Politics & Economy

The Great Geo-political Game: Presidential Election and the Geneva discourse

Read part 2:  The Great Geo-political Game: Presidential Election and the Geneva discourse

The Sri Lankan government and the Sinhala nation are facing a crisis; the Rajapakse regime is now confronted by a united Sinhala opposition under the common candidature of Maithiripala Sirisena and there lies the looming threat of external pressure citing human rights violations on the island.

The regime, like their predecessors in Colombo, was held favourable in the corridors of Washington and Westminster; this structural relationship proved indispensable in enabling the Sri Lankan state pursuit of a military solution to the Tamil national question. This relationship has however undergone serious friction as the result of an increasing presence of China and India in Sri Lanka. The fact is  Colombo had until recently been aided by an unholy alliance of international and regional establishments, in which each power competes with each other in providing aide to Colombo while the latter in return provides strategic, political, military and economic concession on the island. China, the U.S. and India all vie to groom and enhance the Sri Lankan armed forces as a means to ensure their respective geo-strategic interests. A free market style competition between the establishments sustains a favourable environment for Colombo to sophisticate and perpetuate the structural genocide upon the Eelam Tamil nation.

Both the U.S. and India maintain a strategic partnership regarding Sri Lanka and China, yet there are signs of fissures and contradiction in this alliance. Besides their common interests in vitalizing the unitary Sri Lankan state and its politico-military capacities, both the U.S. and India have pursued independent approaches to toe Colombo in line with their individual geo-political ambitions. Despite the partnership there are observable constraints between the two establishments and it is also observable that the U.S. is also involved in a strategy of countering the Indian sphere of influence in the Indian Ocean.

India seems to bid their bets in buttressing the Rajapaksa regime, the Sri Lankan state and its armed forces in order to ensure a hold on the island despite the efforts of the U.S. and China to malign them from participation in this geo-political gambit. This is witnessed in frequent exchange of delegations from both states in the recent past, and the newly concluded joint military exercise ‘Mithra Shakti’ between Indian and Sri Lankan Special Forces.

U.S. strategic interests in the island are relatively challenged due to the Rajapaksa regime’s ‘eastern leap’, and in order to realign the Sri Lankan state with the west and subsequently isolate China, the U.S. is pursuing a two pronged approach: facilitating ‘regime change’ or exerting pressure to ‘toe in line’ the current regime.

The human rights pressure exerted on Sri Lanka through the U.S sponsored UNHRC process at Geneva is proving increasingly to be driven by this motive. For Tamils, the five long years after Mulluvaykal deprived of any meaningful international effort to deliver justice, should illuminate the manner these establishments deals with ‘human rights issues’.  Nevertheless the Geneva discourse has had sway among the Tamils, and many diaspora circles in particular have been captivated by the promises of regime change.

In this process the Eelam genocide and HR violations are hijacked and utilised as a pressure exerting mechanism, and are expendable in accordance with U.S. interests and their diplomatic relationship with Colombo. It would be unwise for Tamils to believe that the benevolent West was made to assist Colombo in its war against Eelam out of ignorance  and that they were lured to do so by the Sri Lankan state. This will lead to Tamils conceiving the struggle for justice as a process of self-critical introspection. This discourse tells Tamils to embark on a quest to identify, in isolation from the internationalized context, the ‘errors’ and contradictions within the liberation struggle as causes leading to the 2009 genocide. Subsequently for salvation the Tamils are urged to course correct in accordance with the likes and interests of the West. The complicity of the international establishments is absolved through such Freudian projection and the victims of genocide are blamed for the very injustices inflicted upon them. The quest for Eelam and self-determination is being refashioned from being struggle centric into a sort of millennial movement. A cause in which promises of reward from a benevolent ‘master’ prompts Tamil leaders and activists to spread among the masses restraint, patience and adherence to external dictations.  Such efforts of emulation and servitude, one is told, will cause a mythical change of hearts in Washington and when the time is ripe a political solution will be delivered to us.

Tamil moderates

To convert the Eelam plight and struggle into a geo-political tool, the establishment needs indigenous operatives. The elements in the Tamil polity required for such coordinated efforts are to be found unwittingly or wittingly from the moderate, liberal and elitist sections of the Eelam Tamil society in both diaspora and homeland. The political tradition of being inclined towards the reception of ‘external’ dictates and allegiances in the Eelam polity is corroborated by the historical formation of the Colombo centric Tamil intelligentsia and elites.

Nevertheless such political understanding will invert the logic of geo-politics, counterinsurgency and state to state interactions. The U.S. or any other international establishment will preferably fix their geo-political interests in conflation with an established state entity in order to ensure stability and security to their ‘permanent interests’. The Sri Lankan state has since the colonial era been identified as such a state entity which would serve and be aligned with Western imperialist interests in the Indian Ocean. The U.S. profess that they aided Colombo to end the violence and enhance stability and security in Sri Lanka. Yet the concept of security and stability as used by world establishments refers in fact to preferred conditions of geo-political enterprise. In Sri Lanka, it is obvious that it is the territorial integrity, sovereignty and unity of the state which is deemed the fundament upon which to realize optimal conditions for imperialist meddling and exploitation.

