16 April, 2024


All Party Conference: The President And His New Amigos

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

The parliamentary President would seem to have been in his elements at the All Party Conference last Tuesday, going by photographs doing the rounds after the conference. Sharing the podium with the President were his new amigos. To his left were Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, and on his right were former President/PM Mahinda Rajapaksa and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa. The symbolism of consensus making at the outset, howsoever it might turn out to be in the end, is remarkably better than anything one can remember from previous conferences. 

Restricting the conference to parliamentary representatives is also a positively smart move, going by the way JRJ set up the January 1984 APC, which was convened at India’s nudging, to fail disastrously by inviting all and sundry from outside parliament. With a little bit of stretch, one might also call President Wickremesinghe’s new All-Party-Conference initiative as Accelerated Reconciliation Program,  inasmuch as it brings to mind President Jayewardene’s Accelerated Mahaweli Development Program that was launched 45 years ago. There are obviously more differences than any similarity between the two, but the premise for and the purpose of acceleration are about the same. 

All Party Conference: Emerging Consensus?

The Mahaweli Program was the centre piece of JRJ’s economic liberalization, although, and quite needlessly, the Mahaweli Program involved much over-liberalization involving the wholesale upending of competitive tender and technical supervisory procedures to build dams and power plants under the guise of bilateral grant agreements with several countries. The Rajapaksas later drove truck after truck through the procedural hole created by the Mahaweli Program and President Premadasa’s housing projects, as they set about building ports and roads through bilateral loan agreements with one country.    

There is no direct economic dimension to the Accelerated Reconciliation Program of President Wickremesinghe and, hopefully, there will be no occasion for something like confusing FINCO for Trinco. The President is of course a carrying a whole different economic burden, which is not at all to open up the economy as JRJ did, but to lift the already open economy from the debt hole into which it has fallen. Rescuing the economy is a parallel and separate task, one which many would consider to be more ‘urgent’ than ‘reconciliation,’ and one that cannot be unilaterally accelerated, let alone be completed before February 4, 2023, which is the President’s target date for reconciliation. 

In fact, there is no acceleration on the economic track, only falling and stalling. The third quarter (July-Sept) numbers show that the GDP grew negative by 11.8%, with Agriculture, Industry and Services declining by 8.7%, 21.2%, and 2.6%, respectively. At the same time, there is stalling in the IMF talks and on debt restructuring with China. The IMF delay is attributed to lack of consensus over restructuring among creditors, and the apparent lack of initiatives to reform money losing state owned enterprises (SOEs). If anyone thought reforming SOEs would be politically simple, they should think again as public opinion seems to be weighed against the selling of “national assets”, according to a recently reported survey by the Social Scientists’ Association. 

Reforming SOEs should not be the same as selling out assets, like “selling family silver,” as the aristocratic Harold MacMillan told the grocer’s daughter, Margaret Thatcher. At the same time, opinion surveys could be better designed to probe a little more into people’s thinking rather than capturing what is out there in the public domain as fossilized notions. For example, should the CEB or the CPC be considered an asset or liability, based on their finances, debt burden, employment warehousing, and exorbitant pricing? If the national airline could be handed over to foreign airlines for proper and profitable management, why not the more land based liabilities? Specific to the electricity sector, as well as others, reform measures need not be Either/Or, but different components could be ‘unbundled’ and ‘reformed’ differently.   

For economic reform measures to be successful, the public will have to be properly informed and persuaded. Otherwise, no reform will succeed. The onus is on the President even if he keeps insisting that he cannot be having any reform plan when there is no economy to speak of. With his hands full on the economy, how can the President take on reconciliation and accelerate it for accomplishment by February 4, 2023? That is a reasonable question that rational people can ask. The President will of course respond with his cynical wit that as the economy is going to take 25 years to turnaround, he can do other things like reconciliation during the long interval. Still there is the risk that reconciliation can go south (i.e., down) quickly, if people do not see any lessening of their heavy economic burdens.

