By Rathindra Kuruwita
Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) has discussed a request made by President Ranil Wickremesinghe for proposals for ethnic reconciliation and will hand over some proposals before 15 August, the deadline for submitting these proposals, SLMC leader, MP Rauff Hakeem said on Wednesday.
During an All-Party Conference (APC), organised by President Wickremesinghe on 26 July, he presented political parties with a 14-page document on issues of reconciliation that he has identified and his proposals to address them, Hakeem said.
“However, this document did not have solutions to the problems faced by Muslims. The President gave a long explanation on reconciliation, the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act, about land issues, about 13A, etc. Ultimately, the discussion ended with him walking out. I don’t know what the President’s intentions were, but I am not sure if anything came out of the APC,” he said.
Hakeem said that during the APC, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP, M.A. Sumanthiran started talking about the importance of holding Provincial Council elections. The TNA MP told the President that Provincial Council elections have not been held for almost five years, that they could be held with a small amendment to the laws, and that there was no point in talking about devolving power without holding Provincial Council elections.
“Sumanthiran said let’s hold elections and we can continue the discussion on devolving power and reconciliation. However, the President became agitated when the topic of elections came up. He doesn’t like to talk about elections; this was obvious to us. The President repeated that elections could be held later. Wickremesinghe said police powers can’t be given to provinces. He wanted to talk about devolving other powers to the provinces. Of course, the TNA can’t just agree to let go of police powers, and they are not bound to give answers that please the President. The President took the TNA response as a hostile gesture, got up, and walked off,” Hakeem said.
Hakeem said that Muslims were not happy about the merger of the North and East. What was to be a temporary merger ended up being a long-standing one, he said. This adversely affected Muslims in many ways, he said.
“Now the East is separate, and Muslims can try to secure power in the province. We were able to hold the post of Chief Minister once. Devolving power is important, but there are many other problems with the administrative structure. Because of that, there are many disagreements between Tamil leaders and us,” he said.
Hakeem said that parts of Polonnaruwa and Batticaloa districts were attached to the Ampara district several decades ago, and that changed the ethnic composition in the Ampara district.
“A Sinhalese district secretary is never appointed to Batticaloa or Jaffna. In Ampara and Trincomalee the majority community is Muslim, but we never get a Muslim district secretary. We would be really happy if the district secretaries were Muslim in these areas.About 50 percent of the population in the Ampara district live in Pottuvil, Samanthurai and Kalmunai, the SLMC leader said. 95 percent of those living in the three areas are Tamil speakers, he said.