The National Peace Council (NPC)

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War as Single Agenda of Government Risks All

The current government is focusing on a single agenda to a greater extent than any other government.  This agenda is to defeat the LTTE and to eliminate it as a force that can pose a threat to Sri Lanka’s territorial unity.  If the state media or the government’s presentation of the budget is looked at, it can be seen that the government’s main focus is the war.  The state media’s depiction of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s third year in office was that of a figure of heroic proportions leading the battle to preserve the unity of the country.   The government has been justifying the economic hardships of the people by offering the reason of the war.  The majority of people have so far been accepting of the government’s rationalization of their straitened economic circumstances.
Any government in any part of the world will face multiple challenges at any time.  There is the need to stay in power, to satisfy constituents, to deal with foreign powers and to keep electoral promises.  A government that has multiple agendas would be better able to cope with these multiple challenges than a government with a single agenda.  A government with multiple agendas will tend to strive to keep a balance between its different agendas so that some part of all can be met.  The main problem with a single agenda government is that its focus on its single agenda can lead to a blind eye being turned to breakdowns elsewhere in the system.  The end result can be akin to winning the war but losing the peace.
It is becoming increasingly obvious that important aspects of social and political life in the country are in a state of rapid deterioration.  An area of misgovernance of tragic consequence to the people has been the continuing impunity with regard to killings and disappearances.  The government has been in a denial mode, accusing its critics of being unduly influenced by LTTE propaganda.  But killings and abductions continue to be reported from around the country with arrests being made in most cases. There has been a spate of killings in the east, but the steady death toll due to killings by unidentified gunmen continues to haunt the north and elsewhere.  

In the meantime, the war in the north has escalated with unconfirmed stories of several hundreds of battlefield casualties. The media is denied independent access to the battle zones as well as intimidated into not reporting what they find out by other means.  In this context the opposition leader called for media to report the truth even if they risk getting killed as a result, which is hardly an encouragement to the media and shows the dire situation they are faced with.  The lack of an effective response to the crisis of law and order, and media failure, can be partly attributed to the gross politicization of the state machinery which is highly partisan towards the government.  
Perhaps it is to remedy this alarming situation that the Supreme Court has directed the government to appoint the Constitutional Council with immediate effect, but so far to little effect.  The non implementation of the 17th Amendment to the constitution for over three years has vested all the powers of appointment in the hands of the President and therefore to politicisation.  The Supreme Court has now set a one month deadline to the government and opposition to appoint the Constitutional Council under the 17th Amendment.  This would ensure that high level appointments to state institutions, such as the police, judiciary, human rights commission, public services commission and elections commission, would be decided jointly by the government with the participation of the opposition.  
The recent activism of the Supreme Court in regard to several areas of governance usually reserved for the executive branch of government may be as a consequence of this failure of governance.   Following its landmark ruling in the Waters Edge case in September, where the court imposed liability on a former President for abuse of power in alienating land, the court ordered the Ceylon Electricity Board to revise its tariff scheme to provide relief to consumers.  Courts of law may not be the best suited to lay down guidelines on technical issues of pricing.  Bur the failure of the executive branch to follow reasonable practices may leave little room to do anything less.  More recent decisions have included undoing the costly hedging deal on oil purchases.

Still another area of non implementation is the 13th Amendment to the constitution, which the government has claimed as its interim political solution to the ethnic conflict.  The Chief Minister of the Eastern Province, Pillayan, has been repeatedly complaining about the absence of devolution of power and resources to his administration.  Recently there was a period of two days in which more than 20 people were gunned down in the east in various locations.  Although roads and bridges are being visibly built there, these are being decided by the authorities in the central government and not in the province.  As a result the Chief Minister has resorted to a hunger strike and to boycotting the All Party Representatives Committee meant to propose the solution to the ethnic conflict, to protest his lack of power to make a difference to the lives of the people he is supposed to lead.  
Even if not clearly stated, the underlying self-justification of the government for the non implementation of the constitution, and in particular the 13th and 17th Amendments by the government would be the need to fight the war against the LTTE.  This is proving to be a cloak under which the government seeks to concentrate power beyond reasonable limits including the rule of law. The LTTE has long been a ruthless foe of the Sri Lankan state and anyone who stands in its way.  The problem is that the war is not an isolated system.  It interacts with other systems, including the international system. In a complex society, the breakdown in the rule of law, even in one part, can feed into a breakdown elsewhere in the system.  Sooner or later the larger system that sustains the war can itself break down, as it did once before in 2001.  


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