Father Of “Jathika Chinthanaya” Endorsed “Devolution”: Now Who Is Weerawansa ?
By Kusal Perera –
The LLRC Final Report, despite the reluctance of the Tamil Diaspora in accepting and pressurising for its full implementation, has now become the basis of negotiations and resolutions at the UNHRC sessions. This March too, the Rajapaksa regime would have to fight a diplomatic battle to avert another “Resolution” the US administration has given notice on. What has not received any attention, but is also extremely important is the other “committee” that was established by President Rajapaksa, way before the LLRC was established. The All Party Representative Committee (APRC) established by President Rajapaksa in July 2006 and sat through 128 sessions till April 2009, came up with a Final Report with the consent of the “Father of Modern Sinhala Jathika Chinthanaya”, Prof Nalin de Silva, a miracle in this island nation. That broad consensus the APRC Final Report has, which also includes the official public face of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) Gammanpila in it, can not now be reversed by Sinhala “podiyens” like Weerawansa shouting hoarse against devolution and the 13th Amendment.
For the benefit of those who think the JVP withdrew from the APRC proceedings after announcing a principle stand against “devolution” in December 2006, during the era Weerawansa was its parliamentary group leader, let us remind ourselves that it was not the case. They withdrew on an extremely flimsy issue, that had no politics. They withdrew saying the “Experts Panel” appointed by the President to assist the APRC had no mandate to make “recommendations” for the resolution of the “national question”. They perhaps don’t understand the term, “recommendations” and therefore did not know the APRC was not mandated or bound to accept what the “Experts Panel” (divided or not) provided as expert inputs. The JVP decision to withdraw from it was thus, “kid’s mischief”.
Yet for all including President Rajapaksa, who want a permanent answer to the still controversial issue of national reconciliation with a sustainable “home grown” system of devolution, there is a large common canvas of picturing things alike, between the APRC Final Report and the LLRC Final Report. Both these high powered commissions being Presidential initiatives for the same purpose; resettlement, rehabilitation and reconciliation with lessons learnt for the future in avoiding another human tragedy, as spelt out by the LLRC Final Report and the APRC Final Report providing a very stable, “home grown” answer to all those issues in practical, democratic terms, as requested by President Rajapaksa.
With its focus on the present Rajapaksa regime and stating what has to be said in national interest, the LLRC Final Report has very clearly said, “….. lessons learnt from the shortcomings in the functioning of the Provincial Councils system be taken into account in devising an appropriate system of devolution that addresses the needs of the people.” [9.233.d]
It goes further to say, “All parties should recognize that the real issue of sharing power and participating in government is the empowerment of the people and making the political leaders accountable to the people. This applies to Sri Lanka as a whole and includes the needs of citizens of all communities, Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and others.” [9.233]
The long term remedy thus is (i) power sharing that empowers people, (ii) makes governments accountable and (iii) addresses the needs of all communities, Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and others.
While the Action Plan worked out by the government to implement the recommendations listed in the LLRC Final Report pays no attention to this aspect of finding a total solution to the ethnic conflict, President Rajapaksa has conveniently shelved the APRC Final Report for the past 03 years and 08 months, with neither those who sat through the whole process except MP Yogarajan and SLMC politician Kariapper demanding the report be made public, nor the Opposition political parties showing any interest in it.
As for President Rajapaksa, despite all the intelligent and practical talk in two of his major interventions (LLRC and APRC) in learning lessons and finding answers to the “national question”, he is voted in to power to take care of the Sinhala business community, which he does quite well and with finesse. The Sinhala Opposition in the South, the UNP and the JVP have both compromised with the war against “Tamil Separatism” and have been struggling to do ‘one better’ than the Rajapaksa regime in projecting themselves as Sinhala politicians. They therefore would not ask for a “Final Report” that argues for a new Constitution which organises political power in a devolved form. As for the TNA, they would not want to be seen as a campaigner for a solution they were not party to and one that would not propose a “Federal State”.
The APRC Final Report nevertheless has a detailed draft for a Constitution that has a very clear definition of what it calls a “Unitary” State. It says, Sri Lanka will be a Republic and “unitary” would mean to be an undivided and integrated State structure, where power shall be shared between the Centre and the Provinces. That according to the APRC Final Report, can be summarised as one that has,
- a bicameral parliament
- a stronger provincial system with devolved power
- two elected community councils for Tamils of Indian origin and for Muslims outside North and East
- the upper house, the “Senate” to include provincial representation
- a Constitutional Court independent of the judiciary to safeguard the Constitution from omissions and commissions committed against the Constitution by either the parliament or the PCs.
