Look East, go forward
President Mahinda Rajapaksa's announcement on Thursday that the Government would go in for local government and provincial council elections in the East as the natural sequence of events to bring the Eastern Province under its writ following its military successes, should be welcomed by all.
His speech focused on two aspects -- the re-introduction of democracy through elected representatives of the people and economic development.
The development of the Eastern Province is a vital component in the bigger picture of restoring normalcy in the country.
For too long have the unfortunate people of that province, people from all communities and religions of this country, suffered, due to this dreadful insurgency of more than two decades.
They have paid with their blood: the Aranthalawa and Kattankudy massacres; a string of ethnic-cleansing incursions by terrorists on so-called 'border villages; people getting trapped in military exercises to flush out the terrorists; thousands upon thousands displaced; children without schools, men without work….it is a continuing litany of suffering and despair. Unfortunately, the Government is constrained by two factors in what it wants to do.
One is whether it has the financial resources for its ambitious projects without obtaining foreign funds.
Secondly, its own credibility with regard to how government contracts and public finance are handled given its disastrous record in the short period it has been in office. That may have been one reason why the Government's show on Thursday to celebrate the liberation of the East from the hands of the terrorists, lacked the shine it would have otherwise deserved.
Clearly, there was an underpinning message for the Government in that not only the Opposition political parties boycotted the show, but other interest groups supporting the war effort criticised the Government for trying to run off with the military's clothes.
What therefore happened was that the gloss was taken off the military's success in jettisoning the terrorists from the East.
On the issue of elections, there is definitely a need to consolidate democracy, thereby marginalising the LTTE. The LTTE has not been able to take a cue from the IRA, for instance, in Northern Ireland, and transform itself into a political entity that can win for its constituency the rights they are fighting for, eventually to the detriment of those very people.
Recently released reports such as the influential Jane's Defence Intelligence Review only confirm facts already known to a great extent, that the LTTE is a multi-million dollar international conglomerate -- LTTE Incorporated - networked around the world, and that the war machine must be in motion all the time for that huge octopus-like organisation to be in business. Which begs the question as to whether the LTTE would be interested in multi-party democracy. The answer is patently obvious. But, isn't it time the LTTE leadership took a wider view of the world if they wish to continue in business?
No doubt they would be sulking, and angry at this present juncture. They would not want to show they have been defeated, and will try to shore up their military prowess to convince their supporters that though they lost a battle they haven't lost the war.
But in the long-term, as much as there are many who keep hectoring the Government that there is no military solution to the insurgency, doesn't anyone tell the LTTE that there is none of the kind for them either. Is the International Community (IC) doing enough to convince the LTTE of this stark reality? All they seem able to do is to keep asking the Government to produce its devolution proposals, and imagine they have done their job by doing so.
No amount of devolution will be acceptable to the LTTE, but if it gets weaker and weaker militarily, there will be the legitimate question as to whether any form of devolution is the answer to its campaign.
A major shift in the LTTE's organisational structure is required if it is to consider winning its demands differently. The example of Ireland may well be one for the organisation to ponder.
In the meantime, the Government has set its sights on proving that the East is under its command by holding local elections. Any Government would have done this, but the elections must be free and fair -- not rigged. It must not be an election to replace the writ of one terrorist group with another. The elections must be held with the 'ground realities' security-wise, well-considered. They can, for instance, be staggered to ensure greater security.
By inching forward towards multi-party democracy in a part of the country that has been kicked about for too long and truly borne the brunt of this debilitating conflict, the Government will be indeed reaching out to a segment of our people and giving them reassurance of their rights and due place as citizens of this country.