20 May, 2024

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Independence, Devolution & ITAK’s New Leader

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

Sunday this week marks Sri Lanka’s 76th independence anniversary. By President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s reckoning another twenty four years will have to go by before Sri Lanka’s economy could fully recover from the manmade crisis it contracted two years ago. And what is immediately ahead is a “grueling recovery path.” That is the grim warning of Dushni Weerakoon, the respected Economist. Another Economist from abroad, Prof. Mick Moore, who coined the phrase “manmade crisis” to describe Gota’s debacle, has now advised that it is time for Sri Lanka to have an “authentic finance minister” after more than thirty years. Like the UB Wanninayakas, NM Pereras and Ronnie de Mells of old. Not the tandem Executive President / Finance Minister model of today.

Can that happen with the current presidential system? That brings us back to political square one, which is the constitution. To where I left last week and to a somewhat significant political development since. Namely, the election of Sivagnanam Shiritharan as the new leader of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK), the old Federal Party in English, now stuck with its Tamil only version. The election of Mr. Shiritharan, and the defeat of MA Sumanthiran, eminent lawyer and parliamentarian, has triggered editorial waves in the news media.

In contrast, a few ripples have been caused by what I wrote last week. One of them is that it is not good idea to revert from the presidential system to a parliamentary system, because it is far easier to find one capable Sri Lankan to be elected as president than it would be to find 225 reasonably good Sri Lankans to fill the national parliament. Really? How very easy was it to find Gotabaya Rajapaksa and make him President? And how very difficult is it in the US to subdue a sociopolitical monster like Donald Trump?

There were two other ripples in response to a question that I had non-rhetorically posed. Viz., “Why go through the trouble and expense of a direct presidential election in September-October if it is going to be the last such election?” One response called it ‘tongue in cheek.’ I cannot disagree. The other registered elsewhere saw something sinister, and conveniently so to question the character of the constitutional reform proposals that are being bandied for the umpteenth time in Sri Lanka’s election cycles. There is nothing wrong with the character of the proposals; it is the character of the constitution that is problematic. So much, for my little digression.    

New ITAK Leader

Depending on which glass they are looking at, pundits have described the ITAK leadership election as – either not an overwhelming victory (for Shiritharan) or as a significant defeat (for Sumanthiran). Whatever it may be, the election of Mr. Shiritharan is not going to be without political implications. That much is obvious, but what needs to be borne in mind is that the significance of these implications will vary from context to context and from issue to issue.

It would be wrong to overinterpret the new leader’s misgivings about the 13th Amendment and use it as an excuse to shelve it without implementing it. Or to see something utmost sinister in his rhetorical assertions about Tamil nationalism and his memorialization of “Eelam national liberation fighters.” As I have argued earlier, memorialization is collective therapy after a violent experience, and shouting about it or trying to stop it is futile. The other side of the coin of memorial politics is that nothing more can be done other than commemorations.

This is the fulcrum of the new equilibrium in the dynamic between the Sri Lankan state and the Sri Lankan Tamils that has been taking shape after 1983. Unlike pre-1983,the state is highly circumscribed in what it can and cannot do vis-a-vis the Tamils, by the emergence of the Tamil diaspora and international attention. The Tamils are no less circumscribed in what they can and cannot achieve by the same international attention and the limiting ground realities at home that weigh against the dreamy aspirations among sections of the diaspora. India obviously looms large in this picture with or without Modi and his distortion of the Mahatma’s Ram Rajya. Additionally, the nationalistic coming of age of the Muslims and the plantation Tamils has created structural curtailments on at least the territorial claims of Tamil nationalism.

The task for leadership on all sides would be to find a consociational working area within the highly constrained spaces and produce meaningful action. My contention is that it would be impossible to find workable spaces outside the framework of the 13th Amendment. Therein is the timeliness of the constitutional reform proposals put forward by the Collective for Democracy and Rule of Law (CDRL). Last week, I touched on the proposals for parliamentary and presidential reforms for achieving a healthy balance of powers between the different branches of the state. I will now turn to the proposals dealing with devolution, the judiciary, judicial review of legislation, and cross-over MPs.

