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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2559

Re-Enacting 1964 ‘Flat-Tyre Democracy’ in Sri Lanka To Undermine Current March toward Securing Territorial Integrity

Daya Gamage – U.S. Bureau Asian Tribune

Washington, D.C. 02 December (Asiantribune.com): The most important question asked at CNN sponsored November 15 Democratic Party debate in Las Vegas, Nevada cut to the heart of how the party’s presidential candidates see the world and America’s place in it.

CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer asked simply, “Is human rights more important than American national security?”

The atmosphere that created to ask this most vital question was Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf’s disregard for democracy and human rights, the U.S. support to his regime in the name of regional stability and national security of the United States.

One of the contenders for Democratic Party nominations Senator Hillary Clinton, who is currently leading in national polls, indicated that she would give national security primacy. Another Democratic contender Governor Bill Richardson asserted that human rights were more important.

But, Senator Barack Obama, who is close behind Mrs. Clinton in every national poll to secure Democratic nominations, gave the most significant and interesting explanation. His explanation was more clear and effective. He said “The concepts are not contradictory. They are complementary.”

Rajapaksa Administration vis-à-vis National Security

What we can draw from the national debate right now in the United States, and else where in the world especially in the developing Third World nations is a commitment to human rights and a commitment to national security are mutually exclusive, or at least in constant tension with each other.

We see this scenario in Sri Lanka where the government headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who completed two years in office this November, is walking on a very tight rope to strike a balance between human rights and national security. As Senator Obama interpreted “the concepts are not contradictory. They are complementary”, and Rajapaksa, who championed human rights for decades, endeavors to adhere to the ‘Obama Concept’ while facing a serious battle to protect his nation’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and democracy from Tamil Tiger terrorists.

This South Asian nation has been facing an armed insurrection turned into a ruthless terrorist offensive against the state by the well equipped and financed Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) or Tamil Tigers since 1983. Accusing the Sri Lankan state of practicing discrimination against the 12% ethnic Tamil minority the Tamil Tigers commenced its military offensive proclaiming itself the ‘sole representative of the Tamil people’ to win an independent state in the north and east of the country. North is predominantly Tamil and the east equally divided among the Sinhalese, Muslims and Tamils. The area claimed as ‘Tamil Homeland’ by the Tigers is 1/3 of the country’s land area and 2/3rd of the coastal belt. But strangely, the Tamil Tigers are currently unable to convince one third of the total Tamil population in the country to support this utopian concept of ‘Tamil Homeland’.

Since 1985 successive governments entered into dialogues with the Tamil Tigers under international pressure to find a political solution but it has been recorded that the Tigers at every occasion withdrew from talks to replenish their military arsenal to launch fresh offensive against the Sri Lankan state.

The Sri Lanka Ambassador to the United States Bernard Goonetilleke explains that those who have followed the fortunes of Sri Lanka are aware, that successive Sri Lankan governments have been trying to negotiate peace with the LTTE since 1985, and that the Tigers have always come to the negotiating table to buy time to regroup and build up their fighting capability. Successive Sri Lanka governments engaged in peace talks with the Tigers in 1985, 1987, 1989/90, 1994, 2002 and 2006. In April 2003, the Tigers abandoned negotiations that saw six rounds of talks facilitated by countries such as Thailand, Norway, Germany and Japan.

Goonetilleke further states, in June 2006, having gone to Oslo together with the government delegation, the Tigers refused to participate in negotiations on spurious grounds that that the Government’s representatives were not on par with the seniority of the leader of their delegation. In October 2006, the Tigers walked out mid way during negotiations. Further, on every past negotiating attempt, the Tigers never allowed discussion of substantive issues that sought to settle the conflict. With reality being such, the Internet YouTube documentary audaciously comments, “The liberation movement with its preference for peaceful settlement has participated in several rounds of talks with the government from 1985 onward.... The government continues to employ its traditional methods of intransigence and foot dragging.” It is the Tigers that walked away from the negotiating table at every turn.

Since Rajapaksa took over the government in November 2005 the scenario significantly changed. The president was prepared to enter into talks with the Tamil Tigers but a month into the formation of his administration the Tigers commenced their fresh offensive. The U.S. State Department in one statement acknowledged that the Rajapaksa administration acted with severe restraint amid the Tamil Tiger military offensive and provocations when the government had to militarily act after the Tamil Tigers made assassination attempts on army commander and the defense secretary in April 2006.

