Elections for the Northern Provincial Council are scheduled for September’2013, although the date has not been announced. Although the Provincial Councils are institutions established under the 13th amendment to the constitution (November’1987), they have not served the function they were expected to, for various reasons that have been highlighted, analyzed, discussed and debated over the past twenty five years. There are also recent calls for abrogation of the 13th amendment and amendments to the 13th amendment to negate police and land powers granted to the Provincial Councils, despite the impending Northern Provincial Council elections. The preludes to the on-coming elections have already commenced and indicate that the campaign itself is bound to be quite bitter, violent and divisive. It is also likely the results would favour the TNA overwhelmingly.
This prospect has aroused fears as to how the TNA would conduct itself in office, in terms of questions relating to full implementation of the 13th amendment as originally envisaged, improvements to the Provincial Council system and the perennial question relating to the so-called internal self-determination. The potential for conflict between the Northern Provincial Council and the Sri Lankan government, and the adverse outcome are also of concern to many. These fears cannot be dismissed as baseless and unwarranted, given our history and the nature of prevailing sentiments. These fears assume critical significance as the war-torn north is yet in the early stages of the recovery process, with a multitude of problems confronting the war-affected.
The question now is how 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. It appears that the time is ripe to break out of the deadly embrace of conventional thinking and conceive an ‘out of the box’ solution. The 13th amendment as it is now and the impending elections are a reality. While the 13th amendment with the problems in its design and having been further undermined, is not what the Tamils expect, it is also unacceptable to the Sinhala polity at large. There is not a only a structural deficit in the Provincial Council system, but also national trust deficit pertaining to operating the system in the north
What can be done to operate the Provincial Council system as it is, optimally in the north, considering that the elections will be held and a Council will be constituted? This is the reality that demands that demands serious thought.
I suggest the TNA take the lead in contesting the election in partnership with the UPFA – a coalition of many parties of a diverse nature, the UNP and the JVP. While the TNA should be the majority partner, it should strive towards bringing in a ‘National’ perspective into the first Northern Provincial Council, considering the present circumstances. The best possible candidates should be nominated by all parties. The TNA should name its Chief Ministerial candidate and make sure that the person is the right person for the times. It would be advisable to leave out politicians of the old mould and ex-militants of all hues. Persons of standing, education, experience and ability should be painstakingly sought. They should also be a mix of the middle-aged and the old. A Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) should be signed between the constituent parties on issues such as sharing seats, the composition of the Council of Ministers, the nominee for the position of Governor and the envisaged program of action. The Provincial Council and the Council of Ministers should have also Sinhalese and Muslim members, probably in a larger proportion than their numbers in various electorates warrant (at least in the Council).
Mr.Sambanthan should take the lead in opening discussions with the President and Mr.Ranil Wickremasinghe on this possibility immediately. The public should be kept informed of progress. If there is an agreement in the form of an MOU, it should be made public. I can only hope and pray that wisdom will come to the fore.
If this option is exercised and taken forward in good faith, it would ensure the following:
- Pave the way for the non-adversarial operation of the Northern Provincial Council for at least one term.
- Help take forward the recovery of the war-affected people and areas in an enlightened, consultative and non-partisan manner.
- Pave the way for trust to be established that the Northern Provincial Council is not the first step towards separation.
- Pave the way for a new political culture in the country.
- Identify objectively the problems with the present Provincial Council system, and pave the way for a national consensus to improve it or replace it with something better.
- Promote national reconciliation by setting an example that the different communities and political formations can co-operate in the provincial and national interest.
- Dissipate the distrust between the largely Sinhala South and the largely Tamil North, on the question of insipient separatism among the Tamils.
- Enable the entry of quality persons into the political arena.
- Forestall political issue that would potentially arise in the operation of the Northern Provincial Council, igniting divisive passions anew.
- Pave the way for the other eight provincial councils to learn from the experiment in the north.
Will Mr. Sambanthan, The President and Mr.Wickremasinghe rise up to the occasion and act in unison with wisdom?