Brian Senewiratne
MA (Cantab) MD (Lond) FRCP (Lond) FRACP

The Sri Lankan Tamils must be the world’s greatest optimists. This has been their problem from day one – before 1947, back to the 1930’s, and even earlier. They have had child-like faith in the integrity of Sinhalese politicians. They have paid a terrible price for this unrealistic optimism. Even today, yes in 2001, in several of my self-financed (I stress this because of some recent accusations by Sinhala racists in Australia) travels around the world, I have found scores of educated Tamils who still believe that it is possible to have a united, undivided Sri Lanka where the Tamil minority can live with equality, dignity and safety. This is beyond my comprehension.


“Nothing” – except, perhaps, more violence to the Tamil people, since this has been the inevitable result of Elections in Sri Lanka, and a continuing loss of hope. All I can say is that my heart goes out to them and to assure them that I, as a Sinhalese, will continue to fight for what I think is right and just and to pray that common sense, reason and compassion will come to a barbaric regime in Colombo. It is important for the incoming Sinhala government (possibly the UNP) to realise that this is the very last chance to save the country. Kumaratunga’s Peoples Alliance (PA) has made a complete mess. All that is now needed is for the United national Party (UNP) to make a mess and the country most certainly will look at a very bleak future, in fact no future. As for the Tamils in the North and East, I ask them to hang in there although in all honesty I cannot see any light at the end of the (very long) tunnel. The ‘tunnel’ may be another two or three decades. Let us hope I am wrong.

There are four groups of Tamils in the country:-

Group (1) The privileged few in Colombo 3 and 7, living in fortresses, a BMW in the garage, private security guards and, perhaps, armoured vehicles, courtesy of the police or Army.

Group (2) The unsecured mass of ‘common or garden’ Tamils in the rest of the South.

Group (3) The ‘Forgotten Tamils’ in the North and East.

Group (4) The Plantation Tamils of “recent” Indian descent (“recent” in Sri Lankan English is 170 years) picking tea in the Central hills.

What each of these groups can expect from the Elections is somewhat different.

Group (1) can expect nothing. They are too secure. To make doubly sure, they probably have taken out insurance policies (a donation to Party Funds) with both major Sinhala capitalist parties, one of which will form the next government. For them it will be “business as usual”. Most of them have no idea of what is going on in the North and the East and could not care less. Even if they did, as we know business comes before human rights.

Group (2) can expect violence. Why? Because they are Tamils. We saw this after the 1977 Election despite most of this group having actually voted for the victorious UNP. Less than a month later they were butchered. Why? An altercation at a carnival in Jaffna between the Police and some civilians is the ‘Party Line’. That is nonsense. It was pre-planned as was shown by the speed with which it spread across the country. The real reason was that the Tamils in the North and East had given the Tamil party (TULF) an overwhelming mandate to establish a Separate Tamil State, Eelam. That was good enough reason to slit the throats and destroy the property of those in Colombo and the South, despite the fact that they had little to do with those in the North except that they shared the same Dravidian blood.

Group (3) can expect nothing except, perhaps, more bombs just to prove to the chauvinists in the South that the new Government “means business”, the business of crushing the Tamils to submit and accept a Sinhala-Buddhist nation. This is what has been going on for years under the guise of “fighting terrorism”. For this group, the elections are irrelevant. They are, in fact, effectively disenfranchised since those who represent their interests are not in a position to contest the Elections. As such, what goes on in Parliament (and hence the Elections) is completely irrelevant. Their suffering and problems have not appeared on the Order Paper in Parliament, nor will they. They are essentially non-persons.

Group (4) can expect to be terrorised and brutalised. Why? Because that is what ‘normally’ happens. They are at the receiving end of violence whenever anything happens anywhere in the country. It is a Sinhala ‘party game’, part of the ‘celebration’ of winning the election. Unfortunately the victims have nowhere to hide, no relatives outside the Plantations who can protect them or give them refuge, and no diaspora outside the country to jump up and down for them. They take the beatings and killings, and those who survive turn up for work the next day to enable the high life in Colombo to go on. They have no other option.

With a single exception (see below), which might well turn out to be pure fantasy, the 2001 Elections where the Tamil minority is concerned, is a waste of time. The result is, with the exception referred to below, immaterial.

Sinhala Parliament

The Sri Lankan Parliament is, and has been for many years, a Sinhala Parliament which discusses problems facing the Sinhala people. Tamils are mentioned only when discussing some strategy to crush them, e.g. the monthly passing of the draconian Emergency Regulations which permit incommunicado detention in undisclosed places without charge or trial at undisclosed and hence unsupervised sites, thereby inviting torture, rape, ‘disappearances’, etc to go on without any impediment. That has been Parliament’s only interest in the Tamils. There is no reason to believe that this will change.

For sure there are a few Tamils dotted around on both sides of parliament, but they are quite tame or are so pro-Sinhala, to an extent that puts the Sinhala extremists to shame. Yes, I have heard the ‘Voice from Batticaloa’ tell an uninterested Parliament of what goes on in the East, the rapes, ‘disappearances’, etc. It is a pity this has not reached the President’s ears.

Those who believe that the Sri Lankan Parliament is representative of its entire population are living in a make-believe world. I’d suggest a name change from the “Sri Lankan Parliament” to the “Sinhala Parliament of Sinhala Sri Lanka”. That, at least, would be honest.

Changing the ‘Peon’ (messenger)

The December 2001 Election is not about changing the Sri Lankan leadership or governance. Sri Lanka can call itself a Democracy, it can call itself what it likes, but it is essentially a country run by a single individual with sweeping powers does what she likes. The old term was a ‘‘dictatorship”. This individual, the President, remains in office (or hopes to!) until 2005. Unless this can be changed, which is beyond the reach of the Tamils (I am of course, talking of a non-violent change), nothing will change. As long as the Chandrika Kumaratunga-Lakshman Kadirgamar-Ratnasari Wickremanayake combo remain in power, the Tamils will have nothing but violence – a relentless attempt to crush them to accept that they live in a Sinhala-Buddhist nation.

To this trio can be added Dinesh Gunawardena, the leader of the even harder-line Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, and the stage is set for another five years of suffering in the Tamil areas and a downslide of the rest of the country to bankruptcy and chaos. What puzzles me is that people like Gunawardena and the JVP talk of crushing the Tamil Tigers from the safe distance of Colombo. I do not know why they do not pick up an AK47 and do the crushing themselves rather than send poor village boys from my village to be killed.

Premadasa, when appointed as Prime Minister by President Jayawardene in 1977, bitterly commented that he had “the powers of a peon”. The December 2001 Election is about changing that peon. This is a problem for the Sinhalese – not for the Tamils. The latter simply do not have the numbers to do this.

Changing the Driver

Changing the person in the driving seat, the President, is also a problem for the Sinhalese, which I have dealt with in a separate article “President Chandrika Kumaratunga must go”.

