29 May, 2022


Replace Political Posturing With Joint Problem Solving 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The past ten months during which time presidential elections were held in November and general elections in August witnessed enemy images being manufactured by competing political parties and their candidates for election. The MCC grant was depicted as dividing the country into two by means of an electrified fence, the Muslim community as taking over the country through a population surge, and the Tamil community as partnering Western countries in eroding national sovereignty. But now with the elections at an end, with a government firmly entrenched in power with a 2/3 majority, the time is ripe for an end to such political posturing. Regrettably, the posturing of the past continued to feature at the very beginning of the new parliament’s sessions.

Former Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council, and new parliamentarian, C V Wigneswaran set the ball rolling with his comment that the Tamil language is the oldest in the world and exceeds 5000 years. He also made valid points about the need for the government to address the unresolved issues of the people of the north and east. But these latter remarks were overshadowed by his rhetorical introduction which were construed as yet another attempt on the part of the ethnic and religious minorities to upstage the Sinhalese majority community. This has provoked a race to the bottom by parliamentarians representing the two main political parties, the SLPP and SJB, who have responded to his remarks with sufficient hatred and scorn to rekindle the divisive sentiments of the election campaigns.

In plural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies like Sri Lanka, political problems need to be resolved through constructive dialogue and mutual accommodation. They cannot be resolved by either the majority principle, by mere verbal recriminations or by force though this is the predilection of those who are more powerful due to their control over the levers of state power or enjoy a permanent majority by virtue of belonging to the larger community. The minority community at the losing end will not accept the justice of decisions imposed on them by the fact that they are smaller in numbers. They will see themselves as equal to the bigger community in the same manner that small nations and big nations are equal in the United Nations. This is not a phenomenon that is peculiar to Sri Lanka, but is found worldwide.

No Alternative 

Now with national elections not on the horizon for at least four more years, there is an opportunity for a moratorium on destructive oppositional politics. In the past the opposition parties have invariably opposed the problem solving initiatives of the government in power. The constitutional reform efforts of the 2000-01 period led by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and present education minister Prof G L Peiris was scuttled in parliament by the opposition. The All Party Representatives Committee process for constitutional reform led by Prof Tissa Vitarana during the period 2006-15 was weakened by the non-participation of the TNA. Today with its 2/3 majority in parliament, the government has the opportunity to bring the opposition on board in a spirit of inclusiveness.

The government also has the advantage of being headed by a president and prime minister in whom the majority of people have an implicit trust. This can be seen in the way they have been able to nip potential problems in the bud. One was when the former LTTE eastern commander Colonel Karuna publicly boasted during the election campaign that he had killed more than 2000 Sri Lankan soldiers in a few days fighting. There were outraged calls for his prosecution from Buddhist monks and citizens, mindful of massacres of Buddhist monks and civilians during the war period. But Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was able to pacify them by explaining Colonel Karuna’s role in the ultimate defeat of the LTTE. This and numerous other examples, including the bulldozing of 15th century King Bhuvanakabahu’s audience hall to widen a road by a ruling party mayor, have shown the ability of the government leadership to pacify the general population on issues of ethnic nationalism. In these circumstances, the government has a golden opportunity to be inclusive in its decision making and problem solving in a way that the previous government could not.

The previous government headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe made an intellectually super effort to deal with the two major problems that continue to dog the country. One is the inability to find a mutually acceptable solution to the issue of powersharing between the majority and minority communities that has been with the country for the past six decades. The other is the establishment of a set of reconciliation mechanisms to address the wrongs of the past done to individuals. These wrongs also go back a long way, and mainly concern the events of 1988-89 when the JVP insurrection took place with tens of thousands of casualties and the three decades of war with the LTTE that ended with an even larger number of casualties in 2009.

Missing Persons 

The first step in getting to the point of joint problem solving is to take steps to restore trust, one step at a time. On Sunday August 30, the International Day of the Disappeared, the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) invited concerned persons from around the country to attend a meeting regarding the future. In the previous two years, since its inception in 2017, the meetings organised were on a large scale with several hundreds attending. Most of those who attended were from families that were affected, and who could not give up hope. They came with the hope that there would be answers given to the whereabouts or fate of those who had gone missing. This time around, however, the spirits of those who attended were subdued.

