There was little reason to doubt that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's (LTTE) proposals in terms of
the interim administration they sought for the contested North East of the country would be ambitious. This
was to be expected, as in the case of any first offer in a negotiation. The surprise was not that the LTTE
did, in fact, make such maximalist demands. The surprise is that they did it so well.
The long awaited LTTE proposals on the type of interim administration they seek for the North East made their appearance on October 31, 2003, on which day the proposals were handed over to the Norwegian facilitators to be forwarded to the Government. This action underlined the central role that Norway continues to play in the Sri Lankan peace process. The preamble to the LTTE's proposals, described as proposals on behalf of the Tamil people, also acknowledged with appreciation the services of the Norwegian Government and the international community.
The immediate reaction of journalists covering the release in Kilinochchi was neither negative nor emotional. A key reason for this was that the proposals had been prepared with a great deal of thought about how they would be perceived by the world at large. Hence, there were no immediate red flags that could set anyone's blood boiling upon a quick reading.
The LTTE has clearly refrained from frontally addressing emotive issues. They made no mention either of their own military or of the right of the Sri Lankan military to be present in the North East; or of the Sinhalese settlements in the North East. The LTTE's proposals also did not call for a change in the national flag or anthem or the special place accorded to Buddhism in the Sri Lankan Constitution. Any mention of these could have generated an emotional response from Sinhalese nationalists.
However, a closer scrutiny of the LTTE proposals would reveal that they are maximalist in spirit, as indeed could have been anticipated from an organisation that has waged a long war for the cause of complete Tamil separation from Sri Lanka. The proposals, in sum, call for the establishment of an Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) for the North East in which the LTTE would have an absolute majority of members. Thereafter, the proposals indicate that complete autonomy is sought in virtually every aspect of the political and economic life of the people.
The LTTE proposals call for separate institutions to be set up for the North East in respect of the police, judiciary, elections, taxation, local and foreign grants and loans, and trade, among others. There is an assurance that internationally mandated standards of human rights, accountability, multi-ethnic representation and free and fair elections will prevail. But all the institutions that are to be set up to ensure such practices of good governance will be under the sole control of the ISGA which will have an absolute LTTE majority.
In a society where the spirit of power sharing is yet to be learned and practiced, obtaining an absolute majority is a potential license for unilateralism. When this potential is coupled with autonomy, the result can be a high degree of control. It is noteworthy that the LTTE's proposals make no provision for integration with nationally prevailing structures. Viewed in this context, it is not surprising that the Sri Lankan Government's response to the LTTE proposals was cautious and restrained. The Government's immediate reaction was to say that there were fundamental differences between the LTTE's proposals and those submitted several months earlier by the Government itself.
In its own proposals regarding an interim administration for the North East, the Government specifically excluded matters pertaining to police, land, revenue and security from the purview of the interim administration. But in the LTTE's counter proposals, all the above with the exception of security are specifically considered to be the domain of the ISGA. Further, in the Government's proposals, while an absolute majority is conceded to the LTTE, provision was made for a minority veto on matters that affected the interests of the Muslim and Sinhalese communities living in the North East.
On the ground the Muslims and Sinhalese of the East, who presently constitute over 60 percent of the population in this region, have strongly protested their inclusion into an LTTE dominated administration. The Muslims in particular have been vociferous about their opposition, as in the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) they have a political party that draws virtually all its strength from the East. The SLMC's first response to the LTTE's proposals has been to say that they do not meet Muslim aspirations.
The Government's cautious response to the LTTE's proposals could also be due to its apprehensions about a backlash against them from Sinhalese nationalists bolstered by opposition political parties. Pro-war Sinhalese nationalists who call for the military subjugation of Tamil nationalism last week physically attacked leading Sinhalese and Tamil cultural artistes who had gathered together for an inter-ethnic cultural festival in Colombo. What this increasingly frustrated minority needs is the politically motivated backing by the major opposition parties to run amok and riot on the streets, as has happened on past occasions when Governments appeared to make concessions to Tamil demands for regional autonomy.
The unfortunate history of post-independence Sri Lankan politics is that opposition parties have repeatedly seized upon Governmental concessions to Tamil parties as betrayals of the Sinhalese to mobilise popular opposition to the Government. The last occasion for this unsavoury practice was in Parliament itself in August 2000, when many members of the present Government behaved like louts, hooted and burnt copies of the Draft Constitution that President Chandrika Kumaratunga sought to present before Parliament. Today, alas, it is the turn of President Kumaratunga and her party to get even with those who wield the reins of the Government.
There is much to commend in the LTTE's proposals, in particular their willingness to give weight to the principles of good governance, representative democracy and accountability. They are the result of a great deal of effort and provide a basis from which to engage in dialogue with other parties to the conflict, such as the Government and the Muslims. The fact that the LTTE has invested so much time and effort in a political endeavour is to be appreciated by those who seek a peaceful solution to the ethnic conflict.
For nearly six months the LTTE focused its attention on the production of its interim administration proposals, holding a wide range of consultations with local and international experts in its capital of Kilinochchi and also in numerous foreign countries, including France, Northern Ireland, Denmark, Norway and Switzerland. The document they have produced is a concise exposition of Tamil thinking over which there is, of course, the final authority of the LTTE. There is no doubt that the proposals are maximalist in spirit; but they are an opening offer in negotiations in which there has got to be give and take.
With its proposals for an Interim Self Governing Authority the LTTE has given concrete form to its expectations in a manner that is essentially compatible with peaceful coexistence in a united Sri Lanka. The fact that the LTTE has recognised the right of the Sri Lankan Government to appoint members to the ISGA, and has not challenged the right of the Sri Lankan security forces to be present in the North East, are specific indicators of a preparedness to accept a united country.
Further, even with regard to the new regional institutions they have proposed, such as the police and judiciary, there appears to be an openness to dialogue with the Government on how to set them up and on their composition. It is unlikely that the Government will either have the ability or the intention to set up new institutions that supersede the existing ones during an interim administrative period. New institutions that require legal and constitutional change are more appropriate for the final political settlement.
It is noteworthy that, in the Sri Lankan Government's immediate response to the LTTE's proposal, the Government's chief negotiator, Prof. G.L. Peiris, noted that the international community had strongly supported the peace process and emphasised the principle of partnership. He also pointed out that the joint statement issued in New Delhi at the end of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's visit to India earlier this month had "made a definitive statement about the parameters within which a negotiated political solution should be arrived at." The joint statement made mention of the fact that the two Governments expected the LTTE to be reasonable and comprehensive in the proposals it made regarding the interim administration, and stressed that its proposals should be linked to the final settlement.
The linkage of the interim administration to the final solution is important because it implies that there will be a progression towards a federal and democratic system. At present, neither of these exists in the North East. The interim administration that is permissible, and realistic to achieve, at this stage, will necessarily have less powers and democracy in it than the final solution, which must see the full flowering of democracy and sharing of power at all levels and for all communities.
Perhaps the Ceasefire Agreement signed in February 2002 between the two parties with Norwegian facilitation can be a model in respect of creating new working arrangements during the period of the interim administration. It is an agreement between the two sides that has enabled the LTTE to take on new roles and work in Government-controlled territory without the need for constitutional changes. There is certainly a need for an ISGA until the final political settlement is reached, but it will need to be compatible with a united framework of governance.
Jehan Perera is Media Director, National Peace Council of Sri Lanka. Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal