President Mahinda Rajapaksa, addressing a meeting in Kilinochchi during his tour in the Northern Province recently, said if the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) was prepared to give up its demand for a separate State, the government was prepared to abolish the Executive Presidential system in the country.
President Rajapaksa commenced his tour by attending several welfare programmes, which were aimed at enhancing the socio-economic conditions of the people affected by the war in Kilinochchi. The former LTTE stronghold not only witnessed the horrible moments of the last lap of the war between the LTTE and the Security Forces in 2009, the region also suffered in the hands of the LTTE when the outfit established its de-facto capital there, soon after it was flushed out from the Jaffna Peninsula following the military operation code named, ‘Operation Riviresa’ in 1994.
The LTTE ruled Kilinochchi and the majority of the Wanni region with its own administrative network, which included a police force and courthouses. This situation continued for nearly 15 years until the outfit met its waterloo in 2009. The LTTE staged several successful operations code named ‘unceasing waves’ against the Security Forces from Kilinochchi and the most successful of them was the overrunning of the Elephant Pass base. It was after proving its strength militarily with the success at Elephant Pass the LTTE began to focus more towards its political activities in 2002.
Kilinochchi, which was considered as the granary of the Northern Province, turned into a centre of political activities and became extremely popular with the diplomats from Norway and the co-chair countries, including the European Union. These countries put all their efforts to see the LTTE entering into the political mainstream with the North and East crisis reaching a negotiated settlement.
Several high-ranking diplomats in the calibre of Yasushi Akashi, the Japanese Special Envoy, had said that they only remembered two places in Sri Lanka, Colombo and Kilinochchi, when the Norwegian facilitated peace process was in progress.
The LTTE had also extensively used Kilinochchi and other areas such as Mullaitivu and its surrounding areas along the coastal stretch of the Bay of Bengal for gunrunning activities, which they deceptively conducted in fisheries harbours.
The LTTE also built airstrips in Kilinochchi for its planes to take off for aerial attacks. Therefore, Kilinochchi being the self-proclaimed ‘capital’ of the LTTE, the outfit during its existence in the region highlighted to a certain extent, how the separate State of Eelam it dreamt of would be administrated once it was established.
However, the LTTE’s arrogance and its disregard for the political process, which would have paved the way to resolve the Tamil question, led to the outfit digging its own grave.
The TNA was a brainchild of the LTTE and the outfit formed it with the idea of making it a political body that would play a supportive role, not deviating from its political ideology, during the political process it engaged in with the Norwegian facilitation in 2002.
The TNA, which is a combination of five political parties, had even closer interaction with the LTTE’s political wing led by S.P. Thamilchelvan.
Whenever the LTTE called for meetings, parties aligned in the TNA travelled to Kilinochchi and listened to whatever Thamilchelvan and other members of the outfit’s political wing came out with.
Since the LTTE had played a key role in the Norwegian facilitated peace process, the constituent parties in the TNA were compelled to play a supportive role to the outfit, despite the fact that they had denounced the concept of a separate State with the signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord in 1987.
Almost all the parties in the TNA paid a heavy price in the hands of the LTTE for denouncing the separate Eelam and entering the political mainstream with the signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord.
Even the fully-fledged moderate political party, the Illankai Tamil Arasu Katchchi (ITAK), which had first spearheaded the campaign for a separate state, lost several of its high profile political leaders such as Appapillai Amirthalingam, Vettivelu Yogeswaran and Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam, in the hands of the LTTE, for taking a firm stance against the armed struggle.
Leaders and cadre of the other political parties such as TELO, EPRLF and PLOTE were also brutally gunned down in their thousands by the LTTE for entering the political mainstream and denouncing the armed struggle for a separate State.
The TNA as a whole had given up the demand for a separate State much before Mahinda Rajapaksa became the fifth Executive President of the country.
The Executive Presidential system was introduced with the new Constitution in 1978. The system became an inevitable and a formidable one with the emergence of the Tamil militancy in the early 1980s.
President J.R. Jayewardene, when introducing the Executive Presidential system said, it was more economy-oriented and that his idea was to turn the island into another Singapore in Asia. But, the late President’s dream of making Sri Lanka a prosperous island nation was short-lived as his government was compelled to engage in filling the arsenals and modernizing the Security Forces of the country to fight an internal conflict.
The Tamil militancy haunted the island for three decades and the ferocity of the Tamil extremism did not spare the Executive Presidents either. President Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated and President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga lost an eye in another suicide bomb attack.
The Executive Presidential system came under severe criticism from the time it was introduced by the J.R. Jayewardene regime in 1978.
It was the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), which was in the Opposition, and its leftist allies that were in the forefront in rejecting the Executive Presidential system. When the SLFP and its allies, led by Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, contested the Presidential Election in 1994, pledges were made that the priority would be given for the abolition of the Executive Presidency, once the United National Party (UNP) Government was defeated.
It is interesting to note that more than the UNP, which introduced the Executive Presidential system, the parties that vehemently opposed the system have been reaping the benefits of the system for nearly two decades since 1994.
Therefore, since Tamil political parties, including the pro-government Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) led by Minister and a former militant leader, Douglas Devananda, had denounced the demand for a separate Eelam way back in 1987, the ball is now in the court of President Rajapaksa to get rid of the Executive Presidential system.
So, the challenge has been thrown at President Rajapaksa by TNA Leader, R. Sampanthan, who says the TNA has already denounced separatism, and now it is time for the President to get rid of the Executive Presidential system. It is also a time for the President to prove his credibility.