A ‘Political Solution’: the Rajapaksa Approach and the 13th Amendment

By Kalana Senaratne

(April 04, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) A ‘political solution’ that can resolve a decades-long ethnic conflict has been one of our greatest needs. Much has been talked about, discussed and debated. What is lacking is compromise, consensus, but more importantly, action. The need to focus on what can be done today, rather than what ought to be done, should be of greater concern. Recent developments in the North and the East have heightened the need to act fast. Adopting a pragmatic approach and outlook is of critical importance today - not only on the part of politicians in forging a solution, but also in assessing the demands we, as citizens, make as regards a political solution.

Context and ground realities

The context within which the need for a ‘political solution’ is discussed today is unique. On the one hand, there is this question of ‘trust’ regarding politics and politicians in general (a perennial problem, one might add), and questions do linger as to whether an APRC could achieve any useful purpose. On the other hand, there are thousands of people - Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims – liberated from the control of the LTTE after decades, yearning to lead a decent life. Such a context demands the need to focus more seriously on the immediate grievances of those people – as a first step to resolving the problem. What are some such needs and grievances?

The needs are quite clear. Over the years, thousands have been displaced by the LTTE and as an unfortunate yet inevitable consequence of armed conflict. Shelter, food, clothing, medicine, water, sanitation are of the essence. Children need an education; schools and teachers. The youth need jobs, and job opportunities need to be created. Agriculture, live-stock and the fishing industries have to be revived. For all this to be looked into efficiently and effectively, access to these areas, by road and railway, is a practical necessity. Basic infrastructure, the construction of a solid road/railway network, is necessary. Security needs to be provided through the Police, even the Army. De-mining is an critical, for example. There is much to be done, and it is not a simple task.

Therefore, what needs to be done is clear enough. These ground realities need to be seriously appreciated. No amount of talking would provide answers to such problems. What is needed is less talk, and more action – for there is an urgent requirement to focus on the basic needs of these people who are on the verge of awakening, more fully, to something they had not experienced in decades, a kind of freedom that was beyond their imagination under the control of the LTTE. There are people, thousands of them, who stare into our eyes and who seem to ask; how are we to lead a normal life?

The pragmatism of the ‘Rajapaksa Approach’

The principal approach of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been to address these concerns. And he constantly advocates his policy of ensuring economic development, and perhaps irks many in the process - for there is less talk, glib or otherwise, about any grandiose ‘political solution’, especially in the conventional sense of the term.

Consider, for instance, the President’s Independence Day speech of 4th February 2009. He, quite intentionally, avoids any reference to the words: ‘political solution’. Instead, he talks about the need to build social justice, helping people meet social and economic expectations, about increasing the standard of life, providing good education and proper employment opportunities etc. which would thereby ensure greater social security. It is his sibling, Mr. Basil Rajapaksa, MP, who has taken the lead role in ensuring that the development drive takes place smoothly, and this is being looked into with a lot of seriousness, as can be seen by the work already underway especially in the East.

This ‘Rajapaksa approach’ - this focus on matters which are quintessential and fundamental in ensuring that people have a decent livelihood - is indeed a very refreshing one. For this to be done, pragmatism and common-sense suggests that serious constitutional amendment is unnecessary. Rather, it is a strong political will that is required, and that is what’s to be seen.

Addressing other concerns of the Tamil people

Yet, economic development is only one important part of the solution. The President and the Government cannot ignore the fact that there are other concerns that affect the Tamil people, not only those in the North and the East but also in other areas of the country, concerning issues relating to language and basic communication with the government and public institutions – concerns that remain at the heart of this ethnic conflict (and which may be erroneously considered negligible), which need to be addressed urgently if the Tamil people are to genuinely feel that they are part of this entire governance process, whereby they can conduct daily life without let or hindrance.

