Monday, May 12, 2008

An opportunity for peaceful pluralistic developmentSecretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) 12th May 2008

The Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process welcomes the conclusion of the Eastern Provincial Election, and the possibility now of establishing an Eastern Provincial Administration that will be able to fulfil the spirit of devolution as required in Sri Lanka.

For too long now devolution has been seen as leading to the emergence of a Provincial administration that is either subordinate to the Central government, or else in absolute opposition to it. On the contrary, a Provincial administration should be able to promote unity through diversity, the promotion of Province specific solutions for local problems, pursued in conformity with general government principles but not necessarily in conformity with practices in other provinces.

The perversion of the concept of devolution began way back in 1988 when the then government, which had resisted meaningful devolution for so long, implemented the 13th amendment when the country was in a state of anarchy. This was in part due to the denial of democracy for over half a decade, which led to the emergence of militant movements in both the north and the south of the country. The brutality with which the government suppressed those movements, whilst using the situation to promote its own electoral prospects by arming not only politicians seeking election but also their henchmen, has now been forgotten even by those politicians for whom gentlemen such as Gonawala Sunil and Kalu Lucky were treasured associates.

In such a context the government picked strongmen to lead provincial election campaigns, engaged in thuggery and stuffing of ballot boxes - not impersonation but actual filling wholesale of boxes with ballot papers taken by force - against weak opponents, and set a model for provincial government that has in general precluded independent development. The positive contribution to a provincial identity of the Chief Minister of the North-Western Provincial Council was the exception that proved the rule, but even he could not prevent the steady erosion of provincial authority by the center, contrary to the provisions of the 13th amendment. Successive Chief Ministers since then have suffered from the practices laid down then. Given the general principle, that movement from a Provincial Chief Ministership to even a minor portfolio at the Centre was a devoutly desired promotion, productive initiatives were rare.

All that has changed with the election of a Provincial government which owes its primary allegiance to the people of the Province, whilst it maintains close and cordial relations with the Central government. Already the new Mayor of Batticaloa has shown, in discussion with government and with the international community that was wary previously of contributing to development of the area, that many independent initiatives, appropriate to the area, are being planned. There is no doubt that the Provincial Council, and the executive in the

Province that will answer to that Council, will follow a similar path, in close consultation with the government, but with the ability and the desire to ensure targeted development appropriate to the region.

In the context of such hope, for development through diversity but without conflict, it is a pity that the same set of spoilers are once more trying to do down the region. It is tragic that the leaders of the oppositional coalition that lost the election are now claiming that the election should be overturned. In order to support their claim, they even set up an elections monitoring organization for which initially the spokesman was a well-known representative of the opposition UNP.

Now they have instead put forward Nimalka Fernando, cited as head of CAFFE, who has openly admitted that the UNP is part of the group, while claiming that other parties are also represented, without specifying what these parties are and how they contribute to the claim of pluralism. How Ms Fernando can deny the political connection between her new grouping and the opposition that lost the election defies the imagination, but she has established herself in the past as that Wittgensteinian freak, who buys a second copy of the morning paper to check that what the first said was true.

It is not a problem that this nonsense will go on, but it would be sad if the international community allowed itself to be taken in by this, to the extent of refusing to work together with the new administration. Some elements in the international media have already begun to highlight the opposition threat to campaign against the results of the election, and it would be tragic if such threats were taken seriously, without proper attention to the reports of PAFREL, which had established itself as the internationally recognized organization in Sri Lanka for the monitoring of elections.

A proper understanding of the facts would make it clear that the people have spoken, and that the result is as acceptable as results in Sri Lanka generally are - and certainly very different from what obtained during the horrors of the eighties, when massive majorities were registered in the most unlikely places. We need to move forward now on this basis, for Sri Lanka is ripe and ready for pluralistic development. The attempts of oppositional forces to persuade the world to prevent this should be seen for what they are, the sourest of sour grapes, and resisted.

Prof Rajiva Wijesinha


Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process

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