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Constitutional Crisis in Sri Lanka and its Impact on Indo-Pacific Diplomacy

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Authors: Raghav Pandey & Adithya Anil Variath

The neologism – Constitutional coup, entered into the foray ofrealpolitik with President Maithripala Sirisena sacking his ally and incumbent Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and appointing former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, persona non grata with the regime as the new Prime Minister. The current capture of power has again put the Indian Ocean diplomacy in the international foreground following pandemonium in Maldives island over its recent presidential election. Sri Lanka has again dived into a stalemate menacing its democratic values and political stability.  The current crisis was unanticipated and serendipitous given the political realities of the nation, the verdict in the last parliamentary elections and the amended powers of the President under the Constitution of the country.

This is not the first time that a President according to his whims and fancies has ousted Wickremesinghe from his office. A similar scenario arose in 2004, the then head of state sacked him from his responsibilities and called for snap elections in the mid-term. Eventually, after winning the top post for the third time in August 2015, Wickremesinghe passed a Constitutional amendment to amend the Constitution to remove the President’s power to sack Prime Ministers to prevent a repeat of his earlier unceremonious ouster. 72 – year- old Mahindra Rajapaksa, considered as a war hero among the supporters was previously elected as the President from 2005 to 2015. But during Rajapaksa’s period of misgovernance, Sri Lanka warranted international criticism from economies worldwide and intergovernmental bodies for obstructing investigations into allegations of war crimes perpetrated and executed by the military officials against Tamil civilians.

A 2011 United Nation’s Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka estimated that as many as 40,000 Tamils may have been killed in the endmost months of the war alone. The panel on the basis of shreds of evidence inculpated the Tamil Tigers of committing atrocities against women, including recruiting child soldiers. During Rajapaksa’s regime, he concurrently was in charge as President and finance minister, among other cabinet positions, while his family members served as the defence secretary and ministries dealing with economy and ports. This political power and nepotism controlled about 80 per cent of the total national budget and was accused of corruption and major human rights abuses. The voice of dissent, both political opponents and investigative journalists critical of their governance often disappeared.

Sirisena as a Cabinet ranked Minister handled the Ministry of Health and Defence, ante defecting the party to join then Opposition in 2014. After which Sirisena loyalists in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) formed a coalition with the United National Party (UNP), led by Ranil Wickremesinghe. He was voted into power in January 2015, relying on the promises of greater transparency and administrative accountability, protecting human rights and a crackdown on corruption and nepotism.  The fragile coalition government kickstarted an ambitious reform package, including measures to introduce constitutional and electoral reform. The Government also sent strong signals to international community to showcase its creditability and intention to protect and promote human rights by co-sponsoring a UN resolution in 2015 on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights that required them to make concrete commitments on transitional justice, following the end of Sri Lanka’s nearly three-decade-long civil war in 2009. But these assertive projects began to crumble due to inefficiency and social divisions along the lines of ethnicity and religion. In the recent local government elections, Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), a breakaway faction of the SLFP consisting of Rajapaksa and his followers accumulated over 44% of the vote.

The United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), headed by President Maithripala Sirisena won just over 8%. While the faction of United National Party (UNP), led by Ranil Wickremesinghe attracted a substantial voter base, the elections were seen as a bone breaker to the coalition government. Concatenation of Cabinet reshuffles and power successions led to a no-confidence motion levelled against Prime Minister Wickremesinghe in April 2018.  Before suspending the elected Government, Sirisena also accused the UNP faction of not taking cognizance of an alleged murder conspiracy to assassinate him and former top Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, brother of Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, making a powerful statement from Temple Trees, addressed the people as “the elected Prime Minister of the democratic republic of Sri Lanka under the powers guided by Article (42) of the Constitution and the 19th Amendment. I trounced the no-confidence motion brought against me and relish a clear majority in Parliament. I shall remain Prime Minister for as long as I enjoy a majority in Parliament and support of people.”  Wickremesinghe’s faction of UNP has been counting on the constitutional principle of the 19th amendment to the Constitution, adopted with the guidance of President Sirisena in April 2015, which empowers the President to appoint a new prime minister, but not the power to remove one. Article 46 (2) after the infamous 19th Amendment to the Constitution, reads as; the Prime Minister continues to hold office, throughout the period during which the Cabinet of Ministers continues to function under the provisions of the Constitution, unless he: (a) resigns by writing or, (b) ceases to be a Member of Parliament. Meanwhile, there is high speculation that Sirisena and Rajapaksa have already entered into a secret deal which will empower Sirisena to contest the upcoming 2020 presidential elections against the UNP with the full cooperation of SLPP.

