Monday, February 15, 2010

Sri Lanka's endless wars

For Sri Lanka, 2009 was its Year of Living Dangerously. Now, 2010 is shaping up as the country's Year of Living Dictatorially.

After first vanquishing his Tamil Tiger enemies on the battlefield last year, and then trouncing his main electoral opponent last month, President Mahinda Rajapaksa might have been expected to show a measure of magnanimity. Yet his post-election impulses have tended toward revenge, not reconciliation.

Within days of Rajapaksa's re-election, the security forces swooped in on his defeated rival, former army forces chief Sarath Fonseka. He was hauled out of a planning session with opposition politicians and thrown in detention on allegations of conspiracy. The very next day, Rajapaksa dissolved parliament and called fresh elections.

It would be hard to miss the signal he was sending to anyone who dared defy him as the campaign for an April vote got underway. Journalists have also been targeted for intimidation, with critical reporters going missing or detained in recent days.

And so Sri Lanka, a country of seemingly limitless natural and human endowments, a place that seemed destined for a postwar era of peaceful prosperity, once again seems to be veering off course. It is rapidly moving from a state of war to a police state.

Sri Lanka already faces daunting challenges, a legacy of the decades-long civil war pitting the ethnic Sinhalese majority against the embattled Tamil minority. The fighting claimed some 100,000 lives, and nearly a year after the war's end, more than 100,000 Tamil civilians remain in displaced person's camps.

Now, with Sinhalese political factions at each other's throats, there is nary a thought for the plight of the Tamils, many of whom have close family connections to a large émigré community that has settled in Canada and is watching from afar with dismay. The time had come for a productive political dialogue that would address legitimate Tamil grievances while respecting Sri Lanka's territorial integrity.

Yet instead of harnessing his new mandate to seek a long overdue federalist solution, the president reverts to populist shibboleths. He has ruled out a serious decentralization of power that history shows Sri Lanka needs – and which the country's friends in India and Canada have been urging upon it for so long.

Instead, Sri Lanka is spiralling once again into a crisis. Black-robed lawyers are marching in the streets, conjuring up images of the protests that swept Pakistan when another dictator undermined the rule of law. The Supreme Court is now intervening. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged Rajapaksa to "respect the due process of law."

Flush with victory, Rajapaksa has overreached. But there is still time to pull back and bask in the glow of his triumphs, without rooting out every last opponent.

© The Star
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Bookmark and Share

No comments:

Post a Comment

© 2009 - 2014 Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  © Blogger template 'Fly Away' by 2008

Back to TOP