I welcome Mr. Austin Fernando’s detailed response expressing his concerns and opinions on my proposal for a ‘National’ Provincial for the Northern Province. My replies are specific to each of the concerns and opinions expressed my Mr. Fernando (Italics and bold).
At present it is not in the Constitution of Sri Lanka and hence may be considered dubious, but a circumspect mean to dilute the Provincial Council (PC) governance. One may identify it also as an unconstitutional path.
I do not think my proposal contravenes the constitution in any way and hence is not an unconstitutional path. Elections will be held and any number of parties can contest. What I am suggesting is that the major parties or groupings should try to come together to contest the election as one group, with the TNA as the major partner. What is proposed applies only to the first elections for the Northern PC. Some of the constituent parties of the TNA and the UPFA may decide to contest separately. If the UPFA could have contested the General Election as a coalition of various political formations and it was constitutional, what will make a repeat of similar arrangements in the north unconstitutional? The 13th amendment which pertains to the Provincial Councils does not forbid such arrangements either. It cannot either.
I believe it is his prediction of a victory to the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) under normal circumstances. I am careful in repeating ‘under normal circumstances’ because abnormal circumstances can be created. One need not ask “By whom?” as there is no troubleshooter for such ‘contribution like during the Presidential Election in 2005. Nevertheless, it is strongly believed that the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) want to win this election- “by hook or crook!
The ‘Hook or by Crook’ approach and its consequences are what bother me. Mr. S. Sivathasan in his article ‘Jaffna Development Council Elections 1987’ in CT of 4th May’2013, describes the details of such an approach and its consequences nationally, in the immediate period, aftermath and today. What could transpire at the on-coming Northern PC elections may be of greater consequence.
Darisha Bastians (Daily FT 2-5-2013) has revealed a purported novel power sharing manipulation after Dr. Narendran’s presentation was made. It had not been in the public domain as a strategy to hoodwink devolution.
There is no intent, design or possibility to hoodwink devolution. My proposal instead points a way to make the PC system work in the north as a cooperative venture between various key political formations, to bridge the trust deficit. The PC system should be made to work as-is in the first instance, in an atmosphere of cooperation between the centre and periphery. I am no fan of the PC system, but that is what we have and has to be made to work in the north, once the elections are held. I wish alternatives were found during the past four years!
I think that if the latter happens it would be by itself the beginning of the conflict between the NPC and the GOSL, envisaged by Dr. Narendran, as these two issues are most allergic to pro government politicians and chauvinists, as well to the TNA and Tamil chauvinists. It is not what the Constitution expected, but these days who cares for the Constitution?
The contentious issues of devolving Police powers and land would not arise in this instance, as the ‘National’ Provincial Government will work strictly according to what they agree upon in the MOU.
To avoid such pitfalls what Dr. Narendran tries to do is to “make the best out of a potentially hopeless situation, while furthering the cause of the war-affected, national healing and establishing a Provincial Council for the north.” What I would have expected from him is to be constitutional and not to play ad hoc or by the ear!
Once again there is nothing unconstitutional about what I propose. The emphasis of the first PC, which will be ‘National’ in character, would be to take forward the concerns I have expressed,
Dr. Narendran is extremely adventurous and breaks away from conventional political thinking to implement a conceived ‘out of the box’ solution. His thesis is to operate the PC system optimally in the north and to explore the possible means to achieve it efficiently. The contradiction is this optimal objective never received blessings from any government since 1987!
The major objective of my proposal is to make a break with what has been taking place since 1987.
His adventurism is so great he suggests the TNA to take the lead in “contesting the election in partnership with the UPFA” United National Party (UNP) and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), fully aware the UPFA is a coalition of many parties of a diverse nature. His expectation to bring Minister Weerawansa’s party or Minister Ranawaka’s party (coalition partners representing the majority) along with the government for devolution is a dream to me, when the above quoted newspaper reports are considered.
Even if some constituent parties in the UPFA disagree, the UPFA yet can come to an agreement with the TNA. The traditional left parties, the SLMC, CWC, UNP dissidents and other smaller parties are likely to be supportive. I believe that Messer’s Weerawansa and Champika Ranawaka will fall in line, if there are no major changes contemplated to how the PCs operate now.
Another alliance partner Minister Rishard Bathuideen, coming from the North and a minority political representative went public a few weeks back that not a single Muslim will be elected if the elections are held as proposed.