Wickremesinghe’s UNP and other political as well as non-political groups challenged the President’s decision in the Supreme Court, terming it unconstitutional. UNP’s main argument was based on the interpretation of Article 70 (1) of the Sri Lankan Constitution. The petitioners pointed out that this provision restricts the powers of the President to dissolve Parliament before the end of the four-and-half years out of the five-year term. Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court upheld the arguments raised by the petitioners, that the President’s move did not have the support of two-thirds of the members, which is an essential requirement under the said article. Taking into consideration these constitutional principles, the Supreme Court overturned President Maithripala Sirisena’s controversial decision to dissolve the Parliament and stayed the preparations for snap polls declared to be held on 5 January 2019. Immediately after the Court’s verdict, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya summoned a Parliamentary session on 14 November 2018, during which the Parliament passed the non-confidence motion against the recently appointed government led by Prime Minister Rajapaksa with the backing of 122 of the 225 lawmakers in a voice vote, followed by a signed document. But, President Sirisena in an official letter addressed to the Speaker said he could not accept the non-confidence motion as it appeared to have ignored the Constitution, parliamentary procedure and constitutional tradition.

In an unprecedented move, as a temporary solution, the political parties in Sri Lanka agreed to form a select committee to conduct parliamentary affairs amid the constitutional crisis. Sri Lanka’s Parliament which was convened yesterday for a third-floor test was adjourned just ten minutes after its commencement as the parliamentarians were unable to decide on the members of the committee. The Sri Lankan lawmakers have also submitted a motion which shall be out into vote on November 29, seeking the suspension of state funds allocated to the present illegitimate government. The current constitutional and political dilemma has hit the economy. On Monday, the Sri Lankan rupee fell to a record low of 177.20 per dollar and the foreign investors have pulled out more than 30 billion rupees ($169.5 million) since the decision of the Supreme Court.Sri Lanka’s politico-economic condition is already under duress with Forex reserves slithering, pressuring the local currency vis-à-vis economic problems in global emerging markets and weakening international investor confidence.

A stable Sri Lankan democracy is in the political, social and economic interests of New Delhi to further strengthen its blue water diplomacy.  Taking into consideration the tenets of Indian Ocean diplomacy, the current political scenario is a real gift to China, during Rajapaksa’s stint, Sri Lanka moved closer to China. While Wickremesinghe practiced a liberal approach to balance relations with India and China, Rajapaksa supports and endorses a tilted policy to accept Chinese money even in the face of unreasonable terms. Colombo is a real victim here due to the repercussions of this inarticulate economic policy, as it was forced to sell strategic assets to Beijing, including the Hambantota port, when it failed to meet liabilities. The United States has been vocal against China’s “debt trap diplomacy” and singled out Sri Lanka, contending the Chinese-built seaport will preferably become a forward military base for China’s growing blue-water navy to exert dominance in the region.

Analysing the present economic situation, it is clear that there is an urgent need of foreign capital and international financial aid and Rajapaksa’s government will most likely accelerate more Chinese investments in the region. With this tapping of Chinese resources and monetary aid, other major foreign players operating in the island nation such as India and Japan are likely to experience unmitigated economic and political risks.  A recent election in the Maldives was a diplomatic win for India as the region witnessed the previous China funded government lose power to a pro-democracy party, attracting the island closer to New Delhi. The current political discourse in Sri Lanka would further facilitate the world’s second-largest economy steal a diplomatic victory against India as the two nuclear superpowers battle for supremacy in the Indian Ocean region.