The Tamils might be able to play a marginal role in that they might be able to provide the necessary 2/3 majority in Parliament which is what is needed to dismantle this disastrous Executive Presidency. A simple majority will not help. This is the exception I referred to earlier.

With proportional representation, extensive election rigging, especially by the ruling party with their ‘army’ of underworld characters, and ‘wheeling and dealing’ with ethno-religious chauvinists such as the “crush-the-Tamils” JVP and the MEP, the chance of a 2/3 majority against the ruling party is small, very small.

If the President is to go, the Sinhalese and the Tamils will have to be convinced that this is an absolute necessity. As I have said, I will address this difficult problem in a separate paper. Here I will deal with the problems facing the Tamils.

The President’s mind-set

Where the Tamils and their problems are concerned, what matters is the mind-set of the driver, not the peon. There were recently two excellent insights into this. The first was a few weeks ago when she dealt with what she would do in the event of an adverse outcome (for her party) in the impending General Election (see below). The second was when she gave two disastrous but revealing interviews on London’s BBC and America’s CNN. Let us look at these two interviews.

In London, on Tim Sebastian’s BBC “Hard Talk” programme, President Kumaratunga stated:

“…there was one woman, as opposed to thousands of them per year (i.e. under the previous regime), who was raped a few years ago by the Security Forces in Jaffna and that is the only case.”

It will be interesting to ask the President the name of this woman who was raped. We can then assure the mothers of all the hundreds of girls who have been raped by her Armed Forces during her time as President (and Minister of Defence and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces), that the girls were not really raped. The Army only pretended to rape them. This might be a consolation for the mothers.

Many in the international community are amused at this Presidential ‘performance’. People in Sri Lanka are accusing her of squandering tax-payer’s money electioneering in London. One of her senior Ministers recently revealed that this little exercise cost the Sri Lankan taxpayer a cool Rs 80 million. From where did I get that unbelievable figure? From a letter written to her by her former right hand man, Minister S. B. Dissanayake, who adds the legitimate comment that it is the people’s money that is being squandered. Thank God there is no accountability in Sri Lanka. Had there been, the President would be in deep trouble trying to justify this.

The President’s interviews are no laughing matter or another example of irresponsible extravagance. It is much more serious. Here we have the President of a country talking absolute nonsense to international journalists who, despite media censorship, are very well informed about the situation in Sri Lanka. It is very different from talking nonsense at some village gathering in Veyangoda where she (and I) comes from. These are interviews by professionals, super-professionals, who have done their homework. These interviews are not conducted by the grovelling and fawning interviewers of the tame Rupavahini (Sri Lanka’s so-called National TV – the party organ of the governing party). This is rapid fire, hard-hitting stuff which is why the BBC call it “Hard talk”. The balls are not slow full tosses inviting to be hit for a six. They are high-speed bouncers, which have to be faced without a helmet (bureaucrats standing behind her to prompt the correct answers).

Kumaratunga has no problems with this – she just makes up the answer as she goes along, irrespective of whether it is true or false. The problem with that is that the accuracy of the response can so easily be checked.

Let me quote just one example. In the recent BBC interview she stated “we have been able to reduce bank interest rates by almost 100%”. A simple call to the Central Bank or a quick glance at the Bank year book “Socio-economic data: 2001” shows that the Commercial Bank’s Prime Lending Rate for 1994 was 17.80%, and in 2000 it was 21.46%. This is not a 100% reduction but a 20.16% increase.

The President must realise that when she is ‘ad libbing’, the audience is not village children in the local school or dumb party hacks who will applaud every word, but millions of educated adults across the world. There are also hardheaded businessmen and potential investors who know the figures or can easily check them. Once they see that the President is being “careless with the truth” they will give the President, and what is more serious, Sri Lanka, a wide berth, which is what is currently happening. For the President to make a fool of herself (and of the country) is a serious matter. She has certainly not damaged the Tamils, because I’d guess that the vast majority of non-Sri Lankans who heard those two disastrous interviews would not have been fooled, just amused, even shocked.

Instead of being amused ourselves, we should be asking some serious questions as to why the President is behaving in such an extraordinary manner. Even allowing for pre-election panic I have seen nothing even remotely comparable with this, even from a gaffe-prone President .

Possible explanations for the President’s behaviour

There are three possible explanations.

bulletThe President’s reading is seriously deficient.
bulletThe President has no idea of what is going on in the country i.e. she is being misled or deceived.
bulletThe President is being “careless with the truth” which, I gather, is a polite way to put it.

1. The President’s reading is deficient.

Take the CNN interview – Zain Verjee vs. the President.

Verjee: “Human Rights Watch’s report for 2001 has criticized your Government for the way you treat Tamil civilians in the North and East of the country.”

Kumaratunga: “A lot of it is lies. What is that report? By whom is it written?”

Verjee: “It’s written by Human Rights Watch. It’s the 2001 Country Report for Sri Lanka…”

Kumaratunga: “The Human Rights Watch, what is that?”

Even if someone had whispered in her ear that it is an internationally famous group, it would not have made the slightest difference since her attitude has been “a lot of it is lies”.

The President then went on to praise the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) (UTHR(J) – the self-appointed monitoring ‘group’ of human rights violations in Sri Lanka whom she described as “a totally independent non-governmental organization.”

Her enthusiasm knew no bounds. “They (the UTHR(J)) bring out reports every month or every two months, and they’re very appreciative of the fact that my Government has been able to completely control the Human Rights violations, which were massively done under the last Government.”

Was the President speaking the truth? No she was not. Let us give her the benefit of the doubt and say that her reading was deficient.

She must have had copies of the Reports of this group she so admires. As Commander-in- Chief of the Armed Forces she even had her Army distribute copies to (? foreign) correspondents. I have their most recent Information Bulletin No 25 released 11th July 2001 “The Fatal Conjunction: Women, Continuing Violations and Accountability”. Even if she is not given to reading, she should at least have read the opening paragraph of this report, which says, “Observers of the Sri Lankan scene from about the middle of 2000 would be struck by signs of a slide with the darker impulses gaining ascendancy. Widespread accounts of torture and sadism…are a depressing reminder of the state of the country. Pledges of good intentions by the Government ring unreal against its inability to take a forthright position when the victims of violations belong to a minority.” I would not exactly call this being “very appreciative” of her Government.

Describing the current disastrous situation, here is what the report says, “It needs mature political leadership to overcome the deep crisis the whole of Sri Lankan society is in. Such leadership is now lacking on all fronts”.

This Group, which she so admires, goes on to describe the rape of Tamil women in Mannar by the Police. “To pick up two women late in the night, rape them and make them sign statements in a language that was unintelligible to them, is crass thuggery, not policing.”

So, Madame President, your reading is seriously deficient and your praise and admiration is misdirected.

Take the BBC interview – Tim Sebastian vs the President.