All Party Dynamic

Apart from the podium-seated leaders, the Conference would seem to have been attended by almost all party leaders and many MPs, save for the conspicuous no show by the JVP and its quondam comrades – Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila. JVP’s absence is both inexplicable and inexcusable. It could and should have attended the conference, even if to make a statement outlining its objections to the exercise and indicating what alternative mechanism it will provide. To be sure, it is now a question of finding mechanisms and measures to implement something, instead of endlessly trying to produce the perfect devolution package with or without translation gimmicks. 

We will get to this later on, but let me here reiterate the point that the JVP shot itself in the foot by not attending the conference. It still has plenty of time to rethink its position and attend future sessions, because for the JVP to be seen as a viable national political force it must be seen where relatively positive political action is going on. By staying away the JVP is losing the opportunity to a create positive impact of its own. 

The JVP aside, there are three palpable sources of influence and implication that are shaping and driving the reconciliation initiative. First, there is the President as the prime mover who is taking positive advantage of his current circumstances to find maximum common ground among the Sinhalese MPs in parliament, involving both the government (SLPP) and opposition MPs. There are many irreconcilable differences between them, but they seem to have stumbled on a minimum common ground to lend initial support to the President’s reconciliation initiative. 

Second, there are the Tamil and Muslim MPs in parliament, who have their own differences and priorities, and their own experiential misgivings with President Wickremesinghe. The three groups have their internal differences, and they have not been co-operative in the past and have often worked at cross purposes. However, MPs belonging to different entities within each group would also seem to have found common ground and overlapping interests in working with the President in his current reconciliation initiative. 

What is new now is the minority side of the Sri Lankan national question is no longer the monopoly of any single minority group. The Sri Lankan Tamils are not the principal or dominant minority group anymore. The hitherto ‘silent minorities,’ the Muslims and the upcountry Tamils, have now become forces in their own right to reckon with. The multipolarity of the minority side could play a positive role in dealing with contentious issues by facilitating otherwise unreachable compromises. Examples would be flexibility in letting north and east continue as separate units, and conceding to the upcountry Tamils a ‘condominium’ arrangement in the Central Province.     

The third source of influence is the broader Sinhalese political community, which in the past have been manipulated by political leaders in parliament. Although it has often been suggested that Sinhalese political leaders have been forced by the Sinhalese people to act against the Tamils, there is sufficient empirical and electoral evidence to suggest the opposite. The question now is how the new consensus or ‘political contract’ that President Wickremesinghe is trying to forge in parliament will resonate in the broader Sinhalese political community. 

The Times of India news story (14 December, sourcing the Press Trust of India) has noted that “there were no immediate comments from pro-Sinhala majority nationalist parties on Tuesday’s talks.” It would also appear that the Sri Lankan media has shown rather lukewarm interest in the APC and the President’s reconciliation initiative. The few that have appeared still keep dredging up the old 50-50 (even though it was not totally wrong), the so called colonial legacy (which can be argued more the other way), and India’s alleged imposition of 13A (that is only one of many ways of looking at it). Even a byline piece after the APC focused on the statements of a rather marginal attendee at the APC, and ignored the summary of speeches of greater significance in the statement put out by Presidential Media Division (PMD) after the conference.

The PMD’s statement is an extensive and somewhat edited ‘minutes’ of the conference. What is striking about the proceedings is the apparent tone set by everyone who spoke at the conference. There was hardly anything by way intransigent rhetoric that has been a characteristic of past efforts. The intervenors sounded more practical than political and focused on what could and should be done in the immediate short term. The emphasis was on acting along parallel tracks and accomplishing what is possible before the President’s independence day deadline.    

There was acknowledgement over issues where immediate action is possible, viz., land, release of prisoners, missing persons, and the presence. The two government ministers (Ali Sabri and Wijayadasa Rajapakshe) who are handling these issues were at hand to speak to them. There was also the call to hold Provincial Council elections as soon as possible without having to wait for constitutional changes. While major constitutional changes are impossible before independence day, a general outline of them could be finalized by early next year. 