The OMP had been established as part of the commitment of the government to the international community at the UN Human Rights Council in 2015. But at its last session in March this year, the government announced its withdrawal from the resolution to which its predecessor government had agreed. At the discussions at the OMP office, the inadequate support given to the newly established institution from its inception by the government that set it up, the public officials and even by the affected groups themselves was noted. The general belief was that the UN-backed reconciliation process was really about punishing the government and is armed forces and was not adequately addressed. But the main purpose of the OMP ought to have been, was, and is, to address the problems of the victims and their families.

During the course of his announcement in Geneva in February this year of Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from UNHRC Resolution 30/1 of 2015, Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena stated that the government would continue with the national reconciliation process and while “within the framework of Sri Lanka’s domestic priorities and policies, are not only realistic but also deliverable.“ The OMP is placed under the mandate of the Ministry of Justice headed by Minister Ali Sabry. Speaking in parliament he said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa “wants to create a country where all citizens will feel safe, secure and dignified. I invite everyone to join hands, forget the past and move on to build a Sri Lanka which is inclusive. That is called inclusive nationalism.” In this spirit the government can work with the OMP, its commissioners and obtain the support of civil society to address the present problems of the victim families. This can be one of many first steps on the road to joint problem solving of other hitherto intractable problems.

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Latest comments

  • 8

    Ho hum.
    You will be after Dayan J for a Gratiaen nomination.
    Crap like this coming from those representing Rome deserves it!

  • 14

    Article with substance but still need to find the way of implementing it. For starters all religions and all ethnic groups could agree on country with law and order. Every person including politicians should be accountable to law for their action. This can be tested by government reaction on attorney general’s decision of preventing CHOKKA malli, convicted murderer sitting in the parliament.

    Every body can agree on improving local economy. They have stopped import of turmeric so that will give boost local farmers. they can be tested by sticking to their own decisions.
    We can seee how they deal with MCC as they came to power by criticizing it as said in Jihan’s article.
    Opposition can unite on these fronts including all nationalist parties and have a trust among themselves. Then it will be easy to achieve minority rights as doubts on majority community is eliminated.

  • 2

    Dear CT. May we please have those who can walk the talk and not the talk, talk.

  • 8

    Mr Know all please tell us what the US , Chinese, Indian governments are doing to share power with their various minorities and what they are doing to ‘correct” injustices in war zones like Kashmir, Afghanistan etc . You are also a great admirer of RW it seems !

    • 2

      Deepthi, you must put your house in order without worrying about others. Financially Sri Lanka is in dire straits, with bribery and swindling at their peak, begging other countries for loans. To come out of it you must have political stability, which can only be reached by reconciliation with Tamils. Fault of putting Sri Lanka in this plight goes squarely to Mahinda Rajapakse, firstly by betraying international community in reneging on his promise to settle Tamil problem in exchange to support to eliminate LTTE and secondly by bringing in China to buttress against pressure being exerted to solve Tamil problem in a fair manner. India sees presence of China as security threat similar to how it perceived USA in 1987 and will react in similar manner if Sri Lanka does not send China out of its territory. They are going to use Tamil problem to bring Sri Lanka to its knees, may be in different way than arming them. USA has banned any company doing business with Chinese firms, which is going to affect Colombo port city. You cannot fight with everyone as at one stage all of them will get together and hammer you. Gung-ho people at the helm is sure panacea for disaster.

    • 3

      deepthi silva ,

      Are you from a distant universe? Do they have there Dhanukola, if no rice, to import and feed Lankaweyans like you?

