World Affairs








President Needs All The Luck For 2008

As 2007 drags on to a close President Mahinda Rajapakse should realise that his days of shilly-shallying on the country's human rights policy are drawing to a close. That the standard practices of pulling wool over the eyes of gullible Sri Lankans cannot work with powerful nations or the United Nations, is now very much apparent. Sri Lankans who have very short memories can be fooled with the appointment of commissions of inquiry that produce little or no results or with the appointment of a 'crack team of investigators to produce immediate reports' that fail to materialise. Now international human rights watchdogs are at his throat and what will happen next year is likely to be ominous - to say the least.

Human rights is an issue that will affect the political future of the President but what is more important is that the future of the country is at stake with the curtailment of aid and travel restrictions bound to impact on the average Sri Lankan especially in the context of the weakening economy.

No doubt, human rights are violated by almost every country including the most ardent advocates in the West. But they can afford to do so. We can point a finger at the United States itself citing Abu Gharaib or Guantanamo Bay. We can shout ourselves hoarse at the way Britain treats Islamic terror suspects. China, Russia and even in the land of peace and non-violence next to us, violation of human rights do take place. But they are the mighty of the earth where might is right. Little Lanka is not the centre of the universe and the Rajapakse brothers know it all too well, some of them seeking refuge in the Land of Hope and Glory.

The fact also remains those countries hold to account personnel responsible for human rights violations and make a public show of it with prosecutions which Sri Lanka has failed to do. Indeed that is what the US Congress has pointed out in the Appropriations Act of 2008 which has put a freeze on military aid to Sri Lanka.

The latest of the many serious warnings issued came last week with the report that the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a US government corporation set up to work with poor countries deciding to 'deselect' Sri Lanka from the list of countries eligible for funding next year. Sri Lanka has been faulted for many aspects: Lack of respect for civil liberties and the rule of law; lack of commitment to political and economic freedom; poor control of corruption and lack of investment in education. If this is adopted by the US Congress and approved by President George Bush, our entitlements for next year will be taken off. An even greater crippling blow will be the decision by the US Senate and House of Representatives to slash military assistance granted except for minimal naval surveillance.

The problem becomes graver when considering the fact that in the current international climate when US sneezes Europe (even France now) catches cold. There is a remarkable understanding between the trans-atlantic cousins. The government has not made life easy for itself by looking to countries like Iran for help either in this hostile environment. This situation has become even more complicated by the bad handling of many issues such as the locking of horns with the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) headed by the reputed former Indian Chief Justice P.N. Baghwati. Now the UN is demanding the presence of a UN human rights monitoring group in Sri Lanka. These are not cries in the wilderness and unless the government looks sharp, the day will not be long in coming before the UN decides to take stern action and hold the government to account.

It will be a great loss of face for President Rajapakse if he has to give into international pressure and accept the presence of a UN monitoring mission on our soil. The political costs will be tremendous. Would the JVP be able to save their ally once again by permitting a UN monitoring committee in Sri Lanka? These are not hypothetical situations but very real possibilities in the coming year. The President in fact has limited political options to deal with this situation given his dependency on the JVP for survival and short of going for a general election and getting a fresh mandate where his dependency on party's such as the JVP are negated, there is little hope for easing the pressure on himself.

President Rajapakse and the Defence Secretary, his brother Gotabaya are committed to a military solution to eliminate terrorism. If the US and EU pull out their co-operation in fighting terrorism in Sri Lanka, particularly in collection of funds by the LTTE and provision of intelligence, to what extent would the military offensive be possible?

On the local political front too the President with his trio of brothers is becoming increasingly isolated. When the year commenced he had Mangala Samaraweera and Sripathi Sooriyaarachchi stoutly defending him and the government. The President also inducted 18 UNP MPs in addition to the CWC and the Muslim Congress. At that time the JVP too was still with the government and the Rajapakses were riding high. But what is the ground reality one year hence is what the President has to take into account without getting carried away by his own propaganda and that of those cronies around him.

Now Samaraweera and Sooriyaarachchi are his devastating critics. Two others with much political clout Anura Bandaranaike and Wijedasa Rajapakshe have crossed over. The SLMC led by Rauf Hakeem too went over before the third reading of the budget. For now Arumugam Thondaman and his five CWC MPs are with the government but down the political grapevine it is said that if there are clear indications that the government can be defeated, they too will go over to the opposition. This situation the President has brought upon himself within one short year thanks largely to revengeful politics and bad judgement starting with the abrogation of the MOU with the UNP.

While the 'three wise men' of finance - the President himself with Treasury Secretary P.B. Jayasundera and Nivard Cabraal - are producing statistics to show an economic growth of over 7 per cent, inflation is galloping at 24 per cent and the three musketeers of high finance -whether they are wise or not - are unable to hold the galloping horses. They don't seem to have any answer to this spiralling inflation. The poor and middle class are writhing under high prices of basic commodities. A good example is the packet of lunch, rice and curry, sold in Colombo and suburbs. Within two months it has risen from Rs 50 to above Rs 70!

What answers does the President have for the rising costs of basic commodities? A report said last week that the Central Bank is making arrangements 'to issue into circulation a security upgraded new Rs 1000 note which will carry the signatures of President Mahinda Rajapakse and Central Bank Governor Nivard Cabraal.' While admirers of the President and Governor Cabraal may take delight in collecting such notes it will be poor consolation to those who say that a Rs 1000 note today is not worth what Rs 100 was a few years ago. A wag says that it is another way of printing money! But printing money, anyone will tell, is the surest way to increase inflation.

As the year ends, the planets and stars seem cruelly postured for Mahinda Percy Rajapakse whatever be the propaganda that is dished out to the public. In international politics, local politics and financial management he has fallen into a deep hole from which he is struggling to come out. It is quite apparent that he cannot go on in 2008 the way he did this year. He appears to be left with a single alternative: Dissolution of parliament. But will that help him?  He can remain President but it is likely that he will not have enough MPs elected from his party to form a government.

Still it could be the best option available with the very real possibility of a hung parliament where there will not only be a public demand for the two main parties to get together as happened in Germany but Rajapakse himself being able to call the shots as the Executive President. The question however is whether the man has the guts to take such a political gamble to break out of the hole he has got himself into. For that he needs all the luck in the coming year.


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