Daily Archives: August 30, 2006
The country’s premier private sector lobby group Ceylon Chamber of Commerce yesterday said that the mere formation of a national government was not enough but called for unqualified and unconditional consensus on peace initiative.
Following is the full text of the Chamber’s statement.
The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce has consistently supported a bilateral approach by the two main political parties of the country towards resolving the ethnic conflict and is greatly encouraged by the decisive step taken by the President to invite the main opposition party to form a national government.
Whilst applauding this courageous move, the Chamber is not convinced that the mere formation of a national government is the panacea for all the problems facing our country. For there to be a meaningful impact through such convergence, it is absolutely essential that consensus – unqualified and unconditional, should be reached as a priority regarding the peace initiative. This should be the focus above all else.
The mistrust and enmity of the past must be set-aside in the greater interest of the country and a common strategy developed to create an environment for sustainable peace. This will give the LTTE the confidence to negotiate positively with an unified Southern entity, whilst giving the Government the strength of a cohesive stance, representing the majority view of the southern populace.
We urge the Government and the Opposition to be resolute in their determination in achieving this objective.
Via… FINANCIAL TIMES
The President has mooted an initiative to establish a national government. He should be commended for it. This initiative of his is very much in keeping with his style of management; I recall that immediately after the Tsunami when he was Prime Minister he established an all Party Committee but with the arrival of CBK in the country, she callously stated that nothing had been done whereas the then PM had not only set up a bipartisan committee but also travelled to Tsunami affected areas to show concern and to arrange for support. It would be recalled that CBK grabbed it all and established three committees but it all ended up in a total mess. Yes the President has an inclusive approach and this is a refreshing difference to all that has gone before both with the PA and UNP Administrations,
The new initiative is not only logical but also timely for we must face the enemy of the country including of the Tamil people, unitedly. We must address the LTTE with one voice and state that the State seeks a settlement. We need to address the perception among the Tamil people that they have been betrayed not only by the Sinhalese with whom Ramanathan Ponnambalam and Ramanathan Arunchaalam worked tirelessly for our independence but also by their own kind. We must work towards reuniting our fractured society in which all our people no matter whatever the community they belong to or whatever relations we may have had in the past, feel that they have equal rights, privileges and obligations.
The two main political parties are both pledged to furthering a multi ethnic, multi-cultural, Democratic political system. They both profess to pursuing ‘Free Market’ economic policies; their foreign policies are identical; their Social policies are the same; the approach to the ‘national problem—-the insurgency in the north, is also identical – devolution of power (there may be differences regarding the extent of ‘devolution’—but they have both accepted that Devolution may be, I repeat, maybe the answer. A two pronged approach has been pursued by both parties towards the LTTE.
The verdict of the people of this country at the last Presidential was decisive. When they voted for the two major parties they also endorsed the above mentioned policies. They also wanted either of these parties to govern or at best for them to come together. They certainly did not vote for the Sihala Urumaya or the JVP to have a say in the governance of the country. The very structure of the political system precludes governance by one single political party, but this does not mean that the framers of the Constitution were of the opinion that the smaller Parties whose policies have been rejected by the electorate, should be placed in such a position as to be able to dictate policy or control government. Power sharing should not be confused with the enthronement of rejected political parties. This would make a mockery of the will of the people as expressed through the election.
The JVP is today seeking to extract their pound of flesh for having assisted the President in his election campaign; making demands that would prove disastrous to the security and well being of the country. The two major political Parties must NEVER allow themselves to be dictated to in this regard. Any horse deals (these are really donkey deals) must be ruled out completely. If the smaller Parties wish to come into government then they MUST come in on the terms of the senior partner. It is certainly a good thing to have ‘inclusive’ as opposed to ‘exclusive’ governments but the tail must never be allowed to wag the dog.
The political culture of this country has been built on adversarial, confrontational politics without regard to the national interest. Our politicians have missed the wood for the trees. This is the unfortunate tradition which we seem to want to perpetuate. The cement that has held this form of confrontational politics together has been, the vulgar pursuit of political power, for with goes the opportunity to mount the gravy train and get rich quickly. In the process have we not become a morally degenerate society?
