19 September, 2020

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Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ‘Compromises’

By Kath Noble

Kath Noble

Probably even Mahinda Rajapaksa is amazed at how much he can get away with. At the end of the war, he promised that he would fully implement the 13th Amendment. In fact, he promised that its full implementation would be just the beginning – further steps would be taken to ensure that Sri Lanka never had to face such an ordeal again. He may even have believed it.

Yet here he is now, trying to pass constitutional amendments to do away with a number of its very significant clauses.

Discussion of this fascinating turnaround has tended to focus on the international community, in particular India. What will India do if Mahinda Rajapaksa goes back on his word? What will the world think?

Of course this is important. India has proved that it is eminently capable of destabilising Sri Lanka. Its supply of weapons and training – and a safe haven – to Tamil militant groups was vital to their converting numbers into results after Black July. More recently, India’s support of Western diplomatic efforts to raise the issue of war crimes at the United Nations has contributed to – if not by itself resulted in – the loss of other key states of the Non-Aligned Movement, plus the toughening of global public opinion.

In between, India helped the Government to pursue its military campaign against the LTTE to a successful conclusion.

Its current alignment with the West on Sri Lankan issues should be a major cause for concern, given Western enthusiasm for and experience of destabilisation, especially of countries with leaders that it considers troublesome.

One of the inadvertent consequences of the victory over the LTTE is the massive overconfidence of Sinhalese nationalists. They have come to think that Sri Lanka can take on the world. That it is an island of only 20 million people – and 20 million people who are united in body but not yet in spirit – does not register. Bring on a billion Indians and however many from the West! Never mind the suffering such confrontations entail, even when they don’t involve the use of force. Let them try! This is linked to the fallacy that they have already defeated India once. But it was the LTTE and not the Government or the JVP that forced the withdrawal of the IPKF, and the most important factor in that struggle was not its military capacity but the Tamil ethnicity of its members.

Only the form of intervention would be in doubt with the undoing of the 13th Amendment. It is a ‘red line’.

The absolutely obvious – yet apparently incomprehensible to Sinhalese nationalists – result of such provocation of India would be the practical strengthening of the separatist cause in Sri Lanka.

It would also be theoretically strengthened, of course.

Separatists hate the idea of functioning provincial councils in the North and East. That is why the LTTE rejected the 13th Amendment and why the British Tamils Forum has this weekend issued a statement ruling out any deal that is based on it. To justify dividing the country, they need to argue that Tamils cannot live in Sri Lanka. They need to convince people that they will always be dominated and discriminated against by Sinhalese, if not actually murdered by them. And making those claims would be a lot more difficult if the most important decisions affecting the day-to-day lives of the inhabitants of Tamil majority areas were being taken by their elected representatives from the Tamil community itself.

Involving the most popular Tamil political formation in the governance system would also encourage it to move away from such an agenda. They should be given an incentive to work for Sri Lanka.

By contrast, keeping the TNA out of power leaves it with nothing better to do than spearhead another push for Eelam.

Abolishing provincial councils is a totally loopy idea. And of course the campaign to get rid of the 13th Amendment is being led by the usual crowd of lunatics. (I was momentarily delighted a couple of weeks ago when the Ravana Balaya started protesting about somebody’s plan to build a statue of Sita, thinking that their getting involved in such absolutely pointless issues of no possible interest to anybody was a sign that we could finally forget about them, but no such luck!)

The problem is that such efforts are used by the Government to give the impression that its own stupidities constitute a reasonable compromise.

Removing as many powers as possible from provincial councils – as the Government is trying to do through its proposed constitutional amendments – is hardly better than getting rid of them altogether. Indeed, what actually needs to be done is to work out how to give them more responsibilities, looking at reviews that have been undertaken of their functioning in the rest of the country. There are numerous very useful studies, both official and those carried out by independent academics and civil society organisations. The report by the Institute of Constitutional Studies, published in 2010, would be a good start.

The Government could still do it.

One of the saddest aspects of the current hullabaloo over provincial councils – and the point that is most worth debating now – is that it is in no way reflective of public opinion in Sri Lanka. A 2011 survey by the Centre for Policy Alternatives found that almost 40% of the Sinhalese community had no opinion whatsoever about provincial councils. Another more than 30% was in favour of them, with the existing level of devolution, while additional devolution of powers was preferred by another 15%. In other words, very few people were dead set against the 13th Amendment.

