By Jehan Perera –
Sri Lanka enters its 71st year of Independence with political uncertainty in the air. The only certainty is that 2019 will be a year of elections. Presidential elections have to be held in November. There is a likelihood that provincial and general elections will be held either before or soon after the presidential elections depending on the calculations of the government that is in power.
Once again, as in the past, the main Tamil political parties did not attend the Independence Day celebrations. It appears that the Tamil polity is increasingly alienated from the mainstream polity which is not a positive sign. In 2015 after the election of President Maithripala Sirisena the TNA attend the Independence Day celebrations. This was the first time for over four decades by leaders of the mainstream Tamil political parties.
The last time they attended the ceremony was in 1972 prior to the passage of the first Republican Constitution. The 1972 Constitution was passed without accepting any of the proposals made by the mainstream Tamil parties, which saw the worsening of the political alienation of the Tamils from the Sri Lankan polity. A political solution has still to happen, even though Sri Lankans have had 71 years to work out the answer.
In his Independence Day message this year, President Maithripala Sirisena implicitly spoke of the need for a new path when he said, “Having gained independence from imperialist rulers, as a nation, we expected a political, socio-economic and cultural forward march, with a unique national identity free of colonial shackles. To entrust the future of the nation to minds enslaved by imperialism for more than a century, is more dangerous than being under colonial rule itself.”
Today it is taken for granted that British colonial rule laid the seeds for the ethnic conflict in the country through divide and rule policies and that the British used the Tamil minority to rule the Sinhalese majority. The disproportionate numbers of Tamils and religious minorities who were at the higher levels of the colonial administration is provided as evidence for this assertion.
The negative aspect of this type of analysis is that is that it seeks to absolve Sri Lankan’s from the responsibilities for our own failures. Sri Lanka’s transition to Independence was peaceful. It was unlike in India where partition into Hindu and Muslim dominated territories led to mass upheaval and violence that left hundreds of thousands dead and millions as refugees. Sri Lanka did not take this route because the leaders of the main ethnic minorities did not ask for separation in 1948 but only asked for inclusion and a share of political power in a united country.
The democratic political system in which elections with universal adult franchise is one of the positive features of the British colonial experience. Sri Lanka was one of the first colonial territories to receive the adult franchise beginning in 1911. The first Sri Lankan to be elected through elections for the Educated Ceylonese Seat was Ponnambalam Arunachalam from Jaffna. This choice of the voters indicated that ethnicity was not the main dividing line in society at that time.
The problem is that we took the British model of the unitary state, as practiced in 1948, and have continued to utilize it as an article of faith. The British system of government has changed significantly since those days. But we remain trapped in the past.
At the time that the country got its independence in 1948 Sri Lanka was seen as a possible Switzerland of the East. The British colonial administrator Leonard Woolf who wrote about the injustices that the colonial system brought the rural people in his book “Village in the Jungle” written in 1913 saw Sri Lanka adopting the Swiss cantonal system to accommodate its ethnic and religious diversity.
In a November 1938 Memorandum to the British Labour Party, on the Demands for Reform of the Ceylon Constitution, Woolf advocated “Ensuring a large measure of devolution or even introducing a federal system on the Swiss model.” He wrote “The Swiss federal cantonal system has proved extraordinarily successful under circumstances very similar to those in Ceylon, i.e., the co-existence in a single democratic state of communities of very different size, sharply distinguished from one another by race, language and religion.” (‘Letters of Leonard Woolf’, ed. Frederic Spotts, London, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1990, pp. 416-7).
Today the unitary state model in Britain has changed greatly. It has changed to accommodate a parliament in Scotland, a power sharing executive in Northern Ireland and an assembly in Wales. Unfortunately in our 71st year of Independence we politicians whose mindsets are rooted in the past. The main issue they are taking before the people is that the country is in danger of being divided.
Today we have one set of politicians saying that the government’s proposals for constitutional reforms and meant to undermine the unitary state. We have another set of politicians who are proposing to take out the term “unitary state” from the constitution and replace it with Sinhala and Tamil words that they say are its exact equivalents while others say it is not. As a result the level of mistrust of politicians is high when it comes to the issue of constitutional reform.
On the day before Sri Lanka celebrated its 71st Independence Day, over 250 youth representing 8 districts of the country spanning the North and South and all ethnic and religious communities came together for three days of activities. Most of them had never met each other before, but they had spent two years engaging in training on peacebuilding which included getting to know about the political and social challenges facing the country.
These 250 young people demonstrated that they have the energy and enthusiasm to work across ethnic and religious differences. During the three days they spent together, the young people experienced trust building and problem solving exercises which are the main lacuna in the country today in terms of inter ethnic and inter religious relations.
