Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, seeking a second term in the January 26 presidential poll, on Tuesday said Tamils would be given greater say in matters of governance through devolution of powers to provinces and promised to create an upper House in the Parliament by proposing an amendment in the Constitution on his re-election.
In an interactive session over breakfast with Colombo based foreign media at his official residence here Mr. Rajapaksa said, "The end of the war does not mean the end of the conflict. We need to politically address the needs of Tamils."
The promises made by Mr. Rajapaksa have to be evaluated against the backdrop of serious efforts being made by the former Army Chief to garner Tamil and Muslim voters who account for 25 per cent of the electorate after securing the endorsement of the post-Prabakaran Tamil National Alliance (TNA).
Most political observers here are of the view that the forthcoming presidential election would be a close contest. A few months ago, re-election of Mr. Rajapaksa was considered a foregone conclusion. The emergence of the retired General as the rallying point for the political opponents of Mr. Rajapaksa has changed the ground scene.
Since both the chief contenders are from the majority Sinhalese community, the focus would be especially on the choice of the Tamils who account for 12.5 percent of island nation’s 20 million people.
Mr. Rajapaksa said that he planned to hold discussions with various Tamil groups on holding the early Northern Provincial election and also consult all parties in a bid to hammer out consensus on a political solution to the ethnic conflict acceptable to all stake holders.
On his promises of a political solution and more powers to provinces, the President said, "All this will require amending the constitution and seeking the approval of the people at a referendum. The ordinary people simply want to live in peace, but there is a demand and a need for a political settlement."
Emphasising that he does not consider Tamil as minorities, the President said that he wants to treat all the citizens in Sri Lanka as equal and give them equal rights.
Mr. Rajapaksa said rapid development of the North and the East of the island are underway with investment and aid from World Bank , Asian Development Bank (ABD), Japan, US , Iran, India and China.
He said the World Bank was spending 450 million dollars over four years to reconstruct war-damaged highways in Tamil regions. In response to a question on proliferation of the Army camps in the North and the East, the President said that after the end of the 30 year old ethnic conflict, the Army is involved in the reconstruction, de mining and infrastructure development in the region and hence one can see its continued presence.