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Will Pres. Rajapase Successfully Hoodwink the IC One More Time

With another APRC deadline?

by Dr. Victor Rajakulendran, Sydney, Australia, January 21, 2008

Just after Rajapakse's election, the Sri Lankan government was under pressure by the IC, irrespective of who was leading the country, to come up with a consensus amongst the Southern Singhalese political parties with regard to their willingness to share political power with the Tamil leadership, the LTTE.  Therefore, to satisfy this demand from the IC, and keep up the flow of development aid, Rajapakse followed the same footpath of his predecessors and appointed the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) and an expert committee to advise the APRC.  This APRC was to be represented by an equal number of representatives from each party in parliament except the Tamil National Alliance (TNA)...

Every time the IC, especially the Co-Chairs leading the peace process, insist on a proposal, the President will promise a date before which the proposal will be released.  That date will come and go quietly, while Rajapakse would have pacified the IC and continued with his military agenda.

Background

All Party Conferences (APCs) have been a common phenomena in the history of Sri Lankan politics in dealing with the burning issue of ethnic conflict.  Successive Sri Lankan Singhalese-dominated governments from both sides of the political aisle have convened APCs to pretend to the International Community (IC) that the government in power at that time has been genuinely trying to find a peaceful resolution to this longstanding ethnic conflict.  All these governments followed this same path to guarantee the flow of development aid from the IC. The IC has always been cheated, as all the APCs so far have failed to produce any results towards solving the conflict.

Prof. Tissa Vitharana August 2007 Just before Mahinda Rajapksa became the President, the Peace Process of that time, facilitated by the Norwegians under the auspices of the Co-Chairs; namely the US, EU, Japan and Norway, had come to a standstill on the issue of the Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) proposal submitted by one of the antagonists in this conflict, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), as an interim administration of  the Tamil homeland - the merged  North and East provinces - until a final political solution is reached.  

Just after Rajapakse's election, the Sri Lankan government was under pressure by the IC, irrespective of who was leading the country, to come up with a consensus amongst the Southern Singhalese political parties with regard to their willingness to share political power with the Tamil leadership, the LTTE.  Therefore, to satisfy this demand from the IC, and keep up the flow of development aid, Rajapakse followed the same footpath of his predecessors and appointed the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) and an expert committee to advise the APRC.  This APRC was to be represented by an equal number of representatives from each party in parliament except the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).  This omission was criticised by the British Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells in British parliament last week, as a “big Mistake” committed by the Rajapksa government.

APRC and its past

The APRC has met more than 57 times so far.  Rajapakse appointed the Science and Technology Minister in his cabinet, Prof. Tissa Vitharana, to chair the APRC.  After meeting for a considerable period, Prof. Tissa Vitharana submitted a report to the President. In summary, this report suggested that the Sri Lankan post-colonial state be restructured based on the principles of shared and self-rule, and it proposed devolution of power and the formation of a second chamber.  Although Tamils did not have any hope in this report, many in Sri Lanka thought that this could be a good starting point to begin negotiations again.

To everyone’s disappointment and dismay, Rajapakse’s party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), submitted a set of proposals to counter Prof. Tissa Vitharana’s report.  The SLFP proposals submitted in response to Prof. Tissa Vitharana’s report were designed to reverse the entire set of power-sharing ideas that have evolved prior to this time.  The extreme Sinhala nationalists went a step further and asked Minister Prof. Tissa Vitharana to resign from the APRC chairmanship, while the JVP asked to dissolve the APRC itself.

With all these moves happening in and around the APRC, Prof. Tissa Vitharana became a lame duck.

Although Vitharana was supposed to be chairing an All Party Representative Committee, by this time the JVP had already left the APRC. The major opposition party, the United National Party (UNP) also was leaving the APRC as Rajapakse had lured some key UNP stalwarts to his side to maintain his parliamentary majority.  After this, the APRC was meeting without the major opposition parties the UNP, JVP and TNA.  Still the President continued to make promises to the IC, giving deadline after deadline for the release of the APRC proposals. 

Every time the IC, especially the Co-Chairs leading the peace process, insist on a proposal, the President will promise a date before which the proposal will be released.  That date will come and go quietly,and Rajapakse would have pacified the IC and continued with his military agenda.

Rajapakse’s dependency on the JVP

Faced with the dilemma of maintaining a parliamentary majority to sustain his government, first Rajapakse tried to attract some of the UNP parliamentarians to cross over to his side.  As this became harder and harder, he had to depend on the JVP’s support to pass any legislation in parliament, including the budget.

Realising Rajapakse ’s dependency on their party, the JVP started to impose conditions for their support to the government.  They even threatened to topple Rajapakse ’s government if Rajapakse fails to abrogate the cease-fire agreement (CFA) and eliminate Norway from its facilitatory role.  Another demand by the JVP that the government should crush militarily the LTTE before any attempt at negotiations, Rajapakse was already doing.  First the security forces tried to clear the Tigers from the East and, after accomplishing that, now they have started military operations in the North.

However, Rajapakse had been trying to tell the IC that he was upholding the CFA and his forces are only retaliating to any attacks carried out by the LTTE.  This made the JVP demand openly that Rajapakse abrogate the CFA and he promptly did so on the 16th of January, 2008.

Reaction from the IC

The IC openly expressed their shock and dismay at this unilateral withdrawal from the CFA.  The IC demanded that Rajapakse ’s government come up with a substantial devolution proposal as early as possible through the APRC process.  While the US, EU, Japan, Norway, Canada and Australia restricted their reaction to statements alone, Britain has gone a step further and had a 1.5 hour debate on Sri Lanka in their House of Commons.  Members from all the political parties in the British parliament were unanimous in giving a stern warning to the Sri Lankan government.  Without exception, all the governments and the UN Secretary General have insisted that there is no military solution to this conflict and the only way to solve this conflict is for the Sri Lankan government to come up with a devolution proposal immediately and start negotiations based on that devolution package.

Rajapakse’s response – Will the IC let him off the hook once again?

Although Rajapakse is pretending to his people and the JVP that he is not worried about the opinion of the West, in reality he seems to be worried.  Otherwise he does not have to rush in and give the 23rd of January as an ultimatum to the APRC to come up with a proposal.  It should not difficult for Prof. Tisaa Vitharana to come up with a proposal after deliberating more than 57 times.  The dilemma for him is how to satisfy both the JVP as well as the IC.

This is why Rajapakse hurriedly convened a meeting of the representatives of the All Party Committee last week.  In that meeting he instructed them to come up with a proposal to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution, which came into existence with the Indo-Lanka Accord but to date not implemented even partially.  This amendment amalgamated both the northern and eastern provinces into one North-East Province, the Tamil homeland.  But this merger was recently made null and void by the Supreme Court in response to a case filed by the JVP on the grounds that the merger was carried out through wrong procedures.

Therefore, even if Rajapase’s government tries to implement the 13th Amendment fully now, it will provide much lesser devolution than it was intended to.  Therefore, there is no doubt that it will be rejected by the Tamils.

This is why right now Rajapakse is trying to bluff that the APRC will come up with an interim arrangement to implement the 13th Amendment fully on the 23rd, while continuing to conduct deliberations to come up with a proper devolution proposal on a later date.

In other words, Rajapakse is trying to play the same game of buying more time to continue to carry out his military agenda, fooling the IC by pretending that he is delivering an interim devolution arrangement to the Tamils.  Whether he will be able to buy that time, this time, depends on how far the IC is prepared to go in taking punitive actions against the SL government.