2 December, 2020

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Making The Best Of The Second Best Solution

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Five years after the end of the war, Sri Lanka remains a post-war society that has yet to make the transition to a post-conflict society.  While the violence has ceased, the political roots of the conflict that gave rise to war remain to be addressed.  There continues to be extreme political polarization between the government and the Tamil and, more recently, the Muslim polity.  The government has in recent weeks being talking in terms of the revival of the LTTE and Tamil separatism.  In recent months, a new front has opened up with the renewed targeting of the Muslim minority, which shows that the build-up of extremist Sinhalese animosity against them, has not stopped.  The attacks against the Muslims have not enjoyed popular support, but they are becoming regular enough to sow seeds of fear and apprehension within the Muslim community.

The anticipation that presidential elections will be held early next year, or sooner, has received a boost after a government minister made an announcement to this effect in parliament.   However, this announcement does not bode well for those who wish to see more devolution of power or a focus on the rights of the ethnic minorities.  The recently held provincial council elections made it starkly evident that the ethnic minorities are not voting for the government.  This will strengthen the resolve of the government to look to its Sinhalese voter base to prevail at the forthcoming elections.  This may account for the lack of deterrent and punitive action against those who attack the ethnic and religious minorities.  But there is a danger here.  The government’s policy is to gather all Sinhalese under the banner of ethnic nationalism.  It may lose out with more moderate Sinhalese who have spoken out against the actions of the nationalists who attack the minorities.

Instead of politically addressing the grievances of the ethnic minorities, the government has preferred to follow a conflict management strategy.  At its heart is to co-opt the opposition parties, by offering them positions in the government and thereby seeking their acquiescence.  A second strategy is to use the military to suppress any possibility of public agitation.  The third, and most benign, is to emphasize its achievements in terms of economic development.  The government has been able to show macro level statistics which show unceasing progress in per capita incomes, high rates of economic growth, especially in the North, and visible infrastructure.   This has led the population at large, especially those living in the South of the country, to believe that the needs of the war-affected people are being adequately taken care of by the government.

Positive Signs

Indeed, there are positive signs emanating from the North.  There is continuous development work taking place, with new roads being built or improved.  The impact of roads on the well being of a society cannot be underestimated as they are like the arteries of a living body.  They can transform the appearance of the buildings on either side of the road, which themselves are being upgraded or newly constructed.  There are more shops and more money being spent in them.  In addition, in recent weeks there are indications that the TNA is prepared to be more conciliatory and accommodating in working with the government, even prior to obtaining the fundamental political reforms that they have long demanded.

So far there has been little or no manifestation of trust or inclination for such dialogue visible.  But this may be changing for the better.  The active role that is being played by South Africa in this regard is to be welcomed.  The most recent South African initiative has seen a visit to South Africa by a TNA delegation which followed a previous visit to South Africa by a Sri Lankan government delegation.  It is through forward movement with regard to a mutually acceptable political solution that the government can best restore its credibility with the moderate sections within the country and the international community.  There is a need for dialogue and negotiations, without which problems that affect communities and their nationalistic aspirations can be solved.

The TNA appears to be moderating its position with regard to engaging with the government, which suggests that a new peace process is in the offing.  Disengagement means that each entity operates in its own sphere without accommodating the other, whereas engagement means that the possibility of accommodation is increased.  The first indications came when Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council C V Wigneswaran implied that the TNA could join the Parliamentary Select Committee.   He said that if the TNA brought to the table reports and recommendations of committees that had addressed these matters in the past, and directed the PSC to move forward from where these committees had left, the TNA had no reason to keep away from the committee.   Another TNA leader Parliamentarian Suresh Premachandran welcomed the initiatives of the Chairman of the PSC Nimal Siripala de Silva and the Chief Minister, and added that the PSC was clearly the vehicle by which the government intended to achieve its objective. The government must make the exercise more than a time-buying  effort.

