7 August, 2020

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Strategic Thinking To Sustain The Devolution Process

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

One of the first decisions that the TNA had to take after its victory at the Northern Provincial Council elections was before whom to take the oaths of office.  The overwhelming electoral mandate received by the party would have induced them to make the most of the occasion in symbolic and political terms.  The option they were unanimous in rejecting was to have their members take the oath of office before the Governor of the Northern Province.  As former army chief in Jaffna, Governor G A Chandrasiri has had to carry with him the legacy of that war which was very negative to the Tamil population n the North and East.  The civilian casualties during the last phase of the war in the North exceeded any previous period of the three decade long war.  This is a legacy that will take a long time to become erased from the consciousness of the people.  Since the end of the war, and his appointment as Governor of the Northern Province, Governor Chandrasiri has also been working closely with the military that he once commanded in Jaffna.

The preferred option of the TNA was to invite President Mahinda Rajapaksa to Jaffna to administer the oath of office to the Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council.  However, if their refusal to appear before the Governor meant that the President was obliged to go to Jaffna to administer the oath of office to the Chief Minister, there could have been negative interpretations in the rest of the country.  Nationalist critics of the devolution process would have argued that the President’s journey to the North was an ominous sign of the increased power of the Northern Province and diminished power of the central government.  In this context, the willingness of the TNA to have the oath taking ceremony of the Chief Minister in Colombo is another constructive and necessary step in the evolution of a political solution to the long festering ethnic conflict.  This decision has ensured that a possible deadlock that could have eroded popular support for the devolution process was averted.

Both sides have shown flexibility on the issue of the oath taking ceremony.  The government did not insist that the Chief Minister should take his oaths before the Governor in Jaffna.  The TNA showed flexibility by agreeing to come down to Colombo to take the oaths before the President. The swearing in ceremony for the Chief Ministers of the Central and Northwestern provincial councils took place without fanfare at the Presidential Secretariat in Colombo last week.  This paved the way for a similar procedure to be followed in the case of the oath taking for the Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council.  The supreme place of the Presidency, the central government and Colombo as the national capital even within the scheme of devolution of power was thereby reaffirmed.  However, this has evoked a negative response by nationalist Tamil groups such as the Sri Lanka Tamil Lawyers Association which has condemned the oath taking before a President they accuse of committing war crimes.

Defying Expectations

Contrary to expectations, the manner in which the government and TNA have been dealing with each other after the provincial council elections has been on a constructive basis.   It is to be hoped that the spirit of accommodation that is presently being displayed will continue into the future.  When she was in Sri Lanka, and meeting with civil society activists, UN Human Rights Commissioner Navanethem Pillay said that South Africa had learnt a lot from Nelson Mandela.  One of those lessons was to be ready to compromise for the sake of peace.  There is a famous saying of Nelson Mandela that “Courageous people do not fear forgiving for the sake of peace.”  In the past Governor Chandrasiri has acted in a manner that the people of the North have felt to be unfair and harsh.  He did so as an agent of the government.  It now appears that the government is changing course.

Chief Minister Wigneswaran’s legal and judicial background makes him a person who is prepared to work within the law and the Constitution, and find solutions that are in keeping with the law.  If the Governor is acting in the present in a cooperative manner, he also can be worked with as a partner so long as he is the Governor.  It appears from reports that the meeting between Governor Chandrasiri and Chief Minister Wigneswaran where the latter was given his letter of appointment by the former was positive.  In addition to giving Chief Minister Wigneswaran his letter of appointment, the Governor had also discussed the new building that is being completed to house the Northern Provincial Council.  However, the concerns of the people of the North in relation to the demilitarization and return of land in the North cannot be got around.

When the war ended there was a general expectation, and especially in the North, that the military presence that had been multiplied during the time of the war, would be reduced.  But this did not happen and, on the contrary, the military presence increased.  The blame for the military involvement in civilian affairs has fallen primarily on the Governor.  However, it is not fair to put the blame for the over-militarisation of the North on him alone.   This is because the Governor of the Northern Province, and of all provinces, is an appointee of the President in terms of the Sri Lankan Constitution.  Under the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, all high officers of state may be appointed at the sole discretion of the President.  Government policy on the issue of de-militarisation of the North needs to change in a strategic manner to accord with the new political realities.  As a former army commander in the North, who has the trust of the military, Governor Chandrasiri would be competent to be in charge of the demilitarization process.

Muslim Concerns

In a similar way, it is important that the government should respond strategically to the SLMC’s recent demands in relations to the devolution of power.  Although its top leadership holds important ministerial positions in the government, the SLMC has been in a tumultuous relationship with the government.  It has been contesting elections separately.  At the same time it has been deferential to the government even at the perceived cost of Muslim interests.  However, after the Northern Provincial Council elections, the SLMC appears to be seeing the possibility of emulating the TNA in some measure.  They appear to have got more emboldened by the TNA victory and by the government’s apparent willingness to devolve power to it.  Accordingly the SLMC has started to make its own demands with regard to the devolution of power.  It passed a resolution in the Eastern Provincial Council calling on the government to implement the 13th Amendment in full.  It is now making a demand that the government should appoint a member of the SLMC as Chief Minister of the Eastern Provincial Council.

