Ilankai Tamil Sangam
Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA
Northeastern Herald Editorial, Nov. 7-16, 2003
The counterproposals put forward by the LTTE to those submitted by the government for the establishment of an interim administration in the northeast appears a much more flexible and moderate document than what many people predicted it would be. Some foretold the Tigers would present maximalist demands to facilitate fallback positions during negotiations.
From public reactions it appears that the Sinhalese and Muslims do not feel that the counterproposals have violated their sense of proportion or moderation. Even the reaction of Minister Rauff Hakeem was not to reject the counterproposals out of hand, but to say that it did not meet the aspirations of the Muslims. The Sinhala extremist parties have however condemned the counterproposals.
The document has refrained from mentioning contentious issues such as internal security, or about the LTTE’s police and military services, though there is a passing reference to law and order. Further, a judiciary and the human rights commission are to be included to strengthen the rule of law. All in all, the counterproposals have taken pains to scrupulously keep from mentioning anything that would generate exasperation among sections of the south.
This however portends a long-drawn out and hard-fought contest at the negotiating table. Once again, the LTTE toed the line of moderation with S. P. Thamilchelvam, leader of the LTTE’s political wing, declaring that the counterproposals are not an inflexible document, but could be modified during negotiations.
Though the document itself puts forward a series of proposals, there are two, which deserve special mention.
One is that the unit of devolution is the eight districts forming the present northeast province. This is despite arguments that the region of historical habitation of the Tamils could include areas outside the northeast as well, which would have rendered the Muslims numerically less significant than when the unit of devolution is the northeast proper. The political clout of the Muslims within this larger unit of devolution would have been less too.
The second point is the LTTE’s willingness to contest elections in five years’ time. This, while pulling the rug from under the feet of those who criticise the Tigers for the lack of democratic credentials, also establishes the LTTE is willing to permit the test of its popularity by submitting itself to the electorate. The fact the Tigers have adverted to an election for the northeast, also indicates the acknowledgement the northeast will have to be treated as distinct society.
As of now, the most formidable stumbling block towards putting the plan on the road is the extra-constitutional nature of the interim administration, which requires a two-thirds majority in parliament. A consensus between the PA and UNF is a vital prerequisite for forging such a majority, but the antagonism between the two parties renders such a prospect bleak.
The counterproposals have put the ball once again in the government’s court. How the UNF will respond depends on numerous factors, which are not confined to the machinations of the PA.
The government has been forthcoming in courting the goodwill of the international community; therefore when responding to the proposals too, it will need to keep in mind the interests of this community, whose membership does not necessarily agree on all matters of military, strategic and geopolitical importance in the South Asian region.
Posted November 20, 2003