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South Asia

Popularity-Graph of PM Imran Khan has not dropped down

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Although the economy of Pakistan has deteriorated, price hike, increase in utility bills, food prices and consumer prices of daily used items has grown up, the job market has deteriorated. According to a survey, mostly people are complaining about price-hike and the unavailability of jobs. Some people are complaining about the bad practice of nepotism and especially targeting “hired electable and technocrats”. It is a fact that the PTI government has failed to meet the expectations of its voters. PTI workers and supporters have been cornered and ignored.

What so ever the government is presenting economic parameters, to defend themselves. What so ever reasons or logic and explanation are provided by the Government to defend themselves? How much blame is put on previous governments, but the failure of the PTI government cannot be justified. The common man in Pakistan is a victim and suffering.

Yet, the popularity of Prime Minister Imran Khan has not deteriorated. According to a small scale survey, the public will vote for Imran Khan in the next general election. As per Survey, no one was willing to accept Maulana Fazl-u-Rehman, leader of JUI-F, as prime Minister of Pakistan. The popularity of PPP and PML-N has also deteriorated sharply.

Strange! It is really very strange, while people are complaining about the performance of PTI Government, but still, praise PM Imran Khan. Some people blame his team, while other analyses as the nature of issues inherited by the previous government are so complex that no one can manage quickly. It might take more time to reach any conclusion and favors that the PTI government should complete its term of 5 years and wait till 2023, for the general election.

Pakistan is a democratic country and the constitution of Pakistan protects the right of every citizen to protest, express his/her opinion, criticize the government and its policies, can organize any procession, demonstration or Dahrna – sit-in.  “Azadi March” is permissible in our system and legal, and the government has not offered any resistance in it. The government will not disturb them as long as they stay within the law and peaceful.

Such agitations are part of the Pakistani political system and has a long history. Whenever some of the political parties lose in the election, they blame the winner party or ruling party for rigging and asks them to resign and dissolve assemblies. Even the currently ruling party PTI has been protesting the Government in 2014 and so on. But history has witnessed, no Prime Minister one prime Minister resigned or assemblies dissolved in past as a result of opposition pressure. It is expected, that this time also the PM will not resign, and not dissolve the assemblies.

However, the opposition always gains millage and concessions through negotiations and deals. This time is also no exception and it is guessed that some way out will be explored soon.

But there is a lesson for PM, to pay more attention to the issues of the common man in Pakistan. He has to give due importance to PTI workers and supporters. He must respect the merit and create opportunities for qualified people.

There are 1.5 million fresh graduates every year entering the job market, but the creation of jobs is not in accordance with it. As a result, youth are desperate and unfortunately may involve in negative activities. It is worth mentioning that the biggest vote bank and political force for PM Imran Khan were “Youth”. Pakistan’s demography consists of 70% of youth under the age of 40.

It is suggested that PM may take serious notice of the ground situation. Realize the problems of the common man in Pakistan. May initiate major structural changes and deep reforms in all dimensions.

Pakistan possesses huge potential for growth if enabling environments are provided and right policies are implemented, there is no reason that Pakistan’s economy take-off rapidly.

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Pakistan,a Victim of Vicious Circle: The Container Politics

Asad Ullah

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It’s pretty tough to comprehend Pakistan’s politics or the behavior of Pakistan’s political leaders. The example of Pakistan’s political system and politicians can be tacit with Robert Jervis’s astounding words. “When you pick up one piece of this planet, you find that one way or another, it’s attached to everything else-if you jiggle over here, something is going to wiggle over there… We need this sense of the continuing interconnectedness of the system as part of the common knowledge so that politicians feel it and believe it, and so that voters feel it and believe it, and so that kids feel it and believe it so that they’ll grow up with an ethic.”

Since 1947 Pakistan is trapped in a vicious circle, and it’s hard to get rid of this wicked circle with the current political system. Immense tension with neighbor countries, internal political instability, high inflation rate, massive unemployment, poverty, discrimination, corruption, human rights violation, economic problem, low level of domestic and foreign direct investment, energy shortage, wrecked infrastructure, weak and self-centered political leader ruined the country. Now we are witnessing a massive number of lessening faiths on the institutions of almost all kinds. People don’t trust the government; they don’t believe any corporation and virtually no political leader — the reasons why people’s trust is declining in government. The govern leaders do not fulfill their promises, they always raise different slogans spreading fake news to convince the voters for votes, but things are not still the same after elections; all the obligations remain broken. Thus, people certainly don’t believe politicians.

