by M.Y.M. Ayub
The BBC’s Sinhala service, Sandesaya quoted United National Party (UNP) General Secretary Tissa Attanayake on September 26 as saying that there was no need for a federal political solution in Sri Lanka.
This might have disappointed many Tamils especially politically conscious ones who have been demanding more devolution than what had already implemented, for the past several decades.
Attanayake had further said that “the need of the hour is to 'sort out day to day issues' of the Tamil community in the north and east instead of a political solution for the national question. He, however, with a clever wordplay had said the UNP would not support any move to amend or abolish the 13 Amendment that paved the way for the establishment of the Provincial Councils.
"The 13 Amendment is a part of the Sri Lanka constitution. We will continue to support it. But the need of the hour is to provide Tamil people with build up in their normal life," he had said.
Speaking with the BBC in London, Attanayake had added that there was no need for a political solution as the times have changed after the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers.
The main Opposition party is faced nowadays with multiple problems in relation to its leadership which have originated from a lack of strategy with the party to halt repeated election defeats that have resulted in an exodus of party’s bigwigs to the Government ranks, since even before Mahinda Rajapaksa came to power.
In such a scenario BBC questioning the party’s General Secretary about federalism might have been deemed by its leaders as if one attempting to light the cigar while the other’s beard is on fire, as the Sinhala saying goes.
Political solution and federalism are issues seemingly fairly remote to the conscience of the leaders of the two main parties and are tricky ones for the UNP to handle, in the light of the ruling UPFA exploiting the Sinhalese sentiments in full throttle.
Attanayake might have feared that the UPFA leaders would use his comments to attack his party, had he said something confirming his party’s stance on federalism that has not shifted since 2003.
It is public knowledge that the UNP/ UNF government came to an agreement with the LTTE at the third round of peace talks held in the Norwegian capital Oslo in November 2002 that "both parties have decided to explore a political solution founded on internal self-determination based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka". The UNP since then never announced that it had deviated from that stance.
Attanayake’s remarks on federal solution seem to be an attempt to assimilate with the Sinhalese sentiments that have sharpened against any form of devolution of power after the humiliating decimation of the LTTE.
However, the State media after Attanayake’s interview with the BBC attempted to portray that the main Opposition party has betrayed its policy on an important issue.
However, it was not only the UNP that had accepted federalism as the solution for the Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem. When the UNP/ UNF government and the LTTE agreed upon the federal model, the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga who was also the leader of the SLFP/PA welcomed the agreement, stating that she had already presented a draft federal Constitution in the Parliament on August 3, 2000.
She was referring to the document she personally presented in the Parliament with proposals to convert the country into a “Union of Regions” in place of a unitary state and to abolish the Executive Presidency. The document was torn off and set on fire by the UNP within the house itself, creating pandemonium throughout the day.
The SLFP was promoting the idea of “Union of Regions” since mid 1995 when it put forward the famous “package”, a set of proposals with a view to solve the ethnic problem which the LTTE ideologue Anton Balasingham, later in 2003, while at a function to declare open the LTTE courts complex in Kilinochchi, said that the rebels could have accepted.
Interestingly, the SLFP along with the JVP, by implication, had endorsed the outcomes of the UNF government’s peace talks with the LTTE at another occasion, though they were highly critical of the process. The major Opposition parties including the SLFP and the JVP that called the UNF-LTTE ceasefire agreement and the peace talks illegal, issued a statement on April 30, 2003 expressing their deep concern over the withdrawal of the LTTE from the peace talks in the previous week.
However, both main political parties, UNP and the SLFP now have washed hands of the federal idea. Therefore, it was not only the UNP but also the other parties have been shifting stance on this issues. The LTTE had abandoned the agreement with the UNF government towards the end of 2003.
NFF leader and Minister Wimal Weerawansa is, in a way, far more logical than Attanayake has been, in respect of a political solution to the ethnic problem and devolution of power. Both rule out the need for a political solution claiming that the times have changed after the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers, while Attanayake is still for the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and Weerawansa is against it. If there were no need for a political solution there was also no point of maintaining nine provincial councils set up under the 13th Amendment, exerting pressure on the public coffers.
Both seem to be of the view that the Tamil militancy had sprung up in a vacuum and it was an effect without a cause. However President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been suggesting occasionally something beyond the military activities against the Tamil militancy, which later turned to be brutal terrorism.
At the UN General Assembly in 2007 he said that “our goal remains a negotiated and honourable end to this unfortunate conflict. I must say that the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) is working successfully towards it.” However, the APRC met with a tragic end rather than meeting an honourable end. Then he said at the 2008 UNGA that “our Government has always been ready to address the causes of these issues and effectively implement political and constitutional solutions to meet the aspirations and rights of all communities.”
This is what he had to say at the 2010 UNGA.
“The entire focus of our nation is now on building a lasting peace; healing wounds, ensuring economic prosperity and guaranteeing the rights of the whole nation to live in harmony. We are mindful that in order to fulfill these aspirations, economic development and political reconciliation must go hand in hand. Towards this end, constitutional changes which appropriately reflect aspirations of our people will be evolved with the full participation of all stakeholders…..“To this end, earlier this year, a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission has been established, giving full expression to the principles of accountability.”
However, Tamil political parties seem to be skeptical of any serious Constitutional changed that would heal the wounds, possibly in view of their past experience with regard to the vacillation of policies of the two main political parties. It is now up to the two main parties to rebuild the trust among wounded people, by deeds, not by words.