The hardest problem is to find a solution to the ethnic conflict that is endorsed by all communities. The differences between the parties, even within the government alliance, are very great. The past four years have not been sufficient for them to develop enough trust and understanding between themselves to reach out to each other and compromise on their differences. This is why the draft constitution that has been developed by the expert committee of parliament is not being presented as a formal government document.
The challenge for Sri Lanka is to create a set of common political values that members of all communities can accept that are based on respect for human rights and the rule of law. This is the process that needs to be speeded up through a new constitution that will create citizens who are politically equal, not subjected to discrimination and with the right to determine their own future within a united country whether the constitutional label is unitary or not.
Dilmah / February 4, 2019
Yes, Dr Jehan time to move on and time for a new generation to take over and lead Sri Lanka. My choice for next President of Lanka is Sunil Handunetti of JVP who worked hard to expose the Bondscam. He should contest and will win the next Presidential election as people are fed up of the Bondscam Ranil-Sira-Jarapassa circus UNP-SLFP-PP corruption racket.
Also, Dr J. Colombo NGOs that live on US fake aid and $$$ slush funds should push for an end to corruption and money politics make some useful suggestions on reform of political culture rather than talking nonsense about Sri Lanka being Suisse! Laws preventing those over 60 contesting elections and banning party cross overs must be passed before next general election. Time for Colombo NGOs to take on this reform process.
Cats Eye / February 6, 2019
Dilma dear, I figure that Colombo NGOs like Dr. JP’s are part of the ethnic and religious conflict PROBLEM and NOT the Solution.
These Ethno-religious conflict research NGOS are in the USAID gravy train, and thrive on excavating the ‘beggars wound’ called the Ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. There lots of foreign funds for this!
These NGOs over-analyze religious identity politics without doing proper research on centuries of multicultural co-existence among communities in Sri Lanka.
The fake “New Constitution”draft is also part of the strategy to Divide and Rule by their foreign funders, by massaging ethnic and religious Divisions so that they festering so Trumpland and allies can set up military bases (code named Logistics Hubs) , in Strategically located Lanka and Indian Ocean because of their Cold War with China, while everyone in Lanka is focused on Buddhist-Muslim or Tamil-Sinhala conflicts..
This is the bottom line.
These NGOs are part of the “ethnic conflict” PROBLEM and NOT the solution to ethnic and religious conflicts because they do not focus on the real problems that ALL Communities face: which is the lack of ECONOMIC RIGHTS and JUSTICE for Sri Lankans. But there are no big bucks $$$ to fight corruption so the ethnic and religious conflict narrative keeps going in circles!
Kalinga / February 7, 2019
Right on! These NGO Ethnic Entrepreneurs are part of the global ethno-religious conflict and peace INDUSTRY fueled and funded generously by US$$$.
These ethnic and religious identity politics entrepreneures never talk about Economic Rights and Justice or how to fix corruption and economic inequality which is as the root of a lots of ethnic and religious wars and conflict? This is because they are Funded by external parties who work for America First and Global 1 percent.
Divide and Rule was an old strategy of and for Euro-American colonialism, in order to under-develop and loot Asia and Africa. Now in the Information Age with new communication technologies, Facebook and NGOs Divide and Rule to loot, debttrap countries, and beggar the global masses, in what economist, Dr. Dambisa Moyo termed the “Winner Take it All Economy”, the global economy, is the name of the international financial institution business, headquartered in Washington with IMF and WB calling the shots.
K.Anaga / February 4, 2019
When it is ‘assumed’ that federalism and power sharing is a division of a country, non can convince them other wise by using other terms. You will be only cheating yourself.
Sach / February 5, 2019
What is the limit of power devolution?
What Tamils demand always has been a minority rule over majority system. And wonders why Sinhalese don’t agree with them.
Sri-Krish / February 4, 2019
The first Sri Lankan to be elected through elections for the Educated Ceylonese Seat was Ponnambalam Ramaanathan and not Ponnambalam Arunachalam from Jaffna.
Please correct this innocent I mistake in your article.
Otherwise the article is full of wisdom that is lacking among all communities..
