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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 36, August 29, 2015

Sri Lankan Parliamentary Poll Results Implications For The Peace Process

Monday 31 August 2015

by Sanjal Shastri

The results of the recently concluded general elections in Sri Lanka are likely to have a significant impact on the post-conflict peace- building process. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, has indicated on several occasions that he will go ahead and devolve power to the Northern Province and implement the 13th Amendment. The 13th Amendment aims at devolving powers to the Provinces.

Meaningful devolution of power to the Northern Province has the potential to have a positive impact on the post-conflict peace-building process. Though nearly six years have passed since the LTTE was defeated in 2009, the journey to a long-term peace structure is far from complete. Though physical fighting has stopped, the dangers of violence resurfacing would always loom large unless the Tamil population is successfully integrated into the national mainstream. The key to ensuring the integration of the Tamil population will be their participation in the political process. The devolution of power to the Northern Province is an important step in ensuring greater political participation. Studies across the world have repeatedly demonstrated the visible impact of sharing political power in maintaining peace in an ethnically heterogeneous society. In multi-ethnic societies, the alienation of one group from the political process greatly increases the risk of violent conflict breaking out.

A recent example of this is the ongoing crisis in Iraq. The Nouri-al-Maliki Government ignored the multi-ethnic nature of the Iraqi society and the different ethnic groups were not involved in the power-sharing arrangement in the political process. The rise of the ISIS and the sectarian conflict in Iraq today is a direct corollary of the Sunnis and Kurds not having access to power and opportunities to participate in the political process. It is not surprising that the rise of the LTTE was also linked to the Tamil provinces in the North and East finding it difficult to secure a fair role and space in the political process.

Similar Tamil identities in Malaysia and Singapore have not resulted in violent conflict, like what was seen in Sri Lanka. The primary reason for this is that in Malaysia and Singapore, the power-sharing mechanisms are such that ethnic minorities have access to their share of political power. Though there are challenges, they are often voiced within the platforms provided by the political process and do not result in the type of violence and conflict one has seen in countries where ethnic minorities perceive gross injustice to themselves. Thus, the 13th Amendment and the devolution of power in Sri Lanka are going to be a crucial factor in determining the success of the post-conflict peace process.

Wickramasinghe’s intentions to go ahead with the devolution of power and the 13th Amendment are indeed a positive sign. In a recent interview, he mentioned that giving power to the village provincial councils is going to be a part of the agenda. Providing greater power to the village will open the way for greater minority representation in the political system. It will also mean that the Tamil population will have greater decision-making authority. This approach is likely to be more successful than the more hardline approach adopted by former President Rajapaksa.

Sri Lanka’s journey to long-term reconciliation is going to be a long and challenging one. The key to success lies in the Tamil community’s participation in the political process. Wickre-masinghe’s proposal to devolve power is definitely a step in the right direction. Unhindered access to the political process is an invaluable part of maintaining peace in an ethnically heterogeneous society. The next ten years are going to be crucial in determining if there can be long-term peace in the island-nation. Wickremesinghe’s victory is definitely a fresh start and devolution of power will be a small but right step in the long road to long-term peace.

The author, a Masters student in International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, is currently on a UN internship in Chile.