5th Octomber 1997

The political package and the objective reality check

By Rajpal Abeynayake

There is more than one form of obscurant ism, and in politics, obfuscating the real ity can be a form of obscurantism that can be used to advantage. But, its difficult to determine the objective reality in a crisis that has defied solution for over a dozen years. From Thimpu to the All Party Conference the Indo Lanka accord the Galadari talks and the Jaffna negotiations, the nation collectively has on numerous occasions been hopeful of a solution that would last. On each occasion, the solution bandied about, had possessed its own peculiar characteristic.

Kumar Rupesinghe, a stellar figure in the field of conflict resolution, once in a rare revelation, said that over 40,000 papers have been written on the ethnic issue. In this respect, the conflict has done a tortuous course, and analysts have assiduously taken it apart.

It is of course why the polity has become immune to new concepts that are touted as the ultimate solution that will neatly lock the crisis into a final lasting resolution.

Since reams of academic papers have been written about the conflict, and because a resolution has been totally elusive despite all of the sophisticated political mantra's that have been prescribed, perhaps the concept of objective reality assumes added importance within such a context.

Though academics, assorted students of politics and other political sophisticates would think that it is decidedly unfashionable to separate the ethnic conflict from the cloud of theoretical complexity that surrounds it, perhaps a reality check on the contrary calls for a real hard objective look at the facts. It's for the simple reason that political solutions have been advanced for the last twelve years without a tangible result.( This is not counting the BC pacts and the plethora of other documents which preceded the violent phase of the conflict beginning in 1983)

What is the factor that would make the solution that is now being placed before the nation any different from any of the other solutions that have been attempted before it ? Maybe theoretically, it would perhaps be said that the current solution is a development on the formulae of the past.

But, the current solution, or the kernel of it , is not substantially different in form from many of the solutions that have been attempted before it . With the substantial devolution of power being the key element in it, the current formula envisages a form of power sharing in a unitary state, with some of the details regarding the Eastern province for example being addressed in a fairly fresh approach.

So much then for the theoreticians. What has not changed this time around on the other hand is the social and political backdrop to the solution advanced, the nexus and the general cast of characters. There is a Sinhala government that is torn between appeasing international minority grievances, and reassuring vocal elements in the majority that a concession to the minority is not a cession of territory or an abdication of political identity. Opinion is familiarly polarized .

There is also the backdrop of the war, and a school of thought that ignores a political solution in favour of a military victory. Apart from all that are the Eelamists who have repeatedly said that no political solution is acceptable.

If that sounds familiar, there is added to all of this an acknowledged feeling of optimism in government that the Tamale people have been sufficiently weaned away from the LTTE. Simultaneously, there is a hierarchy in the military which is sanguine about the prospects of a military solution which have never looked as better for the Sri Lankan government in a long time.

A reality check in this context becomes crucially important if we favour an accurate prediction of events rather than an academic appraisal that sees events subjectively.

Such a reality check would perhaps highlight the fact that there are many more things in this protracted conflict than meets the eye of the individual who sees the conflict ephemerally.

(Said Machiaveli that events have to be seen in reference to all their bearings and ramifications!?)

What's the guarantee that the political solution that is glowingly placed before us that it seems almost to be written in the stars, will not go the same way of the previous similar attempts at solving this crisis? Sinhala governments have notoriously been unable to break with the demands of the majority, or at least those who set the agenda among the majority community. Will any Sinhala government risk alienating the Sinhala majority in this context and therefore risk political survival, especially in a context in which such a government thinks that there may be in sight a solution that does not entail any such political risks at all?

The projected solution has also to be viewed in the context of the political behaviour of the government which is contemplating it. This is not a government that has been shy of the political manoeuvre. On the contrary, it has pursued the art of political manoeuvre with such a panache and style that it been perused to the point of being frank and candid about it.

In one example, it was argued that the Executive Presidency could not be abolished, as promised within an year of assuming power, due to the outbreak of war in the North.

Those who shout themselves hoarse now accusing backers of the government's political package of being traitors and worse, would probably think that the viewpoint presented in this article amounts to a betrayal as well. Is this reading of events an exhortation of the government to cut the drama and get on with legally enacting the package?

Its no such thing. This is just an objective reality check, where preferences are not confused with reality and some sort of yearning for accuracy. The chances are that the new constitution modelled on the political package will never see the light of day. That's just objective reality, that's all...

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