29 October, 2020

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Northern Provincial Council Elections: Important Step In The Process Of National Reconciliation

By Javid Yusuf –

Javid Yusuf

The announcement by President Mahinda Rajapakse that the  Northern Provincial Council Elections will be held in September this year gives rise to the hope that at long last the process of devolution set in motion in 1987 will proceed towards completion.

Despite increase in the intensity of the voices that have been raised against the holding of elections to the Northern Province Council in recent times, it is a welcome decision of the Government to give effect to the scheme of devolution that is currently provided in the Constitution.

Since the Indo Lanka Accord of 1987 which gave rise to the Provincial Council system, there have been many criticisms of this second tier of governance. Among the more common criticisms has been the argument that although Provincial Councils  were originally intended to meet the demand of the Tamil people for a degree of self governance, Provincial Councils were set up everywhere except in the North. This criticism will be addressed once the elections are held in September.

Another criticism is that it creates additional expenditure that the country can ill afford by creating another layer of governance. This is an exaggerated criticism because the bulk of the administrative structure would still have remained even if there was no Provincial Council system.

But the current call by the anti devolution segment of the polity tries to play on the fears of some that a Provincial Council system will set in motion a process which will lead to the secession of the Northern Province. Whether it is a genuine fear or merely a reflection of the ideological opposition to devolution is a moot question.

It is more likely that it is the latter reason because the opponents of devolution do not suggest an alternative to the demand for a degree of self governance by the Tamil community of the North. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission too in its  report has recommended that a political solution be found for the National question. The Provincial Council  system that exists today has within it the seeds of a political solution or if viewed differently can be looked upon as interim to the political solution that can be eventually worked out.

Another reason trotted out by those who argue against holding the Northern Provincial Council elections is the fact that the Muslims and Sinhalese who were displaced from the North should be first resettled before elections are held. In normal circumstances this would be an important factor in deciding on an election. However four years after the armed conflict has ended this should not be held as a reason not to hold elections particularly because Presidential and Parliamentary Elections have been held in the North even during the period when fighting raged in that part of the country.

In any event the deprivation of the voting rights of the displaced Muslim and Sinhalese can be largely mitigated by the adoption of the system of clustering polling booths which the Elections Department implemented during previous elections in the North.

The fear of separatist tendencies can also be addressed in at least two ways. Firstly there are Presidential powers in the Constitution  to prevent such fears becoming a reality. However such powers should not be used taking into account political  or other extraneous considerations but rather having regard to the need to give effect to the principles of devolutionary government.

Secondly by the Central Government providing a constructively supportive role to the elected Provincial Government and to the people of the North a sense of loyalty to the Centre will be developed. No political party or movement will obtain the support of the people for such secessionist tendencies if they realize that the Central Government cares for their welfare and treats them as equal citizens. Every segment of Sri Lankan society  has much to gain if they remain a part of one Sri Lankan nation and feel that they are equal and valued citizens  and only a process of societal or government exclusion can make them even think of a contrary course of action.

Elections to the Northern Province will result in several other benefits to the country. Firstly it will bring the people of the North into the process of governance and make them stakeholders in chartering the future direction of the Sri Lankan Nation. This will also to some extent give dignity to the people of the North who are currently demoralized and feel a sense of alienation from the Sri Lankan State.

Secondly it will give the Government an opportunity to test the feelings of the people of the Northern Province with regard to the resettlement of the displaced people as well as the large scale infrastructure development that has taken place in the  North.

Thirdly it gives the Northern people an opportunity to taste and practice the working of democracy  which was not available to them during the days the LTTE held sway. A new layer of political leadership will emerge in the North who will be honed in the ways of democracy and the empowering effect of discussion and debate which will enure to the qualitative upliftment  of Tamil politics and eventually of the Sri Lankan nation.

Fourthly through these representatives the Sri Lankan State will be able to feel the pulse of the Northern people and understand their aspirations better. Through these process they will be able to understand and correct the mistakes that are currently being made in the reconciliation process.

Fifthly the elections will also provide an opportunity for the main National parties, the SLFP and UNP,  to reassess their role vis a vis the minorities and play an important role in the reconciliation process. In recent times the two National parties have chosen the path of least resistance and preferred to outsource their dealings with the minorities to communal parties which are both opportunistic and self serving.

These parties shift their allegiances to whichever party is in power in return for perks and privileges without any enduring benefits to the communities they represent. This is particularly noticeable in the case of Muslim political parties.

The Northern Provincial Council Elections can be used as an opportunity by the two National parties to create a new leadership in the region which subscribe to the policy of inclusivity and working with other communities to create a new National vision without compromising  the needs of the communities which they represent.

These new leaders can constitute a breath of fresh air to the internal policy formulations of the National parties by bringing the concerns of the people they represent to the table when Party policy is being formulated, After all it is the policy (or lack of one) of National parties that determines the trajectory of Government policy when decisions are taken at the highest levels.

It will also give an opportunity to the national leadership of these two parties  to get a true picture of the thinking of the Northern people rather than depend on individuals who have the ear of the leadership and may not accurately reflect the concerns of the minority communities.

