22 September, 2017

The (Official) SLFP, Devolution & The Constitution

By Dayan Jayatilleka –

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Three cheers for the official SLFP’s written proposals for Constitutional change. They are not merely desirable; they are the only changes currently possible.

The SLFP has rejected the abolition of the executive Presidency, more especially in the context of devolution. It has upheld the unitary state, rejected the amalgamation of Provinces and the abolition of the powers of the Governor and/or their transfer to the Chief Minister. The SLFP has agreed with the implementation of the 13th amendment and the proposal of a Second chamber. In short the SLFP proposal is for a constructively modified 13th amendment, which is both 13 Plus (Senate) and 13 Minus (de-merger).

These proposals constitute the common ground within the ‘Unity’ government. If they are rejected, the UNP will have to go it with the TNA and the JVP. Ranil’s old wager that Mahinda Rajapaksa will be vulnerable to the temptation of the abolition of the executive Presidency is obsolete, a non-option, due to the grassroots anti-UNP surge which is carrying the JO-SLPP forward at a much faster growth rate than any party after SWRD’s SLFP in ’55-’56 and JRJ’s UNP in ’76-’77.    

So the choice for Ranil is simple: risk the fracture of the bipartisan coalition and switch to the TNA, or stick to the common denominator with his Southern mainstream coalition partner.

The SLFP’s position paper does not take the line of Chandrika, i.e. of the ‘package’ of 1995 and 1997, which could not be implemented even in its time, when she was at the height of her popularity, not simply because Ranil’s UNP objected but because there was a groundswell against it which the UNP decided to ride.

Instead, and interestingly, the Sirisena SLFP’s position paper on the Constitution is almost exactly the stand that Mahinda Rajapaksa took in his second term when in April 2011 he instructed his negotiators to talk to the TNA. The discussion was at a working dinner at then Foreign Minister Prof GL Peiris’ residence and I was present as an active participant. That effort fell through because the TNA overshot the mark, refusing to take the implementation of the 13th amendment as the baseline and framework, and as a result, Mahinda was manipulated by his more unscrupulous negotiators such as Sajin Vass Gunawardena into pulling the plug on the process. In the event Mahinda reactivated the Northern Provincial Council holding elections to it, but did not deliver on the civilianization of the Governorship, thereby inadvertently providing time and space for the Diaspora-driven radicalization of the new Chief Minister and the Council.

If the Constitutional reform agenda sticks to the SLFP’s moderate centrist position, then it will be very difficult for the mainline JO to oppose it because it echoes Mahinda Rajapaksa’s own line during his Presidency. If on the other hand the discussion on reform pushes outside the SLFP’s parameters, the effort will be targeted from all points of the compass.      

The SLFP document represents the ‘middle path’ between those who wish to go beyond the unitary framework and the 13th amendment and those who wish to repeal or amputate the 13th amendment. If one were to avoid a time wasting debate on desirability and stick to feasibility, the SLFP’s stand is the only viable one. Why so?

Yahapalana civil society ideologues such as Dr. Kumar David argue strongly that a referendum on a new constitution can be won. In the Island’s sister Sunday edition he writes as follows:

“Even 60% of the Sinhala-Buddhist vote is 42% nationally (0.6×0.7). Where is he [Gota], or the hypothesized referendum, going to find the other 8%? Even 65% of the S-B vote (which makes the unsustainable assumption that the UNP, Sirisena-SLFP and JVP together can muster only 35% of S-Bs) falls short of 50% by nearly 5%…I don’t understand why S&R and their retinue of clowns are opaque to simple arithmetic. The constitutional referendum can be won – period!”

(‘We Must Keep Unrelenting Pressure on S & R’, Kumar David, colombo Telegraph Sept 10th 2017)

The problem is not only that he has taken only the Sinhala-Buddhist rather than the Sinhala vote as his baseline (he obviously hasn’t kept up with Cardinal Ranjith’s recent pronouncements on neocolonialism and noticed the Catholic clergy on Gota’s platform) but that in his old age, Kumar David has forgotten his hero Trotsky’s excellent point about the distinction between simple arithmetic and higher algebra in serious politics! As governments have been finding out throughout the world in the past few years of global economic crisis, at a referendum the electorate does not vote only on the merits and demerits of the issue at hand or on party lines. The issue itself cannot be kept quarantined. It is invested with the mood and meanings of all the other concerns of the people. It becomes a lightning rod. People transcend party lines at a referendum and generate a protest vote which becomes a wave.

