One of the major disappointments of Sri Lanka’s post-war progress is that the political and economic stability achieved is not been accompanied by similar success in achieving reconciliation. Ethnic polarization and hard feelings across the party political divide continue to take centre stage, and put the brakes on what could be outstanding success. Peace building and reconciliation continue to remain as critical needs in this post war era. There needs to be a new paradigm for governance that is more appropriate for the plural and diverse post-war society that Sri Lanka is. The centralization of power and decision making that was crucial to war time is no longer appropriate and even dysfunctional.
In conformity with the past trend of centralizing of power, some government decision makers have declared that no further constitutional change is necessary to increase the devolution of power. This has been a cause of controversy and polarization. There has been an equivalent reaction from the opposition Tamil political parties, and also sections of the international community, that the government’s war time promise of further devolution of power needs to be delivered. During the height of the war, President Rajapaksa made promises regarding the government’s post-war intentions with regard to the devolution of power. The most practical of these was his declaration that he would implement a political solution that would be the 13th Amendment plus one.
Although the government and main Tamil opposition party, the TNA, have met for several rounds of talks, there has been no evident outcome that is seen in the light of a breakthrough, or even progress in respect of building on the 13th Amendment. There is no movement forward that is bringing the parties together. There can also be no forward movement in terms of ethnic reconciliation without these two parties reaching agreement. The government’s latest proposal for forward movement is to establish a Parliamentary Select Committee that would enable all parties in Parliament to discuss the issue of a political solution that would strengthen the unity of the country.
However, the TNA does not appear to be satisfied with this proposal. It has so far not agreed to join in the deliberation of the Parliamentary Select Committee. There is a need for a confidence building action that the two sides can be urged to take on by those with an intention of fostering a meeting of minds. One of the confidence building measures that the government could take would be with respect to the implementation of the 13th Amendment as currently implemented in all provinces of the country other than the Northern Province. So far it is only the people of the Northern Province who have been deprived of the benefits of provincial level devolution.
Today nearly two and a half years after the end of the war, the people of the north need to enjoy the same rights and privileges in respect of devolution of power that the people in the rest of the country enjoy. The establishment of a Northern Provincial Council would also enable the people there to experience the workings of the devolved system and clarify their priorities. It would also send a positive signal to the international community that sees itself as obligated to ensure justice in post-war Sri Lanka. Any progress in meeting the political aspirations of the ethnic minorities within the country after the defeat of the LTTE would lessen the pressure on the government with respect to what happened in the war.
If the government were to announce the date for the conduct of provincial council elections for the Northern Province there would be a mobilization of the constructive energies of political parties to meet the real priorities of the people living there. The issues of land and police powers, as demanded by the TNA, could be rivaled by more finances for provincial development, as could be made possible by the government.
An evolved society is one that attempts to resolve its conflicts through peaceful means and through dialogue. When a war is fought, as was fought in Sri Lanka, it ought to be seen as a means to an end, not as an end in itself. The military defeat of the LTTE has opened up the door to a political solution based on the unity of the country, which is what the vast majority of people in Sri Lanka want. It requires an enlightened government leadership to continue to pursue a just political solution even after the opposing military forces are destroyed. President Mahinda Rajapaksa whose popularity rating within the country is 91 percent is in a position to demonstrate such enlightened leadership.