Sebastian quoted chapter and verse from the U.S. State Department Country Report 2001 on the atrocities committed by the Armed Forces in Jaffna.

Kumaratunga (folding her arms), snapped: “No I don’t accept it!”

Sebastian: “Why not? Why should they (State Department) lie?”

Kumaratunga: “Well, there are all kinds of people who want to lie!”

(May I ask the American Ambassador in Colombo whether he intends to demand an apology from the President for the implied insult to the U.S. State Department? If not, why not?).

Permit me to ask a question which was not asked by Sebastian.

Senewiratne from Australia: “Sorry for butting in, Madam President, have you read the numerous Amnesty International (AI) Reports on Sri Lanka? They amply document that it was more than one Tamil woman who has been raped. These reports detail a lot more, not only of rape but of torture, ‘disappearances’ of civilians in custody under your Security Forces, unlawful killing in detention centres, and plenty more. You really must read these Reports. They are fascinating”.

Before a slur is cast on the integrity of AI (as it was on the U.S. State Department) may I point out that AI is a Nobel Prize winner and their publications are extensively researched and are therefore completely reliable?

Perhaps the Presidential Secretariat should contact Ingrid Massage at the Sri Lankan desk at AI Head Office in London who will quote chapter and verse on rape in Sri Lanka. I have known her and her outstanding predecessor Yvonne Terlingen for a very long time and neither they nor AI are liars. The truth and reality are so disastrous that no one needs to fabricate stories.

While the President’s staff are on the “web” digging out the numerous AI Reports, the extensive Country Reports of the US State department, Human Rights Watch 2001 Report etc, they might also glance at the International Peace Brigades’ Reports. They will tell the President a lot more than she seems to know.

One of the President’s senior ministers recently wrote her a letter which was later published. I quote “…the fact... that you do not read newspapers, magazines or any state publications…” I was certain he was exaggerating. Now I am not so sure.

Earlier in the interview, before the situation hotted up, Sebastian got on to people fighting for their rights.

Sebastian: “…what about people legitimately fighting for their rights and who are labelled “terrorists” and cited the Tamil Tigers.

Kumaratunga (broke in) “The largest number of suicide bombing in the world have been by the Tamil Tigers!”

It is fortunate that Sebastian had not asked me to be his assistant. I could have hotted up the questioning a lot more. Let me even now ask her some questions. Since the President is ‘not available’ to answer them, let me call the responder “Response”.

Senewiratne, Australia: “Madam President, can you clarify a point for me? You are bombing the civilian population in Jaffna”.

Response: “I don’t accept that. We are bombing the Terrorists”.

Senewiratne: “What? All 40,000 of them? I thought there were only about 5,000 – 10,000 Tigers (1,500 according to one of your recent estimates) and the current estimates are that over 65,000 people have been killed, the vast majority, civilians.

Response: “I don’t accept that. Are you a Tamil Tiger Terrorist?”

Senewiratne: “No Madam. I am a Sinhalese. In fact, a cousin of yours”.

Response: “You are a traitor”.

Senewiratne: “No Madam, I want to save the country from destruction both physical and economic, not assist in its destruction”.

Response: “You come from Australia, don’t you?”

Senewiratne: “Yes Madam. May I ask the point of the question?”

Response: “Having quit the country, what are you doing meddling with the internal affairs of Sri Lanka?”

Senewiratne: “Have you not read that today, serious violations of human rights is a matter of international concern and is no longer considered a domestic problem?”

Response: “You must be a Communist”.

Senewiratne: “No Madam, I am, like you, a capitalist”.

Response: Then you must be mad since you are the only Sinhalese to say these outrageous things.

Senewiratne: “No, Madam, there are others, many others. Have you read the writings of Adrian Wijemanne on the futility of this war?”

Response: “I do not read. I am too busy governing. On the few occasions that I have time to read, I do not read Tamil Tiger literature”.

Senewiratne: “But he is, like me, a Sinhalese”.

Response: “I don’t accept that. He is a Tiger Terrorist”.

Senewiratne: “Thank you Madam. You have answered my questions comprehensively”.

One major problem with Sri Lankan Presidents (both past and present) is that outstanding organisations such as Peace Brigades International (and even Amnesty International some years ago) have been forced to leave the country. When this happens, the Government can only get information from party hacks and the Government-controlled Press (apparently the current President does not even read these!). Party hacks and Government-controlled newspaper editors do not usually bite the hand that feeds them.

In a recent address in London on ‘The Abuse of Democracy in Sri Lanka’ I pointed out that when the Press is censored it is not only the public who suffer but also those who do the censoring. A single example will suffice. Just before the 1977 General Election, I asked someone close (very close) to the then UF (SLFP and the Left) Government, how things were going. “No problem. We will romp back”, he said. And why did he think so? Because Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike thought so. And why did she think so? Because all her ‘Advisors’, ‘People close to her whom she trusts’, and “The Papers” say so. She must have got an awful shock when the UF was decimated, coming down from 115 seats to just 8, with less MPs than even the Tamils whose leader was appointed the Opposition Leader. History might well repeat itself for a similar reason.

2. The President is being deceived or misled. By whom?

By an impenetrable circular brick wall with which all Presidents’ surround themselves. This is the “inner circle”, “close advisors”, “trusted friends”, and party supporters, essentially party hacks. When the victim in this self-erected prison changes, so does the wall. Amazingly, sometimes bricks from the old wall come in to build the new one. Those who were wearing blue ties (or sarees) yesterday, now wear green and vice versa. This is the lethal wall, the destructive barrier that ensures decimation. The current victim, like her predecessors, will soon find this out, if she hasn’t done so already.

Deceived or misled by the Armed Forces? Possible. An Army General: “The Tigers are about to be crushed. A few more (ancient) weapons or aircraft – discards from Russia, the Ukraine etc or, if money permits (or does not permit!) some swing-wing fighters and the job will be done. We know this because we are right there in the front line” – admittedly a safe distance from Jaffna (actually in Colombo over 200 km away) but none-the-less close enough to the battle front to know what is going on.

Despite these attempts to conceal and deceive by those with vested interests and a case to answer, the President must know what is going on. How do I know? Well, she said so. At the BBC interview when Sebastian quoted the US State department, which said that Security Forces continued to torture people, she said, “I don’t accept that…because I am personally aware of what goes on…”

If she is not as “aware of what goes on” as she thinks she is, perhaps a group like the UTHR(J) which she so admires, should inform her.

Back in the 1980s, it was an outstanding group that exposed the atrocities committed on the Tamil people. So much so that when they invited me to write a Foreword to their book ‘The Broken Palmyra’, I readily agreed.

Since then, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge. For a start, the group has fallen apart and for all intents and purposes now consists of a single individual. From being the impartial and credible Human Rights group it was, the UTHR(J) has changed to simply being virulently anti-LTTE. Do they know that their Reports are being used by the President and the barbaric Armed Forces to cover-up the gross violations of human rights that are occurring? Have they protested at her recent statement? If not, why not? Do they realize that this could well increase the appalling activity of the Armed Forces?

