1 October, 2020

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More At Stake For Government Than Countering Separatism

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The government’s ongoing bid to seek changes to the 13th Amendment prior to holding elections to the Northern Provincial Council has suffered a reversal with the refusal of some of the government’s coalition partners to go along with it.  This is likely to be a temporary reversal. The ethnic minority political parties that are part of the government have said they need to discuss the matter further.  Ironically, the main proponents of reducing the powers of the provincial councils are two small nationalist parties whose voter base is considerably smaller than those of the ethnic minority parties.  The division within the government on the issue of devolution of power can also be seen in the comments by Senior Minister Tissa Vitarana who headed the All Parties Representative Committee set up by the President several years ago to find a political solution to the conflict.-

Prof. Vitarana has said that “It is sad that extremist elements have emerged that seek to achieve political power by whipping up not only anti-Tamil but even anti-Muslim sentiments among the Sinhala Buddhist majority.  The genuine fear of separation is being fed by raising the spectre of separatism… The solutions offered, rather than preventing separation, are feeding the separatist agenda.  There is a danger of history repeating itself but in a more tragic form, as international public opinion will support the move for separation…”  One of the tragedies of post-war developments with regard to Sri Lanka is the loss of international support due to the government’s failure to convince the international community that it is serious about finding a political solution together with the political representatives of the ethnic minorities.

During the war, government leaders gave assurances that after the war they would implement a political solution that went beyond the existing scheme of devolution of power and made it effective. But now, after the government announced that elections to the Northern Provincial Council will be held in September, government leaders have also been warning of the perils associated with setting up a provincial council for the Northern Province, even to the extent of advocating the abolition of the entire scheme of devolution. Those government leaders who seek to emasculate the provincial council system are eloquent in making their case that the devolution of power becomes a great danger when it is given to the ethnic minorities.   However, the government has also made promises to the international community that it would work to formulate a political solution acceptable to all communities, which makes it difficult to repeal the 13th Amendment in its entirety as advocated by some of its members.

 Envisaged Changes

There are two changes to the 13th Amendment that are being considered for immediate action by the government.  The first is to remove the provision for two or more provinces to join together.  The merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces is an article of faith with all Tamil parties.  Even the Tamil parties working with the government have said they are in favour of this merger.  The merger would create a Tamil-majority in a territory that accounts for over 30 percent of the country’s land mass.    However, such a merger is unacceptable to a government which is mistrustful of the Tamil people, and believes that separatist sentiment is more likely to arise in those who govern a larger territorial entity than in those who govern a smaller one.

The second issue being considered by the government is to do away with the requirement that the consent of all provincial councils be obtained if there is to be constitutional change that impacts upon the provincial councils.  This was a safeguard to prevent the central government from legislating on subjects allocated to the provincial councils without first obtaining the consent of all of them.  In the event where one or more provincial councils do not consent to a proposed bill, the central government has the option to either pass the bill by a simple majority, in which event the bill will become law applicable only to the provinces that agreed to the bill, or to do so by a two thirds majority in which case the bill will become law applicable to the entire country. Removing this safeguard will permit the central government to take away any or all powers vested in the provincial councils by passing legislation with a simple majority.

There is also a third issue that is on the table, but which has not yet been presented to the cabinet of ministers.  This is to remove police and land powers from the list of subjects that have been devolved to the provinces.  Government leaders are making out that leaving these two subjects with the provincial councils presents a grave danger to the country’s unity as these powers can be abused.  One government leader has described police and land powers as the two fangs of the provincial councils that ought to be de-fanged.  It is noteworthy that for the past 26 years, since the establishment of the provincial council system, these powers have not been given to any provincial council.  It is both ironic and discriminatory that only when there is a possibility of a Tamil-administered provincial council being established, that the government has decided to act to remove police and land powers from the devolved list of subjects.

 Hidden Motivation

It is in this context that Prof. Vitarana has critiqued the notion that an elected provincial council under the existing 13th Amendment can push for separation. He says that “Even if the TNA is elected to power it can only exercise the very limited powers devolved under the extensive control of the central government as in all other provincial councils.  The police and land powers under the 13th Amendment, at present, are effectively under central government controls with the Governor appointed by the President as the chief executive.  But even these limited powers in these two areas are not exercised as the President has not permitted it.  So even if the TNA is elected to power in the Northern Province, there is nothing it can do to further the cause of separation.”

The provincial council system has been denigrated as being akin to white elephants. Chief Ministers of the provincial councils themselves have complained bitterly about the weakness of the devolved institutions they presided over. A key source of weakness has been the near total dependence of the provincial councils on the central government for finances.  The provincial councils are severely restricted in their power to raise their own funds which has made them hopelessly dependent on the central government.  Another serious weakness has been the existence of a concurrent list of subjects which are shared by the central and provincial administrations. In practice, where there are such shared powers the central government has had no reservations about monopolizing those powers.

Hence, there appears to be another motivation in the government’s determination to push ahead with the proposed constitutional changes.  With a defeat at the Northern Provincial Council almost certain, the government might prefer not to have those elections at all.  They would want to see the provincial council system emasculated first so that no provincial administration can be a check and balance to their writ.  The mindset of the present government leadership is in conformity with democratic practice only to the extent that they believe in the need for victory at elections in order to legitimize their rule.  But their actions fail to conform to higher democratic norms of behaviour which requires respect for institutional checks and balances.

