By Jehan Perera –
President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s pledge to resolve the country’s long standing ethnic conflict by Independence Day on February 4 can be the optimistic base on which other positive developments can be built. This is a hope that needs to be translated into reality. The past history of efforts to politically resolve the ethnic conflict do not present an optimistic picture. The list of Sri Lankan leaders who have sought to resolve this conflict but failed starts with the illustrious SWRD Bandaranaike up to the present president Ranil Wickremesinghe. In his previous leadership roles as prime minister, the president too failed. The political and mass opposition that was ignited to the prospect of a compromise that met the other community’s demands half way was too strong for those leaders to overcome.
On this occasion, however, there are four reasons why the ethnic conflict might prove to be resolvable unlike in the past. The first reason, and most important, is the leadership that President Wickremesinghe can bring to the negotiating table. As executive president after being a five-time prime minister he wields the full panoply of powers that led his uncle, who was the architect of the executive presidency, to say that the only power he did not have was to turn a man into a woman and vice versa. The 21st Amendment to the constitution that was passed late last year to restrict the presidential powers is still to be operationalised. The lack of unity amongst the next level of politicians who are unable to agree by themselves regarding which of them should be appointed to the institutions set up under it is an indicator of the importance of leadership at the current juncture.
The second factor is the erosion of the legitimacy of parliament to be an effective mobiliser of public opinion. The protest movement that brought down the former government, together with the former president, has called for accountability, systems change and elections. This has served to disrupt the longer term plans of ruling party members in parliament, to the extent that they do not wish to face general elections any time soon. The present indications are that they do not want local government elections either. In this context it is likely that ruling party members will not wish to oppose the president on whose beneficent attitude they depend to escape the wrath of the general population at an early general election. It is worth noting that within three months, the president will obtain the constitutional power to dissolve the parliament and to call for fresh elections.
The third factor is that most of the opposition parties in parliament are agreeable to resolving the ethnic conflict. The main ones in opposition paid the price for not espousing the cause of narrow ethnic nationalism at the last presidential and general elections. They campaigned on other issues and not ethnic related ones. This indicates that they have the capacity and track record to break with the pernicious tradition of the past in which political parties in opposition invariably opposed initiatives to resolve the ethnic conflict taken by the government. The opposition parties are also unlikely to engage in narrow ethnic nationalism because they do not need to. The economic collapse and difficulties that people are facing are the issues they are likely to canvass at this time.
The fourth reason has to do with the changing nature of political opinion in the country. There is a sense among the general population that the country needs fundamental reform in the aftermath of the economic collapse that took place last year. This sentiment was captured by the slogan of “system change” that was popular during the period of the protest movement. Among the slogans of the protest movement was the demand for accountability, that those who had stolen from the state should be found, convicted and punished and their assets confiscated. Another was the zeroing in on the 74 years of malpractices and poor governance which took cover under ethnic and religious nationalism and brought the country to its present plight. Also among those slogans was the acceptance of equal citizenship of all ethnic and religious communities and denunciation of those who had divided the people on primordial lines.
The importance of finding a political solution to the ethnic conflict is not only to enable the people of the country to live together without conflict. It is also to put to rest the political instability and violence that have been the result of this long unsettled problem. Instability and violence have been major deterrents to economic investments in the country. The change of government in 1977 and the change economic policy towards a free market oriented one was accompanied by massive international assistance, including the Mahaweli river diversion project with the Victoria Dam being fully gifted to Sri Lanka by the British people. But the ethnic riots and pogrom that took place in July 1983 destroyed the prospects of an economic take off with international investments.
At this time Sri Lanka is still awaiting the IMF’s support which is essential to build investor confidence in the national economy. However, this support is getting delayed due to China’s apparent unwillingness to accept a proportional reduction in its loan repayments from Sri Lanka. As this is a reasonable request for a bankrupt country to make of an economic powerhouse, there may be other geopolitical and strategic reasons why China is being uncooperative. It is generally believed that China is concerned that if they give Sri Lanka the break it needs, there will be scores of other countries, most of them poorer than Sri Lanka, which may make similar requests, having fallen into similar debt traps from which they cannot extricate themselves.
