Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

  • July 2016
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President Sirisena reiterates the urgent need for national reconciliation By Harim Peiris

Posted by harimpeiris on July 25, 2016

President Sirisena reiterates the urgent need for national reconciliation
By Harim Peiris

The recent clash along ethnic lines between students of the Jaffna University makes patently clear the urgent task of post war national reconciliation in Sri Lanka, is as yet an unfinished business. Sri Lanka’s head of State, President Maithripala Sirisena addressing this national issue at the opening of the new German Technical Institute in Killinochchi recently made some far reaching, but if rather obvious statements on reconciliation, which nonetheless had sadly been absent from Sri Lanka’s political discourse under the previous Administration, in the immediate post war years.
President Sirisena firstly acknowledged the existence of a problem of ethnic relations and the need for reconciliation which was denied by his immediate predecessor in office. The President requested the so-called heroes who conduct media conferences in the South to visit the North and East to listen and understand the concerns of the people living there. In fact, a major, though not the only reason for the premature end of Rajapaksa rule in Sri Lanka, was the singular unwillingness of the Rajapaksa siblings to recognize minority concerns. Consequently, the Muslim community almost to a person and the Tamil community by a preponderance majority joined voters in the rest of the country to move the Rajapaksa’s political project from the Presidency to a rather disorganized if vociferous combined opposition. The thinly disguised racism of Rajapaksa minor party allies, at every conceivable opportunity only contributes to further alienate a segment of society, of whom even some must vote and support the Rajapaksa’s’ for any comeback attempt to be successful.
President Sirisena unequivocally stated that “The Sinhala Buddhists will be able to live happily only after the concerns of other communities are resolved and the first step is to acknowledge that the people in the North also have grievances.”
This was stated by the President in the context that in January 2015, the people’s election of him as President, was an endorsement of his policy statement, presented at the election and he is committed to implementing all his political promises and fulfilling his mandate. The President has often stated that his election policy statement is his compact, social contract if you like, with the people of Sri Lanka.
President Sirisena further linked the ongoing constitutional reform process, through the entire Parliament sitting as a constitutional committee of Parliament with the reconciliation and political reforms program. He also linked good governance and financial integrity with future political leadership.
President Sirisena stated “With the introduction of a new constitution, we hope to unite the divided communities without in any way dividing the country.” In a not too subtle remark aimed at the political comeback efforts of the Rajapaksa siblings spearheaded by the now indicated and variously remanded and bailed out Basil Rajapaksa, the President stated that the emerging new political forces and leaders need to be free of allegations of corruption and misdeeds if they dream of becoming future leaders. However, the core supporters of the Rajapaksa’s based on ethnic Sinhala nationalism may be as forgiving of his misdeeds as Tamil nationalists were prone to forgive Prabhakaran of his crimes.
Specifically referring to the clash between two groups of students at the University of Jaffna, President Sirisena expressing his deep concern stated that all our educational institutions should be reformed to prevent recurrence of such incidents in future. President Maithripala Sirisena said all educational institutions, including universities and vocational training centers should act as reconciliation centers and reconciliation should be included as a subject in the school curriculum. Sri Lanka should relook at its ethno-religiously segregated system of state education which does nothing to promote ethnic or religious harmony.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) was quick to move and capture the moral high ground from the agent provocateurs and the instigators of racism in the University system in Jaffna. They condemned the violence and invited Sinhala students back to study at the Jaffna University, a quick, commendable and bold move on the part of the democratic leadership of the TNA. Sri Lanka is indeed fortunate that seven years ago, the leadership of the Tamil community shifted from the LTTE’s Prabhakaran and Pottu Amman to the TNA’s Sambanthan and Sumanthiran. Similarly, leadership in the South has moved from Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapaksa to Sirisena and Wickramasinghe, in the process also bridging the SLFP verses UNP divide. Never has Sri Lanka’s moderate political center been as strong and as it is now. Twenty years ago, the overwhelming mandate that Chandrika Kumaratunga got was mitigated by the LTTE’s leadership on the other side of the ethnic divide. With extremism on all sides being reduced to the margins, the urgent and unfinished task of national reconciliation spearheaded by the President and the Prime Minister, ably supported by the sagacious Opposition leader must be made to succeed this time around and the proposed constitutional reforms, usher in a new Sri Lanka, that is more democratic, pluralist and accommodative of the full diversity of our society.

(The writer is Advisor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, the views expressed are personal)

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