25 September, 2020

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Opening Door To National Reconciliation

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Much is hoped for from the new government which triumphed with an unprecedented 2/3 majority. The fate of the country at this critical juncture depends on the government’s sagacity when the Covid virus continues its rampage throughout the world and the world economy is in decline. There was an expectation of new faces in the cabinet equal to this task and equipped with the professional orientation that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has brought to the fore. However, the exigencies of competitive politics, the need to reward loyalty and those who can bring in the votes appear to have prevailed over the demands of professional competence.

Most of the ministers selected are those from the past, including those accused of various offences and have cases in the courts against them. Particularly disappointing has been the failure to appoint women, with only one of the 27 cabinet ministers being a woman. The equal representation of women at all levels of society is a modern ideal. Those who seek international legitimacy, whatever other failings, would tend to improve the status of women. However, in a rather unfortunate turn of events, the subject minister of women’s affairs is a man, and one who is not known to be a specialist in the field of gender equity.

On the plus side, there are silver linings in the appointments of ministers. The main one has been the government’s discipline in keeping the number of cabinet ministers limited to 30 and under as mandated by the 19th Amendment. This is an act of restraint, as less restrained governments have reached the 50 mark in terms of cabinet ministers in the past. Another encouraging action has been the appointment of Mohamed Ali Sabry as Minister of Justice despite criticism that he has been President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s lawyer in a number of cases in the past few years and also on account of his community. By doing this the government has ensured that the cabinet will be multi ethnic and multi religious in its composition as befits a multi ethnic and multi religious polity.

Filling Lacuna 

For the past six years at least since anti-Muslim riots took place in Aluthgama, the Muslim community has been the target of a hate and vilification campaign by extremists mainly from the Sinhalese community. Anti-Muslim sentiment got a further boost after the Easter bombings by extremists from the Muslim community. The presidential election of November 2019 saw anti-Muslim sentiment being stoked to fever pitch by members of the current ruling party and its allies which resulted in the Muslim community voting in unison for the losing presidential candidate. In this context, the appointment of Ali Sabry as Minister of Justice can be considered as an act of political reconciliation which will perhaps give the Muslim community the expectation that they can engage constructively with the government.

There is a lacuna in today’s national politics with regard to national politicians who can reach out to the ethnic and religious minorities to make them feel included in the governance of the country and Sri Lankan in their identity. The recently held elections were notable for not having any of the major political parties proposing how they would bridge the ethnic and religious divides. The last of the champions of non-racist politics, former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, is now battling for his political life partly on account of having been identified with being over-sympathetic to the demands of the Tamil and Muslim minorities. Previous champions, such as former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and former Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera are presently out of the political centre stage.

The disintegration of the UNP which Ranil Wickremesinghe leads created a vacuum at the recently held general election which resulted in more than two million voters either not voting or spoiling their votes. There is a possibility of the ruling party claiming a part of these votes. This would require new strategies of reaching out to the minorities. The promise of economic development on an equitable basis and regardless of ethnicity or religion can be a powerful motivating factor at elections. Indeed, the recent elections saw a significant shift in the pattern of ethnic and religious minority votes in relation to the presidential election held nine months earlier. In both the north and east and in the central hills which have large populations of minority voters, the ruling party was able to make inroads both directly and through its political allies.

Ensuring Balance 

The government’s relative success in wooing the minorities at this election is noteworthy as it has rejected the reconciliation process initiated by its predecessor as unsuitable to the country’s ethos and damaging to national sovereignty. However, the need for national reconciliation continues to remain. Despite the gains achieved electorally by the ruling party and its allies, the electoral map that emerged after the elections continues to show signs of this division. The big majority of seats in the Northern and Eastern provinces went to Tamil and Muslim parties in contrast to the voting pattern in the rest of the country. However, the victory of government allies who promised economic development in parts of the North and East suggests that the ethnic and religious minorities are no different from those in the majority community in seeking to improve their economic situation.

It is significant that several key institutions that were set up by the government as part of its national reconciliation process have been newly allocated to the Ministry of Justice. These are the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR), formerly headed by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, the Office on Missing Persons (OMP), the Office for Reparations and the National Authority for the Protection of Victims of Crimes and Witnesses. Both ONUR and the OMP were engaging in pioneering work at the time that the government changed. ONUR had just embarked upon a mass programme of peace education at the community level and the OMP was beginning to find ways to ease the material sufferings of families of those who had gone missing during the war and its aftermath. These are both worthy causes that need to be supported and for which there was significant international goodwill and support.

The government has indicated that its approach to national reconciliation will lie through economic development which requires both political stability and assurance that those who invest will be protected by the law. Apart from the reconciliation mechanisms set up by the previous government, the Ministry of Justice will be responsible for overlooking the Attorney General’s Department and other institutions which play key roles in ensuring the rule of law. Ensuring a balance between the imperatives of justice, rule of law and national reconciliation are the prerequisites for economic development if Sri Lanka is to live up to its potential in a way that it never did in the past.