I should be cheering and egging the loony left Kumar Davids on, so as to shatter the Government at a referendum, but this would be no ordinary referendum. It would leave behind a bitter trace of heightened ethnic polarization—which is why the Diaspora driven Tamil nationalists are pushing for a referendum even at the risk of losing it.

The SLFP’s position paper has the merit of being sufficiently moderate and pragmatic so as to avoid the need for a polarizing referendum. What it does is delimit the discussion to those reforms that can achieve an all-parties consensus: the implementation of 13 A within the unitary framework; negotiation over the Concurrent list and agreement on swaps of powers while retaining the list; a second chamber which further entrenches the North-South consensus and constituency for devolution of power within a unitary state.    

The Sirisena SLFP’s document is also a rejection of the hardline Sinhala Buddhist position which targets the 13th amendment itself—and not merely any attempt to go beyond the 13th amendment. It is clear that the bulk of the JO, its parliamentary group and its leadership are in no mood to either attack the 13th amendment or countenance any moves beyond it. Therefore it should be possible for the SLFP and the JO to take a congruent or parallel position on devolution and its parameters, or for the JO to take an agnostically silent position on it.

No serious political party or player can take the 13th amendment head on, while they can – and must–credibly argue against going beyond it. There are many reasons for this, none of which have to do with right and wrong or desirability and undesirability, but with reality. The reality is that no Tamil political party will agree to abolish, truncate or not implement the 13th amendment. Even Douglas Devananda’s position is that it is not necessary to go beyond 13A, and therefore unnecessary to have a new Constitution. No one can govern this country with only a pan-Sinhala consensus—and not all Sinhalese are extreme nationalists. There has to be some Tamil ally or the other, for the simple reason that the Sinhala Buddhists are not alone on this island and the Tamils are not alone on this island with the Sinhala Buddhists but have co-ethnics next door.

The next reality is that the resplendent island of Sri Lanka is not alone in the region, still less the planet, and there isn’t a single country, including among our staunchest Asian and Eurasian friends and allies, who would endorse an abolition, truncation of or reverse movement on the 13th amendment.   

The third reason is that any attempt to reverse existing devolution almost inevitable gives rise to a neighboring power supporting the disaffected minority at the periphery which speaks a language or shares a religious belief which the neighboring power some part of it speaks/shares. It is not just an imperialist, neocolonial or hegemonic practice but is the response of non-imperialist and anti-imperialist neighboring powers too—take Georgia and the Ukraine, and Russia’s responses, which I fully understand.

Having survived the disastrous Bosnian war, the end of Yugoslavia began with the Serbian majority Socialist party reversing in Parliament, the Tito Constitution’s provision which accorded a semi-autonomous status to the province of Kosovo.

The political illiterates who call for the abolition of the 13th amendment rather than limit themselves to anything that goes beyond it, are ignorant of the fact that one of the members of the Darusman Commission was Stephen Ratner, a former US State Department policy planning official and Professor of International Law, whose specialization is the borders of new states carved out of old ones when a mother state revokes the autonomous status of units within the old state. He redevelops the old doctrine of Uti Possidetis, and argues that if and when a government of the old mother state unilaterally revokes the autonomy of existing regions/provinces, a newly emergent state shall have as its borders, those that belonged to the pre-existing provincial or regional demarcation.

So if we try to roll back the 13th amendment or are perceived internationally to be trying to do so, we shall fall victim to a set-up and trigger this doctrine, just as one triggers a claymore mine. The 13th amendment however flawed, issues from and is organically linked with a bilateral accord, however coerced. No bilateral accord can be unilaterally altered, especially if there is a huge asymmetry of strengths – a massive strategic imbalance–involved. If the Indians come in this time, they won’t leave. 

Devolution on this island cannot be avoided except by a drastic change in the nature of the state which abolishes all special privileges and renders it a secular republic as in the USA, France, India and China. That is simply not possible, given the historical-civilizational reality of the uniqueness of the organic Sinhala Buddhist tie to the island as manifested in the furor about Article 9. It will take a Frontline Socialist plus JVP government to make us fully equal and equally integrated citizens of a society devoid of discrimination. That is a task for the younger generation and a socialist Left.

