Finding common ground

Monday, 7 September 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Political cultures need challenges to change. After the formation of the National Government, efforts are underway to formulate a document outlining the common stance of the two main parties ahead of Geneva sessions in a bid to face international pressure with a united front. 

Following the swearing-in of the remainder of the Cabinet ministers and deputy ministers this week, the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) will gather together to decide on the response of the State to the investigation report on allegations of war crimes and human rights abuses to be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions in September. 

It will be one of the highlights of an extended Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which the UNP and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) will agree upon.It comes ahead of the UNHRC report but both sides are likely to find consensus difficult given the differences in political ideology displayed by the parties previously.

An advance copy of the OISL report is expected to be presented to President Maithripala Sirisena next week. Thereafter the report will be formally presented to the Council at its 29th sessions which begin on 15 September. The mandate of the UNHRC probe required it to undertake investigations into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and crimes by troops and the LTTE.

The resolution’s main sponsor, the United States, has already welcomed the Government’s move for a domestic mechanism to investigate alleged war crimes. For this purpose, the US will together with Sri Lanka move a fresh resolution. The first formal draft of the resolution is expected to be known in Geneva later this month. Tamil community stakeholders including the Northern Provincial Council have already insisted on an international inquiry and making them as well as the diaspora groups accept the internal probe remains key to the National Government.

UNP senior members have told media the document will also contain measures to protect Army officials who may be targeted by the UNHRC report. However, shielding the “war heroes” while keeping the domestic mechanism internationally credible will be dicey, to say the least. Moreover, the SLFP has also dragged its feet on openly discussing political power devolution to the north, investigating thousands of people who disappeared during the war and reducing Army presence in Tamil majority areas. 

Both parties have agreed on a two-year window to concentrate on the twin issues of reconciliation and development. If they fail to deliver on these two fronts, a weary public will almost certainly make their ire clear at the next round of provincial polls. The expense of a National Government can only be justified if they can implement a progressive stance on reconciliation but getting the UNP and SLFP on the same platform and in line with the expectations of the international community will test the relationship between President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. 

Such a MoU would also further alienate smaller parties within the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), which already have frayed relations with the SLFP. For both Sirisena and Wickremesinghe, this could be the chance to go from being political survivors to statesmen.