In Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka, repression is a family affair

David Lewis-1 November 2013,=Senior Lecturer, Politics at University of !eter DIS"L#SUR S$%$ & '$ David Lewis worked for the International Crisis Group in Sri Lanka in 2006-07. The Conversation is funded ! the followin" universities# $ erdeen% &ir'in"ha'% &ristol% Cardiff% Cit!% Glas"ow Caledonian% Liverpool% (pen% Salford% Sheffield% Surre!% )CL and *arwi+k. It also re+eives fundin" fro'# ,ef+e% ,ef+w% S-C% .C)/% The 0uffield -oundation% The *ell+o'e Trust and The $llian+e for )seful 1viden+e

Th e defeat of the Ta'il Ti"ers left 'an! thousands dead a'id alle"ations of war +ri'es. 2$ *hen dele"ates asse' le in Colo' o later this 'onth for the Co''onwealth ,eads of Govern'ent 3C,(G45% 'u+h of the talk at the su''it will e of 6'ovin" forward7 and of 6re+on+iliation7. The "overn'ent will hi"hli"ht eviden+e of re+onstru+tion in the war-torn north of the +ount!. &ut two i" 8uestions will e studiousl! avoided at diplo'ati+ re+eptions. 0o od! will want to talk a out the tens of thousands of +ivilians that the ar'! is alle"ed to have killed in the final da!s of war in 2009. $nd the "overn'ent:s +ontinuin" assault on Sri Lanka:s de'o+rati+ freedo's will "o lar"el! unre'arked. Sri Lanka has won the war a"ainst the Ta'il Ti"ers% ut runs the risk of slidin" into authoritarian rule.

Sri Lanka is one of the oldest de'o+ra+ies in the Co''onwealth% with an un roken re+ord of re"ular ele+tions datin" a+k to ;9<;. Its de'o+rati+ tradition% uttressed ! a lar"el! independent =udi+iar! and a livel! press% survived a <0-!ear war with the Li eration Ti"ers of Ta'il 1ela' 3LTT15. &ut sin+e the +o'in" to power of the +urrent president% 4ahinda .a=apaksa% in 200>% pressure on =ournalists% politi+al opponents% and independent =ud"es has e+o'e intense. .a=apaksa heads the i""est "overn'ent in the world% with 'ore than ;00 'inisters and deput! 'inisters in offi+e. In realit!% this is si'pl! a vast network of patrona"e and +ontrol ? politi+ians onl! thrive if the! are inside this rulin" +lu . The real "overn'ent is 'u+h s'aller% +on+entrated around three .a=apaksa rothers% who 'ana"e nearl! >0@ of the state ud"et etween the'. Jobs for the boys The president:s rother% Gota ha!a% who survived an LTT1 terrorist atta+k in 2006% presides over the powerful defen+e 'inistr!. $nother rother% &asil% is effe+tivel! in +har"e of the e+ono'!% as 'inister for e+ono'i+ develop'ent. Aust to round thin"s off% elder rother Cha'al holds the post of parlia'entar! speaker% while 4ahinda:s son is also a 'e' er of parlia'ent.

&rothers in ar's# l-r# &asil% Cha'al and Gota ha!a .a=apaksa *iki'edia Co''ons Cli+k to enlar"e Serious +hallen"es to this e'er"in" d!nast! have not een tolerated. -or'er ar'! +hief Sarath -onseka% a one-ti'e all! of the president% ran a"ainst hi' in the 20;0 ele+tions% ut ended upspendin" two !ears in prison on politi+all!-'otivated +har"es.

Che+ks and alan+es on the "overn'ent have "raduall! een dis'antled. The =udi+iar! has lost 'u+h of its independen+e. The;Bth a'end'ent to the Constitution ? ratified in 20;0 ? a olished an independent =udi+ial appoint'ents od! and instead "ave those powers to the president. In a final low to the =udi+iar!% parlia'ent i'pea+hed an independent-'inded +hief =usti+e in Aanuar! 20;<% after she presided over a =udi+ial de+ision that went a"ainst the "overn'ent. The independent press has also een +owed. Sin+e 200> at least a doCen =ournalists have een killedD others have disappeared or fled into eEile. There has een no pro"ress in findin" the killers of Sunda! Leader editor Lasantha *i+kre'atun"a% shot dead in 2009 after writin" a letter to e pu lished in his newspaper predi+tin" his own death. Lasantha *i+kre'atun"e# wrote of his own 'urder. Sunalie .atna!ake Cli+k to enlar"e ,is su++essor as editor% -rederi+a AansC% also fa+ed death threats and was sa+ked in 20;2 after pro-"overn'ent usiness interests ou"ht the newspaper. Aournalists on Ta'il newspapers are parti+ularl! vulnera le. The Aaffna- ased )tha!an has een a fre8uent tar"et. In $pril 20;< arsonists set fire to its pressesD its =ournalists fre8uentl! fa+e eatin"s% harass'ent and worseD five have een killed sin+e 2002. Tamil unrest 4eanwhile% the "overn'ent has not offered an! serious politi+al solution to Sri Lanka:s e' attled Ta'il 'inorit!% who have eE+han"ed the rutalit! of LTT1 rule for the un+ertainties of life under the Sri Lankan 'ilitar!. &ut one sour+e of opti'is' is the ele+tion held to the 0orthern 2rovin+ial Coun+il in Septe' er 20;<. The nationalist Ta'il 0ational $llian+e thorou"hl! troun+ed pro-"overn'ent parties% winnin" nearl! B0 per +ent of the vote. 4oderate 'e' ers of the "overn'ent hope that +hannellin" Ta'il de'ands throu"h the politi+al pro+ess in this wa! will prevent an! resur"en+e of ar'ed insur"en+! or terroris'. Ta'il a+tivists hope that the ele+tion will help to resurre+t Ta'il de'ands for so'e 'easure of self-deter'ination.

Ta 'il unrest has spilled over to India Tserin" Top"!alF$2F2ress $sso+iation I'a"es Cli+k to enlar"e &ut at present the whole of the 0orthern 2rovin+e is effe+tivel! under 'ilitar! rule. The provin+ial +oun+il is unlikel! to "ain +ru+ial powers over poli+in" and land ri"hts. It runs the dan"er of e+o'in" a lar"el! virtual od!% while "overn'ent fundin" and 'ilitar! power !pass lo+al "overn'ent. The .a=apaksas have understood the lessons of 'odern authoritarianis'# +ontrol of finan+e% the =udi+iar!% the poli+e% and the 'edia are 'ore i'portant than winnin" ever! lo+al ele+tion. &ut it is hard to envisa"e a pea+eful future for the island unless this de'o+rati+ eEperi'ent in the north +an e 'ade to work. $nd that 'eans oostin" +onstitutional "overnan+e not onl! in the north% ut throu"hout the island% with a free press% an independent =udi+iar! and a stron" politi+al opposition holdin" the "overn'ent to a++ount. The de+ision to hold C,(G4 in Colo' o was wron"-headed and +ounterprodu+tive. The Co''onwealth:s +redi ilit! as an upholder of hu'an ri"hts has een adl! da'a"ed. Calls to o!+ott the event have een heeded onl! ! Canadian pri'e 'inister Steven ,arper. The least that dele"ates su+h as David Ca'eron +an do is to hi"hli"ht pu li+l! the dan"ers that Sri Lanka:s +reepin" authoritarianis' poses to the +ountr!:s future.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful