By K Godage
The spectre of war hangs over our country. The CFA is virtually non-existent. President Rajapaksa asked the LTTE to give him a chance to work towards peace and not to drag the country into another war.
But his plea does not appear to have been heard or is being ignored.
Prabhakaran appears to be deciding the fate of the country. The LTTE is not interested in Talks,.Their agenda revolves around having the government accept that the Tamils of Sri Lanka constitute a separate nation with a right to self- determination and they seek recognition of the North and East as their traditional homeland (in what is essentially a land grab for the Eastern Province has never been a place of traditional habitation by the Tamils according to recorded history and incontrovertible archaeological evidence).
President Rajapaksa has embarked on a refreshingly new approach which was long overdue, by seeking to forge a consensus in the South. It is only if all political parties representing the people in the south speak with one voice that the LTTE would listen for then they would indeed get the message.
The statement issued by the government after the all party meeting gives some cause for hope .Let me set out the statement in full.
In what is considered a historical event President Mahinda Rajapaksa has brought together political consensus among the democratic polity of this country.
The All Party Conference adopted a Joint Statement endorsed by all political parties represented in parliament.
What flashes in the statement are two important matters, the first, the commitment to engage Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher, Malay and all communities in the governance of our country and the second being their unreserved rejection of the acts of terrorism, the cruel murders and other forms of violence which have been used as a means to instill fear in people, and thereby achieve political goals and objectives.
They declared with all responsibility that they shall act with unity and single-minded purpose against such efforts to intimidate and provoke a democratic society.
The President should be congratulated for seeking to achieve a consensus in the ‘South’ on a final solution to the conflict. He would now have to work out the modalities of how he would “engage Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, Malays and all communities in the governance of our country”. The President has also gone on record as stating that he stands for devolution to the furthest possible extent compatible with the security and unity of our country.
The President certainly appears to have brought round the JVP and the JHU to recognizing the reality on the ground.
It is of interest to recall the history of attempts at Devolution since we achieved Independence. It would be recalled that before the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which devolved power to Provincial Councils, Prime Minister S.W.R.D Bandaranaike was the first to take the initiative to devolve power to Provincial Councils. He had the vision to agree to the recognition of Tamil as the language of the national minority and that the administration of the North and East should be in Tamil with provision and safeguards for the rights of non -Tamil speaking minorities in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
The Northern Province was to form a regional area while the Eastern Province was to be divided into two or more regional areas with provision to amalgamate even beyond the Provincial limit. Parliament was to delegate powers and specify them in the Act. They would include Agriculture, cooperatives, lands and land development, and settlement, education, health ,industries, fisheries, housing, social services, water schemes and roads. Unfortunately this effort was aborted by certain Sinhala chauvinists. The next effort was made by Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake in 1965.
In terms of the Dudley – Chelvanayagam pact provision was to be made for the Tamil language to be the language of administration and record in the northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. Mr. Senanayake also stated that it was the policy of his party that the Tamil speaking people should be allowed to transact business in Tamil throughout the country.
The PM also agreed to amend the Language of the Courts Act to provide for legal proceedings in the Northern and Eastern Provinces to be conducted and recorded in Tamil. Since there had been opposition to Regional and Provincial Councils it was agreed to establish District Councils with the government retaining the power under the law to give directions to such Councils in the national interest. This effort too was aborted by the misguided chauvinists.
In retrospect it would be seen that they have done great harm to this country and have been responsible not only for the almost 60 000 who are said to have died in this war but also for the fact that we are today being described as a failed state whereas we would have been the envy of South Asia..
It is not necessary to recount here the history of what followed for it is too well known but it is necessary to flag the fact that the Constitution of 1972 crafted by the ‘Molakarayas’ (the men with the brains) who had loudly proclaimed from public platforms “one language means two nations and two languages one nation” not only forgot the Tamil people but even removed from the new Constitution the entrenched clause in the Soulbury Constitution which protected the rights of minorities.
