Another Analysis of the MR-APRC Proposal
Tisaranee Gunasekara (TG) who has been a regular correspondent for the Asian Tribune on political developments in Sri Lanka has given her comments on the APRC proposal for a "political solution" to the SL problem which was recently presented to President Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR). The article also considers the current situation in which the President is placed. As she points out the APRC proposal is simply what the President had requested to be presented to him in the guise of an independent recommendation from the APRC. It can therefore be correctly called the MR-APRC proposal. This could be contrasted with two other reports released in late 2006 called then the Majority Report and Minority Report which have been analysed in ACSLU Blogs 6.1 and 6.2. For ACSLU comments on the MR-APRC proposal see ACSLU Blog 8.04.
With regards to TG's writings ACSLU Blogs contain several critiques of many of her articles on the SL problem, and the basic error of her fundamental position has been exposed. Briefly her political solution seems to be what is called the Federal Solution with extensive devolution of powers including possibly internal security and foreign relations to the Tamil unit of devolution. Of course details are left for negotion but the general character of the TG solution is quite evident. The present article ("The Lankan Tragicomedy", reproduced below) is also predicated on this solution. As the TG "solution" has been criticized in previous ACSLU blogs it need not be considered in detail here. Instead we shall consdier the politics behind the current moves by the President. In this area much of what TG says is correct but set in the broad framework of her incorrect perception of the SL problem.
TG claims that neither President nor the Tamil separatists, nor the extreme Helas have a "political solution". The latter two do have solutions of their own. The Tamil extremists want a separate independent Eelaam as the Tamil Homealnd. The extreme Hela nationalists want the whole Island to be considered the Hela Homeland (to be renamed Sinhaleh or Heladiva), and while other communities are allowed to live they have distinctly lesser rights than the Helas. ACSLU does not support either of these extreme Homeland solutions – in fact it opposes the whole notion of Homelands. The question is whether MR has a political solution of his own. He certainly has been long enough in politics, and in power, to think through this question. It would appear that he is completely intellectually bankrupt on this question as on many others. The centrepiece of the MR-APRC solution is the Thriteenth Amendment (hereafter abbreviated to '13A') legislated by J. R. Jayawardene in 1987, and never implemented. So once again he is trying to dress up in UNP clothes. The best explanation of this is that MR is only interested in his political survial and to this ends seems to try to placate incompatible parties.
A good part of TG's article deals with the position of the JVP. The JVP is competing for the same Hela electorate in which MR also sees his strength. Several quotations are given from JVP statements which on the surface appear to take a correct view of Tamil separatism. They state that Tamil separatism has two fronts, the militant front represented by Prabhakaran and his terrorists, and a "democratic" front represented by the other non-LTTE political groups. Some of these like the TVMP, PLOTE and EPRLF can hardly be considered entirely democractic while others like the TULF do not have armed cadres. But the problem is that both wings have the objective of an all-Tamil political entity whatever name they may give to the constitutional structure that will bring it about. Both wings would approve of 13A as a first step even though the LTTE has insisted on the outright grant of a separate Eelaam.
MR's dilemma is that if he supports the non-LTTE Tamil wing he will allow the JVP to protray him as a devolutionist, while if he supports the JVP position fully he will alienate the International Community whose assitance he needs to deal with the mounting economic crisis. This is the devil and the deep see dilemma which is confronting the President. Nobody is sure how a general election will affect the situation, some arguing that it will favour the JVP others that it will decimate the JVP and strengthen the electoral position of MR. However his fate may be sealed by the way he can handle the military campaign against the LTTE. By now he has raised such high hopes that the LTTE will be eliminated within a matter of months, but actual progress on the gound seems to hae slowed down. But this is made up by statements by the military spokesmen who claim imminet victory just around the corner. It is the 'patriot lobby' (q.v.) which has swallowed this line completely and if it does not eventuate as promised by their hero the President they will be confronted with a very grave crisis.
MR is also confronted with a foreign policy dilemma. He seems to be trying to secure Indian support by reviving the 13A proposal, and the plan to build a memorial for the IPKF, which has been the only foreign power to occupy a part of SL after independence. As TG states it is only the Indians who are likely to intervene militarily in SL and it may be that MR is feeling that the SL armed forces may not be able to deal with Prabhakaran on their own. If this argument is correct it would be an even greater blunder that JRJ's gamble with the Indian troops. The exact extent to which the Americans are supporting him miliarily through the relay of satellite information and delivery of powerful bombs is not known. But there is a price attacked to actual American and potential Indian military strength. This price is Federalism. The question is still no resolved if MR is willing to pay this price.
Whateer happens the prospect of maintaing the unitary status seems doomed. There is no section of opinion that is making the case for democratic, secular, multicultral, unitary state which ACSLU has advocated. Even though the JVP seems to be claiming something similar this what they will impose should they gain power is a Pol Pot-Castro style dictatorship which might be the worst of all alternatives.