Until then, the only worthwhile debate is on the degree, timing and conditions of devolution. Even under a communist-led government granting a measure of autonomy will probably be unavoidable. “…Implementing regional autonomy in areas where ethnic minorities live in concentrated communities is a basic political system of China” says the document issued by the State Council of Information Office of the People’s Republic of China entitled “Historical Witness to Ethnic Equality, Unity and Development in Xinjiang”. The Chinese Constitution embeds and enshrines the ‘system of regional ethnic autonomy’. It was initiated by Chairman Mao. Now that can hardly be a separatist and/or imperialist plot.

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Latest comments

  • 3
    5

    Chief Minister of the Vellala Party TNA said he wants Federal . after meeting the Chief Prelates in Kandy………., according to the Hindu…..And the Chief Prelate of Malwatta agreed to give the CM a Federal State. quoted the Hindu………..Dr Ranil, TNA Vellala Sambandan and the Chief Prelate of Malwatta combo is no small change……I think Dr Kumar knows his Calculus…….What about the poor Southerners bar the UNP , who do not want Seven Crooks with Seven Crooked Cabinets after this Devolution………We may all go for a Siberia in the South………..

    • 5
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      KASmaalam K A Sumanasekera

      “Chief Minister of the Vellala Party TNA said he wants Federal .”

      This is not a novel Vellala idea. The public racist SWRD Banda proposed it in the 1930’s.

      Remember Malawattu chief in an elaborate plot attempted to murder Kandyan King in the 18th century would not allow the Dalits to ordain. Viharathipathys appropriate profits and income from temple properties, land, ….. etc and demand kappang from poor dalits in the form of cash, chicken, arrack, ……………..

      “What about the poor Southerners bar the UNP”

      What about them? Plead with Assgiria to ordain them? Now the Sinhala/Buddhist Govia’s are complaining about the discrimination they suffer in the hands of Karavas. Will you attend to Govia’s complains?

      Is that why Govias sent their poor lads to learn to kill, hoping to convert them into Kshatriya, in competition with Karavas?

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      KASmaalam K A Sumanasekera

      Your new mango friend types as follows:

      “That is simply not possible, given the historical-civilizational reality of the uniqueness of the organic Sinhala Buddhist tie to the island as manifested in the furor about Article 9.”

      Could you clarify what exactly the public racist and life long war monger is attempting to say given that Article 9 or the essence of it was brought into the illegal constitution in 1972 which was passed without being tested in an island wide referendum. So was 1978 constitution. Crooks passed the constitutions in the crook full of parliament.

      By the way Article 9 (Chapter II) is a good place to hide criminals, rapists, thugs, drug smugglers, war criminals, liars, anti social elements, crooks, …………………………….. murderers, …. All they have to do is plead (take) Article 9 (Chapter II), impunity guaranteed.

  • 6
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    One mans problem is another mans solution and vice versa. 13th amendment did not solve the problem. Unitary system did not solve the problem. The main barrier to the problem is Buddhist Sinhala Fundamentalism. Within the seven decades of Sinhalese rule the country faced several episodes of large scale massacres, destruction of economy, complete collapse of law and order & justice system. All this happened in the name of Lord Buddha and in the name of democracy. There was no constant policy of devolution within SLFP or UNP. All this gilmal policies and talk about devolution cannot stand with Buddhist Sinhala Fundamentalism. Two major things Dayan talk currently demerger of North East and Executive Presidency. He wants dividing Tamils and handing over power to Rajapakse to complete his genocide philosophy.

  • 1
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    This is pathetic politics. former UPFA minister were jailed and their corruption cases are not heard. there are more whose cases were not investigated than those whose cases investigated eventhough they were not prosecuted and the losses were recovered. It is the same with Horapalanaya govt. Humongous fraud were investigated some side tracked investigations revealed money laundering and no one was jailed or no losses were recovered. Sri lanka’s present need is cutting the losses and increase the revenue for govt. Politicians are having field days and they get humongous pay packets when the country is in debt. —————but, expert opinion of political pundits is devolution and constitution in the already quasi -federal country. That looks simple cheat of voters ion order tokeep the status quo. I don’t knoe whether the voeters are that stupid and they can not understand what is infront of their eyes.