The need of the hour is for strong government. And it is only a strong government in Colombo that can end the insurgency in the north. It is only a strong government that can resolve the ethnic issue and meet the challenge of the consequent terrorism and create the requisite political and economic climate to meet the challenges of Globalization. Weak, unstable governments cannot meet the challenges we face today. What incidentally are these challenges? -we have the insurgency or the war in the north, we have a depressed economy with a high level of commercial borrowing, a high level of corruption, a very high level of crime, a sluggish judicial system, which takes years to bring criminals to justice, an education system which does not cater to the new world that is emerging, leave alone catering to forging national unity. The public service needs to be reformed and energized to meet the needs of the times, new skills are urgently needed. Agriculture is in the dumps. We need to urgently develop our physical infrastructure. We need to augment our energy supplies otherwise we shall not have power in a few years. We need to be able to meet the challenges of the technology and competition driven global environment of the new Millennium. Have we progressed or digressed as a people over the past 50 years? We need a shake up and no weak coalition can deliver us from our plunging plight. We must have strong government and this is what the President is striving to achieve.
We need to usher in an age of cooperation and leave behind us the age of confrontation, which has done immeasurable harm to this country. Whilst other countries are galloping ahead we are moving backwards. The disease of confrontation has spread to all levels of our society. The politician is at the bottom of this——we must pull back from the abyss. Our political parties must learn to co-exist and make political cooperation an art form.
The leader of the UNP must extend his hand sincerely to the President. The President is the President of all our people; he must himself rise above petty party politics explain himself to the UNP leader as to why he seeks his cooperation, accept no excuses, bury the past and set an example to the younger generation of this country.
Politics in this country is today a blood sport-governed by the rules of the slum—-where the criminal underworld rules and where the scum of our society predominate. Politicians were for some years the patrons of the scum but the wheel appears to have turned and the scum from the slums, with their values, have begun to lord it over the politicians. Some have even become politicians. The form of politics that is found in the West -and which we have had in this country until JR Jayewardene came along, appears to have gone out of the window, but I hope not forever. Political Parties in this country represent organized hatred.
Ours is said to be a Buddhist country but politicians who claim to be Buddhists appear to have sullied Buddhism. There is neither tolerance nor compassion only hate for fellow beings. Could anyone explain how Buddhist Monks could call for a military solution to the conflict in the north? They disgrace the robe the Buddha wore. We need to have strict compliance with the Vinaya Pitaka, the State should ensure this as in Thailand and Myanmar to protect Buddhism in this country. What has happened to our people?
Have we been anesthetized to injustice, violence, to corruption and to what is fundamentally wrong? I have often thought that we the people are the victims, victims trapped in a certain system created for us by itinerant politicians. But then again are we not co-conspirators for by not confronting them we allow the power hungry politician to dictate terms and decide for us. It is we who have allowed the political culture of this country to degenerate. Is it not a sad indictment on us that we who do not trust the politician, we who do not believe them, are compelled to suffer them even when they act in their own interest merely to stay in power.
The need of the hour is for strong inclusive government. Professor GL Peiris I believe suggested a Donoughmore type Constitutional arrangement; we see much merit in such a non-confrontational constitutional arrangement. Perhaps some creative thinking could be done to transform the system of governance with the appointment of a new grade of Senior Ministers who would head Executive Committees of Parliament. It is only a strong inclusive government as contemplated by President Rajapakse that can end the insurgency in the north and usher in peace and prosperity for all the people of our blessed land. Let us support the President in every way we can in this endeavour.
Via… The Island
U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Steven Mann met with Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa to discuss the upsurge in fighting between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and Sri Lankan security forces. More than seven hundred people have been killed this year, despite a cease-fire negotiated in 2002.
Mr. Mann says the United States, “calls for the immediate cessation of hostilities” and a return to negotiations for, “an undivided Sri Lanka.” The Tamil Tigers must “cease all acts of violence immediately and return to negotiations,” he said. “The government of Sri Lanka,” said Mr. Mann, “must work seriously to address legitimate Tamil grievances and ensure that the conduct of its security forces is impeccable, even in combat.”
Sri Lankan civilians and foreign humanitarian workers have been among those killed in fighting around the Sri Lankan city of Mutur. The Red Cross estimates over twenty-thousand people have been displaced.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Mann said the United States calls, “on all sides to give full support to non-governmental organizations operating in the affected regions and to respect the dedicated work they are doing in alleviating the suffering.” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher says the Tamil Tigers are responsible for “scores of unprovoked attacks on civilians and military personnel, [and] assassinations and suicide operations.” Mr. Boucher says the terror must stop:
“The fact is this is a terrorist group that needs to be treated accordingly. That does not mean one has to close the door on peace. But it does mean that, as we try to leave the door open to peace, you have to walk through that door without a suicide bomb on your belt.”
