Sri Lanka's Post-Conflict Reconstruction Challenges

Posted in Asia , Democracy | 11-Jun-10 | Author: Balaji Chandramohan

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse (L) and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on June 9.

A year after the death of terrorist organization, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)'s head V Prabhakaran's death, Sri Lanka is still struggling to get back to peace. Nothing illustrates better than the continued emergency extended on June 9, 2010.

To garner support for his country's post-reconstruction work, Sri Lankan President Mahindra Rajapakse has arrived in India on June 8, 2010 on a four-day visit. He is far from being universally welcomed. Tamil organizations in Southern India had protested against the visit. Rajapakse had tried to sooth the ego of the Indian establishment who had felt that Sri Lanka is increasingly moving towards China and Pakistan especially after the successful annihilation of the LTTE.

The problem of course in post-conflict management starts and ends with Rajapakse. The paradox with Rajapakse is that he has got many faces like many of the third world country leaders and the problem get magnified if there is a section of the population which needs to rehabilitate just as in the case of Tamils in Sri Lanka. We have seen similar events unfolding in Rwanda, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Angola, Liberia, Uganda, and Nigeria and in fact even in South Africa after the end of the cold war. The leaders of these countries have been hypocritical and had played many games at many stages that the "civil war" or the war within never gets resolved. The big question arises on how nearly three hundred thousand Tamils displaced because the war with LTTE would be rehabilitated. Although the Sri Lankan government had promised to resettle all 300,000 war displaced within six months of defeating the LTTE, the deadline for closure of relief camps housing the refugees had been extended to August 2010 by the Rajapakse government.

This resent against the majority Sinhalese is very much in evident the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka. Also, the Diaspora Tamil population which had funded the LTTE for years had been left wandering what happened to their money which means that the anti-Sinhalese movement is very much in sight though not in the form of LTTE in the future.

On the other hand, the state building in Sri Lanka and the reconciliation with the Tamils is compounded by the controversial 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution which gave effect to the devolution provisions of the controversial Indo-Lanka Accord, signed in July 1987 by President J.R. Jayewardene and the Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi. The 13th amendment came into effect in 1978.

The 13th amendment sought to devolve power to newly instituted provincial councils throughout Sri Lanka. It contained three lists detailing respectively the areas of government devolved to the provinces (List I), the powers retained at the centre (the Reserved List - List II) and a Concurrent List (List III) of shared functions which were ultimately controlled by Parliament. The exact problems are

  • The exact division of power between the centre and the provinces is not made clear
  • The powers of provincial councils can be controlled, reduced or abolished by the central government acting unilaterally
  • There is no subject over which a provincial council can claim to exercise exclusive competence or jurisdiction

The 13th amendment and Provincial Councils Act of 1987 established the north and east province as one, which should be subject to ratification by referendum. However, this referendum has not yet taken place; the constitutional status of the east remains obscure. While successive parliamentary committees since 1987 have sought to clear up the confusion, the only clarity thus far achieved is that all Tamil parties are opposed to any northeast 'demerger'. This has been the central challenge in the Sri Lankan post-conflict reconstruction.

The post-conflict reconstruction of Sri Lanka would not be possible if one doesn't under stand that the Sri Lankan state under President Rajapakse waged the war against LTTE by understanding the 19th century Prussian Military theorist, Clausewitz whose famous dictum stated that "war is the continuation of politics by other means."

Winning the war against the LTTE had given the political capital for Rajapakse to heal the war wounds, but if history is anything to go by in the third world countries, "peace settlement" after conflict has not been anything near smooth.