About the poll: The research for this poll was carried out by the staff of Social Indicator of Colombo, on behalf of Dr. Colin Irwin from the University of Liverpool who developed the peace polls method as part of the successful Northern Ireland peace process. The survey work for the first poll in this series was completed between March and May 2008 and included a random sample of 1,700 people from all parts of Sri Lanka with the exception of the Northern Province. Using the same methods the survey work for the second poll was completed a year later in March 2009 to test the then preliminary APRC proposals against public opinion before the end of the war. A year later in March 2010 these same proposals were tested again but with a larger sample (2400) that included the Northern Province. All interviews were face-to-face and the margin of error varied between +/- 2% and +/- 4.3% depending on the question and version of the questionnaire being analysed.
Introduction: The President of Sri Lanka established the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) to draft a set of constitutional reforms that, following the war, would provide the country and all it's citizens with a real opportunity for enduring political stability, increased economic growth and improvements in the quality of life. Critically, when tested against public opinion a year ago these proposals, with some minor reservations were acceptable to a significant majority of both Sinhalese and Tamils. But due to the ongoing conflict the Tamils in the North could not be sampled then. With the end of the war and the defeat of their leadership would they accept the APRC proposals? Additionally 21% of Sinhalese did not know or were unwilling to give an opinion on such important issues at that time. With the end of the war would their views change and if so would this be for or against the APRC proposals?
The poll run in March 2009 also indicated that the President then enjoyed unprecedented popularity (93% 'trust very much or trust quite a bit' amongst the Sinhala) so it also seemed important to test the effects his support and the support of religious and political leaders could have on the acceptability of the APRC proposals. This was done by framing the questions in these terms and also by asking if such support would change the views of the person being interviewed in a neutral version of the questionnaire.
Press Release - Sixty seven per cent of the Sinhalese and 86% of Tamils support the reforms proposed by the President's All Party Representative Committee (APRC). With minor adjustments this result could be improved according to a poll undertaken by Social Indicator of Colombo on behalf of Dr. Colin Irwin of the Institute of Irish Studies from the University of Liverpool. Ninety per cent of Muslims and 92% of 'Up-Country Tamils' also support the reforms.
Using methods developed as part of the Northern Ireland peace process 14 proposals for constitutional reform were tested against public opinion. Everyone interviewed was asked which proposals they considered to be 'essential', 'desirable', 'acceptable', 'tolerable' or 'unacceptable'. The proposals included the structure of the state, elections, parliament and devolution; the powers of the President and local authorities; language, religious and fundamental rights; the judiciary, public service and policing; amending the constitution and safeguards against secession.
The research identified two potential problems with these reforms. Firstly, as the President enjoys unparallel popularity amongst the Sinhala people at 93% 'trust very much or trust quite a bit' they clearly do not want to see him step down from office as suggested in this draft of the APRC proposals. Twenty three per cent considered this item 'unacceptable'. Secondly, Tamils are split on the suggestion that 'Buddhism shall have 'pride of place' with religious freedom for all citizens being guaranteed'. Twenty eight per cent considered this proposal 'unacceptable' but 44% also thought it was 'essential'. Religious freedom for Hindus, Muslims and Christians is the key here and this needs to be clarified.
But overall the results are astonishingly good when compared to other conflicts around the world. For example the top priorities for the Tamils are 'Language Rights' at 85% 'essential or desirable' and 'Fundamental Rights' at 76%. The Sinhala also welcome these reforms at 71% 'essential or desirable' for 'Fundamental Rights' and 68% for 'Language Rights'. With only 9% of the Sinhala opposed to 'Language Rights' as 'unacceptable', there should be little political difficultly with their implementation.
Additionally the rejection of the APRC proposals as a 'package' falls to only 9% 'unacceptable' overall for the Sinhalese and just 2% for Tamils as people are willing to accept some proposals that they may not want for the sake of those that they do want. Due to the on going war at the time the poll was run it was not possible to include the Northern Province in the research. However, some indication of the views of these Tamils can be gained from the adjacent Eastern Province, which also only rejected the 'package' at 2% 'unacceptable', and supporters of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) at only 3%.
Given the consistency of these results it seems unlikely that a few minor changes or revisions will significantly alter this outcome and that the people of Sri Lanka will support the APRC or similar set of proposals. 'Winning the peace', is clearly in their leaders grasp.
Download: The Full Report with all the statistics, analysis and questions.
Summary - Hopefully the conflict in Sri Lanka is reaching its end game. Like so many other conflicts that end might not come cleanly, without more painful, tragic twists. Perhaps because previous public opinion polls on this topic have not always addressed the more complex constitutional issues or most sensitive human concerns they have not always been able to say where the most critical failures of the Sri Lanka peace process might lie. Hopefully this peace poll makes some real progress on tackling these decisive issues and thus points the way to some workable solutions. The solutions however are clouded in much public rhetoric and ignorance. Those who understand them, in all communities, embrace them while those who do not understand them, who cling onto the symbols of constitutionality in the absence of substance, continue to find refuge in the on going war. We are told that the truth sets us free and this poll clearly demonstrates that in the case of Sri Lanka truth and understanding can both hasten and strengthen the prospects for a durable peace. Banishing ignorance and making an informed electorate active partners for peace would seem to be the best way forward. Perhaps it always was. The substance of constitutional reform is overwhelmingly acceptable to the vast majority of the people of Sri Lanka. It is only the symbols that are rejected across the community divide.
Summary - Can the Government of Sri Lanka negotiate a peace agreement with the people of the Northern Province? This question depends of course on a desire and willingness of both the Government in Colombo and the political representatives of the people in the North wanting to negotiate such a peace. But if we assume they do then is there a basis upon which such an agreement could be made between the Sinhala people of Sri Lanka on the one hand and the Tamils of the Northern Province on the other? Both the previous peace poll in this series and political developments in the rest of Sri Lanka suggest that a new dispensation between the Provinces and the Central Government could lead to such a peace. But what of the North, could a similar dispensation lead to peace there? With this point in mind all the questions asked in the first Sri Lanka peace poll were asked again in and around Jaffna. The results suggest, as in the rest of the country, that fully implemented constitutional reform coupled with effective measures to deal with problems of discrimination and good governance would enjoy wide popular support. It therefore follows that bringing the people of the North into the peace process, as full partners for peace could both strengthen the legitimacy of any agreements reached and hopefully make an end to hostilities that much closer.
Download: Sri Lanka Peace Poll, the Northern Supplement.
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