This false optimism, which is based on the assumption, which is quite contrary to the indications he has given, that the President wants to do none of the things he promised, has extended now to assuring him that all will be well after the Indian election, and we ourselves do not have to do anything to improve our situation. I am reminded then of J R Jayewardene twisting and turning in the years between 1983 and 1987 as he avoided action, and was forced gradually to concede, but always doing too little too late. So I wrote once that he assured us that there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, during his discussions with India in 1986, but in the end the rabbit he pulled out of his hat was General Zia ul Haq. The idea that the Ministry of External Affairs has tried to convince the President that Mr Modi will play Santa Claus is preposterous, but I fear that that is the type of advice and advisors the President has to put up with.

All this is based on the assumption that somehow we can avoid implementation of the 13th Amendment. Because the advisors believe that subterfuge will win the day, no attempt has been made to analyse the 13th Amendment, see if anything in it is potentially dangerous, and then develop mechanisms to avoid those dangers. Instead we are doing nothing about the vast areas in which the strengthening of local administration – and concomitant local accountability – would immeasurably benefit the people.

The President I think understands this, for he was very positive about the ideas I suggested be discussed at the negotiations government had with the TNA. But the history of those negotiations makes it clear why we are in such a mess. The President put me promptly on the delegation when I pointed out there had been no progress over the preceding three months, and in the next three months we saw much progress, in part because I insisted on meetings being fixed on a regular basis. The government also put forward suggestions of its own, that I had proposed, whereas previously it had simply listened to what the TNA put forward, and then failed to respond despite promises.


I managed to change all that, and my suggestions of a Second Chamber – to strengthen the influence of the periphery at the Centre – and of strengthening Local Government bodies were both well received by the TNA after G L Pieris, after having first said that nothing new could be brought in at this stage, turned up with elaborate proposals in both respects. I realized later that he must have consulted the President, and found him as always willing to move forward. But having got the agreement in principle of the TNA, Prof Pieris did nothing further.

Even worse, he did nothing about an area on which we had got substantial agreement. Nimal Siripala de Silva, who should have been in charge of negotiations, given his very positive approach, insisted that we see the President about what had been agreed with regard to the concurrent list and, after some discussion, the President told us to go ahead in most areas. But when we came out and told Prof Pieris to draw up a paper, he demurred, and in response to the point we made, that the President had approved, he told us that, if things went wrong, it would be his neck that suffered. I could not understand this at the time, but later I realized that he did not trust the President but was worried about the Secretary of Defence objecting. The simple expedient of preparing a draft, and discussing any concerns he might have with the Secretary, as well as with the President, was not something that Prof Pieris was willing to contemplate, given that he saw himself as an obedient servant rather than an adviser with special professional capabilities.

The last straw for those who thought continuous delay would win them kudos occurred when Mr Sumanthiran and I produced a draft that dealt equitably with the question of land powers. Based on the Constitution and existing practice, it was designed to assuage fears all round, fears we both recognized were genuine on either side. But the President was told that I was selling the pass, and indeed called me to tell me not to concede too much. Ironically, he did this without seeing the draft, whereas other members of the TNA delegation, having seen what Sumanthiran had agreed to, had said he had conceded too much. But the obvious solution, of discussing the matter and returning finally to a settlement on the basis of our draft, was avoided because my colleagues at this stage, having described me as the TNA member of the government delegation, stopped informing me about meetings.

The opportunity to move forward, on the basis of the very reasonable approach the TNA was taking in 2011, was thus lost. By the next year they were of the view that international intervention would get them more, but I still believe that, despite the resolution passed in Geneva in 2012, discussions would have taken us forward. But by then the President had been assured that it was only a matter of time before the TNA came on board, and so he insisted on them joining the Parliamentary Select Committee, while refraining from introducing as a basis for discussion the material that had been agreed on for this purpose in the preliminary discussions.

So we now have a Northern Provincial Council in which the TNA has a massive majority, and what seems to be increasing confrontation whereas, had negotiations been conducted sincerely when the TNA was happy to talk, we could have laid down guidelines for the smooth functioning of the Northern Administration. But even now it is clear that there is room for compromise, given the moderate leadership of the Council, and the voting pattern which showed the support of the Northern people for moderates, not only Justice Wigneswaran, but also Mr Sidharthan of PLOTE, which had stood firmly against the Tigers right through the last 20 years. But instead of working productively with such forces, government seems to have decided that provoking confrontation is the preferable option. Taken together with the playing up of what is termed the current serious LTTE threat, it seems as though, as Israel did with the PLO so that Hamas became more powerful, government wishes to polarize, in the belief that elimination of the moderates will make it easier to deal with what can be presented as extremist forces. Unfortunately no one has told the government that Israeli tactics are based on absolute support from the United States, whereas we are in a very different situation.

