A circus has come to town
From The Morning Leader – 31st January 2007
With the LTTE cleared from Sampur and Vaharai, the UNP depleted and the JVP marginalised, the cabinet swelled to record proportions, the Donor Forum concluded and the Presidential Commission and international experts to meet soon to deal with the matter of human rights abuses and a pan-Sinhala Ministry of Nation Building with five ministers no less, the Rajapakse presidency seems to be riding the crest of a wave. To where and with what purpose, is the question.
The President’s concerns regarding regime consolidation and security in terms of a legislative majority have been taken care of with the substantial UNP cross-over and record-breaking cabinet. We are told that this obviates the need for a general election.
However, the temptation to go for one may well be irresistible once the east is Ã¢Â€Â˜cleared’ beyond doubt and before things turn sour there and elsewhere, as they could, if the LTTE successfully returns to guerilla warfare and launches a terror campaign of assassinations, claymore mines and bus bombs impacting adversely on the economy as well.
The real issue, post cross-overs and the mega cabinet, remains the real issue that existed before it. What impact will this unprecedented display of Ã¢Â€Â˜happy families’ amongst political actors that tantamount to a circus act, have on a resolution of the conflict?
Popular support there is, and no doubt will continue, for the President as long as the armed forces succeed in weakening the LTTE. Yet popular support as the recent Social Indicator poll reveals also recognises the importance of a political settlement.
The clearest policy pronouncements from the government with regard to conflict resolution continue to emanate from the defence establishment and these are silent on the role and importance of a political settlement.
Is it the case that the Rajapakse regime’s strategy for conflict resolution is primarily military in instrumentalities and in terms of substantive content, a substantial preservation of the existing constitutional status quo? This is a government that has not indicated its own thoughts with regard to a political settlement – all we have to go by are the platitudes of the initial Chinthana document and the planks upon which the electoral alliances with the JVP and JHU were built.
The President has distanced himself from the Majority Report of the Expert Committee and the valiant attempt by Prof. Vitharana to reconcile it with its minority counterpart. When will the country know what the substantive policy of this President and his government is with regard to a political settlement of the ethnic conflict?
The concern is that the lack of urgency and prioritisation of this issue that marked the pre-cross-over period will now be institutionalised. The creation of separate and distinct political and administrative institutional arrangements for the east will probably be given priority over the preparation and presentation of government proposals for a political settlement.
The strategic objective in the military campaign has been to puncture the LTTE pretension of sole representation of the Tamil people of the north and east and to debunk the homeland / areas of historic habitation concept once and for all time. This constitutes an additional departure from the Kumaratunga and Wickremesinghe dispensations, which thought in terms of merger first, followed by a referendum on its permanence. The Rajapakse presidency seems set on reversing this – de-merger before a referendum.
The additional concern is that the fact of cross-overs may reinforce the lack of urgency and prioritisation of a political settlement. Arguably, since the expectation of the country at large of the SLFP-UNP MoU was a consensus on a political settlement of the conflict, the possibility of arriving at such a consensus held as long as the MoU held. Now that it has been torn up by the UNP and undermined by the SLFP, this possibility no longer exists.
Moreover, it is unlikely that the crossers-over can exert any influence in this direction if such was their intention – having crossed over, they will be beholden to their new master.
In any event, before they did, there was very little evidence of their sense of urgency or priority on this score. A political settlement aside, there has been and continues to be a human rights and humanitarian crisis. These gentlemen have not had much to say on either.
It is indeed an irony that the only party with a clear position with regard to a political settlement is the depleted UNP with its continued fidelity to the Oslo CommuniquÃƒÂ©. The JVP and JHU arguably do have a position, but this hardly amounts to a position on a political settlement. One hopes that Messrs Jayasuriya, Peiris, Moragoda and Senaratne and Hakeem too, will see it fit and proper to come out with their respective positions on the importance of a political settlement and on its desired contents, at least for the record.
Perhaps the earlier point about their loss of leverage may characterise their membership of this government. None of them have responsibility for conflict transformation and none would be members of the National Security Council. The portfolios they have been given and have accepted, suggest that they are quite content to be removed from policy making with regard to conflict transformation. This though will probably not apply to public defence and advocacy of that policy, whatever it may be.
President Rajapakse has scored in terms of his objective. However this is so, if a cricketing analogy is permitted, within the context of a limited over match. Peace and governance, on the other hand, are the stuff of test cricket. The circus has come to town with trapeze artistes, sad and happy clowns, those that talk in many tongues, jugglers, you name it. When do they begin to perform, for what, how long and how well?