African Press International (API)

"Daily Online News Channel".

Posts Tagged ‘National Peace Council’

They voted in TNA – now what?

Posted by African Press International on October 7, 2013

Despite widespread criticism, the ruling party still won 18 percent of the vote

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Tamil National Alliance to challenge power limits
  • Governor holds power in new provincial council
  • Looking to diaspora as way to bypass government
  • Jobs trump power as basic need

ODDUSSUDDAN, 7 October 2013 (IRIN) – Nearly two weeks after  the Tamil National Alliance’s (TNA) resounding victory in a local election  in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, analysts and voters are debating  what the party will be able to achieve as the province recovers from more than two decades of a brutal civil war.

By the end of polling on 21 September, 67 percent of 719,000 eligible voters had cast their votes in the north’s first provincial election – long-awaited by international donors and local political activists – since fighting ended in 2009.

The TNA, the party with the largest representation of the ethnic Tamil minority in parliament, won 30 out of the 38 seats on the Northern Provincial Council; the governing United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) secured seven. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress won one seat.

The TNA campaigned for more political autonomy for the north, while the UPFA appealed to voters with its massive development campaign for the province. The region was devastated during two and half decades of sectarian violence that followed demands by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels for a separate Tamil state.

Frustrating decades-long yearnings for some degree of autonomy carries certain security risks.

Despite its overwhelming victory, the TNA will dominate a council that is largely impotent under the control of the provincial governor, who is appointed by the president. According to the 13th constitutional amendmentthat established the provincial councils in 1987, the governor is the only official with executive powers, including control of provincial spending.

Top TNA leader Rajavarotiam Sampanthan has criticized the governors of the Northern and Eastern provinces as “laws unto themselves”, accusing them of deciding on provincial affairs without consulting locally elected representatives.

Power, but to whom? 

Even before the election, few analysts saw a TNA-led provincial administration as a substantive devolution of power.

“The general view of voters is that …the Northern Provincial Council will have no autonomy, with the chief minister [the council’s top elected official] serving as a messenger of the governor, who in turn is the messenger of the president,” said a pre-election report released by the national election monitoring body the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence on 20 September.

But any path to power needs its starting point, say TNA leaders.

“The election is a means to work towards meaningful power devolution,” said TNA parliamentarian Abraham Sumanthiran.

According to Jehan Perera, executive director of the Colombo-based National Peace Council, despite the constitutional imbroglio, the newly elected council may play a decisive role in northern politics and development.

“The general view of voters is that …the Northern Provincial Council will have no autonomy, with the chief minister [the council’s top elected official] serving as a messenger of the governor, who in turn is the messenger of the president”

“Right now the discussions are taking place at the parliament or at donor-level, but the provincial council has the potential to become the best forum for discussion and possibly decision-making on provincial affairs. Its immediacy to the province can make the process faster as well as better informed,” he said.

The largely top-down process of managing the north now means issues are not addressed quickly, with information filtering through several layers of bureaucracy in multiple departments, Perera said.

However, he added that the TNA-led council needs to be mindful to not allow political demands to overshadow basic needs, like employment. “It [the council] would have to strike a delicate balance.”

The TNA has said it will use its victory to enforce hitherto ignored provisions of the13th amendment, which give control of policing and local economic planning to provincial councils.

In addition TNA leaders have said they will push to expand provincial powers. But in order to do that, they would need to repeal the 13th amendment and support a new amendment.

India

But scrapping the amendment and replacing it with one that grants provincial councils more authority is unlikely, according to analysts in neighbouring India, which helped broker the amendment that created the councils through the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord.

The accord set up provincial councils as a way for the state to share power with the north; a long standing grievance of minority Tamil parties has been that power is concentrated at the national level, marginalizing ethnic minorities. Over 90 percent of the voters in the north are Tamil, Sri Lanka’s second largest ethnic group.

India has strong interest in the situation due to ethnic ties between Tamils living in India – where they form close to 6 percent of the population – and Tamils in Sri Lanka. ButRamani Hariharan, who was head of intelligence for the Indian peacekeeping force based in north and east Sri Lanka from 1987 to 1990, told IRIN that though India took on Colombo to advocate for Sri Lankan Tamils last time, it is unlikely to do so now.

