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News Features  


 

A time-frame is answer to `time buying’ charge
PSC process – Chance too precious to miss

It behoves at this juncture every political party having a sincere interest in seeing a durable solution to the national problem taking shape to participate in the PSC process to contribute their share towards the accomplishment of this national task, because it is their bounden duty not to pass on this problem to a government yet to come

By A Special
Correspondent

The Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact signed on July 26, 1957 could be described as the first serious attempt made at solving the ethnic problem

President Mahinda Rajapaksa had told the Newspaper Editors and the heads of Media Institutions at his monthly breakfast meeting with them last week that a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) would be appointed to work out a solution to the North-East problem adding that he was prepared to implement whatever solution to be presented by it.
The President had made this announcement notwithstanding the ongoing talks on this problem based on the 13th Amendment between the government and the TNA.
The TNA delegation had at the talks held June 23 called for the government proposals. However, it is learnt that the TNA had not received any government proposals when they met the government delegation at the subsequent round of talks held on June 29.
Govt. -TNA talks
Whatever be the solution to be arrived at by the government and the TNA at these bilateral talks, at the end of the day, it will require the sanction of Parliament for its implementation. Besides, it is quite possible that the other political parties may take up cudgels for failing to consult them on the agreement reached. There could be other obstacles too in the way of implementing the solution.
Abortive attempts at a solution
We know that every successive government that took office since 1956 took measures aimed at finding a durable solution to the ethnic problem. The Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact signed on July 26, 1957 could be described as the first serious attempt made at solving this problem. The Prime Minister at the time the late S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike signed this agreement with Federal party leader the late S.J.V.Chelvanayakam following ethnic disturbances and political turmoil triggered by the passage of the Sinhala Only Official Language Act. This Agreement provided for establishment of Regional Councils which were to be vested with a certain level of autonomy. The Regional Councils Act which was to be passed in Parliament in terms of the B-C Pact was to provide for the establishment of one regional Council for the North and two or more Councils for the East with provisions for their amalgamation even beyond provincial limit.
The main opposition the UNP was soon up in arms against the B-C Pact. Meanwhile several political parties and political groups which were at the forefront at the election campaign which brought a landslide victory for the MEP led by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike along with a group of bhikkhus staged a Satyagraha opposite the Rosemead Place residence of the Prime Minister to urge the government to abrogate the B-C Pact. UNP leader J.R. Jayewardene staged a march to Kandy to protest against the Pact. The late Bandaranaike in the face of mounting opposition to the Pact tore it up in public.
The UNP which won the general election held in March 1965, formed a coalition government with Dudley Senanayake as the Prime Minister. Senanayake who too wanted to settle the North-East problem held several rounds of talks with the Federal party leaders which culminated in signing an agreement with the Federal Party on March 24, 1965 which later came to be known as the Dudley- Chelvanayakam Pact.
Dudley-Chelva Pact
Dudley-Chelvanayakam Pact provided for enacting necessary legislation to set up District Councils as a means of devolving power to the Tamils in the North and East. This time round it was the turn for the SLFP, the main opposition at the time to oppose the Pact and they did oppose with much vehemence with the two Marxist parties LSSP and the CP in tandem. This Pact too later suffered the same fate befell the B-C Pact.
The UNP that returned to power at the 1977 general election held a several rounds of talks with the leaders of the TULF led by A.Amirthalingam and this attempt too failed.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga who was elected President in 1994 following extensive talks with all political parties presented in Parliament in 2000 a new Constitution providing wider powers to Provincial Councils by way of a solution to the national problem.
UNP withdraws
The UNP which participated in talks held on Constitutional Reforms at the initial stage later withdrew their presence from the deliberations. When the 2000 Constitution was unveiled in Parliament on August 8, 2000, the UNP MPs who vehemently opposed it set fire to its copies inside the chamber.
However, when the UNP took power in 2001, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe held a series of talks with the LTTE at venues abroad and he later signed a Ceasefire Agreement with the LTTE through the mediation of the Norwegian government.
Mahinda makes a try
President Mahinda Rajapaksa who was elected for the first term in 2005 evinced a keen interest in solving the festering problem. In 2006, he convened an All Party Representative Conference (APRC) to develop Constitutional proposals to be adopted by consensus to form the basis for a durable solution to the ethnic problem. Addressing the second meeting of the APRC President Rajapaksa emphasised that the process of negotiations aimed at seeking a solution to the problem should not be confined to the two parties to the conflict. (The war on LTTE was in progress at that time).
He also said: “I do not believe that the government in power should have the sole right to be the representative of all democratic parties, groupings and forces. I do not believe either that the government in power should have the sole power to be the representative of all parties and people’s movements which you yourselves represent. I accept the fact that you represent the aspirations of the parties and the organisations you represent and therefore, I believe that in our pursuit of a broad solution those aspirations too should find representation. We are not prepared to describe one main party to the peace process as ` a stake holder’ and others as `Spoilers’.”
Mahinda is sincere
So, it is obvious that President Rajapaksa intended seeking a solution acceptable to all parties. However, the hope of finding a solution through the APRC did not materialise due to TNA, UNP and the JVP withdrawing from the deliberations of the APRC.
The subsequent effort to set up a Provincial Council for the North through the implementation of the 13th Amendment had to be put on hold due to some sections within the government itself objecting to devolving Police and Land powers to the PCs.
President Rajapaksa’s latest attempt at finding a solution to the elusive problem through the process of a Parliamentary Select Committee is commendable.
Miss not this chance
The report of the APRC chaired by Prof. Tissa Vitarana could not be implemented as it did not represent the views and proposals of all parties. The proposed Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) has now provided an opportunity for all political parties represented in Parliament to present their proposals.
It behoves at this juncture every political party having a sincere interest in seeing a durable solution to the national problem taking shape to participate in the PSC process to contribute their share towards the accomplishment of this national task, because it is their bounden duty not to pass on this problem to a government yet to come. The main obstacle to resolving the national problem in the past was the obstructionist tactics adopted by both the SLFP and the UNP to gain narrow political gains at the expense of the party in power.
A time-frame, the answer
Some describe the proposed PSC process as a `time buying’ exercise. However, what is more practical is for the APRC to decide on a time-frame for wrapping up the final set of proposals to be presented to the government for implementation.
In this context, the statement made by President Rajapaksa that he is prepared to implement whatever solution recommended by the PSC assumes great significance. Government will have no problem in implementing proposals agreed to by all parties in Parliament. Besides, the question of adopting the constitutional reforms based on the PSC proposals by a two thirds majority will not arise.