by Dayan Jayatilleka
The TNA’s Northern success, running against the ruling coalition in an area with a heavy military ‘footprint’ means one thing above all else: Sri Lanka remains a functioning, competitive, multiparty democracy.
All thinking and policy within Sri Lanka and about Sri Lanka must stem from recognition of that basic fact. Yet, will the critics of the incumbent administration and of this country grant us that much? Knowing them as I do, I shan’t be holding my breath.
All those who wrote that democracy had died in Sri Lanka with the 18th amendment, not to mention those who cannot write a paragraph about Mahinda Rajapaksa without an obligatory reference to Nazi Germany, should tender apologies to the reading public or at the least wriggle in shame in private, at the TNA’s performance in the Northern and portions of the Eastern province. But again, knowing them as I do, I shan’t be holding my breath.
An emerging ‘pivotal power’, Turkey, much admired for its secularism, moderate Islamic political party and independent foreign policy, has faced a long standing problem of secessionism from its Kurds. Today Turkey is in a better place, not only because of its admirable leadership, but because there is unprecedented space for the Kurds.
Since Turkey hardly has a federal state or regional autonomy for the Kurds, what exactly is that space? It consists of several Kurdish language radio and TV channels, over 30 members of parliament, and many mayors in the Kurdish majority areas.
All this the Tamil people and the TNA have now. This should not be scoffed at, nor should Sri Lanka’s post-war achievement in opening that space and keeping it open.
The election results confirm that which I had told the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the presence of President Rajapaksa, in 2006 or early 2007, when he asked me how sure I was that what I had defined as a Just War, would result in a Just Outcome. I answered that with the North and East liberated by the military from the Tigers’ totalitarianism, electoral and political space would re-open and the Tamil people would be re-enfranchised, enabling them to democratically re-inscribe their grievances and aspirations in the political agenda, albeit within a united Sri Lanka.
Today the domestic geopolitics of the island are clear: the UPFA is the pre-eminent force among the vast majority inhabiting two thirds of the island while the TNA is the pre-eminent entity among of the Tamil people. The UPFA preponderates at the centre, the TNA at the Northern periphery.
This reality is the antechamber to another reality. The TNA cannot dream of another political negotiating partner other than the UPFA. An alliance with the UNP makes no sense because that party lags so far behind, it cannot deliver anything in the foreseeable future, and furthermore, any alliance with the TNA will hurt the UNP’s electoral chances, not enhance them, as candidate Fonseka found out to his cost. The UPFA is the only real game in town among the Sinhalese.
Similarly, no dialogue with the Tamils is possible without the TNA or bypassing it. Any consequential political dialogue must have as its main axis, the UPFA and the TNA.
That second reality results from a third, or bottom line reality. Neither the Sinhalese nor the Tamils can prevail over one another. The Sinhalese could not be pushed beyond a point and they proved it with the victory in war.
The Sinhalese will keep the country as a united territory and the single state, however long it takes, whatever the odds, and whoever the foe, internal or external or any combination thereof. Those located or having regrouped overseas who, having lost the war for Tamil Eelam are trying to regain what they lost by enlisting the support of erstwhile colonial patrons, will learn that what Sri Lanka state has liberated and reunified, it shall hold, under whichever leader, flag or generation and “by whatever means necessary” (Malcolm X).
The Tamils for their part will not relinquish their collective identity and search for dignity.
A sustainable peace is not possible exclusively on the terms of either one or the other community. There will neither be a Tamil state (separate or federal) nor a Sinhala peace over the Tamils. There will have to be a modus vivendi. And such a modus vivendi can only be found along the Buddha’s Middle Path or the Aristotelian Golden Mean between what Sinhala and Tamil nationalism wish.
With the election results we have a new balance of forces; a new conjuncture. It is not and cannot be an equivalence or perfect equilibrium, given abiding demographic realities and the decisive results of a thirty years war. However, it provides a chance for a fresh look and a new realism.
Have we been here before? In 1977 the electoral map was fairly similar, with the UNP enjoying more than a two thirds majority while the TULF dominated the North and pockets of the East. The difference is that the War of Secession has been fought over a prolonged period, and lost. Yet there are lessons to be learnt from the avoidable tragedy that resulted from delay on the one side and delusion on the other. Let us not make the same mistakes again.
Of course, today we are in another place. Any illusions of a separate state as inspired by the Vadukkodai resolution have been burnt or buried at Nandikadal. Any illusions of imposing silence on the Tamils and eliminating their cultural and political resolve have been dispelled by the electoral map that has unrolled with the parliamentary and local government elections. Both communities have thrown their best or worst at each other and both are still standing.
What resilience and resolve! Both the Sinhalese and Tamils should not only be proud of themselves but of each other, because we are inhabitants of one island, and share the same DNA: we are brothers and sisters. What we could achieve together! I am glad we won the war, but sorry we ever had to fight one. Now, we have attained some kind of balance. If the TNA pushes too hard or overshoots the mark, opinion will harden in the bulk of the island, and vice versa.
There can be no solution to Tamil grievances which are unacceptable to the majority of Sinhalese, just as there can be no deep-rooted, peace without Tamil consent. Now is the time to reach out to each other in mutual respect and realism, and establish a durable peace.