MonitorsPublished on Mar 16, 2008
LTTE supremo V. Prabhakaran is 'hale and hearty' and busy conferring honours to those who died fighting for Tamil 'Eelam'. Known for his crafty ability to dodge the Sri Lankan armed forces time and again, Prabhakaran made his first public appearance in many months putting at rest the rumours of his failing health.
South Asia South Asia Weekly 10

Sri Lanka
< class="maroontitle">Prabhakaran’s return

LTTE supremo V.Prabhakaran is ‘hale and hearty’ and busy conferring honours to those who died fighting for Tamil `Eelam`. Known for his crafty ability to dodge the Sri Lankan armed forces time and again, Prabhakaran made his first public appearance in many months putting at rest the rumours of his failing health. While accusing the Sri Lanka government for destroying the evidence of the Tamil history, he urged the Tamil literati to preserve the existing records.

Criticizing India for the red carpet welcome given to Sri Lanka Army Chief Sarath Fonseka, LTTE warned India from committing another historic blunder which might subject the Eelam Tamils to more misery. A key constituent of the government in power, Janata Vimukti Peramuna (JVP) also accused India of conspiring to infiltrate north-east of Sri Lanka with Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) agents. The allegation was sparked off by a media report claiming that India was behind the Norway-backed Cease Fire Agreement of 2002.

The local elections in Batticaloa, which saw a voter turnout of over 60 percent, won appreciation for the Sri Lankan government from international observers. The elections in the east are seen as the first step in the process of devolution initiated by the Rajapaksa government. The results have enabled the once insurgent Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) to participate in the governing process.             

< class="maroontitle">Human rights under emergency

The caretaker government of Bangladesh faced major embarrassment this week after the US State Department came out with its report on Human Rights Practice-2007, which indicated that Human Rights (HR) in Bangladesh had worsened during emergency.  The report blamed the imposition of Emergency Powers Rules in January 2007 for the  suspension of fundamental rights, including freedom of press, freedom of association and the right to bail. The report raised serious concerns about the process involved in the government’s much talked anti-corruption drive and said about 200 former politicians, government officials and business leaders were arrested under controversial circumstances. Besides the high handedness of security personnel, the drive saw illegtal deten were noticed and the joint forces held suspects illegally who were interrogated, often abused, and in some cases they also forced the suspects to sign confessions before releasing or presenting them to a magistrate. In some cases, detainees were released after they agreed to file cases against other high-profile suspects. It also revealed that many leaders of Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Awami League were detained for months without trial. What really rankled the government was the reference to ``unofficial house arrests on former prime ministers Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia and repeated efforts in the first six months of the year to force them into exile".  The government, however, rejected the report and said it lacked balance in presenting ground realities.

It is difficult to ascertain the effectiveness of this report in influencing the country’s HR scenario in the future. For the moment, events only substantiate the validity of the report; specially about the functioning of the judiciary. The Supreme Court, for instance, endorsed the Anti-Corruption Commission’s appeal and set aside the High Court verdict that had declared illegal the notice asking detained former PM Sheikh Hasina to submit the accounts of her wealth.

< class="maroontitle">Maoists intimidating rivals

In the run up to the April 10 elections, Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist) cadres are intimidating and threatening political rivals across the country. This week, Maoist cadres, especially the Young Communist League (YCL), attacked and disrupted election rallies of other political parties and threatened them of dire consequences. The YCL members also prevented people from attending rival political rallies.

On March 9, Maoists abducted Mangal Gurung, a Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) candidate from Manang district and forced him to withdraw his nomination. On March 12, they abducted two members of the Rastriya Prajatanta Party (RPP) from an election programme in Chitwan district. In view of these incidents, the government and the Election Commission directed the party leadership to prevent their cadre from indulging in disruptive politics. The Maoist leaders have strongly denied these charges; Senior leader Baburam Bhattarai said the allegations were false and were made to just to tarnish their political image.

The Maoist action, however, has raised some suspicion about their real intent. Though, they have been claiming to uphold democratic politics, their actions have been clearly contrary to such a position. After a failed attempt to forge an electoral alliance with UML, there is a growing realisation within the party that they may fare badly in the elections. Besides, their actions have also raised uncertainty about peace and order during the elections. Political parties fear that the Maoists may indulge in booth capturing and other methods of rigging to ensure their victory.

< class="maroontitle">Election imbroglio

In a survey conducted by a national daily, almost all the members of the constitutional drafting committee unanimously expressed the view that multi-party elections were unlikely to be held by the August end. The new draft on transitional arrangements prepared in accordance with the wishes of the ruling Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) stipulated six to eight months of transitional period which clearly meant that there was hardly any time left for the October elections. Though the presidential hopefuls have been campaigning vigorously, the prospects of the first-ever multi-party elections in Maldives in 2008 appear to be bleak. This could make the international community suspicious about President Abdul Gayoom’s intentions of speeding up the reform process. The US Human Rights Report has been quite critical of the government for making slow progress on the ‘Roadmap to Democracy’.

The image of the Maldives largest opposition party Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) came under the scanner when its own Interim Chairman Latheef dropped a bombshell by saying that the accounts of the MDP have not been audited for the past two years. It is an irony that the party claiming to usher in democracy in Maldives by bringing to an end the 30-years of executive dominance faces accusations of using undemocratic means which can eventually harm its winning prospects.

< class="maroontitle">Who will be the PM?

The question which raised anxieties and doubts across Pakistan last week was who will take over as the Prime Minister. Pakistan People’s Party and its de facto head Asif Ali Zardari was primarily the cause of the confusion. Zardari, suddenly finding himself in the exalted position of a prime ministerial candidate, could not resist keeping himself in the race for the top slot. But what made the succession issue complex, and ugly, was that while Zardari’s claim to the top position was debatable, there were others who were more deserving; Makhdoom Amin Fahim for instance. He has been leading the party in Pakistan even when late Benazir Bhutto was in exile. A clean leader, Fahim had led the party to a credible position (60 seats) in the heavily rigged 2002 elections and has considerable ground-level support within and outside the party. But Fahim as the PM, in Zardari’s scheme of things, could prove to be a thorn. Zardari fears that Fahim, as the Prime Minister and leader of the party, could consolidate his position and relegate Zardari, and the Bhutto clan, to the fringe or at best to Sindh. So Fahim has been quiet unceremoniously sidelined; he was not even invited for the Murree conclave between Zardari and Nawaz Sharif. Even then, it is not going to be a smooth sailing for Zardari; the ugly spat could leave heart burns and dissension searing through the party rank and file and might create a fault-line which may threaten the party unity in the near future. So some relatively weak and anonymous party leaders have found themselves included in the race for the prime ministerial position. What let the cat out was a newspaper story which said Zardari would prefer an interim Prime Minister for three months before formally taking over as the premier himself. By then, the calculations were, Zardari would have got him elected to the National Assembly, figured out how to play the game with more experienced Sharif and found enough common points with the new Army Chief, Pervez Ashfaq Kiyani. Zardari is fast realizing that the world of politics is far less certain and quite volatile compared to that of the business; serious doubts are now being raised whether his diploma could be treated as a degree which is mandatory for anyone in Pakistan to contest the elections.  

< class="maroontitle">Contributors:

    1. Anjali Sharma                  –  Sri Lanka, Maldives
    2. Joyeeta Bhattacharjee  –  Bangladesh
    3. Paul Soren                        –  Nepal, Bhutan
    4. Wilson John                     –  Pakistan
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.