Vacillation and vicissitudes have entered into the body politics of Sri Lanka. The general euphoria that prevailed after presidential election is over. Prognostication as to whether the new president Chandrika Kumaratunga can halt the mayhem, disintegration and the assassination culture that has prevailed for more than 17 years, has begun to wane.
The leader of the Peoples Alliance defeated the United National Party and drove them out of power, but still she inherits the manipulative bureaucracy and the armed forces which were loyal to the UNP hierarchy for the past 17 years.
This became evident when the armed forces failed to reciprocate in the unilateral week-long ceasefire announcement of the Tamil Tiger supreme Velupillai Prabakaran. Within hours of Kumaratunga being sworn in as president on Nov 12, the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) told his cadres of his intention to initiate a ceasefire. This was a gesture towards reconciliation and negotiation with the government, but was treated with apparent disdain by the armed forces as they exacerbated the situation by continuing with their search and destroy operations.
This ensured a return of countrys pre-election somber mood.
It is well-known that LTTE is poised to create a separate State for the Tamils living in the northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. Their main slogan is The unquenchable thirst of the Tigers is the Tamil Eelam Motherland. To achieve this, they have taken up to arms, with a cyanide capsules around their neck for use in the event of capture, and today they control the administration of 90 per cent of the northern province and 65 per cent of the eastern province.
It is an open secret that the Tigers have their ordnance factories to manufacture their requirements and also to purchase arms from all over the world to replenish their armory. Today the government forces have only a slight edge over the Tigers with their dilapidated airpower of only a few bombers and a dozen of helicopters. Thus successive governments under the leadership of UNP stalwarts failed to subdue the LTTE with military might.
A negotiated settlement is therefore the best solution to bring to an end to this protracted ethnic war which has so far taken a toll of more than 40,000 lives.
Chandrika Kumaratunga is considered to be the last glittering hope of the Sri Lankans. Talk by other leaders such as J.R.Jayewardene and Ranasingha Premadasa has failed to have any real impact on the problem. Jayewardene organized an All Party Conference which dragged on for 11 years until the end of his tenure in office and Premadasa, who succeeded him, appointed a 42 member Parliamentary Select Committee under the leadership of the opposition member Mangala Moonasinghe of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Parochial and puerile partisan approaches were adopted, leading to wastage of taxpayers money. In both cases the politicians involved adopted a hypocritical approach and failed to treat their brief as an urgent national issue.
It is now up to the new president, who has been voted into office with more than 62 per cent of the vote, to find a permanent remedy. There are many issues that she must address if this is to be achieved.
First, she must control the ambitious and manipulative bureaucracy and the armed forces.
Immediate action must be taken to rescind the Emergency Regulations and the release of thousands of Tamil and Sinhalese youths who have been languishing in the prisons at Mahara, Welikade, Bogampara since 1987. It is alleged that these youths are incarcerated in appalling conditions and are almost daily subject to torture and inhumane treatment. Several hundred of them are said to manacled and chained, and held in dark rooms where they never seen daylight for months on end.
An indication of the Tigers commitment to peace process can be detected in the celebrations this year of Mahaveerar Thinam or Heroes day in November, culminating with their leaders birthday on November 26. Usually this period is marked by major attacks on government positions prior to the inauguration of the week-long ceremonies in the Northern province. But to date there have been no reports of any major offensive by the Tigers. Therefore the government should not hesitate further with fabricated so called intelligence reports said to be originating with vested interests.
Time is the essence in this issue. Before the armed forces exasperate the Tigers the government must lay the foundation for a firm and sound negotiated settlement with the LTTE.
The select committee appointed by the president to consider constitutional reforms should not only examine issues relating to fundamental rights of citizens, judicial reviews and amendments to the electoral system, but also must consider amendments to a form of government which may promote national integrity and communal unity. This issue must be viewed beyond any partisan approach.
Since 1948, Sri Lanka has been ruled by a unitary form of government, and this system was the main cause of turmoil. For Tamils, unitary government is an anathema, therefore the select committee on constitutional reforms must find a plausible and acceptable alternative.
It is up to the government to create a conducive climate for negotiations. To make the LTTE to abandon its stand on a separate state is not an easy proposition. Ant negotiated solution delivering less than the equivalent to the Tigers dream will never hold water.
The government, when offering any alternative to Tamil Eelam, should also take into consideration the pre-colonial era prior to 1505. Western colonial masters, after capturing the existing kingdoms, brought the country a centralized form of government for their own administrative convenience. At present, the country is ruled by democratically-minded people and failure to address the ethnic issues by adopting a national approach will lead to more chaos and turbulence.
The United Nations International Convention on Civil and Political Rights states in Part 1, Article 1: All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of the right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
Self determination is an inalienable right of the Sri Lankan people. Instead of thrusting a select committees or political partys resolutions to be adopted as constitution, or as an entrenched clause, Kumaratunga should address the aspirations of the people to adopt a workable constitution or constitutional amendments. Basic resolutions proposing an acceptable alternative to unitary government should be put on the Sri Lankan people.