But you have missed to emphasize the evils of corruption and nepotism that will destroy the foundation of the country before the end of this year itself unless farsighted measures were taken to really democratize the state
Ajith / February 4, 2019
“The hardest problem is to find a solution to the ethnic conflict that is endorsed by all communities. “
Ethnic conflict is not the hardest problem to find a solution. This is the easiest problem that can be solved if the people of the country understand the politics of two major political parties. The political divide between two major political parties is the major barrier to find a solution not only to the ethnic conflict but also to the economic problem of this country. SWRD worked out a solution but UNP opposed it. Dudley worked out a solution but SLFP opposed it. JRJ agreed for a solution, SLFP opposed it. Chandrika put forward a solution, UNP opposed it. UNP with World mediatation promised a solution, Chandrika SLFP blocked it. Mahinda said he will go beyond 13+ but cheated it. Now SLFP & UNP agreed for working a solution, Mahinda blocked it. This is the game going on 71 years. Results of this game: no solution, no economic development, no peace, over 200,000 unlawful deaths. This continues.
People do not want to change, do not want to find a solution to anything. They enjoy the bloodbath. When Tamils are victims Sinhalese are happy. When Sinhalese are victims Tamils are Happy. Muslims are happy when both Tamils and Sinhalese are victims. Sinhalese and Tamils are happy when Muslims are victims.
Ponn / February 5, 2019
No change would prevail in Sri Lankan politics until and unless the present political crooks who lead their parties for their personal gains are wiped out . None of the present leaders are genuine and only power hungry.
JD / February 5, 2019
JEHAN PERERA: I know you are writing for your relatives in the West. Sri lanka’s problem is that Sri lanka’s prominent politicians are listening too much to the International community. Ranil is an idiot. So, he listens to anyone who says this is the way to go. Using that statement he can be explained very well. Mahinda Rajapakse tried to Bribe the international community in various ways and win it. that did not work too.
What is Wrong with you people. They say Reconciliation and they have appointed an Indian ESTATE Tamil living in colombo to promote Language reconciliation among Tamils. He does that among sinhla people vua SLBC. So, what will happen. when Sinhala people start working in Tamils. Secondly, You people promote Tamil only, Muslims only and christianity only (International schools) and Sinhala People have some thing called NATIONAL schools only for Sinhala children but their condition is pathetic except for the same 26 GRADE A schools which existed since 1948 I suppose. Most of those A GRADE schools are in Colombo and in YAPANAYA.
94 O/L failed politicians do not know Bonds from James bond. They cheers for reconciliation and they do not know what the International community countries say. So, they also say national question and reconciliation. They are uneducated and brrain washed by you people. West which got EDUCATED immigrants from third world countries have not given anything to their ethnic groups. Even though they are very educated, contributing to their economies those people are still second class. Ask Tamils in USA how they were Jailed for financial frauds and filthy rich Pakisthanis in UK how they were not given the CITIZENSHIP. Recently, SAJITH’s EVANGELIST sister was trajectorized into a NAtional LIST MINISTER post. I think that happened in the hope of Sajith Becoming the PResident. there are countries which have puppet regimes. Ranil is a western puppet
JD / February 5, 2019
Tamils are naturalized all over the world and maintain larger communities and not fewhundreds in each country. Yet they have been given many things only in Sri lanka.
Nathan / February 5, 2019
Moda JD before you open your mouth first know your history man. Guys like you only brought such a disaster to the Sinhala race and it is in a state of total annihilation. You behave like a village clown going by kathawa, lies and rumours. We have now come out of that era and first forget mahavamsa which was only a story telling not from facts but from imagination. Wake up guy and hang your hospitality kathawa.
JD / February 5, 2019
Tamil political parties did not attend the Independence party because the election is near by, if they attend their opponent Tamil part wigneswaran uses it saying TNA was with Sinhala govt and did not get anything for tamils. Tamils sine 1910, as Tamilnadu does uses Tamilness to win votes. Because, there should be a way to unite different castes which antagonizes the other. One Estate tamil -MP Thilakaraj say his father wanted him to attend the Sinhala school leaving his Tamil speaking Estate school. He studied Tanil only school upto university entrance and attended Colombo University. His father’s fear was attending a Tamil school would deprive him of the high society. UNDERSTAND WHETHER IT IS RECONCILIATION OR TAMILIZATION. Now the Jain – Hindu Digambaran wants 30,000 indian university graduates from Tamilnadu here as those refugees left sri Lanka, come and teach sciene is Tamil. Right now the major concern is Tamils are over represented in the North, up country and in Colombo. They need to come as National list, if they lose. See how MAvai Senathiraja jump from TNA to others and come back. Calculate and see the Tamil distribution in Srilanka and the Politician representation.
FYI, the parliament is mostly christian and Catholic.