After 71 years of a bumpy hard and tough journey, the people of Pakistan in 2018 elected a new prime minister with much new hope, to fight against corruption and other serious challenges. This hope was up to the greatest extent achieved when the supreme court of Pakistan took action against the corrupt leaders and imprisoned them. With such enormous weight, the oppositions are now vindicating a mean to get rid of the present administration; the adversaries have started a long march called Azadi-March, with the aim to takeover Khan’s (Imran Khan Niazi current Prime minister of Pakistan) government. The majority of the people are against the so-called Azadi-March, as they are aware of situations. To sidetrack Imran Khan’s consideration, these opposition leaders have started Azadi-March, where thousands of protestors are marching to the capital city Islamabad, calling on prime minister Khan over the weak and fragile economy and corruption.

Some religious groups organized the Azadi-March and political rivals, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) party prearranged the protests, almost all parties have used the march to show their complaints throughout what they call the Azadi March (or Freedom March).The main aim of the Azadi-March, calling Imran Khan to resign, they believe that the current government ruined to satisfy their promises, and the administration is amateurish, inexpert, and doesn’t distinguish how the state-run. While addressing the people, Fazal said all Pakistani, from Karachi to Islamabad, want that prime minister Imran Khan should resign, further stated that prime minister still has time to deferentially submit his resignation because the Pakistani will not give him also time to do so.

The purpose behind such Azadi-March isn’t only that they want to overthrow the prime minister, but they want him to stop disparaging the adversaries. The opponents, according to most of the local people, are corrupt and crooked, and they are responsible for the country’s weak institution and corruption. Since now, Khan is taking legal actions against the oppositions with the support of millions of Pakistani people, thus permit the opponents formed a coalition to stand against Khan. With the help of millions of people Khan isn’t against their Azadi-March, but it’s something everyone knows, the country is going through tough time, skirmishes with India and recently with Afghanistan, ongoing economic reforms, working to encourage tourists and foreign direct investment, and many other developmental projects, such actions or the so-called Azadi-March will ruin the hope of the current administration and people. The immediate adverse consequence of the Azadi-March is also on the recent Kashmir issue. Currently, the prime minister and his administration are working to find a solution for IOK,by voicing on a different medium, such domestic scuffle will not only hamper the objective but will instead encourage the neighbor states to take advantage of domestic unrest.

The time being Khan is dealing with massive problems, the oppositions should stand with Khan, instead of creating other domestic violence and discontent. The continues Azadi-March will do nothing more than internal turbulence and other dangerous predicaments that will hit the country with more severe difficulties. Democracy means the government of the people, by the people, for the people, which specify that the people of Pakistan elect the current government. Pakistan is a democratic country where people can choose any leader they trust. To make it more vibrant, Pakistan is not the legacy of some elites to govern all the time.

A country with more than 200 million people ought to decide their future; they should stand with Khan and support his campaign of fighting against corruption and corrupt people to bring peace, political stability, economic development, and employment opportunities. Fora very long time, we have experienced different government and their fake promises; they have tumble-down the state’s institutions, nepotism, favoritism, and cronyism, all were the hidden agendas of the previous government. Thus, it is clear that the present government is fighting against all the above problems.

Finally, let us begin anew — recalling the current Azadi-March, which is not a sign of being active or reliable, but rather a sign of weakness. Sincerity is always subject to proof, and when you don’t have a single proof, you are lucky enough to have needles in your chopsticks. Let us never negotiate with these political leaders who are involved in the march out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.

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8 Million People under siege for almost 3 months in Kashmir

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Kashmir, the most beautiful part of world, heaven on the earth, roof of the world, land of natural beauty, lush green, full of mountains, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, rich in culture, traditions, unique in hospitality, beautiful people, special food, fruits, and paradise for tourists, is at your mercy for their lives.

