Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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An Open Letter to Prof. G.L. Peiris

Posted by harimpeiris on August 15, 2017

(Published in the Daily News of 11th August 2017)

Prof. G.L. Peiris

Leader, SLPP.

 

Dear Professor Peiris,

 

Reconciliation, Sinhala Eelam and a Sinhala National Alliance

 

I thought I must write to you despite your obviously busy schedule, both because you at least nominally lead one aspect of the Rajapakse come back project under the banner of the nascent SLPP and also because you are unarguably, as a former foreign minister, a key advisor to defeated President Rajapakse on matters relating to post war, national reconciliation. I must at the outset explain why I stated that you lead one aspect of the Rajapakse comeback project, because it is never clear to any observer or the public, which brother number two (pardon the pun) Basil or Gotabaya proposes to replace Mahinda as the heir to the attempted Rajapakse dynasty. Would a toss of a coin determine, which Rajapakse becomes the next presidential Rajapakse candidate? But of course, your bets are on Basil, however I think Gotabaya is streets ahead in the inter-Rajapakse primaries to be the next Rajapakse candidate in 2020. Of course, Mahinda believes that this government will fall long before that, then again, his political judgement has been quite suspect of late, after all he thought he would win in 2015 and lost not once but twice.

 

Sinhala Eelam and the Sinhala National Alliance (SNA)

 

I believe it was a friend and mutual colleague from the days of the Kumaratunga presidency, which we both served at one point, who coined the phrase, “Sinhala Eelam” to denote the Sinhala equivalent of the narrow ethnic based, exclusionary political vision and extremely violent political program, which Prabhakaran and the LTTE promoted and fought for. The LTTE had a vision, that the North and East of Sri Lanka was mono ethnically Tamil, that there was no space or need to accommodation any others as equal partners and that a strong leader, tolerating no decent was necessary to protect the Tamils from the Sinhala people and one presumes the Muslim people.

 

It is very worrying that the political rhetoric and discourse emanating from the Rajapakse come back project and its political vehicles of the JO and the SLPP, make worryingly Prabhakaran like arguments except this time in relation to the Sinhala people. Again, a distinct territory (whole of Sri Lanka) is the sole preserve of a single ethno-religious group, the Sinhala people need a strong leader to protect them from enemies within and without, which again also includes the poor long-suffering Muslims who got hit from both the Tamil Eelamists and now from the Sinhala Eelamists. We have heard this rhetoric before and it was not pretty and it was also resoundingly defeated at the elections of 2015. Perhaps a rethink might be in order.

 

I have also observed that despite the acrimony and vitriol directed at the governing national alliance and specifically the United National Party (of which you were a front bencher in a previous avatar), the real bogey which the Rajapakse comeback project seems to target is the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) led by the veteran Rajavarothian Sambanthan, who you should recognize for having rather adroitly captured the leadership of the Tamil polity, post the war and considerably moderated the TNA. Now the TNA representing a minority community and steadfastly limiting its political activities and appeal to the North and East is logical given its own Tamil constituency’s demographics in the Northern and Eastern provinces. On the other hand, a responsible national opposition to be a genuine alternative government needs to represent or broaden its appeal to the entire country and it is a feature of the Rajapakse support base, that it is limited to the Sinhala people, that also predominantly of the majority religion and mostly in the Southern part of the country or outside the North and East. Regrettably for Sri Lanka, the Rajapakse come back project should be more aptly titled the “Sinhala National Alliance” (SNA) and is limited to the areas outside the Northern, Eastern and Central Provinces.

 

Reconciliation

 

Dear Professor Peiris, you have impeccable credentials or at least experience in national reconciliation, having first advocated President Kumaratunga’s devolution package from 1994-1999, then catapulting to the front bench of the subsequent UNP Government under Premier Ranil Wickramasinghe from 2001-2004 as well as that Government’s chief peace negotiator with the LTTE and of course since 2005, been a loyalist of the Rajapakse clan.  So, you have the unique distinction of having worked with three of the main political protagonists at the apex of Sri Lanka’s political establishment, namely CBK, Ranil and Mahinda. If you had read the roll of the electoral dice correctly in 2015, you may even now have been advising President Sirisena, then your political journey would have been truly unique.

 

However, despite this extensive experience in reconciliation and peace processes it is quite concerning and somewhat disappointing to witness what can only be termed fear mongering and narrow exclusionary politics in terms of the recent responses to first the OMP and more recently to the enabling domestic legislation for the international convention against enforced disappearances. You should no doubt recognize that defeated President Rajapakse committed Sri Lanka to accountability in the joint communique with then UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon in 2009 and significantly failed to create the basis for non-reoccurrence and a durable peace. It would be extremely desirable if in the national, as opposed to a partisan interest, if defeated President Rajapakse supported his successor in office, in the arduous but necessary task of national reconciliation or “sanhidiyawa”.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Harim Peiris

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