So even on a very simple matter like the appointment of administrative officials for the Province, government has dug in its heels. This is despite commitments, and I must admit to deep sorrow that I find that now Lalith Weeratunge, who I felt was the one element close to the President that worked solely in the interests of the President, was also now losing his credibility. When diplomats tell one that the promises he made were not fulfilled, one worries about the extent to which the rot has spread. With the Secretary of Defence, who also I think does not have a personal agenda that will lead to his enhanced influence or profit, now pursuing an agenda in contradiction to what the President has committed to (as seen most obviously in the criticism of the LLRC that the Defence Ministry website engaged in, as well as in the effort to prevent the Northern Province election being held), it would seem that the President will be enmeshed deeper and deeper in the trap that he believes has been set for him.

The Minister of Economic Development seems to believe nothing can be done, for he had told a former envoy in Geneva that the West was determined to get the three brothers, and there was nothing that could be done to save the situation. Given his maneuvering skill, one doubts that he would take all this lying down, but I am not sure that the suggestion that was made, that there were ongoing discussions with the Americans, is plausible. Given the fate of those who did engage in such discussions after initial animosities, Colonel Gaddafi being a prime recent example, to say nothing of Mr Yanukovich, such discussions would not guarantee success.

Rather it seems as though the President has been persuaded that, along with a little help from Mr Modi, another election in Sri Lanka will solve all his problems. But the evidence of the last round of Provincial Council elections shows that the old magic does not have the same effect. And meanwhile within the government itself there are cracks, not only in terms of the bitterness of the old SLFP Ministers who feel sidelined, but also in more obvious animosities that affect those who have most influence with the President.

The last two weeks have seen significant developments in this regard. The problems caused by the Bodhu Bala Sena, which has led to increasing worries amongst the Muslim countries that supported us so solidly in the past, have now spilled over into efforts to undermine other elements in the governing coalition. Then the Government Whip on what was erroneously termed the Casino regulations was ignored by large numbers. Wimal Weerawansa was amongst these, and he then launched a scathing attack on other elements in the government, including it would seem the Secretary of Defence, with whom he had previously been associated. Though it has been claimed that this is a ploy, designed to check out general feelings, such ploys necessarily contribute to an impression of weakness.

The problem has been heightened by Namal Rajapaksa, and many of his friends, being amongst those who failed to vote. Whether this was because of other commitments he thought more important, or a way of showing opposition to economic activities associated with an uncle he does not get along with, cannot be said with certainty. But that was followed by him missing the Youth Conference, of which he was supposed to be a Co-Chair. Again, this may have been because he wanted to lie low after the attack on Opposition members who visited the Mattala airport, an attack strongly condemned by the Speaker, yet another uncle he does not get on so well with. But it is also said that he was not happy that the prime role was given to a Minister who is amongst the most sensible and moderate members of the Cabinet and also has the confidence of the President.

Given President Rajapaksa’s political skills, I have no doubt that he will be able to overcome these problems if he puts his mind to it. But he has some hard choices to make and, whereas he was able to make hard choices when he had an opponent worthy of his steel, namely Prabhakaran, the absence of real opposition seems to have softened him. Whereas he needs now to throw the rats off the sinking ship, and thus enable it to sail forward easily again, his instinct is to try to keep everyone happy, and so he will try to sail on with rats and all.

That would be a recipe for disaster. Recently a young Member of Parliament, Vasantha Senanayake, put forward a motion to amend the Constitution to limit the Cabinet to 30 members. The bill was gazetted, and should have been presented to Parliament on May 8th. It would then have been submitted to the Prime Minister for his observations, and would then come up for Second Reading after six months.

This would have been a great opportunity for the President to show his commitment to reform. Senanayake had put forward many admirable proposals to the Parliamentary Select Committee (which does meet on occasion, though even its members do not seem to take it seriously except for what I would describe as a hard core of those who appreciate what Parliament could be and do), but he had chosen one to concentrate on because no one sensible could oppose this. He had, it should be noted, taken the precaution of informing the Secretary General that the Amendment should become effective after the next election, so that the vast numbers now in the Cabinet would not feel threatened.

But the Bill was not presented. Someone has got at the President, it seems, and convinced him that the Bill should be opposed, evidently on the grounds that it restricted the President to just one Ministry, that of Defence. But if the President indeed felt strongly about this, he could have had that clause amended. The basic principle, that the country needs a small cabinet, that could function as normal cabinets do, and take collective responsibility, was something he should have welcomed.

The Mahinda Rajapaksa who achieved the great victory of 2009 was someone who could take advantage of opportunities that presented themselves. In an interview on his initiative, Senanayake mentioned that everyone said terrorism could not be defeated militarily but President Rajapaksa proved the opposite. So too, whereas it is claimed the appalling constitution J R Jayewardene introduced cannot be changed, Senanayake believes President Rajapaksa has the capacity to achieve another miracle. Whether he will be energetic enough to overcome the current negative perceptions of his government, and inspire the traditional SLFP to support him in a reformist agenda remains however a moot point, given the vested interests that need the status quo to remain. And thus the opportunity for a gr Presidency may well be squandered, and the defeat of the Tigers become simply a passing element in an ongoing tragedy of confrontation based on personal agendas rather than the national interest.

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