SLFP ready to be ‘flexible’ over power sharing: Sri Lankan minister

By M.R. Narayan Swamy,
Indo-Asian News Service

New Delhi : A Sri Lankan minister overseeing the preparation of a power sharing formula to end the ethnic conflict says the ruling party will be “flexible” over its devolution proposal that has not enthused the minorities.

Support TwoCircles

“They are prepared to accept the majority view, prepared to be flexible,” Science and Technology Minister Tissa Vitarana said in a telephonic interview as the Sri Lanka Freedom Party’s (SLFP) made its proposals public on May Day.

“That is a good sign. It is a flexible situation in which they (SLFP) are not going to be dogmatic,” Vitarana told IANS.

The minister, who belongs to a small Left group allied to President Mahinda Rajapakse’s SLFP, said political parties involved in the task of preparing a credible devolution package could discuss and “come to a suitable position”.

“It is not something they are not prepared to go,” he said, in reference to the SLFP. “They are not insisting on any position. They are giving their views in terms of their (party) document. The discussions will have to proceed from this (stand).”

Stating that it stood for a negotiated settlement of the country’s long running conflict based on a scheme of devolution of power, the SLFP announced that the unit of devolution would be district – not province as Tamils have strived for.

Each district would have a chief minister appointed by the president. There are 25 districts in Sri Lanka, but SLFP said this number could go up to 30.

If necessary, more than one contiguous district could be merged, said the SLFP document unveiled at a May Day rally in Colombo.

It also said that would want the parliamentary form of government restored in Sri Lanka.

In addition, it said, powers would be conferred by statute to municipal councils and urban councils to devolve power to the grassroots.

The SLFP’s proposals are a poor shadow of the sweeping recommendations a majority panel of experts gave in December to change the way war torn Sri Lanka is governed.

That panel had called for “genuine power sharing”, suggesting among other things a bicameral legislature and two vice-presidents from among Sri Lanka’s minority communities.

It also sought an Autonomous Zonal Council (AZC) and an Indian Tamil Cultural Council (ITCc) to cater to the needs of what in Sri Lanka are known as “Indian Tamils” working in the tea industry.

The experts went on to say that the failure of the minorities to have their due share of power had alienated them from the Sri Lankan state.

In late March, Vitarana had told IANS in New Delhi that he would want the exercise of preparing a power sharing formula with the consent of major political parties to be completed within 60 days.

Asked if that May-end deadline could still be met, he said the process itself had got delayed much against his wishes.

“Considering the gravity of the issues we need to discuss, it would need at least two months (from now),” the minister said.

Outside the battlefield that Sri Lanka has become between the government and LTTE, Vitarana’s task is considered most crucial, one that might have a critical impact on a quarter century of fighting.

The international community, India included, believes that only a genuine power sharing formula will help end the Sri Lankan conflict that has claimed over 65,000 lives since 1983.