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Latest comments

  • 7
    1

    TIme will tell how the New GoSL is going to negotiate our country successfully through the issues facing the country.1) Economic downturn following Covid-19
    2) Religious and Racial divisions in the country.
    3) Establishing the rule of Law and order
    4) Truth and reconciliation is needed to heal the wounds
    5)Meritocracy promoted
    6)New constituition to the satisfaction of all races and religions

    • 15
      8

      With the defeat of LTTE in 2099, door to national reconciliation was permanently closed. During Mahinda’s regime he refused to open it, despite advise of international community. During Yahapalana regime, they pretended to open it but did not. To expect it to be opened by this government is a tall order. When truth is covered, justice is denied and reparation is not on the cards, how can you achieve reconciliation. Government is on the wrong foot by expecting reconciliation through economic development, when there is concerted attempt by government in carrying forward Sinhala racism. As for economic development, government will not have sufficient funds to do it, and any meager funds available will be used to develop the south, and employment opportunities will be mainly for the south. What Tamils will receive is some slipshod development like tarring roads and providing electricity and few jobs mainly to catchers of those supporting the government. Economic situation is likely to worsen in the country, and government will whip up racism to cover up. If policy to achieve reconciliation by economic development fails, without progress on political front, ethnic problem will only be exacerbated. (CONTD)

      • 9
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        (CONTD) There is news that army is collecting names of rehabilitated LTTE cadres in Jaffna. This shows that government is not sure about its plan of achieving reconciliation through economic development is going to work and is anticipating trouble. This is harbinger of events to come of suppression of Tamils in the future. With Tamil politicians cooperating with government unable to deliver economic prosperity due to lack of funds and Tamil politicians espousing political rights unwilling to take forward struggle for justice due to fear, will only frustrate the youths who are likely to take up arms again. Present generation of Tamils due to exhaustion of a thirty year conflict may not, but one cannot expect next generation of Tamils not to do it. Government which went around during elections that they will get rid of 13th amendment is now woefully silent on this. With a discontent Tamil population, there is room for foreign players to infiltrate and use them. Government condemning Tamil diaspora demonstrates their inability to control them. History is going to repeat itself, if government does not act wisely, and to think that they can wipe away self respect by throwing few crumbs is foolish.

      • 4
        10

        Gota: That is why there is the military – to solve the ethnic problem. They did it to the satisfaction of most Sri Lankans in 2009 and they will do it again, gladly!

  • 4
    3

    I appreciate the positive attitude Mr Jegan Perera advocate as the hallmark of all his writings even in the midst of gloomy atmosphere.

    The newly elected government has a strong mandate for strong government and development. This development process should encompass all parts of Sri Lanka including Northern and Eastern Provinces.

    The voting pattern in these provinces indicate that a significant number of the people of these provinces have employment and livelihood problems as priorities.

    Let the people capture the opportunities

    If the government adopts an all-inclusive approach for development in these provinces there will be a positive impact on the living standards of these people..

    That of course needs an out of the box approach for the traditional regional political parties.Their positive approach will make a change.

    Hope that sanity prevails.

  • 5
    5

    can someone tell me what percentage of hill country Tamils do not have voting rights!
    those who toil in the tea estates and paid by the wieght and not by the hour ….do they have voting rights!

    • 2
      7

      For Lok Sabha or TN state?

    • 3
      1

      I seriously doubt if there are any now.
      Around half of them have been sent to India, mostly since around 1975, after the Indira-Sirima deal.
      How their votes are mobilized is another matter.

      • 3
        1

        Thanks for your sensible answer.
        GATAM – make note.

  • 1
    2

    “However, the exigencies of competitive politics, the need to reward loyalty and those who can bring in the votes appear to have prevailed over the demands of professional competence.
    However, in a rather unfortunate turn of events, the subject minister of women’s affairs is a man, and one who is not known to be a specialist in the field of gender equity. “
    You feel it honest criticism? Not so quick! Those are some sampling of how Jehan PhD brain washes the captured candidates to convert them to Buddhism by taking them to Jaffna University. The pattern of Jehan PhD’s essays is always in a uniform way. The first part brain washes and 2nd part to convert them to Sinhala Buddhism.

    There were multiple Independent groups in Tamil areas for which Royals paid fully & campaigned for only to destroy the Tamil Parties’ voter’s unity. SLFP, which was marginalized in rest of the country made amazing victory in North, in addition to EPDP. But Slap Party did not place any candidate in North because of fearing of losing. Pillaiyan who is in the prison, under PTA, for saying in Court that Old King hired him to murder New King, got a massive victory in East.

  • 3
    2

    Until Eastern PC was dissolved, Muslims were governing it with the approval of SLFP, though TNA was the winning party in East. Now, ruling Muslims + SLFP party did not reap the reward for the massive favoritism took place, because Muslims went with SJB. Sampanthar, immediately after the election, opined it was a fouled election. The human nature is a group of people may go rampant at a time, but the whole mass never goes crazy at once. That is why election results are clear indication of manipulation and vote stuffing. Jehan PhD is pulling wool on readers’ eyes by covering that the Tamils have switch to development from freedom. This is how Jehan PhD has been converting Tamils from Hinduism to barbaric Sinhala Buddhism, in the name of Religious Reconciliation. This is what goes in Rapist Army & Police’s prisons; they beat Tamils to sign until what they say and then in the court tell that Tamils are accepting that they are terrorists. Jehan PhD is telling that Tamils accepted they only need development; here he is not behaving anything different from Rapist Army. After all we have been advising Tamils to give up these Sinhala Only elections as they are only a forced confessions under 6A.