Judicial Evolution and Power Devolution

Of all the branches of the Sri Lankan state, the judiciary is not only the oldest but also the most evolved, and more so in the matter of devolving power. The evolutionary breakthrough was the landmark Supreme Court ruling delivered on August 4, 2017. Three judges of the Supreme Court, then Chief Justice Priyasath Dep, Justice Upali Abeyratne and Justice Anil Gooneratne, held that advocating for a federal form of government would not be a violation of the Sri Lankan constitution.

The judges were dismissing a petition against  the Ilankai Thamizh Arasu Kadchi that it was in violation of the constitution because in advocating for a federal form government the ITAK was pursuing the goal of a separate state. The judges disagreed and pointed to the 13th Amendment as an example of devolving power without violating the constitution.

The August 2017 Supreme Court ruling could be a starting point for the new ITAK leader. A much better starting point for Mr. Shiritharan than what had been for all his predecessors who were faced with court rulings that failed to stop the legislature and the executive from violating the fundamental rights of minorities in cases involving citizenship, language, land and even religion.

The citizenship issue is now resolved and the estate Tamils have their own political representation. After 13A, Sri Lanka has both Sinhala and Tamil as official languages, and English is recognized as a link language. There are also moves to facilitate English as a medium of instruction for everyone by providing government funds to private international schools. What is missing are functioning institutions for power devolution and local democracy. And that is because there have been no provincial council elections for nearly a decade and no local government elections since February 2018.

The Constitutional proposals respond to the current state of affairs by suggesting the enshrining of the right to vote at provincial and local elections in the constitutional provisions protecting the franchise right to vote at national elections. The proposals also respond to the failure of successive ‘central governments’ to facilitate the orderly and efficient functioning of provincial council and local bodies.

The contentious issues over police and land powers can never be fully addressed or agreed upon in writing without functioning provincial councils on the ground. All elections are overdue and the proposals for implementing devolution will remain proposals until provincial elections are held and determined efforts are made to make the elected councils work. What seems to be a new mechanism in the proposals is the recommendation for safeguards against session, including suspension of a recalcitrant provincial council by presidential proclamation, which would be subject to approval by both Houses of Parliament, and review by the Constitutional Court.

The proposals seek to bring back the Constitutional Court that was the most innovative feature of the First Republican Constitution and one that could have continued in the Second (and current) Republican Constitution. That is insofar as the current constitution is partly modelled on the French Constitution that provides for preview of legislations by a constitutional court. The proposals note that there is “a welcome trend” in Sri Lanka in that “more citizens and civic organisations are coming forward to challenge Bills before the Supreme Court.”

The proposals allude to permitting post-enactment judicial review of laws and Provincial statutes. That would be a momentous change reverting to pre-1972 traditions. And involving the Constitutional Court to oversee both judicial preview of and post-enactment review of laws would be worth the effort, but the challenges should not be underestimated.

My last comment is about a matter that actually involves the legislature, viz., crossover MPs. The experience of crossover MPs and the practice of inducing crossovers with cabinet positions to secure a voting majority in parliament, are seen to have been a major factor in eroding public trust in politics in Sri Lanka. A more fundamental reason could be the qualification of candidates who end up as MPs within a system of list-based nominations.

The suggested proposals to address this by providing for a member to lose her/his seat for voting against a decision of the Party seems harsh. Forcing a member to lose her/his seat for joining another party could be a more plausible ground for vacating the seat. The proposals do include safeguards for MPs who have contested as coalition partners. And the recommendation to hold by-elections to fill a vacated constituency seat is a welcome change.

Interestingly, comparative parliamentary studies draw a distinction between old and nascent parliamentary systems in dealing with cross-over MPs. In older, i.e., western, democracies MPs do not have to vacate their seats for voting against the party line or leaving the party that she/he entered parliament with. Not so in the so called nascent, non-western, democracies. India and Bangladesh are among them, but here at home Dr NM Perera was dead set against the provisions in the current constitution for dealing with crossover MPs and vacated seats. It was not so before 1978.

When the LSSP left the United Front government in 1976, some SLFP MPs called for the resignation of NM Perera as a Member of Parliament. NM responded in style and cited the example of “illustrious predecessors”: SWRD Bandaranaike, who left the UNP government to create the SLFP; and SJV Chelvanayakam, who left the Tamil Congress to start a new Tamil political party – yes, the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi of which Sivagnanam Shiritharan born nearly twenty years later has become the new leader. That is a good segue to revisit the trajectories of Tamil political leaders, past and present. (Next week).      `

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Latest comments

  • 7
    0

    When Independence was granted to us, at least some of us were familiar with English. English remained the medium of instruction in the missionary schools. Not everyone was happy with that. They reacted emotionally. Result. We lost the little happiness that we shared together.

    • 2
      3

      “They reacted emotionally. Result. We lost the little happiness that we shared together.”
      If only some of us knew English, how many of us would have shared the “happiness” referred to?

  • 4
    8

    Most Critics of Ranil Wickremasinghe are paranoid about him consolidating his position as the President, with a mandate unprecedented at the forthcoming Presidential Election.

    • 15
      1

      “mandate unprecedented at the forthcoming Presidential Election.”

      Then why is he scared to hold even a cooperative election? :)))))))))

      ROFL …… You guys are the best jokers in the world!

  • 14
    2

    “Independence” ———–> Is there any way to bring back the Brits? ….. Ranil’s worshipping of the British Royalty should bear some fruit!

    Ranil can’t even hold an election to a blooming cooperative …….. and he plans never to step down :)))) ………. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDMu03JWSUY

    The comments below the clip should be very enlightening/encouraging for the few supporters he still has left …………..

    • 14
      1

      What the hell is ITAK? ……. Never heard of it! …….. Stopped following Tamil politics after Prabakaran’s end. ……… When you leave aside Prabakaran, Tamil politics are as ineffective as Sinhala politics ……….. Just well-paid time wasters. They are telling their constituents/voters one thing and laughing and joking and cutting cake with their betrayer Ranil. ……..It’s better to betray in one mighty flourish …….. than betray inch by inch …….. drag down to a slow lingering death …….

      Ah! Prabakaran! That’s a man! ……… Came within inches of liberating his people …….. kept them equal to the Sinhalese for 30 long years by sheer force of will …….. and gun and bomb!

      Prabakaran was a honest brute who didn’t let victims deaths linger ………. Ranil is an uncaring cowardly whimpering brute who starves children to a lingering death while feasting on their blood with his parasites.

      • 16
        2

        cont

        And you think Ranil loves the country/people?

        Ranil is a cowardly dumb jackass girlie-man who has a few dirty tricks learned from uncle Dicky ………. nothing more.

        Prabakaran did his thing and now has his independence with the angels …….. Ranil in hell on earth, in a cage, has his balls in the tight grip of the Rajapakses.


        VP, enjoy your independence, Buddy ……. at least you escaped ……. we are still shackled and bogged down in “Sinhala-Buddhist” bondage …………..



        Prabakaran was a real man!

        “His life was gentle; and the elements
        So mixed in him, that Nature might stand up
        And say to all the world, THIS WAS A MAN!”

        • 10
          14

          Sinhalese powers are not happy about the defeat of Sumanthiran, whom they got elected by rigging of votes. Sinhala controlled press is pouring fuel into fire displaying their displeasure about this result. Sumanthiran wants to live comfortably in Colombo hobnobbing with Sinhala elites and will not do anything which will annoy them, such as devolution, release of lands and prisoners and appropriating of lands. This is why they rejected him. He will not go away, but create trouble within the party such as sabotage and court actions. Sumanthiran appears to be a curse to Tamils and should be expelled.

