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Will Sri Lanka seize this historic moment?

By Lynn Ockersz

(April 20, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) This moment is indeed historic when the emerging balance of political forces in Sri Lanka is taken into consideration. The ruling UPFA would enjoy a stable majority in Parliament and would probably govern unencumbered by worries of losing its ruling majority for the next six years. But to obtain the two thirds majority in Parliament, which is the talking- point of the country at the moment, it would need to enlist the Parliamentary support of either of the ethnic parties, the SLMC or the TNA, and this is what makes this moment in local post-independence political history, exceedingly crucial.

Fears are being expressed in some official quarters about a resurgence of separatism in Sri Lanka, but the point need not be laboured that it is a deft, once-and-for-all resolution of the principal political grievances of the ethnic minorities, through the use of the appropriate means, which would lay to rest the bogey of separatism. Decisive moves in this direction are not possible if the country is polarized on ethnic lines and it is up to the government to make the search for a durable peace a truly national one by enlisting the support of all our ethnic groups.

In fact the reiteration of apprehensions over separatism is proof of the fundamental limitations of depending disproportionately on military means to resolve political conflicts. It is no longer questioned now that it is a two-pronged conflict resolution strategy, featuring military and political components, which could help in effectively defusing separatist ethnic revolts.

It is nearly an year since the LTTE was militarily neutralized, thus proving that the Lankan state has provided the military component of the conflict resolution effort, but we are yet to see any earnest moves towards the implementation of a political initiative, which could help in consolidating the gains that have been generated by the military defeat of the LTTE.

It is the effective implementation of the political component of the conflict resolution strategy, which would help in ridding this country completely of the separatist ‘terror’ menace and the state would need to harness all its resources and capabilities to advance towards this second stage in ending our conflict. The country would not be doing itself any good by remaining mired in the thinking or ‘discourse’ of militarism, which should now be considered dated.

Such thinking and consequent military action helped in quashing the military capability of the LTTE but it is to the degree to which the legitimate grievances of the minority communities of this country are resolved by political means that the country could proceed to a more peaceful future. Once the political solution is worked out and implemented to the satisfaction of all, it is very unlikely that the separatist bogey would be raised in any quarter.

All this does not mean that this country could let down its defences and neglect its national security requirements, but there is a dire need for the state to insightfully assess Sri Lanka’s priorities, now that the immediate military threat to the country’s security is out of the way.

Right away, the government needs to realize that it cannot sustain itself on the mouthing of seemingly popular slogans. The national interest can in no way be compromised, but the political elite of this country should take cognizance of the need to forge steadily ahead towards a future where every ethnic group in this country could ‘feel at home’ in it. In the absence of this condition, it is difficult to visualize a stable future for this country and it is the implementation of a political solution which will meet the legitimate aspirations of all, which could fulfill it.

We have it on the authority of former APRC chairman Prof. Tissa Vitarana, that the APRC report which is now with President Rajapaksa, would be the basis of the new constitution for Sri Lanka which is being contemplated. It is up to the government to obtain the support of the TNA and SLMC to give this new constitutional initiative a try. While the TNA would need to take the new political realities in the country into consideration when negotiating with the government, the government needs to realize that it is only substantial power devolution to the provinces which would satisfy Tamil aspirations. The recent Parliamentary poll results from the North and East prove this much. It is plain to see that the TNA agenda continues to be close to the hearts of the people of the North and East.

The rest of the Lankan polity needs to take a broad, accommodative view of this situation. If there are sections that are continuing to frown on the recent polls returns from the North and East, it is because Sri Lanka is lacking in democratic development. Our democratic system needs to be vibrant enough to accommodate such diversity of aspirations. After all, the North-East did not vote for division and political separation. The vote was, on the contrary, the proof that all does not continue to be well for the minorities in Sri Lanka.

Accordingly, the rest of the Lankan polity should see the polls results from the North-East as an indication that much more needs to be done to accommodate the just political aspirations of the minorities. Perhaps, the current constitutional structure would need to be modified to help realize these aspirations, while Sri Lanka’s indivisibility and unity would need to be continued to be regarded by all as an uncompromisable principle. What is needed right now is a spirit of give-and –take. If minority aspirations are respected, the latter’s support for constitutional change, which is seen as essential, would be forthcoming. Thus, would Sri Lanka prove that she has come of age as a democracy, by dealing deftly with a plurality of political aspirations?

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