SCOPP Report

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The Peace Secretariat has often noted that perhaps the most insidious threat to the efforts of the Sri Lankan government to promote peace through pluralism and democracy comes from political opponents who will say or do anything to promote their own agendas.

It is accordingly grateful to a few determined opponents of the government who masquerade as disinterested proponents of human rights and democracy for proving its point.

Thus the website Lanka Dissent, a project as it calls itself of the Centre for Social Democracy, has an article citing a letter from Nimalka Fernando, now wearing yet another hat as Consultant to the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE).

Lanka Dissent begins its article with the assertion that ‘The Campaign for Free and Fair Elections has rejected an allegation by Media Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa that the local poll monitoring body has UNP supporters as its members.’ In all fairness to Ms Fernando, it is unlikely that even she would have said that in her letter, since the article goes on to say ‘CAFFE has supporters of the UNP as well as of other parties, and your statement is either irresponsible or an attempt at distorting a fact, its letter to Minister Yapa says.’

If CAFFE does have supporters of the UNP, it would be odd to deny the allegation that it has UNP supporters as its members. But Lanka Dissent is capable of claiming that black is white, and the reverse, with no concern for reality. It was set up by Ruwan Ferdinands, whose political predilections are no secret, and it initially came to our attention when it was the first to publicize the Rama Mani issue and claimed that ‘the Indian HC has expressed concern and took it up with the IGP and the Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs’. The Indian High Commissioner said that this was not true.

Between Lanka Dissent and Ms Fernando, there are a number of further inaccuracies. The article asserts that ‘As a multi-party effort, CAFFE has a membership with more than 20 years of experience in poll monitoring in the island, she says’. If it is true that that was what she said, she must have a strange way with language. Does she mean that the membership of CAFFE is multi-party in a political sense, or that it consists of different organizations? If the UNP is one of these parties or organizations, what are the others? Are there any parties or organizations which are not implacably opposed to the government?

The article, again doubtless quoting Ms Fernando, goes on to say ‘Unlike the so-called independent organizations, CAFFE believes in a consensus among persons with differing political leanings to ensure a free and fair election’. In condemning other organizations as merely ‘so-called independent’, does she claim that CAFFE is different in being totally independent, or in being unashamedly dependent? And, delightful as the thought is of a coy Nimalka Fernando, why does she not name these other organizations, in comparison to which she obviously believes CAFFE is a model of pure objectivity?

The article ends with the assertion that ‘Mrs. Fernando notes that CAFFE is similar in composition to the UPFA, which has many parties as its affiliates, including those from the UNP’. This is so preposterous, that it suggests that perhaps Mr Ferdinands is actually guying Mrs Fernando, to show that she does not understand the difference between a political party and what is supposed to be an election monitoring outfit. The idea that the UNP is amongst the affiliates of the UPFA may be part of this satire.

Underlying all this however is the fact that not only is the UNP part of CAFFE, it also seems to be its driving force. CAFFE first burst on the scene with Shiral Lakthileke, an avowed representative of the UNP, talking to a media conference as a ‘CAFFE Coordinating Committee Member’. There was no confession there that he was part of the UNP.

His title changed in another media appearance, on May 6th, to ‘Attorney-at-Law and an executive committee member of CAFFE, an election monitoring mission recognized by the Commissioner of Elections’. That appearance was in connection with a petition to the Supreme Court, alleging that amongst others the Commissioner of Elections was ‘conniving with the Pillaiyan Group’.

So we have the wonderful spectacle of the UNP hiding behind what is termed an election monitoring mission specially set up for the Eastern Province polls. Using this front they attack what they see as their principal opponent in the election.

All this would be laughable, were it not that soon doubtless it will be trumpeted abroad by the NGOs with which Ms Fernando works so effectively that the Eastern Province poll was totally unfair. And what will they cite as evidence? The pronouncements of CAFFE, dignified, if that is the right word, by Ms Fernando, with no hint that the UNP is behind all this.

Fortunately Ms Fernando’s letter, if it was as ridiculous as reported by Lanka Dissent, makes clear the symbiotic relations between her and the UNP. From the time when she and her mates in Geneva started saying the same things that Lakshman Kiriella was saying in Colombo, regarding the urgency of external monitoring for Human Rights in Sri Lanka, it seemed possible that this was not a coincidence, not merely a congruence of interests, but obviously a concerted plan. Now that Ms Fernando, rushing in where angels would fear to tread, has shown herself Mr Lakthileke’s principal apologist, it will at least be more difficult to talk about apolitical activists altruistically concerned with Human Rights.