  • 6
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    The Sinhala-Buddhist elitists have ruined the country for far too long. Now let the common masses be given a chance as to the type of constitution and system of government that a modern country with multi-ethnic communities in it deserve to march forward. The unitary system with centralised power has not solved any problem but allowed familial rulers swindle the people’s money to enrich their families. JO and MR are no longer a viable force to derail the democratic process towards finding a compromise to find a solution to the ethic problem. This is becoming a reality as the judicial net started tightening round Rajapakses’ necks. The political lives of corrupted brothers who masterminded kidnapping, murders, impunity of perpetrators of crimes, fraudsters and swindlers and corruption near the finishing line. JO and others who benefitted from corruption and lies speak, write and canvass to bring back the financial fraudster who siphoned billions of state funds and tsunami contributions.

  • 0
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    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 2
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    A disgusting political analysis. China with over one billion population, over 150 tribes or ethnic groups have been compared with Sri lanka with just 22 million smam communities. What do you want a shanty states within the country becuse your party needs to be politically successful. any forward looking for political party would dissolve the 13th amendment. Because, Sri anka has moved forward from the that existed before 1987.

    • 6
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      Jimsofty the dimwit

      “any forward looking for political party would dissolve the 13th amendment.”

      Instead suspend constitution, dissolve parliament, …. handover the entire island to Gota and sit back and watch the number of Kallathonies heading to India, Australia, Europe, Americas, ….

      And then you could have a fruitful relation with Gota without being disturbed by commoners. Your relationship with Gota could no longer be a secret one. Only problem is you might find Pottu Amman on the other side of Gota’s bed.

  • 4
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    Dayan Jayathilake,

    The merger is not in 13 A, but only in the Provincial Council Act No 42 of 1987.

    However SLFP proposal is a welcome move and it could be negotiated for improvement

    The two major parties along with TNA should negotiate in good faith and come to an understanding so that any road block is successfully overcome.

  • 8
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    Viyath Maga was a total flop now its is Eliya.
    DJ why not retire and settle down in cool clime Nuwara Eliya.

  • 2
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    Can there be such a thing called pan-Sinhala consensus? Besides that question, does the statement that not all Sinhalese are extreme nationalists entail that larger part of the Sinhalese are extreme nationalists? One should note that Sinhalese and Tamils have co-existed with mutual respect before the advent of the Western powers. Co-ethnics of the Tamils next door , besides a few skirmishes that we know have not consistently attempted to subjugate Lanka for whatever reason.

  • 1
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    we have a parliament ,provincial councils and pradeshiya sabhas
    don’t we have enough corrupt politicians for some madmen wanting to add a senate to this list
    no way

  • 1
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    SLFP- beware when the Greeks (read DJ) brings gifts.

  • 2
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    Perhaps, we might reflect on the ideas expressed by DJ, paying attention to their implications. We may dislike DJ for various reasons, consider him to be self seeking, wrong headed, but we will be wrong to deny that he is an astute, deeply reflecting and well informed student of Sri Lankan and world politics. Ignoring wha he says might be to our own peril, as a people, a nation. Yes, “all men are brothers” till they decide to fight each other, the challenge is to be aware of this and to reduce the ill-effects of the inherent differences between ethnic groups, and variously identified and politically coalesced people in this country. To do so is not a simple matter, and DJ is outlining important realistic steps towards it.

  • 1
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    Someone should ask Lion flag Sambanthan( he is the opposition leader in namesake but a supporter of the SLFP and UNP government) and his assistant Sumanthiran and get an answer from them about the new constitution, devolution and about the merger.

  • 1
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    Dayan got the sack from the European (Paris & Geneva) job because he acted with some integrity and originality.
    Dayan learned a lesson – he now has his scripts approved. Hard to tell whether the intellect of the approver is lower than the low low low Dylan or not!

