The JVP Solution to the SL Problem ?
At a time when the differences between the SLFP and the UNP, the two major players in the last half Century of Sri Lankan politics, is vanishing the Jathika Vimukti Peramuna (JVP) is positioning itself as the alternative to this old guard. Its current leader is Somawansa Amarasinghe described as the last of the old JVP leaders who led the insurrections of the 1970s and 1980s. Most of his old-time superiors have been killed by GOSL, a fate he avoided by fleeing to the UK. His party now seems to be in a position to inherit what is left of the mess of SL politics should the last defender of the old guard, Mahinda Rajapakse, disappear into the oblivion of history.
The peculiar thing about the JVP is that nobody is sure what its real politics are. Perhaps not even Somawansa knows. In the Asian Tribune interview given below Somawansa defines what he wants the public perception of the JVP to be at the present moment. We may even term this as the 'JVP Solution' to the current crisis in Sri Lanka and contrast it with other proposed solutions like the ACSLU Solution to this problem and also the non-Solution of the present Mahinda Rajapakse GOSL which is struggling with what of the APC solutions to endorse. While there are many positive aspects in this JVP solution the crucial question will remain what credibility can be attached to the promises of the JVP. A comment on this will be made at the conclusion of this blog, after considering the principal issues raised in the interview.
The JVP – SLFP Alliance
At the start of the interview some light is cast on how the Mahinda Chintanaya came to be formed. It is well-known that the 2005 Presidential election was contested by the SLFP with some kind of understanding with the JVP. The Chintanaya was the election platform of MahindaR but there is no mention by Somawansa of the JVP attitude to key elements of the 2005 Chintanaya. It will be recalled that the pledge to the unitary state was compromised by an undefined "maximum devolution", and there was a firm rejection of the military solution in favour of negotiation with the promise to "walk the extra mile" to meet the LTTE terrorist. We did not see the JVP making an issue of these at the time of the 2005 election.
After the election the JVP stood separate from the SLFP but more recently efforts were made to include the JVP in a more formal relationship with the MahindaR regime. Somawansa claims that when MahindaR made this request the JVP enquired what the political program of the MahindR regime was and found that it had no political program! Instead the JVP was asked to write a program which they did consisting of 20 clauses but while the MahindaR regime expressed agreement with it they were not prepared to sign a Memorandum of Understanding. Subsequently the negotiations fell apart when MahindaR veered towards the UNP and ended up with the Jumbo cabinet. Subsequently the JVP was also included and Ministerships offered (with perks like duty free cars) to the JVP. There is no mention of all this in the interview.
On Devolution and Separatism
Here the JVP takes a stand against ethnic separation. Somawansa said: "Every citizen in this country must have the right to use his or her language in any part of the country. He or she should have the right to settle down in any part of the country. He or she must be able to work in any part of the country." This is certainly in the right spirit. However there is no explicit of rejection of Federalism nor a commitment to the principle of the Unitary State. There is considerable ambiguity in Somawansa's statement. Even under federalism it is possible for people of different ethnic groups to move settle down and work in different units of the federation. This is what happens in Federations like the USA or Australia. So Somawansa's quoted statement is compatible with Federalism, and there is no explicit rejection of this.
On the language question there seems to be firm commitment to parity of status between English, Sinhalese and Tamil. Somwansa is not correct in saying that the JVP was the first party to take this stand. At the time of the controversy on the language question in the 1950s the left parties like LSSP had advocated the 'parity of status' principle. So the JVP has now again come to this even though they do not use the term 'parity of status'. Besides the strict Sinhala Only policy was soon forgotten by the SLFP and, especially under Chandrika Bandaranike, the old "tri-lingual policy which recognized all three languages, but with English playing the dominant role was adopted in practice. I would appear the what the JVP is now proposing is that this current practice be enshrined in law. So it is not as radical a departure as may seem at first sight.
Thus there is still some ambiguity on this question but it is closer to an enlightened policy on this question than what has been proposed by both the UNP and the SLFP.
Here Somawansa dismisses religion simply as a "personal affair". He does not seem to appreciate the issue of unethical conversion and the enormous power that Churches have been allowed to exercise in matters like education, provision of social service, etc. What is required here is not a simple "hands off" policy but the active implementation of a truly secularist policy.
There is also no appreciation of the problem posed by religious foreign NGOs. They have become enormously influential in the wake of foreign aid after the Tsunami disaster. The PTOMS proposal of Mahinda Rajapakse when he was Prime Minister in the Chandrika government is a clear example of how external Tsunami assistance could have been channeled into LTTE activity. Somawansa is silent on this.
