By Dayan Jayatilleka –
The report of the Steering Committee could be said to be the draft Constitution in embryo and must be understood as such. However unsatisfactorily rendered it addresses two of the oldest, most vital questions in our contemporary history and indeed that of any state. One is the ethno-national question and the other, the question of models: presidentialism vs. parliamentarism. Taken together, the two issues pertain to the nature and structure of the state itself.
One would think that given the stakes involved, the discussion would be honest and serious. Instead, the both the government, led in this instance by the Prime Minister, but not limited to him, and the opposition led by former president Rajapaksa have started off on the wrong foot. The PM has kicked off with the mega-lie that the minority parties have agreed to a unitary state. This is a lie on two counts.
Firstly, even the Tamil word in the UNP submission which is coterminous with the Report, defines the state as “one and indivisible” or “united and indivisible”, NOT as unitary. So the Sinhala word says unitary, the English word unitary appears nowhere and the Tamil word does not mean unitary at all, and says something else instead!
Secondly, the TNA’s document annexed to the Report says that Sri Lanka should be regarded as a union of provinces. When the definition is not that of a single center representing the whole, which shares power downwards and to the periphery to sub-national units, then the name of the game is not devolution within a unitary state. When the definition is of constituent components which form a union and that union is the whole, then that’s the federative principle, not the unitary one.
So the PM, Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella and Mano Ganeshan among others, are lying through their teeth. That is not an auspicious start for a process of such national consequence.
As for the Opposition, its national leader, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa says that there is an attempt to introduce a secular state. However the Report makes no such recommendation. Only the TNA’s document calls for a secular state. No one else has agreed to it and most call for the retention of the status quo. The UNP-drafted Report entertains two possibilities, one of which is the retention of the status quo while the other envisages a minor amendment so as to introduce the phrase non-discrimination in a multi-religious scenario in which Buddhism still retains primacy of place. Neither formula calls for anything like a secular state.
The Steering Committee report also puts paid to the debate on the unit of devolution. All the parties represented have opted for the province as the unit of devolution with the sole and quite minor exception of the JHU which opts for the district. Thus it is not merely the case that not a single Tamil or Muslim party is willing to accept the district as the unit, nor is any Southern party, except for the JHU!
The TNA of course stands for merger, while no other party does. In an irony of history, and a posthumous triumph for Vijaya Kumaratunga, Daya Pathirana, Nandana Marasinghe and other leftists who were murdered by the JVP in the latter half of the 1980s, the JVP urges that the powers conferred on the provinces should not be taken back. The TNA wants the governor to act on the advice of the Board of Ministers while most parties, including the JVP, do not want the powers of the governor diluted.
To return to the main theme of this article, that of dishonesty, I am unhappy to say that the next large piece of dishonesty comes from the place it should least come from, namely the Left. Representing one wing of the left, Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne says that the left has always stood for the abolition of the executive presidency. The JVP sings the same song. There are two dishonesties involved here. Firstly, Jayampathy ignores the issue of the unitary state except to decry the unitarist mindset of this or that section of society. The JVP seems to consider the danger to the unitary model as far less of a problem than the apparently unadulterated boon of the abolition of the executive presidency.
Jayampathy ignores the fact that the first ever global organization of the working class, namely the First International, split because of the huge fight between Marx on the one hand and the Anarchists led by Mikhail Bakunin on the other, and one of the main lines of demarcation was precisely Bakunin’s advocacy of federalism and Marx’s bitter hostility to it. If there ever was a state centralist it was Karl Marx.
Secondly, the great unitarist in Sri Lankan politics was Dr. Colvin R. de Silva, a literate Marxist and Leninist and the winner of the best prize for History throughout the British Empire. In the debate over Constitution-making in 1972, he made a brilliant exposition, completely devoid of any reference to Sinhala Buddhism, of why Sri Lanka needed a unitary form of state and could not countenance any form of federalism.
Thirdly, at the broadest ingathering of the left on the issue of constitutional and ethnic reform, namely the Political Parties Conference of July 1986, convened by President Jayewardene in response to a letter from Vijaya Kumaratunga, Vijaya, Colvin and Pieter, the giants of the democratic and rational Left, proposed provincial devolution and non-merger, within a unitary state and without advocating any change to the Presidential system.
Worst of all is the stand of the Left on the matter of the executive presidency. If there were no executive presidency in Venezuela today, the pro-US rightwing dominated Parliament would have triumphed. It is in Nicaragua and Venezuela that the two term limit on the executive presidency was abolished. Every left wing government in the world, as well as those who are not left wing but anti-hegemonic and are located in a left wing or progressive political culture and revolutionary heritage, have installed and retain an Executive Presidential system: China, Cuba, Vietnam, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Bolivia, El Salvador, Uruguay and many more, including of course the great legatees of bourgeois and socialist revolutions, France and Russia. Thus the JVP, ex-left civil society freaks and remnants of the old left (such as Jayampathy W, Kumar David and factions of the CPSL and LSSP) which support or tilt towards the UNP, are engaging in the worst intellectual and ideological dishonesty when they advocate as “progressives”, “radicals” or “leftists”, the abolition of the executive presidency and soft-peddle the dilution of the unitary state.
Finally, we have the TNA, which is “betting the farm” as the phrase goes, on a new Constitution beyond 13A and its (negotiated) implementation. You bet all, you stand to lose all. Given the results of the recent German election and the rise of the Alt-Right even in a prosperous and successful country, only a foolish incumbent administration and its nihilistically irresponsible Tamil allies would opt for change that requires a referendum in an economically low growth, inflation-ridden, religio-ethnically polarized Third World society, over a reform that is more modest but much less risky, and can secure a genuinely national/island-wide all-parties consensus (a la the 19th amendment) or be passed by a two thirds majority.
Jimsofty / September 27, 2017
I think DJ is establishing the Electioneering platform for the incomingelection what ever it is. The both issues – ethno – national question and predentialism-parliamentarialism – you are talking are important for the politicians. There is nothing in it for the voters. If those becomes the election issues, sure to that govt lose. PM is a good liar. It looks he is going for minority voters. ———– some district councils were successful. So, why we can not adopt the same model for Provincial council because Sri lanka is a small country. those frog who analyses this system does not look outside and see. for example, NEw york state is less than 60,000 sq. miles On the othe rhand, Sri lanka is only 25,000 Sq. miles. See how many politicians are for sri lanka.Why it is a mess.. New york population slightly over 19, million. Sri lanka is about 22 million. Why do you political experts try to make a big issue out of this andtry to live on it ?. YOu know all 225 are having the best years of their life at the expense of the poor people and they try to make their families also inherits the same luxury for generations. cut down the central govt parliament drastically to a minimum number. Half way some of these sloths in the central govt may be able to be replaced by active, hard working and visionary politicians.
Richard Kaz / September 27, 2017
So DJ, as for the ‘ethno national question’ as you call it, from your reading of the report on the draft constitution, Tamils will be cheated again. You should be happy, the Sinhala hegemony over the Tamil homeland will continue despite what the people living in that homeland want, which is the underlying cause of the conflict.
Anpu / September 27, 2017
The TNA will accept only ultimate power devolution in accordance with the Federal principles. TNA is very firm in this, said the Leader of TNA and Leader of the Opposition, Era Sampanthan in ITAK meeting. The Meeting of the Politburo of ITAK was held in Amparai recently and he said as above participating in this meeting.
It is only an interim Report that has been published now. It has to go through processes including a Referendum before it become the constitution. Elaborating further, he said, a full stop has been put to Unitary state system in the Interim Report. Sri Lanka will be a united country now. Hence, the powers have to be devolved at ultimate level. The North and East should be re-merged and become a single Province. The TNA is very firm in this stance, he said.
Real Siva Sankaran Sharma / September 27, 2017
This nasty racist man like Jenali Borukiyanege, and Muthukarrupan Boruwansa are all descended from recently migrated Indian Tamil Dalits, whose ancestors were imported by the Dutch and Portuguese to work as slave labour in the south and were forced to become Sinahlese Buddhists or Catholics and have now become the biggest anti Tamils and in the name of Aryan Sinhalese and Buddhism do not want any rights for the island’s indigenous Tamils or recognise their lands and right to self determine which is enshrined in the UN. Aryan Sinhalese my foot , descendants of Tamil Dalit imports from India. Most probably they are bitter over what happened to their ancestors and how they were forced to become Sinhalese and now want to take it out on the indigenous Tamils from the north and east who had nothing to with this and were not forced to assimilate until, now ,as they are living in their own land and were ruling these lands until European colonisation but were still in control of these lands until 1948, when Sinhalese racists took over the government and started to marginalise the Tamils. Just like what happened to their low caste immigrant Indian Tamil Dalit ancestors, they want the same fate for us. Forced marginalisation
Ad / September 27, 2017
For once some sense.
Percy / September 27, 2017
We must thank DJ for alerting the public to the tricks of the govt. YAHAPALANAYA is bent on selling the Sinhala people down the river. Sirisena does not mind as long as the gamarala is able to meet foreign leaders to whom he speaks in Sinhalese and they do not understand a word of what he says.He has become the International JOKE of the Century!
Spring Koha / September 27, 2017
R I P
…….the great unitarist in Sri Lankan politics was Dr. Colvin R. de Silva, a literate Marxist and Leninist and the winner of the best prize for History throughout the British Empire.
Big Deal! As Comrade Colvin himself would say “let’s get back to the land of the living”.
Sri Lanka in the 21st Century, contemplating moribund foreign, mostly failed ideologies, for our own unique challenges.
Come on good people, lets work harder, and don’t mind Dayan too much because with a fair wind his protestations will fade away when the people next decide our fair future.
Ajith / September 27, 2017
The government or opposition are not willing to find a solution to the problem but they are trying to complicate the issue and create further problems. For UNP and SLFP the most important need is power. The wounded Mahinda wanted to come back to take revenge against those who made him to loose the power. So, he and his group took the most powerful arm that was successfully used in the past since independence by both UNP &SLFP that is race and religious card. For them any solution to the ethnic Tamils is a threat to Buddhist Sinhala. Since Sinhala population remains super power (75%), there is no way you can find a soloution to the problem. Whenever, there is a pressure to their power (locally or internationally) they will try to pretend that they are interested to solve the problem but they will never do it because once the problem is solved they can’t do politics that is again cheating the ordinary sinhalese masses. IF you analyse the politics of this island since 1948 you will see the power remains under two or three very rich families. There is no consistent policy for UNP or SLFP or the Left on anything whether it is power devolution or economy or foregin policy. continue…
Ajith / September 27, 2017
What is the real problem in Srilanka? We can’t talk about pre 1948 period because this country was under foregin rule and before that it was different kingdoms (kings) rule and we don’t know much about the people’s living style. The ethnic problem started with the change of popultion distribution by ethnicity. It is true under the British rule Tamils had more oportunities to get education, employment in civil service compare to Sinhalese. It is not the fault of Tamils or Sinhalese. In the democratic systems, Sinhalese had the opportunity to form the government, the power struggle started between two rich families DS and SWRD and they took the race card and they introduced Sinhala only act. Naturally it affected Tamils and they went on protesting in peaceful way. This was resulted in attack on Tamil civilians and their properties & businesses and blood on the street. Tamils from Colombo were shipped to North and East which was two Tamil majority regions and part of Tamil kingdom before foreign occupation. Similar policies and attacks on them bring the issue of security of Tamils, security of the livelihood. The main problem was security of Tamils, their culture, their language. Who should take the responsibilty to the security of Tamils? It is the responsibility of those who take the control of governing them. The question is have they take the responsibility to protect them? The answer is NO!. What is the alternative?
max / September 27, 2017
Other than lies lies and lies, what-else one can expect from this fraudulent administration which came to power by delivering false promises? Even at this important proposal, they have lied to the public! Shame on you the leaders of yahapa govt.!
Native Vedda / September 27, 2017
“Other than lies lies and lies, what-else one can expect from this fraudulent administration which came to power by delivering false promises? “
I do not expect them to match or exceed the Clan’t record of lies, loot, war crimes, fraud, … ……….. What do you think?
This is between you and me, how much crumbs were you allowed to have from 2005 to 2015 . As many of your kind did you should have switched your loyalty from Doctors Rajapaksas to Dr Ranil.
Jimsofty / September 27, 2017
DJ: You are a man without one conviction. You talk to every side. So, for politicians, you will be only a liability. Things you talk support the Indian govt RAW which you supported earlier, Jackol opposition if they want to come to power as well as Ranil Wickramsinghe. So, select one side and support. Show that you can be trusted. It is the same with Sarath fonseka. He should understand that there may be enemies against him. So, he should also show he has only one conviction. The most important things are his mouth and his hatred and revengeful thoughts.
K.Pillai / September 27, 2017
Dayan Jayatilleka’s conclusion~ “The Steering Committee Reports: Lies, Right, Left and Centre” is semantic based.
The debate has just about started. Do you not wish to give this a chance?
It is difficult to establish truth. It is easier to establish lies.
Milroy A. Anthonisz / October 3, 2017
C O T E R M I N O U S ? B I G D E A L !