COLOMBO: The Chief Minister of Sri Lanka’s multi-ethnic Eastern Province, Naseer Ahamed, has dubbed the Lankan Tri-Forces’ decision to boycott him and prevent him from entering their establishments, as a “political” one, and warned that it has “broader implications.”
In an open letter to Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, on last Friday’s fracas at a public function in Sampoor in the Eastern Province, which had led to the decision of the Navy, Army and Air Force to boycott him, Ahamed said: “ I condemn this as a political decision by the forces whose leaders appear to have joined hands to look at the issue from the limited perspective of protecting the offenders within their ranks and not from the broader prospect of establishing truth and justice. In any event, the issue has broader implications.”
Absolving himself of all guilt for the incident in which he, in front of video cameras, grossly abused a naval officer for preventing him from mounting the stage, Ahamed said: “It would be in the best interest of the country for the responsible officers to apologize.”
Denying that he used offensive words like “idiot” and “get out”, the Chief Minister said that he was “shocked” and “insulted” by the way the naval officer “obstructed” him and said that he only “censured and questioned” the officer. Ahamed blamed the Governor of the Province, Austin Fernando, who had invited him to the dais, “for not directing the officials to follow proper protocol.”
Referring to the fact that he had not been invited to the function by the organizers, and that he had come at the informal request of the Governor, Ahamed said that the function was “clearly a usurpation of the functions of the Eastern Provincial Council and in violation of the country’s Constitution.”
The function related to an event in a Provincial school and not a “national” school, he pointed out, driving home the point that, being a Provincial school, the organizers could not ignore the Provincial CM and its Minister of Education ,who was also not invited.
Sources in the Eastern Province told Express that it is very unlikely that the Tri-Services will apologize as demanded by Ahamed, now that it has become a prestige issue with them. The Sinhalese media has turned it into a question of national and Sinhalese pride. In Tricnomalee, a Buddhist monk leading the “Sinha Ley” (Sinhalese Blood) movement, went to Ahamed’s house and abused him heartily and a demonstration was held at the bus- stand.
Further steps in the matter await the consideration of President Sirisena, who is also Defense Minister and Commander in Chief of the armed forces.
SLMC, TNA Silent
The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), of which Ahamed is the Senior Vice President, is silent on the issue, being torn between the fact that Ahamed is the party’s principal financier, and the fact that the SLMC is part of the Sirisena government.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which is a partner in the Eastern Provincial Administration with the SLMC, has also offered no comment, waiting for the President to consider the issue on return from Japan.
Although Chief Minister Ahamed has warned of “broader implications”, political sources do not expect the SLMC to break with Sirisena by walking out of the coalition at the Center. SLMC’s leadership would attempt to work out a compromise.
However, President Sirisena cannot be seen to be soft on Ahamed and rein in the Tri-Forces, in the context of the apprehension among the majority Sinhalese, that that the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government may yield to Western pressure to move towards holding trials of Lankan service personnel for alleged war crimes by the September session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
The President and Prime Minister will also have to grapple with the task of making the Governor Fernando and CM Ahamed work together in the context of the on-going conflict between the two provincial level functionaries.
Ahamed has publicly accused Fernando of “undermining” his authority and being indirectly responsible for the insult he suffered at the Sampoor function.
Governor Fernando’s defense is that he cannot at all be blamed for the incident at the school, as he was not the organizer. As for the charge of undermining the CM’s authority, sources in the East say that if the charge is not withdrawn, Fernando might stop playing a proactive and helpful role in the administration of the province and just work to rule.
Being the representative of the Central government, a Governor can get finances for provincial schemes over a phone call, while the Provincial CM or ministers will have to write letter after letter to get the funds released. Under the devolution system currently prevailing in Lanka, the Center holds the purse strings and the Governor can get schemes going through his interventions.