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Tamilnation > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Conflict Resolution - Tamil Eelam - Sri Lanka > Norwegian Peace Initiative > LTTE's Unilateral Ceasefires > The Peace 'Soap Opera', 2001

  Norwegian Peace Initiative
The Peace 'Soap Opera'

Dr S Sathananthan, Secretary
Action Group of Tamils, Kotte, Sri Lanka (TAGOT)
 23 April 2001

 "...President Kumaratunga needs an extraordinary stroke of luck, if not a miracle, to survive in politics. The only realistic avenue open to her to salvage her political fortunes is to push for an impressive military victory against the LTTE-led Tamil National Liberation Movement. What, then, about the President's alleged commitment to a negotiated settlement? TAGOT has no hesitation whatsoever in concluding that neither devolution of power nor conflict resolution through negotiation figures even remotely on President Kumaratunga's political horizon..."

The Action Group Of Tamils (TAGOT) cannot help but be amused by the peace soap opera. Apologists for Sinhalese chauvinism are playing "discover the Tamils". For instance, Sinhalese "liberals" (reportedly sponsored by the European Union) transported Sinhalese journalists and activists to Jaffna City. They are to report back to the Sinhalese-majority South-West on "what Tamils want" - in supposed contrast to the position of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) - and on life in the NEP in general. 

It is another subversive ploy in the long list of impotent attempts to drive a political wedge between the Tamil people and the LTTE. This too will bite the dust. Moreover, the underlying dishonest claim is that the Sinhalese people as a whole are supporting the military campaign of the armed forces against Tamils in the Tamil-majority North-East Province (NEP) largely because they, after more than two decades of armed conflict, are still ignorant of Tamil aspirations and of the gruesome ground conditions! 

Supine apologists for President Chandrika Kumaratunga would like to believe that she is "testing the water" - gauging the reaction of pathologically anti-Tamil Sinhalese armed forces - by announcing in early April, 2001 a limited relaxation of the economic blockade she herself clamped in 1995 upon Tamils in the NEP, including the Jaffna peninsula. 

The obvious but fraudulent implication is that, if not for the opposition from the armed forces, the "peace-loving" President Kumaratunga would in all likelihood happily remove all restrictions she had callously imposed and ruthlessly implemented for more than six years in the NEP!! 

There are others who indulge in utopian dreams. They plead that "the LTTE must talk to Sinhalese people", that "the LTTE must convince the international community", and so on. Even a half-way decent soap opera is incomplete without that indispensable element, comic relief. The Walter Mitty antics of United States Ambassador Mr. Ashley Willis in Jaffna on 7 March were hilarious. He self-aggrandised by challenging the Tamil National Liberation Movement, led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE); for he asserted arrogantly: "if the LTTE is still fighting for Tamil Eelam, please accept that that goal cannot be achieved", as if he had the power to change the course of history. 

He sabre rattled over human rights without breathing a word about the grotesque Chemmani mass graves of Tamils a few kilometres from where he stood. He pompously flaunted the Latin phrase, "E Pluribus Unum," on the Great Seal of the United States; and helpfully translated it as "Out of Many, One" (The Island, 9 March 2001). 

Evidently he is blissfully unaware, as most Americans hopelessly are, that the remnants of the few surviving Native American nations are not impressed by that blood-soaked hypocritical phrase. For he represents a country that successfully carried out between 1860s and 1910s the most extensive and comprehensive genocide in history: the US Government exterminated numerous Native American nations, consisting of populations numbering, at a conservative estimate, at least ten million. About three decades later, the Nazis no doubt strove to emulate the American "success" but failed largely because they attempted the genocide of Jews in the more civilised European continent. 

Simultaneously we are inundated by the astrology of peace. There is "cease-fire", "violation of cease-fire", "Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)", "Agreement of Understanding (AOU)", "Thimpu Principles", "draft constitution", "economic embargo", "partial lifting of economic embargo", "decentralisation", "devolution", "federalism", "confederation" and, of course, nebulous "peace", to mention only a few. As in astrology, they mean different things to different people. 

What, then, about resolving the armed conflict between the Sinhalese State and the LTTE-led Tamil National Liberation Movement? General perception, bolstered by the Norwegian initiative, is that the Peoples Alliance (PA) Coalition Government in which President Kumaratunga's Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) is the dominant member is willing - despite a minority of hardliners - to negotiate a political settlement with the LTTE. 

To substantiate their self-proclaimed readiness to "talk" with the LTTE, in 2000, the President and some of her senior Ministers drafted a constitution which, they allege, provides for devolution of power to the NEP and which, President Kumaratunga insists, should be the basis for the anticipated "talks". What exactly is that basis? 

We, in TAGOT, ploughed through the draft constitution and could not avoid the conclusion that it strictly envisages a unitary State in Sri Lanka. 

Because, Article 91 (1) of the draft constitution states that "Parliament has exclusive power to make laws, for the whole or any part of the territory of the Republic". 

