Lankan tryst with Japan | Daily News

Lankan tryst with Japan

Former President J. R. Jayewardene speaking at the San Francisco Peace Conference in 1951.

Having achieved what seems to be a pyrrhic victory at the 30th session of the UNHRC in Geneva, the two-month-old national unity government is now heading for another significant challenge - the local government election, fixed for March, next year.

The biggest issue both the UNP and the SLFP may grapple with at the Local Government polls is the imminent 'identity crisis'. While working together within the framework of a national unity government at the national level, the two mainstream parties will have to wage an "electoral war" with each other, at the grassroots level.

Although the top rung leadership of the SLFP unanimously decided to enter into a national unity government with the UNP, it is still doubtful whether the ordinary grassroots level members of the party think along the same lines. However, the decision making process of the party is fully controlled by President Maithripala Sirisena's supporters and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is gradually turning into a non-entity within the party, with only a handful of MPs supporting him. But, there is a sizable proportion of grassroots level members of the party who still consider Rajapaksa as their leader; thus creating a division among the rank and file of the party.

It is also important to understand that there is a strong difference of opinion between the UNP and the SLFP over the system under which the Local Government election would be held. It is no secret that the UPFA, led by President Maithripala Sirisema, wants the Local Government election to be held under the new electoral system while the UNP is strongly pushing for the present electoral system. There was an argument over the matter at the Cabinet meeting a few weeks ago with the UNP alleging that demarcation with regard to the new electoral system had been done in a manner that would benefit the UPFA. But, the UPFA ministers countered that argument stating the officials who conducted the demarcation had no links with the UPFA. As a result, the matter was left in abeyance.

The SLFP, the main constituent of the UPFA, pushes for the new electoral system not because it has any love for electoral reforms. The results of the recently held Parliamentary election demonstrated that the party had significant a support base in rural areas, despite the election defeat of former President Rajapaksa in January.

The UPFA, which lost the Parliamentary election with a thin margin of 366,252 votes, wants to cash in on this village level support base at the Local Government election, which will, in all probability, be a tough race for the party. In this context, the party desperately needs the new electoral system to save its face at the Local Government polls.

The UNP, on the other hand, is backing the present electoral system, as they know, deep down, that it will be advantageous to the UNP at the Local Government election. With the outcome of the Parliamentary election where the UNP obtained 106 seats, the UNP holds an edge over the UPFA where the local government election is concerned. The UNP thinks the new electoral system will "dilute" the would-be outcome of the Local Government polls.

There are strong indications that the SLFP will contest the forthcoming Local Government election alone. Most of the top rung leaders of the party, including former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and General Secretary Duminda Dissanayake, are of the view that the party should contest separately at the Local Government election and stand on its own feet. The majority of top rung members of the SLFP believe that the minor constituent partners of the UPFA are a 'baggage' that the party has to carry during the times of election.

UPFA minor parties in crisis over SLFP's position

If the SLFP decides to contest alone, that will plunge minor stakeholders of the coalition, namely Dinesh Gunawardena's Mahajana Eskath Peramuna, Wimal Weerawansa's National Freedom Front and Udaya Gammanpila's Pivithuru Hela Urumaya into a precarious situation. The minor parties of the UPFA, needless to say, hardly have any strength to stand on their own feet as far as elections are concerned.

Such a scenario will compel minor parties of the UPFA to join hands with a breakaway faction of the SLFP. Their 'easy catch' would be the group supporting former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. After the Parliamentary election in August, some of the key figures who strongly backed former President Rajapaksa joined hands with the national unity government, accepting ministerial portfolios from President Sirisena. However, a small group of MPs, who were die-hard fans of the Rajapaksas, still remain with the former President, striving to form an opposition force in Parliament. This group is strongly supported by the minor parties of the UPFA and they can easily be identified as one group with common political objectives.

While the SLFP, as a party, hails the outcome of the Geneva session dubbing it as a victory for Sri Lanka, this group views the UNHRC resolution with a modicum of suspicion. They are strongly opposed to any inquiry into alleged war crimes during the final phase of war, be it domestic or international. The difference of opinion over the Geneva resolution will be the main factor behind their defection from the SLFP.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa's statement on the UNHRC resolution was a key indication in this regard. In his statement, Rajapaksa, an MP representing the UPFA in Parliament, had no qualms about criticizing the poster campaign carried out by the UPFA to coincide with the President's return from New York.

