The National Peace Council (NPC)

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GATEKEEPING AT THE COMMONWEALTH PEOPLE’S FORUM --Jehan Perera

Like the other events related to the Commonwealth Summit, the Commonwealth People’s Forum to be held on November 10 – 13 in the tourist resort centre of Hikkaduwa is billed to be a great success. The organizers anticipate that at least 200 participants will be coming from outside Sri Lanka, and that a further 200 are expected from within Sri Lanka. However, this mega-event, which will be addressed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa on the opening day, is witnessing increasing dissatisfaction from within Sri Lankan civil society. This was manifested in the Alternative People’s Forum held in Colombo on November 7 and which was largely attended by civic activists, many of whom were boycotting the official People’s Forum in Hikkaduwa. 

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VALUE OF INDIAN AND SOUTH AFRICAN SUPPORT TO RESOLVE PROBLEMS -- Jehan Perera

The invitation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to visit Sri Lanka that was issued by Chief Minister of the Northern Province, C V Wigneswaran, has shown the positive side of the current reconciliation process in the country. The first weeks of the new born provincial council have been marked by expressions of goodwill at the highest levels, most notably between President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Chief Minister Wigneswaran. There was no better an example of goodwill at this time than the invitation extended by the Chief Minister to the Indian Prime Minister to visit Jaffna and therefore Sri Lanka. The invitation came at a time when the Indian state of Tamil Nadu had passed a unanimous resolution in its legislature calling for an Indian boycott of CHOGM. Chief Minister Wigneswaran’s invitation to visit Jaffna has given the Indian Prime Minister another legitimate reason come to Sri Lanka for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. 

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THE RATIONAL QUEST FOR MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL SOLUTIONS STARTS NOW --Jehan Perera

The inauguration of the Northern Provincial Council took place in its newly constructed building in Jaffna. Protocol was followed and the Governor of the Northern Province was accorded his due place in the opening ceremony, notwithstanding repeated demands by TNA leaders to replace the former General with a person drawn from civilian life. Photographs in the media showed the Governor in the middle flanked by the Chief Minister and TNA leaders. This was yet another sign that the new provincial administration led by Chief Minister C V Wigneswaran would function within the letter and spirit of the law. As a former judge who rose to the Supreme Court on account of both seniority and merit, Chief Minister Wigneswaran would have an orientation to function within the law of the land. This would be reassuring to those who are concerned with the past history of ethnic conflict and the bid to divide the country through illegal means. 

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INDIAN DECISION ON ATTENDING CHOGM WILL AFFECT ITS MORAL INFLUENCE --Jehan Perera

Doubts are being cast on Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s willingness to participate in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to be held in November in Sri Lanka. Indian spokespersons have been very circumspect on the issue. Without committing themselves or giving an indication of whether the answer will be in the affirmative or negative, they merely say that the level of Indian representation has yet to be decided on. Indian politics is always full of issues that require the full time attention of its government leadership. Later this year, and coinciding with CHOGM there will be several important Indian states that will be going to the polls for state level elections. However, the most likely cause of the Indian Prime Minister’s indecision to visiting Sri Lanka is the opposition to Indian participation that has been emanating from the state of Tamil Nadu.

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THE DESIRE TO ENGAGE BY THOSE WHO CANNOT SING NATIONAL ANTHEM --Jehan Perera

There is an invigoration of civil society in the North after the holding of the Northern Provincial Council elections. For the first time ever since the end of the colonial period there is the sense of having a government that is their own. There are doubts expressed by some sections in the rest of the country that this political empowerment could lead to the strengthening of separatist sentiment. Sections within the government itself have expressed their concerns. However, when I visited Mannar in the North last week, the impression I received was of a people who celebrate being part of the larger national polity.

It so happened that the day selected by the government for the conduct of the last round of provincial council elections, and that of the first ever election to the Northern Provincial Council, was September 21. This coincidentally was International Day of Peace declared by the UN, which is celebrated worldwide and also within Sri Lanka by those who work for peace and reconciliation. Resources for Peace (RPR), an NGO based in Mannar had to postpone their plans to celebrate peace day on
September 21 due to the elections. They held it on October 11 instead.