And Article 92 categorically precludes devolution of power:

92 (1) Parliament shall not abdicate or in any manner alienate its legislative power and shall not set up any authority with any such legislative power. 
(2) It shall not be a contravention of the provisions of paragraph (1) of this Article for Parliament to make, in any law relating to public security, provision empowering the President to make emergency regulations in accordance with such law. 
(3) It shall not be a contravention of the provisions of paragraph (1) of this Article for Parliament to make any law containing any provision empowering any person or body to make subordinate legislation for prescribed purposes, including the power - 

(a) to appoint a date on which any law or any part thereof shall come into effect or cease to have effect; 
(b) to make by order any law or any part thereof applicable to any locality or, to any class of persons; and 
(c) to create a legal person, by an order or an act, and for the purposes of sub-paragraphs (a) and (b) of this paragraph, "law" includes existing law." 

The subordinate "Statutes" of the proposed Regional Councils (RCs) are hardly different from Municipal Ordinances and the RCs are essentially Local Government organisations. In short, the draft provides for nothing more that decentralisation of authority. 

However, the architects of the draft constitution have made, and continue to make, the outlandish assertion that it provides for "federalism in everything but name". TAGOT unreservedly condemns that disinformation as a Gobellsian Lie. That Big Lie cannot be diluted by repetition of it by sycophants. Nor can the moribund draft acquire a shred of credibility by the chauvinist, opportunist and deceitful propaganda spewed out by the Sinhalese political opponents of the PA - that it "will divide the country", "destroy the rights of Sinhalese-Buddhists", and so on. 

Since the draft constitution has nothing whatsoever to do with devolution of power and, therefore, with conflict resolution, what precisely is the meaning of the hoopla over constitutional reform? 

The proposal for constitutional reform does not exist in a political vacuum. Indeed it is enmeshed in the snake pit of unbridled power struggle, in which the draft constitution willy nilly has become another instrument to retain or capture political power and to do opponents in. 

The power struggle is rooted in the provision of the current Constitution that the President of Sri Lanka cannot hold office for more than two terms. 

This means that President Kumaratunga must relinquish office at the end of her second term, in or before 2005. She became conscious of this provision AFTER winning the 1989 presidential election and hastily set about crafting the draft constitution. To remain active in politics after her second term and hopefully return to power (through constitutional means), President Kumaratunga must abolish the Executive Presidency and re-introduce a variant of the Westminster system, under which she could hold the office of Prime Minister. Predictably, the draft constitution seeks to do just that in the name of "democracy".

 However, there are others with political ambition to hold the highest office in the land who are bent on easing President Kumaratunga out in (or if possible before) 2005.  Within her SLFP, two important Ministers are vying to take over as President: they are Mr Anuruddha Ratwatte and SB Dissanayake. It is in their vital interest to torpedo any constitutional reform to change over to a Westminster system. 

The head of the United National Party (UNP) and Leader of the Opposition, Mr Ranil Wickremasinghe, is waiting on the wings and thirsting for power. He is in no mood to permit the introduction of a Westminster model that would allow his arch opponent, President Kumaratunga, to remain a credible political challenge. 

We could add the hostility of assorted political enemies President Kumaratunga has earned over the years. They are engaged in a palace intrigue of classic proportions. One faction insinuated a vested interest for Mr Anura Bandaranaike, the Speaker of the House and brother of the President, to ensure the permanent departure of President Kumaratunga from politics. The Machiavellian message was cloaked in a news report that she is seeking to assume the post of UN Secretary General and leave the Sri Lankan "throne" to her brother (Niyamuwa, 1 April 2001)

To drive the point home, and strike two birds with one stone, Minister for Aviation Mr Jeyaraj Fernandopulle reportedly stated in Parliament in early March that if a presidential election is held, Mr Bandaranaike would be the PA candidate. While Mr Bandaranaike appeared very pleased Prime Minister Wickremanayake who is the fourth contender for power and who by tradition ought to be next in line for the post of President, and was present in the House, "lowered his head in embarrassment". (Sunday Leader, 1 April 2001)

For the benefit of those who may have missed the point, a political columnist, "Surnimala", encapsulated the hostile sentiments in his observations in a leading Sunday newspaper in Colombo. Reporting that a meeting held, in the last week of March, in Parliament of all Opposition political parties resolved to retain the Executive Presidency (while making it accountable to Parliament and Judiciary), "Surnimala" had this to add: 

"Any proposed constitutional reform therefore would necessarily have to provide for the retention of the Executive Presidency in a modified form, and the significance of it is that Chandrika Kumaratunga would have to retire from politics in 2005 since she cannot hold office beyond a second term. Therefore the draft constitution which provided for the abolition of the Executive Presidency paving the way for Kumaratunga to return to Parliament as Prime Minister will no longer be a reality. In that context, the last desperate attempt by Kumaratunga to remain in politics by proposing to abolish the Executive Presidency mid-term too will not find support among other parties anymore, making that constitutional amendment nothing more than wishful thinking. This development sends a clear signal not just to the PA, but also to the minorities that Kumaratunga will very soon be a lame duck President. And given [her brother] Bandaranaike's track record both political and personal, more details of which are to follow, he would be more of an embarrassment and liability than a strong candidate" (Sunday Leader, 1 April 2001). 

Clearly the proverbial knives are out. And President Kumaratunga needs an extraordinary stroke of luck, if not a miracle, to survive in politics. The only realistic avenue open to her to salvage her political fortunes is to push for an impressive military victory against the LTTE-led Tamil National Liberation Movement. What, then, about the President's alleged commitment to a negotiated settlement? TAGOT has no hesitation whatsoever in concluding that neither devolution of power nor conflict resolution through negotiation figures even remotely on President Kumaratunga's political horizon.

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