By Austin Fernando –
‘Democracy works in Sri Lanka’ is the message one gets from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) electoral victory, even with complaints of violation of election laws and other harassments. Nevertheless, TNA must be thankful to President Rajapaksa for the opportunity afforded to show their real strength. This election result opens a new difficult path to reconciliation. The reconciliatory process goes hand in glove with emerged political realities.
As the US Embassy recently stated “Democracy is not simply about elections, however, and more must be done to ensure that Sri Lankans of all communities can live in the peace and dignity that they deserves.” This is the initial guide to learn by the TNA and the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL). What is tried here is to explore what GOSL and TNA should pursue to reach that “more” that “must be done” for peace and dignity for all.
There are several emerged post-election political realities with which the parties have to function.
One is the loud orchestration of polarization. TNA won 30/ 38 seats in the Northern Provincial Council (NPC). Similarly in the North West and Central Provinces the government won conveniently. One may say that respectively the former was the outcome of Tamil nationalistic euphoria and protest against ethnic suffering; and, the latter as GOSL’s war rhetoric nationalist euphoria, mixed with established southern enjoyment caused by terrorist annihilation. Quick dilution of this mutual polarization cannot be expected, unless political catastrophe strikes.
Another reality arises from the government spokespersons identifying the TNA Manifesto as a ‘separatist document’ and continuing to repeat it even after the election. If their reasoning is true, the overwhelming northern mandate can be interpreted by a pro-separatist like V. Rudrakumaran, as endorsement of ‘separation’. Parallels to Rudrakumaran like Vaiko and Ramadoss in Tamilnadu conclude the election result as a vote for a separate Tamil Eelam. Fortunately, when these allegations were made the TNA leadership publicly rejected them.
However, immediately after the election, MA Sumnathiran MP urged the government “to grant a measure of autonomy to Tamil speaking people within a united undivided country.” It also nullified separation. The required extent of autonomy was hidden. If it is the power and authority to statute making (Article 154G), financial resourcing (Article 154R), establishment issues (PC Act- Part IV), some ‘measure of autonomy’ is automatically available, because these are legalized essentials for power sharing; if beyond 13th Amendment, the Constitution and PC Act, it will be problematic.
Already Minister Basil Rajapaksa has cautioned, reminding the TNA / NPC of its great responsibility for “safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country.” While negating ‘separation’, Minister Rajapaksa in turn indirectly demands the TNA to share with the Sinhalese what the TNA Manifesto demanded for Tamils and Muslims re: equity, equality, peace and security. Security is a Reserved Subject. His mentioning it would have been even a veiled threat. Therefore, both parties should trudge carefully and meeting of minds becomes a crucial requirement.
Some ardent supporters of the TNA campaign were the former “separatist” LTTE cadres. For instance, some of them –even Ananthi Sashidaharan (without any disrespect to her) fall short of comparative political experiences. Elilan (Vavuniya/ Trincomalee), Elamparithi (Jaffna), Lakshman (Mannar) were highly trained, outwardly soft, but internally extra-hardened cadres, I officially knew. Perhaps, Ellilan’s disappearance would have carved an inerasable epitaph in Sashidharan’s mind, robbing her sobriety. Now she represents: the severely affected women; kinsmen of the disappeared; and, the vanquished LTTE. She will most probably be a NPC Minister, though that too is being suspected. Her interactions with the civil administration, Military who have allegedly harassed her, political personalities, if turned sober will be most welcome. If her wrath and hardened revenge seeps to the grassroots she might become the problem child attracting disintegration, nullifying reconciliation. It may be that this eventuality from LTTE cadres hovers in Minister Rajapaksa’s mind to react as quoted. It will be up to TNA seniors to have sufficient controls to ensure things do not go out of hand. If they fail it will be inviting hard times which counter reconciliation and development.
A fourth reality is that the TNA Manifesto had prima facie intentions that seemed unconstitutional. Will the NPC attempt implementing them on victory rhetoric that their Manifesto had been overwhelmingly endorsed? The Chief Minister (CM) candidate, being a legal luminary may not embark on these constitutionally impossible. He has already stated that they will not proceed on illegal courses. If he breaks away, GOSL’s confrontational venomous fangs will open. Such confrontation is advantageous for GOSL’s popularity in the south due to extreme polarization. However, I still have confidence that CM Wigneswaran would prove that the victory at the NPC election is not the final solution to the crisis.
However, a fifth reality is that some other intentions in the Manifesto, publicly disseminated in the election campaign will certainly be pushed by the TNA. They are: mainly: the antagonistic Governor’s issue, controversial sharing of land and police powers, demilitarization, humanitarian issues etc. The lastly mentioned issues accumulated votes and demand NPC’s obligatory performance..
Of the demands made by the TNA Manifesto on resource management and financing powers, the TNA and GOSL should recompose novel operational methodologies. I pray that the TNA would not demand institutional structures like the Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure and Interim Self Governing Authority. I think MP Sumanthiran’s “measure of autonomy” does not equate these.