          • 9
            4

            Expelled to where you are?
            He is not so bad.

          • 3
            1

            Dr. Sankaralingam it is not the fault of the more moderate Sumanthiran and other Tamil politicians, who believed in negotiating and gaining just Tamil rights, but it as usual it is the fault of the Sinhalese leader, politicians, elite and Buddhist clergy, who as usual turned out to be untrustworthy, going back on their word and deliberately sabotaging everything that they promised the word and Tamils, that they will do for a just reconciliation and devolving powers. These useless corrupt Sinhalese leaders/politicians who from the time of independence, have only used race, caste. religion, to retain power, create the so called Mahavamsa mentality amongst the Sinhalese, loot and bankrupt the country, are the main cause for all this.

            • 2
              1

              Even after almost 15 years after the end of war, the so-called reconciliation and the devolution of power the Tamil areas and homeland is not happening on the contrary more Sinhalization , of Tamil areas, with the help of an occupying Sinhalese armed forces/Police, whose sole purpose there is to facilitate this and make the lives of the Tamils miserable. This is driving the Tamils again to choose more radical leaders, just like the way JR and Sinhalese racism gave birth to the LTTE. Do not blame Sumanthiran for what happened. The fault lies with inbuilt Sinhalese racism that has been carefully nurtured by their leaders and politicians, since independence and Sinhalese leaders/elite and politicians aided and abetted by their Buddhist clergy .

  • 2
    12

    The author on the deliberations between a presidential and a parliamentary system raises the below questions: “How very easy was it to find Gotabaya Rajapaksa and make him President? And how very difficult is it in the US to subdue a sociopolitical monster like Donald Trump?”, in justifying his postion favouring the latter.
    .
    I do agree to some degree with Rajan Philip’s assertion that a parliamentary system is better. But the given examples highlight a broader concern that has been somewhat recently observed and defined in national politics worldwide, not just in the US and Sri Lanka, that is losely termed as the ‘rise of the right’ – a phenomenon that neither the presidential systems nor the parliamentary systems in my view are immune to.
    .
    The subject warrants more attention than I could give in a few comments here. Perhaps a task best approached by the author himself given his eloquent understanding of matters that are political. A prerequisite in my opinion to fully understand the rise, the fall and the behaviors of Gotabhaya and Donald Trump.
    .
    TBC

    • 3
      12

      Continued from above…
      .
      To cut a long story short let me just introduce the character Suella Braverman, that has already earned the nickname Cruella, to the above picture Rajan paints.
      .
      Though she may (still) not have demonstrated the dictatorial or tyrannical inclinations that the two examples the author has provided have shown, all signs indicate that she is another one such character in making or atleast is a one that is carving and treading the same path.
      .
      It goes onto show that parliamentary systems are not resistant any more than presidential systems when it comes to a certain brand of (extremely) right wing politics, that Gota, Trump and Ms. Braverman, and several others across the globe are part of – a rather worrying trend – a one that dwarfs the original debate between presidential and parliamentary sysyems.

  • 14
    3

    The Constitution of the Federal Party (the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi) always contained federalism as it objective. Now, it provides for Muslims who live in the Eastern Province also the right to devolution in the territories they live in. This has existed prior to Sritharan becoming the leader of the party. The Tamil name of the party, also a constant factor, goes beyond federalism. Despite the “winning of the war” these aspirations are the dominant factor in Tamil politics. Any politicians who is seen to be deviating will face repercussions as the very able Sumanthiran, who would have objectively made a better leader, found. He was seen to show a greater interest in being a national leader than a leader of the Tamils. He had to pay a price. One hopes that he will continue in politics and contribute to the national good as before, while reflecting Tamil interests. Tamil aspirations have now assumed a romantic content. This will be kept alive by Sinhala intransigence in not giving even devolution under 13th amendment, the continuation of an army in the NE Provinces and a perception of discrimination,. There cannot be development until the issue is settled to the satisfaction of the Tamils and Muslims.

