Which category of advice imparted by Abraham Lincoln does President Mahinda Rajapaksa believe in: You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time?
His latest proposal of a Parliamentary Select Committee to resolve the grievances of the Tamil people and other minorities, to most people, will appear to fall into the third category described by Lincoln.
There is the report of the Mangala Munasinghe Select Committee report of 1992 which exhaustively examined the problem but remains shelved because of the inability of political leaders to reach consensus on it. There is the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) report and the Experts’ Committee Report of the APRC appointed by President Rajapaksa himself gathering dust. The APRC chaired by Rajapaksa’s minister, Tissa Vitharane sat for 18 months and deliberated in 64 sessions to produce that report. And now he has once again proposed another parliamentary select committee (PSC) to resolve the problem which remains unresolved for 65 years.
Even before initial moves have been made for election of a PSC it is dead as a dodo. The Tamil National Alliance which by and large represents the Tamils in parliament had rejected the proposal already. Suresh Premachandra was quoted in a weekend paper saying: We reject it totally. It is a mockery. We will never participate in a parliamentary select committee, because we don’t believe in it. He had queried how the government could find a solution through a PSC if it cannot implement the APRC report and the Expert Panel Report. The TNA did not participate in the APRC and the Experts Committee but was ready to consider these reports but the government was not even considering these reports, he had said.
UNP’s R. Yogarajan had described it as a ‘cunning move’ to overcome international pressure. He supported the APRC report which he said was even accepted by the JHU and SLMC.
The only Tamil representative who has come out openly in support of the PSC proposal has been UPFA Minister Douglas Devananda who leads the EPDP.
With two of the main parties the UNP and the TNA unequivocally rejecting the proposal even before it could materialize, the Rajapaksa government’s insistence on going ahead with the proposal appears to be a continuation of the exercise of artfully dodging making any positive moves in alleviating the grievances of the Tamils.
While the failure of the Rajapaksa regime to come to grips with the national problem in its first term of office is understandable because it did not even have a simple parliamentary majority at the commencement of its first term, its inability to do so in its second term is unpardonable. They have swept the presidential and parliamentary elections with huge majorities and two years ago militarily defeated the LTTE clearing away all obstacles to achieve a political agenda. The main opposition party the UNP has been decimated through political skullduggery. Mahinda Rajapaksa had all the opportunities as a conquering hero to present himself as a leader of all communities and address the problem of the minorities.
However he has failed to adopt the statesman like attitude expected of national leaders placed in such advantageous positions. Instead he has been visualizing imaginary conspiracies and enemies both within and outside the shores of Lanka. He has jailed the army commander who led the country’s forces to the much celebrated victory.
His failure to come to grips with the Tamil problem has provided ample fuel to the Tamil diaspora charge of war crimes against the Sri Lankan forces. Under severe international pressure, particularly from New Delhi he has commenced negotiations with the Tamil National Alliance with no positive results. He has met New Delhi’s expectations to produce a mountain by presenting a mouse—the PSC proposal.
A parliamentary select committee comprising the many parties in the House must necessarily reflect the views of the constituent parties. How could a parliament holding such disparate opinions on the national question reach consensus? That perhaps was the reason why Mahinda Rajapaksa earlier appointed the APRC on the issue. Obviously he does not like the recommendations made.
If the proposed PSC comes into being how would it get about working out an acceptable solution? The most contentious issues of devolution and land distribution which were the most contentious issues 65 years ago remain the same. The Mangala Munasinghe PSC, the APRC and the Experts Committee narrowed down the issues for the executive president to make his moves. President Rajapaksa has thrown all that away and is calling upon the PSC to reinvent the wheel!
The history of the 65 year old problem reveals that complicated political, legal and mathematical formulae so far attempted have been futile. To resolve problems of this nature genuine leadership is called for. Both parties must possess leaders of stature whom the opposing side must have confidence in and trust. The Camp David talks between Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat which resolved the problems between the two countries and more recently the British–IRA talks that to a great extent resolved the North Ireland issue are examples of statesmanship where leaders involved went off the beaten track in search of peace and found it.
Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, such leaders who could have generated trust and regarded as those with great minds and hearts have been eliminated in the vicious 30 year war. The only contemporary Sri Lankan example that can be taken is the Dudley Senanayake – S.J.V. Chelvanayakam agreement where the Tamils and Sinhalese came together to form with other parties a nine party coalition government under Dudley Senanayake. That government lasted its entire term of 5 years despite the brickbats hurled against it but unfortunately could not make a breakthrough because of the vicious opposition attacks made against it.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa with the added powers he has bestowed upon himself as executive president and the parliament at his full command has demonstrated his power. He need not await recommendations of a PSC but could present his proposals and have it ratified by parliament.
But he appears to be playing petty politics by not coming out with his proposals and instead asking other parties to make their proposals. He does not want to stick his neck out. That is what he did at the APRC which the UNP and TNA boycotted demanding that the government should make its own proposals too.
If a solution is to come about, Mahinda Rajapaksa as leader should make his own proposals, not await a new PSC to reinvent the wheel.