President Sirisena’s address to the United Nations General Assembly this week came on a day that saw Presidents Donald Trump of the US and Emmanuel Macron of France give stunning and hugely contrasting messages to the world, and raised new concerns about the trends in international relations.
With the UNGA’s traditional first day speaking opportunity for the Sri Lankan leader, President Sirisena did carry a message that sought opportunities for Sri Lanka to resolve national issues without interference or undue foreign influence. His call to look at Sri Lanka in the current post-war context from a fresh perspective certainly has a ring in the current political context in Sri Lanka. It shows the political impact of the UNHRC resolution that was adopted in 2015, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka, in the post-conflict situation. It had an emphasis on peace-building and reconciliation, as well as necessary action against any persons associated with war crimes and war-related human rights violations.
His statement that “as an independent country we do not want any foreign power to exert influence on us. Sri Lanka is taking action to consolidate peace and forge ahead to develop the economy, and deserves the support and understanding of the international community. We want to appeal to the international community that the right of the Sri Lankan people to find solutions to their problems should be respected,” has more than echoes of those who are strongly opposed to the UNHRC Resolution, and see it as foreign (mainly western) interference in Sri Lanka, after a long fought war against separatist terrorists. He did underscore aspects of reconciliation and peace-building that have been carried out by the present government. The other important aspects include, the Right to Information legislation and the overall freedom to the media, the wider freedom to the judiciary, and the definitive action on Missing Persons.
President Sirisena’s statement that “as an independent country we do not want any foreign power to exert influence on us. Sri Lanka is taking action to consolidate peace and forge ahead to develop the economy, and deserves the support and understanding of the international community. We want to appeal to the international community that the right of the Sri Lankan people to find solutions to their problems should be respected,” has a dual content. It is both an appeal to the international community, and a recognition that Sri Lanka’s declared commitment to Human Rights and against War Crimes has necessary acceptance of the international community’s interest in this regard.
The call by President Sirisena for the world to possibly look away from Sri Lanka in the current situation certainly had an echo of President Trump’s earlier statement at UNGA that “America is governed by Americans. We reject the ideology of globalism, and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism”. His call to be free of foreign interference may also ring with Trump’s strong opposition to and rejection of the UNHRC. But, the reality is that although Trump is critical of the UNHRC, the resolution on Sri Lanka has been adopted by other members too, as well as the co-sponsorship by Sri Lanka, with the US. It is certainly a situation where apart from appeals to the world, Sri Lanka certainly has to make clear presentations that on matters on alleged War Crimes and Human Rights violations, Sri Lanka does stand free and outside any possible serious allegations. The failure to take action on Lord Naseby’s statements on the actual number killed in the final stages of the war against the LTTE, as well as the records on the numbers still held in detention on the Prevention of Terrorism legislation, does raise issues that Sri Lanka cannot simply push aside by making calls to be allowed to resolve national issues, without foreign influence.
There certainly was an outright support and praise for the Armed Forces who carried out the defeat of the LTTE’s separatist terrorism, and safeguarded the unity and sovereignty of the country. President Sirisena was certainly speaking with a reverberation of the national gratitude to the Armed Forces. However, it does raise questions in the context of his recent and continued criticism, and even objection, to senior personnel of the armed forces being brought to court on matters relating to crimes and violations of the law, which raises questions about the country’s commitment to the genuine democratic process.
Politics will not be supportive of President Sirisena’s call on the Sri Lankan situation, he certainly did make an important contribution in the call on Climate Change and the Environment. His call for implementing the Paris Agreement on Climate Change for the benefit of humanity and all other living beings, and the call to give utmost priority to these endeavours, was wholly supportive of French President Emmanuel Macron’s own call at the UNGA for maximum support for the Paris Accord. In a speech that was sharply opposed to President Trump’s line on Climate Change, President Macron even said that no trade agreements should be signed with countries that rejected the Paris Accord. Sri Lanka was in effect more supportive of the European thinking on current democratic trends, and certainly away from the US thinking on matters such as Climate Change and wider international trade.
It will be in the coming weeks to see how much of President Sirisena’s UNGA statement is the policy of the coalition government, considering the divisions between the UNP and SLFP on most policy matters. This relates to the UNP’s support for the UNHRC Resolution in 2015, seen as the major cause for the change of international opinion on Sri Lanka, after the isolationist policies of the Rajapaksa regime.
The investigations by the CID into the allegations of a plot to assassinate President Sirisena and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is certainly at the crux of politics today, but with curious twists and turns, that pose serious questions on the core of the allegation. The buzzy story of the alleged plot extending to others in the Rajapaksa family certainly brought a new feel to the story, with more political ramifications, but it has certainly been shot down, with the alleged informant, an Indian citizen, now known to have been mentally ill. The CID certainly has a tough task with the political flavour of the story, especially with the Joint Opposition seeing in it a new push through in the politics of distortion. Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera has requested the media to exercise caution when reporting on criminal investigations with serious implications for the security of the state. He says the publicity about the extension of the alleged assassination plot are false, baseless and inflammatory.
While the media has the call for greater search for accuracy in reportage of this and similar stories, there are major questions about the conduct of the IGP in this regard, and the necessity to compel him to send the alleged suspect DIG on compulsory leave. The politics of conspiracy is such that there are now divisions both within the Government and the Joint Opposition over the conduct of the IGP, which could well lead to a no-confidence motion in parliament against him.
The political situation in the country is certainly one of great uncertainty, with certain delays in the next Provincial Council elections, whatever the Minister of Provincial Councils says about it, and the continuing uncertainty of the candidates for the next presidential poll. Such uncertainty in politics is certainly a breeding ground for the politics of conspiracy, and gives little support for the progress of democracy and electoral politics.
UNP and SLFP, even as disagreeing partners in government, certainly have a major issue to address in the continuing rise in prices of essential commodities. The increase of Rs. 195 in the standard 12.5 kg of LP Gas, would certainly lead to another rise in prices of food items from tea to rice, hoppers, string hoppers, thosai and vadey. It is not the stuff of good governance or consumer-related economics to keep blaming this rupee fall on the success of Donald Trump’s economic policies, and his sanctions on Iran, and related issues. The US is certainly a contributor to this situation. But, there must be policies within the affected countries, such as Sri Lanka, to address it in some form.
One must recall how Malaysia acted to offset the dangerous effects of the international economic crisis in 2008, when trouble began with Lehman Bros collapse in the USA. Is there a total lack of policy alternatives to meet this international crisis? Is the government not ready to bring down imports of non-essential goods, and luxuries? What is the thinking on luxury transport facilities – especially cars for all, including politicians?
Is this financial/economic crisis not a suitable time to think in terms of a much more managed economy in the future, moving away from an economy of luxury and waste?
The absence of suitable policies in this regard, both among Government and Opposition, certainly makes this an opportunity for new political/economic thinking, which can be the path to a huge political change in the coming months. It is a promise for the future, moving away from the politics of today and the past.