“It comes at an inconvenient time for India,” he said, noting that, with national elections to be held in 2014, India is less willing to risk potential humiliation if Colombo does not agree to expand provincial powers.

They voted in TNA – now what?

Analysts also predict that India will not want to call attention to dissatisfaction with the current amendment so that its role in negotiating power sharing is regarded as an accomplishment.

Power struggle?

The TNA has also indicated it will try to raise development funds outside of Sri Lanka, particularly from the global Tamil diaspora – estimated to be some 700,000 people, mostly concentrated in Canada, the UK and the rest of the European Union – to invest directly in the province, without going through the national government.

But since 2009, when the government created the Presidential Task Force (PTF), the state has controlled all humanitarian and development activities in the north.

“Mainly the Task Force is…to coordinate activities of the security agencies of the Government in support of resettlement, rehabilitation and development, and to liaise with all organizations in the public and private sectors and civil society organizations for the proper implementation of programs and projects,” said a government announcement.

Run by the Defence Ministry, PTF approves all humanitarian and reconstruction work in the north.

However, according to national human rights activist, Ruki Fernando, since no “clear law” created or sanctioned the task force, “it would not be illegal for anyone to bypass that body”, setting the stage for a potential power struggle over who controls humanitarian and development work in the north.

Priority setting

Pushing political demands aside, Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, who heads Point Pedro Institute of Development, based in northern Jaffna, advised the newly elected council to focus on jobs by developing the region’s agriculture and fisheries sectors, the main sources of income for northern residents.

“Raising the voice for more devolution should be a low priority for the newly formed Northern Provincial Council. It is not only the central government but the provincial government as well that should get its priorities right. People are more interested in livelihoods and day-to-day issues.”

The Central Bank estimates the government has invested more than US$3 billion in infrastructure since the end of the war; critics say this multi-billion dollar development has largely been out of step with residents’ needs.

“When the northern people were asking for bread, [the Mahinda] Rajapaksa government offered them cake”

Sarvananthan said that while there is urgent demand for jobs, the government’s main focus has been almost exclusively on highway development and boosting power supply to main towns.

“When the northern people were asking for bread, [the Mahinda] Rajapaksa government offered them cake,” he told IRIN.

“Big roads are ok, but we need money to take the bus or to buy a motorcycle to ride on them,” said 21-year-old first-time voter Nishanthan, who goes by one name, from the village of Oddusuddan in the north’s Mullaittivu District

Kumaravadivel Guruparan, a lecturer in the Department of Law at the University of Jaffna, said the vote was a signal of deep-rooted disappointment with state policies.

Despite massive infrastructural repair and the recent extension of train service to the north for the first time in 24 years, voters were expressing their discontent, Guruparan explained, with the state’s continued military presence in the province.

But then there are the 82,000 residents who voted for the ruling party, like Ramalingam Sudhaharan from Dharamapuram, a village in Kilinochchi District, who said that, given the post-war devastation, what has been achieved in the last four years has been “remarkable”.

“We have good roads for the first time in my life, a very good hospital in Kilinochchi [town], new power stations. Jobs [are] the next logical step, and they will come with time,” he added.

Meanwhile, Sarvananthan from Point Pedro Institute said told IRIN via email that even with limited powers the council can still create  change, for example, by passing an equal opportunities law to benefit the estimated more than 40,000 female-headed households in the province.

“Northern Provincial Council could show the central government the correct [and] genuine path to reconciliation in lieu of building a sports stadium to international standards or constructing eight-lane highways (four lanes in each direction) in [Mullaittivu] District where [the] cattle population outnumbers human population,” he said.

contributor/pt/rz

source http://www.irinnews.org

Posted in AA > News and News analysis | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Rising Muslim-Buddhist tensions

Posted by African Press International on June 14, 2013

COLOMBO,  – An increasing number of Muslim Sri Lankans, who make up around 9 percent of the population, are feeling uneasy amid fears of growing sectarian tensions, say local people and observers.

