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The Indispensable World

The Indispensable World

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Published by Thavam

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Published by: Thavam on Sep 26, 2013
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09/26/2013

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by Tisaranee Gunasekara-
Thursday, September 26, 2013
Suppose, per impossible, there had been international humanrights conventions in force…. How could Torquemada have fared? Or Calvin….? Or theVatican and its Inquisition?..... How would the United States have fared in connection with slavery?”-
 AC Grayling (Towards the light of Liberty)
( September 26, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian)
It is becoming a habit – thisdiscovery of uncounted ballot-papers, discarded in some obscure corner, post-election. The firsttime was after the Presidential election, when 67 ballot-papers were discovered, marked for Gen. Fonseka and abandoned in a ditch. Initially the government claimed that these were photocopies, and hinted at an ‘Opposition/International conspiracy’.Almost two years later, the Election Department confirmed that the ballot-papers were genuine.This week, another batch of uncounted ballot-papers was discovered in Puttalam. The ElectionsCommissioner, in a continuance of his blasé attitude to electoral malpractices, acted as if thefind was a mere bagatelle, claiming that the uncounted ballot-papers would not have caused achange in the final result.A free, fair and a just election means, ipso facto, an election in which every single ballot-paper is counted. An election, in which a thousand ballot-papers are found, uncounted andabandoned, is a flawed election, by definition.As the turnout figures indicate, the Southern voter is beginning to lose interest and/or confidence in elections. Malpractices such as the non-counting of ballot-papers would cause aneven greater dent in the already fractured public confidence in the electoral process. Value of values tends to change, especially in conjunction with the dominant commonsense. Manymalpractices which would have caused anger and shock once – such as the abusive-use of state
 
resources by the governing party – have become ubiquitous and thus near-normal1. If his process continues, elections will lose all meaning and become nothing more than costly shows put up by the Rajapaksas to give despotic rule a democratic sheen.
An International Shield?
The recent round of elections proves, again, that international involvement is of criticalimportance in any successful national effort to check the Rajapaksa juggernaut.Without international pressure, there would not have been a Northern election. Withoutinternational monitors, the military would have been able to downgrade the nature of the TNA’svictory from phenomenal to marginal.And many an uncounted ballot-paper would have been discovered in the North as well.Even with the presence of international monitors, the military (plus the Tamil-acolytes of theRajapaksas) attempted to browbeat and cheat the Northern voters. Commenting on the attack on the house of a TNA candidate the day before election, the head of the SAARC group of observers stated, “I am 101 percent sure that the army was involved….”2 In its post-electionstatement the Commonwealth team observed, “We learned that opposition candidates and their supporters, as well as voters at large, faced instances of intimidation and harassment, and thatthe freedom to hold campaign meetings and openly interact with the electorate wasrestricted”3.The problem areas identified by SAARC and Commonwealth observers fits in perfectly withthe macro issues highlighted by the UN Human Rights Commissioner: militarization,constraints on fundamental freedoms, media self-censorship, abuse of state resources….And the 18th Amendment; the re-empowering of the Elections Commissioner is a keyrecommendation made by international observers.The Elections Commissioner’s Department functioned as an ‘independent governmentdepartment’ since its inception. It was turned legally into a presidential appendage by MahindaRajapaksa, via the 18th Amendment. When previous election commissioners allowed politicalinterferences in the electoral process, they were unambiguously in derelict of their duties andresponsibilities. Post-18th Amendment, the Election Commissioner’s primary duty is to obeyhis/her legal-master, the President. Prior to the 18th Amendment, elections commissionerscould not use the cowardly excuse of ‘following orders’ to justify political-partisanship. Post-18th Amendment, the Election Commissioner’s first duty is to follow presidential orders.The replacement of the democratising 17th Amendment with the anti-democratic 18thAmendment was prioritised by the Ruling Siblings precisely because of its seminal necessityfor their political future. Without that execrable measure, President Rajapaksa would have hadto retire at the end of his second term (as his predecessors did) and Lankan politics could havereturned to its familiar groove.
 
The Rajapaksas were able to remove presidential term-limits while enhancing presidential powers – just as they were able to impeach Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake falsely andillegally – because the international community was not committed to the preservation of the17th Amendment. The battle against the 18th Amendment was purely a national contestation, between a ruthless marauding government and a weak embattled opposition. Given thestructural unevenness of the battlefield and the total imbalance in the disposition of forces, that battle could have had only one conclusion.The 13th Amendment has survived, so far, because it has a powerful regional patron (India) and because the West is interested in its fate.This is the context in which President Rajapaksa’s New York diatribe against ‘internationalintervention’ should be considered. The Rajapaksas do not hesitate to accept anti-peopleeconomic conditionalities from the IFIs in return for loans for their pet-projects. They rageagainst ‘international intervention’ only in matters political because such ‘intervention’ acts asconstraints (however marginal) on their capacity to violate the fundamental rights of Lankan people.The Rajapaksa obsession with a successful Commonwealth extravaganza has made them extra-vulnerable to Indian/Western pressure. But this is a purely conjunctural opening. Once MahindaRajapaksa sits on top of the Commonwealth-heap, the Siblings will feel free, once again, toflex their anti-democratic muscles.The world may not be able to have its way with the Rajapaksas, post-Commonwealth; but itwill continue to have a say. And we will need that voice.It is not just Tamils or Muslims who need international help to safeguard their basic rights fromRajapaksa assaults/encroachments. Sinhalese do as well, though many would not realise it untilthey themselves are at the receiving end of Rajapaksa wrath or injustice.Accepting the need of international help in national struggles does not mean supportingmilitary intervention or socio-economic sanctions. Both are absolute non-options. The bestinternational reaction is the sort which makes a clear distinction between people and the leadersand is carefully calibrated to punish the leaders and not the people. Thus, not a boycott of Lankan exports (the cost would fall on the people) but a boycott of the Rajapaksas and their closest kith and kin. If the Rajapaksas and their nearest and dearest cannot fly to this or thatWestern country (often at public-expense) for everything from education and health toshopping and sight-seeing, that will cause far more sleepless-nights to the Siblings than all thehomilies, resolutions and sanctions put together.The Siblings seemed to have won the Commonwealth battle, unsurprisingly. After all, the UK and Australia had no problems allying themselves with more abominable tyrants, from Pinochetto Suharto. But the world will begin to react to Rajapaksa-excesses with more than mere words,someday. When that moment arrives, it is better that the world opts for such measures as travel

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