But to successfully achieve this the two National parties must select candidates who genuinely subscribe to the policy of the respective National party while being at the same time principled men and women of integrity who will not  sway with the winds of political change.

In this selection process, the pitfalls for the Sri Lanka Freedom Party are greater.

Being in Governmental office, the SLFP today attracts all types of opportunists out to enjoy the privileges and perks associated with Governmental office. Addressing SLFP members of local bodies elected to office at the first local government elections held after his assumption of office in 2005, President Mahinda Rajapakse warned them to be on guard against new friends who would befriend them after their electoral success.

Not only has this happened but today the quality and mettle of those in active politics has reached such a low that practically everyday one hears of public indiscretions of politicians ranging from rape and murder to assaulting public officers. The level of public contempt for politicians can be judged by a recent incident.

Last week a television station reported in their 7 pm news broadcast that a politician and his supporter riding on a motorcycle had been stopped by two police officers. In the ensuing incident the politician and the police officers got into a fight which resulted in both the politician and the police officers sustaining injuries. The news item did not reveal details of the incident but went on to conduct a poll via sms to ascertain the thinking of the viewers as to who was likely to have assaulted the other first-the politician or the police officers.

The results of the poll was announced  in their 10 pm news broadcast on the same day. Over ninety percent of  the viewers expressed the belief that the politician had started the fight. They came to this conclusion without the benefit of any details of the incident which is a telling indictment on the perception of politicians in the eyes of the public.

In their choice of candidates for the elections to the Northern Provincial Elections, the two National parties must not look towards wresting power at the forthcoming Elections. Rather they should look towards getting a foothold in the Province by getting as many as possible men and women of integrity from their party elected to office so that they in turn can draw in the people of the Northern Province to the National polity at future elections.

To do this the Government has to implement a number of confidence building measures between now and the September elections.

The Civil administration in the North must be restored and the military should recede to the background. If as is claimed security considerations require a military presence in the North that could be ensured in an unobtrusive manner. But it should not extend to impacting on the democratic process and the space for the conduct of a free and fair election should be ensured.

The Rule of Law and impartial policing should ensure all violators of the law  be brought to book. If 38 attacks have taken place on the Uthayan Newspapers and the perpetrators of such attacks have not been brought to book in even one case it does not inspire much confidence in the Law enforcement machinery. It is stretching the imagination too much to believe that our Police is so inefficient that they cannot complete their inquiries and apprehend  the perpetrators in at least 10 (or even 5)  of the 38 incidents relating to the Uthayan newspaper.

The Tamil National Alliance (and other Tamil political parties) should act prudently and not make rash statements that are counterproductive to the process of restoring democracy to the North. The recent call by some sections of the Tamil polity and civil society for an interim administration apart from defying reason is unhelpful. It will also give momentum to the call of those who do not wish the Northern Province elections to be held.

The Tamil National Alliance must immediately prepare and place before the people a Manifesto which they intend implementing in the event they gain office at the Northern Provincial Elections. This will help to  gradually  transform their mindset to that of becoming administrators  in addition to being spokesmen for Tamil grievances.

The early release of such a manifesto will also compel the National parties to give their mind to what they can offer the Northern people and to place before them a manifesto that will address their concerns. This will also serve the National Interest by helping the process of increasing the degree of national consensus in post conflict issues.

It is therefore imperative that the Northern Provincial Council be held without any further delay in order to restore democracy in the North as well as a step in the process of National Reconciliation.

*Comments to javidyusuf@yahoo.com

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    Lawyer Javid Yusuf’s call “The Civil administration in the North must be restored and the military should recede to the background..” has been the frantic cry of the Northern Tamils, much of the nation and the global community. Sadly this has been totally ignored is only a fraction of the woes of the Tamil Nation – at least post-2009. As Mr Sampanthan assured many a times it is not a call for the total removal of the army. It is in the interest of the people of Jaffna the army remain in camp in reasonable numbers assuring protection to the people and the administration – in the unlikely event of stressful times when the capacity of the Police is found inadequate. That the army since has recruited many Tamil men and women speaks well for the future.

    Mr. Yusuf also shares the unlikely fear in the Sinhala South a Tamil-dominated NP/PC may mean a step closer towards separation. I think it will work in the opposite where the Tamil people and their representatives will want to work closer with Colombo and the South,
    as, reiterated by Sampanthan and the TNA in an undivided country. As Mr Yusuf envisions “a sense of loyalty to the Centre” will develop on the Tamil side with the passage of time. It is more than likely no political party, in such a scenario, will receive a mandate for separatist tendencies if the people realise the Centre has their interests in mind and produce results on the ground to ensure that goal. That is an objective towards which India and our friends in the Western countries encourage both the Sinhala and Tamil leadership to proceed.