A Human Rights group has the function of documenting the violation of Human Rights across the entire spectrum i.e. the Government and the Tamil Militants (The LTTE, EPDP, EPRLF, TELO, PLOTE etc.). It cannot give the impression (which the Reports from this group recently have done) of being virulently anti-LTTE because it damages their reputation and credibility. The damage is enhanced when their Reports are praised by the leader of a Government under whose barbaric regime, a decimation of Jaffna, the land and it’s people, has reached new heights. It would worry me as much if some Tamil (or for that matter, Sinhalese or Muslim) group who have been guilty of serious human rights violations says that they are “very appreciative” of comments made in these Reports to their activities.

What we in the Human Rights arena are trying to do is to expose the facts – how the Tamil minority is unable to live with safety in the country of their birth, to live without having their women raped by every passing Sinhala hoodlum, to live without being subjected to arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention in secret places, of ‘disappearances’ of people in custody (Sri Lanka has the 2nd highest rate of ‘disappearances’ in the world), to live in perpetual fear of being bombed or shelled or rounded up, of starving to death because of an economic blockade (despite the President’s denial), of dying from treatable diseases because the Government will not allow the necessary drugs to reach the Tamil areas, of their children suffering from serious malnutrition because of the blockade, of extensive psychological trauma, documented by none other than a member of the UTHR(J)? These are the problems which must not be lost sight of.

3. The President is being careless with the truth

There has been a serious ‘carelessness’ with the truth. To accuse a President of a country of lying is a serious matter, but for a President to lie is equally serious. As such, I have given this a great deal of thought and where there has been the slightest doubt, I have given the benefit of the doubt to the President. What follows is therefore an underestimate of the degree of ‘carelessness with the truth’ or attempts to hide that which should not be hidden.

Let me take the BBC interview when Tim Sebastian got on to Human Rights violations by the Sri Lankan Security Forces. The President claimed that these were under “the previous Government” and that atrocities post-1994 were “very rare”.

She must know that this is not true. She must know from the numerous recent Reports of internationally credible human rights organizations which have been sent to her, that what she said was simply untrue. This is especially so since she quoted Reports from these very same organizations when the need arose to throw some mud at the previous government (which I am certainly not an admirer of!).

What contingency plans did she, as the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, make for the safety of half a million civilians in the largest town in the Peninsula before permitting the aerial assault by her air force? When these terrified people took to the road and started a four day trek out of Jaffna is she aware that a Tamil girl, raped by one her soldiers, had to step into a drain to give birth to the child? How does she, as a mother, react to this? Does she not care or does she feel that a wayside unassisted delivery is a special privilege reserved for Tamil girls?

She must know that even the former UN Secretary General, Boutros Boutros Ghali called on international governments to assist the uprooted population of Jaffna in 1995 when Kumaratunga’s Forces decided to bomb that town with half a million people who took to the streets and fled, dragging their children and elderly parents. Does she know that her (Tamil) Foreign Minister whom she so admires cautioned the UN Secretary General not to exaggerate a “minor problem” of an “internally displaced” people which was an “internal affair” of a “Sovereign state”? Did she reprimand her Foreign Minister for talking absolute nonsense which must have been so hurtful to the half a million people who were severely traumatised? Or does her admiration of the Foreign Minister exceed her concerns for her subjects in the North whose President she is?

Is she aware that the air force bombed St Paul’s church in Navaly on 9 July 1995 where hundreds of terrified refugees were huddled, killing 120 civilians including women, children and the elderly and seriously injuring more than 150. Is she aware that to add insult to injury, her armed forces denied this, claiming that an LTTE military camp had been ‘successfully targetted’? Is she aware that International Red Cross (ICRC) which by some good fortune happened to be there, issued an official statement confirming the civilian casualties and blaming the Sri Lankan armed force? Is she aware that her Foreign Minister summoned the ICRC representative and warned him not to interfere with the internal affairs of the State?

Is she aware that when this terrified mass of humanity with nowhere to go tried to cross the Jaffna Lagoon in boats to get to safer areas on the mainland, their boats were bombed and strafed by helicopter gun ships? Can she justify this, and on what grounds?

President Kumaratunga must know that it is these traumatised people returning to their homes in Jaffna who were arrested by Brigadier Janaka Perera and who disappeared whilst under his custody, their tortured bodies being found in mass graves. She must know this because I personally informed her. This was in June 2001 when she appointed General Janaka Perera as the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in Australia. I had her direct fax number which she had given me. So my fax could not have got stuck on some bureaucrat’s table. I faxed her a letter setting out my concerns. I did not accuse Perera of killing anyone but pointed out that serious atrocities had been committed on civilians taken into custody under his command. She knows me well enough to know that I would not have made it up; I had no reason to do so.

These are the hard questions we will have to ask President Kumaratunga. We have a right to have a response. The international community should also take up these questions since she assured them on the BBC program that atrocities after she came into power were “very rare”, because it is simply not true.

Getting back to the Sebastian interview, she (rightly) referred to the July 1983 pogrom against the Tamil people which had been orchestrated and conducted by the previous government, but then went on to state some blatant untruths:

Sebastian: “But Tamil civilians have been attacked under your rule as well”.

Kumaratunga: “No! Never!”

Sebastian gave her another chance

Sebastian: “Never?”

Kumaratunga (shaking her head): “Never!”

I cannot accept this as a misunderstanding (of the question) or lack of information. As I have said, I personally informed her of what had happened in 1995 which was during her Presidency. I have therefore to regretfully conclude that what was said with such vigour was a downright, blatant untruth.

Another serious violation of the truth was her comment on the economic blockade.

Kumaratunga: “There is no economic blockade! That is nonsense!”

Sebastian: “No blockade?”

Kumaratunga: “Absolutely not! We lifted…”

Sebastian interrupting: “Humanitarian blockade?”

Kumaratunga: “Absolutely not!

That is not ignorance. During her so-called ‘peace-talks’ with the LTTE in 1994/5 and on several occasions since, this completely indefensible blockade of items which could not possibly have had any bearing on making weapons or military action of the LTTE, was taken up with her. So was the suffering of the civilian population, in particular children dying of malnutrition as a consequence of the blockade and others dying of medical problems as a consequence of the blockade of essential medical supplies. I gather that this was so serious that several Bishops from the South went to the Tamil areas to see for themselves, and having done so, made a strong plea that these inhuman blockades which are causing so much civilian suffering be lifted.

I do not for one moment believe that she is unaware of this. The problem was that if she had accepted it, then the next question coming would have been, “Is this not a war against the Tamil people rather than the LTTE?” That would have been unanswerable. So, she simply denied that a blockade existed.