What is extremely important is, what the LLRC Final Report says about a “Second Chamber” in the Legislature, justifying the consensus reached on it by the APRC, over two and a half years before the LLRC Final Report was handed over to the President. The LLRC Final Report says;
“An additional mechanism that may be considered is the possibility of establishing a Second Chamber comprising Representatives from the Provinces. Such a mechanism is likely to generate a sense of confidence among the political leadership and among the people in the Provinces, that they too have a vital role to play in the legislative decision making process, inter alia, by examining legislative measures that may have a bearing on issues of particular relevance to the Provinces.” [9.232]
With that, what is politically most important with the APRC Final Report is that it has the consensus of the most extreme Sinhala groups and political parties, for devolution of power as an answer to the “national question” and also in answering how development and democracy could be made effective for the rural polity. Sinhala extremism has been continuously opposing any form of “devolution” as one that only the Tamil people wanted. For the Sinhala people, they felt satisfied with the power at the “Centre” as their power, until the Sinhala political parties who opposed the CFA, opposed negotiations for a peaceful settlement of the conflict accepted devolution of power as the answer, at the APRC.
Through hard and rigorous deliberations over a period from July 2006, continuously till May 2009, different political groups and parties that held diametrically opposing positions and interpretations on the national question, on devolution and on the “State”, have agreed perhaps for the first time, on a single “report” without dissent. This may not be what this regime and President Rajapaksa expected out of the APRC when it was constituted during the escalation of the war. Neither the South, nor the North would have expected a consensual approach and agreement on the most controversial of all issue; the national question turned into a protracted war.
Today, having shelved the APRC Final Report, the Rajapaksa regime is bent on pushing its militarised approach in settling post war issues in the North – East as the only available solution. It is trying to convince the Sinhala South, that there is no other option, no alternative to what it does and that has to be allowed without any new obstructions and opposition. Heavily funded projects planned and decided by the Centre and imposed on the people in the provinces are being projected as “the” development of Sri Lanka, seeping in corruption without any semblance of transparency and accountability, and at the expense of future generations, with the APRC Final Report kept out of public domain.
It is not just the issue of this regime’s militarised approach in the North – East that could be challenged by presenting the APRC Final Report as an alternative, but also its corrupt and unaccountable governing style, that could be challenged with provincial planning and development through devolution.
While there can be debates on how a “unitary” State could be an undivided and integrated State structure that allows two governing tiers to share power, without the Centre encroaching on the powers devolved to the provinces, there is also a valid argument in saying, it is possible if adequate checks and balances are built into the Constitution in advance and by demarcating areas of power, that would not be allowed to trespass upon, given Constitutional guarantee. Therefore, this APRC Final Report is unique in terms of efforts so far made in finding a broad consensus between those who wish to enjoy devolved power and those who wish to have a Sinhala “Unitary” State.
As precisely and aptly said in the LLRC Final Report and quoted before from its Final Report [9.233], no political party would say, they don’t accept “empowerment of the people” and that they would not be “accountable to the people.” Therefore it is important to raise the endorsement given by the Sinhala political parties like the JHU and the MEP to the APRC Final Report, along with EPDP, the WPF (now DPF), CWC, the SLMC and the “Left” political parties, all accept the DPF still working as partners in this government. This broad consensus on “devolution of powers” endorsed by people like Nalin de Silva representing not only the MEP but the very ideology of anti Western “Sinhala supremacy” with the right of the provincial people in holding the political leaders accountable to them in a stronger democratic system of governance, should be made a political debate and discourse in society, especially in the Sinhala constituency.
It is therefore never too late in calling this regime and the President to officially table the APRC Final Report in parliament. It is never too late in finding a sustainable answer with the broadest possible political consensus to the national conflict that is still without social dialogue in the South and a political solution discussed in public. The APRC Final Report is so far the closest the South have got to, on devolution and power sharing and it is the South that decides politics. That thus becomes the most valid reason to have it tabled in parliament, for public discourse.