Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

  • October 2010
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Mahinda Chinthanya observed in the breech in reconciliation

Posted by harimpeiris on October 14, 2010

14th October 2010.

The Mahinda Chinthanaya is not just an election manifesto in the old tradition of such documents, the “Chinthanaya” seeks to be much more, it holds the promise of being to Sri Lanka what the “little red book” was to Mao’s China, the guidebook to public policy if not to quite to life.

Clearly it is in the interest of President Mahinda Rajapakse that the Chinthanya which bears his name, was his election platform and public mandate be implemented during his term of governance. As President Rajapakse approaches the commencement of his second term next month, the value of his own commitment to the Chinthanaya would be no doubt be apparent.

President Mahinda Rajapakse has publicly told the whole world that he believes that post war reconciliation is a crucial issue for Sri Lanka. Unfortunately that message doesn’t seem to have quite sunk in to the Sri Lankan domestic audience. However here is what he  told the whole world at the United Nations 65th General Assembly sessions on 23rd September 2010.

“The entire focus of our nation is now on building a lasting peace; healing wounds, ensuring economic prosperity and guaranteeing the rights of the whole nation to live in harmony. We are mindful that in order to fulfil these aspirations, economic development and political reconciliation must go hand in hand. Towards this end, constitutional changes which appropriately reflect aspirations of our people will be evolved with the full participation of all stakeholders ….. Sri Lanka recognises the challenges we face, among the greatest of which is healing the wounds of the recent past. To this end, earlier this year, a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission have been established, giving full expression to the principles of accountability”.  (President Rajapakse at the UN / General Assembly 65th Sessions)

Sri Lanka’s recent history of the past three decades has been violent and conflict ridden. Three decades of violent conflict has resulted in a deeply divided and polarised society. We may have united the nation geographically but remain polarised ethno socially.

In response to a simplistic and blanket denial of the alienation of the Tamil people from the Sri Lankan State, the response should be to look at the public security assessment and measures. It is not possible to simultaneously argue the need to maintain emergency law, war time levels of defence expenditure, troop deployment at war time levels and a network of security installations in the North, not found anywhere else in the country and still maintain that the Tamil people are not alienated from the Sri Lankan State.

While a military campaign has successfully united a divided land, what is now required is a heart and minds campaign, a reconciliation process that seeks to unite a divided people.

Mahinda Chintanaya Measures

There are some excellent reconciliation measures mentioned in the Mahinda Chintanaya (Idiri Dekma) of 2010. The Chintanaya was proposed by the President, mandated by the people and most importantly perhaps, deemed politically viable and possible by the current administration. The President has only strengthened politically since his re-election in January 2010 and there is no cause for not implementing the Chintanaya.

(i)                 Page 54 of the Chintanaya states “I will re-establish the Northern Provincial Council under the 13th amendment with immediate effect.  (10 months after the Presidential election is not immediate by any definition).

(ii)                Page 58 of the Chintanaya states “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 organisations and the people themselves”. (Accordingly the report of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC), chaired by the Hon. Prof.Tissa Vitharana should be made public and its recommendations implemented).

(iii)             Page 61 of the Chintanaya states “Given the security risks the high security zones will be gradually phased out” (However even one year and four months after the end of the war since May 2009, the artillery range protection extent of the Jaffna High Security zone remains, though no conceivable threat of artillery attacks exists).

(iv)            Page 63 of the Chintanaya states “Each family that is resettled will be provided with Rs.50,000 to construct temporary shelter and additional building materials worth Rs.50,000. On a long term basis, Rs.325,000 will be provided to each family to reconstruct houses destroyed in the war. (However no such monies have been made available).

In many quarters, especially internationally and including in the diplomatic community and the Tamil Diaspora, there is a tendency to dismiss the Rajapakse regime and the UPFA government as being either unwilling or uninterested in post conflict reconciliation.

Within that context the implementation of what the Mahinda Chinthanaya states on what it refers to as the “problems of the North and East” is important in many respects.

Firstly its overall scope in terms of solutions to the” problems of the North and East” is not really generous in scope and as many observers have pointed out, discards as a point of departure the political discourse of a half century of post independent Sri Lankan history on healing inter ethnic relations. The principles concepts and thinking of the Bandaranaygam – Chelvanayagam pact (SLFP) or the Dudley – Chelvanayagam pact (UNP) or indeed the most recent President Chandrika Kumaratunga constitutional proposals of 1995-2000, in which President Rajapakse was senior minister and subsequently Prime Minister.

The Chinthanaya is significantly more modest in its embrace of solutions, as per the recommendations of Tissa Vitharane’s APRC proposals. On the immediate humanitarian and rehabilitation needs as well, what is envisaged while not stingy is certainly no Marshall Plan.

Accordingly when even the little that is promised is not delivered, there are two results. Firstly it is pretty bad for the person doing the promising or who is overall responsible for the whole exercise, namely the President. Secondly it of course leaves the people to whom these solutions are targeted, the people of the North and East, especially the Tamil community, in a pitiful state.

The current status of the war affected population of the North is a particularly pitiful state, which can be of no credit to anyone. At least implementing the Mahinda Chinthanaya’s modest promises in this regard would make some movement towards improving their lot.

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