Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe says the risks of a failed peace are appearing only now, because since 2009, when the war with the LTTE ended in an enormous spasm of violence, the government led by former President Mahinda Rajapaska made only the most halfhearted of efforts to bring about reconciliation with Tamil citizens.
Wickremesinghe says the reconstruction of war-ravaged Tamil districts, as well as other parts of the society damaged by years of fighting and terrorism, has barely begun.
In a commentary appearing in The Daily Star, the Prime Minister said that winning a war or revolution, only to lose the subsequent peace is one of the grim political truths of our time. He noted that in Iraq, a quick military victory over Saddam Hussein’s regime soon gave way to insurgency, civil war and the rise of the murderous ISIS while in Libya, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere, the hopes unleashed by the Arab Spring have similarly turned into an often violent despair.
“Today, a half-decade after the end of its 36-year civil war, Sri Lanka is at a crucial moment in its own efforts to consolidate peace and secure its long-term benefits. Newly elected President Maithripala Sirisenaand I, as prime minister, are determined to win that peace, and to help our country become a prosperous Asian island of democracy, civility and open society,” he said.
The Prime Minister claimed that Rajapaska saw keeping Sri Lanka on a semi-war footing, and the Tamil citizens aggrieved and alienated, as the most effective way to maintain his iron-fisted rule.
“But though his divide and rule strategy worked for a while, allowing him to concentrate an unprecedented amount of power in his own hands, it could not hide the truth of our social divisions and continuing impoverishment. So in the presidential election of this past January, Sirisena stunned the world by creating a winning coalition of Sri Lankans of all faiths and ethnicities who want to rebuild their democracy, not continue down the path of authoritarian rule,” he said.
The Prime Minister said that in the months since Sirisena’s triumph, Sri Lankan democracy has been fully revived, and the hard work of building a durable domestic peace has begun. He also said that Sirisena will quickly call a parliamentary election, which will take place two years ahead of schedule, in order to replace Rajapaska’s echo chamber with a fully functioning assembly, one that holds the government to account.
Moreover, he noted that the presidential power is now exercised within the limits established by law, not according to the whims of one man.
“As we liberate all of our citizens from fear, we will rebuild Sri Lanka as a free society. The authoritarian model of capitalism that Rajapaska introduced to our country, and that much of the world seems to be embracing nowadays, is not for us. Of course, some of our neighbors are advising us to take a different path, to reform our economy and not worry too much about rebuilding political freedom. Our experience with authoritarian rule, however, is that it undermines the goal of post-conflict reconciliation and reconstruction by its need to maintain our society’s divisions artificially. The best way to avoid a relapse into conflict and arbitrary rule is to ensure that Sri Lanka’s leaders are held accountable through representative institutions,” he added.
He also said that the international help that Sri Lanka has received so far is too little to enable his government to be as effective as it can and should be in rebuilding the country and resetting its strategic position in the world.
“Still, there is reason for hope. I am proud to say that, despite Rajapaska’s best efforts to corrupt and hollow out our political institutions, which now need a thorough overhaul, our victory was made possible because the election commission and court workers adhered to the law. Equally important, when the votes were counted, Sri Lanka’s military leaders honored their oaths and rebuffed Rajapaska’s unconstitutional order to annul the election and maintain him in power. These acts of civic heroism form a strong basis on which to refound Sri Lanka’s state and society. With the world’s help, we will do just that,” he added. (Colombo Gazette)