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Devolution In Sri Lanka: The Latest Take – Analysis

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By N Manoharan

In a recent interview, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa outlined his thoughts on ethnic reconciliation and devolution succinctly: “We are keen on a sustainable political settlement. But it must have wide acceptance, especially in the context of the post-conflict situation.” The key words are “the context of the post-conflict situation.” What does the President mean by this?

There are a few aspects to it. Demographically, the Sri Lankan Tamil community is perhaps on the verge of losing the status of being the largest minority group of the island. In the last island-wide census taken in 1981, it registered at over 12 per cent of the total population. This was when the armed conflict had not broken out. But the latest headcount reveals the community to be around 7-8 per cent due to exodus, emigration, deaths, and even concealment of identity. Yet another demographic reality is, according to the Government of Sri Lanka, more than 50 per cent of Sri Lankan Tamils are to be found outside their ‘homeland’, the northeast of the island.

Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka

Politically, due to dwindled numbers and concentration, the community is in the process of losing electoral strength. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which is considered to stand for Tamils’ rights, could get only 14 seats in 2010 parliamentary elections as against 22 in 2004. As a result of less numbers in parliament, the TNA is not in a hard bargaining position with the government, which enjoys two-thirds majority. Moreover, disunity among Tamil parties representing the community has made matters worse. The Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) that is traditionally seen as pro-government has its stronghold in Jaffna; the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP), another pro-government Tamil party, is entrenched in the East; the TNA was dubbed as a proxy of the now demised LTTE. All these parties do not see eye-to-eye on any issue and fail to share a common vision for the Tamil community.

Militarily, as long as the LTTE was around, political settlement of the ethnic issue was on the cards. But, after the Tigers’ defeat, the Tamil community has become totally irrelevant to Colombo. This does not mean that one is advocating for a revival of Tamil militancy. The point is that the demise of the LTTE is a step in the right direction to resolve the long-standing grievances of Tamils. It should be taken as a golden opportunity to establish peace and development in the island, instead of indirectly suggesting that ‘we would only listen to those who pickup arms’. The Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora is indeed vociferous, but has not been able to do much on the ground towards pressurizing Colombo to heed to their demands. Its voice is expected to become feeble in the coming months and years.

Economically, the Tamil-dominated northeast is the most underdeveloped region in Sri Lanka and a significant chunk of the Sri Lankan Tamil community is the poorest; sustaining itself on doles and diaspora remittances. It will take a while for the mine-infested region to get in to development mode.

Diplomatically, though the international community remains the only hope for the Tamil community, the potential is yet to be realised fully. The problem is of vertical division among the global players on the accountability issue. While the West, including the United Nations, insists that Sri Lanka should address allegations of human rights violations during Eelam War IV, countries like China, India, Pakistan and Russia wish to look at the issue in a comprehensive manner. So far, Colombo has been successful in resisting any international stricture with the help of these countries.

On its part, the government of Sri Lanka headed by Mahinda Rajapaksa is still in triumphalist mode. It is politically strong than ever before commanding overwhelming majority in parliament. The Opposition, at the same time, is weak and splintered. Since the Sinhalese hardliners are on the high, the government may not be in a position to concede much on the ethnic issue.

All these constitute what President Rajapakse calls the ‘post-conflict situation’. It implies that Colombo would deal with the ethnic issue from the position of strength. Federalism has been ruled out once and for all. Other options like devolution based on ‘2000 proposals’, a majority report of the All Party Representative Community (APRC) or even based on some features of the recently submitted Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) are not under consideration. At best, the government may settle for the 13th Amendment ‘Minus’ (weak Provincial Councils with a strong centre). Even for this, the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) route has of late been adopted in the name of ‘consensus’. It is back to square one, again.

N Manoharan
Senior Fellow, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS)
email: [email protected]

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IPCS

IPCS (Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies) conducts independent research on conventional and non-conventional security issues in the region and shares its findings with policy makers and the public. It provides a forum for discussion with the strategic community on strategic issues and strives to explore alternatives. Moreover, it works towards building capacity among young scholars for greater refinement of their analyses of South Asian security.

10 thoughts on “Devolution In Sri Lanka: The Latest Take – Analysis

  • February 28, 2012 at 1:11 am
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    Geopolitical rivalry has played a major roie for the past many decades, and by extension in the past three years.

    Now, it appears that the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka have become sacrificial lambs not only for geopoliticvs but the world powers.