In these circumstances, it might be better to think in terms of problem-solving behaviors that are possible rather than what is ideal.  Those who act on the basis of political rights may wish to stand separate from the government and oppose it and prevail.  But the government will either ignore or seek to weaken them.   In the study of economics there is the theory of the second best.  In welfare economics, the theory of the second best concerns what happens when one or more conditions cannot be satisfied.  If one optimality condition cannot be satisfied, it is possible that the next-best solution involves changing other variables away from the ones that are usually assumed to be optimal.

The reasoning is that imperfections in information and market conditions make the best outcome a difficult one to obtain.  In going for the best solution in an imperfect world, no solution may be the outcome.

Conciliatory Actions

Chief Minister Wigneswaran has followed up on his conciliatory statements by joining both the Jaffna and Kilinochchi District Coordinating Committee Meetings which he jointly chaired along with Minister of Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development Douglas Devananda.  This was the first time that the Chief Minister had participated in such a meeting.  Development activities, various issues and future plans were discussed at the meeting. Education, Health and Resettlement were discussed in detail.  The Chief Minister however was also critical of the government.  He said “By clipping the wings of the NPC, the Central government is trying to take the upper hand through its agents. Therefore, to make our presence felt with our demands for the NPC we are attending these meetings.”

The Chief Minister added that if the government decided to serve the people in the Northern Province in a constructive manner, they would extend their cooperation to it.  At this meeting The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) again raised the issue of private land being acquired by the Government in the Jaffna District.  At the meeting, all parties in the Northern Provincial Council agreed on the need to urge the government to stop acquiring private land and to return land acquired in Valikamam North under controversial circumstances.  The army had last year acquired privately owned land in Valikamam North amounting to nearly 7000 acres despite opposition raised by the owners and the TNA.  The issue was raised at the Jaffna District Coordinating Committee meeting held in Jaffna under the joint chairmanship of Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran and Minister and EPDP leader Douglas Devananda.  Minister Devananda has been a long time loyalist of the government.   But he joined with the opposition on the issue of land acquisition by the government.

Similarly Minister Rishard Bathiuddin is another strong loyalist of the government.  While remaining in the government, and loyal to it, he has taken up a confrontational posture with sections of the government led by nationalist Sinhalese on the issue of resettlement of the displaced Muslims.   In other words, he is engaging with the government on behalf of his constituencies and not trying to operate on his own where he can be either ignored or weakened as an enemy.  What the government needs to do most restore is its credibility.  So far it has failed to convince that it is sincere in its intent.   As a starting point to building confidence amongst the ethnic minorities, the government can resolve in a fair and amicable way, the problems brought to it by its own ministers who are from the ethnic minorities.  If this happens regularly enough there will be an incentive for those in the opposition, like the TNA, to work closer with the government, if only to resolve the burning issues of the people they were elected to represent.  This seems to be the best that can be hoped for at the present time.

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    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 2
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    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

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    There is NO need of a ‘parliamentary’ or any other committee to allow the TNA functioning like all other provincial councils – without interfearence by governors.
    TNA merely wishes the provisions of the constitution enforced in the north,to allow democratic governance.
    The author should explain why this is not possible.
    He appears unaware of IDPs still living in ‘refugee camps’.

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      Permit me to barge into your comment; I have a purpose.

      ‘He appears unaware of IDPs still living in ‘refugee camps’’.

      That’s not the best way to put it. He ‘pretends’ to be unaware of IDPs still living in ‘refugee camps’.

      This is a very common strategy adopted by this ‘so called’ man of peace.

      Look at how he words,

      – the political roots of the conflict that gave rise to war remain to be addressed.

      It may appear innocent and soothing. But, not really. Shouldn’t that have been worded, ‘the political roots of the conflict that gave rise to war have not been addressed.

      ‘Remain to be addressed’, has a different connotation. It implies that it is a matter of time before they are addressed. And, that they ‘will’ be addressed. Where is that coming from?

      Dull children play with fire; smart adults play with ‘words’.

      Look again,

      – Indeed, there are positive signs emanating from the North. There is continuous development work taking place, with new roads being built or improved.

