Elections in the East, reconciliation and politics: In conversation with Javid Yusuf

Javid Yusuf is an Attorney-at-Law and former diplomat. Groundviews last featured him over two years ago, just after the Presidential Election in early 2010.

In this programme, we talked about the recently concluded elections in the North Central, Sabaragamuwa and Eastern Provinces in Sri Lanka and more generally, on politics and reconciliation in post-war Sri Lanka.

We begin by looking at why this election and voting in the Eastern Province in particular was perceived to be so significant. Javid responds by noting the election was, in general, a barometer of the government’s popularity and in the Eastern Province, a barometer of how minority thinking. We talk about the very different narratives from government, the opposition and other independent political analysts after the results of the election, and what could be read into these divergent viewpoints. Javid notes that the government did quite well in getting the votes it did in the North Central Province and Sabaragamuwa, and said that there was an alarming polarisation of the communities in the Eastern Province. Javid doesn’t mince words when it comes to his take on the campaigning of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, noting that people would have at laughed at the party’s stance, and opportunism. Javid also goes on to say that voters don’t have any confidence in the United National Party.

Moving away from the election, we talk about the viability of political parties that are anchored to a specific community or are ethno-centric in orientation and policymaking. Javid notes that he doesn’t see a future for such parties, and that the emergence of communal parties has created a lot of problems (specifically noting the behaviour of the SLMC as a key factor in the deterioration of relations between Muslims and other communities in Sri Lanka). As a counterpoint to Javid’s reservations about ethno-centric parties and those that are created on communal lines, we explore how there could be, amongst voters, a perceived need for political representation of minority interests given the majoritarianism and extremism that is now mainstream in parties and coalitions like the UPFA and even the UNP.

Going back to the results of the election in the Eastern Province, we talk about how the result will pan out in terms of governance in the weeks and months ahead. In this segment we also talk about the communal interdependency in the Eastern Province, and how this will be impacted by what appears to be a growing party political divide. We also talk about the actual role and responsibilities of the Chief Minister (looking at the Eastern Province) and whether this post really matters. Javid’s response is unequivocal, which he goes on to explain in some detail.

We end our conversation by looking at the need and opportunities for civic education especially in this part of Sri Lanka – for example, basic voter education. Javid comes up with a rather novel idea for the vetting of candidates vying for political office, and reiterates that for systemic reform of Sri Lanka’s eroded political culture, PR representation and the Executive Presidency need to be done away with.

  • Anu

    It is a good interview. Javid said a few things that arevery important and I am certain many would agree without reservations. Executive Presidential system must go, PR system must change, communal politics must be discouraged are all opinions that are highly aceptable. Yet my gripe is that he recommends that candidates should get certificates from relegious heads of an area to vouch for their suitability as candidates looks bizarre. We have seen at present dreadful men in green yellow orange and purple religious garbs involved in lawless activities.Certificates from such men may not seem appropriate.

  • walter

    Sectarian and Communal Politics is deeply entrenched in the Sri Lankan Society. This is perpetually nurtured by the unscrupulous Politicians. Therefore the Political culture of this Country will certainly not see a change in the near future.
    Parliament which comprises of these elements would never agree to revert to some of the old laws which tied them down to loyalty and principles.
    Firstly, elected members of parliament from any one party should not be permitted to switch parties. Any disciplinary action taken by any party on any of its members should be left in the hands of the law of the land.
    Leaving the law to be interpreted by some Judges to suit the Politics must be totally eliminated.
    When a Member of Parliament resigns or is sacked from the party, he should not have the right to continue to represent his electorate.
    A by election must be held and he may contest again to prove that his constituents voted for him and not for the party he contested.
    There are so many ‘seconds and thirds’, it would be too premature to debate those criteria just now.

    BUT IT CAN BE SAFELY CONCLUDED THAT THE MAJORITY OF THE VOTERS WILL NEVER PAUSE TO GIVE THESE THOUGHTS EVEN A CONSIDERATION.
    MOSTLY AND MAINLY BECAUSE THE MAJORITY OF THE ELECTED POLITICIANS OF TODAY WILL STAND TO LOOSE PERSONALLY, THEIR UNDESERVED PORTFOLIOS, AND THE PERKS THAT GO WITH IT. THEY WILL NOT PROMOTE THESE IDEALS.
    THEIR MOTTO BEING
    LET THE COUNTRY, IT’S ECONOMY, SOCIAL FABRIC BE DAMNED, SO BE IT.

  • Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah

    Here’s a short but comprehensive article on Self-determination for Tamils! A must read: It is relevant to “Elections in the East, reconciliation and politics: In conversation with Javid Yusuf”
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    “Why Tamils of Tamil Eelam Deserve Self-determination”

    http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2012/09/why-tamils-of-tamil-eelam-deserve-self.html#.UGQ6rb8yZt8.blogger

    In it please read my opinion on the position of Tamils under the heading – Devolution, 13th Amendment and Eastern PC Elections:

    Up to this day no political solution recognizing the right of Tamils of Eelam to Self-determination has been forth coming, most Sinhala politicians hating the word because it involves at the least a federal arrangement for the Tamils with maximum devolution as an option to separation.

    The 13th amendment does not come close to meeting the criteria for Self-determination. Without police and land powers and functioning under the control of a powerful despotic executive presidency, the system of provincial councils which India is trying to ram down the throats of the Tamils of Eelam, as a devolution package, it must understand, will never satisfy the Tamil penchant for Self-determination.

    The Eastern Provincial Council Elections have shown how easily politicians can kowtow for positions and how political patronage dictates outcomes: The manner in which Rajapakse can twist Rauff Hakkeem round his finger to form an alliance with the Muslim Congress to run the Eastern Provincial Council so that Hakkeem could hold on to his ministerial post, is a case in point.

    The Eastern PC Elections have also shown that the Tamils of Eelam will be in eternal opposition, beholden to Sinhala masters and left to pick up the scraps that they throw at us. To think that if the Eastern PC Elections was ‘free and fair’, the TNA “would have come first,” is an eye-opener. The TNA leader Mr. Sampanthan’s statement after meeting the President reveals the hopeless position the Tamils are in and is indicative of what future elections would be like if safeguards are not put in place. If brief power cuts can decide the fate of the elections, and become a factor between victory and defeat, it begs the question as to why international observers and media were not present at all. When the Rajapaksa regime uses all its resources to corrupt the democratic process, harassing and threatening the TNA candidates to “cross over to the government,” promising material incentives there is very little Tamils could expect by way of recourse.