Explainer: Why Sri Lanka is sliding into political turmoil, and what could happen next



File 20181114 194509 1f38xxe.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The Sri Lankan president’s sacking of the prime minister and installation of a former strongman has left the country in political limbo.
M.A. Pushpa Kumara/EPA

Michael Breen, University of Melbourne

This week, Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court made a dramatic intervention in the country’s deepening political crisis, a move that may prevent it from sliding further into democratic dysfunction and possible political violence.

The three-judge panel overturned the unilateral action by Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena to illegally dissolve the parliament last week. The ruling means that parliament could reconvene as soon as Wednesday (November 14).

Jubilant supporters of sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe celebrated the decision outside the heavily guarded Supreme Court building in the nation’s capital, Colombo. It is being seen as one of the most significant rulings in Sri Lanka’s history.

How Sri Lanka got to this point

The Supreme Court ruling is the latest twist in a tense political drama that has engulfed the nation since late October, when Sirisena sacked Wickremesinghe and installed civil war strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place. He then called for a snap election on January 5 – an election now in considerable doubt.

Sirisena cited a conspiracy to have him assassinated as a key reason for his actions. But he had no constitutional basis for either the dissolution of parliament or the removal of a sitting prime minister.




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Sri Lanka: as constitutional crisis triggers fears of ‘bloodbath’, concern mounts for minorities


The president’s move to dissolve parliament came just days before it was scheduled to reconvene and vote on which of the two men claiming to be prime minister should be actually recognised as holding the job.

Sirisena and Rajapaksa had tried but failed to induce enough MPs to switch sides. Dissolving parliament, however unconstitutional, became their only path to self-preservation.

So… who is the prime minister?

Sri Lanka has a long democratic tradition dating back to British colonial times. It has seen many ups and downs, including a brutal 25-year civil war that ended in 2009 and the rise of an authoritarian-style leader in Rajapaksa (who served as president from 2005 to 2015).

But never before have Sri Lanka’s constitution and its democratic principles been so undermined.

Supporters of Sri Lanka’s ousted prime minister march in Colombo.
M.A. Pushpa Kumara/EPA

Since his sacking, Wickremesinghe has continued to claim he is the legitimate prime minister with the support of the majority of parliament.

But Rajapaksa has thus far appeared to have the confidence of the president and key state institutions.

Why was Wickremesinghe sacked?

The possible return of Rajapaksa had ignited deep concerns within Sri Lanka and abroad.

It was only three years ago that his own party split and aligned with the major opposition parties to propose Sirisena as a consensus presidential candidate.

Ironically, Sirisena’s election heralded a new “Yahapalana” coalition government, a term meaning “good governance”. But things did not go according to plan.




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Rajapaksa defeat signals the end of a dynasty in Sri Lanka


Sirisena and Wickremesinghe were unable to work together and none of their key promises were met. Meanwhile, the economy went backwards.

The coalition seemed doomed when local elections in February were dominated by a new party, established by the Rajapaksa family.

The final straw was the alleged assassination plot against Sirisena, apparently involving neighbouring India. The plot was raised in Cabinet, but Sirisena was unhappy with the response and acted by sacking Wickremesinghe, claiming his life was in danger.

It was the policy differences between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe, however, that was really at the heart of the discontent. Sirisena declared that if Wickremesinghe returned, he would “not stay one hour longer”.

So what happens now?

Sirisena initially said he suspended parliament last week to allow his “new government” to appoint a Cabinet and present a budget.

Yet, it was allegedly done to provide enough time for the Rajapaksa camp to bribe MPs to his side. One MP claimed to have recorded Rajapaksa’s henchmen offering him US$2.8 million.

Meanwhile, crowds have taken to the streets in support of each side, while Wickremesinghe has remained holed up in the prime minister’s official residence, surrounded and protected by supporters and fellow parliamentarians. Two people have been killed.

History suggests that Rajapaksa would have succeeded in convincing enough of those who opposed him to switch sides. But this is no ordinary power struggle.

Why is Rajapaksa’s possible return so fraught?

