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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2710

Mahinda’s message & the majority report

By Dayan Jayatilleka

At long last, some reason for guarded optimism. Two texts, one a public speech, the other a leaked document, show the direction in which to head in order to exit the decades-long tunnel of the country’s crisis. But things are not that simple. There’s one proviso. We can make our way out of the tunnel if and only if the two texts are fused together as two sides of a single coin of state policy and strategy.

The two declarations I refer to are the address to the nation by President Mahinda Rajapakse and the majority document of the Experts committee of the all parties’ conference. Coincidentally both declarations made it to the media near-simultaneously, hitting the headlines on the same day.

Complementary, not competing

Sri Lanka’s tragedy has been that those who endorse one text would not endorse the other, while in reality, the contents of each cannot stand alone, and can be brought to fruition only in tandem with the other.

President Rajapakse’s speech on terrorism demonstrated resolute political will, and represented real leadership. It presented the case of the Sri Lankan democratic state to the world, while placing the Tigers in the dock for their campaign of aggression. It was the kind of speech that the country requires at this moment in its history, especially in the wake of Prabhakaran’s open declaration of the drive for Tamil Eelam. It was also the kind of message that Sri Lankans had not heard from a leader for far too long a time.

The majority report of the Experts Group of the All Parties’ Conference contains a reasonable and generous proposal for devolution and autonomy within a united Sri Lanka. One notes that the majority faction is multi-ethnic, with a majority of Sinhalese (6) but also Tamils and Muslims. Though it contains two persons whose intellect I have the highest respect for, the minority faction is, by contrast, Sinhala only in terms of composition.

The majority faction is more accurate a mirror of the pluralistic makeup of Sri Lankan society. It is the best such proposal I have read in almost three decades of my acquaintance (as student and observer-participant) with the National Question in general and the Tamil national question in particular. It can pull the rug ideologically and socio-politically from under the Tigers, neutralise Indian pressure on us and win for Sri Lanka the battle of ideas in the international arena. I must add though that the proffered variant of the Apex Council is preferable to a decade-long merger, while Dr Rohan Perera’s rider concerning High Security Zones must be accepted without dilution.

If past form is anything to go by, those who endorse the President’s resolute stand on Tiger terrorism would tend to be unsympathetic to the majority report and far more in support of the minority report (which if one may make an educated guess, is for minimalist or zero devolution). The converse would also hold true. Those who support the majority report for sufficient devolution would tend to be dismayed by the President’s discourse, and would either be opposed to him politically or be opposed to his present line and strive to dilute his position on the LTTE.

Those who oppose terrorism and separatism believe that all it takes is resolute military and legal action. They are both right and wrong. They right in that strong military and legal action is necessary and arguably even primary, in the combating of terror. They are wrong in thinking that military and legal measures by themselves can successfully achieve that result. Some of them are wrong insofar as they assume that political reform can only follow victory in war.

India, the US, indeed the world community as a whole has arrived at the tipping point. If we implement the majority report, they will tilt to us. If not they will tilt away from us. We cannot afford the latter, from a strictly military and economic point of view.

Those who want to address the underlying ethnic or nationalities question are correct in their assertion that the LTTE can never be eliminated without the undergirding and causative Tamil grievances being addressed and aspirations being assuaged. They are wrong in thinking that this can be a substitute for, or should precede, a strong military response to the LTTE’s war of terror.

Sources of opposition

The majority report will have to overcome resistance from two sources: majority and minority chauvinism. Make no mistake: it can only be implemented over the dead bodies, literally, of the Tigers. It can also be implemented only by Mahinda Rajapkse, while taking stern military and legal action against the LTTE, just as it was only an anticommunist like Richard Nixon who could make initiate détente with Russia and China, and only Ariel Sharon who could withdraw from Gaza.

It must be made very clear that the majority report is both bottom line and ceiling, meaning no less but no more either.

It’s perhaps prudent for Sri Lanka not to go appreciably below it, or we shall be laughed at and abandoned as unreformable by the world at large.

Nor must we be prodded or coaxed into moving above and beyond it by those (TNA, UNP, NGOs, external actors) who will urge us to “make it more acceptable” to the Tigers. That’s a mug’s game. Any attempt to stretch it will ensure that the majority community turns against it - and with it perhaps the army, while on the other hand the Tigers will not accept it, and nor therefore, will the TNA.

The Rajapakse administration will face the usual problems: the LTTE will mount terrorist attacks hoping to derail the political process. The Tigers will count on the anti-devolution propaganda by the JVP and JHU, to create a situation in which political reform is either blocked or, more ambitiously, ethnic rioting is triggered.

UNP reaction

The behaviour of President Rajapakse’s MoU partner Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe has been foreshadowed by the Sunday Leader and its sister paper the Morning Leader, which are privy to the thinking of the lifetime Leader of the UNP. The paper says that nothing short of a federal solution will be acceptable to the UNP, and that the UNP will pull out of the process in such an eventuality.

This indicates that the UNP leadership still places the wishes of the LTTE above those of its own members and voters. Opting out of a political process because the proffered solution falls short of federalism, is nothing short of electoral suicide, and it is doubtful that the rest of the UNP will wish to swallow that particular cyanide capsule.

Such a scenario would provide the right conditions for a historic realignment of the SLFP and UNP reformist faction, resulting in a new moderate centre in Sri Lankan politics. Such a government would be the vehicle for the safeguarding of sovereignty and territorial integrity against separatist terrorism, while ushering in the political reforms set out in the majority report of the expert’s committee, even if it takes an election and/or referendum to be able to do so.

In the final analysis the best hope of fusing into a single strategic policy, the two texts dealt with here - the President’s tough speech on terrorism and the expert panel’s majority report – and the impulses they each represent and contain, resides in the fact that both initiatives emanated from the same set of sources, namely the Rajapakse administration and the President himself. They are the dialectical dynamics of the democratic Sri Lankan state.

- Asian Tribune -

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