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STRATEGIC THINKING TO SUSTAIN THE DEVOLUTION PROCESS--Jehan Perera

One of the first decisions that the TNA had to take after its victory at the Northern Provincial Council elections was before whom to take the oaths of office. The overwhelming electoral mandate received by the party would have induced them to make the most of the occasion in symbolic and political terms. The option they were unanimous in rejecting was to have their members take the oath of office before the Governor of the Northern Province. As former army chief in Jaffna, Governor G A Chandrasiri has had to carry with him the legacy of that war which was very negative to the Tamil population n the North and East. The civilian casualties during the last phase of the war in the North exceeded any previous period of the three decade long war. This is a legacy that will take a long time to become erased from the consciousness of the people. Since the end of the war, and his appointment as Governor of the Northern Province, Governor Chandrasiri has also been working closely with the military that he once commanded in Jaffna.

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NATIONAL RECONCILIATION IS POSSIBLE THROUGH GOODWILL AND RESTRAINT -- Jehan Perera

A highlight of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to the United States to participate in the UN General Assembly was the photo opportunity he and his wife, Shiranthi, had with President Barack Obama and Mrs Obama. All four in the photograph looked extremely relaxed and happy. It was lovely photography, and the President’s media team recognized this, for they shared it with all of the national media which reproduced it on their front pages. The photograph also hinted at the possibility of a thaw in the US-Sri Lanka relationship that seemed to deteriorate over the past few years. At the UN General Assembly, President Rajapaksa spoke about the post-war development process in which the peaceful election and political empowerment of the Northern Province took centre stage. He also appealed to the international community saying, “It is clearly the responsibility of the international community to assist with these efforts and to ensure their success for the benefit of all the people of Sri Lanka.”

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THE PROMISE TO WORK TOGETHER AFTER ELECTIONS -- Jehan Perera

The unexpectedly large scale of the defeat suffered by the government at the Northern Provincial Council elections held last Saturday is an indication of how inaccurate it was in assessing the mood of the electorate in the former war-zone of the North. The government cultivated the belief that economic development and the self-interest of individuals would outweigh their desire for political rights. With its ability to raise large loans from the international community and deliver economic benefits, the government had the decisive advantage over the opposition in that respect. Prior to the election, government leaders went around the North gifting consumer durables and promising jobs for the unemployed. One government candidate even published advertisements in newspapers boasting of his ability to provide employment opportunities. Just prior to the election, the President opened the newest railway station in the former LTTE capital of Kilinochchi on the new railway lines being built to replace those destroyed in the war. 

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SIDE STEPPING THE ISSUES THAT NAVI PILLAY RAISED -- Jehan Perera

The country is heading towards provincial council elections in which the government is the strong favourite in two of the three provinces where elections are to be held. The victory in war enables the government leadership to have a strong hold over the larger number of voters in the country, who continue to be grateful that the government succeeded in what once seemed impossible. But unfortunately, the government has been unable to broad-base its political support to extend to the ethnic minorities. The pragmatic political calculation of the government appears to be one of continuing to rely on Sinhalese nationalism to deliver it the votes. But if the country is to be truly united, the government has to show that it is embracing all communities, and not just the largest one.

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RESPOND POSITIVELY TO ISSUES RAISED DURING MS PILLAY’S VISIT -- Jehan Perera

The recently concluded visit to Sri Lanka of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay was in pursuance of two resolutions of the UN Human Rights Council in relation to serious human rights problems in the country.  The visit enabled the Commissioner to see the country situation at first hand without having to rely on the interpretations of other interlocutors.  She met with a wide range of stakeholders, including leaders of the government, opposition, civil society and war victims.  In her concluding statement to the media, the visiting Commissioner appreciated the Sri Lankan government’s efforts to give her access to all parts of the country and to all persons she wished to meet, and facilitating her visit in general, which she described as “excellent cooperation”.  

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OMANTHAI CHECKPOINT’S CHALLENGE TO NATIONAL UNITY AND LLRC IMPLEMENTATION -- Jehan Perera

The UN Human Rights Commissioner is visiting Sri Lanka during a time of peace, but it is indeed a fragile peace. This month alone saw two major breaches of the peace which are reflective of deep seated problems in the country’s governance. The army attack on the community level protestors at Weliveriya, and anti-Christian sentiment displayed, and the police inaction during the attack on a Muslim mosque in Colombo are still fresh in the mind of the general public and ethnic minorities in particular, even though a fortnight later most of the dust has cleared. The efforts by the opposition parties to highlight the flaws in governance, and the acts of violence by the state, have been sporadic and short lived due to their weakness. The weakness of the opposition and the ability of the government to co-opt or negate those who dissent are opposite sides of the same coin. The role of the international community continues to remain important in upholding human rights standards. 

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