  • 4
    1

    Jehan PhD is decorating appointing MoJ as the indication of Royals’ extension of hand for communal unity. If an extension goes to Muslims, it has to be for an elected member. But Sinhala Governments only select traitors and promote them in the community to make that community to give up its rights. Mustan won a seat in North. Ali did not stand for election, being well aware that he cannot win a seat. Only Mustan, not Ali is a Muslims representative. Ignoring Mustan & Appointing Ali as Justice Minister is only to wedge between communities. Hakeem who was elected in Old Royals time, served as MoJ. He was fully used to destroy Tamils. He unconditionally supported breaking up 13A and dismissal of CJ Shiranee. In return for his deed, he received as much as 75 candidates in a year for Law College. Unlike Hakeem, Ali will have to fully surrender to Royals, because he is no real MP position. So, like Kathirgamar, Badiuddin and Ashar were employed by SLFP for their notorious destructive nature, it can be expected Ali too being used. From 1948 Sinhala Leaders were forming Muslim-Sinhala Governments, only to marginalize Tamils and there was no indication of any communal harmony ideas present in those actions.

  • 5
    1

    One thing Ali has to understand: Tamils have been annihilated so Sinhala Governments no longer needs Tamil speaking spies for check on Tamils.
    Failing to understand that and by making the Muslim Ministers union resign all together at once Hakeem brought a massive victory to Slap Party in last two elections,. He is a parasite. He sucked Chitanta government and was kicked out of it. He did that to Ranil and now doing the same to Vaalaiththodam. The situation of parasite sucking the host has gone bad to worst. Realizing himself how bad the situation is, yesterday, Harsha, who is even weaker than GLP, took some courage and said if minority parties want to sit separately from opposition party, it would be fine with SJB too. I don’t have to bring it back here, but on the other side Dr. Amir Ali has dealt with the uncertainties of Ali Sabre appointment. (“Will Gota’s Ali Sabry Match Sirimavo’s Badiudin Mahmud?”). Another CT’s essay says Ali is personal (Private) lawyer to King and not suitable for this appointment. There are valid reasons to oppose Ali appointment as MoJ. How come Jehan PhD skipped these materials and now claims Ali’s appointment is about reconciliation? It cannot be an accident from Jehan PhD’s side!. This is how for 70 years, Sinhala Buddhist Intellectuals have been fooling all three communities.

  • 2
    3

    This is from an email I got from another SL lawyer. Makes perfect sense.

    Ali Sabri was cleverly planted in his current role by the past regime and its sponsors. How did they do it? They filed many court cases against GR. Ali appeared for some of these free of charge! (No free lunches). He came to know many confidential matters about GR. Now GR fears AS. Nice clean trick by the last regime to leave a Trojan horse after it is gone! Come next presidential election he will be very useful for the UNP. By then he would have extracted many help from GR too!

    • 2
      0

      “…..he will be very useful for the UNP. …By then he will be suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s “

    • 0
      0

      Did you not know that Basil is an expert in Vehicle Accidents – everything will be done

      in good time. Rajapakses are here to rule forever – securely guarded all round, including

      internationally!

  • 6
    1

    Jehan Perera,
    You say that the government has ensured that the cabinet is multi ethnic and multi religious, as befits a multi ethnic and multi religious polity.
    A single Muslim Minister and a single Tamil minister do not make the cabinet multi-ethnic or multi-religious. Those ministries have been allotted to them for personal and political reasons, not with any national objectives. The AG should not come under any Minister, if he were to be totally independent.

  • 2
    5

    Dear Jehan TQ.

    Truth and Reconciliation is between Victims and the Perpetrators and is not by the Race/Religions nor Language even in Sri Lanka.

    All the communities are affected.

    We should await the “Ratha Pottu Mafia FP/ITAK/TULF/TNA/Tamil Nadu killings fields of Jaffna Tamils 1970-1977-1981” for us to progress on the reconciliation after the truth is told as this is the missing link for the truth or the reconciliation to work.

  • 4
    1

    “…the appointment of Ali Sabry as Minister of Justice can be considered as an act of political reconciliation….. which will perhaps give the Muslim community the expectation that they can engage constructively with the government.”

    Douglas is the Tamil minister; Pillayn is the murderer Taking seat in he parliament
    Anjagan is the son of the People smuggler king.

    hey presto we have reconciliation and accountability!

  • 2
    1

    Mr Ali Sabry aim is to work together to overcome global challenges and chart the course for future development, ensure equitable development for all. Should assist developing countries in strengthening their capacity-building for development. It is of crucial importance to improve economy. These are both worthy causes that need to be supported and for which there was significant international goodwill and support. Environment for trade and development” is highly relevant.

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