Rajapaksa’s presidency was punctuated by his controversial response to the civil war and abhorrent end of the conflict, which saw tens of thousands of innocent people killed.

His rule was increasingly authoritarian, nepotistic and corrupt. At one point, his family controlled more than half of Sri Lanka’s budget, and he’d succeeded in amending the constitution to grant himself more powers and the prospect of a presidency for life.

Sri Lanka’s civil war strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa has been installed as prime minister by the nation’s president.
M.A. Pushpa Kumara/EPA

And this is leaving aside the geopolitical implications of his presidency and possible return to government. Some commentators have portrayed the current crisis as a power struggle between India and China. And it is certainly true that India would prefer Wickremesinghe, and China, Rajapaksa.




Read more:
War is over, but not Sri Lanka’s climate of violence and threats


During his time in office, Rajapaksa sought Chinese investment to build a major port in Sri Lanka, leaving the country in serious debt. Unable to pay back the Chinese loans, Sri Lanka was forced to hand over the port to China on a 99-year lease.

Given this history, it’s not surprising China was the first of only a few countries to recognise the Rajapaksa prime ministership.

But in the end, this is really about domestic politics. And whatever happens, a return to violence is a real possibility. The Supreme Court’s intervention has stopped Sri Lanka’s democracy going over the cliff for now. But it remains on the edge.

Rajapaksa’s strategy will be to delay a confidence vote in parliament for as long as possible, and to redouble efforts to convene a majority. But if he fails, he may be tempted to use force to get his way, and Sri Lanka’s democratic deficit will become a gaping chasm.The Conversation

Michael Breen, McKenzie Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Sri Lankan asylum seekers are being deported from Australia despite fears of torture



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A protest in Melbourne last month to stop the deportation of Tamil asylum seekers Priya and Nadesalingam back to Sri Lanka.
Ellen Smith/AAP

Kirsty Anantharajah, Australian National University

Earlier last month, Thileepan Gnaneswaran was separated from his wife and 11-month-old baby and deported from Australia back to Sri Lanka, the country from which he had fled six years ago. On his arrival in Colombo, he was taken into custody and questioned by Sri Lankan police.

He’s since been released, but the ordeal was no doubt a traumatic experience, given his claims of being interrogated and tortured by Sri Lankan security forces during the country’s long-running civil war due to his family’s connections with to Tamil separatist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).




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Two other Tamil asylum seekers from Sri Lanka, a married couple in Queensland only identified publicly by their first names (Nadesalingam and Priya) for security reasons, also received deportation notices this year. They and their two small children were taken from their home in a dawn raid by immigration officials, and are currently being held in detention.

In late June, a court order temporarily halted the deportation of Priya and her eldest daughter. But the family now faces the possibility of being separated, as well.

These are just two of the more public cases of Tamil asylum seekers facing deportation from Australia in recent months. Given Australia’s intense secrecy on asylum issues, we know much less about 116 Sri Lankans who were in detention as of April, or the 42 holding precarious bridging visas who also face an uncertain future.

Wave of Tamil asylum seekers

Like Gnaneswaran, most Tamil asylum seekers in Australia have serious claims of abuse at the hands of Sri Lankan security forces.

This is generally due to actual or perceived links to the LTTE, which waged a 26-year insurgency against the Sri Lankan government. The war came to a brutal end when the Tamil fighters were defeated in 2009. Upwards of 100,000 civilians are believed to have died in the war.

Since the end of the war, some 115,000 Sri Lankans have fled the country, some ending up in Australia. Sri Lankan boat arrivals to Australia spiked in 2012, when they comprised the largest source country of asylum seekers. Between 2012-13, only 11.6% of their applications were accepted, even though many claimants had documented evidence of experiencing torture and violence in Sri Lanka.




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Handing over Tamils to the state they fled breaks international law


Due to the increase in boat arrivals during this time, the Australian government introduced a policy of enhanced screening for asylum seekers in October 2012.
The policy sought to “screen in” or “screen out” asylum seekers on the basis of a single entry interview, before they were even able to lodge a protection visa application. Because those “screened out” were never told why they’d been rejected, the policy lacked transparency and accountability.

