23 June, 2024


Politically Strategic Or Principled Decisionmaking In The National Interest?

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

It is disappointing that the hopes that were generated a year ago by President Ranil Wickremesinghe regarding the solution to the ethnic conflict appear to be receding at the present time. Shortly after he was elected president, the president gave indications that he would prioritise national reconciliation. He asserted that the 13th Amendment that established provincial councils was a part of the constitution that needed to be implemented. He also pledged to solve the ethnic conflict by the time the country was celebrating its 75th anniversary on February 4. More than six months later there has been no progress on this matter. On the contrary there has been a reversal with influential voices questioning the need for the provincial council system growing louder even as faith in the president’s power to effect change from the top continues to grow.

The manner in which the president made promises regarding his prioritizing of reconciliation gives rise to the surmise that he was being politically strategic in the context he was in. The president’s election by a parliament which though legal and constitutional was bereft of legitimacy gave rise to the need for him to appeal to the hopes of the international community whose aid at that time was crucial to the country’s survival. Civil society groups that might otherwise been highly critical of the manner in which the new president suppressed the protest movement became more muted in their criticisms. The unwillingness or inability of the opposition leadership to articulate its plans to revive the economy and address thorny issues such as the ethnic conflict continue to strengthen the claim that President Wickremesinghe is best suited to pilot the ship of state caught in the storm.

The president’s latest proposals with regard to the reconciliation process are no longer promising immediate or short term achievements. Instead they explicitly focus on the medium to long term. This will give rise to the hope that the president will make good his plans after the next election. The detailed and comprehensive position paper on the 13th Amendment he read out in parliament recently went into the small print of the law. If those complexities are to be taken into account it would take at least a year or more to unravel them and to achieve an agreement with the Tamil parties. As a political formula regarding the sharing of power between the communities, the reform of the 13th Amendment is not one that can be achieved simply by a majority vote in parliament. It requires painstaking negotiation for which goodwill on both sides is necessary.

Democratic Failure 

Obtaining a majority in parliament has not been a difficult task for President Wickremesinghe. The government has been willing to give the president its majority in parliament to pass any legislation that the president has deemed is necessary. These include tax reforms that have placed huge burdens on taxpayers. However, the ability to pass legislation through a majority vote in parliament is no solution in situations of ethnic conflict unless the contesting ethnic minority agrees to the reform. If the proposed legislation is not accepted by the ethnic minority the problem will remain unresolved. This same reasoning is applicable to the proposed truth and reconciliation mechanism that the government has put forward in response to the pressures it is being subjected to by the international community and human rights organisations.

The detailed legislation that the government has drafted on the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) will be of little value if it is seen as legislation that is passed by the government acting unilaterally. The legislation to set up the NURC will be of value if it is legislation that is passed by the majority in parliament with the concurrence of the minority parties. The NURC will require the consent of the Tamil and Muslim parties that have the acceptance of their communities. At present there is no indication that the Tamil and Muslim parties have given their consent to either the draft legislation to set up the truth commission or to the interim secretariat that is expected to spend about a year before setting up the permanent mechanism.

The government’s approach to both the 13th Amendment and to the truth commission suggests that its plan to tackle the ethnic conflict is one set for the future, at least a year in the future after the elections. This is the time frame for presidential elections which the government appears to be considering as its best chance for victory and survival. This may explain the president’s visits to the north and east of the country where he is promising non-controversial things such as massive development projects which he is spelling out in some detail, such as the rail connection with India in Mannar and developing Trincomalee port in the east. By way of contrast, proceeding with the reconciliation process, particularly in the form of the 13th Amendment and truth commission could prove to be controversial and cost the government to lose even public support among those who are wary or opposed to it.

Necessary Statesman 

President Wickremesinghe’s assertions regarding implementing the 13th Amendment immediately evoked antipathy from nationalist sections of the majority community. The arguments dating back to the 1950s see the country as susceptible to being partitioned on ethnic lines, hence the opposition to the devolution of power. These arguments are now resurfacing again. The less widely publicized truth and reconciliation commission has still not evoked a comparable negative reaction from the general public. This is likely to be due to the lack of knowledge on the subject matter by the majority of the people. The moment that the government starts to campaign for the acceptance of these mechanisms, there is likely to be controversy that erodes the government’s plans in regard to finding a solution to the ethnic conflict.