The drift of the governing elements of the Sri Lankan state towards a hostile power raises alarm in Washington and creates friction and possibilities. Nonetheless it is important to bear in mind that the geo-politics encapsulating Eelam and propelling the Geneva discourse, at every venue effectively reify the unitary state. There is thus strong structural limitation to gain any form of political justice through these channels.

What should the stand of Eelam Tamils then be in the upcoming presidential elections in Sri Lanka? The answer of such a question demands the evaluation and assessment of objective conditions of the situation.

The opposition and presidential elections

The common candidate and opposition have in recent months intensified their campaign and consolidated their hold among the Sinhala people despite restrictions imposed by the ruling regime. The main theme of rally has been the removal of the executive presidency and the implementation of good governance. As far as such general opposition to the Rajapaksa regime is reflective of the popular mood in the Sinhala south, the character of the Sri Lankan state and the regime in occupied Eelam is strikingly of a different nature. The Rajapakse government perpetuates an authoritarian, oligarchic and corrupt regime of rule in the south, while in Eelam and for the Tamils it presents itself as an avatar of the oppressive Sri Lankan state and its structural genocide. Moreover, in the agenda of opposition there is the total absence in addressing the Tamil national question, contrarily they have stated repeatedly that they will not allow for any external investigation against the state or its armed forces. Provided these factors, it seems highly unlikely that the opposition holds any desire to reflect beyond the interests of the Sinhala nation and alter the objective conditions of state oppression afflicting the Tamils.

During the course of the past few months, former Health Minister of the Rajapaksa cabinet Maithripala Sirisena defected and joined the common opposition front with the sole objective of toppling the Rajapaksa regime.  The common opposition is composed of Chandrika Kumaratunge and her followers, Ranil Wickremasinghe and the United National Party (UNP), Sarath Fonseka’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA), Rajiva Wijesinha’s Sri Lankan Liberal Party and the Democratic People Front (DPF).

In a series of deals Maithripala further consolidated the common opposition, by signing memorandum of understanding (MOU) with political elements outside of the Sinhala liberal camp. Chief among these is the MOU signed between Maithiripala and the JHU. The JVP although has not joined the opposition, has expressed a stand of defeating the executive presidency in the election in order to ‘democratize’ society which indirectly endorses Maithripala. It is fruitful here to briefly view the previous relationship between the JVP and Maithiripala. As the General Secretary of the SLFP on the 20th of January 2004 Maithripala signed an electoral alliance deal with the JVP based on the principle of safeguarding Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity by opposing the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) with the LTTE.  Informed by chauvinism and a malevolent sense of national crisis they alleged that the CFA was a western backed conspiracy to aid the Tamils in dividing the island. Yet history has shown what sort of international conspiracies were axed around the island and how it affected the Eelam Tamils.

A brief examination of the MOU signed between Maithripala and JHU and the one signed between the liberal opposition is instructive in understanding what reform and ‘regime change’ is perceived as by the opposition. Hereunder is reproduced the paragraphs by the MOU signed between Maithripala and the JHU after being translated from Sinhala to English:

“Article 1: The reforms which regard to executive presidency, electoral process and good governance should be implemented on the basis of an national consensus...formed inside the parliament

Article 2: Accordingly, the two parties ensure that the scrapping of the absolute presidential powers should not affect at all state security and territorial integrity.

Article 3: The two parties agree to introduce a parliamentary act on the Right to information as long as this information does not affect the national security.

Article 5: The two parties agree that new reforms (amendments) to the constitution would not change the unitary character of the state and the status given to Buddhism and the religious institutions.

Article 6: The Parties agree to oppose any action that is taken by international judicial institutions against the President who was the supreme commander of the armed Forces and the other senior military officers for their actions in the war against terrorism. “

The national consensus inside parliament is constitutionally bound to legitimize the unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Sri Lankan state which rules out Tamil self-determination and is effectively an expression of Sinhala national chauvinism. Article 1 and 2 of the agreement explicitly denounce any restructuring of the state or pursuit of ‘reforms’ which will affect state security and territorial integrity. Such preconditions effectively exclude the meaningful participation of Tamil political representatives and the accommodation of Tamil aspirations and grievances.   Moreover Article 5 reconfirms the Sinhala Buddhist character of the state while Article 6 pledges impunity for officials of the state and the army. Both articles obnoxiously reflect the chauvinist tendency among the opposition. Moreover the JHU and the JVP have repeatedly exhibited their vehement stand against any rationalization of the national aspirations of the Eelam Tamils and at several historical points sabotaged any efforts towards finding a political solution to the conflict. The accommodation of the JHU and JVP in the opposition proves that both fronts to the electoral scenario are informed by Sinhala chauvinist nationalism which denies the genocide and Eelam Tamil’s national existence.

(To be contd.)

© JDS


Athithan Jayapalan is a student in social anthropology and studied in Oslo and Pondicherry universities. Born in Jaffna, he currently lives in Oslo, Norway.