Colombo, Constitutional Reform, Peace and Conflict

Put back missing chairs and stop the APC musical chairs game!

For all intents and purposes, the All Party Conference (APC), has been a waste of time by playing for time, all the time. Periodic boycotts and exits of parties based on their factional agendas have indirectly helped the procrastination, supported by the lack of political will and courage on the part of those in authority.

Now at last there appears to be a ray of hope arising from the emerging political climate based on the state of the war and the performance of the respective political parties at the recent provincial council elections, not to mention international pressure.

It was reported in the papers recently that the APC had made up its mind to implement the Thirteenth Amendment and was writing to the UNP to ascertain their views on the proposed move. Evidently that would be an added incentive to further delay, through correspondence!

In that context, there is much common sense in the reaction of the JHU to the move, despite their own past predilection to abstain. They said if there was a concrete proposal, summon the APC itself to consider it, without beating about the bush.

There appears to be no reason why the UNP should boycott the APC in the developing context. Their fundamental reason for avoiding the APC was the argument that the Government should table their own proposal before their party participates in the work of the Committee.

Now that the Government has put its own card on the table, the UNP is obliged to attend the APC and participate positively with its deliberations with a view to solving our most vexed national problem, the Ethnic Conflict – a commitment they have unequivocally proclaimed. Besides such a response would be genuine proof of their expressed urge to forge a national consensus.

If the TNA also can make up its mind to attend the APC, the Committee would assume a legitimacy it has never possessed so far but in the realities of the ground situation, it would appear to be unkind to blame them for their absence. Nevertheless their attendance in addition to the UNP would grant the APC a meaning and a clout that would automatically silence the divisive forces that have thrived in the absence of consensus among the major parties.

The essential ingredient is only the attendance of these principal protagonists. Even the UNP may not be satisfied only with the Thirteenth Amendment. There could be no inconsistency in their agreeing to their own creature, may be, subject to a rider for further improvements. On the other hand the TNA can totally disagree and put forward their own proposals. What is important is that they participate. The TNA cannot be unaware that the Thirteenth Amendment is the furthest that their demands have got so far. Why not consolidate at least that position and build on it as the situation clears up?

What is significant is that a consensus reached by a body representative of the vast majority of the people has an inherent legitimacy and a force that could break up the deadlock that has lasted for six decades, even if it is subject to a thousand riders. Political sagacity should convince the TNA that working with the moderate majority, if only to disagree with them, is their best guarantee against road-blocks placed by rabble-rousers, provided of course, they are permitted to do so by their own road-blocks.

If the majority in Parliament agree to the immediate and complete implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment, they would be laying the foundation on which the Edifice of National Harmony could be built. However unattractive that foundation stone may appear, it is the only choice available at present for a start. Only the consensus reached at the APC should include an oath of honour that even the dissentients would not exploit the majority agreement to their own political advantage but give it a fair chance of trial.

It is counter-productive to quarrel about the ultimate shape of the Edifice of National Harmony at this stage. Present constraints may not enable us to visualize its final form; nor do we have at present the men, the material and the environment that the mansion would call for completion. Undoubtedly, they would be produced by the progressively relaxing atmosphere that the developing national consensus should naturally generate.

Our immediate duty should be to lay the foundation stone as fast as possible and introduce proactive policies that would facilitate nation building.