In sum, the APC talks last week were more productive and practically focused than what has transpired in times past. That does not mean that every track that has been opened is well laid to reach its destination. The whole thing can backfire without any warning. Any further economic shocks, and you can forget the accelerated reconciliation program. That said, the initiative taken by the President is commendable, and for all the disagreements  some of us vigorously articulate, it is all in order to wish him success in this instance.  

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Latest comments

  • 7

    “All Party Conference”

    It’s all part, party, party, party ……… they have done all their political lives. …… Ranil has a good nose for a good party …….. a knack for a good tamasha

    People wouldn’t be so miserable …….. and won’t complain or protest ……. if even small bones are thrown to them from the party/feast table ……

    • 8

      A later French Revolution ……… of sorts …….. https://plus61j.net.au/plus61j-voices/legacy-danny-red-may-68-continues-shape-france/

      I know many here give predictions and theories and write-ups how exactly our country should/will recover …… and who is the best person to lead. …… I don’t believe in any of that …… I believe we will recover only by fortunate accident/coincidence …….. not by any grand design/program of our own.

      One interesting thing Danny the Red (Daniel Cohn-Bendit) says “We don’t know what form of government/society we are fighting for …… all we know is what we have is bad ……. and if we keep pulling out the weeds in the garden something we like might eventually crop up.”

      I believe that’s where this is heading.

      “But it is Auron’s conclusion that is most intriguing; he suggests that it was the fact that so many Jews were at the head of the multiple movements that made up the French far Left that ensured that the movement never elected to adopt terrorism to further its cause, unlike in Germany and Italy.”

      “It is a tantalising, if unprovable, theory, which, if true, makes the Jewish contribution to France’s social revolution even more significant than is generally thought.”

      Native are you Jewish?

      • 4

        “Native are you Jewish?”
        I am sure that Native has all his component parts, and none have been surgically removed.

        • 0

          I was beginning to wonder …….. if the old Rabbi’s Parkinson’s-ed hand removed more than the customary …….. that has left him with a raving anger against half of humanity. :))

          Perils of a cut-price bar mitzvah!

          • 2

            nimal fernando

            “Native are you Jewish?”

            What do you thin?.
            If I say yes I would be dammed.
            If I say no I would be dammed too.

            No comments, I don’t want Shin Bet commandos abseiling from my roof, and enter through my window, thrown into Guantanamo detention camp.

            I am told many European partys are being controlled by them.

  • 2


  • 6

    Rajan, you can call it a “yet another accelerated SHAM” . Haven’t we heard and seen enough of this BS???

  • 8

    As long as gota is not sitting there is a chance of some result.Unfortunately he can do so much damage to sabotage it froom outside.also the bhuddhist monks who llke those who sabotaged the banda-chelva pact are also there outside,not sitting at the table.It will all depend on who is more powerful,those ssitting at the table with ranil or those racists outside.Ranil.mahinda and sajit should tell them to go to hell instead of sending this country to hell.

  • 5

    All Party Conference: The President And His New Amigos

    A Reflection of IMF economic reform measures to be successful

    This is required the IMF needs the restructure the parliamentarian due to their previous practice of non-transparent and IMF setting the right direction for their trust of getting the loan not only tax the people Lack of government transparency is deadly to democracy

  • 4

    When I see these people sitting at this table …….. my mind races to this brilliant parable by Borges ……. “Ragnarök” …….. https://www.ronnowpoetry.com/contents/borges/Ragnarok.html

    How these worthless parasites’ importance in our lives/minds is created by …….. arriving in big cars, dress, people opening doors, security running around ………… mostly just for effect than for anything real ……..

    “A voice cried: “Here they come!” then: “It’s the Gods!” Four or five individuals emerged from the mob and took their places on the stage of the lecture hall. We all cheered, weeping: it was the Gods, coming back after centuries of exile. The stage made them taller: they threw their heads back and thrust their chests forward in haughty acceptance of our homage. One of them was holding a bough of the kind no doubt required by the simplistic botany of dreams; another made a broad gesture with his hand, which was a claw; one of Janus’s faces looked apprehensively at the curving beak of Thoth. Stirred perhaps by our cheers, another one–I’m no longer sure which one–broke out in triumphant but incredibly harsh clacking, complete with gargles and whistles. From that point on, things began to change.