      What are you talking about? Which China you are talking about on sharing power with minorities? Is that the minority which speaks Mandarin or the ethnic group called Han?
      (You are not drunk while writing it, were you?; just writing something hoping that will depend the kleptocracy Royals? )

  • 10

    The only posturing that these rajapuka s are capable of doing is to raise their legs against the coconut tree.
    As they are only hell bent on bullying the foolish masses who voted for them.
    They will continue to pawn the country to any mother’s son or daughter who will lend them funds even at high interest rates to line their shop soiled amudes.
    This will include the much denied MCC.
    The writer clearly identified that Ranil. W made vain effort s to resolve the 64 year curse that was a gift given by the SWRD Banda s SLFP petty bourgeois short lived racist government that has turned this once upon a time pearl of the Indian ocean into a shitty shithole.
    The rogues in the SLPP will ensure as per their sad manifestos that the nation will proudly continue to enjoy this shitty status that was created by themselves in a different color.
    The SJB if not being careful with their dancing to the saffron colored amude clans gangster monks they too will end up being in the same dire straits.
    Unless an about turn for the better is boldly taken by a brave someone this beleaguered sad sorry Lanka will continue on its merry slide down the pallan to be the unqualified begging nation of the planet.

  • 4

    Joint problem solving is possible only when there is a concordance among the stakeholders.

    Such concordance is absence in the case of OMP.

    Transitional Justice also faces the same drawback

  • 0

    The talk about constructive dialogue and mutual accommodation was stated by late SARATH MUTTEUWEGAMA and if am correct by SHELTON RANARAJAH during JR’s time.now how can you expect this to take place now when they have 2/3 majority and drunk with power and have a negative mind set .main target is to clear all the way for NAMAL to become the next PRESIDENT.they will be all out to keep the anti tamil,anti muslim flame burning to collect votes for next 5-10 years.during this period there will be many more WEERAWANSASA,AND GAMANPULLE WILL BE CREATED AND NURSED TO KEEP THE COMMUNAL FLAME BURNING NON STOP.

  • 2

    A rather tasteless discussion with not much direction. I see here an attempt to sound supportive and “going with the tide” rather than robust debate about quite serious and existential issues for the parties concerned. I expected more from a former peace activist..

  • 0

    “The All Party Representatives Committee process for constitutional reform led by Prof Tissa Vitarana during the period 2006-15 was weakened by the non-participation of the TNA.”

    This is serious, but false accusation. We would prefer a TNA spoke Person taking the responsibility of replying for this in CT.
    “For our common knowledge, TNA never opposed or slipped from any negotiations for a solution. “ This Includes from the CBK’s time, 1994 to Tiger annihilation of 2009. There are many statements TNA has released on the progress of Solution 2000, All Party Conference and Yahapalanaya Secret Solution, for the purpose to inform Tamils and Parliament. Neelan Thiruchelvam, PhD was main architect of CBK’s solution 2000. Neelan was a TNA member until his death. He worked very closely with CBK. TNA participated in with the teams sent by Old King for negotiation. Sumanthiran PC is a partner with Dr. Jayampathy in Drafting the Secret Solution’s out lines and drafts. The statement “TNA did not participate” is only a shameless lie in any solution.
    After May 2009, TNA, in its meeting with American Ambassador, Robert Blake, insisted on Solution, rather than International Investigation, which was mainly Diaspora and TPNF contention that negotiations won’t work because they believed Sinhala government not going to talk truth or honestly negotiate. Sampanthar tried to talk to Old King on a solution for Tamils.

  • 0

    Sampanthar was meeting the team that negotiating with TNA up to 2011. In 2012 Jan Siri Pala De Silva cancelled the meeting on his side and stayed out. Then Old King appointed a PSC under Nimal to remove 13A. When FAM of India, SM Krishna came to Lankawe, instead of arranging for three party meeting with him, Royals invited him for private Pongal party. SM Kistna pint blankly said there is no negation, but TNA will have to accept whatever the Royals were ready to give. Then Sampanthar complained that Royal invited him for private meeting then played a physical check on him to intimidate him and have him surrendered. He repeatedly forced India to get involved into it. So Old King promised to India 13+. He never talked about what were 13+. But after 2009 he said it was only “Upper House”. By that time he demerged North East to show his non-interest for Solution to Tamils. He said there are not minorities, indicating that he didn’t feel a solution necessary for Tamils. He refused to conduct election for NPC until India put high pressure on him PM Manmohan Singh ignored Old King in New York, UN General Assembly meeting. When Tamil pressured TNA to go for March, 2011 UNHRC meeting, Old King threatened with Pogrom on Tamils.
    Jehan PhD’s statement tells what going the path of future negotiations. “Exactly like from 1948!”

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