As it takes two to tango the political leaders in Sri Lanka must first solve the minorities’ problems!


It takes two to tango is a common idiomatic expression which suggests something in which more than one person or other entity are paired in an inextricably-related and active manner, occasionally with negative connotations. Unless the political problems of the minorities are addressed first, the hunt for an economic solution to Sri Lanka’s problems will remain a pipe-dream to the leaders; for everyone has some old habits that they might want to change and changing those old behaviors can be difficult and takes time as seen in the past with these leaders; for it is part of human psychology to tend towards repeating the same behaviors. As it takes two to tango both the leaders of the government and those at the peripheries in the two provincial councils of North and East provinces, who have been attempting to resolve the political problems of the minorities must shift their mindset to make the change and stay positive while working towards their goal to avoid the country making the same mistakes. 

In Sri Lanka in the 70’s United National Party (UNP) had more than two third majority in parliament to resolve all the political problems of the minorities, yet without resolving them, it went for the open economy economic solution and the whole world knows what happened thereafter in the country. Now almost fifty years later a similar opportunity is presented to the leaders of the country to resolve the political problems of the minorities before venture into the new economic development program; because resolution of these problems are as important as winning the economic goals. Though the devolution package introducing the provincial council system was put into effect in 1987, in dealing with this merged north-east provincial council, the state had from its inception adopted a policy of working outside and never implemented the written constitution fully. Irrespective of which political party of the majority community was in power, the state always retained power through the district secretariats of the merged province without sharing power with the provincial council. During the civil war years these administrators were forced to serve under two masters, at the center the state with control of finance against the militants with their military power engaged in the war with the state, who exercised control over the people and resources in the two provinces. Gradually situation resulted in a corrupt system of administration with all its consequences impacting directly on the minority communities left in the two provinces, for many died in the war or left the provinces.

After the war ended in 2009 the state demerged the two provinces and provided with its own provincial councils, but were still unable to go back to their roots of being a community of farmers, fishermen, entrepreneurs and traders. For none of the many war related problems that directly impacted the people got resolved during the negative peace years as conditions were not conducive to resolve them. It was this reason the minorities voted for the change in 2015 and the Unity Government formed at the center to make many democratic changes over the past three years and worked cautiously to bring the two provincial councils into stream of governance. As it takes two to tango the leaders of the two provincial councils – the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) and Eastern Provincial Council (EPC) in the periphery must come of age to share the responsibility with the leaders at the centre, without living in a world of their own on the extent on devolution needed for their provinces, a matter for their leader at the legislature to resolve with the government. For this mindset the two provincial councils in particular the NPC has received from its launch a lukewarm support from the central government and now it enters the final year of its maiden term in office having recorded a poor performance, while the term of the EPC has expired making it virtually a redundant and expensive experiment on the people living in these two provinces that was always controlled by the Tamil speaking minority communities that had demanded for more devolution.

Unfortunately, though the 2018 Budget for that fiscal year was passed in Parliament with substantial allocations to develop the two provinces it is very unlikely to reverse the mindset of the state machinery in the two minority controlled provinces, particularly in the Northern Province. Unfortunately, in the past two years the Unity Government were pre occupied on other national issues, though some progress were made they were unable resolve these war related problems of the minorities. Now with the Local Government Polls round the corner, many political parties at the center are in the field and each taking the opportunity to collect more seats at the lowest power houses by forming new alliances. By default, they have thus divided the country into ethnic regions and this sad state of affairs is set to continue till the general elections in 2020 to elect legislators to the highest house of power and no doubt the same will get repeated at the provincial council elections due in 2018. These political parties, in particular the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leading political party of the Tamil minorities must realise by now that they have not been able to deliver their promises made two years ago would drive away their voters from LG Polls and Provincial Elections and therefore the leadership, should start a political dialogue with the government, the only viable option left which would guarantee results for the Tamil speaking communities.  They must also recognize the need to team up with all other Tamil speaking political parties not in their alliance, including all political entities of Upcountry Tamils and Muslims in Sri Lanka to arrive at an amicable solution between them before any talks with the government, the situation got worse with many Tamil speaking militant groups entering the democratic stream. Together these political entities with the exception on TNA have now drifted into a self-serving entity that has in the last decade proven itself to be available to the highest bidder and if the leaders of these new entities were all truly serving a common goal in the genuine interest of the community they represent, then first they must avoid being at loggerheads with one another and work towards a common plan of action. The TNA is self-mocked not only by its political parties in the alliance, but most regrettably by the very people who voted them in 2015. It appears that given their inability to come together in the last 17 years, despite numerous short lived alliances as each entity is approaching such political partnerships with vested interests. But they must overcome this shortcoming and checkout if this government has made genuine attempts to assess, evaluate and provide acceptable solutions to the long standing issues faced by the Tamil speaking minorities, if not they must get them resolved by the government.

Unfortunately in the last two years, the government machinery which owing to unknown factors, does not seem to be working as efficiently, nor with the expected degree of transparency promised to the Tamil speaking communities to resolve outstanding war related issues. Another issue hotly debated was the re-merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces, though it was a matter already agreed in the 1987 Accord; but TNA should have taken the lead to provide a separate district with electoral powers to minority communities in the provinces to provide a separate electoral district in the merged Northeast and other provinces should have done the same. The absence of which had caused a sense of inferiority from one community to the other to emerge and has been counterproductive to the entire nation building process. A key factor to the everlasting divide between the communities is the lack of a common language among them, probably it is best to bring back English as the link language which all could utilize as an acceptable bridge to better understand one another without having to compromise on tradition, culture and religion.

Now with the anticipated economic development activities set to start in every province, the people of northeast must take control of their own destiny, for many projects initiated by the line ministries and by non-governmental organisations were delayed or left incomplete. As it takes two to tango, the TNA must demonstrate they have come of age by exerting more pressure on the government to resolve any implementation problems found in the powers dissolved to the provinces and other issues promised by the Unity Government in 2015 to protect the lives and property of the people in the war torn North-East all accomplished before they both tango for re-elections at the 2020 General Election.