(More than 40% of Tamils wanted additional devolution, while around 20% preferred the existing level.)

Of course a lot of the Sinhalese community can be persuaded that the 13th Amendment is actually tantamount to hacking off their own feet, and that process is now well under way.

What the research tells us is that they need leadership.

What they are getting is Wimal Weerawansa, Champika Ranawaka and the Vens Galagodatthe Gnanasara,  Akmeemana Dayaratne and Co.

Although the sheer number of different groups calling for the abolition of provincial councils makes it seem as though it is a mainstream effort, this is simply a reflection of their astute tactics. Rather than working under a single banner – which they could just about manage to hold up between them – they have each formed their own organisation to work for more or less the same ends.

It is about time more sensible politicians launched a counterattack.

The stand of the SLMC and EPDP is a relief, since it is more or less the first indication that members of the administration have minds of their own, plus something resembling a backbone. The Cabinet Memorandum by Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Tissa Vitarana and DEW Gunasekera is also welcome. But it is not enough for them to refuse to vote for the Government’s constitutional amendments – Mahinda Rajapaksa is an expert when it comes to cobbling together coalitions, and he may still find a way to get what he wants. The only real hope of keeping the 13th Amendment intact is to go out and actively convince people that it is essential for the future of the country.

*Kath Noble may be contacted at kathnoble99@gmail.com. 

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    It is hoped that saner counsel will prevail. However what can you expect from people who believe that what is important is the alignment of the stars and that ethno-religous hegemony is the solution to the problems of the country.

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      You are right as usual Kath!
      The UNP headed by the shameless clown-dictator Ranil who is killing the party and expelling people is not EDUCATING the public on the issues and indeed is NOT an opposition at all to the Rajapassa regime! Ranil is actively supporting Rajapassa.
      But the International Community with its Commonwealth Junket and obsessed with the India – China Cold war is also pretty bloody useless in holding Rajapassa accountable.
      Rajapassa is a past master at DIVIDE, DISTRACT and RULE!

      Chandirka Bandararanayake is the only hope to unit the opposition – the best of a bad lot!

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        MR has been in politics for a longer time than dodo, Kath noble or me . He knows what he is doing . Maybe, he did want to implement the 13 th amendment but the people are now opposing this illegal document . MR being the astute politician will not go against the peoples wishes . He knows that he will be digging his own gave if the 13 th amendment is not removed .One can see that there is so much opposition to this obnoxious , vile amendment which was forced by India under a state of emergency in SL . Wait for the petitions , protests . they will come .

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    “It is about time more sensible politicians launched a counterattack.”

    Are there any sensible politicians in this country?!!

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    13nd amendment ,there is good and some mistakes.our president will take accurate decision at right time.he knows the best things any one don’t want to talk about about us or our purposes.he finished war we want only live in peacefully now we are free.thanks for him with three forces.

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      “Free”? Well without rule of law, religious violence, ministerial thuggery , ministry secretaries behaving like thugs and dictators…. you call this free. Well I am very sorry. You do not know what ‘free’ means.

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    our president never do unless things to our country he always think about our development.. there are some people wants create a another LTTE terrorism in sri lanka..they always try to it , through various situations.. but we are always with our leader..and no space for it

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    Lanka Lover Cathie also wants us to give the LTTE proxy Sambandan his own Police and the Titles to all uninhited land.

    “Else White IC will get us with the help of the One Billion Indians” warns Cathie.

    As Dayan Jayathilaka pointed out, Sambandan, as recently as last year, has declared that he will fulfil the Soaring Aspirations for Eelaam, which his fighters couldn’t deliver through Terrorism.

    Not sure about Billion Indians, but some of the sixty Mil Naduans , who are under the spell of Indian Tigers Vaiko, and Seemon will defenetly will sneak in once Sambandan forces our Armed forces out of the North.

    His Police will provide protection and guard them in old Wanni territory, with his titles to the Land there.

    White IC will ensure any Govt, whether the current or future does not stop Sambandan, untill he fulfils his ” Soaring Aspiration”.

    Atleast Cathie has been upfront to explain it to our Moderate vigilantes.