Assistant Secretary of State Boucher says the U.S. is urging the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government, “to get back to the negotiating table and to create the climate for de-escalation of the violence and solution of the problems.”
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.
Via… Voice of America
By N Sathiya Moorthy
If any thing, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s reported plans for a ‘national government’ to prosecute the peace process, and his week-end call for Indian involvement in the ‘ethnic issue’ in native Sri Lanka may as well be a call for the civil society in the island-nation to play a constructive role, to bring all past efforts on the peace front to fruition. Coming in the wake of reports that intellectuals’ institutions have submitted up to 150 sets of proposals to the Presidential Advisory Committee on the peace initiative, Rajapaksa’s “special appeal to India’s Tamil leaders” for facilitating a peaceful resolution of the ethnic issue has also stressed the need for a ‘Sinhala consensus’ on power-devolution and related issues, before anything substantive can be attempted by anyone – in ‘taming the Tiger’.
Rajapaksa’s reference to India as “our first option” is a loaded observation. The President has clearly indicated that his Government, like his predecessors, would want New Delhi to play the peace ball in the island-nation. However, left unsaid may also be the statement that in the event of Indian unwillingness to play a visible and persuasive role in the matter, the Colombo Government may be free not only to choose the next course, but also a future facilitator (read: ally). This assumption assumes significance in the light of reports that Sri Lanka had veered towards Pakistan for defence supplies to fight the LTTE, after India had stood the ground on not supplying the Colombo Government with offensive weapons.
The President’s renewed and revived appeal to India, as also the need for a civil society initiative for a ‘Sinhala consensus’ also comes at a time when the Norwegian facilitation of the peace process is mired in renewed fighting. The ‘Norwegian failure’, if it may be called as such, flows from the inability of the southern Sinhala polity to arrive at a common approach on power devolution. As much as the ‘peace package’, it is on the implementation part that the LTTE and the larger Tamil community would require guarantees from the Government side – which Sri Lankans alone can provide.
True, there is certain unanimity of approach between the ‘Sinhala political majors’, namely, the ruling SLFP-PA and the Opposition UNP-UNF, all along. For now, the SLFP Government has clearly declared its intention not to sack the Norwegian facilitator, or annul the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA). These are aspects of the political process pertaining to the peace-evolution that had been authored by the rival UNP while sharing power a cohabitation system of Government between then President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the Prime Minister that she sacked, Ranil Wickremesinghe. Today, while demanding the exit of Norway and the CFA, even the leftist JVP has no problem calling for a negotiated settlement with the LTTE. The last time round Chandrika Kumaratunga came out with her 1995 package, and then in 2000, the UNP opposed it – but again the party too was all for a negotiated settlement at the time.
Where then is the hitch? It is for the Sinhala polity and the Sri Lankan society to ponder over. It is also an area where the international community could do precious little about. For one thing, the international community cannot ever be able to study and understand the mood of the Sinhala society and the Sri Lankan nation as the locals alone would be able to do. More importantly, any role asked/sought to be played by the ‘international community’ – starting with and including India – would at some stage be interpreted as ‘interfering with the internal affairs’ of the Sri Lankan nation. It would also be the truth, either up to a point, or at least after a point.
If, in this context, New Delhi could work for and on the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord in the distant past, at the time Sri Lanka did not have a fractured polity/majority in Parliament. The late President J R Jayewardene commanded much more than an absolute majority in the House, for the Indo-Lanka Accord to be passed without effort. As subsequent developments showed, even such a brutal majority in Parliament did not automatically ensure the ready acceptance of the Accord and the IPKF by the Sinhala community. If anything, the Bill had to be piloted in Parliament directly, over the head of the Cabinet – and then Prime Minister, Ranasinghe Premadasa and National Security Minister, Lalith Athulathmudali, were known to the opposed to any role for India. No wonder, when Premadasa succeeded JRJ as President, he caused the recall of the IPKF by India, their assignment half-finished, or unfinished even by Sinhala political reckoning, since.
