Sri Lanka’s vibrant Tamil community in Britain has been gently advised to be ready for political compromises if it is serious about constitutional reforms in the island nation.
The time has come for the Tamils to stop being rigid on political issues, a meeting of Tamil expatriates was told by Jayampathy Wickramaratne, head of a committee providing technical support to the Constitutional Assembly to draft the country’s new constitution.
“It is impossible and is unrealistic to expect all aspirations and demands of everyone are met,” said Wickramaratne, a member of the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly. “There have to be compromises.”
The left-wing politician also told the gathering in London on May 8 that this was the first time the country’s two main political parties had come together to form a government, with support from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) as well as representatives of the Muslim community.
“This is a great opportunity that may not come again, certainly not in the foreseeable future,” he warned in an hour-long speech at an event organized by the Non Resident Tamils of Sri Lanka (NRTSL).
“It is therefore important that this opportunity is not missed. This reality must be recognized,” he added.
Some Tamil parties, the TNA included, have traditionally taken a non-negotiable stand on political issues. The now vanquished Tamil Tigers or LTTE used to dub Tamils who disagreed with it as “traitors”.
Wickramaratne admitted that the process of constitution reform currently taking place in Sri Lanka may not result in the “best constitution” because of contrary pulls and pressures based on ethnic and linguistic lines.
Colombo was also aware that both Tamil and Sinhalese hardliners were keen to subvert the reconciliation process following the end of the military conflict in 2009 when the military crushed the LTTE.
“Hence,” Wickramaratne told the Tamil audience, “it is the duty of the silent majority on both sides (of the ethnic divide) to prevail in order to bring about genuine constitutional reform so that all communities in Sri Lanka live as equals and with dignity.”
Although Wickramaratne visited Britain in a personal capacity, the Tamils who listened to him were fairly sure that his views represented largely, if not wholly, the thinking of the government in Sri Lanka.
Among other things, he suggested a second chamber in Sri Lanka, independent commissions unfettered by political interference as well as an independent judiciary.
Sri Lanka also badly needed election reforms, he pointed out. There must also be a clear division of powers between the central government and provincial councils.
Tamil sources told that Wickramaratne’s frankness was widely appreciated by the Tamil community, and there was a general understanding that one cannot expect Colombo to bow down to all Tamil demands.
Some Tamil participants at the meeting admitted that the free and frank discussion that took place in London may not have been possible when the Tamil Tigers reigned supreme.
The NRTSL, which organized the meeting, was founded in October 2014 by a group of Tamils from varying political and professional background in Britain keen to play a role in Sri Lanka’s nation building.