by Wakeley Paul, Esq.
Sinhalese leaders have not only not learned from the mistakes of the past; they repeat the same mistakes on a destructive scale.
When Ceylon was granted Independence from Britain, the island was granted a democracy that was vulnerable to the tyranny of the majority. The protections against that possibility, provided for in Section 29 of the Soulbury Constitution, were honored in the breach by the Sinhalese leadership with monotonous regularity. The Tamils and other ethnic groups were not freed: they were made objects and subordinates under a new ruler. We were balanced on the edge of total rejection. The tyranny of the majority bred suppression, not liberty, under a new order. Non-violent requests for a Federal State were rejected with contempt and suppressed with government violence. When we sought to have our own indivisible, invincible state, President Jayawardena responded with a fevered ferocity unknown and unequaled among democratic leaders; and the creation of an executive Presidency that delivered an assault on checks and balances and resulted in a naked grab for absolute power.
Now, the leader of the UNF wants to perpetuate the utterly undemocratic institution of the executive Presidency.
The current President, who wishes to abolish the Executive Presidency in order to preserve power in her hands, has in turn done nothing to minimize the islands grimmest struggle, the ethnic conflict. She continues to fail to recognize, that no government can ride roughshod over the rights of an entire population indefinitely. The trouble is that, instead of her ruling her coalition, her coalition is ruling her. The traditional structures of power are not in control. Not even with all the money or media or armed forces within her control, has she been able to ensure that religious zealots do not dominate her domestic policy. Her coalition partner, together with the Buddhist monks, have made it their hallowed code that no one but the Sinhalese Buddhists will be in control of everyone on the island.
This obsession to control everyone, keeps the zealots from ruling anyone in the NorthEast, even with the government’s armed forces in place over there. They seek to impose their articles of faith on those who do not accept it. Fantasy has trumped reality. The armed struggle they represent is fast dying. They are impervious to the demands of others and refuse to address the problems that stare them in the face. They do not understand the concept of principled compromise. They are better known for picking fights than building bridges. They refuse to abandon their morally noxious doctrine of racial and religious intolerance. They fail to realize that by denying a people their rights, they only inflame the desire of those people to acquire those rights. The JVP are victims of their own mythologies. They exist in their own insular, self indulgent, minuscule atmosphere.
In the meantime, the President keeps attaching enough strings to the joint mechanism so as to strangle its objectives. She is happy to allow misery to endure in the NorthEast. While the clamor for action on her part is loud and clear, she sits on her stool wobbling in every direction possible. The only outcome of any negotiations that she seeks, as it is demanded by her coalition partner, is that we give up our rights. When she claims she has gone far enough, we can be assured that we are over the edge.
The President has presided over a long stretch of economic under-performance. She has stabilized the rich and deserted the poor. How long can she keep bluffing the international donors and maintain the faith and support of even a fragile middle class? There is no prospect of the ice pack of hopelessness breaking. The precious hope of looking for something more robust and forward looking from her has sunk. Her bankrupt policy of doing nothing in order to retain power at any cost can only lead to a bloody stalemate.
Instead of negotiations, a head on collision can be envisaged. Sri Lanka and Ceylon have never had a visionary unifying Sinhalese leader. It is these leaders, and they alone who have ramped up the rhetoric for separation. The Tamils and others have been the objects of an extended exploitation. We have been the objects of an entrenched opposition to recognition of the rights and expectations of the Tamil people. The trouble is, the Sinhalese politicians and press refuse to recognize this bruisingly simple fact. The only conclusion to be drawn from this unlovely spectacle of the Sinhalese leadership being mired in the policies of the past, is that trouble, not hope, is brewing.
So what is so different, one might well ask?
Posted May 15, 2005