Photo courtesy China Daily

The UNP’s constitutional draft makes a most positive contribution by unambiguously committing itself to a unitary state form with the devolution of power to the provinces. This avoids the extreme of over-centralisation. Over-centralisation can take three forms: a unitary state without devolution, devolution only to units smaller than the province or a dilution of the powers devolved to the provinces. The UNP’s stance also avoids the other extreme of devolution exceeding the bounds of a unitary state. The formula of devolution to the provinces within a unitary state is not only logical, it has many precedents and parallels throughout the world.

The UNP’s proposal is supportive of the 13th amendment though it suggests certain revisions and improvements which would make the process less top-heavy than it is now. The modified model of devolution proposed by the UNP would make provincial semi-autonomy more authentic than today.

What is perhaps most significant about the UNP’s recommitment to provincial devolution within a unitary state is that it sends clear signals, intentionally or otherwise, to both the ruling SLFP and the Tamil nationalists.

The signal to the SLFP is that it can take a firm stand against the JHU-NFF on the issue of the 13th amendment, because the UNP is supportive of the existing scheme of devolution. It provides the SLFP with the option of defying the racists among its coalition partners, breaking through the red lines sought to be drawn by the latter and reasserting its authentically centrist character.

The UNP’s stance is also tactically smart because it deprives the rulers of the excuse that possible defections in the Govt parliamentary group deter it from going ahead with implementing the 13th amendment in the North or it needs more time or that it needs to truncate the 13th amendment in accordance with the wishes of the Sinhala extremists in its ranks.

Just as important is the signal that the UNP’s discussion draft sends the Tamil nationalists and ultranationalists. Mr Mavai Senathirajah, who is hardly the most militant element in the ranks of the TNA, let alone the Tamil nationalist movement, has just voiced his opinion, which he appears to claim is the TNA’s view, that no solution to the Tamil question can be found within a unitary state.  He also makes a point about ‘Buddhist domination’. He does not clarify what needs to be done to remove or reduce this domination and whether a unitary state would then be an acceptable framework for a solution. Mr Senathirajah’s remarks come at a time when the issue is clearly not the unitary state itself but what kind of unitary state it should be –re-centralised wholly or partially, or with the existing scheme of devolution of power to the provinces intact. He does not point to any example of devolution within a unitary state, unblemished by religious domination, that he and his party would find acceptable as a solution—such as that of Northern Ireland, Aceh or Mindanao.

Whatever the intention, the timing of Mr Senathirajah’s remarks reassure us all that the political animal that is mainstream Tamil nationalism has not changed since the days they tarred the name-boards of CTB buses just when SWRD Bandaranaike was battered by Sinhala racist opposition to the Pact with SJV Chelvanayakam, through to the recent days when the TNA issued a 70 page critique of the LLRC report just as negotiations with the Rajapaksa administration were stalled at a crossroads.

Thus the security establishment and the Sinhala-Buddhist lobbies may be pardoned if they are agitated about how the TNA would behave once in office in the Northern Province, especially if the more radical elements in Tamil civil society, Tamil Nadu and the Diaspora exert pressure. However, the UNP’s stance permits the legitimate aspect of these concerns to be met, without recourse to the drastic option of deleting or diluting devolution. With the UNP committing itself to devolution within a unitary state, the signal goes out clearly to Tamil nationalism that this is as good as it gets; that there is no option within the larger democratic polity of an ally who would, if it were elected to office, enable Tamil politics to puncture or penetrate the unitary framework. It also reassures the Tamil people that devolution within a unitary state is guaranteed inasmuch as there is a bipartisan consensus of the two major parties undergirding it. This leaves a Tamil nationalist politics that seeks to break-out of the unitary state, no southern option whatsoever. It simultaneously reassures the South that devolution is not to be feared since there is a bipartisan consensus safeguarding it.

The UNP’s stance on devolution is a signal to the world community on what the parameters of the Southern consensus are. If the UNP, which had once, episodically, stood for federalism, has reverted to its pre-Liam Fox stand of provincial devolution within a unitary framework, it is because it knows that opinion at the grassroots does not permit anything beyond it and that the UNP itself has neither intention nor capacity to attempt to stretch those parameters.

Where does this leave the more unrealistic tendencies in Tamil politics? In any project that seeks to push beyond the unitary state, they would have to rely purely on external factors. Of the external factors at play, neither the US nor India would at this stage, back Tamil nationalism in a project that has no support from any political formation in the South, ranging from UNP to FSP or SLFP to JVP. The US and India would want a political solution that can be underpinned and guaranteed by an administration at the centre in Colombo. Given the Unitarian contours of the Southern democratic consensus, a push beyond it would mean support far beyond the objectives of nation-building, changing regime behaviour and even regime change itself, to state rupture and partition. While this cannot be ruled out, it is not a preferred option and is unlikely. The only thing that can make the international community shift to the hard option of Kosovo/South Sudan is a successful attempt on the part of the regime to unilaterally revoke or rewrite the Indo-Lanka Accord.

