6 December, 2021

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Dialogue Required To Cross The Finishing Line

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Even as the country appears to be getting embroiled in more and more conflict internally, where dialogue has broken down or not taken place at all, there has been the appearance of success internationally. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be leading a delegation this week to Scotland to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). Both the president, at the UN General Assembly in New York, and Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva seem to have made positive impacts on their audiences and especially amongst the diplomatic community with speeches that gave importance to national reconciliation based on dialogue and international norms.

In a recent interview to the media Prof Peiris affirmed the value of dialogue in rebuilding international relations that have soured. He said, “The core message is that we believe in engagement at all times. There may be areas of disagreement from time to time. That is natural in bilateral relations, but our effort should always be to ascertain the areas of consensus and agreement. There are always areas where we could collaborate to the mutual advantage of both countries. And even if there are reservations with regard to particular methods, there are still abundant opportunities that are available for the enhancement of trade relations for investment opportunities, tourism, all of this. And I think this is succeeding because we are establishing a rapport and there is reciprocity. Countries are reaching out to us.”

Prof Peiris also said that upon his return from London, the president would engage in talks locally with opposition parties, the TNA and NGOs. He spoke positively about this dialogue, saying “The NGOs can certainly make a contribution. We like to benefit from their ideas. We will speak to opposition political parties. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is going to meet the Tamil National Alliance on his return from COP26, which we will attend at the invitation of the British Prime Minister. So be it the NGO community or the foreign diaspora or the parliamentary opposition in Sri Lanka. We want to engage with all of them and that is very much the way forward”

Internal Fragmentation

The concept of a whole-of-government approach is indicative of a more cohesive approach to governance by government ministries, the public administration and state apparatus in general to deal with problems. It suggests that the government should not be acting in one way with the international community and another way with the national community when it seeks to resolve problems. It is consistency that builds trust and the international community will trust the government to the extent that the national community trusts it. Dialogue may slow down decision making at a time when the country is facing major problems and is in a hurry to overcome them. However, the failure to engage in dialogue can cause further delays due to misunderstanding and a refusal to cooperate by those who are being sidelined.

There are signs of fragmentation within the government as a result of failure to dialogue within it. A senior minister, Susil Premajayanth, has been openly critical of the ongoing constitutional reform process. He has compared it to the past process undertaken by the previous government in which there was consultations at multiple levels. There is a need to change the present constitutional framework which is overly centralized and unsuitable to a multi ethnic, multi religious and plural society. More than four decades have passed since the present constitution was enacted. But the two major attempts that were made in the period 1997-2000 and again in 2016-2019 did not succeed due to the opposition they generated that was born of both genuine concern in the case of some and also politically motivated in the case of others.

President Rajapaksa, who has confidence in his ability to stick to his goals despite all obstacles, has announced that a new constitution will be in place next year. The president is well situated to obtain success in his endeavours but he needs to be take the rest of his government along with him. Apart from being determined to achieve his goals, the president has won the trust of most people, and continues to have it, though it is getting eroded by the multiple problems that are facing the country and not seeing a resolution. The teachers’ strike, which is affecting hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, is now in its fourth month with no sign of resolution. The crisis over the halting of the import of chemical fertilizer is undermining the position of farmers and consumers and has the potential to push them over the brink to desperate actions if left to continue in the manner as it is now.

Early Warning

An immediate cause for the complaints against the government is the lack of dialogue and consultation on all the burning issues that confront the country. This problem is accentuated by the appointment of persons with military experience to decision making positions. The ethos of the military is to take decisions fast and to issue orders which have to be carried out by subordinates. The president’s early assertion that his spoken words should be taken as written circulars reflects this ethos. However, democratic governance is about getting the views of the people who are not subordinates but equals. When Minister Premajayanth lamented that he did not know about the direction of constitutional change, he was not alone as neither does the general public or academicians which is evidenced by the complete absence of discussion on the subject in the mass media.

The past two attempts at constitutional reform focused on the resolution of the ethnic conflict and assuaging the discontent of the ethnic and religious minorities. The constitutional change of 1997-2000 was for the purpose of providing a political solution that could end the war. The constitutional change of 2016-19 was to ensure that a war should not happen again. Constitutional reform is important to people as they believe that it will impact on how they are governed, their place within society and their equality as citizens. The ethnic and religious minorities will tend to prefer decentralized government as it will give them more power in those parts of the country in which they are predominant. On the other hand, that very fact can cause apprehension in the minds of the ethnic and religious majority that their place in the country will be undermined despite evidence to the contrary in other successful countries where devolution is practiced.

Unless the general public is brought aboard on the issue of constitutional change, and especially on its basic features, it is unlikely they will support it. We all need to know what the main purpose of the proposed constitutional reform is. If the confidence of the different ethnic and religious communities is not obtained, the political support for constitutional change will also not be forthcoming as politicians tend to stand for causes that win them votes. Minister Premajayanth has usefully lit an early warning light when he said that politicians are not like lamp posts to agree to anything that the government puts before them. Even though the government has a 2/3 majority, this cannot be taken for granted. If President Rajapaksa is to succeed where the constitutional drafts of previous leaders never made it to the finishing line, there needs to be buy-in for constitutional reform from elected politicians and the general public, both from the majority community and minorities.

