Hopes for political solution amidst economic concerns

By Chathuri Dissanayake

With the end of the three-decade long war, political analysts stress on the importance of a political settlement after the military victory over the LTTE, while economists warn of the daunting challenge the government faces regarding the economy in the face of resettlement of people and rehabilitation of the war-affected areas and the global economic down turn.

Dr. S. I. Keethaponcalan senior lecturer of the Political Science Faculty of the University of Colombo believes the government should engage all Tamil political parties when formulating a political solution. He says, since what was considered the barrier to a political solution, the LTTE, has now been eliminated a political solution should work.

Scenes of celebration in the city

“I don’t think the 13th Amendment should be the basis of the solution. The government should take measures to find out what would satisfy the Tamil community and a fair solution should be given while assuring the territorial integrity,” he said.

Dr. Keethaponcalan said the government together with all Tamil political parties should formulate a package and then put it before the Tamil civil society for its assessment.

“The North and East needs a new structure. There is no question about it. But I think the whole country needs a new structure. We should use this new opportunity for the benefit of all the people of this country,” he said.

“Earlier the Tamil community did not do anything as they had no space to play a role in what was happening. Now, there is a vacuum created and the community will find it difficult to face the situation but the Tamil community should take this as an opportunity to create a discourse,” Dr. Keethaponcalan added.

PLOTE leader, Dharmalingam Siddharthan, speaking to The Sunday Times said priority should be given to the future of the Internally Displaced People (IDPs). The feeling among the Tamil community at present is mixed. While they are relieved that their children are safe from the clutches of the LTTE they are still uncertain about the future.

“They should be resettled and given the chance to lead a normal life as soon as possible. We will have to see what the government’s 180 day plan is, as they have assured the Indian government,” he said.
Along with this the government should also look into a political solution to satisfy the aspirations of the Tamil people.

“We welcome the 13th Amendment but I don’t believe that the 13th Amendment is enough but I don’t expect federalism to be implemented either. However, I expect that something will move in the right direction. The LTTE leadership has been wiped out so I don’t expect another armed struggle in the near future but for it to remain that way in the long term would depend a lot on the attitude of the Sinhala community. If the Tamils don’t feel that they are a part of this country then they would rebel again,” he said.

Mr. Siddharthan emphasized on the need to create a Sri Lankan nationalistic feeling among both the Sinhalese and Tamil people. It all depends on the attitude of the people towards the Tamil community.
“Extremists would be there on both sides but they will not be able to gain any thing if this ‘Sri Lankanness’ is nurtured among the common civilians both Sinhalese and Tamil. To achieve this is the duty of both the government and all other political parties alike. Although the fighting has ended the security measures in place would continue for some time and there is no dispute about that, but I expect things to settle down and some form of normality to return to the country in about one or two years,” he said.

He claimed that President Rajapaksa’s move to speak in Tamil during the victory speech was well received by the Tamil community.

“The people felt that they were accepted. Some may call it a political gimmick but nobody dared to pull that gimmick before he did. Only he had the courage to do that,” Mr. Siddharthan said.

On the economic front much has to be achieved. The challenge the government faces is enormous. The problem is three-fold explained Dr. Srimal Abeyratne a senior lecturer at the Department of Economics, University of Colombo.

“On one side the government has to face the effects of the global economic crisis that would impact on Sri Lanka. At the same time the country is facing an internal economic crisis of the balance of payments. The third is the government budget expenditure that would now have the additional burden of expenditure on humanitarian assistance, rehabilitation, resettlement and reconstruction,” he said.
The government revenue projection for the year was Rs. 855 billion - a 200 billion increase from last year, he said. However the outlook looks bleak in terms of generating this revenue due to the global crisis.

“The industrial and service sectors and the aggregate demand are the three main revenue generators for the government and all three have come down due to the economic crisis. So the government has to be careful. It has to make sure it doesn’t incur any irreversible expenditures on unnecessary job appointments, subsidies and increase of salaries,” he said.

He also said that in the reconstruction process of the war torn areas, traditional economic activities would be the areas that would be given priority. Even for this new resources would have to be supplied and developing civil society would have to start from scratch.

“It would take a lot of time to think of starting any modern economic activities as the infrastructure for such activities would have to be constructed from zero level,” Dr. Abeyratne said.

Meanwhile, Pettah Wholesale Traders’ Association chairman S P Sami said it was too soon to expect any price reduction in goods that traditionally came from the north.

“If there is to be a significant impact on the prices then the A9 road will have to be fully operatyional and transportation costs would have to come down. But it is difficult to expect these changes to occur soon. It will take time before we experience a substantial impact as a result of the war ending,” he said.

However, Fisheries Ministry secretary G. Piyasena was optimistic that the fisheries industry could be revived as soon as the resettlement of the people is completed.

A 26 year-old IT professional who declined to be named said now that the the war was over he would like to see the country develop finally.

“Most of all I hope we will have the freedom of movement,” he said. This was the wish of traders, taxi drives and professionals alike. “I hope that at least now they will open up the roads,” Dinusha Pathirana a three wheeler driver who operates in Colombo and its suburbs said.

“People were scared to come to Colombo as there were so many check points and access to roads was restricted so they went to places like Badulla instead. Now that the war is over hopefully more people will come this way,” R. Wijayaraj a Pettah trader said.

An accountant of Nilaweli Hotel, Sunil Silva hopes that tourism industry will pick up soon. “We have had inquiries from foreign tourists as well as locals. Travel agents have been keen on booking for their clients so we are looking forward to better times,” he said.

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