Constitutional reforms within unitary system | Daily News

Constitutional reforms within unitary system

Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena at the conferment ceremony of the twelfth Srimath Maha Nayake Eknaligoda Vihara Sect of Sri Lanka Amarapura Chapter to Most Venerable Karannagoda Senananda Nayaka Thera held at Siddharthodaya Piriwen Vihara, Karangoda, Ratnapura.  

The obstinate refusal by the Tamil political parties to give up federal demand, which every sane opinion labelled as a ‘non-starter’ has deadlocked the recent attempts to find a lasting solution to the minority demands for devolution.

While two democratic voices of the Tamils, Abraham Sumanthiran and C. V. Vigneswaran made statements rejecting implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution under the unitary system of Government and demanded a federal system, hardliners like Shivajilingam tried to resurrect long-dead separatist leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and his equally dead dream of Eelam making the matters worse.

Lawyer-turned politician of TNA, Sumanthiran claimed that all the Tamil parties agree on a meaningful power-sharing arrangement on a federal basis and added that his party would not have talks with the Government until that issue is resolved. Meanwhile former Supreme Court judge-turned-politician Vigneswaran, using stronger words, said Sri Lanka’s position is internationally weakening and the Tamils could get federal powers with the support of foreign powers.

These two positions are contradictory to the Indian position, which calls for full implementation of the 13th Amendment, which was introduced under the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement (ISLA) of 1987.

“Considering all the facts, we expect to devolve power within a Unitary State. However, I wish to reiterate a fact emphasized on many occasions. There will be no division of the country,” President Ranil Wickremesinghe made the Government position very clear.

Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena too emphasized in Parliament that his party (MEP) will always be committed to secure a unitary Sri Lanka. He pointed out that MEP has always supported an administrative procedure focusing on districts. The focus on the provincial level was brought by the 13th Amendment.

Earlier this week, the Prime Minister said any damage or tampering to Article 9 of the Constitution which gives foremost place to Buddhism would not be allowed and that right should be protected for the purpose of preserving Buddhism. He said this at the conferment ceremony of the twelfth Srimath Maha Nayake Eknaligoda Vihara Sect of Sri Lanka Amarapura Chapter to Most Venerable Karannagoda Senananda Nayaka Thera held at Siddharthodaya Piriwen Vihara, Karangoda, Ratnapura on Tuesday.

Last month, the President convened an All-Party Conference (APC) at his office to find a solution to the ethnic problem, where he told party representatives of his intention to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Passed in 1987 as part of the Indo-Lanka Accord, the amendment created the Provincial Council system that devolved power to the provinces.

The 13th Amendment came into focus again during Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar’s visit last month. At a press conference, the Indian Minister stated that India favours the full implementation of the 13th Amendment and early conduct of provincial elections.

However there is stiff opposition to full implementation of the 13 A, especially on the issue of granting land and police powers to provinces. Four chief prelates of the main Buddhist sects – Malwathu, Asgiri, Amarapura and Ramanna chapters handed a joint letter to President Wickremesinghe expressing strong opposition to fully implementing the amendment. The prelates stated that granting land and police powers, among others, to the Provincial Councils would pave the way for the re-emergence of separatism in the country.

Although the Government has taken many steps to meet the long standing demands of the Tamils, it is unfortunate that most of the Tamil political parties ignore them and continue to demand federal powers, knowing very well that the vast majority in the country would never agree to such a solution. The Government has taken steps to release 100 acres of private land that had been taken over for the Palali military base in Jaffna and discussions had been initiated on releasing more land held by the military. Furthermore, the drafts were being prepared to establish a National Land Council and a National Land Policy. The Government would also bring in new laws to strengthen the powers of Provincial Councils in the fields of education and health.

Instead of supporting these positive steps, Tamil political parties criticize the President, accusing him of going back on earlier pledges to fully implement 13A. “You cannot have maximum devolution of power within a Unitary State. The President knows that more than anyone else,” said TNA MP Abraham Sumanthiran said, attacking the President’s comments that he would devolve power within a “Unitary State.”

“We are for a united, undivided, even indivisible country. Don’t divide the country, but share power in a meaningful way. Maximum devolution of power cannot happen in a unitary model and, therefore, we reject this throne speech on that account alone,” Sumanthiran added.

The interests of Indian political parties in Sri Lankan affairs continue unabated. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Tamil Nadu President K. Annamalai who was in Sri Lanka last month, said on his return to Chennai that no other Indian Government had done as much as the Narendra Modi Government for the welfare of Sri Lankan Tamils. Before departing for Sri Lanka, in a dig at the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), he had claimed that while his party believed in doing positive things, other parties believe only in verbal onslaughts’.

BJP State President K. Annamalai, who accompanied the minister to Sri Lanka, was present too. “As of now no fisherman is in Sri Lankan custody. Our Government will soon hold talks with the Sri Lankan Government on the fishermen issue,” said Murugan.

Meanwhile octogenarian Tamil politician Pazha Nedumaran dropped a bombshell stating that Velupillai Prabhakaran was alive. Although the military as well as sane Tamil opinion makers dismissed the story, late Prabhakaran’s cousin Shivajilingam seems to be keen to use this fabricated news to revive his separatist demand. He has left for India to meet Nedumaran and other pro-LTTE leaders like Seeman, Ramasamy and Vaiko alias V. Gopalaswamy reportedly for exploring possibilities of reviving the LTTE in Tamil Nadu.

This has exacerbated the confusion, and it’s high time that the Tamil political parties put their house in order and come up with a reasonable consensual formula rather than making tall claims or scuttling the efforts to find a solution.



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