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    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 3
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    poor man Dr DJ.
    He goes nowhere with MR and co.
    He will beat Ranil in waiting .
    May be he get some thing in 10 years but it would be too late. try and yet.do not give up

  • 1
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    Dayan Jayatilleka commends SLFP for proposing, “constructively modified” 13A, which is, in effect, diluted decentralization and call it (using his pet parlance), “smart devolution’. Under the dispensation, Provincial Councils will continue to remain as glorified municipalities, with executive powers vested in the Governor, (i.e., the Sinhala President’s agent) and overriding legislative powers remaining with Sinhala-Buddhist majority Parliament.
    Some reflections on Dayan’s piece:
    • Months back, Dayan explained away Mahinda’s original commitment on 13-Plus . Dayan’s exposition only exposed his intellectual dishonesty. and chicanery. He said:–
    “President Rajapaksa promised 13 Plus and to go beyond the 13th amendment, and therefore new Constitution. But as anyone who has had a 13th birthday knows, if anyone asks your age six months after that, you reply “13 plus”—which in no way means you have gone “beyond 13”. You are “beyond 13” only on your next birthday, i.e. when you hit 14.” (CT Feb. 11, 2017, “The Mangala-Chandrika- TNA Constitution” ) Wow ! What a brilliant analogy !
    • Now, Dayan claims that the proposal for a Senate would make up “13-Plus”. Unless its powers are so defined and entrenched to serve as a bulwark against Sinhala-Buddhist majoritarian bulldozer, of what earthly use is a second chamber ?. Is it to accommodate the saffron-robed ayatollahs? Replicating the Sinhala majority?
    • Dayan speaks of “the historical-civilizational reality of the uniqueness of the organic Sinhala Buddhist tie to the island as manifested in the furor about Article 9.”
    It is pure gibberish and Article 9 is an anarchronism – conceived by Mahavansa minds and designed to reinforce the role of the meddlesome local Rasputins in crucial state matters.
    • “take Georgia and the Ukraine, and Russia’s responses, which I fully understand.”(Dayan)
    What a contradiction! In essence, Dayan appreciates Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the separatist insurgency engineered by Russia in Donbass area (Donetsk and Lugansk) and so forth. Then, why all the weeping and wailing, breast-beating and gnashing of teeth by Dayan at our Tamil fraternity in India for empathizing with us, fellow-Tamils in Sri Lanka?.
    • If a crazy anti-Tamil racist, always baying for Tamil blood and working on an agenda to create the climate and conditions for a recrudescence of another Black July, momentarily sounds sober, medical science would identify the moment as a “lucid interval”.

  • 0
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    Mahinda Rajapaksa lost his thrown largely due to bad advice he received from Dayan Jayatilleka. The one time Labour Minister in EPLRF controlled Eastern Provincial Council he has metamorphosed as a full fledged Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist/racist. Though he has a PhD, he is student when it comes to theory and practice of constitution making. He is wrong when he claiams that federalism will lead to division of the country. There are 25 countries large (United States 50 states, one District, 2 Commonwealths, and 12 Territories), Russia (49 oblasts, 21 republics, 10 autonomous okrugs, 6 krays, 2 federal cities, 1 autonomous oblast) ) and small (Switserland (26 cantons) Saint Kitts and Nevis, United Arab Emirates (7 emirates) etc. worldwide. In Canada, it is the federal system of government that acts as a glue to hold the second largest country in the world unified.
    There are Regionalized unitary States in which the central government has delegated some of its powers to regional governments like Chile (13 regions, each one divided into smaller provinces, which are sub-divided into several municipalities).
    Italy (20 regions, five granted ‘autonomous’ status)
    New Zealand (12 regions, 4 unitary authorities) People’s Republic of China (22 provinces, 5 autonomous regions, 4 municipalities, and 2 Special Administrative Regions: Hong Kong and Macau)
    Philippines (79 provinces grouped into 17 regions, one granted ‘administrative’ status and one granted ‘autonomous’ status). There are some countries which has a form of federacy.
    A federacy is a country in which some sub states function like states in a federation and others like states in a unitary state. Example,
    Denmark with 2 autonomous regions and 13 counties
    Finland with 1 autonomous province and 19 regions
    The Netherlands with 2 states and 12 provinces.
    France with 1 sui generis collectivity and 26 régions, 4 collectivités d’outre-mer, 1 territoire d’outre-mer.

  • 0
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    Continued…..
    Sri Lanka eminently qualifies for a federal state because it is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi- lingual country. It should be understood that even unitary state like Great Britain is a political union made up of four constituent countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have their own parliament/state assemblies enjoying near total autonomy.
    Objection by the likes of Dayan Jayatilleka to federal constitution claiming it will lead to separation is puerile. It is the opposite, that is, a unitary state dominated by the majority Sinhalese that will fuel demand for separation as witnessed in the recent past.
    In a democracy every citizen must be treated equally and not discriminated based on race, language and religion.

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