Confirming that he had a political solution to the Tamil question in mind and that discussions with political parties and the people would go ahead, President Mahinda Rajapaksa told The Hindu: “[On devolution] “we must know the minds of the people… What we want is reconfirmation of what they want… The solution that I have in mind might not be good enough for them; they might not accept it. Not only the political parties, the people must accept it… We want to appoint a committee, from both sides, and discuss all these.” He indicated that elections to the Northern Provincial Council would take place in 2011.
In a wide-ranging interview given to me at ‘Temple Trees' in Colombo, Sri Lanka's powerful President, who began his second term on November 19, answered questions about the prospects of finding a political solution to the Tamil question, the resettlement of all the displaced Tamils in the North, the role of Opposition parties, his initiative for a trilingual Sri Lanka, the jailing and conviction of the former Army Commander, General Sarath Fonseka, and some other current political issues. He characterised bilateral relations with India as “excellent, after the war, and before the war ended.”
Mr. Rajapaksa noted that the principal achievement of his first term as President was the elimination of terrorism and delivery of peace to the people. For the second term, he emphasised that his aim was to “develop the country. After that, the priorities are the people whom we have to win over — the hearts and minds of the people. Now Sri Lanka is one country; it's not divided. So what we want is to see that the whole nation gets all the benefits, not only one area, not only one community. To develop the economy so that all the people benefit.”
Expressing satisfaction over the process of resettling the 300,000 Tamils displaced by the war, he noted that of the 17,000 or 18,000 who had not yet returned to their areas, at least 10,000 were from areas that had to be de-mined. He expected that by December 2010, the government would be able to “send back everyone other than the people who wish to stay there [in the camps].”
Asked about the removal, through a constitutional amendment, of the two-term bar on holding presidential office, a move which has been criticised, he provided an interesting answer: he had observed that during the second year of the second term, leaders in various countries, including Sri Lanka, became “lame ducks”; he wasn't going “to walk into that trap” and wanted to be “free from that [constraint].”
What was his message to the Sri Lankan people and to the international community at the start of his second presidential term? “The message to my people,” President Rajapaksa answered, “is that I am concentrating on development work. I want to make Sri Lanka a hub for the development of knowledge, energy, commerce, naval transportation, and aviation. To achieve that, our people must stay together…To the international community, my message is they must understand our position. We defeated terrorists, not freedom fighters. The whole world is facing this problem. So they must realise what we have achieved and help to develop the country, develop the North-East. They must help us not to widen the gap between the communities but to bring them closer. The past is past; you don't dig into the wounds. We must think positively, not negatively.”