The Joint Opposition (JO)’s paada yatra is over. Claims and counter claims about participation in it still abundant. The JO, of course, says a million people participated in it. Obviously it is an exaggeration which borders the absurd. According to reports of several media that cannot be accused of favouring the Government the demonstration had taken less than three hours to reach its destination – the Lipton Circus. We have already experience of May Day rallies which took much longer to reach their destination, for example four hours or more. None of them exceeded 50,000 according to the organisers themselves.
We also witnessed several dozen buses that brought people from outstations and city suburbs to the final rally. Even with that crowd, 50,000 would be a very liberal estimate in favour of the JO. Now to calculate its relative strength vis-à-vis the population of the country, even 50,000 would amount to about 0.2 percent. Hence their vain boasts about numbers and strength could be dismissed as another figment of imagination.
Equally empty is their boast of a future siege of Colombo city. Even with 50,000, one would not be able to have a siege of Colombo unless they are armed. Is it armed insurrection that they threaten with
Allow me to digress again into calculations and other related matters. One of the stalwarts of the paada yatra exercise, former Minister and NFF leader Wimal Weerawansa, had failed to appear before the Presidential Commission Investigating Fraud and Corruption (PRECIFAC) apparently on account of fatigue caused by participating in the paada yatra which involved walking a distance of 100 kilometres in a span of five days which on average amounts to 20 kms per day spread over a minimum of six hours with intermittent stops (rest). Only a weakling would be afflicted with fatigue in such an exercise. The fact that it was not fatigue was demonstrated by the manner fellow-Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa and several others danced through almost the entire route. Besides, there are many humble citizens who walk such distances daily on much difficult terrains than macadamised or carpeted roads. Viewed in such a context, his boast of a siege of Colombo reminds one of the drunken mice that claimed to indulge in the exercise of belling the cat.
The final rally at Lipton Circus, just like many mini meetings on the way, revealed the strategy and future plans of the JO. As this column has repeatedly shown, its main slogans are directed towards sabotaging the Constitutional reforms, particularly devolution and other transitional justice related matters, undermining the investigative and legal proceedings against those of its members alleged with corruption, bribery and abuse of power and restoration of the defeated Mahinda Rajapaksa regime with all its defective systems intact. It is none other than rank communalism which they use as an ideological platform to achieve these sinister objectives. There is no positive programme that could address the problems facing the country and grievances of the masses.
On the other hand, matters that the JO opposes are the very measures for which the people have given a mandate twice during the last year. To neglect or postpone would be a dangerous folly for the Government. For example there are several transitional justice mechanisms such as the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) and the a Truth Commission, legal reforms such as the repeal or revision of the PTA and the Emergency Regulations and good governance measures such as the Audit Commission and a Code of Ethics for Parliamentarians which are in the offing.
These measures, though distinct, should be viewed as part of a series required to ensure democracy and development. Therefore there should be coordination and cooperation among various bodies that would be established under these separate legislative measures. Moreover such mechanisms would address many overlapping issues. For example, the OMP would not only concentrate on finding the missing persons or issuing death certificates where suitable in cases of missing persons, but it would also have to consider measures to prevent recurrence of disappearances or involuntary abduction of persons. The latter task is also envisaged in repealing or reforming the PTA and the Emergency Regulations.
All such measures should provide room for participation by all stakeholders or in other words be inclusive. It would be naïve to regard, for example, the Truth Commission as a one-sided affair where justice is meted out to one party to the conflict or one ethnic group. Further the scope of the Truth Commission could be enlarged to include measures to restore certain socio-economic rights to community groups, i.e. to restore to them economic and cultural rights such as a livelihood, education etc. which are denied at present. These should be viewed as instruments furthering democracy and good governance rather than narrow rectification of personal injustices.
National reconciliation and justice
All affected persons irrespective of their racial, religious, class differences and social status should be able to seek justice and fair play from these institutions. This factor has to be emphasized in view of the hostile communalist propaganda against such institutions and enactment of relevant legislation.
Sri Lanka could benefit from the experience of other countries in establishing the above institutions and initiating relevant procedures but the institutions and processes that are initiated should be home-made or grounded in the reality of Sri Lanka.
Though it would be advisable to get foreign technical cooperation the objective of national reconciliation and justice could be that it is best served by having the decision-making powers in Sri Lankan hands. Anyway it would be best to arrive at a prior national consensus (to the maximum possible degree) on the controversial aspects such as composition of the Truth Commission for the mechanism should be all inclusive.
One also has to note that reconciliation is a lengthy process and all these measures cannot release a genie that would provide perfect solutions at once. If all such measures are coordinated and rationally sequenced it would bring increasing dividends as compound interest enhances profit.