      This is laughable. The building of Roads, is a positive sign? When was the absence of Roads the root of the political problem?

      Roads are being built to facilitate the convoys, to entrench the military.

      Well, one could argue that my interpretation is far fetched. Apparently so, when taken in isolation. But, not when taken in combination with the other ‘developments’.

      The military has taken to Farming in the lands belonging to the locals. It has cut into their other means of earning and employment.

      These developments cannot be positive. These developments are ominous signs.

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    I disagree with Jehan on one point. Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam are religions. Sinhala and Tamil are languages. In the Sinhala community there are Buddhists and Christians. In the Tamil speaking population there are Christians, Hindus and Muslims. At the end of the day if Sinhala based policies are brought forward a good number of Sinhala speaking Christians will not support the policy. Similarly in the Tamil speaking community all the Muslims will not support any policy that favours only Tamils. Hence at the end of the day if no fair ground policies are brought forward the conflict in Sri Lanka will continue and the international interference in the internal matters of Sri Lanka will continue and will be escalated at the next UN Human Rights Council.

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    This government has lost its credibility. It is forfeiting the trust of the people by the day. It is a slow, steady , but a relentless process. Some within the UPFA fold sensing the public mood are beginning to distance themselves from the government. The JVP is beginning to get its message on the follies of the government across to the UPFA base. The mobile phone video clips are capturing and broadcasting images of the lawlessness and thuggery encouraged and sponsored by this government, on a daily basis. The cost of living is pinching the average person’s stomach, while the extravagant lifestyles of those being fattened by this government are a constant irritant. The distance between the words and deeds of this government are becoming glaringly visible. The people are sensing that a lot of things are going wrong in this country. It is not the Tamils alone who have lost hopes, but increasingly, all other communities.

    The government is a victim of its own propaganda and outright lies. It is like a spider trapped in its own web. It is deluded by the illusions it has created. This was the same web the LTTE spun for itself, prior to its destruction.

    This government has also missed a wonderful post-war opportunity to set this country on the right and righteous track.
    It has to pay the price for this cardinal sin,soon. The ball has started rolling already. The government is unfortunately beyond redemption.

    De.Rajasingham Narendran

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    In the absence of all elements of democracy or good governance how could one engage with the government? In the absence of any semblance of respecting the norms of human rights how could one engage with this govt.? When Sri Lankan state has signed and ratified the International covenant on civil and political rights (ICCPR) and its protocols and then state they are not bound by it (in re views of the UN Human Rights Committee in Nallaratnam Singarasa and Thevaraja Sharma) how could one engage with them? When the first thing the President did in his 2nd term of office was to repeal 17A and bring in 18A how could one engage with his govt.?When the BBS is allowed to be a law unto themselves how could one engage with them when even his Minister is not safe with them? When the Bishops of Anuradhapura and Mannar are not allowed to visit prisoners during Easter how could one engage with this govt. If two parties are to enter into an Agreement both parties have to be eligible to do so and you know very well about it. When it is not so how could one engage with the govt.? When our govt. is not ready to honour the promises it gave to the Secretary General of UN, Prime Minister of India and its Foreign Ministers how could one engage with it?

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    How silly for Jehan to believe that this government is democratic enough to aim for reconciliation.At least if the government stops the extrajudicial killings,kidnapping,rape,anti-Muslim onslaught and fake Tiger revival game, then it will bring great relief to our minorities.
    Let Jehan address these problems instead of pontificating on some thoretical speculations.

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    There are still some people believe that this regime was good before May 2009 and they became bad only recently. Some people think that regime change will bring something good. Independence of justice system will come back, the rule of law will come back, Freedom of speech will come back, authoritarian system will be abolished, Proper devolution will take place, credible impartial investigation will begin and so on. But we fail to understand is that all these were dead long time ago and it is at the peak now. Every regime that was in power since independence did the same and so far there is no change in the system or in the culture of people. There was continuous blood bath in this soil since independence and if any one thinks that it has stopped in May 2009, they are fools.

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      Ajith,
      I agree with you 100%

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