The hijacking of the truth went on in the CNN interview. She said, “We stopped attacks on innocent Tamil people by Government-organized mafia, which happened every year under the last Government”

The “Government-organized Mafia” of the UNP has been replaced by “Government-directed Security Forces” and, Government-sponsored (and even Government-employed) hoodlums and underworld characters (e.g. Sanjeewa of Baddegana, an assassin who held a position on Kumaratunga’s security staff in the Presidential security division of the police). According to a shocking letter to her from S. B. Dissanayake, one of her most senior Cabinet Ministers, some serious criminal activity has gone on. Minister Dissanayake states that, “the whole world knows about the assassinations and crimes that were committed through him [Sanjeewa] with your knowledge …. Your urge to kill certain media personnel and to set fire to media institutions is not a secret to us. I can describe one by one, how you planned these personally …”

The Minister has signed the document and it has been published. If the statements are untrue, they are clearly defamatory. I look forward to the President filing action if only to clear her name. It certainly needs clearing.

Until then, she might get her recently appointed “Truth Commission” to go into this. This is much more important than their investigation into what happened in 1983 – some 17 years ago since most of the culprits who committed that blot on Sri Lanka’s history are now dead. Let them look at some of the crimes committed by those who are still alive since deterrent action can be taken against them. We can then go back to 1983 and all the way back to 1951 and the activities of the High Priest of the Kelaniya Temple, Buddharakkhita Thero, whose donations to the SLFP from money stolen from the Temple and other nefarious dealings was known as “Buddy Racketeer”. They can look into his murderous activities which included the assassination of her own father, S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike. Yes, a Truth Commission should go into all of this and not be used as a mud-slinging exercise at election time to discredit the opposing UNP. I am certainly not a supporter of the UNP. I have written extensively on the 1983 Tamil massacre and laid the blame squarely on President Jayawardene, his UNP Ministers and their hoodlums.

There are a number of other quite serious deviations from the truth in the President’s interview but I will go into them at a later date. I must, however, draw attention to a publication in the Sri Lankan press of 18 November, 2001. I do so without comment. I am only reproducing what I have read. The only comment I would like to make is that if this publication is defamatory, the paper will be in serious trouble. So far no action has been taken by the President. The paper refers to exactly what I have been talking about.

Whether or not Sorbonne gave her a degree, whether or not she studied for that elusive PhD, no certificates are needed to attest to Kumaratunga’s expertise in one field: she is the most outrageous, fluent, and habitual liar that has walked the halls of President’s House.”

As I have said, if this is untrue, then it is defamatory. At the time of writing (29.11.01) I cannot find any evidence of a defamation suit being lodged.

This cannot be because the President is uncertain that she will get a fair hearing. Despite the fact that an outstandingly independent judiciary has been partly replaced by people with a supple spine, there are still some upright judges. Those with a supple spine would have been put there by the Government and would therefore be sympathetic to her. If there are still concerns, then she can always invite international judicial observers eg the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Lawasia etc. International legal people of integrity are not in short supply.

Let me leave this blood-pressure raising interview and get on to the Elections.

Whom can the Tamils vote for and does it matter?

To answer the latter question first, it probably does not matter, with one exception (see below), which might turn out to be a mirage. As I have repeatedly pointed out, this is an Election for a Sinhala parliament. It is a problem for the Sinhalese. The Tamils are out of the equation.

President Jayawardene put this succinctly just before the 1983 massacre of Tamils. In an interview to Ian Ward of the London Daily Telegrpph he said:

“…. I am not worried about the opinion of the Jaffna people now … now we cannot think of them, nor about their lives or of their opinion about us. “

Objectionable though he may have been, Jayawardene was at least honest (not always, but often).

What is needed is not just a change of faces at the top but a change of the mind-set. There is no evidence that the mind-set of the Sinhalese leaders on both sides (or on all sides) of the political spectrum has changed since Independence.

Even if it is of no consequence, whom could the Tamils vote for?

Group 1 Tamils have no problem. They can vote for either of the major contenders (or for both!) since, as I have said, whoever wins, it will be “business as usual”.

Group 4 can vote for either side and vanish among the tea bushes since Sinhalese hoodlums will come after them, whoever wins.

Group 3. The Tamils in the North and East have a problem. With armed men and bullets flying around, it will be somewhat unrealistic to expect them to exercise their franchise. They will probably remain ‘involuntarily disenfranchised’.

Those who brave the cross-fire and thuggery and decide to vote, should get to the polling early. If they do not, they might find that others ( EPDP) have voted for them!

Those who take the risks and get to the polls (in time) have a problem. Whom should they vote for? The LTTE are the only group who have taken on the Sri Lankan government and prevented the crushing of the Tamil people into subjugation. However, they are not taking part in the Elections.

This leaves two options, the recently formed Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) under Douglas Devananda, To vote for the UNP or the PA are not real options. Whatever they may say in the pre-election vote-catching period, they are Sinhala chauvinist parties whose track record in addressing the ethnic problem has been poor.

Tamil National Alliance (TNA)

This is a recently formed Alliance comprising the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC), the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) and Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO).

At least they will raise their voices (we hope) to highlight the sufferings of the Tamil people. I need one clarification from them. Their chief spokesman, V. Anandasangari, the senior vice-president of the TULF, recently said that they were a “non-violent group”, whose chief purpose was “to compel the Government to stop the war”. I am not clear how they propose to do this. Can one engage in a non-violent satyagraha-style protest against a Government and its Armed Forces which have had no hesitation in dropping bombs on the Navaly church with hundreds of refugees huddled in it? Could one have staged a non-violent sit down protest against Hitler’s Army? I guess one could, but with predictable results. I must stress that Mahatma Gandhi’s famous campaign succeeded against the British because, although the British did some terrible things in India, they did not behave like barbarians. If they did, Gandhi would have been mowed down. Nonetheless, I wish the TNA good luck. Let alone the Sri Lankan government, I have concerns about violence the TNA supporters will face from the EPDP armed with Government-supplied weapons.

The Eelam People’s Democratic Party

I have studied the EPDP, in particular its leader, Douglas Devananda, in some detail. I have not been impressed by either their honesty or sincerity. Their power base and, as far as I am aware, their main support comes from the sparsely populated islands off the Peninsula – Kayts, Delft, Nainativu and Karaituvu which the LTTE very foolishly quit saying that these were not of strategic importance. Devananda moved into the vacuum, contacted Kumaratunga’s PA and offered his support. The PA thought this was manna from heaven to have a Tamil militant group in bed with them and who could do the dirty work in the Tamil areas. Thus rose Devananda from nothing to VIP status, as a Minister in the Kumaratunga Government with the usual perks, and bags of (government) money. This the Minister generously doled out (actually, splashed out), as though it was his own. The money has gone to the favoured few or to those who were prepared to grovel for it.