MR gives important indication in his statement

Former President Rajapaksa, in his statement, left ample space to speculate a 'defection' of that nature ahead of the Local Government election.

"Though the passage of the US sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka in the UNHRC without a vote last Thursday is being hailed as a diplomatic victory for Sri Lanka, I am unable to share that view.

Operative Paragraph 6 of the resolution affirms the importance of the participation of foreign judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators in the Sri Lankan judicial mechanism to be set up to investigate alleged human rights abuses during the war. Operative Paragraph 8 encourages the Sri Lankan government to remove individuals in the armed forces suspected of human rights violations through an administrative vetting process even if there is insufficient evidence to charge them in a court of law. Operative Paragraph 4 welcomes the government's willingness to allow the various judicial and other mechanisms it intends to establish to deal with the past, to obtain financial assistance from overseas, which means that these supposedly Sri Lankan mechanisms will be paid for and maintained by foreign powers.

Posters of the UPFA have appeared on the streets hailing the government for delivering the country from the 'imperialist death trap' in Geneva. Such statements sit oddly beside the operative paragraphs of the resolution mentioned above.

The mismatch between the provisions of the resolution that was passed and the government's present mixed signals and rhetoric may be due to a belated realisation that nothing has been gained by Sri Lanka joining the USA as a co-sponsor of this resolution except to commit the government to a course of action which runs contrary to the interests of this country and is therefore politically unfeasible," Rajapaksa said.

PM revives strategic partnership with Japan

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's visit to Japan with a high profile government delegation was aimed at strengthening the strategic partnership with Japan, one of Sri Lanka's most longstanding friends in the Asian region.

The Prime Minister had the privilege of addressing the Japanese Parliament on Tuesday, becoming the third foreign leader in the country's history to address its legislature. Prior to the Sri Lankan Prime Minister, US President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has addressed the Japanese Parliament.

Apart from the senior ministers representing the UNP, former UPFA General Secretary Susil Premajayantha, who now holds a ministerial portfolio under the national unity government, was also included in the delegation. However, many political analysts are of the view that Japan will be keen on strengthening its economic ties with Sri Lanka under a UNP-led administration.

Japan's strategic partnership with Sri Lanka dates back to September 08 1951, when 51 nations convened for a conference in San Francisco to allocate compensation to victims affected by war crimes committed by Japan. J.R. Jayawardena, the Finance Minister of Sri Lanka at the time represented the Sri Lankan government at the conference. The speech Jayawardena made at the conference made a lasting impact on the global political sphere as the Sri Lankan Minister urged the international community to treat Japan with compassion. His speech was entirely based on Buddhist values, something Sri Lanka and Japan share in common, over the centuries.

"Why is it that the peoples of Asia are anxious that Japan should be free? It is because of our age-long connections with her, and because of the high regard the subject peoples of Asia have for Japan when she alone, among the Asian nations, was strong and free and we looked up to her as a guardian and friend.

We in Ceylon were fortunate that we were not invaded, but the damage caused by air raids, by the stationing of enormous armies under the South-East Asian Command, and by the slaughter-tapping of one of our main commodities, rubber, when we were the only producers of natural rubber for the Allies, entitle us to ask that the damage caused should be repaired.

We do not intend to do so, for we believe in the words of the Great Teacher whose message has ennobled the lives of countless millions in Asia, that (hatred ceases not by hatred, but by love'. It is the message of the Buddha, the Great Teacher, the Founder of Buddhism, which spread a wave of humanism through South Asia, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Siam, Indonesia and Ceylon, and also northwards through the Himalayas into Tibet, China, and finally, Japan, which bound us together for hundreds of years with a common culture and heritage.

This common culture still exists, as I found on my visit to Japan last week on my way to attend this Conference; and from the leaders of Japan, Ministers of State as well as private citizens, from their priests in the temples, I gathered the impression that the common people of Japan are still influenced by the shadow of that Great Teacher of peace, and wish to follow it. We must give them that opportunity. This treaty proposes to return to Japan sovereignty, equality and dignity, and we cannot do so if we give them with qualifications. The purpose of the treaty then is to make Japan free, to impose no restrictions on Japan's recovery, to see to it that she organizes her own military defence against external aggression, and internal subversion, and that until she does so, she invites the aid of a friendly power to protect her, and that no reparations be exacted from her that harm her economy," Jayawardena said in his speech at the St. Francisco conference.

