Thursday, March 5, 2009

In the Vacuum of Visionary & Respected Politicians (In Sri Lankan context)

The island that was once recognized by the world in its history as the “pearl of the Indian Ocean” is today struggling in all aspects to retain even a semblance of its old glory. In order to achieve this what is needed is a strong political will and commitment from county’s political leaders who are willing and able to restructure the political system with true vision based on liberal policies rather than practicing politics of promises as the only measure of political survival.

Sri Lanka being a country that is well located geographically ensuring maximum protection from all natural disasters. It’s also has its fair share of natural recourses and a resourceful population.. The monarchial history of the country witnessed to the prosperity enjoyed by the people of that era as a result of their strong desire, commitment and hard work towards making their dream of a “Self–Sufficient Country” in to a reality. However, like most of other countries in the Asian region, Sri Lanka too had to face many a set back and hardship during the colonial rule that hampered the progress of the country and peoples aspirations.

Gaining Political freedom and aftermath

With the demise of the monarchy after the British captured the county completely in 1815, the people had to engage in various patriotic struggles in order to regain the lost autonomy of the land. This struggle for political and economic freedom was continued for over a century of years. All people who were living in the country during that period had made their maximum sacrifices towards the freedom struggle irrespective of the religion, language or ethnicity they belonged. . As a result of the prolonged struggle of the people, the British rulers ultimately came in to an agreement to grant Sri Lanka (Then Ceylon) the political freedom having reserved for themselves limited control. Accordingly, on 04th of February 1948 Sri Lanka was granted the dominion status by the British. This re-gained political freedom caused to make a fresh breath of enthusiasm in the aspiration of the people towards leading the country towards sovereignty and prosperity.

However, in the aftermath of gaining independence from the British rule, and while processing the re-establishment of country’s democratic political structure, various political crisis had arisen among the leaders of local political parties. The majority of these crisis were based on ethnic, nationalistic and religious elements. Especially in electing political representatives, the Sinhala and Tamil leaders were engaged in a tug- a - war to secure their majority based on ethnic lines. This situation adversely affected on the smooth establishment of democratic principles in the political system of the country. Hence, such confrontations influenced the mind set of the people from the expectations of peaceful existence of pluralistic Sri Lankan society. As a result, the unity and good will maintained by all the communities until gaining political freedom for the country started deteorating day by day in the face of these political disagreements. Further efforts made by the leaders of that era representing both main political parties, the United National Party (UNP) and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) to enter in to a negotiated settlement with the Tamil political leaders in order to resolve these political crisis in a peaceful manner failed due to large scale protests led by the said political parties when ever they represented the opposition in rotation. Ultimately, instead leading the country towards its sovereignty and economic prosperity with a clear political vision, the political arena of the country was opened to play an endless struggle between the Sinhala and Tamil communities.

Political Mishaps and Birth of LTTE

The continuous political negotiations made between the past governments and the political leaders of the Tamil community in order to resolve their issues mainly related to recognition of Tamil language as a state language, and to get their job quota ensured in providing government jobs depending on the percentage of Tamil community, came to an end with no result as none of the parties was ready to make sacrifices due to their extremist ideologies. Therefore, all the opportunities available to work out a peaceful solution to these issues were missed by making a huge crack in the confidence and trust maintained through out centuries between these two communities i.e Sinhalese and Tamils.

This situation became further adverse in 1956 after declaring “Sinhala only” as the state language by the then SLFP government formed under the premiership of late S.W.R.D Bandaranayake. This political mishap created a clear gap between Tamil community and Sinhala people. The end result was, a creation of a battle between these communities as the minority and the majority.

In 1983, the Tamil minority rights issue developed in to an armed struggle for which the leadership was provided by various extremists in the form of liberation movements and ultimately the LTTE (Liberation Tamil Tigers for Elam) became the most powerful and violent armed group that has been involved in an armed struggle for over 25 years to date fighting for a separate Tamil State. More than two hundred thousand people including civilians, political leaders, and armed personnel have scarified their lives so far due to this civil war situation in the country.

