10 April 2007
Sri Lanka’s ruling party will finally present its proposals for resolving the island’s ethnic conflict to an all-party forum on May 1, but contrary to media hype, the move does not herald a major step towards peace.
The General Secretary of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), Mithripala Sirisena says the party will submit its proposals for consideration by the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) on May 1.
Sections of Sri Lankan media have hyped the importance of these proposals, but the optimism is misplaced: these are only the proposals by one of the APRC’s members, albeit the ruling party.
And with the main opposition UNP and Sri Lanka’s third largest party, the JVP, having pulled out of the APRC, the committee is long way away from finalizing a set of proposals to for negotiations with the Tamil Tigers.
And there is no reason to believe a southern consensus is in the offing amid Sri Lanka’s continuing fractious politics.
Moreover, the state owned Daily News this week quoted Sirisena, who is also Agriculture Minister as saying the SLFP’s proposals will be based on Mahinda Chinthana, the hardline Sinhala nationalist manifesto on which President Mahinda Rajapakse was elected in November 2005.
“Mahinda Chinthana accepts the devolution of power within one country and the proposals will be entirely based on Mahinda Chinthana and formulated within Mahinda Chinthana,” he said.
According local media the SLFP proposals are based on the existing provincial system. It proposes the province as the basic unit of devolution with some power to be devolved to provinces and others to district divisions.
In addition, the SLFP also proposes the abolition of the executive presidency and solely an executive parliamentary system with a prime minister.
In recent weeks the Sri Lankan government has widely publicized the imminent publication of its proposals with the President Rajapakse and his foreign minister Rohitha Bogollagama , repeatedly promising the international community that a proposal to resolve the conflict would be available “within weeks.”
But with the main opposition UNP (United National Party), and the nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) boycotting the APRC, the whole process is seen as an exercise by President Rajapakse to buy time for his military onslaught against the LTTE to progress.
Future steps regarding the SLFP proposals will be decided after presenting them to the APRC and obtaining the opinion of all, Sirisena added.
The Tamil National Alliance, Sri Lanka’s largest Tamil political party wasn’t even invited to the APRC till several months after it began meeting.
With the publishing of the ruling party proposals on May 1 the President would be in better position to deflect international pressure for his government to pursue a political solution and instead blame the boycotting opposition parties for the delay in coming up with southern consensus to resolve the conflict.
The UNP put forward its own proposal to the APRC in January this year but in February announced that it would not participate in further APRC deliberations following President Rajapakse’s engineering of the cross-over of 17 MPs from its ranks to the SLFP.
President Rajapakse heads the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) which has a slender majority in Parliament, having cobbled together a mammoth alliance with other smaller parties and several defectors from the main opposition United National Party (UNP).
Even whilst announcing the SLFP’s imminent submission, Sirisena attacked the UNP.
“At the moment the UNP and [its] Leader are trying to weaken the Government but we will not let them do it and it will remain only a dream. We will walk forward with the UNP group that joined with us and will take forward this county and its people,” he said.
In December 2006 the JVP also withdrew from the APRC after a panel of experts associated with the APRC unveiled a number of reports, including one which suggested a federal model.
The JVP says it is boycotting the APRC as it is not interested in formulating a political package based on federalism. The JVP wants the current unitary state to be the basis for any political solution to the conflict.
So does President Rajapakse and the SLFP.