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G.L. PEIRIS TELLS CHATHAM HOUSE THAT THE STRIKING FEATURE SRI LANKA HAS ACHIEVED IS POLITICAL STABILITY

By Walter Jayawardhana

The striking feature Sri Lanka has achieved during the past few months is the strong political stability the island nation has established for itself said Professor G. L. Peiris addressing a distinguished gathering of professionals and academics at London’s Chatham House.

Addressing a well attended meeting presided over by Dr. Gareth Price, Head of the Institute’s Asia Program, Professor G.L.Peiris, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Export Development and International Trade said ten days ago during elections for two Provincial Councils in the country the country’s ruling party of President Rajapaksa won all 27 polling stations when utmost public support for the government has been exhibited.

The Minister reminded the audience that Sri Lanka practices proportional representation system of elections under the new constitution.

“ If the country had first past the post system of elections just like we had under the 1947 constitution we could have won all 27 polling stations without a single one going to the opposition! This is like, in Britain, the Labour winning all the byelections” the minister exclaimed.

He likened that to the great 5/6 majority achieved by J.R. Jayewardene in a past general election.

Professor Peiris said unlike in Britain , under the current constitution in Sri Lanka, no bye-elections are held to fill parliamentary vacancies and one of the disadvantages is that lack of bye elections take away a convenient indicator to monitor variance of public opinion in relation to the government. So, the minister argued that the Provincial council elections provided the voters to express their utmost confidence in the government and a referendum in favour of it.

He said the Sri Lankan electorate has shown that it believed in bringing about a viable political solution simultaneously creating a coherent strategy that makes way for such a policy to be implemented. He said in the past attempts have been made to bring peace that failed for variety of reasons. He said today it could be seen in the Eastern Province the magnitude of development that could be brought by power sharing with the center. He said , such great change could be brought about to the area after nearly a quarter of a century of misrule, with no election, only after the Fascist mess was ended by military clearing for the Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim voters of the area. It was only possible, Professor Peiris said, when the people exercised their suffrage by expressing their political will. He said what has happened in the area was not an end in itself but a means to an end. He called the result of the process as a “renaissance of economic activities.”

Professor Peiris said what set in motion was not anything created newly after prolonged acrimonious negotiations but what happened was implementation of powers already existed under the 13th amendment of the constitution agreed upon by the indo-Sri Lanka agreement reached in 1987.

The minister who was also involved in constitution making in the past said the talks with the LTTE failed to bear fruit as the negotiations were not structured and lacked good faith among the people towards them. The talks , he said treated by the people with suspicion and opposition on reasonable grounds. He pointed out one of the main reasons for the lack of public confidence was the LTTE’s great reluctance to decommission their weapons. He said great many times , the Tamil Tigers refused to put this matter, on the negotiating table .Another reason was the exclusivity the Tamil Tigers were wearing on themselves. Under no circumstances, although it was against the true ground situation , they refused to accept, that there were also other political sections of the Tamils present and capable of representing their people. Professor Peiris said the LTTE were adamantly refusing to face elections taking everyone nowhere.

By applying basic concepts of the 13th amendment the government was able to achieve so much in the Eastern Province. Professor Peiris said President Rajapaksa is having the profound desire to extend his wishes, similar to those about the Eastern Province to the Northern Province within the next six months and hold elections for the area as soon as it is humanly possible, he said.

He said with an ongoing war, the government was able to record a growth of 7 percent and our export income rose up to 15 percent. The government believes, Professor Peiris said that the benefits of the growth should trickle down to the rural hinterland. He said the government is focusing on teaching IT to the rural schools. The government is also implementing forming export promotion villages to involve producers in the export of goods by value addition and networking.

Speaking about GSP Plus G.L.Peiiris said our apparel industry is earning about three times more than tea, which used to be our main export earner. EU which is giving this concession to a handful of countries will be coming up with the choice of extending it for another three years in few weeks. The Minister said the industry has made village girls the breadwinners of families and it has contributed to a social metamorphosis in the country. He said our apparel factories have been called so “lean and green”. They have become, he said, environmentally high in quality and ethically so acceptable as we apply labour laws so strictly. So, the garments we produce are called ‘Garments without Guilt’. We carry on with all these standards during times of immense complexities since there is a vilolent insurgency taking place in the country. Our trains ,omnibuses, schools, railway station are attacked by terrorists and public security measures have to be adopted. He said some organizations want the EU to use GSP Plus as a punitive measure. If such measures are taken, he said it would be the hundreds of thousands poor people who would be hit and not the government or the manufacturing companies who would adopt alternative measures to absorb the shock. But under the laws of EU “due process” will have to take place before any decision is taken, Peiris insisted.

The Sri Lanka minister said all kinds of punitive action is being proposed by an orchestrated campaign against Sri Lanka. He said to end Sri Lankan membership in the human rights committee of the UN these interests showed they would take any expenses or go any distance to hurt the country. Speaking about Garret Evans who was proposing during a memorial lecture on an assassination victim of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam , Neelan Thiruchelvam, the Minister said the former Australian politician was proposing physical intervention including military intervention by powerful countries against Sri Lanka, foregoing the Security Council of the United Nations on alleged human rights violations. The Minister said Evans contention is that his group is a set of do-gooders who want to police the world. He thinks they must have the power since the UN Security Council is hindered by its veto and cannot actually fulfill its task. But how do we know, questioned Peiris, that these self-righteous groups of powerful nations are doing it to plunder the oil riches of the poorer ones. He said, Sri Lanka does not subscribe to this contention of Evans or his International Crisis Group. He said this so called Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is a concept his country would never agree to. He said the principle will be abused and serve to allow powerful states to further their own interests.



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