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    Kathy, i think these readers who supports MR has no brains. This will go on untill International world will come and seperate this land. So lets wait and see if this leader MR will do something? I say NO…

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    Will eventual separation harm MR in any way? The sinhala man will be
    more free from fear than now, fighting in his own backyard with whatever the Regime proposes.

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    What is dangerous trend is the commonly held view that the people must decide on the issue of devolution. Why doesn’t the Government refer more issues for decision by the people such as whether the Electricity tariff increase should be abolished, whether all indirect taxes should not be abolished whether the salaries of MPs should be raised etc.
    Democracy is totally misunderstood and has come to mean that what the people decide is always right. This is a recipe for anarchy.
    As for keeping one’s word this is not a moral value of our political leaders. It too is a recipe for breakdown of all social relations if practiced by the people.
    I am reminded of the words of the man in the street when the nobleman’s carriage killed a man and he drove on. He said drive faster to your grave. The French Revolution saw the guillotine used freely against all noblemen.

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      So Mr Senanayaka’s take on Democracy is, that there should be a referandum every time the Govt wants to raise tariffs.

      But the most important issue for Nation’s future and survival,which is giving the LTTE proxy Sambandan lead TNA its own Police Force and freehold Titles to all common land in one third of the country should be arranged privately.

      Is this the norm of the Democracy that Mr Senanayaka’s side of Politics is trying to bestow on our poor inhabitants?.

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    President Rajapaksa is duty bound to act on the wishes of the PREPONDERANT MAJORITY of his People; that is how a Democracy works. He can’t do what other countries have forced down Sri Lanka’s unwilling throat at gunpoint, against the WILL of the People of his country.

    The British Tamil Forum has REJECTED Devolution under the 13th Amendment; SECESSION is what they need … RIGHT AWAY!

    The British Tamil Forum is one of the main Eelamist Tamil Diaspora organizations. If they don’t want Power Devolved under the 13th Amendment, then the GOSL will NEVER satisfy the Eelamist Tamil DEMANDS with it, because it is the Eelamist Tamil Diaspora that is driving the pressure brought to bear on Sri Lanka by Western countries to devolve power.

    It is JUST AS WE HAVE SAID ALL ALONG: No reasonable accommodation can be achieved with the Eelamists that does not give them a base and the power to proceed towards Eelam. Even now they want what amounts to outright secession, just as the late unlamented Velupillai Prabhakaran wanted all along. He fought when he felt powerful and ready, and talked when he was on the ropes, but NEVER BUDGED from his goal of an INDEPENDENT EELAM STATE. So it is with the Eelamists of today.

    Therefore, AT LEAST NOW, dear Mr. President, TAKE A STAND and set an EARLY DATE for a NATIONWIDE REFERENDUM (NOT a REFERENDUM in the Northern and/or Eastern Provinces only) to REPEAL the 13th Amendment and DISSOLVE the Provincial Council System, and LET ALL OF THE SOVEREIGN PEOPLE OF Sri Lanka DECIDE the ISSUE!

    The RIGHT TO ELECT one’s candidates to the National Parliament is FRANCHISE ENOUGH for any Law-Abiding Citizen. Only SEPARATISTS and Provincial Council BUREAUCRATS trying to hang on to their CUSHY JOBS paid captive Sri Lankan Taxpayers want Provincial Council Fiefdoms.

    GET RID OF ALL Provincial Councils; they are a source of ABUSE & WASTE, and are a GRAVE THREAT to the INTEGRITY OF THE COUNTRY. Tiny Sri Lanka DOES NOT NEED another layer of EXPENSIVE & UNNECESSARY BUREAUCRACY to harass its people …. it makes Sri Lanka NON-COMPETITIVE in the Global Marketplace!

    NEVER …. NEVER ….. NEVER let UNREPENTANT SEPARATISTS Control Provincial Councils transforming Sri Lanka into a Patchwork Quilt of Communal Bantustans, or we will have COMMUNAL WARFARE AGAIN in Sri Lanka!

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    Ms. Noble suggest the PCs will work. On what basis is this claim made? What principle… what theory? What Sri Lanka needs is elections in which the minority–any minority–counts. What kind of system will deliver that kind of power to a minority? What kind of system will induce those running for elections to deliver on their promises to the minority? Etc. Such questions need to be asked first. This is the kind of thinking that will be needed by those really interested in Sri Lanka’s long term viability and its attempt to heal the gaping wounds of war.

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