Rajapaksa ‘pressed’ army after Sri Lanka poll defeat — official

Updated 11 January 2015
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Rajapaksa ‘pressed’ army after Sri Lanka poll defeat — official

COLOMBO: Mahinda Rajapaksa tried to persuade the army chief to deploy troops when it became clear he had lost Sri Lanka’s election, a spokesman for the country’s new president said Saturday.
Rajapaksa has been widely praised for conceding defeat early on Friday, even before the last votes had been counted, when he realized that his rival Maithripala Sirisena had an unassailable lead.
But in a press conference on Saturday, a top aide to Sirisena said that Lt. Gen Daya Ratnayake, who is the head of the armed forces, had come under pressure to intervene shortly before the concession.
“The army chief was under pressure to deploy but he did not. He declined to do anything illegal,” Rajitha Senaratne, the chief spokesman for the new president, told reporters in Colombo.
“Even in the last hour, he (Rajapaksa) tried to remain in office. Only when he realized that he had no other option, he decided to go.”
There was no immediate comment from the military.
Senaratne, who is tipped to become health minister, declined to say whether the deposed president himself tried to contact the military chief or used his younger brother Gotabhaya.
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has often been accused of meddling in his officially neutral role as defense secretary.
“There was a defense ministry conspiracy for Rajapaksa to remain in office. Gotabhaya had openly defied election laws and addressed election rallies,” Senaratne said, adding the new administration would put a stop to public servants dabbling in politics.
Senaratne said the defense ministry had also tried to deploy troops in the island’s former war zone and stage explosions in a bid to discourage ethnic Tamils from voting.
Despite two explosions that caused no harm, the northern region voted overwhelmingly to support Sirisena.
Rajapaksa was reviled by many members of Sri Lanka’s largest ethnic minority for allegedly ordering the brutal military suppression of a separatist insurgency in which thousands of civilians died.
Senaratne said the new Sri Lankan government had guaranteed the safety of Rajapaksa and his family after the vote, but vowed to pursue members of the former administration for human rights abuses.
“We don’t believe in revenge, but that does not mean we will not prosecute those accused of wrongdoing,” he said.
Sri Lanka has been largely immune from military meddling in politics except for a 1962 coup that failed to topple the government. Since then, there had been no direct military role in the army.
Sri Lanka’s former army chief Sarath Fonseka, who launched a failed bit to challenge president Rajapaksa at his 2010, was convicted of engaging in politics while still in uniform and jailed for 30 months.


Bane of Pakistani politicians: young voters with smartphones

In this photo taken on July 12, 2018, students use their mobile phones at a campus in Islamabad. (AFP)
Updated 21 July 2018
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Bane of Pakistani politicians: young voters with smartphones

  • More than 17 million are in the 18-25 age bracket, with a huge chunk set to cast their ballot for the first time
  • About 371,000 troops will spread out across Pakistan to guard the election

ISLAMABAD: The crowd of young Pakistanis, many armed with smartphones, surround the politician’s car and begin streaming live footage of something extraordinary: angry voters asking their elected representatives what they have done for them lately.
A titanic 46 million people below the age of 35 are registered to vote in nationwide elections on July 25 — many of them savvy social media users who are posting videos calling out the powerful.
In one clip, influential politician, landowner and tribal chief Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan is filmed in his car in the central city of Multan surrounded by young men chanting “thief” and “turncoat.”
“Where were you during the last five years?” they ask Bosan, complaining over the poor state of roads in the area. An aide can be heard pleading that the leader is feeling unwell.
To be held accountable in such a public manner is virtually unheard of for most Pakistani politicians, especially in rural areas where many of the videos have been filmed.
There feudal landowners, village elders and religious leaders have for decades been elected unopposed. Many are known to use their power over residents to bend them to their will.
Dubbed the “electables,” these politicians command huge vote banks. Most also take a flexible approach to ideology, and are highly courted by political parties, who view winning their allegiance as a passport to power.
But videos like the one of Bosan have gone viral in the weeks leading up to the polls, shared thousands of times in a country of some 207 million people, of whom roughly a quarter use 3G and 4G Internet, according to the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority.
They have also made their way on to Pakistan’s numerous and raucous television channels, ensuring they are also broadcast to audiences without access to social media.
Analysts are watching closely to see whether these rare moments of accountability might disrupt the way the major political parties have long relied on rural politicians and their huge vote banks as a shortcut to power.

The videos’ popularity is a sign of simmering resentment against corrupt politicians among Pakistan’s youth, says Sarwar Bari, an analyst at the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), a democratic watchdog.
Historically apathetic, young Pakistanis first emerged as a political force in the 2013 elections, when a generation who grew up idolising cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan voted for his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party in droves.
Under-35s represent a massive proportion of the total electorate of 106 million voters registered in the 2018 elections.
More than 17 million are in the 18-25 age bracket, with a huge chunk set to cast their ballot for the first time.
The Asia Foundation noted in a recent report that many young people are increasingly engaged in the democratic process, particularly through the widespread use of social media.
If so, and as concerns over election rigging mount ahead of the vote, the impact of uncensored content such as the viral videos could become significant, analysts say.
“Social media has emerged as a democracy strengthening tool,” says Shahzad Ahmed, director of Bytes for All, a digital rights group.
Bari, who predicts election turnout will be “massive,” says if even half of the young voters who have seen and shared such videos go to the polls “it will strengthen the trust of the people in the democratic system.”
Pakistanis only started to recieve high-speed mobile data in 2014 and its use has spread at one of the highest rates in Asia.
Access for young people to social media is helping to create a more democratic and participatory form of government, argues Maham Khan, a 21-year-old student of international relations at the Quaid-i-Azam university in Islamabad.
She references protests in Cairo in 2011 which were organized via social media and eventually unseated the then-president Hosni Mubarak.
“Basically the youth is actually using social media just like in Egypt, to bring about slow social revolution,” she says.
But who they will vote for is hard to predict, with vast socioeconomic, religious and ideological differences between this huge population — though jobs and education are among their most unifying demands.
Polls still broadly indicate youth support for PTI and Khan’s populist, reformist agenda, though the shine may have gone off the sportsman somewhat — one of the viral videos shows him being whisked away by aides as a similar crowd challenges him in Karachi.
Nevertheless, most students who spoke to AFP expressed hope for change after decades of corrupt political dynasties, and Khan — despite widespread claims he is being backed by the powerful military as they seek a pliant government — represents the best chance of that.
“As a first time voter myself... I’m very excited and I want to be a part of this process through which my vote can bring change,” 23-year-old Rafey Khan Jaboon told AFP.