By Mangala Samaraweera
One year ago, with the defeat of the LTTE, a new window of opportunity opened for our long suffering country to move forward along with the rest of the world, as a modern democratic and prosperous nation, united in its ethnic and cultural diversity.
Although I still harbour serious reservations about the manner in which the war was conducted, the defeat of one of the most brutal and ruthless terrorist killer machines the world has ever seen, gave Sri Lanka yet another opportunity to win the peace and harness the economic and social prosperity which has remained elusive since we gained independence 62 years ago.
The scourge of nationalist politics, which raised it’s ugly head each time any of our leaders tried to address the grievances of the Tamil community throughout the post independence era, finally pushed even moderate Tamil opinion towards the Tamil extremists who waged a ruthless war for nearly 27 years, impeding the economic progress of our country which was once tipped to be the ‘Switzerland of the East’. As many of our neighboring countries, especially India, surged forward and prospered as modern democracies, Sri Lanka was stuck in a quagmire of hypocrisy, intolerance and political opportunism; the sad but bitter truth today is that we are on the verge of becoming a ‘failed state’ despite the hyped up slogan of the last Presidential election – ‘third world to first world’.
We have defeated the LTTE and won the war but have we won the peace?
Instead of using this golden opportunity to win the hearts and minds of the Tamil people, the first prerequisite for a durable and lasting peace, the unashamedly chauvinistic and triumphant attitude of the government has made the Tamils, especially of the North & East, feel like a subjugated race dependent on the magnanimity and generosity of the central government. While the final stages of the war was raging on, hundreds of thousands of innocent Tamils were incarcerated in camps which were not very different from the camps of the third Reich in the 1930s. The only crime many of these people had committed was to have been born in areas, which was under the writ of the LTTE for many decades.
Perhaps, future historians will write that the seeds of the next rebellion were sown in these camps which finally were disbanded due to the local and international outrage. However, even today thousands are still held in so called interim camps without being allowed to go their respective homes.
One year on, the government is trying to achieve political and cultural hegemony in the North and the East, forgetting the many bitter lessons, which we have learnt from the past, which are bound to have disastrous consequences for the country in the future. Readjusting the demographic pattern is being proposed by powerful sections of the government and some names boards in villages have been changed and recently a village in the Vanni has been renamed “PILIMAGAMA” referring to the Buddha statue, which has recently been erected there. Religious crusades have become the order of the day when VVIPs and their ambitious offsprings fall over each other in the race to take and supplant Buddhism in the North & East like some of their favourite heroes of the Mahavammsa. Adding insult to injury, the recent Vesak celebrations were thrust upon the Tamil People many of whom were banned from mourning the loss of their loved under this same Vesak moon, one year ago.
As a true Buddhist, I am ashamed of the “Talibanization” of Lord Buddha’s great philosophy based on the pillars of ahimsa , compassion and tolerance.
Rather than liberating the long suffering Tamils from terrorism, each action the government has taken since the defeat of the tigers, has made them feel newly repressed. The shocking attitude of this regime was amply demonstrated when the head of State, during the last Presidential election told a shocked audience in Jaffna, threateningly “do not forget this is a Sinhala Buddhist country” after they had dared to heckle at his teleprompted Tamil speech. This triumphalist attitude of the government will not lead to rapprochement but will sow the seeds of future rebellion and the call for separation will surely reignite from the embers of war.
What the government, even at this late must realize is that the sine qua non for the future well being and prosperity of our country is a political settlement which meets the genuine aspirations of the Tamil people along with the Muslim and other minority communities. Any other formula, which ignores this reality, is doomed to fail; it will be like building a sand castle on the beach, which is as good only until the next big wave.
Unfortunately for our country the present regime is so obsessed by its own political agenda of establishing and perpetrating a family dynasty, the unprecedented window of opportunity, which our nation got for a new beginning, is been squandered away.
A new constitution and constitutional reforms are been discussed without any reference to the political settlement for the ethnic question. The Priority of this government is to do away with the two-term limit of the Presidency. When the majority of our main political parties have agreed that the executive Presidential system needs to be abolished, the government wanting to extend the President’s term is a display of utter political opportunism and a callous disregard to the burning issues our country is facing today.
