Ensuring success of President’s new vision to peace
By Jehan Perera
The first weeks of the new Rajapakse administration has been more peaceful
than anticipated. Prior to Presidential Election there was much concern about
the LTTE’s immediate intentions. The assassination of Foreign Minister
Lakshman Kadirgamar, the training of civilians for war and statements
highlighting impatience at the prevailing situation caused anxieties of an LTTE
ultimatum. This bleak prognosis has now shown itself to be unduly pessimistic.
The LTTE has so far not moved into confrontational mode (except for the
claymore mine attacks killing seven soldiers). They have adopted a wait and
There are several reasons that can be given to the LTTE’s restraint. The
LTTE has come under heavy international criticism for the assassination of
Foreign Minister Kadirgamar four months ago. The EU travel ban was an
outcome of this assassination. The enforced boycott of the Presidential
election has earned them the opprobrium of the international community.
Free and fair elections are an easy, if not entirely accurate, test of a
democratic society. The LTTE has failed to impress positively on this score.
There is the possibility of more bans on the LTTE as a result.
Another reason for the overt restraint of the LTTE at this time would be the
new President’s repeated assertions that he would give first priority to the
peace process. Through his public statements the President appears
determined to dispel the notion that he is a Sinhalese hardliner. Unlike his
predecessor in office, President Chandrika Kumaratunga and her late Foreign
Minister Kadirgamar, the new President has not shown any interest in getting
into verbal confrontation with the LTTE.
During his election campaign President Rajapakse promised a new approach
to the various problems afflicting the country. Where the peace process is
concerned, it is his clear unwillingness to engage in confrontational politics or
rhetoric that seems to mark the President’s new approach.
This is more than a matter of style. It reflects the President’s belief that
solutions to protracted problems cannot be solved without broad-based
participation of all who are involved in the problem. This is why President
Rajapakse has consistently said that the peace process needs to be more
However, where the peace process is concerned the President’s new
approach also needs to grapple with issues of substance, not only of style. So
far the President’s vision of a solution has seemed to go backwards at least
ten years to the pre-1995 period. As a presidential candidate he tied himself
to the concept of the unitary state, with its ultimate centralization of power, and
to restrict the internationalization of the peace process. But the ground reality
will not permit this vision to become a reality.
If anything what the Presidential election demonstrated was the reality of the
LTTE’s powerful influence over the north east, even in areas in which the Sri
Lankan military is physically present in large numbers. In the LTTE-controlled
parts of the north east there is in addition the visible presence of institutions,
such as an army, police and judiciary that are separate from those in the rest
of the country. The very low turnout of
Tamil voters in the north east at the Presidential Election demonstrates a
reality that makes a fiction out of the legal concept of the unitary state that the
President promised to stay within.
However, other conflict-affected countries, such as Indonesia and Spain, have
demonstrated it is possible to stretch the legal concept of the unitary state to
its outer limits. President Rajapakse has himself been saying after the election
that he is prepared to concede maximum devolution within the unitary state.
The Aceh model of autonomy from Indonesia might be an example for Sri
Lanka as it too attempts to deal with the aftermath of a militant separatist
struggle in which there has been large-scale destruction and loss of life.
Although the LTTE’s power and influence over much of the north east is not in
question, this does not mean that they can afford to be totally intransigent as
if they are calling all the shots. The LTTE lacks both legitimacy and resources
from the international community to assist the people they seek to govern and
whose interests they seek to represent.
Article 18 of the Tokyo Declaration of June 2003 makes it clear that donor aid
will only be given if the peace process moves forward.
This is an important safeguard that can ensure that the LTTE accommodates
power sharing principles with the government and other parties in an interim
There are currently two options open to President Rajapakse if he wishes to
speedily resume the peace process. The easier option would be to involve the
LTTE in providing assistance to the tsunami affected people of the north east.
The P-TOMS joint mechanism would, of course, have been the best way to get
about this task. The joint mechanism was skillfully negotiated by President
Kumaratunga and saw the LTTE making some important compromises with
regard to power sharing with the government, and also with the Muslim and
Sinhalese minorities of the north east. But in his haste to sign a deal with the
Sinhalese nationalist parties, President Rajapakse promised to abrogate the P-
TOMS mechanism, and his statements after winning the presidency seem to
confirm his resolve to proceed with an alternative mechanism.
The more difficult option will be to start to directly address the issue of the
LTTE’s proposed Interim Self Governing Authority.
This was the course of action that Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe
was seemingly envisaging if he won the election. In his election manifesto Mr
Wickremesinghe promised to restart the peace process from the point at
which it got suspended. That last point was the LTTE’s presentation of its
Those who are sympathetic to the LTTE seek to justify the LTTE-instigated
boycott of the Presidential elections that contributed to the defeat of Mr
Wickremesinghe. They would say that the LTTE lost confidence in him and
wished to try out someone new. Those who are skeptical about the LTTE’s
intentions might say that the LTTE preferred Mr Rajapakse because he has
no plans and is more likely to get bogged down in confusion, and bog the rest
of the country along with him.
The LTTE needs to be shown that President Rajapakse is a leader who can
deliver positive results and this must begin soon, before delay erodes
confidence all round.What is apparent about President Rajapakse is that he is
committed to peace and not to war.
He is also committed to consultations with others in general and not to taking
unilateral decisions. Both of these are necessary features of a viable
endeavour to resolve the ethnic conflict.
If there is a genuine desire for peace and justice, the path will open up and
those who are friends will support and those who were once seen as enemies
can become partners. President Rajapakse has made his intention clear. Now
he must show he is acting on them. [Courtesy: DailyMirror]