The Guest Column by Victor Ivon

4th June 2000

External powers and internal undemocratic activities

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It is a welcome fact that the attention of external powers interested in finding a solution to the crisis in Sri Lanka is not confined to Prabhakaran's extremist activities but have extended to the anti-democratic activities of the Chandrika government too. The American Deputy Secretary of State without stopping with declaring that his government is not prepared to recognize a state of Eelam has gone on to say that they were interested in seeing that free and fair elections are held and freedom of expression is protected. The ideas expressed by the European Union and by our neighbour India on Sri Lanka crisis too are similar to the American view.

The problem of terrorism in the North when taken in its broad sense is part of the problem of democracy in Sri Lanka. If there had been a possibility of redressing the grievances of the Tamil people of the North democratically, the problem of terrorism, too, might not have arisen. On the other hand, the curtailment of democratic freedom affects disastrously not only the Tamil North but also the Sinhala South. It was as a result of that curtailment that the destructive youth revolts of 1971 and again of 1989-90 arose in the South. Although unlike the Tamil North, the Sinhala South is peaceful, disastrous movements might emerge, in one way or another in the South too.

We the Sinhalese of the South see Prabhakaran as a terrorist leader of the worst type. Although our Sinhala rulers cannot be considered terrorist leaders, they cannot be considered democratic leaders either. We may say that our leaders, unlike Prabhakaran, came to power on a popular mandate. But thereafter, due to a long period in power, they make violence a policy instrument They do everything possible to weaken opposition parties. Everyone of these leaders has used emergency regulations as an instrument for suppressing freedom of expression. Newspaper establishments were sealed and the freedom of the judiciary was interfered with. They did not hesitate to defraud votes so that they could get the results they desired. In that sense, the democratic politics of the rulers of the Sinhala South may be called terrorist in the same way that the politics of Prabhakaran of the Tamil North is terrorist.

A sustainable and a lasting solution to the crisis existing in Sri Lanka might be found only if an effective solution can be found for both these problems which are within one single problem. That is to say the possibility for Prabhakaran to stay outside the democratic stream should be blocked. On the other hand, the possibility of our leaders to act against democracy while remaining within the stream of democracy should be abolished.

The President stated recently that she was prepared to allow Prabhakaran an interim administration for some period of time without an election if he is willing to solve the problems through discussion. This is a positive approach. However, it is important to admit them to the centre without confining them to the periphery.

These two parties cannot do any successful transaction without the intervention of a group of foreign countries. Both parties distrust each other. If a third party, which is trusted by both parties and which has the ability to control any obduracy on the part of any party, brings about an acceptable agreement and evolves an agenda with a timetable for implementing what is agreed on, and if that third party takes action to fulfill the items in the agenda one after the other, then the problems might be solved to the advantage of both parties concerned. However, the most important goal of that agenda would be to repair and to stabilize the system of democratic political institutions which is collapsing fast.

It will be possible to have a system in which all the people would be enrolled well for the process of taking decisions at the centre, in addition to giving a certain amount of self rule to the Tamil people. Then it will be possible to get them to enter Parliament, which may be considered to be the institution which makes common policies for the entire country, in addition to giving the Tamil people the opportunity to administer the Tamil areas through an interim system.

There should be a system where the most suitable persons are appointed for the most important positions. There should be no room for leaders of the people to use their unlimited powers in an arbitrary manner.

The possibility of controlling the freedom of expression should be limited to a great extent. There should be a system of ethics for peoples representatives and there should be some mechanism through which peoples representatives who do not render adequate service and who commit serious mistakes are removed from those positions and punished.

The judiciary should be reorganized in such a way that it would be respected by the public. It should be turned into a system of independent institutions where there would be no room for political interference. The public service and police service must be made independent. A general national policy should be evolved for education, health, transport privatization and ethnic relations. The right of obtaining information in such a way that the people will be able to know easily all activities and transactions that occur at state level except issues relating to national defense should be made into a law. An independent elections commission should be formed with power so that it will be possible to hold free and fair elections without political interference and in a way that the rulers would not be able to get the result they want in an undue manner.

If necessary it will be possible to implement such a programme aimed at the next parliamentary election. Discussions can be held with the LTTE and other Tamil organizations about the principles for an independent system of administration. It will be possible to get them to participate in a round of all party discussions to be held with the aim of reaching an agreement on principles for a suitable system of government. Principles for a new system of government to be set up can be identified and after agreement is reached on them a new system of institutions for free and fair elections can be set up and under that the parliamentary elections can be held. After the election, the parliament can be converted into a constituent assembly and a constitution on the principles agreed at the all party conference prior to the election can be enacted. Thereafter a national government can be established in such a way that the party with the largest number of seats will head the government first, and the party with the next highest number of seats can head the government next, and the balance period will be divided between different parties according to the number of seats won so that the total period will be five years. It will be possible to initiate a new beginning repairing the damage that has occurred in the political system and independent social system, only if there is guidance from external powers for such a broad agenda.

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