Creating Peace in Sri Lanka: Civil War and Reconciliation

By Robert I. Rotberg | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHT
Peacemaking in Sri Lanka: The Kumaratunga Initiative

Teresita C. Schaffer

THE DIVISION OF political power in an ethnically diverse population has bedeviled Sri Lanka since the island became independent in 1948. The price tag for this unresolved, festering problem has been high. The first country in Asia to institute universal suffrage, a land with near-universal literacy, a health record close to that of southern Europe, and adequate natural resources, Sri Lanka has missed repeated opportunities to grow and improve its citizens' lives because of its inability to resolve its basic political relationships. A full discussion of the reasons for this sad state would go well beyond the scope of this chapter. These reflections attempt, more modestly, to sketch out a few lessons from President Chandrika Kumaratunga's 1994-95 peace initiative, the most recent serious attempt to negotiate a settlement. The analysis focuses principally on the Sri Lankan government: what it was trying to accomplish, what it did well, and what it might have done differently.

In her campaign for the parliamentary elections of August 1994, President Kumaratunga astonished the political pundits by running on a peace platform. This was a high-risk strategy in a country where the safe political posture had always been to wrap oneself in the national flag and resist any "dilution" of the traditional Sinhala-centered distribution of state power and symbols. She was elected first in a razor-thin parliamentary victory, and then with a record-setting majority in a presidential election three months later.

The early, emotional support for her peace initiative was shattered in the middle of the presidential election by a bomb blast, apparently the work of the Lib

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