By Jehan Perera –
A highlight of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to the United States to participate in the UN General Assembly was the photo opportunity he and his wife, Shiranthi, had with President Barack Obama and Mrs Obama. All four in the photograph looked extremely relaxed and happy. It was lovely photography, and the President’s media team recognized this, for they shared it with all of the national media which reproduced it on their front pages. The photograph also hinted at the possibility of a thaw in the US-Sri Lanka relationship that seemed to deteriorate over the past few years. At the UN General Assembly, President Rajapaksa spoke about the post-war development process in which the peaceful election and political empowerment of the Northern Province took centre stage. He also appealed to the international community saying, “It is clearly the responsibility of the international community to assist with these efforts and to ensure their success for the benefit of all the people of Sri Lanka.”
However, not all the messages coming to Sri Lanka after the provincial council elections have been equally positive. The day after the President spoke in New York, the position taken at the Geneva meeting of the UN Human Rights Council by its Human Rights Commissioner Navanethem Pillay following her weeklong visit to Sri Lanka proved to be a red flag to the government. She referred to a central issue of concern to the government when she said that she “detected no new or comprehensive effort to independently or credibly investigate the allegations which have been of concern to the Human Rights Council.” She called on the international community to consider taking steps to remedy this situation by launching an independent investigation if the Sri Lankan government had not done so by March 2014, the next occasion on which the UN Human Rights Council will be meeting in Geneva.
In addition the decision of the Canadian government to downgrade its representation at the Commonwealth Summit to be held in Sri Lanka in November, and to lobby against Sri Lanka, would be a disappointment to the government. It will be important to the success of the Commonwealth Summit that this Canadian position is not replicated by other countries. The Indian government’s whole hearted participation at the Commonwealth Summit will be crucial to its success. The government therefore needs to navigate its way carefully through the Sri Lankan Tamil issue, as this is an issue that has major implications for India especially in an election year. The Sri Lankan issue is of great importance in Tamil Nadu state, and the Indian government’s political survival may hinge on whether or not it gets Tamil Nadu’s support.
The holding of peaceful elections for the Northern Provincial Council has been a very positive action in term of setting the country in the direction of a sustainable political solution to the long festering ethnic conflict. The implementation of the system will not only be watched keenly by the ethnic minorities in Sri Lanka, but also by the international community. This is why the US, EU, India and Japan have all publicly expressed their support for the election of the provincial council and to their expectation that the government and TNA will work together in partnership to resolve the problems of the people. The EU statement expressed “trust that within the framework of the Sri Lankan Constitution, national and provincial authorities will cooperate fully to that end.” It is important that the entire system of provincial councils will be strengthened and not only in the North.
With the election of the Northern Provincial Council the system of devolution of power that was agreed upon by the Indian and Sri Lankan governments in 1987 has at last come to fruition, even if less powers than originally envisaged have been devolved. Regardless of the strengths and weaknesses of the provincial council system the fact that the Tamil-majority Northern Province will enjoy the same, albeit limited, powers as the Sinhala-dominated provincial councils can lead to a greater sense of equality and non-discrimination. The root causes of the ethnic conflict have much to do with the sense of inequality and discrimination which is an affront to human dignity. At the first stage, it will be necessary for the Northern Provincial Council to set itself up, and obtain what the other provincial councils have. At the second stage, they could seek to obtain more powers and resources, ideally in partnership with the other provincial councils who would also dearly like to have more powers and resources at their own disposal.
What is now needed is goodwill and restraint on all sides to make the existing provincial council system work well on the ground, so that it will be a service to the people and not be seen as white elephants, as the President’s secretary once said in an unguarded moment. The TNA’s decision to invite President Mahinda Rajapaksa to enable them to take the oath of office before him is an important symbolic gesture. Likewise the invitation extended to the prospective Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council C V Wigneswaran by the Governor of the Northern Province General Chandrasiri to discuss the setting up of the new administration is likewise a symbolic gesture, in which a hand that is extended in respect needs to be taken. There is a need for both sides to be sensitive to public opinion, as no political solution is possible without the people’s support on both sides.
Obtaining the people’s support for a sustainable and long term political solution is not an impossible dream. On the contrary, it is very much possible, and it is this that makes the present times so exciting and full of opportunity. It has been pointed out by that the results of the three provincial council elections showed a sharp contrast between the choices of the voters in the Northern Province and those in the Central and Northwestern provinces. It is also a fact that nationalism was a campaign theme in all three provinces, which has led to a general feeling that the country is more divided than ever after the election. In the Northern Province the vote against the government was by a majority of about 80 percent whereas in the other two provinces it was in favour of the government by a majority of about 60 percent.
In the Northern Province those who campaigned on behalf of the TNA called for the right of self-determination for the Tamil nation and referred to the LTTE as a freedom fighting group. In the Central and Northwestern provinces, those who campaigned on behalf of the government urged the voters to cast their votes for the government that had saved the country from division and won the war over the LTTE. The result of these elections and the campaign themes, therefore, suggest that the polarisation between the Tamil-majority North and the Sinhala-majority South is acute. This would bode ill for national reconciliation. However, while the case for ethnic nationalism was strong in the North, which has suffered war and discrimination on that account, it was less strong in the South where other issues have taken centre stage. This was seen by the votes of the people in the two southern provinces.
