The Sri Lankan government’s revelation in the current session of the UN Human Rights Council that it is committed to the setting up of a Constituent Assembly of Parliament that will adopt a new Constitution, besides a truth and reconciliation commission, is a laudable step forward six years after the end of the horrific civil war. It reflects the dramatic change in the political context in the country. The setting up of a government of national unity with the two largest political parties, the United National Party and the Sri Lankan Freedom Party, sharing power, with the Tamil National Alliance being given the post of Leader of the Opposition, has provided a welcome space for a credible initiative on the Tamil question. This is in pointed contrast to the nationalist approach of its predecessor government led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who appeared to be deflecting attention from its record in the civil war by playing up perceived differences in the international community. The previous regime’s promises of taking steps for reconciliation and rehabilitation and specific steps towards devolution of power to the provincial councils, never manifested on the ground. Notwithstanding the outcome of the UNHRC meeting, it is clear that institutional mechanisms are being put in order by the Sri Lankan government. This offers the hope that there will be a redressing of the long-standing grievances of the minority community related to devolution of power. This is besides the pressing issues of rehabilitation and reconciliation. The involvement of a substantive chunk of Tamil representatives belonging to the Tamil National Alliance in the prospective Constituent Assembly should give a fillip to these processes, and provide an ideal opportunity to thrash out differences related to devolution of power and questions concerning federalism and diversity, in a democratic manner.
It was always clear that the flowering of an inclusive republic in Sri Lanka was not delinked from the democratisation process. If violence, chauvinism and military conflict hampered this transition before the civil war, triumphalism, persisting militarisation and the concentration of power within an increasingly authoritarian coterie acted as restraining fetters after the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The defeat of the quasi-authoritarian and chauvinist forces in both the presidential and parliamentary elections, the formation of a national unity government and its explicit call for an accountable and democratic form of governance by both the elected President and the Prime Minister, have eased the process of building an acceptable solution to the conflict. The international community should encourage Sri Lanka on this history-making reconciliatory path, and ensure that these efforts are not derailed on any account.