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This is my Nation  


 

This is my Nation
Coming weeks crucial for both govt., opposition

Parliament in session: The President has said that the Parliamentary Select Committee should come up with the necessary recommendation within a given time frame, preferably three to six months

By making hasty decisions to exit from the PSC - more in the form of a knee jerk reaction rather than after carefully evaluating the implications - the opposition would only be aiding and abetting the government if it does indeed have any inclination to bulldoze its own proposals through the PSC.
The opposition cannot ignore the fact that India in particular would observe the PSC with interest and will have ways and means of making its intentions clear. The government is certainly aware of this and would take care not to antagonise its giant neighbour

Suddenly, the focus of the government has shifted from fending off war crimes allegations in the international arena to a more domestic issue, that of devising a mechanism of devolving power to all communities in a just and equitable manner.
The impetus for this no doubt came from neighbouring India which until now has been watching in stoic silence at the goings on, south of its border. If anything, the high powered Indian delegation that visited Colombo recently conveyed the urgency of the need to formulate such a mechanism.
Now, Colombo’s response is official. President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself told a gathering of editors that he would leave the task to a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC). He also assured that whatever the PSC decided, he would implement.
This announcement has already drawn fire. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), a key player in any attempt to evolve a mechanism of devolution, has said it would boycott the process. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has also declined to participate.
Delaying tactics
Both these parties accuse the government and the President of resorting to delaying tactics. They say the issue has been gone into in great detail at the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) headed by Minister Tissa Vitarana which held deliberations at the height of the Eelam war.
The main opposition party, the United National Party (UNP) is yet to spell out its stance on the PSC. It is still engaged in bitter infighting but nevertheless its position would be interesting because when in power it too attempted to evolve many political formulae to resolve ethnic grievances.
The opposition is justified in asking ‘why now’? As the JVP has pointed out, matters relating to devolution were extensively deliberated by the APRC which held over 200 sittings. In that context, the appointment of a PSC seems superfluous at best, a waste of time and money at worst.
There are however, other factors that come in to play. The APRC held its sittings at the height of the Eelam war and therefore, its hearings were influenced by it. To say that the ground conditions have changed since then is an understatement.
That is not to suggest that any ‘solution’ that emerges from the PSC would be unfair to some ethnic groups. However this is precisely why parties such as the TNA should insist on participating in any process that is proposed by the government. It is only then that its voice will be heard.
What the TNA and the JVP do not seem to have realised is that if the government is hell bent on pursuing its own agenda and has a preconceived notion as to what the so called ‘political solution’ would be, it can still implement it, given the stranglehold it enjoys in the executive and legislature.
Therefore, no purpose would be served in boycotting any process that is called for by the ruling party. In fact, it would serve the government fine - if indeed it has an ulterior motive in appointing a PSC - if they boycott proceedings for it can then always blame the TNA and JVP for non-participation.
Far better
It would be a far better option for both the TNA and the JVP to contribute to any PSC that is appointed and let their views be known. That way, even if the government has its way in the end, these parties can have their say - which would in fact deter the government from acting unilaterally.
The President cleverly argued his case for the appointment of a PSC when he met newspaper editors this week. Any ‘solution’, devised by whatever mechanism, he pointed out, would have to be ratified in Parliament, so why not ask Parliament itself to come up with a ‘solution’, he asked.
The President is of course aware that whatever solution he proposes, he enjoys a two-thirds majority in Parliament and therefore can see it through comfortably. Being an astute politician, he also knows that parliamentary ratification alone does not ensure the success of a ‘solution’.
Recent history tells us that although the Indo-Lanka Accord, also passed with a two-thirds majority by the then powerful J. R. Jayewardene government, failed miserably in its implementation. The President is no doubt wary of such a scenario; hence the proposal of a PSC.
PSC recommendations
The President, in announcing his plans for a PSC has also made some commitments. He has assured that he will abide by the PSC recommendations. He has also said that the PSC should come up with the necessary recommendation within a given time frame, preferably three to six months.
While the opposition will be quick to pooh-pooh such assertions, they cannot be dismissed lightly. That is because of the context in which the PSC will sit: the international community is sharply focussed on what the Sri Lankan government’s response would be to the issue of ethnic grievances.
Hypothetically, if one were to assume that the TNA, the JVP and the UNP all participate in the PSC and if it were to be hypothetically argued that the ruling party was following its own agenda there, it would be extremely difficult for the government to ignore the opposition’s demands in that forum.
That would again re-ignite cries of discrimination against ethnic Tamils and the international community - with vested interests and spurred on by the Tamil Diaspora - will be quick to latch on to it in a flash. This is what the collective opposition should comprehend at this stage.
By making hasty decisions to exit from the PSC - more in the form of a knee-jerk reaction rather than after carefully evaluating the implications - the opposition would only be aiding and abetting the government if it does indeed have any inclination to bulldoze its own proposals through the PSC.
The opposition cannot ignore the fact that India in particular would observe the PSC with interest and will have ways and means of making its intentions clear. The government is certainly aware of this and would take care not to antagonise its giant neighbour.
As such, the coming weeks could be crucial for both the government and the opposition and the country will also await with expectation to see whether after thirty years of bloody war, Sri Lanka is any closer to reaching a cordial compromise on what has so often been called the ‘ethnic issue’.