    Sri Lanka certainly set precedent for the Syrian Dilemma as the UN and international community watch Assad killing his ‘armed thugs’.

    The reason behind the airlifting aid in 1987 is not validated when 40,000 people were killed in the last two days of the conflict.

    Mr. Venkat Narayanan in his piece
    ‘Will India vote for Sri Lanka in Geneva?’ wrote; “Said one source involved in the Indian decision-making process: “We have been telling the Sri Lankan leaders so very gently and ever so politely that they should use the great opportunity provided by the end of the ethnic war to give the Tamils their political due and involve them in nation-building. After all, every fourth Sri Lankan is a Tamil-speaking Hindu, Muslim or Christian. How long can you deny their political rights and expect them to keep quiet?””Gentle persuasion has not been working. It is now time to get tough and let the Sri Lankan leadership know we mean business. We have not told them what we will do in Geneva. If they continue to ignore our sincere advice for their own good, why should we bail them out of trouble every time?”

    Marie Colvin on Vijay Nambiar

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/sinhala/news/story/2012/02/120223_bandara_marie_colvin.shtml

    Marie Colvin said in the intervie that she has then called the UN Secretary General’s Chief of Staff Vijay Nambiar who she said had been assured by the Sri Lankan president that Mr Nadesan would be safe in surrendering to the Sri Lankan Army.
    “They would take him under international law,” she quoted Mr. Nambiar.

    Reply
  • February 28, 2012 at 9:12 am
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    With even 12% of the population being Tamils
    (now latest count says only 4.8%)there is no reason to grant anymore concessions to Tamil people who faught 4 wars.

    These were supported by the so called Int. community mostly India. Will any European country or for that matter USA will grantANY concessions, after waging wars against democratically elected Sovereign State?

    I feel strongly even the equal status in language or anyother rights should be further curtailed & request Tamils assimilate with the majority.Learn Sinhalese as they already live in Colombo & Southern Province.

    Most of the Tamils NOW live in Colombo which was the Sinhalese City & now (Tamils) gradually are moving to Southern province.

    Yet Sinhalse majority are barred from lving in best areas in the country, because of Tmails have formed such organizarions to preclude from any Sinhalese owning property in our own areas.

    No country should allow such atrocities to be go unpunished.

    Just expressing my views on our Motherland..Thanks you.

    Reply
    • March 2, 2012 at 1:47 pm
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      Does that include the race riots orchestrated by the sinhla government since independence, including black july 1983.

      There has been no appology or compensation or even recognition of wrong doing.

      Sri lanka was created as a British colony combining Jaffna kingdom in the sinhala kingdoms in the south. If you think that it land should be distributed according to populations then shouldn’t Ceylon be part of British india and therefore be part of India as the amount of Indians in the Indian tectonic plate far surpasses the land allocated to them.

      Tamils have a history in the Island which Sinhala monks and racist have tried to exterminate.

      If you have a problem with tamils moving to the south then why do you vote for governments that force Tamils out of the North East. It is the Government of Sri lanka that is driving tamils south due to the high military encroachment into civilian life.

      Regarding concessions to people that fought against a sovereign country; The southern states of America has not suffered after the american civil war. Quebec in canada has been recognised. Timor Leste gained independence from Indonesia. Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia. Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan. Libyan rebels the NTC became rulers. Te JVP in SRI LANKA used to be part of the coalition even though they launched 2 wars against Sri Lanka.

      Why do you not recognise the history of Tamils rather than promote genocide. The west that you hate created your “motherland” not your own people.

      You forget that majority of sinhalese originated from tamils (genetics) and it is the North east that retain there tamil culture due to the geographic divide in the Island for centuries.

      If you believe as the population is now less gives you a right to dismiss Tamil rights then Genocide is a valid method to control ethnic minority. This is clearly a case for genocide. Government policy since independence caused the destruction of the Tamil community thus Genocide!!! policies which includes; burning tamils alive in the street, bombing hospitals, orphanages, civilian populations, extra judicial killings, raping tamil women, destroying civilian controlled infrastructure.
      Destruction of Churches, hindu temples. Driving people from their land.

      Since independence Sri lanka has made no attempt to make a multi-ethnic country.
      Your view is just promoting the concept that the LTTE was right to take up arms as peaceful negotiating with the sinhalese community is impossible as your only method is violence.Can you explain why in the 1950’s chelvanygam was ignored as he proceeded taking up arms.

