The present controversies over the 13th Amendment and also the commitment of the government to conduct Provincial Council elections are fraught with controversies that I find ironic. I am aware that I am accused of all sorts of misdemeanours, if not quite crimes, for my continuing support for the President even while I continue to point out what seem areas in which reforms are urgently needed, and where some measures taken by government do not help either reconciliation or the coherent and equitable development this country needs.

But I am certainly consistent, and this should be the more obviously recognizable – though sadly no one looks at facts and engages in discussion based on evidence – in comparison with the astonishing inconsistencies of many others. Recently for instance I was struck with the vehemence with which some international locators were talking about the need for Provincial Council elections in the North, given that this was very far from their agenda when the LTTE was in control there.

I remember way back in 2003 being glad that G L Pieris had announced that elections would be held in the North, and then being quite critical of him when these were cancelled. In fairness to the poor man however I was told by Austin Fernando that he had wanted to go ahead with elections and it was the Prime Minister who had stopped him. I assumed this was because the LTTE had decreed they did not want elections and Ranil Wickremesinghe thought he had no alternative except to indulge them. Austin did not confirm this, but I gathered from his response that I was not wrong.

I can understand Ranil’s dilemma, having as it were caught the Tigers by the tail. What I found abhorrent was the failure of the Norwegian facilitators to push for democracy, to which at any other time, including now, they pay such sanctimonious lip service. Unfortunately our memories are so bad, and the capacity of our Ministry to point up inconsistencies so limited, that these international do-gooders get away with murder.

One of the more honest national interlocutors tried to explain their stance at the time, which was that, given that there were ongoing negotiations with the LTTE, these should not have been disrupted. I find that argument specious, since the only reason for negotiating with the LTTE was that they were supposed to represent the Tamil people. If they themselves felt that they would be repudiated at the polls, there was no reason whatsoever to continue to talk to them, or at any rate to indulge them so egregiously.

It was assumed when I pointed out the anomaly that I was arguing that the elections in the North should be postponed. That was not the case at all. But my point was that, when I said elections should be held, that was because I have faith in democracy. But when others who clearly have no commitment to democracy demand elections, government understandably feels that there must be some ulterior motive.

This is no reason to postpone elections, but those who are genuinely concerned both about democracy and about the Tamil people of the North – which I believe is the case with India – should realize the negative consequences of pressures from those whose track record suggests a different agenda. What they should be doing instead is arguing on the principles which the Liberal Party has continuously upheld, namely devolution based on the principle of subsidiarity, with safeguards against possible separatism.

That is why the Liberal Party has always opposed the merger, which we pointed out in 1987 could well damage the whole idea of devolution, since it suggested that this was to create ethnic enclaves, rather than to bring government closer to the people. And I believe the TNA certainly set back their cause when they introduced the merger into what were otherwise generally very acceptable principles, in their note of March 2011 to the committee appointed to negotiate with them.

But I believe government too was at fault in not discussing the other points they raised while making it clear that the merger could not be considered. And it was also at fault in not having had elections sooner in the North. Had they been held as soon as possible after the war was over, they would undoubtedly have done better than they are likely to do now. For that would have pre-empted the campaigns by the LTTE oriented diaspora – which was much weaker three years ago than it is now, fueled as it has been by a brilliant media campaign we have done little to counter.

This has made the TNA feel the merger should be pushed, and that in turn fuels the arguments of those who are opposed to devolution. Even the usually very sensible Neville Laduwahetty has talked of the danger of separatism given the possibility of a North East Merger. Though I think that his fears are misplaced, given that the two Provinces were demerged, they are certainly not to be dismissed out of hand when talk of a merger continues.

That is why I think government is right to have moved on amending the provision for merger. It might have been better to distance the possibility by repealing the provision for merger in the Provincial Councils Bill, which gave excessive powers to the President to proclaim that particular merger. But I realized from the heartfelt arguments of a Muslim politician that getting rid of the possibility altogether might be a better move at this stage.

That this is done without affecting the other provisions of the 13th Amendment should also I think be appreciated by those who suspect all actions of the government. While pressures based on what seems an exclusivist agenda must be overcome, such pressures are real, and their sources seem more reliable, if only because they are consistent, than those who are pursuing a very different political agenda.

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