Wither TNA- Govt talks

Article by Mr. M.S.M Ayoub shedding light on Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and Government Talks.

The most and longest negotiated issues in Sri Lankan politics in history might be the ethnic problem and the devolution of power. These issues have been in the public discourse since the early eighties.  An interesting point in this regard is that Sri Lankan society has not been able to come to an agreement during the past forty or more years on the question whether an ethnic problem persists in the country even after a thirty year long bloody war.

There are still people who contend that there is no problem among ethnicities in Sri Lanka which itself has been a contentious matter among the same communities, while some others are of the view that it was the differences between communities on the rights and recognition of particular communities that had resulted in the armed fighting. Those who deny the existence of a problem between communities naturally deny the need for a solution as well.

It is against this backdrop that the Government has initiated talks with the main Tamil political party alliance, Tamil National Alliance (TNA). The moot point is what the two groups are talking about, since the TNA is a coalition of parties that had long been complaining about injustices and discriminations by the Sinhalese dominated governments against the minorities, especially the Tamils while the powerful constituent parties in the ruling coalition the UPFA contend to the contrary.

The ethnic problem and the issue of devolution of power had been discussed in various fora’s since 1984 when President JR Jayawardene convened a Round Table Conference as one of his promises given at the 1977 Parliamentary election. However, the Conference was exposed as a farce as it was revealed President Jayawardene had no genuine intention to look into the Tamil’s grievances. Also the newly formed Tamil armed groups wanted the forum to be used as a propaganda platform.

This 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 Jayawardene in 1986. Again pressurized by the Indian diplomats Gopalaswamy Parthasarathy and Romesh Bandari the Conference called “Political Party Conference” (PPC) mooted the concept of devolution of power with tentative powers to be devolved and the provinces as units for devolution.

The list of forums on the ethnic problem and devolution of power includes 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.

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 mooted. 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.

The TNA in a statement after the recent local elections had said that “The Local Authorities election results affirm the results of the Parliamentary elections held in April 2010 and puts the democratic verdict of the Tamil people in favour of an acceptable durable and reasonable political solution beyond any semblance of doubt.” The TNA seems to argue on the same line with the UPFA which contends that the people had endorsed its policies at the elections.

What was the UPFA policy on the ethnic issue which had been “endorsed by the people” of the south at the recent elections?  And what are the leaders of the Government going to decide at the talks with the TNA?

The state run website, Lankapuwath had recently described the theme of the negotiations between the Government and the TNA as something “to bring about political solutions and re-organization purposes.” However, it is not clear as to where the political solution to the ethnic problem is in the Government’s priorities list, given the recent remarks by some of the leaders of the Government.

Some Government leaders such as the Construction, Engineering Services, Housing and Common Amenities Minister Wimal Weerawansa have publicly stressed that no more political solutions are needed after the decimation of the LTTE leadership as solutions are proposed earlier in order to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table.

 Hence, it is not clear as to whether the genuine objectives of both parties to the talks are coinciding, without which these talks too would be added to the failed negotiations of history.

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