      Reply
  • February 28, 2012 at 12:32 pm
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    This is exactly what the Sinhalese’ argument is.
    Sri Lankan Tamils as opposed to Indian Tamils are approximately 8% of the population. Out of that more than 50% live among the Sinhalese in the south. So A population of 4% demanding a homeland consisting of 35% of land mass of the country is nothing but sheer madness. On the other hand Tamil speaking Muslims and Indian Tamils are not asking for any devolution of power because they are scattered around the country among the Sinhalese.

    Reply
  • February 28, 2012 at 3:11 pm
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    The message from the people is clear in Sri Lanka. We do not want race or religion based politics. Should some Tamils require a Homeland they should look towards Tamil Nadu. People like Kumar David used the benefits of the country and are trying to destroy it now. Democracy when it is convenient. The US is trying to keep China at bay. For Marie Colvin it was a job and an adrenlin rush to be in conflict. She paid the price. Are there any who are shedding tears for her? For that matter the US soldiers who die in all these conflicts are forgotten soon after their bodies have been laid to rest, their dependants kicked out of their housing soon after. The dead Afghan soldiers are urinated upon and forgotten.
    Please let Sri Lanka deal with her own problems democratically. We do not want you to make a dollar by writing all these research papers on it, another scam. Apply your standards without biases to all nations including the US. I do not see anybody shedding tears or even raising an eye brow on the NATO killings in Afghanistan or Iraq. Suggest that you go take a cold shower!

    Reply
  • February 28, 2012 at 10:05 pm
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    Sinhala chauvinist government has lost its character of state – it is sliding in the pit of failed state. If we have had justice, we would have sorted the constitutional crisis without shedding a drop of blood. It is absurd when the best people and unselfish lambs getting sacrificed in the war but the morally corrupt and politically inept continue to enjoy the spoils of war and spoils of peace. Mr. Manoharan is it possible to get an independent court of justice in Asia?

    Reply
  • February 29, 2012 at 1:54 am
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    The author, Manoharan, an ethnic tamil is trying here to pretend that he knows a lot about Sri Lanka, possibly for his own benefit to “show off” to others at his “self appointed” big named place “Centre for land warfare studies”. Wow! What a name! I wonder how many papers have they published about land warfare occurred in Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and former Czechoslovakia etc etc, that have been used by universities or professional armies around the world. The answer is “zero”. This fake “centre” is only for propaganda purposes of greedy and racist tamils. However nobody cares two hoots about this “centre for land warfare” since it takes two minutes for anybody with few dollars to start an NGO on earth with such a name. People cannot fool others all the time.
    Now to the facts. This author got his facts fundamentally wrong and illustrates his poor academic talents straight away. Not the northern or eastern regions, Sri lanka’s poorest district is “Ratnapura district” where over whelming majority are Sinhalese people. It is also pathetic to see the author trying to compare an area battered for 30 long years with non-war battered areas in the country. May be Manoharan thinks this war was a toy war.
    Secondly he is saying “a significant chunk” of tamils are the poorest in the country. A cleverly organised sentence to fool the international community since he knows that there is a “significant chunk” of fools are there in the international community who are gullible enough to swallow his lies. Back to the point. In any community you can pick a “significant chunk” of people who are very poor and it doesn’t mean that they were oppressed or discriminated. They simply are poor because of the competition and is very common in the northern region in Sri lanka where high caste Vellala type people want to keep many others of low caste in very poor conditions to use them as virtual slaves. You cannot point your finger at the government for that, Mr.Manoharan, you are squarely responsible for discriminating against your own people. Go to Jaffna and look for yourself. By the way, the real truth is that a “significant chunk” of tamils in Sri lanka are the richest in the country too. They control most of the high ranking businesses and are the leaders in holding wealth. I wonder whether Manoharan can prove otherwise.
    Thirdly, he is clearly supporting TNA, the proxy for blood thirsty terrorists, proving his opinions are not moderate or balanced. He is not happy about some tamil political parties working together with the government. Aren’t they delivering to tamils too. Aren’t they already giving political strength and voice to tamils? Why are you not happy about those tamil political parties? What is your whole point Manoharan, when you admit yourself that there are tamil political parties in existence and their “power house” is Jaffna and are already actively working in Sri lankan political arena, but you don’t like them until TNA the terrorist supporters get many more seats in the parliament? Are you on the side of tamils (really?) or terrorists? Be honest!
    He is talking about Tamil aspirations rather than Sri lankan aspirations. This shows that he is for division rather than for unity. Can he talk about “tamil aspirations” in India or in US? Can black americans talk about “black aspirations” or black political racism by creating “black only” political parties demanding a “homeland for blacks”. Yet “an overwhelmingly significant chunk” of black Americans are still the poorest of the poor in US. Prove otherwise if you can, Manoharan.
    He is admitting “… the government of Sri Lanka headed by Mahinda Rajapaksa is still in triumphalist mode. It is politically strong than ever before commanding overwhelming majority in parliament.” OK, Tell me , is that a problem? Or are you simply jealous? What does that mean? It means the overwhelming majority of Sri Lankans approve what the government is doing. Isn’t that what you want in a country? If not, ask Obama, whether he would not like to enjoy the large majority support in US and be in “triumphalist” mode like Rajapaksha does in Sri lanka. Sheer jealously is also a sickness in your head. If you are honest, you should be proud of having a strong and stable government in Sri lanka. Explain if I am wrong.
    Lastly as did many others before, this author also failed miserably to explain what the “ethnic” problem Sri lanka. Ethnic problem cannot be like taking a tamil guy into custody and torturing him in questioning, because that torturing happens to Sinhalese or Muslim guys too, not only in Sri lanka, it happens in US, in Guantanmo bay, in China, Russia, UK and Japan. It is not an ethnic problem, it is a “governance” problem, (if it is a problem). I am sure Obama will say “it is not a problem” at all since his government is doing it anyway.
    Racism is an illness in your mind. It needs medical assistance my friend. You better give up the “centre for land warfare” and look for some treatment for your “racism” inside the head. After that find ways to get rid of caste discrimination by tamils on other tamils and find ways to get their living standards by providing them with better education etc not riffles for “land warfare”. You are wasting your time for “show off”. A “centre for tamil education” would be a better one for you to start with.