I support sharing land powers to all PCs according to the 13th Amendment (Appendix II). On this issue I recommend a study done by Verite Research supporting land power sharing, to which I contributed. (I do not comment on the latest Supreme Court judgment issued on 26th September, as the details are unknown.) However, due to non-chauvinistic but security related circumstances regarding state land, dialogue between the NPC authorities and the centre is essential, so that everything brought up by either party is not vetoed, but accommodation of each other’s requirements in the interim is made possible. (Media reports on a Supreme Court decision taken on the 26th instant complicate matters for the NPC.)
Appointment of the National Land Commission (NLC) (Appendix II-3.1) could be the initial right step. If cautiously carved out, even the defense establishment’s demands for state land can be accommodated through novel operational methodologies. For this, professionally qualified persons should be appointed to the NLC and its Technical Secretariat, who can act above political and ethnic considerations.
Resource management (List I) and financial management (Article 154R) appear under the 13th Amendment. Here too certain issues like Diaspora interventions, institutionalizing Diaspora commitments (e.g. Liberian Diaspora Advisory Board) to harness Diaspora resources for project investments, foreign resource mobilization within the overall macroeconomic environment etc are issues to be settled by negotiations. TNA should not give the impression that they are asking for the pound of flesh as done by the LTTE and the GOSL must not consider that all TNA requests are stepping stones for separation. Mutual trust is essential..
There are certain issues raised by the security authorities on police powers and these also should be negotiated between parties. I believe it is not the hardliners who should be engaging in negotiating from both parties. I believe there are several around the President like Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, who can negotiate with CM Wigneswaran. Wigneswaran conceding to work with the government as already declared should be further explored. A Semi-political Advisory Task Force for trouble shooting as well to find solutions for emerging problems may be a good administrative arrangement for conflicting issues.
Another reality is the negation of the theory that development wins the hearts and minds of the people. I remember my saying “devastated minds cannot be healed with development only” which was repeated recently while discussing the TNA Manifesto. Hence, it is time for the government to open its eyes to the humane requirements sans development rhetoric and develop a new participatory development model, where all people and not the so-called people’s agents only prioritize, decide, operate, supervise and own the consequential development. Now that the NPC is in place, it is the peoples’ latest mandated official conduit, which should be compulsorily engaged.
Minister Basil Rajapaksa indicating handing over the Uthuru Wasanthaya to the NPC would have been political rhetoric and a veiled threat of potential collapsing development, if the electorate rejected the GOSL. But now this threat is redundant as observed from the voting patterns, the government may have to rethink formulating a new NPC development model. Why should one suspect that development efforts would be failures in NPC hands, if the same resources available to the Ministry of Economic Development are parted to the NPC? Of course, we have experienced even in the south how the centre- especially those in the Treasury- bungles development by manipulating resource sharing. Are we to expect such siege with occasional threat of erasing PC efficiency, effectiveness and economy?
Earlier I have said that the TNA could consider their Manifesto as only a means to win elections and should think far unlike the pessimists in the Tamil political arena. I reiterate it and recommend that finding ways to cohabitate and cooperate will yield better gains, rather than running away after mirages and refuse or reject the new institutional challenges. Adjusting systems to work together for sake of co-existence for reconciliation should be the priority and it seems to be the President’s thinking too, as seen from his initial response from New York. It appears that such cooperation is possible from a CM who has even before coming to power asked outsiders (like Tamil Nadu, though retracted probably due to other reasons) to mind their own business! This suits the new reconciliation equation.
Before the NPC election, even I wondered whether the conceptual propositions in the Manifesto when rejected by the GOSL could create a status for the TNA to engage the internationals to bring the GOSL on knees. A former Jaffna Government Agent I spoke after the election felt that the air is different with TNA leaders. There are seasoned politicians like TNA leader R Sampanthan, MPs Mavai Senathirajah, Sumanthiran, former MP P. Siddharathan, and the intellectual CM Wikneswaran etc in the core group, irrespective of possible inexperienced detractors, who will have to fall in line. However, clapping needs two hands and the GOSL’s stances, attitudes and approaches also will decide whether the TNA becomes an international complainant or not. The major exercise should be for both parties to build trust for coexistence and cohabitation.
Many are watching the developments that would take place hereafter in the northern political scene. They are in the TNA and northern populace locally, Tamilnadu probably for their political survival, Delhi due to many reasons political, military, internal electioneering, diplomatic, international and due to the Indo-Sri Lanka or Rajiv- JRJ Accord and in the developed west/ east. How they would react depends on variables personal to each of them. However, Sri Lanka has to balance between so many interventionists and variables and has to be disciplined to face the challenges. In that disciplining there cannot be space for chauvinism. What one should expect from the TNA and NPC marks the same values to promote the President’s belief stated at the UN General Assembly, i.e. political empowerment and reconciliation
In that context let the GOSL and NPC prove that “more will be done to ensure that Sri Lankans of all communities can live in the peace and dignity that they deserve.” If the GOSL achieves these tasks and the NPC/ TNA are satisfied there will be eternal rallies drum beating against NPC at Lipton Circus mooted by frustrated southern forces. If the GOSL fails to achieve these tasks there will be eternal drum beating originating from frustrated northern forces in Jaffna and through diplomatic missions in New York and Geneva mooted by the Diaspora and antagonistic forces.
It is not the protests that worry but the future that holds for us as Sri Lankans in a climate of ignored political realities. I only wish that the GOSL and NPC will not push us to the brink of a renewed disaster.