At the time of writing, it appears that the talks between the UPFA government and the Tamil National Alliance are on the verge of collapse. It has been reported that the TNA wants the government to address some issues if the latter is willing to continue talks.
The government’s argument varies.Some Ministers have said that the issues raised by the TNA are fundamental so that 10 days period is not adequate to take a decision on the issues of such importance.
On the other hand, Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva has informed us that the issues raised by the TNA can be placed before the proposed Parliamentary Select Committee for discussion.
If the government wants more time and can inform the time period it seeks, I am sure the TNA will accept that, provided it does not appear as a dilatory tactic. However, if the issues should be placed before the select committee as the Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva proposes, it is imperative to reach a prior agreement through discussion before the appointment of the proposed PSC.
As TNA MP Sumanthiran correctly said, “the PSC is useless unless it is a mechanism to implement the agreement with regard to the substantive issue of devolution. So we have to engage in a proper discussion to achieve that first” (www. transcurrents.com). What is clear is that the government is not honest and genuine in dealing with the TNA and is trying to drag the discussions without making a genuine effort to reach a consensus.
These are the facts: The TNA handed over a concept paper on Feb. 3. The government requested a detailed comprehensive report, which was subsequently submitted on March 18. A discussion on the paper was scheduled for April 29. But, on that day the government delegation was not ready. According to Sumanthiran, the TNA so far have had seven rounds of discussions without the government’s response to their set of proposals. Although the government delegation once informed the TNA that it would submit a written response to the TNA paper, it appears that the promise has also not been honoured.
What has been revealed shows clearly that the government is not serious about resolving the Tamil national question.
When External Affairs Minister G. L. Peiris visited India some time ago, India and Sri Lanka issued a joint communique in which Sri Lanka promised to implement existing constitutional provisions on devolution and also to extend them to make it attractive to Tamils. However, Sri Lankan government has not done anything on the matter although the authenticity of the communique has never been questioned. So the TNA’s ultimatum is quite understandable and well justified.
The government indicated on Friday that it will not meet the ten-day ultimatum. It was sad the even people like Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara came out against the TNA decision branding it as concession to Tamil radicals. Ministers Tissa Vitharana and D. E. W. Goonasekera are conspicuously silent on the issue. Minister Basil Rajapaksa alleged that the TNA that did “nothing to alleviate the sufferings of the Tamil speaking people during the conflict was hell-bent on destabilizing post-war Sri Lanka”.
I have no idea what is embodied in the comprehensive paper submitted by the TNA for discussion. However, it seems clear that it may include proposal for power-sharing, resettlement of Tamils, support for war affected families and areas and so on and so forth. Sri Lanka is a country that does not respect its own Constitution. It violates the basic law without amending it. The 17th Amendment was not implemented until it was abrogated by the 18th Amendment.
The 13th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in 1987 is an integral part of the supreme law of the country. The Provincial Council system as an element of country’s body politic has been in operation since 1987. Now it is clear that nobody can argue that the system of provincial councils will lead to division of the country. The government and the main Sinhala political parties have shown their apathy and lack of political will in addressing the political dimension of the Tamil issue even after defeating the LTTE.
During the last 28 months, the government has reiterated many a time that it would present a package that even goes beyond the 13th Amendment. It has made promises to India that the government will place it as one of the key issues on its political agenda. Nonetheless, nothing can be seen in practice; moreover what can be seen is further deviation from the promises. Hence in my opinion, the TNA is very justified in issuing an ultimatum to the government even though the government has decided not to give in.
The war came to an end on May 19, 2009. The Local Government elections in the Northern Province were held without serious incidents. The unlawful incidents pre and during the elections were committed not by the Opposition parties but by the government. Hence there is no reason why the election to a Northern Provincial Council cannot be held without further delay. Provincial Councils are functional in all other eight provinces.
There is no doubt that a free and fair election in the Northern Province would elect a TNA-led provincial administration with a substantial majority. If the government is not ready to accept this reality and intends to maintain military-led rule in the province for a long period, one may easily surmise that the government is once again in the process of creating instability in the country. The blame should not go to the TNA for such a situation; it should go to the government in power including spineless left politicians sitting there quietly.
A possible breakdown of TNA-Government talks once again reminds us the importance of a political front based on what I call emancipatory politics. One of the key flaws of the FP-TULF-TNA-LTTE type politics is that they have incessantly separated the issues faced by of one section of the marginalized and oppressed people form the broader issues of emancipatory politics. The past experience has very clearly shown that this path is not adequate if not incorrect.
Yes, there is some evidence that the separation of issues of one marginalized and oppressed section of the population from broad emancipatory politics brought about expected results in some contexts. Nonetheless, in many other instances, such struggles are doomed to failure. Sri Lanka needs a broad front of the marginalized, oppressed and exploited strata of society to move forward to end this marginalization, oppression and exploitation.
My submission is that the TNA should break from its past right wing isolated politics and become a strong member of a broader political front. Equally, all political parties that stand for politics of emancipation should support the TNA ultimatum and include TNA demands and concerns in the programme of the emancipatory Left.