Muslim members will be elected from Mannar and Vavuniya. The UPFA, UNP and if possible the TNA can also nominate some Muslim candidates, on the basis of what is agreed upon in the MOU.
In addition, what the TNA had been fighting during the last few weeks (e.g. on acquisition of land and resettlement and protests near District Secretariat and Tellipalai Divisional Secretariat last week) have to be forgotten by them to agree with what Dr. Narendran would like to happen. Concurrently, the GOSL- especially the Ministries of Defense and the Land and Land Development have to agree with the TNA on these queried issues to permit Dr. Narendran’s intentions to reach fruition, which is most unlikely.
I do not think this is an inresolvable problem. If there is an MOU and a ‘National’ Provincial Council is formed, these issues can be settled amicably, as the ‘Mistrust’ factor can be minimized or dissipated. One of the principle reasons for proposing such a ‘National’ PC is to create the atmosphere to resolve such issues. This subject can also be addressed in the MOU.
When the Leader of the UNP says in Mannar that there cannot be any means to acquire land for militarization (I personally have a differing view on it.), for the UNP to go along with the new proposed NPC with the GOSL/UPFA, which trying to stealthily blunt the devolved powers cannot be a reality. The JVP has been a critic of TNA as well as devolution and for them to get in to a coalition will be difficult.
I agree that there cannot be a prohibition against the state acquiring land for above board, valid and legitimate reasons. The gray areas on the issue of land acquisition can be addressed in the MOU.
My intention was to make the impossible happen in the national interest and in the interests of the long and yet suffering Tamil people. This is the reason why I described my proposal as ‘Out of the Box’.
Notwithstanding this, I think the JVP may fall in line, if its concerns are addressed in the MOU. As to the UNP, it will depend on whether it views the on-coming elections in the north as an opportunity to begin resolving a long standing and debilitating national problem or as one step to topple this government.
Under these circumstance Dr. Narendran’s basic conceptualization will fail as the ‘National’ perspective in the first NPC may not go forward in that political and major policy conflict context. In contrast, I believe the TNA could agree to be in the Parliamentary Select Committee without so much hassle.
It will fail, if the concerned political formulations do not have the vision and farsightedness to seize the opportunity to seek a workable solution to a long festering national problem and forestall foreseeable consequences. The first term of the Northern PC should be the opportunity to take the sting out of the PC system and explore improvements or alternatives in a calmer and rational manner.
He proposes that TNA should name its Chief Ministerial candidate and make sure that the person is the right person for the times, proposes Dr. Narendran. What is the assurance that UPFA would consider that TNA’s candidate is the best for them too? If the TNA Chief Minister Candidate as mentioned in the media is Justice Vigneswaran, UPFA will never agree as it will be extremely difficult under the existing laws to stop such an erudite, knowledgeable person fighting for his constitutional rights.
Yes. Definitely the Chief Minister should be from the TNA. It can be anyone who has what it takes to be an efficient administrator, skilled negotiator and a model to be looked up to and respected. If it is Justice Wigneswaran, let it be so. He should contest the elections and win. Further, I do not think the UPFA would object to him, as he has to work within the framework of the MOU and is undoubtedly a fair man with a world view.
How are the Ministers selected? Just because some party is in a coalition, if the votes polled or percentages are negligible, is the TNA to repeat a “Douglas Devavnanda” where with a few thousands of votes for his party got a substantial number of seats in the Parliament and a portfolio? Can the TNA agree to such a proposition?
The PC electorates in the north should be allocated as per a formula agreed to in the MOU. All political formations who are signatories to the MOU should support the candidates of the other parties to the agreement, in the assigned electorates. If the TNA is interested in taking a new approach to resolving the problems of the Tamils, it has to do so. The ‘DD’ phenomenon you describe will not take place, if there is an MOU and there is no ‘Hook or by Crook’ contest.
Dr. Narendran proposes to leave out politicians of the “old mould”, when it is a national trait to appoint senior politicians as Chief Ministers (e.g. MS Amarasiri, WMPB Dissanayake, GD Mahindasoma, Amarasiri Dodangoda) and old age retirees as Governors (Messers DB Wijetunga, Maithreepala Senanayake, EL Senanayake, MS Amarasiri).
