Sri Lanka: Urgent Issues for its Post Parliamentary Election Agenda
In the Parliamentary Elections held in May 2020, the ruling party of the Rajapaksas' brotherhood was cock-a-hoop with their landslide victory but little aware that the more powers they have will demand more responsibility towards all the Sri Lankans who elected them. It is a golden opportunity to treat the whole of the island equally and to redress the Tamil community's decades long grievances. The Rajapaksas' newly won constitutional powers make it possible for the implementation of a just peace throughout the island, irrespective of race or religion. The government cannot sit on its laurels and bask in its victory, for so much needs to be urgently done to keep peace and harmony.
The time is ripe to step back and do a stock taking. What has gone wrong with the country? Why not all are not contended with the government? Is it time for reconciliation and reparation? There is so much to be done.
Since the country's independence in 1946, Tamils have been demanding for their rights. In fact, as early as 1920, Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam raised the issue of Tamil rights in the State Assembly. After independence, several agreements were made between politicians of the majority and minority people but all of them were abrogated by the overwhelming pressure from the Buddhist clergy.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's (LTTE's) demand for Tamil Eelam turned out to be a war against the staunchly chauvinistic and nationalist Sri Lankan government and its international cohorts. It culminated in May 2009 in a brutal and bloody massacre, leaving 150,000 dead, 80,000 widowed and about 300,000 internally displaced. Several thousand people are still missing or not accounted for. This alone would haunt any government and should have given rise to major international investigations and trials, particularly given the heightened focus on human rights since the genocides in Rwanda, Bosnia, Myanmar and other conflict zones over the last few decades.
The international community has been suspicious of the civil war in Sri Lanka as it was deliberately carried out without witness. However, Sri Lanka's manoeuvres are now under the watchful scrutiny of the world.
The period of victory over the LTTE and its aftermath gave rise to the Rajapaksas' raw and no-holds barred autocratic rule. A large security presence has been established in Tamil areas, justified under the guise of resurgent revolt and state forces have not been able to be held accountable for past human rights abuses.
The Sri Lankan state's coercive capacity across the island has increased with escalating security forces. Coercive power has been deployed in which the Sri Lankan state cooperates with local armed groups to bolster state power. Resolving the conflict is better that suppressing violence.
The minorities feel excluded from the mainstream because by changing the British constitution, the country ceased to function as a unitary authority. Sri Lanka unilaterally became a Republic, without the consent of all its citizens i.e. no referendum. The present constitution is dragging its feet as the minorities' consent has not been secured. This is another task for the government to deal with. The Sri Lankan Sinhala majority cannot ride roughshod forever over Tamils and other minorities.
Throughout the post-independence era, Tamil communities were denied the equal status which they had enjoyed before independence. To make it worse, the civil war has produced more urgent obligations on the government like Reconciliation, Reparation and not forgetting the Missing and the Displaced People.
Securing more powers bring more responsibilities towards all the communities living in Sri Lanka. It is the paramount duty of the Sri Lankan government to ensure that all its citizens live happily and contended, without any grievance whatsoever. Indeed, as Pope Francis has recently stated: "The development of a global community of fraternity based on the practice of social friendship on the part of peoples and nations calls for a better kind of politics, one truly in the service of the common good. Sadly, politics today often takes forms that hinder progress towards a different world." Our loyalty and respect for governments must embrace a readiness to critique politics that offend against the common good.
Tamil Writers Guild Editorial Board