Liberal approaches made in 1977

In 1977, the UNP came in to power recording a victory of five Sixth (5/6) majority in the General Election held under the leadership of late J.R. Jayawardane. During the UNP regime lead by J.R. Jayawardene who was instrumental in introducing a new Constitution to Sri Lanka that embodied an Executive Presidential system of governance. Under this new Constitution J.R. Jayawardene became the First Executive President of Sri Lanka. During the presidency of J.R. Jayawardene he made several efforts to introduce more liberal policies in to the political and economic system of the country. Introduction of decentralizing power under the 13th amendment to the Constitution and the open economy can be identified as major liberal principles upon which he kept faith in finding solutions to the issues related to the prolonged Tamil minority struggle and gaining economic prosperity to the country.

Accordingly, administrative system of the country was divided in to nine (09) Provincial Councils and decentralized the powers of the central government providing wider opportunities to the minorities and the people to participate in the administrative system of the country. Further during this regime several rounds of talks were held with the LTTE in order to enter into a negotiated settlement, However LTTE did not accept the decentralizing of power and the Provincial Council system as a solution to their struggle; instead continued their fighting for a separate State. The continuous refusal of LTTE for a negotiated settlement pushed the government too towards military action to control LTTE.

At the end J.R Jayawardene’s regime his successor late Ranasinghe Premadasa was elected as the Second Executive president of Sri Lanka. During his regime President Premadasa too kept a strong belief in resolving the Tamil armed struggle through political discussion. President Premadasa was able to initiate face to face talks with the LTTE hierarchy. However, his efforts to find a peaceful solution to this struggle came to an end after he was assassinated by a LTTE suicide bomber on 01st May 1993.

Peace or War ???

In 1994, after 17 years of UNP regime, SLFP affiliated United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) came to power under the leadership of Chandrika Bandaranayaka Kumaranatunga and she was elected the President at the presidential election held later that year. There was much expectations among the Tamil community as well as among the Sinhala people that this change of government will make a different and effective approach to find a permanent solution to the long drawn civil war. President Kumaranatunga made arrangements to send a delegation to Jaffna to meet LTTE representatives as an initial mission to draw up a proper plan to re commence political negotiations. President Kumaranatunga received the support of the opposition (UNP) as well as of the international community especially of the Norwegian Government , to carry out her peace mission. This situation was very favourable to her to make a genuine attempt to bring peace. However, after few months of negotiations, the situation took a different turn.. Her slogan was subsequently changed to “War for Peace”. This change of positions by the Head of State caused to kindle disbelief among the Tamil community once again, and as a result, the expectations of the entire nation for a peaceful solution were dashed.

Cease fire Agreement

The UNP under the leadership of Ranil Wickramasinghe came to power again in 2002 having won the General Election held under the Presidency of UPFA President Kumaranatunga. This change of power opened a new path to re-commence the negotiations with LTTE for a peaceful solution. The UNP re-commenced the negotiation from where the President Kumaranatunaga failed with the facilitation of Norwegian peace envoys. Ranil Wickramasinghe as the Prime Minister was able to negotiate a Cease Fire Agreement between the Government of Sri Lanka and LTTE in order to cease hostilities on both sides as a token of initiating peace negotiations. However, it should be mentioned that Presedent Kumaranatunga’s party(in Opposition) and other chauvinist and extreme Marxist parties did not extend any support to the Prime Minister Ranil Wikramasinghe in his peace effort. After signing of Cease Fire Agreement, the first talks between the Government of Sri Lanka and LTTE were held in Thailand under the facilitation of the Norwegian Government. Expectations among both Sinhala and Tamil communities on this on going peace process was at a high degree and there were considerable opportunities created to re -build the confidence between these two communities after the opening A9 land route allowing civilian movement between the North and the South.

However, it was that observed on numerous occasions LTTE had breached the Cease Fire Agreement. This situation again caused the change of mentality of the majority singhalese against the LTTE. Seizing the opprtunity, President Kumaranatunga prematurely dissolved the Parliament using her Executive Powers and her Alliance which constituted of various chauvinist/nationalist parties as well as extreme leftists won the subsequent General Election and established the UPFA government of 2004, defeating the UNP. All hopes of a negotiated peace settlement collapsed once again.