"A precipice in front; wolves behind" – Latin proverb
In Sri Lanka surreal is normal. Last week, the APRC ceremoniously presented President Rajapakse with a 'consensus' document advocating the full implementation of the 13th Amendment. The week before the President had given the APRC a document advocating the full implementation of the 13th Amendment, with instructions to present it back to him as that long suffering body's own recommendation. The APRC acquiesced. The 'consensus' imposed by the President was presented to the President with a straight face and was accepted by the President with a straight face.
The idea of fully implementing the 13th Amendment is not a bad one, so long as it is not in lieu of a political solution to the ethnic problem. Is the regime willing and able to fully implement the 13th Amendment, despite the antipathy of the JVP? In an interview with the Irida Divaina parliamentarian Wimal Weerawansa declared the JVP's opposition to the 13th Amendment. If the JVP launches an anti-13th Amendment campaign, accusing the regime of betraying the country, the JHU is likely to follow suit, fearful of losing political ground to its bête noir. What will the regime do in such a situation?
The President is not interested in a political solution to the ethnic problem; in fact, as he has stated on a number of occasions, he does not believe in the existence of the ethnic problem! The rehashing of the two decade old 13th Amendment is a desperate attempt to satisfy the international community in general and India in particular. Mr. Rajapakse is unlikely to risk the survival of his government for the sake of the 13th Amendment. If the JVP's opposition becomes dangerously stringent, the government may dump the 13th Amendment (as it did the Majority Report of the Experts Committee) on some technicality and direct the APRC to go back to the drawing board. But the President's preferred option is bound to be a clandestine deal with the JVP based on a secret promise not to implement the 13th Amendment. This would enable the President to buy time, to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds, without seriously antagonising either his Sinhala supremacist allies or the international community.
The lesson is an obvious one. A political solution that can satisfy Tamil and Sinhala extremists cannot exist because extremists on both sides of the divide do not want a political solution. Therefore our task is to seek a political solution that can satisfy the moderate elements of all communities. The LTTE is a bar to such a moderate solution as are the JVP and the JHU. Ranil Wickremesinghe failed because he wanted to find a solution agreeable to the LTTE; Mahinda Rajapakse will fail because he does not want a solution that is disagreeable to the JVP and the JHU.
The JVP's stance not just towards the 13th Amendment but also towards the ethnic problem is clearly spelled out in the political column of the latest issue of Lanka, the unofficial party paper:
"As we pointed out in this column previously Tamil chauvinist separatism consists of two main fronts. One is the fascist front. It is being represented today by the LTTE. The other front is the 'democratic' front. It is being represented by the EPRLF, EPDP and various other Tamil political organisations. It looks as if the government is getting ready to satisfy the 'democratic' front of Tamil chauvinist separatism while defeating its fascist front. What will be the end result of this? The victory of Tamil chauvinist separatism! Suppressing the armed fascist power of Tamil chauvinist separatism does not mean the complete defeat of Tamil chauvinist separatism…. Provincial councils are a sharp sword…. Now President Rajapakse is planning to give that sword not to Pirapaharan but to a different type of Pirapaharan. The problem is not Pirapaharan but Tamil chauvinist separatism. Pirapaharan is a problem not because he is someone else but because he is a representative of Tamil chauvinist separatism. Therefore what is the difference in giving the sword to another kind of Pirapaharan rather than to Pirapaharan?"(Lanka – 27.1.2008; emphasis mine).
The JVP's current stance cannot be clearer. Unless there is a major change in the balance of power within the party, the JVP will oppose even the most minimalist devolution proposal, because in its eyes there is no real difference between Vellupillai Pirapaharan and Douglas Devananda or V Anandasangaree or D Sidharthan. The JVP's stance on the ethnic problem showed a marginal improvement between 2002 and 2005; that was because the prevailing general politico-societal consensus was a pro-devolutionary one bordering on federalism. However this changed with the Presidency of Mahinda Rajapakse. The Children of '56 became enthroned and the dominant opinion changed in an anti-devolutionary direction. For the first time since the Accord a President of Sri Lanka denied the existence of the ethnic problem and, with it, the need for a political solution. Sinhala supremacism became acceptable again. In consonance with this shift the JVP's own stance on devolution regressed to where it was in the mid to late 1980's. The JVP will therefore prevent the administration from implementing even the most minimal devolution deal, as the political column of 'Lanka' clearly indicates:
"President Mahinda Rajapakse is getting ready to 'serve' two 'masters' at the same time. These (masters) are patriotic national forces and separatist chauvinism. The battle against Tiger terrorism is the service for nationalist forces. The so called political solution which satiates separatism is for the peaceful front of separatism. It is clear that by trying to serve these contrasting masters President Rajapakse is digging his own grave…. It is now clear that President Rajapakse is planning to remove the garments which cover this contradiction…. This will have just one result…. He will antagonise the nationalist forces by depriving himself of the only one reason on which his government depends ." (ibid – emphasis mine).