It was in fact the beginning of a solid bilateral partnership with Sri Lanka and Japan which grew from strength to strength over the past few decades. The Sri Lankan embassy in Japan was established in May 1953 and Sri Lanka, at one point, was made the largest per capita recipient of Japanese bilateral aid, which constituted for 40% of Sri Lanka's bilateral aid packages. During the tenure of former President J.R. Jayewardene, the Japanese government was instrumental in the formation of the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation in Sri Lanka and that was a landmark in Japanese-Sri Lanka relations. Japan also donated state-of-Art equipment to the SLRC, including high-end transmitters. The Jayawardenapura Teaching Hospital, which is one of the best state-owned hospitals in the country even now, was constructed as a gift from Japan during the mid-80s. Such gifts were a direct result of former President Jayewardene's intervention to rescue Japan from the collective wrath of the international community.

Tokyo conference in 2003

When a UNP-led government came back to power in December, 2001 under Ranil Wickremesinghe's leadership Japan was among the key supporters of Sri Lanka in the international domain, in terms of economic assistance. High-profile representatives attended the Tokyo Conference, held in 2003 under the initiative of Japan, from 51 countries and 20 multi-lateral donor agencies including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The conference was co-chaired by the United States of America, Japan, Norway and the European Union. The conference granted $US4.5 billion to Sri conditional on the success of peace negotiations Lanka spread out over four years. The funds however were based on the success of peace negotiations between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE, which came to an abrupt halt a few months after the summit.

This partnership was more or less "revived" when the UNP-led national unity government came to power after the Presidential election on January 08. Wickremesinghe's personal as well as political legacy allowed him to re-strengthen Sri Lanka's links with Japan.

The Sri Lankan Prime Minister met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Kyoto on the sidelines of the International Conference on Science and Technology. During the meeting, the Japanese Prime Minister assured his fullest support and that of his government to Sri Lanka, during talks with visiting Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

While identifying Sri Lanka as one of Japan's closest friends over a long period, Prime Minister Abe assured that his government will stand by and assist SriLanka when facing any future challenges.

PM strikes 'personal chord' with Abe

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, when he addressed the Japanese Parliament on Tuesday morning, alluded to the rich partnership Sri Lanka shared with Japan on the social and economic front. While emphasizing on the "change that took place in Sri Lanka after the Presidential election on January 08, the Prime Minister invited the Japanese enterprises to join hands with Sri Lanka.

Wickremesinghe, when he delivered his speech in Parliament, did not forget to strike a personal chord with the Japanese Head of State. The Sri Lankan Prime Minister recalled with gratitude the assistance extended by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's father Shinaniro Abe towards Sri Lanka's development as the country's Minister of International Trade and Industries. He also thanked for the support received from Japan during the period of terrorism and communal tensions in Sri Lanka.

Recalling President Abraham Lincoln's statement that "Ballot papers are a more peaceful and legal successor than bullets", Wickremesinghe said the prime objectives of the Sri Lanka government was to formulate a new constitution, stabilise human rights and strengthen institutional organisations. "Talks have been started with the TNA and other parties towards finding a political solution. Steps would be taken to National Welfare Centre in the North for the benefit of families where women were the chief occupants, he said.

At the conclusion of his speech Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe received a standing ovation from the Japanese Parliamentarians and the distinguished guests present.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Kyoto International Conference Hall on Sunday.

Apart from the social and economic partnership Sri Lanka shares with Japan, the country is expected to play an important role in the country's accountability mechanism, which will be put in place within the next 18 months.

Japanese involvement in Lanka's accountability mechanism

The Japanese Government told the UN Human Rights Council towards the end of its 30th session that the country would dispatch a senior prosecutor from the country to Sri Lanka in October. It was a key indication that Japan would play a significant role in the domestic inquiry mechanism that will be formed with the support of international stakeholders.

Motoo Noguchi, the Japanese prosecutor who will visit Sri Lanka, is a former international judge of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal's Supreme Court Chamber, the very model of an ad hoc hybrid special court that was set up in 2006, comprising Cambodian and UN nominated international judges to try former leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime war crimes.

The Japanese offer was a response to the resolution which Sri Lanka co-sponsored at the 30th session, calling for the involvement of "foreign and Commonwealth judges and lawyers" in its judicial mechanism to address allegations of war crimes and international humanitarian law violations.

The Japanese delegation told the council during its intervention at the final session that Japan had long been a supporter of Sri Lanka's own processes for reconciliation in the island. Japan said it believed that in order to make progress towards national reconciliation and improve the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, it was "imperative" to promote Sri Lanka's own efforts to address the situation.