    • 5


      It was all due to our perhaps precipitous suspicion that the Gods did not know how to talk. Hundreds of years of living like animals on the run had atrophied their human dimension. The moon of Islam and the Roman Cross had been merciless with these fugitives. The decadence of the Olympic bloodline was evident in their beetling brows, yellowed teeth, patchy half-breed or Chinese whiskers, and bestial protruding lips. Their clothing spoke not of genteel poverty but of the flashy bad taste of the Lower City’s back rooms and bordellos. A carnation bled from one buttonhole; we detected the outline of a dagger under a tight-fitting jacket. All at once we sensed that they were playing their last card, that they had grown sly, stultified and cruel like aging beasts of prey, and that they would destroy us if we allowed ourselves to be swayed by fear or pity. We drew our heavy pistols (in the dream, they just appeared) and cheerfully put the Gods to death.”

  • 3

    “the initiative taken by the President is commendable, and for all the disagreements some of us vigorously articulate, it is all in order to wish him success in this instance.”
    The initiative may be commendable depending on the outcome of the Conference. It should not end with similar initiatives in the past. There is no disagreements that the country should be changed from the past to recover economically, politically and socially. We all want the rule of law, impartial independent unbiased judiciary, free from corrption, free from bribes, free from oppressioin, equal income distribution, peace, harmony, unity and improved living standard to all. In otherwords, there should be political, cultural, social, administrative system changes.
    It is good all the Parliamentary leaders were there, but did they agree on anything towards above ?

  • 3

    RP, What is the change we are expected to see in this photo called “All party conference” You call it new amigos. Whatever the name, what exactly is the change to be observed that the citizens can expect would be beneficial.

  • 5

    “With a little bit of stretch, one might also call President Wickremesinghe’s new All-Party-Conference initiative as Accelerated Reconciliation Program, inasmuch as it brings to mind President Jayewardene’s Accelerated Mahaweli Development Program that was launched 45 years ago. There are obviously more differences than any similarity between the two, but the premise for and the purpose of acceleration are about the same.”
    What an analogy!
    Surely, the writer could stretch more meaningfuly.

  • 5

    ” JVP and its quondam comrades – Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila.”
    That is news to me. Was Udaya Gammanpila ever a comrade of the JVP– unless the author has in mind the year 2005 when the JVP & JHU had a happy anti Tamil nationalist alliance.
    “…let me here reiterate the point that the JVP shot itself in the foot by not attending the conference.”
    If the conference produces a result, then the JVP may lose a brownie point.
    The author himself harbours serious fears. Cannot the JVP has sums other than what the author has in mind.

  • 1

    SJ: You say: ” If the “CONFERENCE” (emphasis by me) produces a result……” As you know TNA refrained from voting against the Budget of Rani W on the “Promise” of solving the “Minority” problem by “4th February 2223” – on the 75th Independence day.

    The MP who represented TNA and the “Minority”, M.A. Sumanthiram got a “Taste of the Pudding” when it came to nominating members to the “Constitutional Council” (CC) There was “ONE” member to be nominated by the largest party next to the party heading the Opposition and that party being the TNA. Mr. Sumanthiram nominated MP Dharmalingam Siddarthan. Immediately, some MPs who “Defected” from SLPP (Phottuwa – Wimal & Co.) sitting at the meeting (Unauthorized) objected and proposed the name of Udaya Gammanpila. Not stopping at that, they demanded a vote on nominations of Gammanpila & Siddarthan. Sumanthiran objected stating that the “Group” who nominated Gammanpila had no “Official Standing” to be at the meeting since they still are MPs of SLPP. The Speaker who chaired the meeting, instead of recognizing the VALID reason of Sumanthiran, postponed the meeting. The proposal of “Wimal & Co.) was illegal as per the “21A”.

    This “Sumanthiran & Co.” will learn more lessons when the “Conference” moves on. I am glad NPP did not join that “Conference”. They know very well there are no “Brownie Points” to win.

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