The next phase commences during the Presidency of Mr. J.R. Jayewardene in December 1983 with India’s interference in what was hitherto seen by them as our domestic problem
After consultations with the government of Sri Lanka India proposed Annexure C which recommended devolution to District Councils and Regional Councils “if so desired”, with “the President and Parliament continuing to have overall responsibility for all subjects not transferred to the Regions and generally for all other maters relating to the maintenance of sovereignty, integrity, unity, security, progress and development of the Republic as a whole”. This was to be the basis for a settlement but the Cabinet vetoed that initiative and it was in 1987 that India forced us to eat humble pie and enter into the Indo-Lanka Agreement which not only eroded our sovereignty but also forced the government to Amend the Constitution to devolve power to Provincial Councils.
President Jayewardene who opposed asymmetric devolution sought to devolve power to Provincial Councils island wide; the political flaw was that he did not make the devolution irreversible and included a ‘Concurrent list’ which was the same as the ‘Devolved’ list, in effect nullifying the actual devolution.
The next attempt came with the advent of President Kumaratunga. It must be conceded that despite all her shortcomings she was totally committed to finding a fair and just solution. In 1995 she sought
“To redefine the Constitutional foundation of a plural society within a united and sovereign Sri Lanka…..” The proposed Constitution provided for the Republic to be a Union of Regions.
A Regional Council was to be established for each Province. Legislative power was to be vested in the Regional Council with regard to subjects set out in the regional list. There was to be a permanent Commission on Devolution. There was to be a regional police service and a national police service. Land and land settlement was to be a devolved subject.
Education was to be a devolved subject but certain specified schools and Universities were to be national institutions. The Regional Councils were to exercise exclusive legislative and executive competence within the devolved sphere. The architect of the Constitutional Proposal was the eminent Professor GL Peiris who described the effort as “an exciting adventure in the realm of Constitutional reform”.
He further stated at the India-Sri Lanka consultation on devolution on 4th March 1995, “We have now explicitly recognized that some of the value systems on which these traditional principles were based are not really appropriate or opportune in our country today”. He also stated on that occasion that “we are experimenting with mechanisms which will act as a break on the arbitrary and capricious use of public power”. He further stated “We re convinced that a substantial degree of devolution represents the key to the most vexed problem confronting the country at this time.” This initiative was also killed off.
The next effort came in October 1997. The government proposed a new Constitution for the country
Article 1 stated that “Sri Lanka is one, Sovereign, and Independent Republic, being indissoluble union of Regions and shall be known as the Republic of Sri Lanka.
This new constitutional proposal which also envisaged extensive devolution of legislative and executive power to the Regional Councils envisaged reforms that could be classified under three categories; Firstly, there were provisions directed at democratizing the institutions of the state; replacing the executive Presidency, establishing a Constitutional Council etc;.
Secondly, the proposed Constitution sought to strengthen fundamental rights and thirdly the aim was to devolve power to the regional governments and most interestingly provision was made for an ‘Executive Committee” system as prevailed under the Donoughmore Constitution which enabled multi-party government. Most unfortunately these far-reaching and visionary proposals were not properly marketed and this effort too came to naught.
President Kumaratunge next sought to obtain a Parliamentary consensus and the Mangala Moonesinghe Parliamentary Select Committee of 45 members representing all Parties in Parliament was appointed in November 1991. Though the Committee held 45 meetings, no significant agreement was reached on any important issue; there had been unanimity that there should be a greater devolution of power and that such devolution should be put into effect within a specified time. It had also been agreed that the devolution of functions should be on lines similar to those found in the Indian Constitution. The work of the Select Committee appears to have been a waste of time for there was no follow -up.
The final effort of the Kumaratunge government came in August of 2000 when the government tabled a Bill to establish a new Constitution after over 49 consultations between the political parties in Parliament.
