Colombo Telegraph

North-East Proposals For Federalism Inflammatory

By Faizer Shaheid

Faizer Shaheid

In the most recent times we have witnessed hypocrisy at the hands of and a violation of the mandate and trust bestowed upon the Northern Provincial Council. We have also witnessed the epitome of freedom of expression where a resolution passed by the Northern Provincial Council in direct conflict with the Constitution has been tolerated. A resolution which is directly and reprehensibly racist and schismatic and seriously jeopardizes the attempts at peace and reconciliation which is one of the successes of the present regime.

In this generally peaceful paradise isle, an element of intolerance had always been a spot of bother. It is almost culturally ingrained in the system. However, we are now in the 21st century, and the people of Sri Lanka have now realized the importance of electing visionary and policy oriented intellects to represent them. When the people elected to defeat the last regime on 08 January, they voted against the fascist politics at play, they voted against the ethnic discord prevailing in the country and they voted in favour of human rights. Today, the fact that they could openly make a proposal of this nature is exemplary of this freedom.

Although the Members of the Northern Provincial Council, just as any citizen of Sri Lanka, are free to express his or her opinion at any platform, I am a firm believer that the other citizens of this country also have the right to criticize the ideas proposed by the other. This is what the freedom of speech truly entails, and my intentions are to criticize the call for a separate state by the Northern Provincial Council.

I do understand that a Provincial Council has the right to pass a resolution asking for Parliament to make law. However, as according the Article 154G (4), the resolution has to be on a matter set out in the Provincial Council List in the Ninth Schedule. It had earlier passed a Resolution on 10th of February, 2015 recognizing genocide and now it has passed a resolution calling for a separate state. Neither of these two are within the purview of a Provincial Council.

Further to this, we have always lived in a country with recognized frontiers, and this is recognized in Article 2 of the Constitution which distinctly identifies Sri Lanka as a unitary state.

Therefore, I believe that it was a premeditated stand of a political party which has misused the mandate it has been given by the people by making a call for a separate state through the Northern Provincial Council.

Moreover, the interchangeable use of the terms ‘Tamil Nation’ and ‘North East State’ in the resolution make it slightly ambiguous as to the exact aspirations of the drafters of the proposals. This is despite the emergency powers being vested in the Governor in the event of secession by the Head of the State Government in their proposals. Further, as claimed in the resolution there have never been Sinhala and Tamil nations in the country, but rather kingdoms of different parts of the country.

In my opinion, there does not appear to be a case for a separate Government in view of the ethnic harmony prevailing in the country since Maithripala Sirisena took over as President of the country. On Independence Day, we even sang the National Anthem in Tamil to appreciate Tamil as an official language of the country. The Chief Justice of the country is K. Sripavan and he was appointed based on merit without any form of discrimination. Therefore, the partisan ideology need not exist anymore as we are very well capable of living within a united Sri Lanka.

The resolution also justifies the armed struggle where many were killed. I would like to remind them that war is never the solution to a problem. Further to that, just as much as Tamils had seen discriminations, the Buddhists, Christians and Muslims had all seen discrimination at the hands of the LTTE. There is no way that one can justify the eviction of the Muslim population in the North on 30 October, 1990. The use of child soldiers in war is also another violation of human rights by the LTTE. It is only fair that anybody justifying the armed struggle of the LTTE must also be answerable for all of the misdeeds of the LTTE.

There is also the notion submitted by the Northern Provincial Council that the root cause of the national problem lies in the fact that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist nation. This notion was possibly construed from Article 9 of the Constitution, which states that Buddhism shall be given the foremost place while ensuring that all religions shall be given their due rights. Although this may be held to be slightly contentious, Sri Lanka has traditionally been a secular nation where Buddhists have lived in harmony with Hindus, Muslims and Christians.

Moving on to the proposals, the Northern Provincial Council has proposed that the North and East be merged. Surely, being representatives of the Northern Province, the people may be ideally in favour of a separate state, but I ask them why they did not consult their brethren in the East? They should have consulted the people of the East and formed a consensus if they were in favour of a separate state. I am pretty certain that, had a referendum been conducted in the East, the verdict would have been unfavourable to those proposing for a separate state of the North and East.

What is most ludicrous is that the Northern Provincial Council has proposed not merely for federalism, but a type of federalism that leans more towards a confederate state. The system proposed by them seems to have been borrowed from different structures in various countries including the USA and UK among others. It makes demands for self-determination and separate borrowing powers for the state. However, what drew my attention most was the proposal submitted by the Northern Provincial Council that the North and East state may have more powers in a federalist structure while other states may have lesser powers.

Further to that, the Northern Provincial Council has made it blatantly clear that they had not consulted people of other communities. Especially the Muslim community who are considerably populated in the North and East. In the proposals, they have stated that they are willing to accommodate the proposals of the Muslim community as long as they vote in favour of a North and East merger. Neither have they consulted the Sinhalese or the Up-country Tamils.

Another proposal which is unbecoming of any group of intelligent people is the demand as stated in Proposal 17. The demand is for a Constitutional Court, which is a very good proposal. They have also stated that it should have the power of judicial review, which is also impressive. They ask that the Constitutional Court be constituted of a bench of 9 judges, which is also an acceptable proposal. Then they state that 3 of those judges should be nominated by the Chief Minister, which introduces an element of political bias. Then they propose that two of those three judges should concur with a judgement in a case that concerns the North and East state. While I am still a little doubtful as to what the demand actually translates as, it is slightly dubious that they may even hint at compelling the judges to be partial.

The proposals raise a number of questions, even if one were to agree to consider federalism to be an option. Sri Lanka is a small country, and the people ought to be united. The people ought to come out of the clutches of race, religion and caste and learn to live as human beings. This country, which was once the model nation for Singapore and Malaysia is now lingering at the bottom because of a three decade long war. We must be united in diversity, and we need to strive for the furtherance of human rights.

There are many more important things to fight for than debate on the need for a separate state. We ought to consider issues pertaining to climate change, cybercrimes and gender equality in high regard, rather than play petty politics to brainwash the masses. The division between the North and South is no more an issue pertaining to race, language or religion, but merely ego. Truly, we are a people with talent. If we choose to look beyond the lenses of race, caste, religion and political party, we can make giant strides as a united nation.

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