18th Amendment, Colombo, Constitutional Reform, Politics and Governance, Post-War

“Sound is no substitute for argument”: Exclusive video of TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran’s speech in parliament against 18th Amendment

This video complements Exclusive video: Parliamentary debate and objections to 18th Amendment published on Groundviews.

The reasoned, well-argued full text of the speech made by TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran against the 18th amendment bill is published elsewhere on the Internet. However this video, procured exclusively by Groundviews, captures much more than the TNA MP’s own submission to Parliament on 8th September 2010. For example, responding to opposition by Government MPs, Mr. Sumanthiran makes two points,

Revoltingly, Mr. Sumanthiran is called ‘kotiya‘ (tiger/terrorist) at around 1.26 minutes into his submission by a member of parliament who can only be from Government. Admirably holding his peace and instructing fellow Tamil MPs close to him to not respond in a similar fashion, Mr. Sumanthiran only notes repeatedly that “sound is no substitute for argument”. At around 21.11 minutes in, this outrageous accusation is levelled again with an MP pointedly noting that there is a “kotiya inside the house”. Mr. Sumanthiran quipped that “yes this is true, you have some on your side”. At around 22 minutes in, the refrain ‘kotiyek kotiyek kotiyek‘ reaches a crescendo, forcing the Speaker to intervene. This happens again around 33 minutes into Mr. Sumanthiran’s submission. Groundviews leaves it to readers to pass judgement of elected representatives in government, ostensibly partial to the President’s avowed desire for national reconciliation, who cannot even countenance informed, civil dissent in Parliament, much less respect a fellow Tamil MP.

Noting the manner in which the 18th Amendment was rushed through, the MP in his submission referred to the ‘exceptionally talented judges of the Supreme Court’ who ‘seemed to be able to be able to dissect the proposed constitutional amendments with consummate ease’, and repeatedly noted the stifling of any debate on the Bill in the country and even in a parliament sans many members of the Opposition.

From ignorance over what is a point of order in parliament to the constitution of the Bar Association and incredibly even on points related to the constitution of Sri Lanka, Mr. Sumanthiran is forced to make a number of clarifications to fellow MPs, many of whom try to shout down this submission and suggest he is misleading the House.

We also note that Mr. Sumanthiran quotes at length from the Statement on the Proposed 18th Amendment to the Constitution by University academics first published on Groundviews.

At around 40 minutes in, the proceedings completely break down. For around 5 to 6 minutes an unholy cacophony of shouting and diatribes ensues, which the Speaker, occasionally blithely smiling at the chaos around him, seems unable or unwilling to control in order to allow Mr. Sumanthiran to continue with his submission.

Read the final text of TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran’s speech in Parliament opposing the 18th Amendment.

  • eeurekaa

    Sumanthiran prepared the speech well but he should get some training in how to get on in this parliament best when he makes a speech.

  • Realist

    what a wonderful country you have there…

  • TT

    If T Sumathiran changes his party name from Tamil National Alliance to something secualr like people’s national alliance, that would be a good example to start with. Then his statements would be widely acceptable to people of all races without self-imposed communal confines of his party.

  • Suresh

    @ TT – Why should Sumanthiram change his party name to accommodate the racial intolerance displayed by the government MP’s? I thought the government was following a ‘reconciliation’ pathway towards rebuilding our country?

    If this is the way the government MP’s show their reconciliation, god help Sumanthiram and all of us, if they decide to show their hate!

  • Sohan Fernando

    @Suresh and TT:
    Suresh, well said: I agree with your reply to TT.

    In any case… “his statements” ARE far more “widely acceptable” to ME, although I’m of a “different” race.

    Tamil or no Tamil in the name, makes absolutely no difference. In fact, certainly in this entire 18th Amendment absurdity, to my eyes and ears, among all parliamentarians, Mr. S’s statements have been far more agreeable and sensible (and presented in dignified manner), than those of most (and probably all) others (unmatched by even any from the ununited presently pathetic party which I continue to hesitantly and disgustedly support since I have no better choice here in Colombo).

    The very fact that TT thinks what he/she has said, shows just what an absurd level of — I can’t find a suitable word — we have sunk to here in Sri Lanka.

    It seems to me, by retaining the T in their name, the TNA remains a far MORE respectable entity and maintains integrity far MORE, than do many or most of the other parties who have, for ages, PRETENDED to represent all the people but in fact certainly DO NOT quite do that (at best), or perhaps even act against others (at worst).

    Moreover, in this specific case of teh contets on THIS post of Groundviews (and the related proceedings in Parliament), how on earth can the fact of Law and facts of Logic argued my Mr.S., or any other for that matter, be heard or understood any differently just because of his or his party’s race, gender, religion, or anything at all?