In this context, Sri Lanka requires international support from other sources. The good news about a settlement of Sri Lanka’s long standing ethnic conflict can lead to a positive international image for Sri Lanka, as it enjoyed decades ago through its social welfare schemes that were considered a model for poorer countries. Countries such as India, Japan, Norway, UK, the USA and the EU, which have at various times tried to offer their services to facilitate peace and reconciliation may be induced to rise to the task of supporting Sri Lanka again, this time when it is in desperate economic straits. The Tamil Diaspora in those countries can be a formidable force to lobby on behalf of Sri Lanka, especially to develop the more neglected parts of the north and east of the country.
However, the missing dimension in the government’s efforts to reach a political solution to the ethnic conflict is accountability for the serious human rights violations and war crimes that took place. The same lacuna is to be found in the government’s efforts to rebuild the economy. The issue of accountability for economic crimes is being put aside within the country, even though the UN Human Rights Council made economic crimes a part of their latest resolution on Sri Lanka. Where the issue of war crimes is concerned, it can be said they are in the past without new ones being generated in the present. The government is also proposing a truth commission to go into the past. But with regard to economic crimes, the past is being repeated in the present reportedly on a mega scale which is unacceptable. If national reconciliation and development are to become realities, the president and his government must put a stop to corrupt practices from now on and be sincere to the people’s interest.
Sinhala_Man / January 3, 2023
Parliament has been summoned to meet on Thursday, the 5th, is what I understand.
I don’t understand, but then, there are many things that I don’t understand.
We may be able to get speculations from the NPP later today. To get it live, you could latch on to the meeting at 3.00 pm today;
Don’t mistake this for Kalawana in the Ratnapura District. A meeting was held there about a week ago.
This is in the Anuradhapura District , and is the area in which this statue is situated:
Is Ranil going to spring yet another nasty surprise on us?
Native Vedda / January 4, 2023
Recently Elle the pistol trotting Saffron clad thugs accused Aragalaya of being part of the international conspiracy, (CIA and RAW behind Aragalaya; Elle Gunawansa Thera – https://srilankamirror.com/news/cia-and-raw-behind-aragalaya-elle-gunawansa-thera/).
How long the Sri Lankan Saffronistas, the so called lefties, racists, crooks, murderers, …. psychopaths are planning to live in the limelight or preserve their existence by accusing foreign plots?
Has the population/people learned anything in the past 75 years?
chiv / January 5, 2023
Native , Elle also accused Lankan military behind regime change. Do you think we have another Lanka in Pakistan ???? . Those who are corrupt, criminals,, family kleptocracy Mullahs / religious fanatics and Military doing politics, now heading for Bankruptcy. Like our fugitive president, their’s too escaped often to the West , to return back when opportunity rises.
chiv / January 3, 2023
Yes J.P, finally you seem to have got it. What reconciliation are we talking, without accountability ??? It’s not about penalizing but admitting truth. Like every thing else, Lankans are working on SHAM reconciliation.
Amrit Muttukumaru / January 3, 2023
1) “President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s pledge to resolve the country’s long standing ethnic conflict by Independence Day on February 4” – Jehan Perera
2) How can any REASONABLE person place ANY CONFIDENCE in Ranil Wickremesinghe resolving ANY national issue given his DISMAL track record – the most recent is reneging on virtually ALL promises given prior to being installed as Prime Minister in the ‘Yahapalana’ government?
3) A prime example relating to the ‘ethnic conflict’ is the alleged undertaking given by him as then Prime Minister to the EU in 2017 to repeal the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) after which GSP+ was reinstated.
4) Not only has Wickremesinghe reneged on this promise but more DASTARDLY he signed a ‘Detention Order’ under the PTA to detain for 90 days three ‘Aragalaya’ protesters which included Wasantha Mudalige – Convener of Inter University Students’ Federation (IUSF). Ref. “Sumanthiran reminds Ranil of an unkept promise” (‘Daily FT’ 26 August 2022).