The SLMC is citing an agreement it had with the government prior to the Eastern Provincial Council election last year that the ruling party and SLMC would share the Chief Ministerial and other ministerial positions on a rotating basis, among other agreements.  The SLMC’s views need to be considered by the government in a positive rather than negative light.  The SLMC is a coalition partner of the government.  As such, it is supporting the government and not opposing it.  The appointment of an SLMC member as Chief Minister of the Eastern Provincial Council would justify the SLMC leadership’s continued partnership with the government in the eyes of their Muslim constituency.  It would also ensure that the SLMC remains within the government coalition.

In a recent article, former government servant Dr Devanesan Nesiah referred to the work of Nobel Prize winning political economist and Harvard professor Thomas Schelling who specialized in the theory of strategic decision making and under whom Dr Nesiah served as teaching fellow for two years in Harvard classes.  One of the lessons to be drawn from Schelling’s work is that relationships in a two-party conflict are more prone to total breakdown than in a three-party conflict.  In the case of the former, each of the parties has an interest in being the first to attack the other by surprise.  But in the latter instance, where there are three parties, no party has an interest in being the first to attack another.  This is because the third party (the one that is out of the fray) can benefit from the conflict that will weaken the other two.  Strategic thinking would be to empower the SLMC and make it a key stakeholder within the system of devolution like the TNA, in the interests of stabilizing the devolution process by defusing the potential two-party conflict.

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Latest comments

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    An interesting one. So, let SMLC to involve in a triangular party process.

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      Hope TNA learns from having turned up its nose at contesting the Eastern province in 2009..
      This time it must work to woo the Muslims in an alliance for devolution of power!

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      JP would like to see some STRATEGIC THINKING from you and your civil society cronies for a change!
      1) ROAD MAP for Demilitarization, downsizing and right sizing the military of Sri Lanka and roll back of the DEEP STATE that Gota the goon is building, including
      1) removing the UDA which is grabbing land from the Ministry of Defense and having civilian authorities run it
      2) start a civil society dialogue with donors to stop funding UDA under Gota the Goon which is cutting down all the big trees in Colombo and wasting funds on unnecessary “beautification” to hide the putrification of institutions. DO NO HARM should be enforces on donors.
      3)Lobby for Seas on Lanka to be demilitarized zone..

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        Right on Kapila!

        Also for restoration of democracy and clean up of POLITICAL CULTURE which is very rotten in Sri Lanka we need STRATEGIC THINKING from JP and his NGO friends..
        Civil society should focus STRATEGICALLY on the rotten opposition led by the appalling clown Ranil Wickeamsinghe and call in one voice for him to resign and restore democracy within the UNP..

        Need of the hour is to clean up the rotten political culture and get rid of corrupt and anti-democratic MPs in govt and opposition..

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    Will Jehan’s paymasters agree to a Muslim run East with full Police Powers and land titles although it is logical that the Muslims who are now neck and neck with the Tamils as a minority should get the same rights?.

    Wouldn’t that affect the undertaking in Velllala CM’s manifesto to annex the East to fulfil Indian wishes in the 13 A to give TNA full control of the NE?.

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    The President should take a step forward and replace the present Governor of NP with a civilian. That will definitely send a positive message to the Tamils and enhance the process of reconciliation. There is no question of prestige in this as it is an absolute necessity to restore goodwill.

    Sengodan. M

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      You are absolutely correct but it won’t happen because government want keep the North under Army grip

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    More than issue of governorship is that of land and militarisation. These are both interconnected since it is the military which is taking over the lands for their own use.

    The Govt needs to have some policy on this rather than leaving it totaly in the hands of the MOD. Since the UDA comes under the MOD this nexus is being exploited to evict people and commandeer large tracts of land without adequate justification.

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    Mr. Wigneshwaran has over and over mentioned that he is a law abiding citizen by profession. So he acted according to the Provincial Council law that says that the Chief ministers should take oath in front of the President or the Governor. Wigneshwaran had no option other than choosing the President as they declined to take oath in front of former Army chief who was very infamous among Tamils. It is unfair to give wrong interpretation to this incident.Wigneshwaran knows who is MARA so he won’t fall in the trap of MARA like Sinhalese political beggars. Tamils have sacrificed thousands of lives for their independent and freedom.They cannot forget and run behind MARA as suggested by Jehan Prera.I strongly believe that they will maintain their independent policies without selling them as being done by Southern politicians.They will stand for the human dignity of Tamils. People who do not bother about their own dignity always suggest others to give up everything for money and positions.Jehan Perera is not an exception in this context.But please don’t suggest to “Forget” the past but you may ask for “forgiveness” through a proper reconciliation exercise which was not welcomed by MARA.He has become a full scale dictator to the whole country.Jehan Perera why you always sit on the wall…………?

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    Already now, Jehan Perera sooth saying has gone wrong now. Mr.wigneswaran is not a silly beggar as Jehan Perera is.

    Jehan Perera may bray for his living. The practical reality is far from what you imagine.

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    Politicans come and go, governments come and go, LTTE came and is no more but jehan perera continues to lecture us as if he has solutions for every one , every suituation and every government.Unlike others Jehan does not show his accounts, explain his life style, declare his interests,tell us who funds his foreign travel etc but never stops talking about good governance. He cannot get 10 votes in the country but wants all of us to listen to him. Is this man and others like him sane ? Or maybe they are very sane when it comes to making an easy living !

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