Praba / February 6, 2019
Even in my grave I have not come across an idiot and a iliterate lke you
JD / February 5, 2019
Thilakarh had studied in Tamil upto Grade Two. His father wanted him to LEarn in the Sinhala School then he would amount to some one. Yet he transferred into Tamil school and learned until the A/L but not in sinhala. so, what is Tamils missing. If they any where in the world they have to study in that country’s major language. Why none of the International community countries give Ethnic groups= – specific rights to Immigrants in their countries. Even the LGBT rights are not given in many of those countries or taken back.
JD / February 5, 2019
Why some politicians behind these all kinds of Reconciliation are busy in destroying Sri lanka. IT looks the 26 year old special Grade Administrative officer who is a Tamil lady, CUSTOMS HEAD was transferred to FINANCE MINISTRY without PResident or PM’s knowledge because she inquired about 143 suspicious containers. WHAT ARE THOSE CONTAINER DRUGS AND WEAPONS TO MUSLIMS OR TAMILS OR DRUGS IN TRANSIT TO OTHER COUNTRIES. SWO MANGALA KNEW IT. It is well known that prominent DRUG TRAFFICKERS in the parliament make promises infront of school children and parents saying WE WON’T HELP DRUG TRAFFICKING. oNE SUCH WHO DID THAT WAS KUDU DIMU.
Tamil from the north / February 6, 2019
JD, have you gone beyond grade 2? Man your English is so bad, I wonder whether you have any education at all. Idiot!
Mallaiyuran / February 5, 2019
Can Jehan PhD explain why the Tamil Buddhist Suren Raghavan is tightening on Tamil tutories? He wants them to start to teach Hindu students Buddhism in Sundays?
Why Jehan PhD stopped his religious reconciliation and have passed it to Tamil Buddhist?
JohnSiva / February 5, 2019
Nobody has been punished for the long list of anti tamil pogroms before the civil war.
We saw anti muslim riots in Aluthgama in 2014. Nobody punished
We saw anti muslim riots in Digana in 2018. Nobody punished.
This is the real face of Sri Lanka.
Spring Koha / February 5, 2019
Jehan Perera writes…But we remain trapped in the past.
Spot on! The first thing we can do is discontinue this throwback to the last white mastah and stop the February 4th tamasha. Instead let us choose to celebrate a National Day on another day of our choosing. Highlighting all the good things that bring us together. and keep us together. Let the armed forces retire to their barracks. Here under bright sun and blue skies, the last thing we need is people in uniform parading weapons of destruction, giving us a display of ‘my thing is bigger than yours’. How so very yesterday!
Both our President, and our Prime Minister were born in a free Sri Lanka, and the same goes for an overwhelming majority of the electorate. It is ours to forge a new Sri Lanka – better late than never. Let us get rid of the continuous whingeing about the colonial bullshit. Leave that to the historians in their backward looking endeavours.
Our devious power-hungry politicians have since 1948 led us up the garden path of divisiveness, it is time we broke free and headed for bright future that awaits an united Sri Lanka.
Kapila / February 6, 2019
SC: Do you want to erase history of colonialism and replace it with mind numbing nationalism and empty rhetoric?
Neo-colonialism, corruption and under-development is alive and well today with Trumpland propping up its corrupt puppet Bondscam Ranil, and or US citizen Avant Guard navel security Gota Jarapassa, in order to set up military bases in Indian Ocean while a land Bank is being set up to asset strip and fill up paddy lands and sell to property developers?!
Get a grip, get a life Spring Koha!
kolla / February 5, 2019
Can Dr Jehan Perera disclose his connections with Western embassies ? Why do they sponsor him, invite him for parties, encourage him ? Is he a fifth column for outside influence ? What benefits has Dr Perera received from them (trips, grants etc) . He must disclose before preaching
Chakarai / February 6, 2019
Jehan is a decent man unlike you a liar . Not as much as Mahintha gets from China
kali / February 6, 2019
We are not moving forward as we are stuck in the mud. The other day I responded to an Article by a Tamil that 4th February was a Black day by saying that it was not. I now realise How wrong I was after reading the news that Mahinthas daughter in law is Tamil. I was sadened to read the news that a Tamil would marry a man with Blood on his hand ( Thajudin) and marry into a family which is responsible for killing and maiming thousands of Tamils. It is an insult to every victim . That girl and his parents should be asahmed of themselves. I genuinly hope she proves to be infertile and doesnt bring any more Criminlas into this World. I dont normally wish ill on other people but this one certainly desrves to be condemned. Mahintha by bringing a Tamil into his family might think that he has got away with Murder but the World will not buy it and I certainly will not .
K.Pillai / February 6, 2019
Our politics has evolved into a form where “Remaining In The Past” is necessary for the politicians to maintain their present lavish lifestyle and into the future.
There is no “Need To Move Forward”. Decided by the bads.
Do we have a choice?