Although the elections have created an impression of strong ethnic polarization on account of the government’s defeat in the Northern Provincial Council election, the reality is more nuanced. It is important to note that none of the candidates put forward by the government’s nationalist allies such as the NFF and JHU won seats, while those put forward by the old left government allies which have traditionally been sympathetic to Tamil and minority aspirations such as the NSSP and CP did win seats. Therefore, the appearance of ethnic polarisation is not so sharp at the community level. The weakness of the opposition in the South gave the government an unbeatable advantage. The voters did not feel they had a viable alternative to vote for. Therefore, ethnic polarisation was not the only, or main, reason for the election outcome. If there is goodwill and restraint on both sides, and the international community provides a supportive environment, the balance between self-determination and national unity that the provincial council system provides for can be improved to pave the way to reconciliation.
Fathima Fukushima / September 30, 2013
Who want to reconcile with TNA racists?
D.Panabokke / September 30, 2013
UPFA cannot want to reconcile with TNA:
“I Have Sinhala Extremists And Religious Extremists In My Cabinet”: President, 28 September 2013,
Rajash / September 30, 2013
Fathima Fukushima’s shit hit the CT fan again
chandra / October 1, 2013
Fathima – Lorenzo
Think your “intelligent” comments and diatribe is more welcome at LW
Bensen Burner / September 30, 2013
As usual a very rational analysis by Jehan in absolute contrast to the views of Modawansa, Booruwansa and Harakawansa. I like those terms used by a reader to describe Weerawansa. Bensen
Pasel / September 30, 2013
First you have to tell this to your buddy Gota because you are the one gave all BS ideas to him
Pasel / September 30, 2013
Fathima Fukushima –
You need to come out the box and start to think then you will clear your head who is racist?
Thiru / September 30, 2013
Jehan Perera says:
“However, while the case for ethnic nationalism was strong in the North, which has suffered war and discrimination on that account, it was less strong in the South where other issues have taken centre stage.”
Jehan misses two important points for the nationalism of Tamils:
Grave war crimes on 70,000 or more innocent civilians need to be investigated and justice done.
To the state aided accelerated colonization of the North-East with Sinhalese must be stopped and needs be undone to preserve Tamils identity which existed before independence.
Both the above are indications of genocide of the Tamil nation.
Without these two things done reconciliation is a mirage!
Jim softy / September 30, 2013
Tamilnadu – politics live on every thing Tamil “Tamil” yet they are governed by two outsiders and speak A dialect of English and Tamil mixed.
IS that also Sinhale’ fault ?
Peter Casie Chetty / September 30, 2013
All Tamils do that don’t they?
Peter Casie Chetty / September 30, 2013
Oh has the death count increased from 40 thousand to 70 thousand. Six million Jews was 200,000 when they first counted. Then the started counting all the missing who had fled to the US and to other parts of the world and arrived at a count of six million. No one says that there were Slavs and Gypsies counted as Jews just to bloat the figures. Are there any Sinhalese counted in the 70,000?
Peter Casie Chetty / September 30, 2013
Jehan Perera is a joke! He is a dirty joke. NGOs will have to find other ways of feeding their families now that the war is over.
daya.thevi / October 1, 2013
As usual Jehan’s article is full of contradiction. International community has always been supportive to the Government of Sri Lanka to the extent that the UN chief has commented that UN has failed in SriLanka. They even accepted the perpetrators investigating themselves in the form of LLRC. The complaint now by the international community is the failure by SriLanka of implementing its own panel’s recommendations within a reasonable period of time. No one is going to stay restraint if the Government of SriLanka continue to bully its way and cheats the well wishers ie international community with blatant disregard of the agreed principles.
Please stop talking about Tamil nationalism. Tamil nation is bleeding to death and you are enjoying from the sidelines under the guise of Peace Councillor. The overwhelming vote from North is a “Cry for Help” towards the world community to free it from the murderous SriLankan regime.
Spring Koha / October 1, 2013
Gehan has an altogether novel interpretation of lovely. The Obama’s are obliged to pose with every Tom, Dick and Banda who visit in an official capacity. They do not need the national papers to carry this photograph to bolster their popularity. I saw the same photograph, of two couples, one man inherently decent who will abide by the conventions of his country and end his term on a constitutionally pre-determined date, and the other a chancer who will work every which way to stay in the post forever, convinced that none of his countrymen has the capability to do the job.
Spring Koha / October 1, 2013
Gehan hasn’t really come up with anything original in this article. Suffice to reiterate that President MR had the admirable political will to defeat the reprehensible LTTE and end the long war. However, it is clear that he is not the leader to deliver a sustainable peace; and the longer he goes on, the harder it will become for us to be a truly unified country, and to reach that desirable state.
Voice of Justise / October 5, 2013
Had Jehan Perera forgot the beautiful photograph in which MARA and General Fonseka were appearing after the defeat of Tamils in May 2009.What happened to the General after that.Are you still telling people to trust Mara.Is there any valid reasons for Tamils to trust Mara or the Sinhala leaders.Was there any trust building moves on the side of Mara. Why you always avoid talking about war crimes.Mara has all his tactics and misleading attempts.I dond thing that he could do it to international community.Obama is not like your president Mara.Please don’t try to support him to mislead people by coming out with bogus arguments.You do your NGO business along with Vasu as he is a close associate of yours and Mara.