- Tuesday, 03 May 2016
The May Day performance of the government’s two main parties, the UNP in Colombo and the SLFP in Galle, will be reassuring to the leaders of the government. The large turnouts at their respective May Day rallies will give them the confidence that the mobilization capacity of their local level organizers is strong to meet the demands of electoral politics. Although the dissident faction of the SLFP led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa also posted an impressive turnout it could not match those of the government parties. The impression they attempted to create that despite being outside of the government they could mobilize people on the same scale if not better was shown to be unrealistic. President Maithripala Sirisena who, as leader of the SLFP, had warned the dissidents of strict action against those who held a rival May Day rally is now likely to feel confident enough to take the action against them that he has threatened.
But it is not only on the dissident faction that the President needs to focus. He also needs to take action along with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe against those within the new government who deviate from the norms of good governance they have been promising. On the morning of May 1, one of the red clad members of the JVP who was supervising the arrangements for its May Day rally in Colombo recognized me and wished to speak. He said that the corrupt and inequitable system of government and economy needed to be changed. He did not see much of a difference between the present and previous governments, though he acknowledged that political activists like him felt safer these days to express their views. What he said was similar to the views I hear at the community level civil society meetings I attend out of Colombo, which focus on the post-war inter-ethnic reconciliation process.
- Monday, 25 April 2016
The Northern Provincial Council led by its Chief Minister C V Wigneswaran has passed a resolution for the government to take up in the constitutional reform process. The main feature of the resolution is to merge the Northern and Eastern provinces into a single federal unit. This has been the long standing position of the Tamil polity which came into national prominence in the aftermath of the passage of the “Sinhala only” law in 1956 by which English was replaced by Sinhala as the sole official language of the country. The language law was a measure that was resisted by the entirety of the Tamil-speaking polity which numbered about 30 percent of the country’s population at that time and wished that Tamil too should be an official language. As the Sinhala population was numerically dominant, the Sinhala only law won easy passage in parliament.
The rationale for federalism in the context of Sinhala-Tamil conflict is that the Tamil people, being a regional majority in the Northern and Eastern provinces, will also be the political majority in those two provinces. They can therefore make their own decisions in the regional unity, without being subordinate to the Sinhala majority in the country taken as a whole. The attractiveness of federalism as a political solution to those who are a numerical minority in the country as a whole but are also a regional majority is that it guarantees that the central authorities cannot arbitrarily and unilaterally impose their decisions of the regional authorities or overrule them. This does not mean that the regional authorities can do anything they want, but it does mean that the powers given to them by the constitution cannot be unilaterally taken away by the central authorities.
- Monday, 25 April 2016
LIFTING OF EU BAN SHOWS POLITICAL DIALOGUE AND REFORMS HAVE POSITIVE ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES
The importance of conforming to international standards has been borne out by the lifting of the EU ban on Sri Lankan fish and fisheries products. The ban was imposed due to the failure of the previous government to comply with international standards and adequate control systems to tackle the problem of illegal fishing. A European Commission statement in October 2014 highlighted that Sri Lanka was authorizing very large vessels to fish in the Indian Ocean without marine GPS (VMS), rendering control totally impossible. In those circumstances the EU went to the next level and formally identified Sri Lanka in the fight against illegal fishing and announced that fisheries products caught by vessels flagged in Sri Lanka will not be able to enter EU market after January 2015.
Despite the EU ban, the EU statement also made the point that the Commission will continue to work with Sri Lanka to guide it towards a better system. This offer was accepted by the new Sri Lankan government. On the 13th of January this year, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe wrote to the EU High Representative on Foreign Affairs requesting that the EU and Sri Lanka work together to address the issues which initiated the process for lifting the ban. The National Peace Council commends the actions of the government in getting the EU ban lifted and restoring economic livelihoods to the people. The EU market accounted for 68 percent of Sri Lanka’s fish exports amounting to USD 108 million according to Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera who was part of the negotiation process.
- Monday, 18 April 2016
ENSURE EQUITABLE WOMEN’S REPRESENTATION IN CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
There is a mood of anticipation in the country as the government moves to institute constitutional reforms that improve governance in the country within a short time frame. The government has already ensured there would be a public consultation process by appointing a Public Representations Committee on Constitutional Reforms. The National Peace Council submitted its proposals to this committee after wide ranging discussions with religious leaders, community-based organisations, women’s organisations, government officials and civil society leaders from several districts around the country.
When Parliament converted into a Constitutional Assembly for the first time a week ago on April 5 it was with the aim of enacting a new constitution. Accordingly, 7 deputy chairpersons and 21 steering committee members were elected by the Constitutional Assembly. However it is disappointing that only one of them, a deputy chairperson, is a woman. Not one of its 21 members of the steering committee which is responsible for coming up with the draft constitution is a woman. The Prime Minister informed Parliament that appointments for sub committees will be carried out after receiving the report from the Committee on Constitutional Reforms Public Representation before end April. No objections were raised by the joint opposition when appointing members for the Constitutional Assembly.