Devananda now says that if the UNP wins he will take his MPs who really represent only a fraction of the people in the Tamil areas and move over to the UNP. I am almost certain that if he does he will expect the same privileges i.e. a Ministerial position and bags of money that go with it. It will be “business as usual” for this dubious group and their leader. That “business” has been pretty unsavoury. The UNP will be well advised to distance themselves from this and other opportunistic groups. I doubt if they will be principled enough to do so, especially if they come bearing gifts (MPs). The Tamils should not increase the ‘gifts’ by voting for the EPDP.

Group 2. The Tamils in the Sinhalese areas face a major problem. To vote for a Tamil party (if any) in the Sinhalese area would be a waste of a vote since it will be a drop in the bucket of Sinhalese votes.

As I have said, at the moment, the UNP seems to be the better bet – if only to enable them to get a 2/3 majority. Am I a UNP supporter? God forbid. Those who have read my writings on J.R.Jayawardene will agree with this assessment. Hopefully, the UNP has turned over a new leaf, but a leopard rarely changes it’s spots. The UNP could promise the world to the Tamils, but all Sinhalese politicians do pre-elections. We have yet to see them deliver, especially when it comes to standing up to the racists, the Sinhalese extremists in the JVP and MEP, and, in particular, the Buddhist clergy.

Voting for the PA (Peoples Alliance)

As I have said, to re-elect the Kumaratunga-Kadirgamar-Wickremanayake combo could be suicidal (at least for the people in the North and East). The question is whether the Tamils in Colombo and the South care about the North and East.

If they have no relatives in Jaffna and the East, they can vote for the PA. The devastation will, of course, continue but with no interests in Jaffna, who cares? After all, they voted for Mrs Bandaranaike who moved the Army into Jaffna to crush completely non-violent protests. Why not continue?

If they have relatives/property in Jaffna, and are concerned about what is going on there, then they have a problem. I note that Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake who will surely continue as Prime Minister if the PA get back, said that every paragraph, sentence and word of the New Constitution will be submitted to the Mahanayakes (Chief Priests) for approval before being tabled in Parliament. The prognosis is distinctly poor for a negotiated settlement if that is the plan of action.

Before they vote for the PA they must remember that this is the party whose leader, now the President, on winning the 1994 Presidential Elections said:

“…the verdict of our people in the recent elections leaves me in no doubt of the depth and intensity of their desire and commitment to peace. This must be, however, peace with honour for both parties to the conflict for it to be strong and durable”.

Almost every report I have read indicates that the bombing, shelling, destruction, ‘disappearances’’, torture, rape and other serious Human Rights violations in the Tamil areas have reached an all time high since this “Angel of Peace” came into power.

Even with the State-sponsored propaganda machine working overtime and the Government trying to cash in on the carnage in New York on 11 September 2001, the international community is beginning to ask the hard questions and say the harsh things. The Sri Lankan Government claimed that the problem in Sri Lanka is “just terrorism” – almost an “I told you so” attitude. However, the Government suffered a serious setback.

Stephen Holgate, the U.S. Embassy spokesman in Colombo said, “The U.S. has not changed in calling upon the Sri Lankan Government to initiate peace talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)”.

Neil Fergus of Australia’s Security Organisation, ASIO, was even more blunt. Responding to a question on an Australian broadcasting programme on 3rd October 2001, he said, “There is a ‘quantum difference’ between supporting Tamil independence and supporting people who kill 4,000 civilians in a busy metropolis.”

As someone who has lived in Australia for quarter of a century, I can assure you that Neil Fergus is not a Tamil Tiger ‘Terrorist’ in disguise or a Tamil Tiger supporter. He was simply stating the obvious.

If the PA comes back into power, the Tamils could, of course, be conned into another set of “peace talks”. If they do, I hope the newly elected PA Government will send a more appropriate team than they did for the 1994-5 peace talks. The Tamil Tigers sent the Head of their Political section. Guess who the Sri Lankan Government sent? An architect (actually the President’s architect, not that it matters), a bank manager, a lawyer, a civil servant, a university lecturer, an NGO, two members of the armed forces, and, believe it or not, the Bishop of Colombo! There was not a single politician, senior or junior, sent by the Government, which indicated how seriously the Government took these crucial talks. What they sent were messengers and they behaved as such. This motley bunch was sent by the Government to address important talks to address a difficult political problem.

Voting for the UNP (United National Party)

They can risk another 1977 post-Election ‘celebration’ and vote for the UNP. Thankfully, Cyril Matthew and his JSS hoodlums are not there, but they have their replacements. Therefore, they had better vote and run since to hang around in Colombo is a risk. Nonetheless, it may be the better of the (poor) options.

I gather that the Tamil Tigers, or at least some of them, are pinning their hopes on a UNP victory. Can someone please tell them that it is politicians from this party who conducted with such perfect organisation, and executed with such precision, the destruction of Tamil homes, property and lives in Colombo in 1983?

Was it not two of President Jayawardene’s Ministers, Lalith Athulathmudali and someone called Ranil Wickremasinghe (a gentlemen with the same name as the current leader of the UNP who was then the Minister of Youth Affairs) who tried to justify the destruction of the Tamil businesses in the 1983 pogrom (the main reason for this ‘event’) as an attempt to rectify the disadvantages unfairly imposed on Sinhalese businessmen? Can someone correct me if I am wrong? I do not think I am, since I did quite a lot of work and wrote extensive notes before publishing my book ‘The July 1983 Massacre – Unanswered Questions’.

Was it not the UNP high command who after winning the 1977 Election with Tamil support (Tamil support outside the North and the East), declared war on the Tamils in the post-Election bloodbath? In fact, it was Prime Minister Jayawardene (UNP) who invited the Tamil youths to take up arms.

“If you want to fight, let there be a fight; if it is peace, let there be peace… It is not what I am saying. The people of Sri Lanka say that”.

So said Jayawardene in the special debate in Parliament during the August 1977 massacre of Tamil civilians whose only crime was that they had voted. This is the same gentleman who promised a “Dharmistha” (Just and Righteous Society) but turned to jingoism and political demagoguery.

Incidentally, I take exception to Jayawardene’s, “The people of Sri Lanka say that”. The people of Sri Lanka did not say “that”. “That” was said by Jayawardene and his anti-Tamil racist Ministers and racist bigots in their camp. May I, as a Sinhalese, ask politicians to kindly distance the Sinhala people from their racist comments? Could someone also tell my people back home that the Tamils do not hate them. They hate the policies of a succession of their governments, in particular those of the Bandaranaike family that have marginalized them (the Sinhala Only policy, the “Standardisation of university entrance marks” and now the attempt to bomb them out of existence.) The Sinhalese people are pretty reasonable; it is their opportunist politicians and the racist bigots who control them, who are the problem.