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Latest comments

  • 5
    0

    How can a dialogue be possible with a person who would not care much about transparency and accountability. Kerawalapitiya bill was signed shortly before his trip to the US with all the doors shut for even responsible cabinet ministers.

    His brother did the same upto 2015, and people hung him on their own house windows. Ironically, the very same people together with supporters for racism and sinhala buddhism (which is not the real buddhism as taught by Lord buddha) brought them back to power. Now almost many are speechless in the country, just because, UNDAYA (bullet) would be the consequence, if anyone would opens his mouth against. Psycho terror seems to be raising its head again.

  • 5
    0

    Where do you find the Finishing Line, when you keep pushing the posts over and over again!

  • 4
    0

    ….with SPEECHES that gave importance to national reconciliation based on dialogue and international norms……..
    Great to give emphasis to “Speech”.
    Words are free but action costs. So far no action on this front. Fools some people………
    …… gave importance to national reconciliation based on ….. international norms…..
    How much on this applies to Law & Order and pardoning of ‘criminals’ convicted by highest court of law. Is that an international norm?

  • 9
    0

    …..the president has won the trust of most people……..
    Is the Author in cuckoo land? When HE himself has said ‘Mea Culpa’ recently.

  • 5
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    …..Constitutional reform is important to people as they believe that it will impact on how they are governed, their place within society and their equality as citizens. ……
    It is not Constitutional reform but adherence to THE CONSTITUTION that is impacting. When the constitution has been trampled on by excessive power in one individual, as per 20A, what future for the ‘people’. If not for 20A, many govt MPs would have raised many issues. When there is very little input from civil society (not like the bootlicker types) but only the legislature and executive dominate that “reform” to suit themselves, no purpose is served.
    Thank you for conceding “Unless the general public is brought aboard on the issue of constitutional change, and especially on its basic features, it is unlikely they will support it.”

  • 4
    8

    “There is a need to change the present constitutional framework which is overly centralized and unsuitable to a multi ethnic, multi religious and plural society.”
    —–
    Who decides whether an overly centralized Government is unsuitable?
    —-
    People belong to different ethnic groups and different religions are scattered all over the country. Separate State, Federal System, Devolution of Power are the aspirations of a small group of elite politicians who want to maintain their power monopoly. Low caste Tamils in Yapanaya told the Government not to give land and police powers to NPC.
    Separatism was buried in Nandikadal but there are politicians who say LTTE is gone but separatism is alive. Same politicians say ‘Our objective remains the same’. Their objective is to create a separate State within Sri Lanka. Under such circumstances, for a small country like Sri Lanka a Unitary State with a strong Central Government is the best option. Those who are not comfortable with that are free to say good bye to racist Sinhala Buddhist Supremacists/Fundamentalists/Chauvinists. Sri Lanka has a ‘Saloon Door’.

    • 3
      1

      Eagle Eye,
      Sri Lanka has a ‘Saloon Door’. You are right. Sri Lanka is barbaric!

  • 2
    0

    Doesn’t matter.

    If 150 MPs agree it will pass.

    Game over.

  • 3
    9

    “The ethnic and religious minorities will tend to prefer decentralized government as it will give them more power in those parts of the country in which they are predominant.”
    —-
    Those parts of the country in which they are predominant after ethnic cleansing of indigenous Sinhalayo?
    —-
    NE was inhabited by indigenous Sinhalayo for thousands of years before Dravida invaders used scorched earth policy to wipe out Sinhala settlements. After that Malabars (not Tamils) from Hindusthan came and colonized Yapanaya from 12th Century AD and Europeans colonized the country after 1505. During colonial rule, they brought Dravida coolies to Yapanaya and changed the demographic composition. After Sinhalayo gained independence, Tamil terrorists did ethnic cleansing of Sinhalayo who remained in NE. So, why should indigenous Sinhalayo give a decentralized Government to the descendants of people who came from Hindusthan, wiped out Sinhala settlements, colonized Sinhala land and claim it is their ‘Traditional Homeland’.

    • 6
      2

      Chingkallams are mostly genetic Tamil Buddhists, with some infusion from Bengal
      And native Bengalis are also Dravidian. They speak an Aryan language, due to Theravada Buddhism, which used Pali, a Prakrit (the degraded language of Sanskrit origin ). The native Thamizh dialect was called Elu from the Thamizh word Eezham meaning the lang of toddy. When most Thamizh Dravidian largely Yakka population down the south, central and western parts of the island converted to Buddhism they started to corrupt their native Thamizh dialect with the Pali Prakrit of Buddhism and gradually Chingkallam evolved. Old Chigkallam is called Hela very similar to Thamizh . Elu+Pali or Prakrit = Hela. The largely native Dravidian Naga population in the north and east of the island did not largely convert to Buddhism. Many did convert but the vast majority remained Saivam. Even the converted ones reconverted back the Saivaism , when the Cholas invaded 10AD.. Hence the ancient Thamizh identity was maintained in these regions. No Malabars or anyone came from South India and chased away Chingkallams who lived here. There is no recorded history of this anywhere. Not even in the Mahavamsa fairy tale, that always states the north and east of the island was Thamizh lands.

