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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2614

War and Governance

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“Excess is universally pernicious”.
Voltaire (Philosophical Notebooks)

These are times which favour the cynics. In his Independence Day Address President Mahinda Rajapakse proved that the APRC was what the cynics said it was: an exercise in deception, an attempt to hoodwink democratic Tamils, India and the International Community. The maximum this President is willing to concede in terms of devolution is the continuation of the status quo – which is a step forward from his earlier plan to replace provincial councils with district councils and inadequate devolution with administrative decentralisation!

The President’s Independence Day Address is an enlightening one. Previously there was some confusion as to whether the ‘new improved’ 13th Amendment is the first step towards a political solution or the only devolutionary deal the President is willing to entertain. This confusion no longer exists thanks to the President’s forthright remarks: “We cannot offer solutions that are experiments. We cannot experiment with solutions when so much blood has been shed and tens of thousands of lives have been lost. That is why we selected a solution which can be implemented and about which we have experience. This practical solution is to bring the provincial administration closer to the people within the framework of our constitution.” In other words the emasculated document the APRC formally presented to the President (at his insistence and after being drastically edited by him) is not the first step in a progressive process towards greater devolution, as hoped for by some anti-Tiger Tamils and India. It is the solution, the final one, the furthest the Rajapakse administration is willing to go.

The tried and tested 13th Amendment, of which the President speaks in such laudatory terms, came into being as an experiment two decades ago. Moreover it was an experiment the SLFP and the JVP vehemently decried as a conspiracy to divide the country! Mahinda Rajapakse probably has a vague recollection of protesting in front of the Pettah Bo tree against the Indo-Lanka Accord (that protest was turned into a riot by the SLFP’s ally, the JVP). Perhaps he even remembers boycotting the first Provincial Council election in 1988 and denouncing as traitors all those who participated in it. President Rajapakse’s tried and tested solution is in existence today because twenty years ago the UNP – at Indian insistence – moved the 13th Amendment and set up the provincial councils, ignoring the vociferous objections of the SLFP and the murderous violence of the JVP.

Intelligent Governance and Unintelligent Governance

There is intelligent governance and there is unintelligent governance. Believing that the subjective can override the objective, ad infinitum, is unintelligent governance.

Believing in one’s own hyperbolic propaganda and acting according to that belief is unintelligent governance. Failing to improve our human rights record, failing to reduce financial mismanagement, failing to devolve power to the minorities – all these are manifestations of unintelligent governance. Introducing censorship, ignoring or belittling economic distress, tolerating lawlessness, neglecting problems such as growing malnutrition among mothers and young children are manifestations of unintelligent governance. An unsustainable war, a destabilised South, foreign intervention and an externally imposed ‘peace’ – some of this or all of this will result from unintelligent governance.

In her 60th year of Independence Sri Lanka is under the thumb of the legitimate and illegitimate offspring of the ‘1956 Revolution’. Folly is their modus operandi. Given President Rajapakse’s disinclination to give the Tamils nothing more than the existing Provincial council system, the Fourth Eelam War will be conducted as a Sinhala nationalist war against Tamil nationalism rather than a Sri Lankan war against the LTTE. The Tigers are living up to the terrorist and fascist image, murdering Sinhala civilians indiscriminately. Their abhorrent activities, together with the absence of a viable democratic alternative, is making it that much more difficult for India and the international community to unequivocally and strongly back a federal solution for a merged North-East. The extremist policies of their leaders are helping neither the Sinhalese nor Tamils. Instead both peoples are becoming imprisoned in a vortex of violence which is impeding a resolution and undermining societal health. Unfortunately this inescapable reality is incomprehensible to Sinhala nationalists at home and the Tamil Diaspora.

The LTTE is weak; but its determination to prosecute the war and its capacity to launch deadly attacks on civilian targets all over the South remain undiminished. The Northern offensive is obviously not moving as smoothly as expected. The latest incident involving Sea Tigers and Indian fishermen demonstrates once again the significance of the Tamilnadu factor. Our defence expenditure and external debt are escalating at a time a global recession is expected. Contrary to the optimistic declarations of the hardliners this is going to be a long war and a hard war.

