Commenting on the prospects for power devolution to Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils, Leader of Opposition and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has made a reference to the current “situation in Kashmir.”
Leading Sri Lankan Tamil daily Virakesari on Saturday published a wide-ranging interview with Mr. Rajapaksa. To a question on his future plans for evolving a political solution to the island’s long-pending Tamil question, Mr. Rajapakasa is quoted as saying: “There are two strands of opinion now. Some want a new constitution. Some want a federal arrangement. And some say that a political solution based on the 13th Amendment would suffice. But a solution should not be one that divides the country. Look at what has just happened in Kashmir. We need to take steps keeping all these in mind. We have to understand these factors while we pursue a political solution.”
His reaction is among the first from Sri Lankan political leaders after New Delhi ended Jammu & Kashmir’s special status and bifurcated it into two Union Territories. Earlier, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe called it India’s “internal matter” in a tweet, in which he said Ladakh would become “the first Indian state with a Buddhist-majority” — a claim that was subsequently challenged on social media, for its factual accuracy.
Mr. Rajapaksa’s interview, appearing on the eve of the scheduled announcement of the presidential candidate to be fielded by the political front backing him, gives a glimpse into the leader’s thinking, in the run-up to the presidential polls to be held before the end of the year.
Noting that he had five candidates, Mr. Rajapaksa said in the interview: “Tomorrow I will name the best of them, the one who will strengthen national security.”
While his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a powerful war-time defence secretary, is widely expected to be named presidential candidate on Sunday, Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa will take over the leadership of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP or People’s Front officially, after being its de facto leader for nearly three years since it was launched as a platform backing him.
Amid much speculation and questions, especially over Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s renunciation of his U.S. citizenship — Sri Lankan laws prohibit dual citizens from contesting — minority Tamil and Muslim parties are closely following developments. Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa is accused of committing war crimes and was also linked to hard-line Sinhala Buddhist groups known for inciting violence targeting the Muslims. He has denied the allegations.
To Virakesari’s question on the minorities’ discomfort with Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s candidature, the Leader of Opposition said: “I don’t think there is truth in that. In reality, further to the [19th] constitutional amendment, the Prime Minister has more powers. I am the Prime Ministerial candidate [general elections are due next year], so we have to work together.”
On his views of LTTE chief Prabakaran, in the context of the Easter terror attacks in April, Mr. Rajapaksa said: “He had an objective, he had direction and discipline. The path Prabakaran took was wrong, but there was discipline and restraint in his actions. He would strike when he wanted to and choose not to at other times. But the Easter attacks were not like that. They [terrorists] could attack at any time, and they are even willing to die for that.”