda Says:


    You have missed the most important fact. There is a sizable Muslim population in Kandy, Matale, Digana and Teldeniya area. In the last election surprisingly SLPP manged to attract most of the Muslim votes in this area despite these areas are historically UNP areas because of the Muslim majority.

    It is quite possible that UNP has masterminded the attack on Muslims to put the blame of SLPP.

    That may be the reason why they had to utilise outsiders to attack local Muslims. Only UNP could transport bus load of people. unfortunately Mahasohon Balakaya is organised by a group of village lads and they were not sophisticated enough by themselves to organise a mass deployment of crowd to attack Muslims in number of cities and towns at the same time

    Immediately after trouble started Rajitha Senaratne did not lose any time and appeared on the TV and started blaming and accusing young SLPP MPs in Kandy area for causing the unrest.

    President Maithripala Sirisena himself admitted that according to the police report Two Muslim shops in Kuliyapitiya were attacked by a UNP candidate who has contested in the recent LG polls.

  9. Dilrook Says:


    I don’t know if the UNP masterminded the attack.

    But the fact is Muslims absolutely rejected SLPP in 2018 even more than they rejected Mahinda in 2015. The larger area under concern (Kundasale, Pathadumbara, etc.) has well over 70% Sinhalese. Winning 42% by the SLPP needs no Muslim votes.

    It is the same story in the east including Ampara. SLPP managed to win less than 5% in Muslim majority areas.

    If LG election results drove someone to riot, then the party that would do is different to the UNP that won most Muslim majority LGs (if not all with allies). 1983 riot followed 1982 referendum and presidential election where JR lost in most Tamil majority areas.

  10. Dilrook Says:

    Election results.


    Ethnicity by DS division (the lowest).


  11. NeelaMahaYoda Says:


    Today 12/03/2018 Lankaweb has published an article by Keerth Ratnayake repeating the same point I have been trying to make.

    Sinhala People living in Kundasale, Pathadumbara in and around Kandy are effluent people. They are hard core UNPrs. So the floating vote is from the Muslim community.

    That is the reason why UNP targeted Muslim in Kandy district to put the blame on SLPP.

  12. Dilrook Says:


    I find it difficult to believe because in almost all places (except Beruwala) Muslims totally rejected SLPP.

    SLPP didn’t win in any Muslim majority area in Ampara.

    Even in Kandy SLPP lost in Muslims majority areas like Akurana. Under UNP’s disastrous economic policies even most of the moderately affluent people suffered. Colombo suburbs including Maharagama, Gampaha suburbs are also relatively affluent where SLPP won.

    Kandy is generally a UNP dominated area. This is reflected in SLPP vote percentage which is below average (42%) compared to close to 50% in other Sinhala majority areas. All island it was 45%. Sinhala voters alone can make the numbers in Kundasale. Extremely few Muslims were actually elected from SLPP island-wide.

  13. Dilrook Says:


    I did a complete regression analysis of the 2018 election for all LGs (they are mapped to DS divisions most appropriately). Here is how it compares with 2015 for Mahinda.

    Ethnic Group………….2015 %………………….2018 %



    Clearly Mahinda totally lost Tamil and Muslim votes this time.

    TMVP and EPDP did somewhat well contesting alone but they will not automatically support Mahinda again.

    Interestingly, SLFP did well among Tamils and in some Muslim areas. They even managed to win some key Tamil/Muslim areas like Eravur, Kathankudy and a LG in Vavuniya. In terms of minority votes SLPP has now fallen behind TNA, ACTC, SLMC, ACTC, NC, UNP and SLFP.

    Beruwala DS Division has a 64% Sinhala majority which is divided into Beruwala UC (large number of Muslims but not entirely) and Beruwala PS. Mahinda won both. The former is the only Tamil/Muslim majority area won by SLPP.

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