Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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National Reconciliation within the Mahinda Chinthanaya

Posted by harimpeiris on March 23, 2010

Among the more serious and politically important features of an election are the election manifestos that political parties present as their policy platform for seeking a mandate from the people. While not legally binding nor justiciable, it has significant political, moral and ethical weight. In the event of a party in power, it is arguably a component of the social contract that binds the government and the governed. It also provides a particular world view of a political party or group and a statement of intent regarding policy implementation.

The Mahinda Chinthanaya “idiri dekma” or vision for the future, the 2010 updated version of the original 2005 Chinthanaya is a more important document than the manifestos of the other parties contesting the general election, because the chief proponent of the Chinthanaya, President Mahinda Rajapakse was reelected by a fairly large margin earlier this year and is ensconced in office until the end of 2017.

Believing that the need for reconciliation between the diverse ethnic groups in Sri Lanka is self evident, an examination of the stated policy of President Rajapakse and the UPFA as presented in the Mahinda Chinthanya, Vision for the Future 2010, is an important exercise.

Firstly and fundamentally the Mahinda Chintanaya accepts the existence of and the need to resolve a political conflict, which it identifies as the “political crisis in the North and East”. The chosen instrument for this has been the All Part Conference (APC) and its more executive and working arm the All Party Representative Committee (APRC). The Chinthanya 2010, page 58, states thus “The All Party Conference continued simultaneously and through its Representative Committee critical political issues were subject to open discussion. Rather than imposing a solution from above, I have sought to arrive at a solution through discussion and dialogue with political parties, civil society organizations and the people themselves. It is extremely difficult to arrive at consensus in a conflict rife with disillusionment, divisions, individual views and bloodshed. However we have already laid the foundation to achieve consensus. While I agree that everyone has the right to his or her opinion it is my contention that we need to arrive at consensus on the facts. It is this wide national consensus that is required for national cohabitation”.

While political detractors throw cold water on the APC and the APRC as convenient time wasters, designed exclusively to pull the wool over the eyes of the international community, the reality is that until May last year, the war prevented a moderation of political positions by either side and right after the war ended the government entered election mode to seek a post war popular mandate. Policy making in earnest will only occur after the general elections. The war also prevented participation by the vast majority of the elected representatives of the Tamil people, who also had an unelected armed group as their supreme “sole” representatives. That situation has now changed. The Chinthanya also talks of involving the newly elected representatives of the Tamil people in the APC and APRC process.

Secondly it is clear from a reading of the Chinthanya that the devolution of power as existing in our constitution or provincial councils as per the 13th amendment to the constitution will be implemented in the North, finally granting a long standing policy recommendation of Minster Douglas Devananda and the EPDP. The TNA, which will most likely contest and win the Northern Provincial Council election is a post war and post LTTE convert to the provincial councils system. Interestingly this would be their first electoral foray at the provincial level. The Chinthanya on page 54 states thus “I will re-establish the Northern Provincial Council under the 13th amendment with immediate effect. I will seek the assistance of the Provincial Councilors of the Northern Province to expedite and strengthen the Uthuru Wasanthaya development program”.  It is important for the success of the Northern Provincial Council that not only the letter but also the spirit of the law, with regard to the 13th amendment be implemented. Some of the lessons learned from the East, like the conflict between the elected Chief Minister and the un elected Governor are avoided.

Thirdly, the Mahinda Chinthanaya promises rapid development of the Northern Province. There are some very specific goals and projects outlined. It is important that this be done with the consultation and the participation of the local people and their elected representatives. Moreover the Chinthanya promises a phased roll back of the high security zones in the North. This in actuality is in the Jaffna peninsula.

Fourthly, the issue of resettling the internally displaced persons in their original districts of habitation is an important aspect of reconciliation and the Chinthanya states thus on the issue. “Under the Uthuru Wasanthaya program me, the internally displaced living in welfare camps in Vavuniya are being resettled. All those from Vavuniya, Mannar and Jaffna and part of Mullativu and Killinochci are already resettled. The remainder from Mullativu and Killinochci Districts will be resettled systematically without delay, based on the speed at which the de-mining process takes place. A comprehensive project will be implemented to resettle the Muslim persons forcibly evicted by the LTTE from the Northern Province during 1990, in their respective places of origin with due attention being paid to their housing, livelihood and infrastructure facilities”.

The fifth issue of national reconciliation is an accounting for the people killed and injured through the conflict and on this issue the Chintanaya states thus “My government and I are fully aware that it is the Tamils and Muslims who lived in the Northern and Eastern Provinces were the most affected by the conflict that lasted for 30 years. However, now there is sustainable peace and this is what the people of the north and east expected and so did the rest of the country. I am aware that there are wives who have lost their husbands; parents who have lost their children; children who have lost their parents”. Accordingly a Reconciliation Commission, like the one appointed by the PA government in 1994 to document the human losses of the JVP insurrection, will be a tested method of bringing closure to the families of the victims of conflict.

Sixth and finally is the issue of the ex combatants of the LTTE, with over ten thousand of them in government custody and in a legal limbo, many of them just children and forcibly conscripted, the Chinthanya states thus “Armed combatants will be rehabilitated in keeping with their own social and cultural identity and will be handed over to their parents”.

So the above is the publicly stated and the people mandated policy of President Rajapakse. With the UPFA rolling towards a comprehensive electoral win at the general election, the real issue is, postelection will these stated policies be implemented? The answer to that lies in the availability of political space and the perception of political self interest by the President and the government. The presence of close political allies not really sympathetic to the above would be a significant hurdle to overcome for the Chintanaya to be implemented as stated above. But that issue is an entirely different discussion, which this column will engage in next week, unless political events dictate otherwise.

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