    So, @ TT: on the lines of the “don’t kill the messenger” wisdom, can I say “If you see that the Message’s Recipient is being stupid and stubborn and petty, then please make suggestions as to how to change the Recipient’s attitudes, instead of suggesting that the Messenger changes his name.” That’s what’s needed here.

    Regarding eeureka’s observation:
    I think it’s a sad state of matters, that someone like this should “need” any “training’ to get on any “better’ in Parliament. That speaks volumes (negatively) of Parliament, isn’t it? It is not the few respectable parliamentarians like Mr.S. who need training; it is the uncouth illogical majority of others who need training — training which, one would recall when hearing the Speaker’s seemingly timid pleas of “be silent, please listen, …”, is usually required only for little children.

  • Sohan Fernando

    Why is a large amount of the comment here, NOT about the merits (or demerits) of the contents of the Post; the contents of this speech and/or the related video? Why the sidetracking on about inane issues which aren’t really relevant to cold hard facts which he presented to parliament? Are we readers and commenters equally “deaf”, as much many of those who heard him in that place?

    Yes, I know, my comment above, is the longest sidetracked comment! but it’s only in response to others. Gonna watch the video yet again and read the transcript again soon and hopefully will not comment outside that scope specific.

  • TT

    Suresh and Sohan,

    I have absolutely no problem with that as I agree with what he says. First he should correct racial intolerance within. It is not to be pleasent to others but to become disassociated with racial politics which has done too much damage to this country.

    What he says is applicable to all Sri Lankans but what he represents (Tamil only) do not match. This is what needs correction. Whatever the other MPs say is not material. They have nothing valuable to say than just scream with nonsense. Sumanthiran must move away from his narrow racially restrictive Tamil National Alliance to a more secular political platform. That we he can serve everyone. I personally wish Sri Lanka places a fullstop to racial politics which includes racial political party names as in many developed democracies.

  • TT

    Suresh and Sohan,

    Look at the pro-18 camp. It is MULTIETHNIC whereas the anti-18 camp is made up of Tamil-only TNA and Sinhala-only JVP working alone. UNP that is marginally multiethnic avoided it all. This is the best Rajapaksha can hope for. As long as TNA follows its Tamil National ideology and JVP its own communist or whatever ideology and UNP its very own ideology, there will never be a potent opposition to the ruling multiethnic colaition.

    TNA’s argument is accept the Tamil national ideology, then we can form a broad multiethnic alliance to counter the erosion of democracy. I tell you it will NEVER happen. Only 4% of voters accept the Tamil National ideology and even Tamils in Colombo, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, etc. have not accepted it. Muslims didn’t accept it and Sinhalese didn’t. What should happen is these racial ideologies must be dropped to save democracy. Once democracy is safe, we can have any ideology.

    If Obama contested from say, African American Party he could NEVER become president no matter how good he is and how true his statements are. In that case he cannot blame the voters and others for not supporting his African American Party (for argument sake) instead of relying fully on his factual and sensible views.

    This campaign against the 18th Amendment must not die it should continue to become a mass people’s force that can topple this dictotarial madness. For that to happen, racial demarcations cannot stand in the way. If they do, there will not be any serious mass alliance.

    We saw clearly that Tamil-only TNA and Sinhala-only JVP are no match to Rajapaksha’s highly MULTIETHNIC coalition. The score stands at 17 to 161. We can argue over this till cows come home but in the meantime they will pass the 19th, 20th, 21st, etc. amendments. At the end of it Tamil political aspirations will become permanantly unattainable democractically. And JVP and UNP will also find it very difficult.

    So this is why Sumanthiran should come out of his Tamil National Alliance ideology and form a broad alliance to save democracy. Their only aim should be to save democracy and NO conditions and NO racial names. If that is the case no one will be against it. There is no sense in being the best player in a team that always loses.

    Similarly JVP should also drop its extreme ideology and come forward to save democracy with NO conditions. Same goes for the UNP and civil organisations.

    But I don’t see this happening. TNA will say they will work tirelessly to restore democracy and form a broad alliance if they can agree on the Tamil National question. This will NEVEr happen. If we wait for it we lose both democracy and the avenues available to solve the Tamil National question.

    If you only look at individual performance of Sumanthiran during the debate for the 18th Amendment, that was brilliant although he and his team was routed. But that brilliance is going to die then and there unless they can overcome self imposed racial demarcations. Unfortunately for him and the rest of the TNA it is not likely to happen.

  • justitia

    It is astonishing that copies of this very importanr bill were not made available to all MPs before the debate began. Even the speaker got his copy only some time after the debate began.
    The government had rushed this bill to the supreme court without copies beng nade available to all MPs and the people.
    The other MPs were not willing to listen to MrSumanthiran and MrWickremasinghe patienly, and continuously interrupted them. The speaker too said that since the bill was a ‘fait accompli’ because it had already been decided on by the supreme court, there was no necessity for debate.
    It is evident that the government was keen to, and achieved, the passage of the bill without proper debate, outside and inside parliament.
    The uncouth behaviour of the protesting MPs was disgusting.
    This parliament has been now transformed into a “rubber stamp” to approve all future bills brought before it, without any significant debate, with the 2/3 majority of MPs siding the government.
    The “monarchy” has made a good commencement.
    We have become a nation of serfs to a new set of feudal rulers.