Around one million Indian Army has sieged 8 million unarmed civilians for almost 3 months. India imposed curfew in Indian Occupied Kashmir since the 5th of August 2019. People are facing a severe shortage of food, fuel, and medicines. Mobile phone service, Internet Service and all types of communications have been cut-off. Before imposing Curfew, India has evacuated all tourists and visitors from Kashmir. Kashmir is completely cut-off from the rest of the world. Media persons are not allowed, UN officials, foreign diplomats, and observers are not allowed to visit Kashmir. American Congressmen were denied access to Kashmir. Human Rights Organizations were denied to visit Kashmir. Kashmir is kept in isolation with evil motives.

Hundreds of thousands were killed, arrests of important figures and personalities are in thousands, and disappearances are outnumbered, fake counters and .killings increased numerously, number of massacres grown in double digits, extrajudicial killings by security forces has become a routine matter, torture is practice in daily routine, children and infants are also victims in the presence of parents, rape is being used to humiliate and as used as a weapon of hate and revenge. Indian atrocities and brutalities have crossed all records of human rights violations in the known-history of human beings.

Kashmir is a Muslim majority area with 87% of its population being Muslims. At the time of partition, the British agreed to divide the subcontinent into India and Pakistan after World War II. The Muslim majority area will be part of Pakistan and Hindu majority areas will be part of India. According to the principle set, Kashmir being Muslim Majority Area should be part of Pakistan. But Indian forces entered into Kashmir and occupied part if it by force. When the Indian army could not face resistance from the local people, the Indian Prime Minister of the time Jawhar Lal Nehru, approached the UN seeking their help. UN Security Council implemented the ceasefire immediately and passed a resolution for plebiscite to ask the will of Kashmiri people. UNSC gave the right of self-determination to people of Kashmir to decide by free will, either to join Pakistan or India.

Being a Muslim Majority area, India was afraid of the loss in the plebiscite, kept on delaying to hold plebiscite since 1948. Meanwhile, India was trying to change the demography of the Kashmir and tried to shift Hindus from other parts of India to settle down in Kashmir, to bring Muslim Majority to a minority. For this goal, India used excessive force and all sorts of atrocities to suppress the Kashmiris. Introduction of draconian laws, black laws, extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, detention, massacre, etc., all brutal actions, etc., but could not succeed to overcome the spirit of Kashmiri people’s struggle for self-determination.

Instead of learning from experience that Indian after using all dirty tricks and excessive use of force, could not win the hearts and minds of Kashmiri people. And the struggle for self-determination, even got more active. Finally, India deployed fresh troops and reached to almost one million troops to impose curfew in Kashmir on 5th of August 2019. Almost 3 months passed, people are under siege, no food, no fuel, and no medicines. People are starving. India is committing genocide in Kashmir. There is sufficient evidence of ethnic cleansing. India must understand that, if could not win against the will of Kashmiri people for the last 7 decades, will not succeed in the near future or far future. India, must leave Kashmir, the sooner the better.

International community has taken serious notice of Indian atrocities and there are widespread protests around the world. The International media is also covering Indian brutalities. There are clear signs of the holocaust. Like what happened in Germany with Jews, in Rwanda, and other part of the world. India has established detention camps in Kashmir on the same line of Hitler. In fact the ideology of Modi is exactly the same as Hitler and he is following almost the same actions.

The international community must act, must act proactively, must act immediately, to avoid the Holocaust. Are they waiting for, let the holocaust happened and then they may reach for Photo Sessions, making Documentaries, and Writing reports to tell the next generations the history of Kashmir Holocaust????

UN must send its peace-troops to protect human lives in Kashmir. It is the mandate of the UN and it is appealed to whole international community, to the nations who have conscious and value human lives, to all individuals who believe in humanity and possesses conscious to stand-up and save humanity in Kashmir.

India is involved in war crimes, must be executed according to the Geneva Convention, and Rome Convention, for their alleged role of war crimes. All individuals, either at the policy level, or implementation level, irrespective of their status or rank, involved in the war crimes in Kashmir, must be trialed in the International Court of Justice and punished accordingly for their involvement in war crimes.

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