The Tamil Tigers were fast losing their grip on their prize possession ‘sole representative of the Tamil people’ when ethnic Tamil minority started moving away from the predominantly Tamil districts in the north to domicile in the Sinhalese majority districts in the rest of the country. It has been estimated that 54% of Tamil are now residing outside the north and east. Some of the ethnic Tamil minority in the Tamil Tiger-controlled areas in the Northern Districts is in fact captive people.

After months of restraint amid Tiger offensive and provocations, in June/July this year the government unleashed a major offensive against the Tamil Tiger military strongholds in the Eastern Province ridding the entire province of Tamil Tigers. The Rajapaksa administration has stepped up its security, military and intelligence operations to successfully combat Tiger arms flow into the country, thwarting infiltration of Tiger intelligence and suicide cadre to other parts of the country and continuing its military offensive in the north to break the back bone of the terrorist movement. Early November the Sri Lankan military forces stormed a safe house of the Tigers in the heart of the ‘Tigerland’ killing the organization’s public face S. Paramu Thamilselvan and five other key Tiger officials.

It is interesting to note here that Rajapaksa was the first head of state in Sri Lanka, since GSL-Tamil Tiger talks in Thimphu 1985, to declare that ‘federalism’ is not the solution to the country’s problems. Previously, other leaders of the Lanka state were reluctant to make statements to that effect because of the internal and external pressure. While expressing his commitment to devolve political and administrative power to the periphery, Rajapaksa has affirmed that the arrangement has to be a ‘home-grown’ one and that no outside power could interfere in that decision.

The Sri Lankan president, when proclaiming that federalism was the solution to the national problem of the country, knew full well the pressure of the Western powers, especially the United States, to impose a federal system on the country. In fact, the USAID spent millions of US dollars convening symposiums and seminars in collaboration with local NGOs and INGOs in many parts of Sri Lanka to targeted groups promoting ‘federalism’ in 2005/06 despite the then American Ambassador Jeffrey Lunstead claimed that his country was not imposing a system on Sri Lanka.

Expressing his obligation to defeat ‘Tamil Tiger terrorism’, President Rajapaksa told this writer in an exclusive interview to Asian Tribune in Los Angeles in late September this year that ‘fear that Tamil grievances would not be addressed after a military defeat of the Tamil Tigers is unfounded and baseless’.

In fact, his was the first administration in Sri Lanka since the eighties to declare that not only the Tamil ethnic community but also the Sinhalese, Muslims and plantation Tamils of Indian Origin face severe socio-economic hardships. His administration’s continuous reiteration of the fact that all ethnic communities have unsolved socio-economic problems led to the United States Department of State to state in one of its public statements in September this year that the U.S. expect the GSL to enter into talks to “strengthen the Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslims moderates.” The statement did not mention Tamil Tigers. The State Department has clearly moved away from its original position proclaimed by its South Asia Assistance Secretary Richard Boucher early April this year that “the Tamils deserve a homeland” and the reiteration of the U.S. government position that the LTTE was a necessary component of any peace talks.

Up to that time, the State Department has been advocating the GSL to bring the Tamil Tigers to the negotiating table completely ignoring that there were other Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim moderate organizations who have taken moderate national positions that are diametrically opposed to that of the Tamil Tigers.

It is to the credit of the Rajapaksa administration that these moderate movements, especially moderate Tamil voices, were brought to the surface domestically and in its international deliberations.

Amid a slow and steady political process to find a political solution that will address the dire socio-economic disability of a significant portion of the Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and plantation Tamils, the Rajapaksa administration has committed to eradicate the Tiger menace one and for all to safeguard the territorial integrity, sovereignty and the democratic institutions using its military power that no other previous governments had undertaken.

The administration is fully aware that a micro group like the LTTE possesses a macro effect when it undertook the offensive against the most ruthless terrorist group next to al Qaeda.

In doing so, the Rajapaksa administration is walking on a very thin rope to strike a balance between human rights and national security. After all, human rights and national security concepts are not contradictory but complementary.

Obviously the administration knows the pitfalls if it gives more emphasis to national security over human rights.

Here is a regime that endeavors to secure the nation from domestic terror group that has international funding and arms procurements. The Tamil Tiger voice is given sympathetic hearing in international forums, leading senators and congressmen in the United States, many senior officials in the U.S. State Department and major players in the international community who encourage the GSL to go for a political solution.

Most of them have not been able to move away from the ‘state of mind’ that the LTTE is in fact fighting for the legitimate rights and grievances of the Tamils in Sri Lanka discriminated against by the ‘Sinhalese-dominated chauvinist government’.

