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This is my Nation


All aboard Yal Devi, next stop Jaffna

In a multi-cornered tussle for political representation, policies and pledges will have some say in swinging the vote one way or the other. But, what is clear is that, there appears to be some political consensus emerging from the North and East.

The many political parties jostling for power in the two Provinces, seem to have realised that this particular point in time- at the end of a 30-year war and at the beginning of a new era of concentrated development in the region- represents the best ever opportunity for the development and re-integration of that battle scarred terrain into Sri Lankan society. And, not to be part of that exercise would be to sign your political death warrant

Is the arid political landscape in the North and East finally changing? That was the question that many sought an answer to in the past week, as signs of a transformation appear to be emerging in the diverse political forces that contribute to the new found democracy in that region.

Several positive developments - each a small step in its own way - have contributed to this sense of cautious optimism. Local elections are to be held on August 8 in Jaffna and Vavuniya. Most Tamil political parties are in the fray, and they have also attended the All Party Conference for Reconciliation summoned by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Moreover, at least one Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarian, Sivanathan Kishore, has extended his support to the Government, going so far as to say that he would function as an ‘independent’ Member of Parliament.

The task before the TNA is by no means easy. For many years now, more out of fear than conviction, they have articulated in Parliament, the stance of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Despite all the violence and the terrorism that the Tigers practised, the TNA defended these actions, and was the de facto political wing of the LTTE.

We can say with confidence that, not all TNA MPs were happy with this predicament. Especially, the older generation TNA Parliamentarians resented this abrogation of their role by the LTTE, but given the security considerations involved and the ruthless record of the Tigers, they had little choice in what they said or did in Parliament.

Now, almost overnight, the LTTE has ceased to exist. The sword of Damocles that hung over the collective heads of the TNA has been dramatically done away with. But, while this will give the TNA MPs a new found sense of freedom and the liberty to act according to their consciences, this is not without its own problems.

Last week, we saw the spectacle of how five doctors who were in the LTTE held areas until the final days of the battle and supplied international agencies with false statistics, come clean and say that they did so under duress and at the behest of the LTTE. Unfortunately, we cannot expect such an abrupt about turn from the TNA, which has to avoid losing face in its own political volte face.

This exercise is even more complicated by the race to democracy in the North and East, where the contenders are many. There is Minister Douglas Devananda and his Eelam Peoples’ Democratic Party (EPDP), the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and its leader Veerasingham Aanandasangaree is contesting Jaffna’s mayoralty, and others have found a more innovative fast track to political stardom- joining the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) just like Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias ‘Karuna’ did.
As if this were not enough, there will always be the likes of the opposition United National Party and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, whose fortunes are at a low ebb right now, but nevertheless, commanding some significant support in the two Provinces.

In such a multi-cornered tussle for political representation, policies and pledges will have some say in swinging the vote one way or the other. And that is probably why the TNA is, for the first time, articulating a stance that may be viewed as being supportive of the 13th Amendment providing for Provincial Councils.

The subject of the 13th Amendment is debated extensively elsewhere in these pages, and we will not discuss that issue. But, what is clear is that, there appears to be some political consensus emerging from the North and East.

The many political parties jostling for power in the two Provinces, seem to have realised that this particular point in time- at the end of a 30-year war and at the beginning of a new era of concentrated development in the region- represents the best ever opportunity for the development and re-integration of that battle scarred terrain into Sri Lankan society. And, not to be part of that exercise would be to sign your political death warrant.

As far as the Government is concerned, this is a most welcome development. But the ruling United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) must realise that political discussions about Constitutional reform, while being stimulating intellectual exercises in the comfort of Colombo, mean little to the many millions who call the North and East their home, simply because they have been deprived of the basic needs and comforts of life for so long.

Therefore, any delay or shortcoming on the part of the Government, in providing these amenities and infrastructure, will not only be interpreted as a callous and insensitive regime in Colombo ignoring their needs, it could be costly in political terms as well, in the forthcoming elections.

There is, of course, the spotlight of the international community still focused on Sri Lanka, and our many detractors who did not support the final phase of the war against the LTTE, will, no doubt, take much pleasure in condemning Colombo, if such a situation were to arise. So far, the Government has succeeded in dealing with the issue, but such efforts need to be sustained in the long term as well.

Therefore, in more ways than one, the political changes rapidly unfolding in the North and East would be crucial in the evolution of a durable peace in this country. For that reason alone, it deserves the best efforts of all stakeholders involved in it.

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