By Sumanasiri Liyanage –
Although the way in which it came to an end may not be in congruence with my normative principles on the issue of ending armed conflicts, I am still happy with the fact that war to an end five years ago. Notwithstanding the fact that conventional conflict resolution theory posits that negotiated settlement rather than military victory is more favorable for peace-building or conflict transformation, I believe that war-ending in either way would have created a space for peaceful, just and harmonious Sri Lanka had the post-armed conflict been handled prudently by the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL). Moreover, had the GoSL acted in that manner, Mahinda Rajapaksa would have emerged as a genuine national leader of post-independent Sri Lanka. However, five years after the ending of the armed conflict, balance sheet is pathetic and the future is gruesome. Instead of Mahinda Rajapaksa emerging as a truly national leader, he has finally ended up being a’ tribal’ leader. A person who won the election in 2010 mainly because of the war victory may be defeated in the presidential election in 2015, if a common candidate acceptable to all communities in Sri Lanka is nominated by the opposition parties and groups. Governmental coalition is in shambles and it may split into three or four factions when the presidential election is announced. Hold on! I must confess that the hopes I had in 2009 went all wrong. Will my predictions for 2015 presidential election also go wrong? May be YES for two obvious reasons.
Five Factors and Actors
The second reason is related to the first. Actual change and development are determined by multiple factors and actors. The parametric values to be given to these actors and factors may vary. In a previous work I identified five factors that brought about the pathetic and dismal situation that we are in today. First, in a Sri Lankan political context, one of the main determinants is the way in which how the leading politicians of the government perceive the question at hand. The leaders of the governmental front including the President Mahinda Rakapaksa and his ‘clan’ hold an extreme Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist position. What can be gathered from their speeches, action programs and policy documents is that they do not perceive the presence of a Tamil national question. It is true that they have recognized that Tamils have been facing enormous difficulties and hardships in the last three decades or so. Nonetheless, these hardships are according to them directly associated with the armed conflict. In the last five years the approach of the GoSL was addressing those issues completely neglecting the identity dimension.
Secondly, the comprehensive military defeat of the LTTE and the decimation of its entire leadership have created an unbridgeable vacuum in Tamil nationalism in Sri Lanka. Major trends in Tamil nationalism in Sri Lanka in the past revolved around their attitude towards the LTTE where the latter enjoyed an unchallenged military capability. The two options that were available to other Tamil nationalist parties were either to be a proxy to the LTTE (like Tamil National Alliance was) or to be an opponent of it (Eelam Peoples Democratic Party – EPDP, Tamil United Liberation Front– TULF, Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal – TMVP). When the LTTE were decimated, neither of these two factions was in a position to present a viable and alternative Tamil nationalist political position that is acceptable to Tamil masses. There are no signs that this political vacuum will be filled in the immediate future as well. The Tamil National Alliance that is seen as a proxy to the LTTE for a long time has not yet come up with a viable democratic alternative although after the first NPC election, it has shown some positive intervention
Thirdly, over-securitization of the state has adversely affected the peace-building process. This prioritization of the state security is a natural outcome of nearly 30 years of armed conflict that totally upset the equilibrium between civil society and the military, in favor of the latter. Although the armed conflict between the government security forces and the LTTE came to an end more than three years ago, the involvement of the military in political decision-making remains undiminished. Hence, it is not only a phenomenon but has also become a common attitude. The government seems to look at almost everything from the prism of its own security, which deeply influences its practices and policies in many spheres.
Fourthly, the increasing pressure from the USA, EU and international organizations and the campaign of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora on the issue of war crimes in the last phase of the conflict have created a situation in which the GoSL tends to believe that it operates in an unfriendly international context. Two options are available to the GoSL in overcoming this situation. The first option is to take an independent decision to introduce a power-sharing political structure and to improve the human right condition in the country. Such a step would eventually weaken the increasing international campaign against the Sri Lankan government. However, the GoSL has opted for a second option, namely, leaning more and more towards extreme Sinhala nationalist support. Having assumed that the so-called international community is trying to de-stabilize the government by imposing unjustifiable demands, the GoSL has taken defensive measures by stressing that an international conspiracy against the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka continues even though the armed conflict came to an end in mid-2009. One may argue that this threatened perception is a construction of the government for its own ends. Whether that claim is true or not is debatable, but what can be confirmed is that this friction between the GoSL and the international community at large has badly affected the peace-building process.
Finally, in the last two decades, India appears to have changed its priorities in favor of achieving a high rate of economic growth. As a result, its policies towards its neighbors have been changed substantially. In the 1980s, the Indian Union government exerted severe pressure on Sri Lanka and played a significant role in the introduction of the two-tier system of government in Sri Lanka in 1987. India has always stressed the importance of power-sharing arrangement. However, in the last decade or so, this pressure has weakened substantially for multiple reasons. Among many other reasons, some of which are internal, one could speculate that this change is somewhat influenced by the increased presence of China in the Indian Ocean region. Although Indian delegates in many occasions stressed the necessity of adopting a power-sharing system (influenced by their own) giving space to Tamils to exercise some form of autonomy in regional administration, Indian pressure in the recent past has been exerted in a more lax manner.
What is Way Forward?
Now it is clear that UPFA government is no longer capable of resolving the national question in Sri Lanka by satisfying the demands and aspirations of marginalized nations and ethnic groups. It appears that the UPFA is trying to continue the war by other means. Hence its politics is war by other means. These other means include inter alia attacks by groups like Bodu Bala Sena on numerically small nations and religious groups. However, it is imperative to understand the connectivity of the national question. National question has been an outcome of the marginalization of identity groups by the ruling class. Marginalization is not confined to the identity groups and is extended to lower strata of the society. Lands were grabbed from peasants; Poor urban people were thrown out of their homes; A war is waged against university students; Trade unionists were beaten up, Fishing community is suppressed. So five years after war, popular classes have been slowly realizing neo liberal regime and its socio economic policies have led to this overall marginalization, suppression, oppression and exploitation. The rift and internal contradiction within the UPFA can be explained as a reflection of this. In this conjuncture the resolution of the national question calls for a broader popular bloc formation and under its leadership reversing the de-democratization process that has been going on since the mid 1970s culminating in present UPFA regime. It is encouraging that people are thinking not just a change of regime but a change in some of the features of the existing systems, above all the executive presidential system. In itself it may not be sufficient, but as a transitional step, it would be an ideal step to move forward if a proper candidate who is willing and capable of delivering goods can be found. One interesting development is that some quarters has even begun to think the Chief Minister of the Northern Province as a common candidate to face Mahinda Rajapaksa in the presidential election that would be held in early next year.
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