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Lanka opposition abandons "minorityism"

world Updated: Sep 30, 2007 17:46 IST
PK.Balachandran
PK.Balachandran
Hindustan Times
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The opposition United National Party (UNP), which had earlier depended heavily on the support of the Tamil minority to come to power, has now chosen to down grade this constituency and seek greater support in the majority Sinhala community by identifying itself with the latter's fears and aspirations more forcefully.

As the first step, it gave up its commitment to instituting federalism to solve the ethnic question. Next, it said that the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), which it signed with the LTTE in 2002, should be amended in the light of subsequent developments.

"The Ceasefire Agreement must be amended taking into account the present situation in the North-East and the experiences of the last few years. The environment today is far different from that of 2002 when the CFA was signed," the UNP said in a press release on Friday.

While separatism could be addressed through a widely accepted political solution, terrorism required a military response, the statement said.

The UNP has clearly taken note of the fact that the majority Sinhala community has endorsed the on-going military action against the LTTE.

The UNP backed out of its 2002 commitment to work out a federal constitution because the majority Sinhala community equated federalism with separatism. It now says: "We must be innovative and evolve a new
constitutional model reflecting our own experiences."

The UNP, which brought in the 13th amendment to the constitution and devolved some powers to the provinces in 1988, has now backed out of making the provinces, the unit of devolution. It has said that the country has to determine if the provinces should be units of devolution in the future.

In 1988, the provinces were made the unit of devolution to meet a demand of the Tamils. The Tamils had been asking for provincial autonomy, especially for a united Tamil-speaking North-Eastern province. But the Sinhala majority had feared that the Tamil-speaking North-Eastern province would one day completely secede if it was given
autonomy.

To see that the majority Sinhala community accepts any constitutional changes unreservedly, the UNP has suggested that any constitutional arrangement agreed between the various communities at the peace talks be subjected to an all-Island referendum. And once constitutional changes are made following peace talks, these changes must be put to a
second referendum, it added.

Political balance sheet

The UNP has thus come a long way from 2002, when it was veryaccommodative towards the Tamil minority and the LTTE. In 2002, it had accepted federalism as a solution, and had given the LTTE a lot of power and elbow room in the hope that the militants would shed their hostility to the Sri Lankan state and become part of the Sri Lankan mainstream.

But the LTTE kept pushing the envelop further and further with the sole aim of building its military and political power to make a successful bid for full separation. The LTTE's attitude alienated the Sinhala majority further, and led to the defeat of the UNP in the 2004 parliamentary and the 2005 Presidential elections.

The UNP now realises that its political survival depends on the Sinhala majority's support and that it has to accommodate this community's interest, fears and aspirations, if it is capture power again.

In the process, it is losing the support of the Tamils, whose dreams of getting a federal structure with a united Tamil-speaking North-Eastern province as a unit of devolution lie shattered.

The UNP will of course retain the support of the Muslim minority. This is because it has proposed that Muslim interests must be accommodated and that a Muslim delegation must participate in the peace talks. Fortunately for the UNP, the Muslims are not particularly interested in provincial autonomy or federalism. Like the Sinhalas, the Muslims also fear Tamil resurgence and militancy.

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