Other Aspects of the Separatist Problem
Somawansa iterated the JVP support for the Provincial Council system even though not for the merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The ACSLU solution calls for the abolition of the existing Provinces and the conversion of the existing Districts into units of local government. Clearly the JVP does not realize that the Provincial system is no longer appropriate in this age of modern communications for a country as small as Sri Lanka.
The JVP faith in Provincial Councils is clearly misplaced. Where a Province is largely mono-racial, s the Northern Province will be, it will produce a racial government that will not act in a fair manner to other groups. On the other hand where there is a balance between the ethnic groups, as the three groups in the Eastern Province, we are likely to see a divided or "hung" Council. Racial politics has not produced a successful government in the Centre, it is even less likely to produce one in the Provinces.
On the question of negotiations with the LTTE while Somawansa comes out against it he does not propose the military solution either. Without an alternative policy simply not insisting on negotiations is not sufficient. On the more specific question of the CFA the JVP seems to have realized that opposing it may be elect orally successful. as similar position is taken regarding the Norwegians and the SLMM. However there is no positive solution or program as what should replace it
We may conclude that despite the deceptive progressive features of Somawansa's policies there is a lot that is unstated and these will provide room to reproduce the racially biased politics which we have seen in past GOSLs. In practice a JVP-led government will be little different from the UNP-led and SLFP-led governments of the past.
The most important difference is likely to be in economic policy. But this interview does not cover that and so we cannot comment. But what is clear is that the vulgarized Marxism on which the JVP economic program is based has not produced good results anywhere, and certainly will not produce good results in Sri Lanka.
But whatever the JVP may say few people will attach much credibility to their following thorough with this 0lan – or for that matter any other plan –. They can easily cross the border line between democracy and terrorism as they had done in the past. Certainly what Somawansa has outlined is no solution to the Sri Lankan problem.
Somawansa Amarasinghe, leader of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), is the last remaining member of the old guard that led the Marxist uprisings in 1971 and 1980s. He went into exile and led the party from London. When the JVP took to mainstream politics he returned to take over the leadership of the party. The JVP is now considered to be the Third Force in southern politics, next to the SLFP and UNP.
What is JVP's position with the government led by Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse?
There are some problems because we think the Government is distancing itself from the mandate it received in the 2005 Presidential election. We also are of the opinion that the Government is distancing itself from the people and also from the JVP.
Is it possible for you to elaborate on this issue?
Somawansa Amarasinghe :
Sri Lanka President invited us to join the Government after his victory in the elections. Then we wanted to know exactly what the Government wanted us to do? JVP is a serious political party. We are always serious and we wanted to know what the Government wanted to do with us by inviting us to join the Government and also the Government's political program.
As the request to join the Government was pending with us for sometime, we started discussions within our party and subsequently we inquired about the political program proposed by the President for the JVP to join the Government. In fact, he did not have any such program. He invited us to draft a political program for the Government which he proposed to form with us. So we did it and wrote a program. It constituted of 20 clauses. That program we thought would be the basis for the Government and for the JVP to work together. We had discussions about draft program with the President, as well as with the leaders of the SLFP such as Mr.Maithripala Srisena, Mr.Nirmal De Silva, Mr. Dullas Alahaperuma and others.
After three weeks of discussions last year, they said that they agree in principle but they were not prepared to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the JVP. Our Party, whenever we agree with another political party on matters of serious political issues, we always sign a MOU with our intended political partners. As you know our party sacrificed a lot to achieve this present position in the country. We are responsible for all those who sacrificed their lives for us to achieve this position. So we are always very cautious when we come to an agreement with other political parties. We did the same when the President sought our assistance and cooperation when he came forward as a presidential candidate. You may also recollect that in 2004 when we joined the Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratungas Government we entered into a MOU.
Although President and the SLFP agreed with the political program drafted by us, they did not want to sign a MOU with us. Unfortunately, before the conclusion of the discussions to form a Government, the President invited the UNP and they started the process of discussion with them. President and the SLFP should have informed us about that. So it amounted to a sort of betrayal of our trust. This showed that the President was distancing himself from us. So that was the end of the discussions and JVP joining the Government. Subsequently, UNP members 18 in all and 06 Sri Lanka Muslim Congress MPs joined the Government and as a result we are having a jumbo Cabinet, the largest in the world.
I think President failed to achieve stability and strength. This has led to considerable confusion. And no one knows what is happening now in the prevailing confusion. We just can't understand how he is going to implement the 'Mahinda Chinthanaya' with those who have just joined the Government.
So far the JVP has not spelt out is program or proposals regarding the issues related to the Tamils in this country?