  • @Realist
    Yes, we do have a wonderful country here. The problem are the people. And by tis too, I do not mean all the people. I mean the educated and city based people who are by far, more racist, inbred and ignorant than their village counterparts. Don’t blame the country. Blame the racists, chavuinists and mad people inside the country.

  • Sohan Fernando

    Hi Groundviews,

    1. (This might be just a problem only on my end, maybe a browser issue like a cache issue on my side). FYI, right now, the video does not show up in your post, not in my browsers today. (No urgency for ME, since I have accessed and can access the video file itself directly now, anyhow…)

    2. Suggestion: on the GV main page, where summaries of all recent posts are to be seen, i wonder if it would attract more attention to these videos, if the video was at the TOP of the post (above the explanatory text), so that then the “preview image” of the video also shows on that main page. Just like part of the PDF document does show up in the “For the record: Full text of Supreme Court judgement on 18th Amendment” post.

  • Thanks Sohan. The new iPad / iPhone compatible HTML5 compliant video embed code Vimeo produces does not sometimes play nice with WordPress. The video is again enabled and at the top of the post as suggested.

  • Jokovich

    Sohan Fernando
    Your first message in this thread gives me hope for Lanka.

  • Belle

    I get the point you are trying to make. But at the end of his speech, Sumanthiran underlines the fact that the Tamil National Alliance in this instance did not “betray the country, not even for parochial, short term considerations of the community.” I believe at that moment he crossed over ethnic lines. Is it not possible for him to speak simultaneously as both a Tamil and a Sri Lankan? Or does speaking as a Tamil contradict speaking as a Sri Lankan?

    It’s all very well not to have ethnic-based parties in a nation where the Constitution promises equal rights and opportunities even to minorities. In a situation of political, economic and socio-cultural domination by the majority community, it is nothing short of imperialism to ask minority parties to dismantle. That Sumanthiran can, given all that has happened post-war in neglect of the Tamil community, still imagine himself as acting for wider national rather than communal interests is to me an amazing accomplishment. Think of the abyss of distrust he had to cross.

    The TNA is trying to save democracy–its ethnic-based ideology is pro-democracy. You can’t have a democratic nation by asking minorities to shelf their demand for equal rights when democracy is precisely about giving rights to all, including the minorities (and not just of race or ethnicity), and checking majority power. That is how democracy is different from all other political systems.

    It’s a pipe dream to think that a non-ethnic opposition alliance in Sri Lanka involving the surrender of minority interests will open avenues for the Tamil national question. From where would the compulsion to do so arise? A certain culture needs to be in place first, one where minority rights are accepted as a national ethical obligation by politicians. If that culture had been in place in Sri Lanka, the Tamil national question would have been resolved ages ago. As you yourself note, the Tamils can never get the Sinhalese to agree on the Tamil national question. At some level, you probably realise that you are in effect asking minorities to give up their interests for the sake, not of the country but for the majority community.

  • TT


    Just a statement won’t do.

    Now we know he refused to take part in the constitution making process when Ranil appointed him! A sure sign of inability to take leadership.

    May be the government is using this short-sighted racially motivated conduct of some MPs (and its natural opposition) to scuttle the political solution process. At the end of it whose fault is that there is no political solution? The people who refused to work for it when given the chance.

    Remember the ruling party, its supporters and the majority don’t need a political solution. They are happy the way things are. They are dragging their feet and pretend to do something just to show India and the international community that they are doing something and the others are obstructing it.

    I do not believe in a Tamil state, province or nation in the island of Sri Lanka. Coexistence is the ONLY solution in my view. You may disagree but this is what most Sri Lankans (irrespective of race) want. I support the US, UK, Australian, Norwegian, French, German, Swiss solution to their Tamil people’s problems not the Indian model of racial demarcations.

  • ordinary lankan

    There is so much insanity in Parliament
    who is in Angoda now?

  • “The timeline… reflects both the genesis of the heinous 18th Amendment and also the occasions mainstream press reported that the President attended / “visited” Parliament.

    It was no easy task to compile this. Only a handful ordinary citizens would have the expertise to search for this information online, or elsewhere. There is no easy record retrieval of the President’s attendance in Parliament on its official website. But what is immediately obvious when the scattered media reports are taken as a whole is that the 18th Amendment has in no way at all contributed to a more accountable Executive. ”

    Excerpt from ‘Months after the 18th Amendment: Is the Executive really more accountable to Parliament?’, http://groundviews.org/2011/06/11/months-after-the-18th-amendment-is-the-executive-really-more-accountable-to-parliament/