“Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide…”

By: Editorial

Unlike April 1942, April 2004 might not be ‘the most dangerous moment’ for Sri Lanka. But it is certainly a most decisive one. The general election will decide a very important question for the country that no other election in the past could do, the reason being that the march of history had not brought matters to a head as it has now.

The polls, fixed very appropriately for the day following All Fools’ Day, has given rise to the question as to how it would affect Tamils in this country. Many Tamils feel that an election could be an opportunity to increase the strength of pro-LTTE representation in parliament, thereby demonstrating to the world Tamil support to the rebel cause. There are others who believe that even a few seats returned by anti-Tiger forces such as the EPDP or the EPRLF’s Varatharajaperumal wing would show that the Tamils spurn the LTTE and its role in northeastern society. But this is to think of elections in conventional terms.Others reason it could be an election that decides on the resumption of state repression against the Tamils if the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) returns to power.

Systematic harassment by the military coupled with the new government’s immaturity in handling political negotiations with the LTTE would lead to armed hostilities. But this is to view polls in parochial, law and order perspectives.There is a deeper concern at stake at this election, the grappling of which will determine more important matters than whether there is a resumption of war or an increase in pro-LTTE Tamil representation in parliament. It is whether the people of this country and the international puppeteers who control our political leaderships, are willing to recognise that there are two systems of governance prevailing in Sri Lanka, and that the northeast is a distinct society, with its composition, aspirations and past defining it differently from the rest of the country. Though historically, socially and culturally the northeast has always been distinct from rest of the Island, even the so-called liberal intelligentsia of the south has been tardy in recognising this diversity and allowing appropriate political and social structures to develop that reflect it. Notwithstanding this indifference, political and military circumstances have led to a semi-state evolving in the Wanni with its tentacles reaching out to rest of the northeast. The interim self-governing authority (ISGA) proposals only try to give a legal colouration and name to this reality.

The Tamil people have already decided what they want. Even those opposed to the LTTE are quite firm on the concept of a distinct society; their clamour for at least extensive devolution of power is testimony to this. One dares the EPDP or the EPRLF (V), both which are to support the UPFA at the forthcoming election, to campaign in the northeast on the basis of the policies of their electoral ally, the JVP, which is only willing to concede decentralisation as an answer to Tamil aspirations to self-determination.

The JVP’s mulish intransigence, and President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s fanciful musings that the PA’s constitutional proposals of August 2000 could serve as a realistic basis to open negotiations with the LTTE on an appropriate constitutional structure for a political solution, only go to show that a substantial number of people in the south, mostly Sinhalese and Muslims, refuse to recognise the distinct society status of the northeast. They continue to believe the northeast is no different from the rest of Sri Lanka.

It is this fundamental question that will have to be decided on 2 April. The ISGA proposals, the disbursement of aid pledged at the Tokyo meeting, and even the extension of the ceasefire and support of the international community for the peace process are all predicated on whether the northeast is recognised as a distinct society or not. And the burden of deciding it will be on the Sinhala and Muslim people.

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