There are indications that ethnic issues are once again being brought to the surface by sections of the polity with a nationalist orientation. They have been the big loser since the economic collapse which those in the protest movement blamed them for by making explicit the connection between those in power and corruption. One of the potential flashpoints is the contest religious shrine in Kurundi in the northern province. This is a site that is being claimed by both the Buddhists and Hindus. There was the possibility of clashes when adherents of the two religions were mobilized with the possibility of sending a countrywide message that there is fear and mistrust between those who belong to different ethnicities and religions.

Elections have traditionally been an occasion during which ethnic fears and polarization are played upon to a maximum degree. There has been no more effective way for politicians to make a bid to get the people’s support than by causing fear in them of the other communities. This phenomenon is not limited to any one community but is common to all. Last year saw the most nationalist government ever formed in the country collapse due to its internal inadequacies, and in particular mismanagement of the economy and corruption. Fortunately, the possibility of ethnic-based violence is remote due to the discrediting of nationalist politicians. The plethora of problems that afflict the country make it possible to tackle the ethnic conflict and reconciliation issues while also giving attention to the economy and elections. This needs to be done or else another year will be lost. The time to do right and behave in a principled way is always now, not later. Statesmanship of the kind that made Singapore and South Africa is when priority is given to the national interest and not only to winning elections.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 6

    “This needs to be done or else another year will be lost. The time to do right and behave in a principled way is always now, not later.”
    It is a good point. If it was done in 1956, Sri Lanka would have avoided 1958, 1962, 1970, 1972, 1977, 1983, 1984 to 2009 (war), 2019 (Easter Bombing), 2022(bankruptcy).

    • 0

      Not that I wish nor welcome such an occurrence again, but the only way sense would EVER driven into these psychosomatic Sinhala Buddhists (SB’s) would’ve to necessarily be another serious, more cataclysmic event, ‘more critical than the one before’ – ‘Bankruptcy 2022’ undoubtedly with disastrous consequences!!!
      Otherwise, these, so-called ‘Erudite Lay, Religious and Politically Inclined’, would incessantly keep on ‘Chanting’, WHAT DOES TAMILS DON’T ENJOY, SINHALESE ENJOY!!??
      Else question “why the minorities aren’t satisfied NOW, both Sinhala and Tamil – ‘OFFICIAL LANGUAGES’ enshrined in STATUTE!?
      IMPLEMENTATION – provisions of Lankan statute isn’t STATE RESPONSIBILITY nor “part of GOOD Governance”!!!? Nincompoops marauding as LEGISLATORS!!!??? whither Sri Lanka!!!???
      Such learned MEN, WOMEN, GENTRY, LADIES both Lay and religious, either,
      A. Cunning, devoid of Intelligence and Wisdom!!??
      B. Emancipated knowledge of ‘GOOD GOERNANCE’!!??
      Whatever, the case may be, is for the people at large to examine, evaluate and conclude MOTIVES!?
      They have been spelt out AD NAUSEUM SINCE 1955, IF NOT EARLIER, the benign disease has grown to proportion of a Canker and beyond, to Mammoth levels, in both HUMAN AND MATERIAL CAPITAL on both sides of the DIVIDE of this thrice blessed, 2600+ cultured Nation State!!!??? LEAVE ASIDE THE ‘BLOOD-LETTING’ and HOT Tar-Barreled Cremation!!!???

  • 4

    He asserted that the 13th Amendment that established provincial councils was a part of the constitution that needed to be implemented.

    That’s why the First neighbor policy of India worked, Will the signed agreement will be brought under notice as he was not elected by the people. Still presently he is saying I have only one vote. Saying this he using this trump to approve what he wants and avoid what he don’t want. The goal is not to be better than the other man, but your previous self-Old way thinking of politics. If Indian and sri Lankan government changes then policies will be changed.

    • 1

      Ranil is very bad in decision making. When in diffeiculties his escape strategy is to appoint committees to postpone!
      Quick decision making is an important characteristic of an efficient leader, Thai is lacking in Ranil!