The UNP’s recommitment to provincial devolution within a unitary state, frees any comeback project by CBK from the pressure from the federalist elements which would make it impossible for her to compete for SLFP votes in a nationalist-patriotic setting. She can thus comfortably recommit to the B-C Pact of 1957, the 1986 PPC proposals that Vijaya and she endorsed and the 13th amendment that they prominently supported. The advocates of federation and confederation comprising the ‘Sudu Nelum’-PTOMS faction of Chandrika’s supportive network stupidly or opportunistically nudged and cheered her down the path to the political disasters that robbed her and the country of the clear chance of a better future through persistence with the LRRP operations and a ‘Zero Dark Thirty’/Obama outcome. This would have possible had CBK remained consistently the head of a policy-making triangle consisting of Anuruddha Ratwatte and Lakshman Kadirgamar, opting for a Gaullist patriotism privileging the nation, instead of the mesalliance and dangerous liaisons she embarked upon in 2004-2005, negating her achievement of having rescued the State by brilliantly outmanoeuvring Ranil in 2003.

While a CBK comeback would be welcome if only to open up the political game, making it more competitive, she stands a chance of doing a Nawaz Sharif only if she re-emerges as Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s daughter who as commander-in-chief wrested Jaffna from Prabhakaran in 1995, led the resistance to the LTTE’s push on Jaffna countermanding the order for withdrawal from that town after the evacuation of Elephant Pass in 2000, and who gave the green-light for the deep penetration operations that took down eight top Tiger commanders and would have eliminated Prabhakaran surgically (with no ‘war crimes’ outcry) if not for Ranil’s CFA. In a comeback scenario a la Nawaz Sharif, CBK could perhaps live down her “Package”-PTOMS past and restore some measure of trust among the patriotic, pre-eminently provincial post-war electorate only if she were to balance the ticket by incorporating Gen. Fonseka as the new Anuruddha Ratwatte.

To return to the UNP’s draft, what simply fails to convince is the trident of options provided with regard to the overall system of governance. Given the experience of the abuse of power under Mrs Bandaranaike and Felix Dias, for which they both lost their civic rights under the UNP, what difference would there be if we reverted to the Westminster model with a reinforced Prime Minister? Why would a nationally elected president be hemmed in a Council of State consisting of those whose electoral base is far more parochial and therefore less legitimate? Why would Sri Lanka wish to abandon the presidential system which exists in the USA, France, Russia and China, i.e. no less than four of the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council? With the desirable and likely activation of devolution to the Northern Province complicated by the pull factor from Tamil Nadu and the TGTE-GTF-BTF element, surely a strong Executive Presidency must be retained? Doesn’t Scotland prove that the Westminster model cannot prevent devolution turning into secessionism? Would not the establishment of the independent commissions as proposed in the draft, render the directly elected executive presidency less capable of the abuse of power and would that not be a sufficient rectification of the status quo?

Introducing the draft Constitution, Mr Wickremesinghe complained that “Mahinda Rajapaksa enjoys more power than Barack Obama”. The Presidential Constitution of ’78 already lacked the checks and balances of the US Constitution. If the present incumbent is more powerful than his predecessors – who were already less trammelled than any US president would be –it is because he enjoys a two thirds majority, breaking a barrier that was thought impregnable. President Jayewardene believed that under Proportional Representation a two-thirds majority could be obtained only by means of a bi-partisan consensus and not by any ruling coalition. Ranil’s leadership has triggered an avalanche in the UNP’s share of the national vote so dramatic that the incumbent administration has benefited from a bipartisan consensus by tectonic shift. A torrential haemorrhage of UNP votes and MPs has congealed into a ‘nationalist bloc’, titling the balance so decisively as to end the political equilibrium of the two-party system and endow the Rajapaksa presidency with the two-thirds majority needed for unilateral constitutional amendment. These voters and MPs could conceivably return, bringing along disaffected SLFP parliamentarians and altering the parliamentary balance, only if there were an ‘organic’ Oppositional option with the credibility and personality to generate a magnetic force-field; exert a ‘pull factor’.

  • Orion

    Ranil is doing what a vast majority of Sinhala voters always wanted – Sinhala-Buddhist rule over the whole Island. Both Lalith Athulathmudali in Feb, 4th 1984 and Ranil in May 13th 1997 had intimated to me that reality in Sri Lanka’s politics without any room for misinterpretation. Basil Rajapaksa has told me before his brother’s election as President the first time, that a solution acceptable to the LTTE short of Separation will be offered if his brother was elected President. An offer that, as it turned out, was deceptive political strategy at its best. UNP and Ranil’s effort through CFA backfired when LTTE offered to explore a Federal Option – UNP backed out by isolating LTTE from the Wash DC Agenda meeting making LTTE to opt out of the Tokyo conference. Chandrika ended UNP’s rule and Rajapaksa divided it into oblivion. But as Ranil said, “UNP is a political party and it will do whatever is necessary to come back to power.” In politics and Foreign Policy, there is no morality.

    Chelvanayagam came to the conclusion that there is no future for Tamil autonomy via the majority Sinhalese consent. Ranil wants to share power with Rajapaksas like some of those who defected UNP until the next election. If he fails there will be more defection or split of the UNP. Rajapaksa will determine UNP’s future. Rajapasas are very good at dividing and control. The Tamils have no future with either the SLFP and/or UNP through a Unitary State. The 2/3rd Majority Sinhalese will never abandon their Unitary stand on their own accord.

    From what I can assess of the Tamils desire to preserve their rights is summed up by the statements of four great men.

    “One man with courage is a majority”
    – Thomas Jefferson

    “The cost of freedom is always high, but our people always paid it. One
    path we shall never choose, is the path of surrender, or submission.”
    – John F Kennedy (35th US President)

    “You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you will never imprison my mind.”
    – Mahatma Gandhi

    “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
    – Martin Luther King, Jr.

    To achieve Self-government the Tamils may have to wait for a long time. But then they have waited for more than 300 years living and making the best use of the years under the Portuguese, Dutch and the British without loosing their language and identity.

  • justitia

    For any government to survive,a law to prevent “crossovers” is necessary.
    Else,some of the elected MPs will surely be enticed to join another party and reverse the intentions of voters.
    The UNP crossovers provide the two-thirds majority which has enabled Mahinda Rajapakse to establish his version of “democracy” with disastrous cosequences.

    • Off the Cuff

      Though I agree with Justitia, an anti cross over law cannot prevent a MP voting with the govt or opposition and providing a two third majority by staying on as an independent and voting against the party from which he/she got elected (thereby subverting the mandate given by the electors).

      However an MP should not be free to go against the will of the electors who elected him/her.

      Perhaps the Manifesto that was publicised before an election could be given legal standing by making it a contractual obligation given to the electors and the flouting of the manifesto could be made a ground to unseating an MP by any aggrieved elector through the courts.

      This will not hinder a conscience vote but the MP may have to stand a by election if unseated by courts by going against the declared manifesto.

      The publishing of a manifesto could be made mandatory to stand for election either from a party or as an independent.

  • jansee


    The pace and path towards almost everything Sinhala by the virulent Sinhala polity was only checkmated, at least to a certain extent, because the Tamils decided to take up arms. Whatever handshakes achieved through the B-C and D-C pacts came to nothing and it reaffirmed the general thinking of the Tamils that only the road to sensible and drastic posturing could extract anything at all from the Sinhalese and whatever substantial had been offered to the Tamils was largely during the “war” period. May be Prabhakaran was not as astute politically and he blew his chances, while he commanded military strength, to move the pawns in a way to squeeze the Sinhala polity like chanakya but his single-minded track of deploying his vastly over-estimated military strength dissipated as a myth. Even as his commanders like Karuna had suggested to take the battle to Colombo and the Sinhala heartland as a strategically defensive mechanism rather than the intermittent bombing had to be called because of the CFA. Such a move was precipitated to justify the indiscriminate aerial bombing by the SL regime.

    Even today, the Rajapaksa regime is sieving through the 13A and dishing out duplicitous LLRC like report is not because of any pressure from the local Tamils. Rather the diaspora, Tamilnadu, India and the international pressure is keeping the aspirations of the Tamils alive. There is no such thing as sincerity among the general Sinhala polity. I gave up this belief when thousands were herded into internment camps and treated like “animals” within barbed wires with guns pointed at them. I was more than hopeful that the country can really move ahead/forward but that’s not what the regime had in mind. It was as early as that I knew that unless there is pressure beyond the borders, the Sinhala polity will always be what they are – deceitful and repressive. You play your game and we will play ours. Do you honestly believe Dayan that Tamils will get a fair deal ever without external pressure? Guys like GL Peiris are nothing but fools who still want us to believe in home-grown solutions. If history is anything, surely I am not buying into any of the Sinhalas’ “overtures”. We are very, very determined that as long as the regime persists with denying the Tamils a fair deal, Sri Lanka is not going to be a peaceful country.

  • The statement of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP Mavai Senathirajah, reported in the Sri Lankan media on 31 May, that “a power sharing arrangement under a unitary state would not solve the national question” is the clearest indication so far that TNA has not moved an inch away from the separatist ideology of the LTTE. Then again, TNA is what it is today because it got ‘elected’ with the blessings of the LTTE and served as the mouthpiece of the LTTE. Senathirajah implying that only a separate state would solve the national question – whatever that may be – is therefore hardly surprising.

    • jansee

      I thought their recent election victory was, as the SL regime had declared, after the LTTE was no more. No??

  • Let UNP do what is necessary for SL, the rebelled state of 1972. And let TNA do what is required in peoples’ referendum of 1977 for establishing Tamil Eelam.
    SL is the rebel state. So they must say as to how the Sinhala Buddhists want to undo their rebellion of 1972. Till then, TNA does not have to say what is its stand.

    Then let the two sides sit down and see if they can agree to a way of co-existence.

    If the two sides cannot agree the UN should be aasked to resolve it.