    Let Mr. Yusuf be assured the TNA is unlikely to make rash statements. In fact, it was the TNA that is in Hansard records assuring cooperation with the Rajapakse Govt to work through this one-more-further-device by the Rajapakses for a “sincere search for unity and reconciliation” – the PSC. In view of the many engineered “failures” of President Rajapakse the TNA is well within its ground to request the regime to indicate what is likely to be offered in the event of participation. This is a predicament to the President who has confessed more than once “he is a prisoner to Sinhala chauvinism” The TNA’s request appears reasonable in view of the perfidy of the Rajapakses in respect of all earlier so-called “sincere endeavours”

    Senguttuvan

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      Senguttuvan,
      Army’s function is to protect the nation.
      But instead,it is used to oppress citizens – it has assumed ‘judicial powers’ as evidenced by arrests and incarceration of students and holding them incommunicado in distant army camps without any judicial order.Army’s “permission” is necessary for family functions,worship in temples at conveniant times,livelihoods and even to bury the dead.

      The function of the police is protection of the citizens and their assets.

      Both failed to protect the Uthayan office against attack,recently.

      The army was not bothered and the police came leisurely after two hours.
      Hulugalle, the official government spokesman,said same day that it was “an inside job”!

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    Timely advice to Sambandan and his TNA.

    Especially the bit about their “mindsets ” is very imortant,for their association with the LTTE for a quarter century.

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      It is an idiotic comment. The Tamils too feared the LTTE as they killed everybody who viewed against their wishes including the Tamils. The TNA members too feared them and acted according to the wishes of the LTTE. The TNA members are elected by the people to represent them in parliament. Now the government is acting worse than the LTTE. The government which says that it for the people,is acting against the people. Why do you want 40,000 army personnel in the North and trying to grab 70.000 acres of land, consisting of 7 villages in Vali- North without resettling the people of those areas who were chased out of their homes by Arial bombardment and shillings.The Tamil Community is not going to have any reconciliation until and unless racial harmony exists and the Tamils are treated equally.

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    The expectation and hope of the author of this article Mr. David Yusuf must be appreciated. The announcement for Northern Provincial election came after considerable international pressure but still there was no true willingness on the Government side to resolve this issue. For the Northern people democracy is nothing new as author indicated and the people of North always expressed their aspirations for nearly six decades. It is very constant and solid message to the rest of the country and international community.

    The fundamental problem in Sri Lankan politics is that there is no national polititics. The national politics was expressed as Sinhala only Politics rather than representing the wide range of communities living in the island. If you look at the history of six decades of politics most of the Sinhala leadership accepted at some point that Tamils are the inhabitanats of North East of Sri Lanka (SWRD, Colvin R.De Silva, Dudley Senanayake, JR Jeyawardena, Chandrika Bandaranaiyake, Ranil Wickremasinghe) but at the same time they became opportunistic when it comes to real politics.

    There is no regime other than the current regime done severe damage to the country and democracy rule of law. The current environment prevailing in this country is not good for reconsiliation and it is going to be another acid test for Tamils. It is obvious that TNA will become the first Regional power that is going to form the provincial government. Currently provincial administration is done by the military and they have to loose their control if TNA take control of Provincial administration. Secondly EPDP which currently run a free hand authoritarian influence on general administration of the province. Most of the development work that is started by the Government did not benefit to the locals. Most of the contracts are given to Sinhalese and employees are Sinhalese. A change in the administration will have an impact and consequences may be disastrous. Recently we have seen the government, military and muslim politicians involved in engaging in land grabbing and forced colonisations in order to change the demography in parts of Vanni and Jaffna. It is right to resettle those migrated muslims and Sinhalese of the North according to the law but that is not the case with the forced colonisation of outsiders as happened in the recent past by state.

    Finally, I have a serious concern about the sincerity of the current regime holding provincial council elections because the provincial council elections to the East where Muslims and Sinhalese worked together to rob the Eastern Provincial from Tamils. Muslims also should bear greater responsibility for the breakdown of peace and harmony between communities and breakdown of the rule of law.

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    Javid Yusuf

    When will be your next trip to Geneva to boast about the achievements of Rajapaksa’s regime.

    In your next trip to Geneva, please take a catalogue of incidents that has deliberately happend to your Muslism community.

    Also, do inform your other Muslim collegues who had been to Geneva.

    Do remember, every action has a reaction.

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      Of course he may bring the info and how the muslims chased out by LTTE!

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        poor fellow is trying to say something but still cant get it right. Try to stick to the script. Looks like lost it eh. Ask Canberra for a copy.

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    First and foremost there must be a free and fair election under international supervision. Tamils must be given the full freedom and opportunity to excercise their franchise.

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      Free and fair elections within the Sri Lankan norm there will be. Otherwise the Commonwealth conference will not go well. The handler, India will be let down. Once the PC is in place with Wignes or whoever as CM by December there will be charges against the NPC on one count or other and on Feb 4th 2014 an announcement will come that the Council is disolved. Interesting isnt it?

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        I agree with Simhi the NPC will not be allowed to function for long. One or the other reason will be found to impose Presidential rule. As I maintained earlier, eventually it will
        be the 2 Nations in 1 country that will prevail. Gajen Ponnambalam agrees and will gather support as he matures.
        The Northern Mahadenamuttas – to whom only what they say and write is gospel and any opposing view of others is rumour, innuendo and nonsense – will know there is a different world out there than what their parochial mindset deluded them with.

        Senguttuvan

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