5) Among the reasons you have given for your optimism – “The first reason, and most important, is the leadership that President Wickremesinghe can bring to the negotiating table.” Apart from his INTRINSIC unreliability, are you not aware that he is a virtual ‘PRISONER’ of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP)?
chiv / January 4, 2023
Amrit, this question is sincere out of curiosity, addressed to you. Given 75 years of our SHAM politics and those who currently occupy parliament, who will be your alternate option, to get us out of misery ??? I am sure you will be realistic with your selection. Who ever the person needs to muster support of party/ people. Obviously we are not India where apolitical person / outsider like Manmohan , appointed as PM. Of course I haven’t forgotten Dhammika being brought in overnight as Minister, but for that we need crooks like Rajapaksa to repeat the same feat. Anyway go ahead and make a choice. To reiterate, nothing personal, if you decide not to answer, it’s still okay with me. ( because I really don’t have one)
Ajith / January 4, 2023
“Amrit, this question is sincere out of curiosity, addressed to you. Given 75 years of our SHAM politics and those who currently occupy parliament, who will be your alternate option, to get us out of misery ??? “
I know this question is not for me but there is no answer for this question but every country faces the same or similar situation. If we dot have the answer, how can we expect the ordinary people to make a correct choice?
Dinuk / January 3, 2023
Dr. JP Lankans need DEBT JUSTICE and ECONOMIC RIGHTS from the Colonial Club de Paris and IMF and Washington twins. It is not only China, but also India and Saudi Arabia which do not want to be part of the Colonial Paris Club and Washington’s debt DEFAULT trap that are the main problem.
Please understand It is Euro-American OECD Paris Club’s International Sovereign Bond traders (ISB) who sent Sri Lanka into the STAGED DEFAULT for the first time in history .and now they want everyone else to do what they SAY! But China, India and Saudi will not follow the Colonial Club of Paris and IMF’s orders. They know how the west works.
Dr. JP you seem to be paid to parrot the West’s propaganda as they funded Colombo NGOs… Guess the Ethnic conflict industry — beggar’s wound of so called “ethno-religious” conflict in Sri Lanka. — pays well!
Fakeculturebug / January 4, 2023
Hello hello….with all the blast about” Paris club” and” OECD” and “NGOS” are we deflecting the topic at hand. I thought the subject was reconciliation and accountability.Its simple enough to stick to unless we want to be like the politicians the smart comments criticise here.
Im no supporter of the US or western gimmicks unlike the top guys who land there as a family !!
But why don’t you guys tell the IMF to fly a kite and then go elsewhere with the 6.9 geniuses ……and trace the money that is needed
RBH59 / January 3, 2023
Reconciliation Also Needs Accountability To Be Viable
Only power he did not have was to turn a man into a woman and vice versa.The late N.M. Perera asked what would happen “if the presidency goes to a mad man”? Without mad countries are going bankruptcy It is not only the viability and variety of the seed that makes the harvest look plummy. Sometimes, the soil must value the value of the seed. When the soil is not supportive, the seed’s value becomes a waste
Naman / January 3, 2023
” For national reconciliation and development are to become realities” certain criteria has to be fulfilled.
1] We need to put the NEW CONSTITUTION to public referendum.
2]Once it is done, we can dissolve the parliament & have parliamentary ELECTIONS
3] There should be strict criteria on who can contest the elections.
At the present time we do not need the Local government or Provincial council elections.
4] We need drastic changes to the Ministry of DEFENCE as the SL CITIZENS do not trust them. Genuine detectives are in prison.
cugan / January 4, 2023
This is all nice to talk and write but nothing won’t change the mindset. Why Feb 4th ,is that the auspicious….
If truly and honestly wants to do it why can’t now.
As usual Ranil will set everything then he let the golden robs on the streets….
