By Sumanasiri Liyanage –
We all are witnessing in Sri Lanka another proof of the Hegelian axiom that history repeats itself. Anticipating Jacques Derrida’s introduction of the notion of iteration in to the philosophy of language, Marx added history proceeds first time as a tragedy and second as a farce. If the repletion goes on farce would become more and more hilarious. In the past, there had been many Parliamentary Select Committees (PSCs), All Party Representative Committees (APRCs) on national question to make recommendation as to how the grievances and aspirations of numerically small nations and ethnic groups in Sri Lanka be accommodated into the constitutional and political power structure of the country. It is interesting to note although these committees came up with constructive recommendations, the governments so far have failed to adopt them for multiple reasons. In this respect, the recommendations of the Mangala Moonesinghe PSC that was supported by two main Sinhala parties, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United National Party (UNP) and the APRC headed by Prof Tissa Vitharana should be especially mentioned. Undoubtedly, it was a tragedy that no serious actions were taken to implement these recommendations as they had to some extent questioned the hegemonic notion of politics in post-colonial Sri Lanka. One more PSC was named to recommend necessary changes to the 13th Amendment. External Affairs Minister G L Peiris has waxed eloquent to the diplomatic community about the PSC’s objectives of resolving issues relating to constitutional reform in an “all-inclusive” manner, and the need for a “structured and comprehensive approach” in these matters. Nonetheless, any independent observer would see a notable difference between this PSC and the previous one headed by Mr Mangala Moonesinghe. While previous one tried to accommodate the demands of numerically small nations and ethnic groups by resolving some of the contradictions between the Republican Constitution and the 13th Amendment, the present one is supposed to make recommendations to make Sri Lanka officially and constitutionally mono cultural entity by suppressing the prevailing constitutional rights of other cultures.
What lead us to come to such a strong conclusion on the new PSC? First, two important coalition partners — the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) have been left out of the PSC. No explanation has been given so far as to the reasons for these glaring omissions. Muslims form a 9% of the country’s population so that it is natural to expect that its representative should be included in the PSC to make it reflective of the population landscape of the island. But neither SLMC leader Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem nor any other SLMC MP has been named. It is somewhat hilarious to note that the LSSP Leader and Senior Minister, Prof. Tissa Vitarana who chaired the All-Party Representative Committee (APRC) that deliberated for two years and presented a set of proposals endorsed by 13 political parties to President Rajapaksa in 2008, to resolve precisely these same issues was also not included in PSC..
Secondly, although the terms of reference of the PSC is to improve the 13th Amendment, the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) government has already informed that it would introduce substantial changes to the 13th Amendment before the Northern Provincial Council election that is supposed to be held in September 2013. Three main amendments to dilute the 13th Amendment were proposed. They were (1) to make the merger between provinces constitutionally impossible; (2) to allow the Parliament to pass laws on subjects that affect the provincial councils without the approval of the PCs; (3) to take the very limited land and police powers assigned to the PCs back. Now the government spokespersons have informed that the third one would be the subject of the PSC so that the amendment would be limited to the first two areas. Hence, it is interesting to note that the government has intended to draw in advance the parameters within which PSC should find its solution. This whole immoral act shows that the President and his closest associates who are guided by hegemonic mono ethnic notion of politics do not want to leave any serious deliberation on the 13th Amendment and the issues associated with that to PSC in spite of heavy sounding rhetoric by Prof G L Peiris.
Thirdly, the experience in the last 4 years has shown that President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family are not happy with any kind of power-sharing, even sharing power within his own cabinet. More than 50 per cent of the total budget is directly controlled by the members of the President’s family. Knowing well that the Tamil National Alliance would win the Northern Provincial Council, he and his close associates know that given the constitutional provisions, the central government is compelled to share powers with the provincial council that is outside the control of the so-called discipline of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.
It was reported that the Tamil National Alliance has decided to boycott the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) appointed ‘to recommend and report on political and constitutional measures to empower the people of Sri Lanka to live as one nation’. (The Island) This decision according to the report was taken at a meeting of the TNA top brass headed by party leader MP R. Sampanthan at the party head office in Colombo 04, on Saturday (29). Representatives of all TNA member parties attended the meeting. A spokesman for the TNA told The Island that the leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front V. Anandasangaree had linked up with the meeting via a tele-conference facility and ensured that his party would abide by the collective decision of the alliance. Among those who participated in the meeting had been Suresh Premachandra of the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), Henry Mahendran of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO), and Sri Siddharathan of People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE).
In the present context, it is hardly to expect that the TNA and SLMC can achieve any positive and substantial gain by participating in the PSC process. Only positive aspect of such PSC would be that the SLFP, Jathika Hela Urumaya and JUF (Wijeweera) can at least reveal what they have to offer, if any, to non-Sinhala people in the island.
*The writer is Co-coordinator of Marx School. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org