Eighteen months ago Asian Tribune detected that the official United States Web Portal USINFO of the State Department used the term, in one of its background papers, ‘Sinhalese-dominated government’. The term was immediately dropped when Asian Tribune carried a news item pointing the State Department’s bias when describing the Sri Lankan domestic situation.

They are also in a psychological situation that the eradication of the Tamil Tigers is in fact the suppression of Tamil grievances. The Tamil Tiger international professionals have seen that the major players of the international community hold such a view.

Despite President Rajapaksa told this writer in Los Angeles and openly proclaimed to the Sri Lankan expatriates at a gathering in that U.S. city that the eradication of the Tamil Tigers would not lead to the ignoring of legitimate Tamil grievances, his administration has not vigorously pursued to impress upon the international community that the battle with the Tamil Tigers is nothing but a national security effort and redressing the grievances of all underprivileged communities is in fact upholding human rights and democracy.

The failure of Sri Lanka’s overseas public diplomacy is largely responsible for the plight to which the Rajapaksa administration has fallen in. President Rajapaksa publicly admitted in Los Angeles when he address the Sri Lankan expatriates in late September this year that Sri Lanka has lost the battle to Tamil Tigers in the area of international public diplomacy and global lobbying.

Making an effort to address the human rights situation and the disappearance problem, endeavoring to separate Tamil Tiger terrorism from genuine Tamil grievances, attempting to convince the international community that the problem is not only confined to the 12% ethnic minority Tamils but also faced by a majority of the Sinhalese, Muslims and plantation Tamils, endeavoring to strike a balance between human rights and national security, successfully forging ahead to militarily defeat the Tamil Tigers in a systematic and planned manner in the name of national security to prevent the partitioning of the country, while facing the major players of the international community whose approach to Sri Lanka issue impregnated with concepts that are almost close to that of the Tamil Tigers, significantly reduced economic assistance from at least one major western nation the United States, freeze on US $100 million of Millennium Grant due to alleged human rights condition, continued LTTE lobbying and propaganda that still have an impact internationally, moves and maneuvers of some principal players in the international community that provide a ‘life line’ to the Tamil Tigers making the GSL national security operation somewhat difficult, and excessive pressure by the U.N. and other major players of the international community on a democratic government that endeavors to strike a balance between human rights and national security, the Rajapaksa administration is now faced with a domestic situation which is similar to the one the Sirima Bandarnaike government faced in December 1964: a parliamentary conspiracy, if successful on December 14 at the Third Reading of the Budget defeating the government, will undoubtedly turn the tide in favor of Tamil Tigers.

Re-Enacting the 1964 ‘Flat Tyre Democracy’

It is in the above described scenario that the concerted effort to defeat the government on December 14 at the Third Reading of the Budget is considered as an attempt to put the Tamil Tigers or the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) back in the driver’s seat to defeat the Rajapaksa administration’s final assault on this ruthless terrorist organization to take control of the destiny of Sri Lanka. At least the past two decades the Tamil Tigers have been very successfully in setting the agenda for Sri Lanka knowing or unknowingly aided and abetted by the principal players of the international community.

A re-enaction of the 1964 ‘Flat Tyre Democracy’ that defeated the center-left government of prime minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike in the parliament is definitely seen in December 14 (2007) vote to reverse the trend which the Rajapaksa administration created, internally and internationally, unfavorable to the Tamil Tigers.

The historical irony is that the siblings of two political characters who led the December 1964 parliamentary conspiracy, the political commentators and historians since termed as the ‘Flat Tyre Democracy’, have taken the leadership in the December 14 parliamentary conspiracy: this time worse than the December 1964 – a major assault on the national security of the nation to secure the (human) rights of the Tamil Tigers to continue to draw the agenda of Sri Lanka sometimes to the delight of some Western preachers and their Sri Lankan NGO acolytes.

Who are these two siblings: Legendary Esmond Wickremasinghe’s son Ranil Wickremasinghe, who happen to be the leader of the opposition and darling of the West, and Mahanama Samaraweera’s son Mangala Innocent Samaraweera who will not be able to proclaim his innocence when the Tamil Tigers get back to the driver’s seat if the government is defeated in the Third Reading of the Budget on December 14 to deprive the underprivileged Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Plantation Indian Tamils of their legitimate right to equality, justice, economic freedom and political rights the Rajapaksa administration is striving to award.

This is how the December 03, 1964 parliamentary conspiracy termed as ‘Flat Tyre Democracy’ was described in one of the Sri Lankan newspapers:

One can learn a lot from the 1964 crossover, the only time crossovers had brought down a government. It was meticulously planned by some political masterminds of the era. Their efforts bore fruit when the Sirima Bandaranaike government was defeated at the vote on the throne speech (government policy statement by the Governor General).