A second chamber or a senate is also on the cards. A second chamber should only be considered within a wider political package devolving powers to the North and East. In the present context, a senate will be yet another costly tier intended most probably to provide a living to senior citizens related to the first family along other geriatric, cronies and henchman who cannot be accommodated in the government. According to the Sunday Times [who are usually correct] the former speaker is to be it’s first chairman as a consolation prize for not being appointed as a National list MP] The Provincial Councils will be there as training ground for political offsprings, the central government for selected members of the first family and their yes men and the senate for members of the family to pass away their twilight years.
Therefore, Mr. Speaker a senate would be yet another white elephant, an additional burden our country could hardly afford. If at all, a second chamber must be part and parcel of a wider political package designed to address the most burning issue of our times. As I said before, the sine qua non or the indispensable prerequisite for peace and prosperity in Sri Lanka is a political settlement which meets the genuine aspirations of the minorities within a united country. Any new constitution which does not address this issue is bound to compound our problems like the 1972 and 1978 constitutions did.
Another essential prerequisite for our country, if we are to develop as a modern, dynamic democracy is the further strengthening of our democratic institutions. Instead, many of our key institutions are under attack by the executive; the Police force has become a serfdom of the executive, the AGs department has become unashamedly and unapologetically political, the judiciary is under severe pressure and the media is controlled through insidious methods.
Adding insult to injury, it is reported that the government is to amend the 17th amendment to the constitution giving President and not an all-party constitutional council, the powers to appoint the Chairman and members of the independent elections commission, national police commission and other commissions. If there are shortcomings, the government could implement the excellent DEW Gunasekere interim report.
Instead of using this golden opportunity to solve the burning issues of our times, this government seems to be hell bent on using the large majority at the last General Elections to create an autocracy based on family rule. The proposed constitutional reforms, instead of addressing the genuine grievances of the Tamil people and other minorities and strengthening the democratic rights of the Sinhalese and all our citizens, seems to be designed with the sole objective of meeting the not so genuine aspirations of the Rajapakse clan.
Mr. Speaker, in all due respect I am saying all this because this is a moment we cannot afford to miss – to paraphrase Shakespeare from Julius Caesar; “. not that I love Rajapakses less but I love Sri Lanka more.”
We are now at the cross roads of history. We have now the choice to take a turn and travel along the path which says “Utopia” – a future where we have harnessed our potential where everyone lives as equals in peace and harmony; or we can continue our journey along the path which takes us to “dystopia”; a future characterized by human misery, oppression and violence.
Today, this government has nearly a 2/3 majority and therefore has the ability to free this country from the shackles of our past and steer it along this brand new path to Utopia where the Sinhalese along with our Tamil, Muslim, Malay, Burgher brethren can forge a new Sri Lankan identity based on our diversity.
A utopia where we can achieve the economic prosperity our people richly deserve. You got your victory by hook and by crook but if you use your ill-gotten majority for the benefit of the country, history will look kindly at you. Perhaps the incumbent President will be looked upon as a modern day Dhammshoka.
If we stubbornly continue our journey in the same old path, it will not be long before the call for separation is reignited. Unlike before, the new battle for separation will not be fought in the jungles of the Vanni but in the corridors of power in Washington, in New York and Geneva, in Brussels and in London. The weapons they will be using will be Blackberrys and iPads and the cadre will be the erudite and educated members of the Diaspora along with their lobbyists. The ammunition will be supplied by the Sri Lankan government if they continue with their policy of triumphalist chauvinism and anti democratic suppression. The new nations of the 21st Century will be born, not through liberation struggles but by resolutions endorsed by the global community. We will then be a dystopia, a failed and divided nation survivng on anti western bravado and very little else like Mugabe in Zimbabwe or Basheer in Sudan.
Therefore , Mr. Speaker the moment of reckoning is before us.
The choice is now before us.
Utopia or dystopia? Dhammashoka or Mugabe?
(The speech made by Hon. Mangala Samaraweera MP. At the Emergency Debate in Parliament on 8th June 2010)