By R.M.B Senanayake –
The TNA has in their mandate referred to their demand for federalism which has upset many people in the South who think it is a precursor to secession.
The federal constitution could be designed to remove such possibility of secession for the sub-unit could agree to give up such demand and the Central government as a quid pro quo agrees not to alter the allocation of powers and functions between the Center and the sub-unit. The Agreement is a Covenant. The concept of a covenant is drawn from the Bible where under the Old Testament God promises to protect and safeguard the Israelites from their enemies and the Israelites in turn agreed not to disobey God. Here is the note on
Federalism from Wikipedia.
“Federalism is a political concept in which a group of members are bound together by covenant (Latin: foedus, covenant) with a governing representative head. The term “federalism” is also used to describe a system of government in which sovereignty is constitutionally divided between a central governing authority and constituent political units (such as states or provinces). Federalism is a system based upon democratic rules and institutions in which the power to govern is shared between national and provincial/state governments, creating what is often called a federation”.
Since 1956 several attempts have been made to resolve the demands of the Tamil people. There was the B-C Pact of 1957 which referred to Regional Councils. There was the Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayagam Pact of 1965 which provided that “Action will be taken to establish District Councils in Ceylon vested with powers to be mutually agreed upon between the two leaders. It was agreed, however, that the Government should have power under the law to give directions to such Councils in the national interest”. The Agreement was not given effect to by the Dudley Senanayake Government due to opposition by Sinhala nationalist extremists. And this led to the withdrawal of the Federal Party from the Cabinet in 1968.
In 1979 there was the attempt to establish District Development Councils. Again they were abandoned after the attempt to rig the Jaffna elections. The Tamil parties withdrew their co-operation.
What is important to note is that all these Agreements were unilaterally nullified or abandoned by the Central Government.
The demand for federalism reflects the need for both sides to abide by any Agreement. But in a unitary State the Center is sovereign and there is no shared sovereignty. This means that the Center can unilaterally withdraw from any Agreement or can change the Allocation of Functions and Powers between the Center and the Provinces. Some also point out that the Central Government has not always been respectful of the fundamental rights and even the human rights of the citizens. So the Tamil minority is dissatisfied d with devolution within a unitary state. They would like to constrain the powers of the Center in relation to the division of powers for they fear that the Center may gradually usurp the powers of the Provincial Councils. A Federal Constitution envisages a Covenant between the Center and the subunits. So that the Center cannot unilaterally usurp the powers already devolved.