The impression given was that a consensus had been reached on a new Constitution and what remained to be agreed on related to the residual powers of the President, but when the Bill was tabled in the House members of the UNP not only hurled abuse at the President but also burnt copies of the Bill within the Chamber in what was disgraceful conduct wholly unbecoming of Members of any Parliament leave alone of gentlemen. We are to blame for sending such persons to Parliament, the most important institution in our country.
The next phase began with the UNP coming into office in 2002. Though six meetings were held between the government and the LTTE the core issues were not discussed as the LTTE pulled out of the Sub-Committee established to discuss core issues as they did with regard to the Sub Committee agreed upon to discuss de-escalation and the down sizing of High Security Zones. They also, as was expected, reneged on their agreement to explore a federal solution within a united Sri Lanka.
For the third time the LTTE used the CFA to stock up on arms (as they did twice previously when they manipulated and exploited ceasefire agreements) and to prepare for the next and perhaps final lap to achieve Eelam.
What are the options? Go to war as Weerawanse irresponsibly suggests or with patience cultivate India and the international community whilst seeking to achieve a consensus in the South as the President is doing.
The President should write not only to the leaders of the Co Chair countries but also to countries of the region and Russia and China, explain his policy on the issue and how he intends to address Tamil grievances and then seek their support to introduce a Multi-national Peace Enforcement Force, not a Peace keeping force to create the necessary climate to reopen negotiations perhaps on a document prepared by the UN in consultation with India, which uses the August 2000 Constitution, which the two main political parties forged, as the basis and bring it into line with the Indian Constitution (which the JVP and the JHU have been asking for).
The successors of the xenophobic elements who opposed a fair and reasonable settlement in1958 and 1965 and thereafter have raised their heads again. If they succeed once again the international community which is tired of the senseless conflict in Sri Lanka would accept Eelam.
Joint statement of the All Party Conference – 28 April 2006
“We, the leaders and representatives of the democratic political parties elected to the Parliament of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka through the free vote of the people, representing the Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and all other communities of our land, make this united appeal before all Sri Lankans who value peace and look forward to achieving it with dignity; and before all peoples, governments and organizations of the world that value and lay stress on human freedom and democracy.
It is our firm belief that differences that arise among different communities of our country and the various streams of political opinion should be resolved through the democratic process of discussion directed towards peace. It is also our conviction that solutions to the differences should be sought through non-violence and the consensus of our people. In that context, all people of Sri Lanka, and particularly the members of the Armed Forces and the Police, deserve our undiminished praise for maintaining their commitment to non-violence and discussion in the face of extremely ruthless provocations, including the most outrageous suicide bomb attack on the Commander of the Army, employing a pregnant –mother.
We unreservedly reject the acts of terrorism, the cruel murders and other forms of violence which have been used as a means to instill fear in people, and thereby achieve political goals and objectives. At this decisive moment, we declare with all responsibility that we shall act with unity and single-minded purpose against such efforts to intimidate and provoke our democratic society. We shall also not allow our political differences to obstruct the protection of human freedom that is most cherished. Further, we declare our unstinted support to His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his resolve to overcome terrorism and usher peace through negotiations.
We have also observed with deep regret, the several attempts by certain sections of the foreign media to blatantly distort the truth in relation to the incidents that have taken place in our country and thereby damage the image of our people. We vehemently deplore and condemn these practices and urge such sections of the media to act with responsibility and integrity.
Our appeal to all our beloved people who favour peace is to respect law and order, maintain peace within the country, and to act with restraint. At the same time, our appeal to the international community is to assist us in the united action we take to protect the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and democracy in our land. We also take this opportunity to reiterate our commitment to engage Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher, Malay and all communities in the governance of our country.”
Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), United National Party (UNP), People’s Liberation Front (JVP), Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), Lanka Sama Samaja Pakshaya (LSSP), Communist Party of Sri Lanka (CP), Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP), National Unity Alliance (NUA), Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), Up-Country People’s Front (UCPF), Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), All Ceylon Muslim Congress (ACMC) and National Congress (NC).