After he was elected in 2005 President Mahinda Rajapaksa convened an All Party Conference (APC) in 2006 to find a political solution to the ethnic problem in the country. Five years later, his government is to appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) for the same purpose.
What happened to the APC? One may ask. The APC appointed a committee called All Party Representative Committee (APRC) which met more than hundred times for more than two years before it prepared its report. The report was handed over to President Mahinda Rajapaksa by the Committee Chairman Professor Tissa Vitharana, but only to be unheard of thereafter.
Minister Vitarana, a conventional Leftist who toiled hard to bridge the gap between various views of political parties that remained in his Committee till the end too has not been pressing for the implementations of his Committee’s recommendations. Going by the behavior of many smaller political parties in the country when dealing with the two main parties, the reason for his meek submission is obvious.
Governments since mid eighties have appointed various forums to find a political solution to the ethnic problem, but only to be faced with the same fate as that of the APRC. This trend has created a situation where appointment of such new forums is not being received even by the majority Sinhalese with due seriousness and also the very idea is taken by many with scorn. Thus, even those who vehemently oppose the idea of political solution to the ethnic problem turned a deaf ear when the Government leaders said that they would appoint a PSC for that purpose.
The first forum for the purpose of finding a political solution was the Round Table Conference convened by President JR Jayewardene in 1984 which for the first time discussed the concept of devolution of power without using that term.
The Round Table Conference was vanished in a few months as the very move by the government seemed to be halfhearted or deceptive. And fresh in their armed struggle for a separate State, the Tamil side too contributed to the failure of the Conference with their overwhelming adamancy.
This conference was followed by the famous Thimpu talks in 1985 in which the Tamil armed groups collectively and officially put forward their “Tamil Nation” theory. The talks broke down with violence back home orchestrated both by the security forces and the Tamil armed groups escalating.
With the Indian pressure another Conference was convened by President Jayewardene in 1986. Under the guidance of the Indian diplomats Gopalaswamy Parthasarathy and Romesh Bandari the Conference called “Political Party Conference” (PPC) developed the concept of devolution of power in the present form, with tentative powers to be devolved and the provinces as units for devolution.
The list of forums and pacts on the ethnic problem and devolution of power include the Indo-Lanka peace Accord of 1987, Premadasa – LTTE peace talks in 1989/90, All Party Conference (APC) in 1989, the Parliamentary select Committee headed by Mangala Moonasinghe in 1991, Chandrika-LTTE peace talks in 1994/95, the Parliamentary Select Committee chaired by Professor GL Peiris in 1995/97, Ranil Wickremesinghe-LTTE peace talks in 2002/03 and Mahinda Rajapaksa-LTTE talks in 2006.
The APC convened by President Premadasa in 1989 was unique as the representatives of the LTTE headed by Yogaratnam Yogi too participated in it. However, soon the outfit found an excuse in the participation of the EPRLF in the Conference to leave it. And the above list shows that the country had seen two PSCs on the issue which were total flops that wasted colossal sums of money and invaluable time.
Interestingly, none of these platforms could move the problem ahead of the point where it was in 1986, when the concept of Provincial Councils was developed. The only forward steps were the bringing about the Constitutional changes, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and the related Provincial Councils Act of 1987 and the two Constitutional Amendments in 1986 and 1988 in order to recognize the Tamils’ language rights.
It is against this backdrop the Government is to appoint another PSC. Needless to say that the idea was floated following the agitations in Tamil Nadu which resulted in the Indian Central Government’s pressure on Sri Lanka to find a political solution to the ethnic problem.
While floating the idea of a PSC, Government leaders are also attempting to convince the public that they will go beyond the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in finding a political solution. Ironically those parties in the ruling coalition that are dead against the concept of devolution of power were not agitated by the pronouncement on going beyond 13th Amendment, as if nothing would happen. Most probably nothing would happen this time as well.