    • 1
      2

      Hi EE,
      Why the Malabar’s are always propping up?
      What is the historical basis?
      Cholas and Pandya are not Malabo’s?
      Remember Pandya Princess and maids are the preferred from day dot!
      Prince Vijaya down to all!

      • 3
        0

        Yes after the demise of the Thamizh Pandian kingdom, they started to import Thamizh speaking Naicker brides from Madurai and Thanjavur for their royalty and aristocrats including Thamizh aristocrats wholesale too. Failing that like king Senarath’s two sons they took Thamizh princesses from the kingdom of Jaffna as their brides. Everything from the home country in Thamizh South India to the kingdom of Kandy used to move through the kingdom of Jaffna ports. Jaffna, Mannar and Trincomalee. Brides, aristocrats goods etc. Most of the Chingkallam upper castes and aristocrats are descended from these South Indian Pandian and Naicker Thamizh imports. Low caste Malabars from the then Thamizh western Chera/Kerala coast were either imported or came and settled along the western and southern littorals during the Portuguese Dutch era together with low caste from the eastern Coramandel coast to perform lowly menial service tasks or as indentured slave labour for the huge southern spice estates. Their Chingkalized descendants are the present-day Chingkalla Karwa, Salagama, Durawa, Berewa( Paraiyan in Thamizh . Bera is the Chingkalized form of Thamizh Parai or Para Melam) Hunu , Hali and many other castes. Most of them now beat the anti-Thamizh Bera and dance to this tune. Maybe this Eagle Thaatha is one of them.

      • 1
        0

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        For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

    • 1
      1

      EE,

      Devolution of power is not a sustainable solution. It is temporary.

      Best thing is to relocate people and divide the island into 3 mono ethnic nations.

      You will have your own nation without Tamils and Muslims.
      I will have my own nation.
      They will have their own nation.

      Isn’t that great?

      Until then expect trouble.

  • 3
    9

    Last week the evil Sinhala army erected a new house for a needy family in the Matale area The house for the family of Mr S Balakrishnan was formally vested in them during a simple ceremony due to COVID-19 restrictions. The housewarming followed Hindu religious traditions and it was attended by Major General Kithsiri Liyanage.

    Meanwhile in Pottuvil another atrocity took place. Major Dilum Wijethilaka of the Sinha Regiment handed over a newly built house to Mr P Shanmugam of No 2, Victoria Watta, Sengamuwa, Pottuvil. He is a needy old father with his wife and was without a home when their plight was brought to the notice of the army.

    Adding insult to injury, on Tuesday 19th Major General Channa Weerasooriya gifted a stock of dry rations and organized the award of financial assistance for all three children in the family.
    Apart from the school accessories, those three children of the family are to be provided Rs 7500.00 on a monthly basis until they complete their GCE (O/L) examinations.

    Is there no end to Sinhala racism?

    • 4
      1

      you knew all this whilst lying on your back to please Nordic sugar d-ddy, somewhere in Norseland. Is this part of your Nordic fairy tales that you whisper whilst you are herding reindeer?

  • 8
    2

    Jehan,

    You can keep this short of writing forever until you reach a finishing line in your life but the finishing line go further and further means infinity. What a wonderful speech by Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2010 with the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon! What a wonderful speech by Gota inviting for dialogue with Tamil Diaspora and what an explanation by GL Peries? It is only a speech to get applaud but to cheat! Sorry?

  • 7
    1

    This writer has lost all credibility as a serious influencer of public opinion. He does not seem to know whether he is Arthur or Martha. It cannot be naivete as he should be aware of how politicians operate. His “Finishing Line” seems funny at best.

    • 1
      0

      Sad, but true, Lasantha. And there’s no need for us to elaborate, is there? However, it’s necessary to keep reiterating this. What else can one do, in a constructive way?
      .
      There’s no point trying to reform Jehan. There can be no doubt that he’s intelligent enough to be consciously and calculatedly singing the praises of whatever rotters are the powers that be at any given time. I suggest that you read and comment on what the most sincere young writers produce. Here’s one:
      .
      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-oppositions-identity-crisis/comment-page-1/#c
      .
      As you will see, I have deigned to give him advice! Here’s another:
      .
      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/check-the-paycheck/
      .
      She writes well, and dare not be more adventurous in the matter of her style of writing. How to tell her that we understand that a Tamil cannot be “politically incorrect”? I’m sure that she must be aware of it. She has nowhere said that she’s Tamil, but only they ended up with surnames like that!
      .
      We don’t face half the problems that a Tamil does!
      .
      Panini Edirisinhe of Bandarawela

  • 3
    4

    EE,
    Good idea and should have a very good outcome.
    Which part of Canada or Australia would have to join this country to accommodate these patriots on mission to achieve exploration of the globe?
    Hopefully Canada and Australia would agree to centralised power, instead of the federal state.
    Same reasoning, Australia and /or Canada,, beware your federal state may be leading to separation, with these patriotic residents as they have tendency to separate via terrorism when they are in these Federal enviroments

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