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Post-Election Cooperation Will Be Crucial To Sri Lanka’s Unity

| A statement issued by the National Peace Council

( September 21, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The forthcoming election to the Northern Provincial Council on Saturday is the most significant political development relating to the ethnic conflict since the end of the war. By and large the run up to the elections have been free and fair which speaks well for the government and makes reconciliation more feasible. The establishment of a provincial council for the Northern Province is an advance over the existing situation of centralized rule in which the military continues to play an inordinate role. In principle the establishment of the Northern Provincial Council will give to the people of the North, the same devolved power that the people in the other eight provinces enjoy, a right to which they are entitled.

The history of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka is one in which both the government and opposition political parties have used majority Sinhalese nationalism as a counter to Tamil demands for recognition as a minority with the right to cultural and linguistic identity. The Tamil demands for autonomy were branded as a demand for a separate state, and federalism was treated as a demand for secession. Any concessions made by the ruling political party were opportunistically treated as concessions to Tamil separatism by the ruling political party to win votes for the opposition. It is easy to rouse nationalist passions among the majority community by saying that it is the only rightful owner of the country and it is under threat and whip up antagonism against the ethnic and religious minorities.

The TNA manifesto and the speeches of its campaigners during the run-up to the election reveal the same rhetoric of politicians in the power of ethnic nationalism to win votes. These include the demands for self determination and the praise for slain LTTE leader Velupillai Prabakaran. This has evoked a reverse response in the two other provinces where elections are being held. In the North Western and Central provinces, the government campaigners have called on the electorate to vote for a strong government and against separation. Tamil nationalist propaganda fuels Sinhala nationalism.

The National Peace Council believes that the increased polarisation in the polity due to the competing nationalisms of the electoral campaign should be overcome soon after the election is over. It would be best for all politicians to abstain from inciting hate against the other. The TNA is today led by enlightened politicians unlike those who led the LTTE. Living in a multi-ethnic and plural society requires compromise and give-and-take for the sake of peace. In a plural society one community or one group cannot decide by itself what it wants to do, even if it is the majority in that region or in the country.

There is no doubt that the provincial council system should be strengthened, not only in the Northern Province, but in the other eight provinces also. There are modifications necessary to ensure that the provincial councils and the central government work harmoniously. There is a need to ensure that the provincial council system is provided with more powers and resources, including land and police powers that are already granted in the 13th Amendment and form a part of the Constitution. Such changes will need to be mutually agreed upon while the principles underlying the 13th Amendment are respected. The provincial councils cannot do this by themselves. They need the cooperation of the central government if they are to achieve their goals of greater devolved power and more resources. We call upon the government and opposition to ensure the spirit of accommodation and trust for such cooperation to be achieved.

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