War as an ultimate solution

At the end of the term of President Kumaranatunaga, the next Presidential Election was held in 2005 in a political environment where the majority of people have been heavily convinced by chauvinist/nationalist and left-Marxist parties that the LTTE could be militarily defeated if UPFA Presidential candidate Mahinda Rajapaksha is elected as the president. Accordingly, Mahinda Rajapaksha was elected as the President of the country. However, on assuming of duties President Rajapaksha made an open invitation to the LTTE for re-commencing the peace process which was initiated under the former premiership of Ranil Wickramasinghe. Accordingly the first round of talks with LTTE were held in Oslo and there the LTTE refused to continue talks with the Government of Sri Lanka and re commenced their attacks on government forces. This LTTE action opened a path to the government of President Rajapaksha to launch military operations as a last resort to defeat the LTTE terrorism and re- capture the LTTE held Northern and Eastern parts of the country back in to the control the Government of Sri Lanka. By mid 2008 the military were able to re-capture the Eastern Part of the country from the LTTE grip and the government held the Provincial Council elections and managed to get the LTTE defector Chandrakanthan elected as the Chief Minister of the Province.

The Military is presently engaged in an operation to re capture the Kilinochchi district in the Northern part of the country where the main LTTE controlled area is located.

War as a shield to cover up inefficiency, mismanagement & corruptions of the Government

Even though the military operations against the LTTE are being successfully carried out, the government is s not in the position to find a proper political solution to the crisis of the Tamil people in order to re-store permanent and lasting peace in the county. The All Party Conference which was called under the leadership of President Rajapaksha has so far failed to arrive at any concrete solution to the political issues of the Tamil community.

On the other hand, the government is heavily involved in marketing the war as a shield to cover up its inefficiency, mismanagement and corruption. However, in the present scenario the majority of the people too have become immune to economic hardships, corruption among politicians and inefficiency of administration and live in hope till the government wins the war. Inefficiency and mal functions of the government is evident by the number of legal cases pending before the courts of law seeking the guidance of court with regard to the decisions taken by the Government.

Liberal Policies being a path way to a Peaceful solution and Economical prosperity

All what was discussed herein show the sequential failures and mishaps of the political decision making system of the country, and the situation remains unchanged even now. The political parties and their leaders of are engaged in an endless race to build up their party popularity and personal images to gain power instead of making an honest effort to concentrate on the national issues. The need of the country today is a respected and visionary leadership with a well renowned Statesmanship that could introduce a national policy where all the citizens of the country could have a common identity as Sri Lankan which could result in the defeat of the raciest elements of various extremist politicians and steer the country in the path of progress.

Commitments of IDL /LYGs to the Goal

So far there has been no significant effort made by any political party of the country to develop such a national plan based on liberal policies.
IDL was set up in 1997 by a team of intellectuals and professionals who have a liberal background and committed to educate and motivate the civil society to create a voice and make a bottoms up approach to develop such national efforts commencing from the grass root level. In this worthy cause IDL has been able to gain considerable success in the past decade. One of IDL’s main objectives is to encourage youth leadership to enter into the democratic decision making system. This has been achieved by having two members of the LYG, namely Buddhika Pathirana and Manusha Nanayakkara being elected members of the Southern Provincial Council.

IDL introduced two new projects i.e the “Liberal Village” and “Liberal Academy of Political Leadership” in March 2008 to strengthen its future commitments further. All the plans have been finalized to initiate these two projects in November 2008 to open up more opportunities to the civil society and youth Leaders of the country to get effectively involved in practicing liberal values at their respective levels.

LYSA as a Forum of Yong Liberals and Politicians

IDL /LYG being the founder member of LYSA have actively participate in its activities for promoting liberal values in the country even before the formation of LYSA. The celebration of 3rd Anniversary of LYSA together with the South Asian Youth Summit is a great achievement of all its endeavors so far made in networking youth of South Asia under the umbrella of Liberalism. While extending our sincere appreciation to all the present and past members of the LYSA board and respective members countries, we wish all success to LYSA to grow up with all its potential to play a vital role in its future as a well committed forum of South Asian Young Liberals and Politicians.

Written by Mr. Sunil Witharanage
Attorney - at-Law
Director -IDL

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