The Governor has to be civilian. An ex-military man will be unacceptable to the northern Tamils, regardless of his credentials. This aspect too has to be negotiated and included in the MOU. I do not think the Governor has to be necessarily a Tamil. He or she should be a person who has once again the standing to be trusted and respected by the people, the Provincial government and the President. Persons like Mr. Lionel Fernando or you fit the bill. If a Tamil is considered, Mr. Ramanujam, the retired Secretary to various Ministries would suit the bill. He is an efficient, stern, experienced and above board administrator. He has also no political affiliations.
The Chief Minister of course has to be an experienced and learned person of the likes of Justice Wigneswaran. However, a mix of the reasonably old and middle aged should be brought into the PC. They should have proven themselves in various fields of endeavour and be able to reflect the new concerns of the people. Old wine packed in new bottles, will yet be insipid!
If ex-militants of all hues are to be given up what can the government say of Minster Devananda, Deputy Minister Karuna Amman, and former Chief Minister Pillayan or Daya Master as proposed now? When Dr, Narendran cannot stop UPFA stopping Daya Master to be a candidate, his trying to stop other political groups from nominating former terrorists in their lists will be a failing exercise for sure. Will it not denote permitting the UPFA to monopolize whatever vote sympathetic to terrorists to go along only with the UPFA, through Daya Master? Will not this be interpreted as Dr. Narendran trying to bring some novices who would dance to the tune of the Governor, a class of partial bureaucrats and central government ministers in the Northern Task Force, who according to TNA have usurped their powers and that of the PCs and trying to further weaken PCs as submitted earlier?
What the government wants to do with them in the centre is its concern. However, grateful the government is to some individuals for the services they have rendered, they should not play a role in the north and east. There were and are part of the problem in the north and east. They are definitely are part of the solution either by history, intellectual capacity, experience or acceptability the people of the north . These issues should be addressed and included in the MOU.
Dr, Narendran seemed to me as a great believer of Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs). Perhaps, if he remembers the number of MOUs signed between the UPFA and others (e.g. with the UNP, JVP) he will not try to stick to useless pieces of MOU papers.
An MOU has nothing wrong per-se with it. There has to be honour even among thieves! An MOU fails because the individual signatories fail. The MOUs you mentioned failed because of political opportunism and individual foibles. Because this MOU too would have the potential to fail, does not preclude it being tried. There is always a first . This is a necessary risk that has to be taken.
Take the case of appointment of ministers. When there are only four provincial ministries and four major parties in his “National PC” exercise, any MOU will have to agree that each party should get at least one portfolio. Imagine as predicted by Dr Narendran at the outset an overwhelming victory goes to the TNA. Even if the TNA gets 70% of the vote and proportional number of Councilors, it will be entitled for the Chief Minister’s and another Minister’s position only on that basis, as the TNA, UPFA, UNP and JVP (if all parties mentioned by Dr. Narendran join, which I think is only a day dream!) have to be accommodated in the Board of Ministers; two out of five for the TNA inclusive of the Chief Ministry and three for the other constituent parties of the proposed “National” NPC. It will be the tail wagging the dog, with help of the Governor who will always act according to presidential dictates! Dr. Narendran’s thinking that the NPC and the “Council of Ministers” should have also Sinhalese and Muslim members may not be a reality sometimes, if we were to believe what was stated by Minster Bathurdeen a few weeks back that no Muslim would be elected if the election is held in September next. If we go by the current ethnic representation in the Parliament from the Northern Province, when the NPC election is held, no Sinhalese Councilor may be elected.
All parties need not have ministerial positions. The TNA, UPFA and the UNP would be entitled to ministerial positions. Whom they nominate in terms of communal identity and in terms of their elected members in the Provincial Councils, will be the prerogative of these parties. The MOU should include provisions to spell out these details.
Having required Mr. Sampanthan to act as the initiator of his thinking Dr. Rajendran predicts ensuring excellent objectives. No one can object to them. They are so serene. They seem to me as non-adversarial, enabling the recovery of the war-affected people and areas, building trust for non-separation, paving the way for a new political culture and the way for a national consensus to improve devolution exercises, promoting national reconciliation, dissipating the distrust between the ethnic groups, enabling the entry of quality persons into politics, forestalling political issues promoting ignition of divisive passions anew.