      • 2

        srikrish ,

        Ruling Class does not want a better nation because a better nation
        will build better people and those better people will choose better
        leaders for them and that will never help the current bunch of
        stupid leaders by birth to keep rolling for ever . And right now , only
        selected families are being put forward for elections by companies
        called Political Parties . For them , there’s enough resources in the
        country to live even without further development . So, they have no
        problems to finding solutions unless it becomes a matter of their
        survival , just like the ‘ Aragalaya ‘ . Aragalaya kicked off their brains
        and found Ranil was standing at the door . Quick fire and sure fire .
        How come , Sajith with such a majority was shut out ? Anura with
        three , not even talked to . The result people are going through is
        another thing but the purpose was selfish end , the best they are
        qualified to do . The simple saying ” where there’s a will there’s a
        way ” is sufficient to describe this .

  • 7

    I knew from the day and the way the President declared: ” I would settle this ethenic issue before Independence Day ( February 4th, 2023)” that he was playing a “Political Game” to woe the Tamil Political parties and the Tamil Community. The first bungling he did was to summon a meeting of ONLY the Tamil Political Party Representations from North and East, which immediately created “Dissension” and “Suspicion” of the other majority viz. the Sinhala people and ever Haowkish “Buddhist Clergy”. It was not “Shortsightedness” or “Incentivenees” on the part of the President, but a well “Calculated” and a “Strategical” move, knowing very well that such “Opposition” would definitely arise from the “Majority” and he would get an opportunity to “Delay” action on his “Promise”. Whatever he does from there onwards would be viewed with “Suspicion” and that was proved by the failure of the “All Party Conference” and the late “Look Warm” reception received to his statement in Parliament. He got what he wanted and intended. This time he is a “Successor”.

    I know he (the President) is not aligned to “Solve” the problem but to “Profit” by using this “Carrot” to WIN the votes of the Tamil citizens of the North and East and appease the Tamil community living in and around Colombo.

  • 5

    “Shortly after he was elected president, the president gave indications that he would prioritise national reconciliation”

    The author, a known sidekick of RW, is stating “he was elected”, elected by whom. RW was not even an elected member of the parliament. The man is trying to hide the dubious nature of the government and RW. People know how RW got the position that endorsed by 134 MPs rejected by the people. Hence there is no legitimacy for RW or his government. A legitimately established government has every right to change the the laws of the country, but RW an unelected person leading an interim or caretaker government does not enjoy such rights.

  • 6

    Along with …… Lankan writers in the forum, I’ve discovered Hans Christian Andersen.

    His stories have better honesty of purpose …….. true intent ……….

  • 6

    Native, Where are you?

    Wake up from your dream …….. this is the reality ……… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbl5AeoAjPc

    Sorry, it’s in Sinhala, a language you should first know before you embark on Ranil’s Hindi (Awadhi, Bagheli, Chhattisgarhi, Haryanvi, Brajbhasha, Bundeli, Kanuji, Khariboli …… ) and Chinese (Putonghua, Cantonese, Hunanese ….. )

    Why, always the EPF, ETF, eh? :)))

    It’s a weird sense of déjà vu …… had to fight the Rajapakse propaganda machine …….. now it’s Ranil’s ……..

    Ah! If all the spin becomes reality ……. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the propaganda of the ………. name ye own ( ye are spoilt for choice ……. the pool is vast from 1948)

    Whatever the propaganda ……… the country is eternally “Kota Uda” ……… That’s the proof of the pudding ……….

  • 6

    Now that the greatest Ranil supporter Native has gone to ground …. what has the next greatest Ranil supporter Sinhala_Man has to say about this? ……… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqh8g5ixqlw

    Ranil wants to give Tamils “solutions” to their problems ……. at the same time creating them!

    Oh Boy! Where can you find better entertainment? ……. I couldn’t wait for utterly confused “Oppenheimer” to end …… to log on here ……

    • 5

      nimal fernando

      “I couldn’t wait for utterly confused “Oppenheimer” to end …… to log on here ……”

      I know you are desperate to end this island, South Asia, human race, ….

      • 2

        “Oppenheimer” …….. the movie …… terrible.

        You would never blame, your hero Ranil’s, best friends the Yanks for it; now would you?

