By Kishali Pinto Jayawardene
The day after the military victory over the LTTE last May, the street down which I live was fluttering with national flags hoisted atop each and every conceivable point.
Certainly, the mood was euphoric, somewhat along the lines of what we saw decades back when the militant leader of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) was captured and killed by government forces in much the contentious circumstances surrounding the killing of LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran.
Repression in the name of patriotism
This week however, heralding the so termed Victory Day announced by the Sri Lanka government, and initially postponed due to the unkindness of the weather gods, (who was probably acting on the behest of Western conspiratorial forces as a wag appropriately put it), little of that euphoria was present. Flags were certainly not fluttering on my street. Was my street peculiar from others throughout the country? I would not have thought so.
And peripherally, the thought crossed my mind; as much as the soldier pictured on the front pages of the newspapers saluting the wife of Sri Lanka's former Army Commander and common opposition candidate now in custody, had allegedly been transferred for his imprudence, would there be consequences for his lack of patriotism as defined by this administration?
This thought is not so absurd after all. We have already reached the limits of repression in the name of patriotism; what is there to stop the line from being stretched a little further each time?
Constitutional reforms entrenching authoritarianism
But it should well behove this government to examine why this Friday passed by with scarcely a collective yawn. The question does not really need profound thought. The hijacking of a military victory over separatists, (at the cost of several thousand lives over several decades), by one political family intent on using that victory to consolidate its own political power, calls for little celebration. Instead of magnanimity in victory, what we see is deep political insecurity leading to greater repression. Instead of a return to rule of law governance by the proper implementation of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, what we have is constitutional reforms entrenching authoritarianism in the dark. Core to this is the throwing out of the Constitutional Council (CC) and the return to unfettered Presidential appointments with only a vague duty to 'consult' others before making the appointments to key offices as well as the constitutional commissions.
Meanwhile, we are being asked to believe the absurd claim, (ala some political allies of the People’s Alliance), that this wholesale jettisoning of the CC is because it will pander to the tune of non governmental organizations.
This is scarcely paranoia but rather a most convenient façade to mask the real aim of these reforms which is the unabashed consolidation of power. Similarly, instead of limiting the powers of the Executive Presidency, what we have now is the unlimited possibility of contesting for that post and the further political control of the Office of the Attorney General. In addition, the police remain in the control of the President's brother, the Defence Secretary and a vast number of public institutions are retained in the hands of either the President, his brothers or his relatives.
Continuing political insecurity
So when we hear of President Mahinda Rajapaksa swearing this Friday to properly look after the people in his country, many of us must be forgiven for taking such statements with the proverbial pinch of salt. Frankly, let alone the minority, many in the majority have trouble believing this assertion. By constitutional reforms aimed at consolidating its power, by the continued militarization of law enforcement as well as by incarcerating and injudiciously hounding what it obviously perceives to be its most dangerous political opponent, this administration has only demonstrated a continuing political insecurity despite the seemingly large electoral majorities that it won in elections earlier this year.
Unproductive exercises of truth and reconciliation
And as we tread down this virulently anti democratic path, expecting a 'Truth and Reconciliation' Commission to achieve any significant results is to literally wish for the moon to be brought down to earth. For the Tamils and the Muslims, this effort is not only farcical but a cruel mockery of the anguish that they have suffered. For those Sinhalese who have themselves undergone countless such unproductive exercises referencing the killing fields of the South in the eighties and early nineties, this body is most monumentally irrelevant. Its only useful purpose appears to be as leverage vis a vis foreign governments for reasons that have virtually nothing to do with either truth or reconciliation between communities.
As harsh as this critique is, it stems from far more than the limited mandate of this body or indeed, its composition. Where the basic norms of ordinary democratic governance are being disregarded and where every effort is towards entrenching authoritarian rather than egalitarian rule, by what stretch of the most willing imagination can we expect a Commission of this nature to achieve anything substantial in terms of truth or reconciliation as if by a miracle, as it were?
Meeting serious concerns in regard to accountability
In this background, it is unsurprising that the Secretary General of the United Nations has decided to go ahead with his decision to appoint a panel of advisors to brief him regarding accountability questions in Sri Lanka. This is neither an international war crimes inquiry as claimed by some nor does it appear to be calculated to embarrass the country on the first year anniversary of the ending of the conflict. It is rather a step taken months ago, which the Secretary General is fully empowered to take according to his mandate concerning a member state of the United Nations.
In response, parading useless commissions of inquiry or engaging in pompous rhetoric commanding the world to keep its hands off Sri Lanka, do not help. Instead, to ensure that genuine concerns are not subverted by pro LTTE diasporic pressure, the Rajapaksa administration should engage in open and consultative constitutional and systemic reform on the question of accountability, which addresses Rule of Law and majority/minority concerns. Hounding political opponents and dissenters must stop. We could then truly commemorate victory for the country and not for one political family or party or, for that matter, one religious or ethnic community alone.