Simon / January 4, 2023
In this very “Explosive” problem under discussion viz. “Solving” the “Minority Issues” is much more than “Accountability” and “Responsibility” is the question of “RELIABILITY” and “TRUSTWORYINESS”. In this context, can we “TRUST” and “RELY” on this present Government? I don’t think so. Why I say this” Whether we like it or not, a “PUBLIC OPINION” has been developed and established that this President and his Government have NO PUBLIC MANDATE to Govern. Why people have come to that conclusion? (1) The “President” elected by 134 MPs of a political party is a candidate who could not even win a Parliamentary seat in an election. (2) Those 134 MPs are another “Group” who has been despised and decided “Losers” (confidence) by their own voters. (3) With the resignation of MR as PM and his entire Cabinet, that Government has no “Mandate” to Govern the country as evidenced by the “Chased” away on peoples’ “Uprising” of the elected President (Gota).
The NET EFFECT would be, any type of “Solution” would be vehemently rejected by the “Disgruntled” people because of the “UNTRUSTWORTHINESS” and “DISHONESTY” placed on the “Architects” of such a solution.
Pandi Kutti / January 4, 2023
What reconciliation? Unelected Ranil Wickramasinghe, was defeated in the polls and only became a President as a proxy for the Rajapakses. Like all Chingkalla Buddhist leaders prior to him, he has no intention of granting just Thamizh rights. He is a cunning fox and in conjunction with the Sampanthan Sumanthiran duo, who are also taking the Thamizh people for a ride, are trying to hoodwink the world, the UN, the west, India and IMF. Under these so-called reconciliation talks, the intention is to repeal sec 13A and Indian involvement in the island’s affairs and grant some token Thamizh rights, which will amount to nothing. Chingkallams, their politicians and the elite are very good at these sorts of tricks and deception. Instead of spending time, energy and the resources of the land to develop the island and bring about genuine reconciliation, equality and universal human rights, they want to make full use of the boon that the British gave them, in 1948, to rule the entire island on a platter, that they never had before or just for short periods only, to destroy the island’s Thamizh and realize the Mahavamsa fairy tale dream of a pure Chingkalla Buddhist Fascist land.
Pandi Kutti / January 4, 2023
By trying to destroy the island’s Thamizh, they have not only destroyed themselves but have now deliberately created Chingkalla Buddhist extremism, as well as Islamic extremism, by deliberately, in conjunction with the southern Muslim elite and politicians, creating a separate identity for the island’s Thamizh Muslims in the name of Islam, a fake Arab origin, that they hardly have, and Arabic culture, especially in the Thamizh east. They have brainwashed the island’s Muslim Thamizh or Moors to believe, that to be a good Muslim you have to give up your Thamuizh identity and culture and become some sort of pathetic imitation of a Gulf Arab, and have associated Islam with only Arabs and Arabic culture. Nowhere else in the world, this has happened and a world religion followed by many races/ethnicities becomes an ethnic and not a religious identity. Only in Sri Lanka, to deliberately divide rule and destroy the Thamizh. They have even successfully done the same to many Thamizh communities living along the western coast EG: the Colombo Chetty, Paravans or Bharatha and Negombo Chilaw Puttalam coastal Thamizh. Deliberately distanced them, from their actual South Indian origin Thamizh ethnicity, by declaring they are not Thamizh and in their case not their religion but their caste, as their ethnicity and in the case of west coast Negombo. Chilaw and Puttalam Thamizh forcibly converted them to the Chingkalla identity.
Pandi Kutti / January 4, 2023
So much effort, resources and energy used to destroy and deny the island’s Thamizh people their rights, you think he is going to reconcile and genuinely grant Thamizh rights and devolution. Just playing a game with willing partners with Colomb-based Sumanthiran and Sampanthan, who if you observe have a different story for everyone. One for the Chingkallams, another for the Thamizh, and another for India and the international community. If you think I am having a go at Sumanthiran due to his religion, it is not as I am an Anglican.
Sinhala_Man / January 5, 2023
Absolutely, dear Pandi Kutti,
If some sly commenter advocates “compromise”, it really will be an invitations for us to be quislings. Not on!
Cyclops / January 4, 2023
A step in the right direction I say, but then we’ve been down this road many a time and reached a dead end always. The Tamil people for one may rightly be sceptical and somewhat suspicious given the past histories
Is it a pre-condition to some kind of bailout from our economic woes?
Hope it’s not another false dawn for our Northerners and Easterners.