It does not stop there, though. The political differences within the southern Sinhala polity over the ‘ethnic issue’ over the past two-plus decades, and the see-saw effect that it has had on the administrative moves that an incumbent government could contribute towards the return of permanent peace to the island-nation has been equalled only by the inability of successive political administrators to implement the initiated constitutional/administrative moves on the ground. It is thus that the Provincial Councils have been formed, but remain near-defunct. The ‘twin-language formula’ for Government employment, reintroduced under the peace process, continues to remain on paper.
There may be administrative hassles in the implementation, yes, but it has not been conveyed to the Tamil community in a language that they understand. Nor has any visible measures been taken since to remedy the situation. Promises of the earlier – and clearly constitutional kinds – have been followed by more promises, mostly of the political kind. Leave alone the LTTE, even the larger Tamil community sees it all as ‘insincere’ at best, and ‘conspiratorial’, otherwise. This log-jam again has to be broken if permanent peace has to return to Sri Lanka.
There is another aspect of the Sri Lankan State that has not often been understood clearly by the outside world. Leave alone Tamil community leaders and thinkers (not to mention the LTTE/pro-LTTE elements), even senior Sinhala politicians and academics have known to be puzzled about the mood and methods of the nation’s higher judiciary at times. Every discussion/discourse on ‘power devolution’, particularly ‘federalism’, has been marked by observation that the nation’s Supreme Court may not approve of any model that went against the ‘unitary’ character of the Sri Lankan State, as enshrined in the existing Constitution. Unfortunately, outside of Sri Lanka, motives have often come to be attributed in the matter, without full understanding of the judicial thinking and processes in the country. Higher judiciary in Sri Lanka may at best continue to be seen as being in the ‘colonial conservative mode’. This may be so even when their counterparts in other colonized nations as Sri Lanka, and even most of the erstwhile colonial masters may have travelled quite a distance. It is not often understood that the Sri Lankan judiciary may at best be in a ‘time-wrap’, and that it has every right to interpret laws and practices as per the letter of the Constitution while select judges in select judiciaries in select nations may have started looking at the spirit of the law, as well.
It’s fashionably called the ‘Track II’, but these are also areas where the Sri Lankan civil society – Sinhala and Tamils, Muslims and Burghers – could work towards finding a political solution to the problems pertaining to their polity, which is divided in all ways and methods. To be fair to President Rajapaksa in particular, and his illustrious predecessors on the peace-front in general, each one of them has had made efforts of his or her own to arrive at a ‘Sinhala consensus’ – but have failed miserably. There is thus no harm in the civil society trying its hand – and the President and the Government coopting them, as well, to blunt sharp edges – where none exists, after all.
With the result, President Rajapaksa’s present call for India, or any other nation, to intervene on behalf of the people, polity and Government of Sri Lanka could follow if, and only if, a ‘Sinhala consensus’ can be ensured – and become operational on the ground. For any international intervention of the Indian, Norwegian or any other kind, if at all required, would need to involve only the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE – but a negotiated settlement of the kind has to be preceded by a ‘Sinhala consensus’ on the future promises on power-devolution, and a pro-active approach on the promises already made – but kept only as promises.
The intellectual community in Sri Lanka, which has worked overtime on the peace front over the past two decades and more, and is being heard and consulted often in global capitals for their views on the twin-issues of war and peace, should be heard in the Sri Lankan Capital. Rather, given the angularities of the positions taken, and the personalities that are involved, they need to be even more forceful if the peace process has to make any meaningful headway on the ground. The current moves to form a ‘national government’ will again require the Sri Lankan intellectuals – not as a ‘watch-dog’ or even for drafting peace proposals and power devolution packages, where a united Sinhala polity may have as much to offer — but in helping to soften the edges that get ruffled among the parties concerned, which in turn is unavoidable at every turn.
The nation now needs ‘Sri Lankans for Sri Lanka’ that are willing to stake their something, and could/should work on bringing about a ‘Sinhala consensus’. Of course, it should start with the polity in particular, where President Rajapaksa is making an effort – by exploring the possibility of a ‘national government’, signalling the arrival of the elusive ‘Sinhala consensus’. Yet, the civil society should not shun its inherent responsibility. For, a ‘Sinhala consensus’ alone could make a ‘Sri Lankan consensus’, also involving the Tamils and the Muslims, real and possible. It is then that the collective call for ‘Sri Lanka for Sri Lankans’ could also have any meaning or force.
[The writer is the Director of the Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), an Indian policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi Email: email@example.com]
Via… Daily Mirror