“We just don’t feel we belong here any more,” Fadhil Ahamed, who works in a food store in Colombo, told IRIN. “I had a shop where I sold halal food, but several Buddhist monks who were aligned with a government politician told me not to sell halal food as this was a Sinhalese Buddhist country.”

There is increasing fear within Sri Lanka’s minority Muslim community, the 54-year-old said, and many feel they are being targeted by ultra-nationalist Buddhist groups because of their faith.

“Tensions are clearly on the rise. There is a lot the government and especially the police can do to handle this situation. It does not look like this is happening, and thus tensions are on a high as we speak,” said Ahamed Lebbe, a former school teacher and community activist in Batticaloa.

In recent months, groups led by Buddhist monks have spread allegations that Muslims have been dominating businesses, while at the same time claiming they are trying to take over the country by increasing their birthrate, local media reports say.

Sinhalese-Buddhists comprise almost 75 percent of the country’s 20 million people, according to the Department of Statistics and Census.

Arrest

In May, Azard Sally, an outspoken Muslim politician and a former deputy mayor of Colombo, was arrested under the Prevention of Terrorist Act, for “instigating communalism”, according to police sources.

Sally is an outspoken critic of a new hardline Sinhalese Buddhist group Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Strength Force), which since February 2013 has reportedly attacked a number of Muslim-owned commercial establishments, and agitated against certain religious practices, including the halal system of slaughtering animals for Muslims.

Sally is also a vocal critic of the government of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse and blames the authorities for allowing an anti-Muslim campaign that culminated in an arson attack on two Muslim-owned businesses in March.

Though released on 10 May, his arrest underscores growing anxiety among many Sri Lankan Muslims.

“It seems as if they [the government] pervert the law to arrest anybody who stands to protect the Muslim community,” said Fatima Mira, a university student from Colombo.

“When Sinhalese extremists attack Muslims, the government watches as spectators, while when Muslim politicians stand up for their community, they are arrested and painted as terrorists,” the 32-year-old said – a sentiment echoed by others.

“There is no peace for Muslims this year in Sri Lanka,” said 46-year-old Muslim Colombo resident Hazeel Segu, a local community leader.

Polarized society

According to Jehan Perera, who heads the National Peace Council in Colombo, Sri Lanka continues to be a polarized and fragmented society at various levels – economic, social, religious and political, more than four years after the country’s 26-year civil war officially came to an end. This has led to a lack of communication and acute mistrust between parties on different sides of various divides, including Buddhists and Muslims.

“There is a sense of exclusion among communities, who feel they are not being included in national decision-making and in enjoying the fruits of development,” Perera said.

Since 18 May 2009, when government forces declared victory over the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), who had been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland for more than 25 years, the country has failed to make a successful transition to a sustainable peace, said Dayan Jayatilleka, former Sri Lankan ambassador (2007-2009) to the UN in Geneva.

“The blocked transition is due to the unwillingness of both major communities [Sinhalese and Tamil] to be self-critical and to reach out to one another in order to forge a new social contract,” he told IRIN.

Moreover, the recent upsurge of anti-Muslim rhetoric from Sinhala Buddhist extremist groups like Bodhu Bala Sena and Sinhala Ravaya has rekindled fears of an inter-communal conflict, said Jayatilleka.

Call for more inclusive government

Meanwhile, Rajiva Wijesinha, a ruling party MP and Sri Lanka’s former secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, described recent agitation by certain groups as “counterproductive”, and has called on the government to do more to mitigate racial and religious tensions.

“What [the] government must do is be much more inclusive and have more discussion between all parties and make it very clear that the government rejects extremisms in all its forms,” Wijesinha said.

“While we understand that there are fears of certain groups, we cannot allow fears to dominate the discourse. Driving concepts should be concepts of national unity and sympathy for others. One very simple thing that government can do is to arrest people who are engaged in violence and it is disgraceful that this has not been done. The fact that Azard Sally was arrested for a comment shows a complete bias.”

contributor/ds/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

 

Posted in AA > News and News analysis | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
%d bloggers like this: