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Sri Lanka losing the PR battle due to ineptitude

March 26, 2012

Sri Lanka losing the PR battle due to ineptitude

Friends but not always

In my recent trip to Sri Lanka one person appears to glare at you from every vantage point of the nation. No it is not a religious identity, nor is it a sports champion or famous entertainer. It is the President Mahindra Rajapakse. The man omnificence is as overwhelming as the size of the highway going through his home town of Hambantota. You come out of the airport and there he is; you go into the city of Colombo and there he is; you head down any highway and sure enough there he is; staring at you with the cheesy smile sales executive. You cannot escape the advertising blitz of a president that comes across like he trying too hard to be loved. With all the images of him adorning the highways, and even the byways, you can’t help but feel that he is an emotionally needy president.

How President sees himself as opposed to the friends he chooses. Too close for comfort and it damages his image.

That being said there is deep distrust and even cynicism towards most politicians in Sri Lanka. As was made clear to me most Sri Lankans are thankful that Rajapakse had the determination to end the 25 year civil war with the LTTE but they were very unhappy with how he treated the man who won his war. Whether it was jealousy or a fear of an opposition run by the most popular man in Sri Lanka, Rajapakse greatest mistake was to send Gen Fonseka to prison. If you speak to the soldier who fought the war they see General Fonseka as a hero. Not just some abstract mythological hero but a person that they hold immense affection and loyalty toward. The jailing of Fonseka burns like a festering wound of discontent that may one day burst upon the Sri Lankan political stage.

Happier times when they seemed so close

No doubt there is much room for criticism of Fonseka and his entry into politics after the war. Then again the way that he has been airbrushed from the history of Sri Lanka by the current government is a scandal. To an outside observer the hypocrisy of jailing Fonseka is in stark contrast to how the ex-terrorist and LTTE Cornel Karuna has been pampered. Karuna whose has been linked with recruiting child soldiers and may have been involved in the massacre of unarmed 600 police officers now sits in a parliamentary seat and is part of the Rajapakse cabinet. Yet Fonseka sits in a prison for the crime of having a big mouth. It is this bazaar alternative universe that is damaging the Rajapakse government’s image more than anything. It makes him look personally nasty and petty.

The sleeping giant of Sri Lankan politics. Considered to be the man who beat the LTTE. Now resides in prison.

 

The problem with the PR campaign being run across Sri Lanka drum up more love for the president is that it is so over the top that it has lost all potency. Whatever good he may be doing is being undermined playing hard and dirty politics.

 

From the outside of Sri Lanka there is also a PR campaign that is beginning to falter. That is the battle to prevent the international wing of the LTTE from rising again. Such a resurrection is bad for all involved. It is bad for Sri Lanka where new terrorist attacks would be funded and it is bad for the Tamil Diasporas who were intimidated, threatened and pressured to financially support a terrorist organization. It is also bad for the nations where the LTTE operate as they engage in fraud, drug smuggling and other illegal activities with impunity. Unfortunately the LTTE international wing is still struggling on. It is a far cry from what it once was but it is still a potent propaganda force.

 

The situation has become worse in certain select circles, where LTTE propaganda is being treated as if it is an honest news source. Several months ago when CHOGM was held in Perth Australia a major propaganda campaign blew up in the faces of its instigators. The publication by the Sri Lanka government of the LTTE membership forms of several key protesters managed to quash their efforts. Earlier in 2011 when Channel 4 launched its inflammatory documentary called “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields” key parts of its evidence were quickly and convincingly discredited. There is no question now that the figure of 40,000 dead civilians in the final months of the war is without supporting evidence. It was a figure dreamed up in the think tanks of a terrorist propaganda factory. I was just another vague war time mantra that lived beyond it use by date. Mantras and inflated numbers by the loopy fringe radicals and LTTE agents are not very convincing. Even misguided people like Weiss has had to face the reality that the unsubstantiated numbers he was quoted had to be revised down severely before he committed to publication. The whole wave of propaganda was set to collapse in front of its instigators eyes.

This kind of mistake typified Channel 4’s “Killing Fields” documentary. This so called sad faced girl just happened to be wearing an LTTE uniform.

Unfortunately as the USA pushes for an investigation into Sri Lanka another load of damaging pictures and videos are dumped into the public arena. With impeccable timing to cause the most damage Channel 4 suddenly publishes pictures of Prabhakaran’s dead son. The video on face value looks damaging for the Sri Lankan armed forces where many the bodies filmed near have their hands behind their backs. The narrator claims that these were bodyguards for the young boy and had been bound and summarily executed. The body of the boy is showing what looks like 5 bullet marks in a close pattern. It is then claimed that the shots were fired at point blank range and proves that he was executed.

The images of Prabhakaran’s dead son cause uproar

 

Despite being a heavily biased claim relying upon experts selected by the Channel 4 the video has already damaged relations between India and Sri Lanka. The India parliament was in uproar as minister after minister accused the Sri Lankan government of executing Prabhakaran’s 12 year old son.

Singh under pressure in the Indian Parliament

The response from the Sri Lankan government was also mystifying to the point of incompetence as it tried to brush off this incident. First claiming that the videos should be shown in context was infuriatingly bad move. It left the Sri Lankan government exposed to the question over whether there ever a legitimate moral context in which children executed. The follow up tactic of having the ex LTTE cadre Velayudam Dayanidhi (alias Daya Master) claim that the video was faked failed to gain any credibility for two main reasons. One was that he was now seen as being in the government employ and thereby a tainted witness. The other was he was not there at the time and would have no direct knowledge of what took place. Given more time the Sri Lankan government could have offer a more considered response and openly offered to investigate the case. Given proper consideration they should have chosen to publicly use this case to prove their commitment to justice and promise to prosecute any wrong doer. However time was their enemy and they lost the unqualified support of the Indian government.

 

Much can be said about the great things achieved since the end of the Sri Lankan civil war. Yet the greatest failing still seems to be Rajapakse’s inability to convince people that he is genuine. It is only a matter of time before the world will starting asking questions about Fonseka’s imprisonment and retired terrorist Kuruna’s rise to power. This alone makes the Rajapakse government look cold and ruthless. What is most remarkable is that the LTTE can exploit this every time that they release another pile of splatter pictures. Rajapakse may be popular in his own press release but unless he can convince the world of his integrity then he will most likely to lose more allies at critical UN votes.

Videos below help explain more:

http://youtu.be/XZB1RaWggtQ

Run up to the vote

http://youtu.be/o3wchdJwoPs

After the UN vote

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