22 September, 2020

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Reconciliation Process Suspended Till After Elections 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The outcome of the forthcoming local government elections will be significant as they come at the mid-point of the national election cycle. There will be 30 political parties contesting the forthcoming local government elections. But it is the contest between three of them that is riveting. The question is who will do the best and who will do the worst out of the UNP, SLFP and SLPP. The last presidential and general elections were held in 2015 and the next are scheduled for 2020. The SLPP, which has become the vehicle for the Joint Opposition led by the former President, has been stating that voters should simply consider whether they are pro-government or anti-government when casting their votes. A poor performance by the two parties forming the government alliance would therefore be construed by the Joint Opposition as a rejection of the government and its policies on all major issues, not simply ones pertaining to local government.

Among the key issues at stake at the local government elections will be the government’s reconciliation process which has two primary components—constitutional reform which will ensure improved sharing of power between the ethnic majority and minorities, and transitional justice which will ensure accountability for past rights violations in the context of the country’s three decade long war for separation. Although the reconciliation process is broader than these two components, and includes improvements in the day to day life of people, including economic wellbeing and return of land, constitutional reform and transitional justice are reconciliation components that have evoked considerable political controversy. A poor performance by the parties of the government alliance would be construed as a rejection of the measures in this regard taken so far by the government, in addition to a whole slew of other matters.

Until the declaration of local government elections two months ago, the government was making slow and shaky progress on both constitutional reform and transitional justice. These included a highly contested report by the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly which presented options for the most contentious issues in the constitutional reform process, including the questions of whether Sri Lanka would remain a unitary state or move in the direction of a federal state, and the foremost status of Buddhism in the constitution. Both of these options evoked outrage from nationalist sections of the majority Sinhalese population with the highest levels of the Buddhist hierarchy taking positions that it would be better not to have constitutional reform at all.

Cautious Approach 

In recognition of the politically sensitive nature of the constitutional reform and transitional justice processes, and to their vulnerability to being exploited by nationalists, the government has put both of these issues on the backburner from the time that local government elections were declared. The last that was heard of constitutional reform was during the parliamentary debate on the report of the constitutional steering committee in October last year. The Office of Missing Persons which is at the centre of the current transitional justice initiatives has been in a state of limbo since its gazetting by the president in September of last year. Its commissioners have still to be appointed.

The halt to the reconciliation initiatives in the run up to elections is not surprising. The parties that comprise the government alliance are acutely sensitive to the fact that controversy on the subject of ethnicity and religion could spark of a polarizing debate to their detriment. As a result of not taking these reconciliation issues up, the election campaign does not have them as a main feature. Instead other national issues have taken the centre stage. At the helm of these is the Central Bank bond scam in which the former governor of the Central Bank and a former finance minister of the government have been implicated. This has been an ironic reversal as the government’s main campaign at the national elections of 2015, when it was in opposition, was good governance and anti-corruption.

However, the fact that the official reconciliation process is on the backburner does not mean it is not being considered as important by the government. Speaking to a Youth Parliament last week, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that the government would decide on its course of action with regard to constitutional reform after the local government elections. He said they would be making an effort to reduce the gaps between various proposals put forward by different groups and said “We will be looking towards devolving more powers to the provincial councils while bringing laws to prevent the division of the country.” This was an implicit acknowledgement that the divisive potential of the draft constitutional proposals which generated massive opposition from powerful sections of the polity, especially religious clergy, made it injudicious to bring it to the fore at this time.

Ongoing Reconciliation 

In addition, government programmes that are directed towards reconciliation are continuing, albeit out of the political limelight. Last week the Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation that functions under the president conducted a one day conference for District Reconciliation Committees appointed by the president in his capacity as Minister of National Integration and Reconciliation. The objective of these committees is to resolve ethnic and religious tensions at the community level in accordance with a vision of a plural, multiethnic and multi religious society in which diversity is recognized as a source of strength. Members drawn from all the districts of the country attended this event to reflect on their roles in the light of values of dignity, respect, diversity, equity, inclusiveness, fairness, tolerance, empathy, friendship, kindness, compassion, justice and human rights.

Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms, Mano Tittawella, who functions under the Prime Minister’s Office, addressing the meeting of District Reconciliation Committees consisting of religious clergy, government officials, police and civil society members, gave a hopeful view of the post-election scenario. He said that apart from the Office of Missing Persons which has been established in law, two more of the reconciliation mechanisms promised by the government, the Office of Reparations and Truth Seeking Commission, would be presented to parliament and to the general public in the aftermath of the elections. He added that the draft laws on outlawing Enforced Disappearances and a replacement to the Prevention of Terrorism Act would be enacted in the coming months.

The optimistic scenarios presented above will be possible if the parties of the government alliance do well at the forthcoming elections. If the SLPP, which has been hostile to the reconciliation process as dividing the country and sacrificing it to foreign forces, outperforms the ruling parties and is able to capture a majority of local government authorities, the government’s ability to move forward on controversial issues will be crippled. This will make it especially difficult for the government to move forward on the reconciliation process which the Joint Opposition has described as paving the way to the division of the country while punishing the gallant soldiers who won the war. The government’s cautious strategy of putting off issues of constitutional reform and transitional justice until after the local government elections will hopefully only be a temporary phenomenon.

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Latest comments

  • 1
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    Jehan P
    You have changed your tune slightly. What’s up? Got an attack of funkitis?
    He He!

  • 0
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    sorry people ….please stop reconciling with each other…..until the election…..go ahead and kill each other and abuse each other

  • 0
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    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 0
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    We are not sure as to whether MR is in SLPP or SLFP. The hustings will go on without a resolution to this question.

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    Jehan PhD came because the damage control needed to 6th year term conflicts. Secretary to Coordinating Reconciliation has no right to tell North-East not to resist Appe Aanduwa Building two provinces wide Rapist Army Camp. Rapist army and Families have to leave North-East. There is no place in North to burn Sothern corpse. On the Other hand he can’t either indicate to South, ” if You are going to loot and eat like from 1958 to 1983, let them restart & build anew.” Very first thing this secretary guy should done is getting New King remove the Bologama Rowdies out of East. Even Rajiv accepted that East and North are Tamils’ land. Two days ago a rowdy woman went into a Colombo Tamil hotel and said to the owner, “I am a Sinhalese, you have no right ask me ID for room booking.” He could not get the ID or refuse room. My personal advice to Mano Tittawella, “Sir it is not very smart to rent your name for Jehan PhD and his racist government to have their game completed.”

    Jehan PhD many times played tricks with OMP. He did it here too. It is going to nastier than Paranagama commission, which UNHRC HC demanded and had it closed because its wide use of CID to maintain over distressed families not complaining about their missings. . Now it is said the OMP commissioners will purly Sinhala Jury, hand picked by new king. New King completely rejected the CC list for commissioners.

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    It will be after the next election all the time.
    Nobody in electoral politics is serious about anything other than self advancement.
    Reconciliation has to be at grassroots level.

  • 0
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    Jehan Perera: why do you write this type of nonsense instead of writing something useful to the country that you were educated. Do you really like in your conscience what you are doing ?

  • 0
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    This is not the first time governments have put off important issues whether it be Tamil/Muslim issues or increasing the prices of essentials or taxing for fear of losing n the next elections. This situation has been going round and round the mulberry bush like the ‘Chekku Madu’ (like the bulls which go round and round to crush the sesame seed to obtain oil .)
    Unfortunately we don’t have Leaders. Our so called leaders are all followers of the masses.

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