It needs to be noted here though that even most of these problems can be resolved without too much tinkering with the Constitution. As Mr. Victor Ivan pointed out in a candid interview sometime ago (Radically Rethinking the Ethnic Conflict, The Island, 15 December 2006) much of the problems faced by the Tamil people can indeed be solved without much constitutional reform. He refers, in particular, to the example of a lack of persons who can write down a complaint in Tamil at a police station and the Colombo High Court complex having only a single Tamil typewriter. These are some of the serious problems that Tamil people face today.

In an interview, Mr. Rohan Edrisinha (CPA) expresses astonishment having witnessed once that a notice put up at the Batticaloa Police Station which was ‘This is only for non-Sinhalese police officers’ was written in Sinhala. If so, such incidents call for urgent remedial action. So there are basic and rudimentary issues that need to be looked into, matters which would go beyond the realm of ‘economic development’.

Full Implementation of the 13th Amendment

This in turn calls for the proper and full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. The case for the full implementation of the 13th Amendment rests very firmly on a simple fact – the fact being that it is part of the Constitution. No time can be wasted on this matter any further. The need to ensure that this happens is also overwhelming when considering the fact that persons such as Minister Douglas Devananda (and Karuna) have come out strongly in favour of the full implementation of the 13th Amendment as a first step towards the resolution of this conflict.

But related to this is another practical issue. The Provincial Council system, or provincial administration, is as good as those who are elected to administer the provinces. It was on February 4th last year that the President said that the solution is to ‘bring the provincial administration closer to the people within the framework of our Constitution’. The morale of the ‘PC and the 13th Amendment’ project is in need of a serious boost, and in the ultimate analysis, this depends on how those elected to serve in the Provincial Councils would perform. Getting the correct people in remains an all important step.

What of a ‘13th Amendment PLUS’?

There seems to be little relevance in talking about the need to go beyond the 13th Amendment, at this stage, when we are yet to see the proper implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. For example, to make this explanation more explicit, if something bare and basic as the 13th Amendment of the Constitution remains yet to be fully implemented, how could one expect the adoption, let alone the implementation, of something similar to the 2000 draft constitutional proposals or even the adoption of an Expert Committee ‘A’ report, which are correctly considered to be far more progressive/pro-devolutionary proposals?

While there needs to be constant questioning as to whether the devolution of power afforded under the 13th Amendment is good enough or not, a realistic assessment of it can be done not by mere academic analysis based on the small print in the Constitution but by actually analyzing how the provisions of the 13th Amendment affect the people on the ground. The first step, then, is ‘implementation’. Being overzealous about constitutional reform, given the current political environment (the popularity of the government, the influence of political parties and nature of coalition partners, an unpopular opposition lacking in popular leadership etc.) will be counter-productive.

What needs to be done is to ensure that enough pressure is brought to bear upon the Government with regard to the implementation of the 13th Amendment - not because one is infatuated with it, but because it is the legal thing to do, it is the proper thing to do, it is what can be done, and because the implementation of it will help us greatly in realizing whether or not it actually plays a useful role in resolving this ethnic conflict. Thereafter, a more considered and constructive debate about what this ‘PLUS’ means and what shape and form it should take in real terms, if needed, can be initiated.

(The writer holds an LL.M degree from University College London (UCL). He can be contacted at kalanack@gmail.com)
-Sri Lanka Guardian
Dayaa said...

A good article and the points raised are important.

I think the following matters can be settled immediately.

a. Ensure that every Police station, gove organsiation in the Country has the necessary staff to handle compliations, inquiries in every language.

b. Amend the Constitution to include the Tamil Language as an official language, on par with Sinhala.Dont forget the GOVT passes the Emergency every month with a majority, and they can use the same method here too.

c. On rectifying a and b above, call for a ceasefire Immediately.

d. Start reconstruction process, which will create jobs automatically.THere will be no need to borrow money from International authorities like IMF.
The Tamil diaspora from the International arena will come to Srilanka to build their motherland.

e. Announce Tax sops for the Srilankan expatriates to bring in their money.

f. As per articles appaering the Media, it says Canada has 500,000 Srilankans, UK 150,000, swiss 100,000, Scandinavian countries another 400,000, and so are the figures.