The ‘Third Force’, the JVP and the Left

What about the “Third Force” – the likely king-makers if the two capitalist parties end in a dead-heat. The problem is that this ‘Third Force” (the JVP, Sihala Urumaya etc) are even more racist than the two main parties. If anything, they will make even more racist demands on the main parties as we recently saw when the JVP signed their Memorandum of Understanding to save the PA from drowning. One condition was that no further negotiations or peace talks should occur with the LTTE for the entire year covered by the MoU.


These are the ‘new Marxists’ home-grown, pure-bred Sri Lankan ‘Marxists’. The current JVP (cf the 1971 bunch) have modified the teaching of Marx to enable them to jump on the Sinhala ethno-religious bandwagon, a sure winner. They totally oppose any form of devolution of power to the Tamils.

Those familiar with Marxism will know, that the right of self-determination for a nation is fundamental to this philosophy. It goes back a long way. Poland was annexed and decimated by three Empires – the Russian (1772), Austrian (1793), and Prussian (1795). In 1830 there was an uprising in Poland against foreign domination.

In 1880, at an International Rally in Geneva to commemorate the 1830 uprising, Marx and Engels sent a message, “Let Poland be free”. Poland and the right of self-determination were raised again in 1896 at the Second International Congress of Social Democratic parties (the 2nd International) in London. A resolution was passed, “…this congress accepts the right of self-determination of a nation…

Unfortunately this does not sit well with ethno-religious chauvinism, an essential requirement for political success in Sri Lanka. So the home-grown ‘Marxists’ decided that Marx was out of date. Somawansa Amerasinghe, the self-exiled JVP leader recently said that Marx and Engels got it all wrong.

“We, in the JVP do not live in the past. The Right of Self-determination belongs to the past”!

Alarmingly, I gather this gentleman has just returned to Sri Lanka from self-imposed exile in Britain. He will probably be a (nominated) member of parliament and even be part of the Government (God forbid). The outlook for the Tamils, especially where a devolution of power and a negotiated settlement are concerned, is distinctly poor if this is going to be part of the next government.

The ‘Old Left’

Whatever happened to the ‘Old Left? A major section of it, the LSSP, is in bed with the SLFP. Is not the General Secretary of the LSSP the Minister of Justice? All, save one, sold their souls for Cabinet posts in Sirima Bandaranaike’s government. The exception was Edmund Samarakkody who, offered the position of Minister of Home Affairs, sent a message back through his sister (my mother) that he was not up for sale. He went into oblivion, with insufficient money to pay for a cheap coffin, the price paid for principled politics.

I gather that an attempt is being made to resurrect the genuine Left - the people who fought for the working class, who thought the Plantation Tamils were working and living in slave-like conditions, and who thought that all ethnic groups should have equal rights. I wish them luck but I am not holding my breath hoping for their success. The tide of Sinhala chauvinism sweeping the country is far too great for the emergence of principled politicians.

Tamil optimism

The Sri Lankan Tamils must be the world’s greatest optimists. This has been their problem from day one – before 1947, back to the 1930’s, and even earlier. They have had child-like faith in the integrity of Sinhalese politicians. They have paid a terrible price for this unrealistic optimism. Even today, yes in 2001, in several of my self-financed (I stress this because of some recent accusations by Sinhala racists in Australia) travels around the world, I have found scores of educated Tamils who still believe that it is possible to have a united, undivided Sri Lanka where the Tamil minority can live with equality, dignity and safety. This is beyond my comprehension. After one of my addresses to a non-Sri Lankan audience someone said, “It must be very difficult for you to convince the Sinhalese of this”. I replied, “It sure is difficult but not half as difficult as convincing the Tamils!”

A major problem over the years has been the Tamil leadership who have been more than willing to get into bed with any Sinhala chauvinist party, often in exchange for a Ministerial position. This has been their major downfall. It is not only they who have fallen down. The veteran Tamil politician V. Anandasangari, the deputy leader of the TULF recently said that Chandrika had taken them (TULF) for a ride. Surprise! Surprise!

The outstanding feature of the new Tamil leadership in the North and the East is that it seems to have arisen from the ground level which has not been a feature of the conventional Tamil leadership which has come from the bourgeois capitalist circles identical with the circles that produced the Sinhala leadership. It is probably why they have had such widespread support.

The Expatriate Tamils

They do not, of course, vote, but may be affected by the result. If the Government changes, they may be able to trade in the (Tamil) Sri Lankan Foreign Minister for a less-virulently anti-Tamil one.

They might also be able to return some of the political stooges and Army discards who have been sent as Diplomats and get some real (career) diplomats with no blood on their hands. I am, however, not holding my breath since this is exactly what Chandrika Kumaratunga said she would do when she got into power in 1994 and recalled some of the dubious characters who had been sent by the previous government to represent Sri Lanka. I have referred to the Sri Lankan Parliament as a ‘Sinhala Parliament’. The same is true for the so-called “Sri Lankan” High Commissioners and Ambassadors.They are essentially Sinhalese High Commissioners. They certainly do not represent the Tamils. I doubt whether they even represent the Muslims.

We did have a genuine Sri Lankan High Commissioner in Canberra, Australia, until recently. Last year he invited me to join him in Canberra to celebrate ‘Thai Pongal’. I was taken aback. I asked, “What are you doing celebrating ‘Thai Pongal’?” He replied, “When I came here some years ago to Canberra they were celebrating only Vesak”. I said, “We either celebrate the important religious occasions of all four religions – Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam or none at all”. I had a gut feeling that His Excellency’s days were numbered. Sri Lankan diplomats are not expected to think things like that. It borders on treason. I was not wrong. He was recalled and replaced by a true patriot who has fought to save the Motherland from “the Tamil invaders”.

The change of name from ‘Sri Lankan High Commissioners’ to ‘Sinhala High Commissioners of Sinhala Sri Lanka’ is long overdue.

A solution to the problems in Sri Lanka

So where do we stand with a new Government where a solution to the Ethnic conflict is concerned? As I have said, the Election is only about changing the peon, the head of a castrated and totally powerless Parliament.

If the country is to have a proper Prime Minister and a Parliament that means anything, the present dictatorship will have to be dismantled, not in 2005 (the auspicious date) but now. If this cannot be done, the Election is an exercise in futility.

More important than all else, there must be a change in the mind-set of the people who matter. Let me illustrate this.

A senior Minister from a previous government addressing new recruits to the National Auxiliary Force said:

“By joining the Security Forces to defend the nation in it’s biggest crisis in history, each one of you has secured a place in your country’s history, like your forefathers, who have shed their blood on this very soil fighting foreign invaders”. (The “foreign invaders” were, of course, the Tamils).

The same gentleman was asked by David Selbourne, a former law-school mate of his, “Well, what is the answer to the ‘Tamil Problem’?” The answer came back, “I’ll tell you what the answer is: it is to bash Tamil heads”.

This worthy Minister’s boss, when presented with Canada as a model of devolution of power by a reporter from the Toronto Globe and Mail said, “It is easy for you to settle your problems since all your people are Canadians”.

