It is a well-known fact that most of the past agreements written and/or oral promises including undertakings of the past Sri Lankan governments are mostly complied with breaches, partial and / or complete non-compliances. Some of the notable instances are the Indo-Ceylon Agreement 1987, BC Pact 1958, and Reasonable Use of Tamil Language Act 1958.
At the recent meeting with TNA on 13 December 2022, Ranil Wickremesinghe has agreed to take actions on or before January 31, 2023 for the demands of TNA regarding release of political prisoners, devolution of power, proposals for the settlement of ethnic problem and withdrawal of Army from the occupied lands in the North and East. He has also disclosed his idea to celebrate the February 04th Independence day in Jaffna on February 11, 2023.
According to Sumanthiran MP, Ranil has agreed to find solutions before the end of 2023 for the issues as discussed in the meeting held on 13 December 2022.
– Issues of disappeared persons
– Release of political prisoners
– Land appropriations by security forces in the North and East
Another matter discussed was as to how to enforce the devolution of power prescribed in the law and in the constitution and also about how to conduct the District Councils’ elections. It is to be noted that no discussion or decision was made as to the issue of missing persons at the meeting. At the meeting, TNA requested Ranil to exercise his conferred presidential powers for the release of political prisoners, withdrawal of Army and the release of appropriated lands in the North and East.
Now Ranil has to prove his sincerity to fulfill the promises he made by implementing firstly his presidential powers forthwith in the following matters, namely the release of political prisoners and the withdrawal of army in the occupied lands. It is hoped that he will live up to his promises and commitments before January 31, 2023. Other matters like devolution of powers and disappeared persons would be discussed at an all party meeting before January 31, 2023 as he indicated.
It has to be stated that any further postponement or dilly-dallying tactics will erode confidence on him and dent his credibility locally and internationally. It is also hoped that at the proposed all party meeting, Ranil has to take a clear stand on the nagging ethnic issue and layout his political settlement proposals. However, it has to be stated that Ranil has and knows his own limitations as the President like the following:
– He has no mandate from the people.
– He is not an elected MP.
– His party has no representation in the Parliament.
– He does not have the backing of his party.
– He is sitting as the President at the mercy and support of Podu Jana Peramuna and he could be defeated in a no confidence motion in parliament with two third majority.
– He has to shed his recent image and posturing as a racial minded Buddhism promoting president.
– He should not exploit and be swayed by the party and personality rivalries existing among the Tamil parties and leaders and use the customary disunity among the Tamil leaders and Parties who are however united to fight for the lost rights of the Tamils but in separate ways and means.
However, as the proverbs say “United we stand”, “Divided we fall” and “Unity is strength”, any open disunity and rivalry will dissipate the strength of the Tamil parties and their political demands while exacerbating the longstanding entrenched grievances of the Tamils.
It is relevant to mention the current campaigns and protests of public including fasting campaigns going on in Batticaloa, Mannar and other North East Districts calling for unity of Tamil parties and leaders. Fearing a fallout and backlash some Tamil leaders have made formal and symbolic visits to the fasting campaigners to end their fasting by offering their support with suitable promises.
All in all, it appears that Ranil is playing the role of a President to the liking of the International Community, so also the Tamil leaders are trying to strengthen their leaderships while nursing and nurturing their parties and personality rivalries.
To sum up, there is denying of the fact that SriLanka’s ethnic problem has remained as a fruitful source of fodder for the last 60 years to the power thirsty Sri Lankan politicians and for sustenance while exploiting them to cling on to win parliamentary and local elections.
Thambu Kanagasabai LLM (London), Former Lecturer in Law, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka