1 December, 2021

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The Realpolitik Of The National Question & The PC Polls

By Ruwan Laknath Jayakody

Ruwan Jayakody

The question of the long delayed, little awaited, Provincial Councils (PCs) Elections, the terms of the elected representation of which have all lapsed and are presently under the administration of Provincial Governors, is something of a crucible. The Provincial Councils, established through the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, under the benevolent jackboot of the neighbourhood big brother – India, represent for India, an orphaned child, for Sri Lanka, a bastard child, for the Government of Sri Lanka, a problem child, for the Tamil people, the last vestige of self determination, a semblance of sovereignty and a modicum of autonomy, the latter seen as a Trojan horse by fascist fear mongers of the deep South who in their ‘unitary’ state of infinite wisdom, conflate devolution and more specifically federalism with separatism, and for the general public, a white elephant. That said, this second tier of governance and administration is, though seen by some as a political heirloom of dubious necessity and who therefore call for their abolition and the parallel empowerment of Local Government institutions as being more prudent, has been and is likely to be a permanent fixture of the political system of the country, seeing that it is intrinsically tied up with the national ethnic question of the democratic rights of the Tamils, unless a plebiscite or a referendum akin to Scotland, Catalonia or Brexit, or a new Constitution states otherwise.

The need to conduct the Provincial Councils Polls in keeping with the people’s right to exercise their franchise and to have elected Councilors and Chief Ministers running the show, and for the 13th Amendment to the Constitution to be fully implemented, as India has, through a chorus of high political office holders, reiterated its hosanna of meaningful devolution, thus echoing the call of Northern politicians representing the Tamils, has become a matter of pressing concern to the beleaguered Government that is struggling to keep its head above the water in the face of a myriad self made and Covid-19 pandemic related crises.

With regard to the holding of the said Polls, there is however the vexatious question of the law and electoral system under which the Provincial Councils Elections are to be held. In this regard, the Attorney General has informed that, owing to a legal impediment, regardless of the system (the proportional representation {PR} system or a hybrid mixed system with elements of both the PR and the first past the post {FPTP} systems or even the preferential voting system) under which the Polls are to be held, it is required that a new law be enacted in order for these Polls to be conducted. Towards this end, the Select Committee of the Parliament to Identify Appropriate Reforms of the Election Laws and the Electoral System and to Recommend Necessary Amendments, helmed by the Leader of the House, which has sought representations in this regard from the public, the polls monitors and political parties, is to do precisely what its namesake dictates, ‘make recommendations’. It has been made clear that the said Committee will not be drafting the necessary law. It is not only the absence of such a law being drafted, or whether it will, when drafted, ensure adequate political representation of minority political groups in terms of the ethnic/racial, socio-cultural and religious diversity and plurality of the nation, and those with voter bases that are geographically scattered, that are the only related concerns.

It is no secret that when the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) led Government alliance partners such as the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) are criticizing aspects or in certain cases the entirety of key Government policy decisions which make up the élan vital of its ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’ policy manifesto such as the chemical fertilizer free, organic agricultural practice, and one’s own two thirds majority voter base, which is now wallowing in the cornucopia of highly prized, high priced, essential, yet scarce goods, is describing their suffrage as accursed, the Government is not exactly the apple of anyone’s eyes. In fact, the only thing that is infectious about the Government that prior to its ascendancy to power went viral on social media with its populist logos, is that people wish to avoid it like the plague but lack the means to do so. This state of abject discontent among the public, which unlike Richard the III’s time does not seem to be of the merely seasonal winter related discontent, beggars the question of political will on the part of the ruling Party, which is nearing the midway point of its term, to hold the said Polls.

Then there is the question of the Government’s ‘madwoman in the attic’ attitude towards the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and the President’s shunning of the meeting with the Tamil National Alliance, which is the main Tamil political representation in the Parliament. This skepticism of the Government is coloured or perhaps jaundiced by a certain deep seated national mythos concerning power sharing. A certain clarification, therefore, is in order.

Federalism is not separatism. Devolution is not secession. In what amounted to a beacon of clarity in the convoluted jurisprudence on the question of the nature of the State and the people’s sovereignty, and its nexus with devolution and federalism, the Supreme Court under the then Chief Justice, President’s Counsel Priyasath Dep, held in Hikkadu Koralalage Don Chandrasoma v. Mawai S. Senathirajah (Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi Secretary), that, “There could be unitary States with features or attributes of a federal State and vice versa. In a unitary State, if more powers are given to the units, it could be considered as a federal State. Similarly, in a federal State, if the centre is powerful and the power is concentrated in the centre, it could be considered as a unitary State. Therefore, the sharing of sovereignty, the devolution of power and decentralization will pave the way for a federal form of Government within a unitary State. Advocating for a federalist form of Government by devolving more powers to the Provinces, within the framework of the existing unitary State cannot therefore be considered as advocating for separatism”.

Therefore, the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution or an enlightened revision of its concurrent and reserved lists so as to ensure the meaningful (to the people) decentralization of political and administrative decision making processes, is in order, and most importantly, this need not be seen as a Faustian bargain or a capitulation to international pressure. The Father of the United States Constitution, James Madison, in a letter to fellow Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, observed that the ” great desideratum in Government is such a modification of the sovereignty as will render it sufficiently neutral between the different interests and factions to control one part of the society from invading the rights of another, and, at the same time, sufficiently controlled itself from setting up an interest adverse to that of the whole society”. While it is evident that part of a potential solution to the national ethnic question is therefore intimately linked to the Provincial Councils system and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, it is the political will of the Parliament, which is elected to represent the people’s will, that will ultimately determine whether the solution becomes a political watershed or a political Waterloo.

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Latest comments

  • 7
    0

    “While it is evident that part of a potential solution to the national ethnic question is therefore intimately linked to the Provincial Councils system and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, it is the political will of the Parliament, which is elected to represent the people’s will, that will ultimately determine whether the solution becomes a political watershed or a political Waterloo.”

    Yes, It is true 13th amendment and provincial Council systems could become potential solution not only to resolve national ethnic question but also to the other important problems such as rule of law, corruption, independent judiciary and participation of all communities in developing an economically viable country not depending on external influence. It needs political will from all political, social, religious, civil groups of this nation.
    Firstly, all should agree whole heartedly that our political culture in the past was wrong and all should come together for openly and wholeheartedly agree how to modernise our institutions, organisations towards power sharing, resource sharing, accountability, rule of law, judicial independence etc. We have solutions but we do not have agreements. We promised so many things but we did not have the will. This is because I am the great others are fools mentality. Give up that mentality, The country become paradise! Otherwise, the country become hell!

    • 5
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      Well said, Ajith.
      .
      It’d good to see Ruwan Laknath Jayakody focussing our attention on this subject.
      .
      He is a young man who always displays a high degree of integrity.

      • 4
        0

        The fact is that the PC system was introduced to give the North-East a measure of self-government. But it was the wily JR who added 8 unnecessary PC’s.
        All we need is one, or 2 PC’s at the most, and some sincere devolution.

  • 3
    0

    Very good piece. Very instructive. Meaningful and sincere devolution within a unitary state is the only solution for the ending of the ethnic conflict. Even the TNA has come close to accepting this. The Rajapakses will never realise this. What about the Opposition? Sajith never talks about the national question. His father was instrumental in frustrating devolution when he was President. Champika who has been rabidly against any devolution wants to be the Opposition candidate but does not say what his solution to the ethnic issue. The Tamils and Muslims will never support him.

    • 0
      0

      Mr Jayasiri Samarakoon
      .
      Please refer to my question below and help enlighten the readers.

      Soma

  • 1
    0

    Let us be serious for once.
    .
    What percentage of Tamils ( All Tamil speaking people scattered across the island irrespective of their religion or the date of arrival – some Tamils are as ancient as the Sinhalese, some arrived during the Dutch , others during the British, some practise Hinduism as their religion, some Christianity and others Islam) are benefited by 13A in there political aspirations of self determination, sovereignty and autonomy,

    Soma

    • 1
      0

      Soma,
      Are you very serious?Are you notable to get these figures from Census? The problem is majority community rule? Why should not Sinhalese Buddhists to experience or become a minority under Majority Tamil rule? Tamil speaking people are living in majority in North and East Provinces.If you have doubt get the census data back to 1881 or 1911 to study the population distribution. Will it hurt you?

      • 0
        0

        As I always say I am dealing with EXISTING demography.
        I never get involved in argument over genetics or history.

        Soma

  • 0
    0

    As I always say I am dealing with EXISTING demography.
    I never get involved in argument over genetics or history.

    Soma

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