    Reply
    • February 29, 2012 at 3:27 am
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      Excellent reply to the article. I fully endorse what you are saying. All issues are created by power hungry Tamil politicians. We should be identified as Sri Lankans rather than Tamils Sinhalese and Muslims! Way to go brother!

      Reply
  • February 29, 2012 at 12:17 pm
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    it is a duty of president to end this matter while providing reasonable political solution to north and east part of the country.people loss their foundation and dignity due to war but majority people have to standby with them to get back what they loss and what they needs.if they can not have basic rights according to the existing Constitution and needs to have further negotiations to get for what?it is just buying the time and keeping Tamil community to suffer and proof to the world the unethical and immoral political leadership as it was over 50 years.if this is not happen under the current president what hopes do they have any more.

    Reply
  • March 1, 2012 at 7:26 pm
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    It is now well known that Sri Lankan government committed atrocities and worse and is trying its best at the ongoing UNHCR session in Geneva to avoid an independent and impartial investigation into the end of war in 2009 which killed tens of thousands of innocent civilians and rendered some 300,000 refugess in concentration camps in the Wanni. Reconciliation can return only when it is preceded by justice. Sri Lankan governments have got away with killing its own citizens deu to failed governments resorting to the infamous PTA lifted out of former Apartheid South Africa to kill and maim its people for decades. This is one of the many reasons why more than a million Tamils had fled to other countries and even to Colombo from the north and east due to confiscation of their residential and agricultural lands to establish HSZs as well as to establish ethnic Sinhala military garrisons. Even the fisherfolk were denied their right to fishing in the seas and lagoons in their vicinity. All these are acts of genocide by denying local livelihoods.

    The so-called Reconciliation process being touted now is a big con and a shameless fraud. It is a continuation of a silent war being waged under the PTA against ethnic minorities in the north and east with the avowed intention of carrying out state sponsored Sinhala Buddhist Only settlements at arpid pace which is again part of the cultural genocide of governments since 1952. Lift the PTA and the local people can have recourse to their inalienable legal rights through the courts but even here the system has been tainted into a dictatorial system at the will and pleasure of the President and his cronies.

    Sri Lanka has witnessed upheavals in the past with much bloodshed, all for want of good government and fair governance with justice and security for all citizens. What obtains now is a recipe for further disasters with the help of paramilitaries with their own agendas of self- aggrandizement. The international community should step in at least to uphold the Rule of International Law for crimes against humanity by first esstablishing an investigation to verify the the real facts and the truth because the LLRC had failed in this onerous national task.

    Reply

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