As the economic distress and public discontent increase, the use of force will become necessary to maintain stability and civil peace. This would require a President with undiminished powers, as free from restraints as possible. Considered in this context, the inexplicable delay in appointing the Constitutional Council becomes explicable. The minority parties have finally agreed on a nominee, a man singularly worthy of the trust placed on him. Still the President is conspicuously reluctant to formally appoint the Constitutional Council. Since an active Constitutional Council will reduce Presidential omnipotence, the President’s reluctance to activate such an entity is understandable. In fact the Rajapakses will not be able to pursue their current path unhindered unless there is a significant curtailment of democratic rights in the South. President Rajapakse’s reluctance to activate the Constitutional Council and Defence Secretary Rajapakse’s paeans of praise to censorship reflect this need and result from it.

According to the Economist “Sri Lanka has become the most militarised state in South Asia” (7.2.2008). In order to sustain this state the regime will print money, borrow heavily and impose more burdens on the masses. It will also continue to make concessions to the JVP and the JHU as the backing of these two majoritarian extremist parties is a must, for the Rajapakses to survive a future money bill. The end result will be a worsening of the political, economic and financial crises, of public distress and of international isolation of Sri Lanka. How are we going to face those multiple challenges while prosecuting the war as successfully as possible? If we do not, what will be the systemic consequences of that failure?

Again According to the Economist the Northern offensive is not moving in the anticipated manner: “Last year the army gained victories in the east of the country. This year it hopes to extend its successes into the Tiger strongholds in the north. The government of President Mahinda Rajapakse hopes this will keep the lid on social unrest in the Sinhalese dominated south. General Sarath Fonseka, the army commander, has vowed to finish the war this year. But in the past four months his troops have advanced only 8km (5 miles) in the Western district of Mannar and are facing stiff resistance all along the northern Jaffna front” (ibid).

The East was an easy conquest because Col. Karuna had done most of the work for us. But in the North we posses no such advantage. Thus the importance of a political solution that is acceptable to a majority of Tamil people and to Tamil moderates. That is why the President’s decision to stick to the 13th Amendment is a prime example of unintelligent governance.

Delusional

In Sri Lanka it was business as usual on the Independence Day. The Tigers murdered some more innocent civilians, the government turned Colombo into a fortress, the President promised to defeat the LTTE soon, bus fares went up and politicians celebrated Independence with a gala dinner at the Temple Trees at public expense. The composite picture is not a propitious one.

The government certainly believes in its own propaganda. Take, for instance, the following words contained in the President’s Independence Day Address: “The confidence placed in us by the international community has not diminished one iota…..there has been no reduction whatever in the aid received by us… The civilised world today accepts that Sri Lanka is putting one full-stop to world terrorism”. The reality is starkly different as anyone with access to non-government media would know. If the President really believes this assertion and acts according to this belief he will not see any need to improve the country’s human rights record or to offer moderate Tamils a just solution. This failure will worsen the country’s political crisis and international isolation. By the time the President realises that some of the most powerful and influential countries in the world are not happy with Sri Lanka’s record, the damage would have been done.

The Rajapakse administration is moving inexorably towards a politico-financial stalemate which in turn will create a military stalemate in the North-East. This is the only possible destination for a leader who eschews moderation and reason and embraces extremism and fantasy, a leader who practices unintelligent governance. A sensible administration cannot stray too far from the golden mean. Money must be spent on the war but not as if there is money to burn. The war cannot but continue – since that is the will of Velupillai Pirapaharan – and so must the search for a political solution. Contrary to Presidential assertion a considerable part of the civilized world want us to stop our fight against terrorism and commence negotiations. This truth, however unpalatable it may be, must be grasped. There have been aid cuts and there will be aid cuts, if we do not moderate our conduct. Delusions are sustainable only up to a certain point. A country cannot be governed based on delusions. Doing so would be the height of stupidity, a prime example of unintelligent governance. Must we wait till the country implodes to discover this simple fact?

- Asian Tribune -

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