Esmond Wickremesinghe, father of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, was active behind the scenes and number of parliamentarians and ministers led by C.P. de Silva crossed over from the government side in a political drama.

Government MP for Passara Amarananda Ratnayake could not attend parliament on this fateful day to vote with the government because he had a flat tyre as reported by him to the party Whip. Later, there was a disciplinary inquiry against him and his political career came to an end. But J. R. Jayewardene commented that "a flat tyre saved democracy."

Mr. Ratnayake's absence in parliament rendered the government with one short to pull out from a crisis situation. The book, J. R. Jayewardene of Sri Lanka, Vol. II, speaks about the whole episode in vivid detail.

Parliament of Sri Lanka published by Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd., states: "This decision of Mrs. Bandaranaike to bring in left-wingers to her Cabinet caused apprehension, particularly among sections of the right-wing of the SLFP Ministers and other members of Parliament, but they decided to carry on, nevertheless.

The unexpected happened on December 3, 1964 just six months after her coalition with the Trotskyites. The right-wing of the SLFP grew tired of the policies of the LSSP Ministers, and on that fateful day in December, 14 members of the SLFP government defied the Party Whip and voted against the government of Mrs. Bandaranaike on the debate on the Throne Speech.

"Those who defied the Whip were Messers. C.P. de Silva, C.P. Wickremasuriya (Devinuwara), Wijebahu Wijesinghe (Mirigama), Edmund Wijesuriya (Maskeliya), A.H. de Silva (Polonnaruwa), Indrasena de Zoysa (Ampara), C. Munaweera (Rattota), Albert Silva (Moneragala), Razik Fareed (First Colombo Central), S.B. Lenawa (Kekirawa), Lakshman de Silva (Balapitiya), Mahanama Samaraweera (Matara), D.E. Tillekeratne (Ratgama) and R. Singleton -Salmon (Appointed MP).

The scenario in Sri Lanka is much more serious than that of the December 1964 era. But there are some similarities.

Sri Lanka’s right wing is undoubtedly the darling of the Western powers. Former American ambassador Jeffrey Lunstead in his May 2007 paper to the Asia Foundation on ‘Sri Lanka Peace Process 2002-2005’ states how the U.S. patronized the Ranil Wickremasinghe regime in 2001-2004 era during the SLG-LTTE Peace Accord facilitating economic assistance as a reciprocal arrangement to the support U.S. received in international forums such as the Cancun trade negotiations.

And for President Rajapaksa to make a forthright statement to this writer when Asian Tribune interviewed him in late September at Los Angeles that the “West bet on Wickremasinghe at the November 2005 presidential elections to favor over him (Rajapaksa)” it is plain clear that Western powers’ dislike toward the Rajapaksa regime was because of their understanding that it has shown signs of not adopting the ‘Cancun principles’.

The extra parliamentary agitations of the rabid left of the 1964 era represented by Edmund Samarakkody, Bala Tampoe, Nagalingam Shanmugadasan and Company who opposed the traditional LSSP/CP left greatly contributed to the parliamentary debacle on December 03, 1964 led by the vast right wing conspiracy of J.R. Jayawardene masterminded by Esmond Wickremasinghe and ably supported by Mahanama Samaraweera.

The similarity today? The right wing led by Esmond Wickremasinghe’s son Ranil Wickremasinghe with the effective support of Mahanama Samaraweera’s son Mangala Innocent Samaraweera are being given much needed moral and effective assistance by the national Marxist JVP.

The significance of the December 14 vote at the Third Reading of the Rajapaksa administration’s budget is that if this joint Right Wing-Ultra Left alliance succeeds it will be undoubtedly the reversal of Sri Lanka’s endeavor to defeat Tamil Tiger terrorism. And it is difficult at this time to assess how much of Tamil Tiger funds have gone in to this ‘project’ to re-enact the 1964 ‘Flat Tyre Democracy’.

As much as the behavior, statements and actions of some of the principal players of the international community have become the ‘Life Line’ for Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers, the Rightwing-Ultra Left parliamentary conspiracy of 14 December 2007, if succeeded, will undoubtedly inflate the Tamil Tiger tyre which has lost half of its vigor due to the determination of the Rajapaksa regime.

Is Sri Lanka prepared to face this scenario: Tamil Tigers settling firmly in the driver’s seat to take complete control of the country’s agenda and her destiny?

- Asian Tribune -

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