Somawansa Amarasinghe :
We have a program for the people of this country for Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and others. We stand very firmly by national integration but not segregation, not isolation and not separation. Our program is based, if I may summarize the program, on the basic principle of establishing equality and democracy for every citizen in this country. Every citizen in this country must have the right to use his or her language in any part of the country. He or she should have the right to settle down in any part of the country. He or she must be able to work in any part of the country. In short this is our policy. We rejected attempts to isolate, or separate communities in Sri Lanka.
We are the first political party in this country to say in public that all three languages, namely Sinhala, Tamil and English, must be treated equally and must be accepted as the National Languages of the country. We don't accept anything as 'Official Language of the Country' as the state cannot have a particular language. The Government should have only national languages. If a citizen writes a letter to the Government in Sinhala, the Government should reply him or her in Sinhala language only. Similarly if a citizen writes a letter in Tamil or in English, he or she has the right to receive the reply from the Government in Tamil or in English languages. It is duty of the Government to respect the languages of the people.
Regarding religion… Should there be a state religion?
Somawansa Amarasinghe :
Religion is one's personal affair. Why should anyone interfere with another's religion?
What opportunities should be there for the minority ethnic groups to participate in the day-to-day administration of the government?
Somawansa Amarasinghe :
All the citizens of this country should be treated equally and must be able to participate in the governing the country. They should have the opportunities to raise their voices regarding their rights. There shouldn't be privileges.
Regarding the merger of the North East provincial Council you instituted action against it in the Supreme Court and the country's highest court ruled that it should be demerged. However, there has been a vacuum in the administratin of these provinces. Since the introduction of Provincial Council system only one election was held for the North East Provincial Council. It was later dissolved in 1990. Successive Governments failed to hold the election for the North East Provincial Council. Even now after the demerger, no elections hae been held. Don't you think that there is need at least to fill the vacuum by providing an interim administration of a responsible political group nominated by the government to run the day-to-day administrations of these two provincial councils?
Somawansa Amarasinghe :
We stand by democratic centralization and not autocratic centralization and also and vice versa. We don't accept any autocratic centralization. If the merger was done democratically, there would not have been any questions. The merger was imposed on the people living in those two provinces. It was also an attempt to isolate the people, those who are living in the North and East from the people in the other provinces. If you think of the Tamil people in particular, it was an attempt to isolate them with the Tamils who are living in the other provinces, which is not acceptable to the JVP. So any autocratic decentralization or merger is not acceptable to JVP and that is why we wanted to get the two provinces de-merged.
The next demand of the JVP is that the Government should hold the elections for the two Provincial councils, as soon as possible, at least in the East. We are for election and the Government should give the opportunity to all peoples, Sinhalese, Tamils and the Muslims to elect their representatives and strengthen their provincial councils and other local government institutions so that they could run their own affairs according to their needs and wishes. If the Government is not prepared to conduct the elections in the two provinces, we don't think that the Government would establish an interim administration.
Today the duty of the security forces is to liberate the people and restore democracy in the east, before they do that in the Northern Province. It is the duty of the president to instruct the Commissioner of Elections to call for provincial council elections in the East. It is the duty of the Security Forces and the Police to see that elections are held in a free and fair environment. Then the people in the Northern Province will get a very very clear message that they must get rid of the LTTE, the main enemy of the people.
Do you think that Sri Lanka Government should continue to have negotiation with the LTTE?
No, because the LTTE is not interested in peace. JVP's position is that LTTE is not interested in negotiations. It is not for restoring democracy. How can you expect these democratic values to come from an organization which is led by a person who calls himself 'Sun God'?
Do you agree with Norway's role as a peace facilitator?
We never did agree in the past and we do not agree in the present to accept Norway as a go-betwen. This mainly because we strongly believe that Norway is not impartial. The Norway leaders who come to Sri Lanka were seen in the fund raising functions in Norway. The Royal Norwegian Government has diverted millions to the LTTE. How can the Norwegians be impartial facilitators for the peace process?
You have been critical of the Ceasefire Agreement. What are your main criticisms?
There should have been a time table for the restoration of the democracy. A time table for the decommissioning of the weapons in the possession of the LTTE. Instead of that, the LTTE dictated to the Government the terms for the decommissioning of the weapons held by the other Tamil groups. They have refused to include decommissioning of their weapons in the CFA. Who is to be blame for this? The Government and the LTTE must be blamed equally. Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe made the biggest blunder and the LTTE exploited it. The LTTE got strengthened militarily and politically. It should also be remembered that it was a secret agreement between the then Prime Minister and Prabakaran.
For the first time the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka admitted in writing, in black and white, that there are areas controlled by the LTTE Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the terrorists' organization. In other words the Prime Minister abdicated the sovereignty of the country to a terrorists group. As a result the LTTE got strengthened and that was done according to agenda of the Norwegian Government. It has also caused considerable confusion, both nationally and internationally.