  • 2
    12

    Here’s a comment I made under the most recent article of Wigneswaran published in response to Milinda Moragoda’s call for abolition of Provincial Councils, as an alternative to author’s suggestion of switching to a parliamentary system and also in line with devolution of power that Tamil people seek.
    .
    Abolishing Provincial Councils may not be such a bad idea, though I am not in favour of an Upper House like Moragoda has suggested.
    .
    Most members of the present house does not seem to be able to conduct themselves in a civilized manner within the parliament, let alone able to govern their constituencies in any meaningful ways. Therefore how prudent it is to have another house I doubt.
    .
    I however suggest, a slightly different system, that has several layers of devolved power, to ensure maximum possible devolution, based on the principle of subsidiarity, like that in the Swiss Confederate, that many here hold in high esteem.
    .
    Swiss confederate has two tiers of power devolution that consists of Cantons and Communes under the central Swiss Confederate. Communes it appears have direct democracy instead of representative one.
    .
    TBC

    • 2
      13

      Continued from above…
      .
      I think Sri Lanka could benefit from such a system where people’s participation and engagement is maximum and as a result they could be held accountable for decisions they make for themselves. They will learn to live peacefully with each other while solving their problems among themselves.
      .
      Federal level states would be responsible for finding their own moneys and running the economies of federal states and administering and solving issues that can not be dealt at the lowest level that has direct democracy.
      .
      In that way we may see true local leaders emerging, who are responsible and accountable to their own people, and some of them could be escalated to National level.
      .
      The central government could deal with issues that can not be dealt at any of the lower levels, like National Security, Foreign relations etc.
      .
      This I believe is more democratic than establishing a seperate Tamil Federal State in a merged North and East provinces. This way other minorities too can participate in governance regarless of where within the country they are resided, because there will always be small units of power in which they could play a greater role.

      • 8
        4

        Establishment of Senate will not benefit Tamils as it will also have Sinhala majority and will behave in the same manner as the Parliament, where Tamil grievances are concerned. Tamils want a legislature where they will be the majority to enact laws and implement them in their lands of historic habitation. This can only be achieved by proper sharing of land and power which will allow Tamils to live in dignity and safety.

        • 2
          12

          If they want to confine themselves to their alleged historic habitations which they seem to consider out of bounds

        • 2
          17

          If the Tamils want to confine themselves to their alleged historic habitations which they seem to consider out of bounds to other human beings that are not of Tamil ethnicity, what the hell Tamils are doing in the rest of the parts of the island?
          .
          They all should perhaps better go back to their original habitat which is Tamil Nadu and ask for a separate Nation State for Tamils, where they could do whatever they please without any regards to law or decent ethical human behaviour, displaying the inherent perverted, hateful traits they seem to harbour and display, leaving the peace loving, decent human beings, to live according to their wishes in an environment their children could learn and grow, without the fear of being subjected to constant harassment and perversions at the hands of Tamil perverts – that contrsry to their behaviours displayed claim to own great culture and tradition.
          .
          There won’t be any Tamil Federal States in Sri Lanka. You can tell the world all you like, but that’s not going to happen, not even in your best dreams. It’s about time you accept that reality and learn to live with it.

          • 9
            5

            “There won’t be any Tamil Federal States in Sri Lanka. “
            If this is true, then there is no peace in Sri Lanka and there is no way to save Sri Lanka from poverty and corruption. There is a linear correlation between rights of the Tamils and the poverty or lawlessness of Sinhala only Nation.

