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Unitarist mindset most visible obstacle for Peace, Reconciliation and National Integration

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The British High Commission marked the International Day of Peace on 21 September 2011 by hosting an Art Festival in Colombo, involving over 50 school children-pic courtesy: UK In Sri Lanka

by Sumanasiri Liyanage

Giving an interview to an Indian national newspaper based in Chennai, The Hindu, appears to have become a perennial practice of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

In this interview, he has revealed that “We want to hold elections in September 2013. We are working towards it [the elections] in a systematic manner.”

President Rajapaksa who has great liking for elections at whatever level and who has initiated recently preponing three provincial elections including the election of the war-ravaged Eastern Province has tried time and again since May 2009 to postpone the elections to the Northern PC giving multiple excuses.

Of course one may easily find adequate reasons for the postponement of election in an area where a ‘dirty’ war was fought for nearly 30 years. Nonetheless, one of the principal measures that has been suggested to take to move in the direction of normalization is holding democratic elections even the situation is not totally ripe for such practices.

President Rajapaksa was not hesitant to hold elections in the Eastern Province provincial council in spite of the objection and boycott of the election by Tamil National Alliance. In my opinion, it worked well although the infamous Governor of the Eastern Province has continuously deployed constitutional tactics to disrupt the working of the democratically elected provincial council.

Planning to hold Northern PC election in September 2013 means that the government seems to assume that the environment in the Northern Province after more than four years of military victory is not conducive to hold the election. This begs whole lots of questions. “Mr. Rajapaksa said there were many issues to be resolved ahead of holding of elections.” The followings are the issues listed by him at the interview.

“The primary one related to the electoral rolls. People who fled when the Tamil Tigers were in power and during the war were still coming in and staking claim to their land and property after the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in May 2009. These people too had to be accommodated in the rolls. The last rolls were more than 30 years old and had no relation to the current eligible voters in the province.”

2.“The second issue was the completion of the rehabilitation and resettlement process. This was on with international support and was expected to be completed soon. Livelihood issues too were being addressed.”

However, these arguments do not hold water for obvious reasons. First, the Presidential election in 2009, the Parliamentary election in 2010, and elections for local government bodies were held using this so-called 30 year old electoral roll.

Does the President think that Northern PC election is superior to all these elections so that it should be held using ‘brand new’ electoral roll that shows the real picture of the province?

Secondly, on the issue of rehabilitation and resettlement, President’s views are totally unacceptable and demonstrate the unitarist mindset that has been the most visible obstacle for peace and reconciliation and national integration.

The need of an elected provincial council emerges mainly because of the problems related to rehabilitation and settlement. The experience of the last three years has amply demonstrated the inherent flaws of the programs that are controlled and administered by the central government.

Holding three provincial council elections by dissolving them before the constitutional life time of those bodies lapsed while further postponing Northern PC election may naturally create suspicion. DMK chief M Karunanidhi on last Wednesday sounded sceptical about holding of Northern provincial elections in Sri Lanka next year, saying there was some “hidden meaning” in the announcement on the polls by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The performance of the UPFA government on the issues of national question and democratic and human rights in the last three years or so has led many people to be suspicious and skeptical about the government promises. The government ministers promised that it would implement constitutional amendments to make the state structure more accommodative to the demands and aspirations of the numerically small nations living in the island’s territory.

The [in]famous proposal of 13 + were made in the past to deceive the Indian administration and the countries in the West. What does 13 + mean? The Hindu reports: ‘Clarifying for the first time what the [13] plus was, Mr. Rajapaksa said this was the creation of a Senate. “I said 13th Amendment plus. Then Shankar [Shiv Shankar Menon, Indian National Security Adviser] remarked if I meant the creation of a Senate, and I said yes.” For the moment, I wish to bracket the discussion on adequacy of this solution. However, it is necessary to note that it would be 13 + if and only if there is no reduction of power devolved to the provinces by the 13th Amendment. I shall come back to this in a separate article.

Here comes a qualification! The Hindu reports: ‘Mr. Rajapaksa made it clear that the creation of a Senate and the fleshing out of a solution needed to come from Parliament. “This is [where] the Parliamentary Select Committee is important,” he said.’ The implication is that the Northern PC election will not be held until the PSC comes up with a solution that is acceptable to the members of the PSC and the majority in the Parliament. So far the opposition parties have not nominated their nominees to the PSC. The JVP has decided not to participate in the PSC while the TNA would take the same position of course for different reasons.

If my inference, namely, that the government will not hold Nothern PC election until the PSC recommendations are presented to the Parliament for adoption, is correct, there is a possibility that the PSC may come up with a constitutional amendment that would further weaken the 13th Amendment by shredding limited police and land powers included in the 13th Amendment. Similarly, the current proposal of the SLFP on the Senate is retrogressive. Hence, 13th Amendment – (existing limited police powers + land powers) + Senate < 13th Amendment. So my surmise is that the government does not want to hold Northern provincial council election under the existing constitutional framework but under new constitutional amendment that makes 13th Amendment null and void. In other words, the MR government as the previous governments does not want to have a Northern PC with powers devolved to the PCs under the 13th Amendment. So it is interesting to note that this would be almost similar to the enactment of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution making the 17th Amendment powerless. Hence as I argued many a time, the proposed PSC business would be a dangerous game unless the political parties that represent the numerically small nations in the island and the left parties within the Parliament and without keep careful and vigilant eye on its proceedings. Parties and groups who wish to have democratic solution to the national question may participate in PSC proceedings if and only if the following pre-conditions are met before the PSC begins its deliberations (1) Northern PC election should be held; (2) the 13th Amendment should be fully implemented in its spirit at least in the North and Eastern Provinces; (3) PSC deliberations should be used either Mangala Moonasinghe Report or All Party Conference agreement as its point of departure. One may argue that honest discussions should not impose pre-conditions. But as (1) and (2) are not preconditions per se and the existing constitutional mechanisms. Similarly the past experience of these kinds of deliberations may force the political parties of the numerically small nations to have some achievements even before the proceedings in order convince their electorates that PSC will not be another flop this time.

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