The JVP is likely to combine economic and governance issues with its opposition to devolution in a single campaign. The UNP may join such a campaign since Mr. Wickremesinghe would want to sabotage the full implementation of the 13th Amendment on behalf of his Tiger masters. The Lanka political column hints how the JVP will justify the opening of a second front in the South while the Eelam War IV is raging:
"…. what will happen to the heroic forces who are risking their lives to defeat the LTTE? Are the Security Forces tasked with opening the road for the forward march of peaceful Tigers by defeating the armed Tigers? If so, who can say that the heroic forces will not ask themselves whether there is any point in risking their lives in battle for such a task" (ibid).
In other words the JVP will, in such a context, try to engineer dissension within the armed forces, to get a section of the armed forces to accuse the government of betraying the 'nationalist cause'. If the JVP succeeds, it will be thanks in the main to past policies of the Rajapakse administration, particularly giving the JVP – via the Manel Mal Movement – a carte blanche to infiltrate the armed forces. In fact, as the media reported at that time, JVP hardliner Wimal Weerawansa and other leaders of the Manel Mal Movement were flown to Jaffna by the regime in order to address the troops there. The JVP parliamentarian allegedly stated that the war can be won in 24 hours via air attacks. Such infantilism cannot but backfire on those who have succumbed to it.
Irrespective of the outcome of the war, we will have to devolve more power to the minorities. The only question is whether we will share power willingly or wait until we are forced to do so by external players and factors. In any case, the LTTE came into being and thrives in a unitary Sri Lanka. A unitary state thus cannot prevent separatism from taking root in a country. On the other hand a quasi-federal/federal state may make a majority of the minority community content with the status quo, therefore disinclined to back separatism. There will always be those extremists who will yearn for a separate state; our task should be to create an environment which will marginalise these recalcitrant elements, to render them powerless in the community. But the extremists in the minority community cannot be made ineffective by pandering to the whims and fancies of the extremists in the majority community.
The international relations of a country should not be conducted in the manner of an inter-school debate. Legion are the arguments we can use against those countries which use the human rights cudgel against us. But what do we gain from winning such debates apart from an ephemeral glow of self-satisfaction? Such verbal confrontations will not persuade our critics to change their negative image of us; instead our reputation will worsen and the likelihood of punitive actions against us enhanced. Such a trend is already discernible; in the last one and half years we have won many debating points vis-à-vis the West; we also had to face aid curtailments and soft military sanctions, including from the US. If media reports are to be believed more punitive measures will be enacted by the West in the coming months; Japan too may follow suit. In such a context the limited backing that China, Russia and Pakistan can afford to give us plus the solidarity of the majority of the Third World will avail us little. The criminally irresponsible actions of politicians and high officials will damage us still further - in his statement to the court Col. Karuna stated that Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse arranged for him to have a diplomatic passport.
The President is attempting to counter these negative international trends by coaxing India into our corner with a born again devotion to the 13th Amendment and a memorial to the IPKF. Unfortunately his tactic does not seem to be succeeding, if the recent joint remarks by the Indian and British Prime Ministers are anything to go by.
Both leaders emphasised the need for a 'credible devolution package' within a 'united Sri Lanka' – a clear euphemism for a federal solution. Though Delhi may be happy with the IPKF memorial, its backing for the full implementation of the 13th Amendment is conditional on that being just a step in the search for a political solution. In any case the 13th Amendment has been qualitatively debased by the regime's departure from two of the fundamentals of the Indo-Lanka Accord – the merger and the homeland concept.
Mr. Rajapakse has indicated that he would prefer India to play a more active role in Sri Lanka, an obvious tactical ploy to discourage Western involvement. India will not become directly involved in Sri Lanka again, so long as Vellupillai Pirapaharan is alive. If Mr. Pirapaharan dies of natural causes or is killed by enemy action, India will willingly go back to playing the role of the Big Brother, intervening directly, with the blessings of the West, to compel Colombo to offer a federal solution to the Tamil people. The US and the EU may impose the most stringent sanctions on Sri Lanka; but they will not militarily intervene in the Lankan conflict. The only country that can and will intervene militarily in Sri Lanka is India; that intervention will kill the unitary state and it can happen only in the absence of Mr. Pirapaharan. Contrary to the rosy expectations of many a Sinhala supremacist, the demise of the Tiger leader will not render greater devolution unnecessary; it will merely make an externally imposed federal solution inevitable.