If this is the thinking of Sri Lankan National leaders (and although the faces at the top have changed the mind-set has not), how can we expect a negotiated settlement to the ‘Tamil Problem’, which addresses the fears, insecurities and aspirations of the Tamil people? Anyone who is even vaguely familiar with the Sri Lankan situation can instantly recognize these utterances as the authentic voice of Sinhala chauvinism which is the single factor that has prevented any meaningful offer being made to the Tamils. Statements such as this are evidence of a strong current of chauvinism which is destroying Sri Lanka. With politicians (and others) who have such a mind-set, we cannot have any illusions of a negotiated settlement which makes a genuine accommodation of Tamil problems taking place in the next year, the next five years, or the next fifty years.

So we can have talks, talks and more talks but as long as there is this mind-set among the politicians (on either side of the Great Divide), the President, the Buddhist Clergy and the Sinhala extremists, there can be no peace, certainly no peace with justice.

‘The UNP – LTTE’ Pact

In the run-up to the 2001 General Election, a desperate, sinking PA Government (ie President Kumaratunga), claimed that the opposing UNP had signed a secret pact with the Tamil Tigers, allegedly to ‘sell’ part of the country to the Tamils (the usual war cry). This was a re-run of what occurred before the 1994 election with the UNP in power. It was then alleged that there was a secret pact between the opposing SLFP and the Tamil Tigers, to do the same thing i.e. ‘sell’ part of the country to the Tamils. Identical nonsense was presented then that Prabhakaran would be the ruler of the country if the SLFP came into power. Kumaratunga (SLFP) now says that if the UNP come into power, Prabhakaran will be the President of Sri Lanka in 2 years!

We (or rather I) do not know whether the supposed SLFP-LTTE Pact ever existed in 1994, but we do know the situation with regard to the alleged UNP-LTTE Pact, a claim loudly proclaimed by the Kumaratunga (PA) Government. This revelation is the result of an internal war that has erupted between ‘thieves’.

Ex-Minister Dissanayake in his bean-spilling letter to the President deals with this. (Note, the letter has been published under his name, so he will be criminally liable if untrue). Here is what it says.

“Both you and I are quite well aware that no such pact exists. Please recall, how you handed over to me the false document fabricated by the Govt. Information Dept., as a secret pact, on your instructions. Please also call to mind, how you declared it to be an authentic document…”. Dissanayake goes on, “ Please recall the way you stated with high relish, how that great lie was fabricated”.

What these disclosures indicate is the level to which politics has descended in Sri Lanka.

Presidential Arrogance

The arrogance of the President seems to increase by the week, if not by the day. It is not just irritating arrogance but it reveals the absolute contempt she has for Parliament and the Democratic process which will have a bearing on the post-Election situation if the opposing UNP comes into power.

At a recent meeting just a few days ago in Colombo she is reported to have declared, “Whoever wins the forthcoming polls, I will continue to be the President, Defence Minister and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and under no circumstances, will I permit the implementation of the alleged pact” (between the UNP and the LTTE).

What this means is that the people can elect the UNP, the UNP can attempt to settle the ongoing conflict, but the President will block it!

In a separate article I have set out in detail why the Sri Lankan President must go or have her wings severely clipped so that she is no more than an ornament and power returned to Parliament which is where it should be in a democracy. Should this happen, i.e. the power is vested in Parliament, and if the electorate is not satisfied with their performance, they will surely be tossed out at the next election as has happened with such predictable regularity since independence.

Possible Consequences

What if the President does not go? I have already indicated what she says she will do if the UNP wins and negotiates with the Tamil Tigers for a settlement to the ongoing conflict. There is no reason to believe that these are idle threats or just pre-Election rhetoric. One must assume that the threats are real.

What it means is that with the powers the President has and her arrogance, she is simply not prepared to accede to the wishes of the people. If the people, fed up with the ongoing war and it’s consequences, elect a (UNP) Government that is at least prepared to talk to the Tamil Tigers and arrive at a negotiated settlement to this devastating war, the President says that she will not allow this to be implemented.

I think she is on a dangerous wicket. It will mean that she will have to be removed (by impeachment, if necessary) or face a major revolt by the Sinhalese (let’s leave the Tamils out of this). In a separate article addressed to the Sinhala people, The 2001 Election – a problem for the Sinhalese, I have discussed the grounds for impeachment. They are substantial.

There will then be the very real possibility of a civil war and even an army take-over since this is a classic situation where such take-over occurs i.e. where politicians are fighting with each other and the country is falling apart. Personally, I think President Kumaratunga is playing with fire. It is time that someone had a word in her ear.

Who will win the Election?

I do not know. What I do know is that there is widespread disillusionment with the performance of the once astoundingly popular President and her governing party (PA), and a reciprocal increase in the popularity of the opposing UNP.

The way things have gone in the recent past, the final outcome might well have nothing to do with the popularity or unpopularity of either party. It might be entirely determined by who can stuff the ballot boxes and who can use the greater amount of thuggery (on 13th November the Police Elections Secretariat had recorded 623 incidents of pre-poll violence, and there are still three weeks to go). The PA with a profusion of underworld characters who have petrified the Police, may well have a strong chance of success, to hell with their unpopularity. The last I heard was that some of these goons, fearing an election defeat, were exploring the possibility of defecting to the UNP. As Frederica Jansz, a Sri Lankan reporter put it, “The underworld after all feed off political masters – to back the right man and the right party is vital for underworld figures to ensure their survival”. There you have the ‘Survival of the Species’ in a nut-shell.

The one thing that is going to take place is a battering of Democracy where free and fair elections are a corner stone. Foreign election observers may not be a guarantee – they most certainly were not in the last election where the degree of election fraud was such that the validity of the outcome (a PA victory) was in considerable doubt. The 2001 Election, even to elect a (possibly insignificant) peon, may turn out to be another colossal farce.

The non-ethnic problems

A final comment on something that is not often appreciated abroad. The main focus has been on solving the ethnic problem. It sure is a critical problem but is not the only problem. A new Government faces monumental problems in solving the complete breakdown in law and order, the ever-increasing power of the underworld who will most certainly infiltrate the new government and its new leaders, rampant bribery and corruption in civil society, the armed forces and parliament itself, the Armed Forces doing as they please, political assassinations and the murder of those who are critical of anything the Government does, the complete collapse of the police, interference with the Judiciary, jobs for ‘the boys’ rather than the most competent and, more than anything else, the virulence of extremist sections of the Sinhala community and the powerful Buddhist clergy. It is imperative that the new government tells some of these gentlemen to return to their temples and not hijack one of the great religions in the world. Simply changing the faces at the top may not be all that is needed to save Sri Lanka.

Brian Senewiratne
MA (Cantab) MD (Lond) FRCP (Lond) FRACP
Consultant Physician

30 November 2001