Sri Lanka: Dilly-Dallying Tactics To Keep The Ethnic Problem Alive And Kicking

Ranil Wickremasinghe

Ranil who was elected by a majority members of parliament on 18 July 2022 has been dishing out various promises to suit the occasion and the audiences.  A meeting was held on 09 May 2023 with Tamil MPs in the parliament where the 75 years long heartbreaking issues of land appropriations in the North and East by the occupying security forces and release of prisoners were discussed with archeological representatives also participating. As expected no firm and final decision was arrived at the meeting. Consequently, the meeting ended with no constructive results and as usual it was agreed to hold another meeting on 15 May 2023. The second meeting also not surprisingly ended without any decisive and firm commitment along with any settlement proposals as requested by the Tamils MPs from the North and East provinces. At the meeting, Tamil MPS demanded the full implementation of devolution and the already existing constitutional provisions to solve the 75 old ethnic problem. As usual neither any firm undertaking nor any sincere commitment not even promises by Ranil were made to date.  TNA leader Sampanthan rightly voiced his frustration and disappointment at the dismal outcome of the talks.

Ranil’s well-known dilly-dallying tactics were again on display when he promised to appoint a committee including Tamil representatives to solve once and for all, all the pending issues facing the Tamils. However, Tamil parties rejected the proposals to appoint a committee to implement the already existing constitutional provisions like the 13th Amendment and 13A.

Obviously, this is nothing but an already employed government’s delaying and time buying tactics of Ranil as well which the TNA leader rightly rejected as not feasible.

As expected, the time wasted talks ended without any constructive decisions or proposals for the settlement of ethnic problem. TNA rejected the proposal for talks on administrative matters in the North and East stating that they serve no use and any purpose. TNA, however demanded the introduction of a new constitution and also requested district council elections to be held as soon as possible. Obviously, there is no firm commitment by Ranil for all these matters.

All in all, the peace talks yielded beneficial results for Ranil only as he timed these talks with Tamil MPs as a show of token goodwill and sincere gesture to solve the 75-Year-old ethnic problem while aiming to appease the IMF and EU who are currently his political saviors to overcome the political pitfall and economic crisis which have enveloped the whole citizens of Sri Lanka who are struggling to make both ends meet with about 35% living below the poverty line.

It is to be noted that Ranil has so far not publicly outlined his permanent political settlement proposals. Understandably, Ranil does not want to stir the ire and fury of opposition from the Sinhala extremist politicians, Buddhist clergy and racial minded hardliners. Besides any peace proposals of Ranil before the presidential and general elections in 2024 could jeopardize and scuttle his re-election prospects.

In the meantime, the disturbing scenario going on in the North and East is the accelerated agenda of Buddhisisation being carried out ostensibly with the blessings of the government led by Ranil. It has to be recalled that Ranil promised to build one thousand Buddhist viharas when he was serving as PM during the period of good governance as a show of credit to the good governance. No wonder Ranil is faithfully fulfilling his promises. Ironically the TNA which was extending its support to the good governance failed to protest effectively to these divisive moves. Even funds have been allocated in the budget to carry out this discriminatory and ill-timed project.

Only the Tamil National Peoples’ Front (TNPF) led by Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam raised opposition and staged protests at the proposed sites where Buddhist monuments, viharas and Buddhist statues are being erected and constructed.

It has to be stated that promises of Sri Lankan governments and their leaders carry a checkered history of fulfillment only with their brazen breaches. Even Ranil promised to settle the ethnic problem before the end of 2022 which is still remaining intact and untouched and he later promised to settle all the pending issues of the Tamils by February 2023 which also suffered the same fate of non-fulfillment.

Viewing the impending Presidential elections and later parliamentary elections in 2024, there is nil chance for any concrete and constructive permanent political settlement proposals to be laid out and Ranil’s peace proposals if any will also face the entrenched opposition from Sinhala hardliners, clergy and communal parties who won’t hesitate to scuttle them at any cost.

In summary. some piecemeal measures could be dished out to please the international community and the Tamils without risking the opposition of South political parties, extremists and monks.

There is not an iota of doubt that the just request of TNA for a new constitution and the early holding of district council elections will only lie in state unless protests and mass agitations including pressure from International community along with agitations of ordinary citizens which can only cure the morass and political ills afflicting the Sri Lankan government and halt the merry-go-round politics which always begin with bangs while ending with whimpers.

In conclusion, it has to be mentioned that the root cause of all political and economic ills being faced by Sri Lanka is the burning ethnic problem which was fostered and nurtured by the Sri Lanka’s politicians since 1956.

Thambu Kanagasabai LLM (Lond), Former Lecturer in Law, University of Colombo Sri Lanka.

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