            • 9
              6

              What is needed is devolution of power and sharing of resources.
              Federalism is just one option.
              Federalism was a badly thought out proposal, both by SWRDB and by SJVC, each failing to take into account large sections of the population who will be excluded from their federal solutions.
              The FP, especially, whose federal idea came about in the wake of the Citizenship Act, had not the slightest idea of how to address the issues concerning Hill Country Tamils who were more populous than the so called Ceylon Tamils.
              *
              We get hooked to certain words and phrases and refuse to think beyond them.

              • 0
                9

                I can see why you are at the receiving end of the hatred of your own kind! A Tamil Federal State in the North & East is a vanity project that won’t solve anyone’s issues. Good to see that there are better informed Tamils.

                • 3
                  0

                  R
                  I know what I am saying and why some resent what I say.
                  My words are resented by nearly all narrow nationalists.
                  I am not at the receiving end for factual inaccuracy.
                  So do not try to patronize me.

                  • 0
                    3

                    SJ – Oh sorry. My apologies. Never meant it to be patronizing.

                  • 0
                    4

                    SJ – and when I said informed, I wasn’t actually referring to any facts. Meant it as being informed with better judgement. May not have been the best word to use.

            • 0
              5

              “There is a linear correlation between rights of the Tamils and the poverty or lawlessness of Sinhala only Nation.”
              .
              Ever heard of what they say about correlation? – it’s not causation. Social sciences are not hard sciences. I wouldn’t read too much into them. Rights are univesal so have been their violations. There’s nothing called Sinhala Only Nation. It exists in the imaginations of those who have advanced their narrow minded agenda using hatred.

        • 1
          7

          What about a Kingdom of Jaffna?

          • 3
            0

            Not enough land area

            • 2
              0

              Is it less than that of Barbados for example?

  • 1
    13

    Furthermore in relation to preferring a presidential system to a parliamentary one, it must also be noted that the preference is also circumstantial.
    .
    We are in my view at a historical position, at cross-roads, for the first time in the history there’s a possibility that a President could be elected from a party or a group of parties that represent a marginalised section of the community, that vouch to make a difference to the way things are done, one of the pledges being putting an end to corruption.
    .
    A presidential system that gives power to such an individual at this stage therefore in my view could be of value to establishing good governance. It might provide the opportunity for this new force to further consolidate its power in the Parliament.
    .
    Therefore this I believe is not the time to speak of abolishing presidential system regardless of any merits that one may perceive in a parliamentary system.
    .
    Panini I think had expressed similar sentiments under this author’s previous piece in which this was first discussed that he lso refers in his above piece here. I fully endorse Panini’s view.

  • 7
    1

    The biggest joke I observed watching the Independence Day celebration was the singing of the National Anthem. We have a President (a joker and an untrustworthy person) who, in his public speeches, declares that he wants to bring a solution to the minority issues and also bring the various communities together. But even at the Independence Day celebration, he could not have the National Anthem sung in Sinhala and Tamil. He even had the audacity to ask the Tamil children to sing in Sinhala. With such an idiotic mindset how can anyone expect to bring different communities together?

  • 4
    0

    The words “NATIONALISM and RACISM” a Double-Edged Weapons that the power-hungry crooks have used to enjoy life at the expense of others.

    • 0
      5

      There are few others like Patriotism, Genocide, Colonization, Liberation etc. etc.,

  • 2
    2

    //Sinhalese powers are not happy about the defeat of Sumanthiran, whom they got elected by rigging of votes. Sinhala controlled press is pouring fuel into fire displaying their displeasure about this result. Sumanthiran wants to live comfortably in Colombo hobnobbing with Sinhala elites and will not do anything which will annoy them, such as devolution, the release of lands and prisoners and appropriating of lands. //Dr.Gnana Sangaralingam

    Your comment shows you are either stupid /insane or both. You should stop lecturing to the elected representatives of the Tamil people while living comfortably in London.

    • 1
      1

      T
      He has the sole right here to call people stupid.
      Correct yourself and call him insane if you like, but not stupid or both.

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