Colombo, May 9 (newsin.asia): Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has said that the strengthening of the Provincial Councils system is essential for bringing about national ethnic reconciliation following the end of the 30-year war against the Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009.
Addressing the Sri Lankan parliament on Tuesday, Sirisena said: “ The foundation of a stable country is national reconciliation. It is important to introduce a structure for taking political decisions based on equality for achieving meaningful reconciliation. I believe, it is dire need of the day to strengthen the existing Provincial Councils system in order to achieve these objectives.”
The provincial councils system was established in Sri Lanka following the India-Sri Lanka Accord of July 1987 which aimed to bring about reconciliation between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils. While the Tamils wanted a federal state, the majority Sinhalese insisted on maintaining the unitary system as a guarantee against secession.
Nine provincial councils were established following the Accord and the enactment of the 13 th.Constitutional amendment which devolved a modicum of power to the provinces including power over land and law and order. The first elections to the councils were held in 1988.
But the implementation of the 13 th.Amendment has left much to be desired because of the Central governments’ reluctance to part with their traditional powers.
Need for Political Solution
Stressing the need for a “political solution” to the ethnic question through a constitutional change, the President said: “ Whatever the opposition, it is essential to enter into a political programme with the consensus and agreement of the people to find a permanent solution to the issue of unrest of the people in the North and East (where the Tamils live).”
Sirisena said that the separatist ideology is still there among the Tamils and that is important to wean them away from it.
“Although we defeated the terrorists physically, we have not succeeded in defeating their ideology completely. During the last three years, I have made efforts to defeat the separatist’s ideologies with the cooperation of the international community,” the President said.
The international community, through the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), has been urging the Sri Lankan government since the end of the war in 2009 to set up mechanisms to address the grievances of the Tamils such as an independent judicial mechanism and an office for tracing missing persons. The UNHRC has also been urging the return of lands seized from Tamil civilians and replacement the present Prevention of Terrorism Act by a more internationally accepted one.
President Sirisena acknowledged that the task of achieving reconciliation is not an easy one.
“Post-conflict management is a challenging task. At the time we assumed duty as the government, there was a delay of seven years to find solutions to these challenges, and the task of facing the challenges had become further difficult.”
“There is a lot to be done to erase the war mentality instilled in the society for three long decades and establish harmony.”
“It is extremely difficult for the government to do this alone. It is essential for all sections of the society to get involved. Hence, I appeal to everybody to work in harmony to attain this objective,” the President said.
In this connection, the President set for himself a number of goals, among these were: 1. recognition of equal rights based aspirations of the Tamil people; 2.ensuring the wellbeing and socio-cultural needs of the Muslim community; 3. Empowerment of the upcountry Tamil community socially and economically and e. strengthening the indigenous identity of the majority Sinhala people.
Investor Friendly Economic Policy
On economic policy, President Sirisena said that it is essential that the government leads the country towards adoption of policies attractive to local and foreign entrepreneurs.
“Furthermore, steps should be taken to beat the so-called ‘economy of friends’ and to build a ‘society and people-friendly economy,” he said referring to crony capitalism which is endemic in Sri Lanka.
Need for Middle Path in Foreign Policy
Given the opposition from the regional and world powers to the huge investments made by China in Sri Lanka, the President stressed the need for the island nation to be even handed in its dealing with external powers.
“As Sri Lanka is geographically located in a central location in the Indian Ocean, it is of strategic importance to us. We also have to remember that this has placed us in a position to think of futuristically about possible security threats. Hence, I emphasize the importance of maintaining a middle path foreign policy with friendship with all nations.”
“This friendly middle path policy has paid dividends. The United Nations and all the countries in the world work with us as friends and cooperate with us more than ever before,” he said.
Justifies National Government
The President justified his decision to continue with the National Unity Government (NUG) with an alliance between his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United National Party (UNP led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe though it is rickety and is drawing continually flak for alleged non-performance.
The President meticulously listed the achievements of the National Unity Government (UNP) and said: “ Given the challenges the nation is facing right now, all parties should come together as one. The nation is burdened with a huge debt. And, we have to clean the remnants of a period that made wasteful expenditure. All should work together as one considering that this is the last opportunity for Sri Lanka to emerge as an unconquerable nation.”
Need To Eschew Zero Sum Politics
In the context of the need to forge political unity for the common good, Sirisena said: “The challenges faced by the nation should be overcome with a collective effort. In order to make this a reality, the power struggle among the parties in the National Government as well as the power struggle between the government and the opposition must be contained. It is the people who are aggravated by all forms of conflicts over power.”
“I also consider that it is an important political responsibility that we create an environment, in which the winner as well as the loser can co-exist with dignity without hatred and large scale political victimization we have been used to experience in times of regime changes in this country.”
(The featured image at the top shows Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena addressing parliament)