The Australian Human Rights Commission noted that as of May 2013, immigration officials had conducted 2,596 screening interviews of Sri Lankan asylum seekers and returned more than a third of them to Sri Lanka.

Tamil asylum seeker Thileepan Gnaneswaran before his deportation from Australia.
Tamil Refugee Council, Author provided

Two versions of the current political climate

Australian immigration officials rely heavily on “country information reports” provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to determine claims for asylum. Passages from the reports are often extracted by immigration officials in visa refusal letters.

But in the case of Sri Lanka, these reports often differ from the experiences of Tamils living there and the observations of international organisations and human rights groups.

Take, for example, the issue of the threat of torture by police or the military. The 2018 DFAT report states:

The International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) cited 24 cases of torture in 2016 and 2017. An Associated Press article published in November 2017 claimed 52 incidents of torture, which included the cases reported by the ITJP. … However, DFAT is unable to verify allegations of torture in 2016 and 2017.

A 2017 report on Sri Lanka by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees takes a more cautious approach:

The use of torture remains a serious concern. In its report submitted to the
Committee against Torture, in November 2016, the Human Rights Commission of Sri
Lanka stated that complaints it had received illustrated the routine use of torture by the police throughout the country as a means of interrogation and investigation.

In its 2017 report, ITJP documents torture during the same time period involving beatings, whippings, burnings with cigarettes, brandings with hot metal rods and other methods.

In addition, rape and other forms of sexual violence and humiliation continue under the (Maithripala) Sirisena regime. The methods of torture remain consistent and the severity of the torture is not diminishing in the cases the ITJP has studied for this report.

What happens when Tamils go home

There’s evidence that asylum seekers being sent back from Australia this year are also being targeted by security forces.

Shantaruban, a Tamil asylum seeker and former member of the LTTE, was deported in February this year, despite a request for a delay from the UN Committee Against Torture while it investigated whether he would face torture upon returning to Sri Lanka.




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Why the increase in Sri Lankan asylum seekers?


According to the Tamil Refugee Council, a grassroots group that advocates for Tamil asylum seekers in Australia, Shantaruban was arrested at the airport in Colombo and has experienced ongoing harassment. Security forces have made multiple visits to his home and recorded the details of his wife and children, including the school his children attend.

The ConversationReturned asylum seekers will continue to face such uncertainty and strife until policymakers in Australia – and other countries where Tamils have sought refuge – start looking beyond their country information reports and listen to the accounts of asylum seekers to find the truth instead.

Kirsty Anantharajah, Research Associate at ANU School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet), Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sri Lanka: Persecution News Update


The link below is to an article reporting on persecution news from Sri Lanka.

For more visit:
http://colombogazette.com/2015/07/16/uk-notes-improvements-but-has-concerns/

Sri Lanka: Persecution News Update


The link below is to an article reporting on persecution news from Sri Lanka.

For more visit:
http://www.khaleejtimes.com/kt-article-display-1.asp?section=international&xfile=data/international/2015/may/international_may820.xml

Sri Lanka’s President Concedes Defeat in a Major Poll Upset


TIME

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa ended a decade in power on Friday, conceding defeat in a midterm election. He didn’t expect to lose, but found himself vacating his residence after polls showed his challenger Maithripala Sirisena with over 51% of the vote, Reuters reported.

Sirisena, a former minister in Rajapaksa’s government, defected to the opposition in November, and used his anticorruption stance as the cornerstone for his campaign.

He pledged that his first act in office would be to weaken the very presidency that had allowed Rajapaksa to consolidate a huge amount of power, and reportedly plans to hold fresh parliamentary elections within 100 days of being sworn in.

Rajapaksa was re-elected in 2010. He initially came to power in 2005, riding a wave of popularity after defeating the Tamil Tigers separatist group and ending the country’s violent civil war, but his administration was dogged by allegations of corruption and…

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