By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader Rajavarothiam Sampanthan rarely if ever misses an opportunity to carry his tale of woe to visiting foreign officials. The latest was during his meeting with visiting member of European Parliament Geoffrey Van Orden.
In his previous avatar, the TNA leader from around 2000 stood by LTTE Supremo Prabhakaran till the last day on May 18, 2009, when the terrorist leader was eliminated by the armed forces. He acknowledged the terrorist group as the sole representative of the Tamil community. During this period, he was also a Member of the Sri Lankan Parliament. Sri Lankan leaders have to date failed to seek an explanation from Sampanthan on his links and support for the terrorist group. Despite his claims of supporting an undivided and indivisible country, he is yet to tell the world, what prevented him from advising his former leader Prabhakaran to accept President CBK’s offer to hand over the Northern Province for 10 years with no requirement for elections. Had that offer been taken, it would have also included Police and Land powers.
In his present avatar, Sampanthan has briefed the visiting European parliamentarian of the restoration of independence of the judiciary through the Constitutional Council, an institution packed with self-serving politicians. He claimed, “our support to reinstate the Government was on Principle.” Only time will tell if it was a principled stand or a part of a bigger deal as claimed by at least one Tamil politician during the recent 52-day political crisis.
The TNA leader then spoke of the new draft constitution and the need for a genuine power-sharing arrangement allowing people and Provincial governments to exercise powers regarding matters that are connected to their day to day lives. Claiming to be “reasonably optimistic” of the new Constitution being “reasonable and acceptable one to our people,” he then moved on to the perennial land issue. He lamented, “we are against the state-sponsored settlement schemes which are done deliberately to change the ethnic composition in the regions, we are not against natural migration of people. The Tamil speaking people have an inherent interest to preserve their land and their culture.”
By “we are against,” this octogenarian politician has clearly identified the need to resolve this issue not as we as in Sri Lankans but as in Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims. For too long have Tamil politicians been harping on the ludicrous ‘state-sponsored settlement schemes.’ What is deviously ignored is the fact, ‘natural migration’ cannot take place to economically impoverished regions which is also the reason, over 50% of the island’s Tamil community themselves live in areas of other communities thus ‘changing its ethnic compositions.’ Let alone Sinhalese, even members of the Tamil community living outside the North will not dream of migrating to the North. Despite the claim of ‘Tamil speaking people have an inherent interest to preserve their land and their culture,’ its proponents totally ignore the desire of other communities too, to preserve their land and culture. Northerners moving elsewhere is conveniently considered ‘natural migration.’
In such a backdrop, state assistance is essential to encourage those who might be willing to ‘migrate’ to the North. They will, in time, improve economic activity in the impoverished North. Unless and until the word ‘we’ referring to Sri Lankans include Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim citizens alike and recognize the right for all to live anywhere in this island receiving state assistance where necessary, the national question will never be resolved. State assistance to encourage internal migration of labor for development is a global practice. For example, the Australian government, for decades, provided financial support to those who moved to the underdeveloped Northern Territories including granting attractive tax breaks.
The past is strewn with instances when TNA has remained silent without taking a principled stand. More recently, it regularly failed to fulfill its duty as the official opposition. For example, the TNA leadership has failed to utter even one word on the illegal fishing by Tamil Nadu poachers in the island’s Northern waters despite the fact, the losers are the Tamil fishermen in the North. Huddled inside the Indian High Commission in Colombo during their regular powwows with visiting senior Indian officials, they have failed to demand India stop its fishermen from poaching in our waters. TNA leaders demand, members of Sri Lankan armed forces accused of war crimes be prosecuted. However, they have never requested of visiting British politicians for Adlai Balasingham, spouse of LTTE theoretician Anton Balasingham now living in retirement in the UK to be prosecuted, despite enough evidence being available of the lead role she played in recruiting and training Tamil child soldiers. As this write recollects, the TNA being the official Opposition in parliament failed to take the Sirisena-Wickremasinghe government to task as it should have, during the scandalous urea fertilizer shortage in December 2017. Disaster was averted when all-weather friend Pakistan came to the rescue and rushed 40,000 metric tons. It was an issue common to both Sinhalese and Tamil farmers. TNA opted to remain silent over the Central Bank bond scam; despite the fact, EPF money of Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim workers was swindled in the fraud.
Notwithstanding TNA’s much-acclaimed role during the recent crisis to defend and uphold democracy, it remained silent for over two years when local government elections were postponed. It also continues to stay silent despite six of nine Provincial Councils including the Northern council being non-functional due to the indefinite postponement of elections. To this writer’s understanding, the 13th Amendment was all about Provincial Councils and devolution of power. The list goes on. It can be surmised; TNA leaders take a principled stand only when it suits their agenda. To state otherwise is best narrated to visiting foreign meddlers and Chines who sport ponytails!
The much-awaited interim report by the Steering Committee headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on drafting a new Constitution was tabled in Parliament on Friday, January 11. Proposals have been prepared by an Experts Panel, six sub-committees ,and representation made by political parties. The six sub-committees were tasked to develop proposals on Fundamental Rights, The Judiciary, Law and Order, Public Finance, Public Service and Centre-Periphery Relations. When the Constituent Assembly met in Parliament on Friday at 10 am, 28 government MPs, 17 UPFA MPs, nine TNA MPs and two JVP MPs were present. It reflects the importance attached by our lawmakers (and breakers) to constitution making.
A key feature in the interim report is supposedly the second Chamber in Parliament. It has been proposed, any future Constitutional amendment will require a 2/3 majority in both the lower chamber comprising of representatives elected directly by the people and upper Chamber comprising of 45 representatives from the Provincial Councils and 11 from Parliament. It virtually guarantees no future Constitutional amendments no matter what, whether it is for the good of the country or not. The upper chamber with a majority from nine Provincial Councils will also be empowered to return any piece of legislation passed by the lower Chamber, even with a 2/3 majority if it is not to their liking.
It is in effect, subordinating the powers of the lower chamber of directly elected people’s representatives to those of upper Chamber of Provincial Council representatives.
Germany is one of the better-known examples of the Federal system of governance. In that country, the Federal Parliament by a majority vote is empowered to reject any law enacted by any one of the 16 Federal states.
By permitting the upper chamber packed with Provincial Council members who will vote on provincial party lines to reject or turn back any law passed by Parliament, the draft proposals empower Provincial Councils with more powers than states in a Federal State. If adopted and implemented, it will permanently turn Parliament into a powerless institution and effectively pass the function of passing national legislation to the nine Provinces. It will also enable anyone Province to enact their own laws on contentious and divisive subjects such as same-sex marriage, abortion, legalizing the marriage of minors to name a few. Parliament would be powerless to overrule such laws. Theoretically, the nine provinces could have different laws applicable to anyone subject or issue.
Leaked documents also refer to several other areas including the subordination of the Supreme Court to the Constitutional Court.
During the recent political crisis, the 7–0 Supreme Court verdict upheld the supremacy of parliament. If some of the proposed changes including those mentioned herein become a reality, those who found salvation in the recent Supreme Court’s decision would have succeeded in turning the very same parliament into a powerless nonentity.