If this is the need of the country too why not the Parliament resolve a constitutional amendment to bring non-adversarial political behavior, trust building, to pave a new political culture, bring forth reconciliation, wipe out distrust, create space for quality parsons to engage in politics, which is rarely seen now even in the Parliament, so that such could be a guide to all lower level political organizations?
The solution I suggest is valid because of the failures of our political institutions- the Executive Presidency and Parliament. As I see it, the biggest hurdle is to convince the majority of the Sinhala people that some degree of devolution is in order and is not a path to dividing the country. This can be demonstrated in practice by the ‘National’ PC in the north. This will help bridge the trust deficit. Once, the majority among the Sinhalese is convinced, most of their politicians will fall in line. The northern Tamils also will also concede that the PC system even as it is, can be made relevant to their lives. The onus would be thus on the TNA to make things work, however hard the process is.
The Tamils in the north too need a break from contentious politics to concentrate on matters that are more crucial to them at this point in time. There is an urgent need for the people in the north to join the national mainstream and place their faith in the Sinhala political establishment. What better opportunity would the Sinhala political establishment have, than what I suggest?
I agree more with Dr. Narendran on the last wish of his presentation. Let Mr. Sampanthan, the President and Mr.Wickremasinghe rise up to the occasion and act in unison with wisdom. It should not be limited to NPC elections. It should encompass all aspects of politics, governance, rights, independence whether it is of the economy, judiciary or press or movement or religious belief etc.
The process should start with the northern PC and extend to the national theatre. The north should be the crucible for the necessary experimentation.
Limiting this to NPC elections alone will be seen and at least interpreted as Dr. Narendran trying to scuttle democracy and constitutional operation in a vicious manner in a limited geographical terrain to satisfy the needs of a section of the political hierarchy, who cannot gain victory under normal circumstances. I need not say which section!
The proposal if accepted in principle will make democracy more meaningful and beneficial to the people in the north. A charade will not convince the northern Tamils, who by nature question everything.
The Northern PC elections are being held under a UPFA government and hence there is no alternative to dealing with it. It would have been imperative the same was done if the UNP was in power. The idea is to not to satisfy any section of the political array. The underlying principle is to take out the sting of adversarial politics from the Northern PC and events leading to its elections. This exercise must transcend partisan consideration and rigid positions to succeed.
My understanding is that the GOSL/ UPFA should not attempt to bogus discoloration of any political group against it, as representatives of the terrorists, and play the ‘sin-accruing game’ on such minority groups. It must see manipulations as roadblocks for reconciliation, better understanding, trust building, sustainable future relations. It must concede that governance needs more than triumphalism and adverse name tagging.
The TNA has declared that it is willing to find solutions within a united Sri Lanka. However, doubts persist about its intentions on account of statements by some of its members and sections of the Diaspora. The political posturing in Tamil Nadu is also not helpful. While the government and the UPFA in particular should recognize that Mr.Sambanthan is trying to move the TNA in a more sensible direction. The government should also be single minded in its approach to reconciliation and political solutions. It has to recognize that the TNA is a reality and has to be dealt with. Its attempts to forge alternatives have miserably failed. TNA should also move fast out of what Mr.M.Sivathsan recently described as its ‘Greek Kalends’ (A point in time that does not or will not exist) mindset.
TNA and other Tamil political groups, Diaspora and all Transitional Government supporters also should recognize that they cannot be winning over the government or the majority communities by trying to crucify them, especially after a war victory that had been unprecedented, if they wish to develop reconciliation, better understanding, trust building, sustainable future relationships.
This was the biggest mistake committed by the TNA and the other formations you mention in the aftermath of the last war. The TNA- at least Sambanthan and Sumanthiran– is trying to rectify this mistake. The GOSL too made a serious mistake in trying to tailor a Tamil leadership to its measure and remaining extremely paranoid on the security front four years after the war. However, political grandstanding in the run up to the elections and after could potentially make the situation worse. My proposal takes this likelihood into account.
Striking a balance is a must, but it should be within the laws of the country and through consensus building. One group should not try to steamroll the other, because the two groups have lived like brothers and sisters and they can repeat that wonderful exquisite performance in the future too.
What I have proposed is within the laws. However, it may not be in line with the rotten political culture in this country. The communities should come together and this can happen only if our politicians come together. There is no steamrolling involved in my proposal. It will be more of give and take, in the interests of the Northern Tamils and this country.