        Always have to blame someone else, eh? :)))

        I know what people are going to think …….. even before they know it themselves. …….. Such are Lankan minds! :))

        Try to be a little unpredictable, Native. :))

  • 6

    It appears that this writer never learns from his mistakes. On many occasions in the last year or so, readers have cautioned him against believing what this rascal ranil rajapakser says. Yet, he continues to give credibility to what the man utters, and wastes space writing about them. Jehan probably reads our comments, but his primordial instincts drive him to write nonsense. One merely needs to see what he has written on several occasions in the last so many months, to understand that he never learns to write responsibly. That is tragic.

  • 3

    No sinhalese politicians has backbone to bring a solution to ethnic conflict in SL. They know, This is the only issue they can keep on riding on the back of sinhalese people. Saffron cladded ayatollahs, not all, interests are totally different than country’s interest. A patriot politician should have the guts and courage to take untraditional resolutions in the name of country.
    Arms is the only method they understand, sadly.

    • 2

      Not only Saffron clad Ayattohlas but now you are getting purple robed and white robed Chingkalla Catholic Ayattolahas also joining them

  • 1

    What do you do when you are bored with your job, Jehan. You bore the reader!

  • 2

    There is a simple test to find out if the decisions are made for political reasons or for national Interest. At a time when the country is in financial difficulties, repeated failures in not investigating bribery acts of the Ministers, appointing State Ministers who have no work allocated to them, and appointing Presidential advisors who were kicked out of the parliament by voters alone show the decisions made are for political reasons as these are waste of money.

  • 6

    This guy is intellectually dishonest. As he has made a living out of this he keeps repeating the same mantram while attending Western cocktail parties, travelling overseas to address attended by one or two people who then fund him !

    The people of this country cannot find effective people to even run the main government , how will they find good provincial members and officials in the provinces ? In the experience of all people provincial governments are very corrupt and destructive. Their so called taxes have ruined many businesses while giving no service. There simple are no good and honest people leave aside managers.

    Solutions which people like JP recommended 50 years ago are no longer valid. We have all learnt that devolution is a disaster.

    • 5

      deepti silva ,

      First , the good news . I gave you a thumb up for most of what you
      managed to say . Now to the point I disagree , ” We have all learnt
      that devolution is a disaster ” . Devolution is not a disaster . The way
      devolution went round the whole country instead of where it was
      most needed is , the disaster ! Sinhalese fear devolution will lead to
      separation . So , the devolution was distributed among Sinhalese too
      by spineless and selfish bunch of politicians , in order to hoodwink
      them . That is what the disaster is . India which initiated 13 A has
      28 states and 8 unions . The US has 50 states with power devolved .
      It is just the Sinhala Buddhist Politicians in Parliament Do Not
      Want To Lose their Corrupt and Greedy Power to their subordinates .
      And they have no future without this Race Card .

      • 1

        If you closely study what DS is used to say, DS doesn’t think twice before speaking. This is how she was raised by her parents.This unfortunately not unique to her if grew up in srilanka.
        She claims to be a medical doctor, but I doubt how she treats patients. We should be ashamed if local universities used taxpayers’ money to produce such narrow-minded professionals. It is said that she lives in the UK for so long. Even a dog that lived in Europe respects the devolution of powers. The federalism in her mind divides the island into regions. If a 90-year-old aunt says that, I don’t take it seriously, but someone who claims to have learned still holds such views. Can you imagine how our people interpret things? That is why I totally stand against holding electiions wihtout rebuilding the society. Without improving the awareness of the people, holding election would be like walking on a curve in non-stop mode.
        There is no basic knowledge even about trifles.
        Let me add some more examples for you: Many people in our country think that going to a psychiatrist is the same as going to the psycologist.

  • 2

    leelagemalli ,

    Nice to see you joining the discussion . I am not concerned about who deepthi
    silva is but only the view put forward by him / her . The country is awash with
    disasters . The biggest disaster right now is a government that is waiting for
    recommendations and demands from the IMF , India , China and other powers
    to run the country ! Minorities are living safe today thanks to outside direct or
    indirect pressure ! such is the situation on social harmony . Unless such a
    situation is amicably resolved , no point talking about prosperity involving all
    cultures .

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.