In the case of the provincial councils, the government leadership would not want their writ to be challenged in any way by an opposition controlled provincial administration.  As the leaders who won a war that most thought not possible to win, they see it as justified to have their writ prevail without question over the entire country.  But for larger political reasons, including promises made to India and Japan, they must have those elections.  It is important that the government hold free and fair elections for the Northern Provincial Council which will be symbolic to Sri Lankans and to the international community that the government has committed itself to providing democratic rights to its ethnic minorities.

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Latest comments

  • 0
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    An excellent analysis and well written
    bensen

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    So Mr Jehan Perera also threatens the inhabitants that they will face tragic consequences when the IC get cheesed off if they don’t bend over to Sambandan and his TNA.

    And he wants the Govt to give Sambandan Police Powers and Land Rights as well.

    It was only yesterday that the Deputy Leader of the TNA and ex Militant Chief Premachandran told the media that they don’t need an Expressway to Jaffna.

    Neither he wants Chinese any where in the North.

    Nomination papers even are not out yet,

    Just imagine what the inahabiitants will be hearing from Premachandran when Sambandan appoints him as the CM in September?.

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      “also threatens the inhabitants that they will face tragic consequences when the IC get cheesed off if they don’t bend over to Sambandan and his TNA”

      Sumanasekera please highlight to us the part of the passage where Jehan is threatening the peaceful inhabitants of lanka. I know that you are a follower of Gota therefore like him you are devoid of any reason or intellect, but please do try on the odd occasion to use that spongy stuff sitting untroubled in your skull called your brain. Jehan was merely stating that your war criminal President was making up much nonsense about 13A-plus to the indians when he was needing their help to defeat LTTE but is now ready to seriously dilute its powers i.e. the opposite of 13A-plus. These Indians will therefore be more receptive to their Tamil popultation who say the SL govt is only interested in sinhala nationalism which leads to Sri Lanka facing more problems in UN human rights council

      “Deputy Leader of the TNA and ex Militant Chief Premachandran”

      This ex-militant can at least win a seat in a free-vote democratic election unlike the ex-militants/child abductors leading the EPDP and TMVP who need as much help from the security forces as possible in order to get into parliament (when they are not getting a free-pass from Mahinda)

      “Just imagine what the inahabiitants will be hearing from Premachandran when Sambandan appoints him as the CM in September?.”

      I know the idea of Tamils electing their own leaders in a free election (as opposed to agreeing to the next lackey forced upon them by the human rights champion Percy) is anathema to you but get used to it (unless you want more action in the UN human rights council).

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    The merger of the north and east is not necessary for devolution of powers.Besides according to the Indo lanka accord a referendum should be held in the east to see whether the people want to be merged with the north.I doubt whether the people of the eastern province will want it to be merged with the north.So the first change that the government is thinking of to stop any merger is not important anyway and it can go ahead with it if it wishes to.

    However the second one where by a majority of provincial councils saying okay,the government can whittle away the powers of the provincial councils is a serious issue and should be blocked.I can’t see the logic of let us say 5 provincial councils agreeing to something and the other four also have to accept it.Where’s the democracy in that?Let the five that accept it have it if they want to,but the other four should be allowed to continue without having the changes forced down their throats.Are we heading towards totalitarianism?Then our future generations will have to go through hell to get rid of it one day,with demonstrations,tear gas,shootings by the police,imprisonments,investment drying up etc.

  • 0
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    I am sad about the self emulation and the death of Bowatte Indraratne. Misinformation, falsehood, and emotions arising therefrom, were the causes of this death, let alone spirituality.

    Sri Lanka(SL) is “believed” to be visited by Buddha. An apostle of Jesus Christ is believed to have set his foot on this island. Rama-Ravana war of the Hindus is beleived to have taken place in this island.

    With this background, one can comprehend that this country is a multi religious country and not a “Sinhala BVuddhist Country” as falsely claimed by a few Buddhists.

    The spiritual forces of evil such as hatred, greed, lust, envy and selfishness are recognised by most religions.

    The problem is that even if a man knows good and wants to do it, he often does evil and wretched things. Not because of him but because of the forces of evil. Obviusly, man has no capacity to resist and shun evil.

    Therefore, the spiritual truth is that a law of evil and death operates in any man. Man becomes a slave to evil and is driven by this slave master to do more evil.

    What is the spiritual remedy?

  • 0
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    the maximum IC can do to Sri Lanka, if the 13th amendment is abolished, is imposing trade sanctions.

    That will be good for narrowing the import export trade deficit as well as to become the country self sufficient agriculturally and in small manufacturing. For example, if Iran buys our Tea they will continue it.

    Besides, which countries will participate in these trade sanctions – all the western countries and India, and with all of those countries we have negative trade deficits.

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      Remember some countries had declared bankruptcy against western banks.

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      “Besides, which countries will participate in these trade sanctions – all the western countries and India, and with all of those countries we have negative trade deficits.”#

      So you believe the SL economy will get into even better shape whilst at the same time being subject to possible sanctions by its massive neighbour and western trade partners? Are you expecting tourists from these places to continue turning up in massive numbers and spending their money in the sinhala south? Was this not the reason for constructing Mahinda Rajapaksa airport? Please tell me as well what multinational corportations will be lining up to invest in a country subject to US trade sanctions? (I imagine its not google especially if Wimal Weerawansa is still in govt)

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        In such a situation; executive presidency, 18th amendment as well as banning elections for some time will be important.

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    “In such a situation; executive presidency, 18th amendment as well as banning elections for some time will be important.”

    Indeed go the whole hog and claim democracy has to be cruelly expunged from Sri Lanka due to the danger of LTTE elements reforming and using free media and balanced constitution to come to power and do suicide bus bombings again. This will firmly Percy and his supporters in the upper echelons of intelligent beings

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