Why a TNA-run Northern Council is more positive than negative

SRILANKA-ECONOMY-DEFENCE-BUDGET

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Had the Government not made the mess it has by fussing over the 13th amendment, it could have shown off the TNA run Northern PC in all global forums as evidence of post-war progress in political reconciliation. Instead of deploying the NPC into an advertisement for Sri Lanka’s domestic process of reconciliation as per the LLRC report, the Govt is making an absolute meal of it; turning the whole thing into an exercise that widens rather than bridges the political gap between the minorities and the majority community.

The TNA has been able to avoid all moral pressure to participate in the parliamentary Select Committee, owing to the flawed character of the PSC itself, excluding as it does the main Muslim party, the SLMC, and the oldest political party in the country, the LSSP. Among those excluded are Chairperson of the All Parties Representatives Committee, Prof. Tissa Vitharana.

Meanwhile the spate of endorsements by Govt controlled Provincial Councils of the truncation of their powers, only draws attention to those areas of the country in which such endorsement is not forthcoming, namely the North and the East. Thus are the N-E merger and the Tamil Eelam map recreated, by courtesy of the Sri Lankan government.

By its effort to claw back powers and functions, the Govt has also succeeded in bringing together the TNA and the SLMC, and almost restored Mr Anandasangaree of the TULF to the TNA fold.

The Sinhala hardliners within and outside the administration and state structure would have us believe that the Northern Provincial Council is a zero sum game; that a win for the TNA is a loss for the rest of us. There is certainly a risk– what with the moderate Mr Sumanthiran slipping ‘internal self determination’ into his recent article in The Hindu, as if the subcontinent doesn’t recognise the code word, however qualified. However, the game is multiple-sum. From the vital perspective of political pluralism, which is a low flickering flame in this country right now (and not entirely due to President Rajapaksa), a TNA run Provincial council, or a SLMC or UNP or JVP run council would be as healthy as the CBK-led Western PC was in 1994, and for the same reasons.

In fact the advantages for Sri Lanka’s national interest, of a TNA led Northern Provincial Council could outweigh the dangers and disadvantages.

The Israeli model of ‘creating facts on the ground’ and occupation by stealth mode which is envisaged by some hardliners for the North, runs contrary to the interests of North-South reconciliation, Sri Lanka’s relationship with its neighbour and with the world at large. As much by reflex as by design, that model is also sought to be replicated in part and by stages in the rest of the island. A TNA-run Northern Council would serve as a modest but useful counterbalance to this negative dynamic.

A TNA run Provincial Council will be good for democracy and therefore, for all the people of the island. Why so? A hazardous ideology is being tested out and preached to our armed forces in which ‘national security’ is said to be “the foundation of our freedom” (as the Secretary to the Minister of Defence, Mr Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said in his keynote speech to the Kotelawela Defence University). National Security was regarded as the foundation by regimes ranging from Hitler to Pinochet. By contrast, the universally accepted and proven foundation of freedom is democracy and the recognition of the inalienable equal rights of all citizens. National security is not the ‘foundation’ but could be described as the ‘protective wall’ of freedom.

The Northern Provincial Council will be an Opposition led council and will provide a much needed counterweight in a situation in which the traditional checks and balances including the separation of powers are being eroded and fundamentally questioned.

The judiciary has been rendered less autonomous and more conformist by the impeachment motion and subsequent choices. A bill on media ethics has just ducked behind the curtain but lurks there. The 18th amendment, though not fatal to democracy as shrilly alleged, has sundered the social contract which (even in Russia) grants great power to the Executive in exchange for a term limit. The self-inflicted debility of the UNP, JVP and FSP has resulted in a crisis of leadership of the opposition, vitiating the competitiveness and damaging the balance in the political system, notwithstanding the existence of proportional representation.

This leaves the TNA. Despite the war and its aftermath, the TNA is in far better shape than the Southern Opposition, not least because it has a more able and respected leadership at the top. There just isn’t anyone like the Sampanthan-Sumanthiran duo in the politics of the Opposition in the Southern two thirds of the island.

Just as in late 1982, the only occasion on which the authoritarian Jayewardene juggernaut was stopped was by the voters of Jaffna, today, three decades later, it is only the voters of the North who have resisted the regime through the ballot box, and done so under conditions of fairly tight control.

Given that the balance in our polity has been almost lost, it will be healthy to have a Provincial Council run by an elected Opposition party. It will prise open much needed political space and present the regime with some element of democratic competition in that it will set an example of what is possible.

Apart from legitimate political, security and sovereignty concerns regarding the prospect of a TNA run administration—concerns which I share and was among the first to point out in my critique of Mr Sampathnan’s 2012 Convention speech in Batticaloa–there are two uglier, subterranean reasons one may guess at, for the reluctance to devolve.

One is the fear of the erosion of political monopoly; the allergy to actually share power in any authentic measure. This is the logic of authoritarianism.

The second is that devolution runs contrary to the Israeli model of settler-colonisation and close control that is the template so beloved of the security bureaucracy. That is the logic of Occupation as entertained by the ‘deep state’. In many countries the deep state uses civilian political and social movements as proxies and pressure groups to box in the elected civilian leadership.

The third is that the very idea of any Tamil or Muslim administered provincial council is to the Sinhala chauvinists, as sunlight is to a vampire. This is the logic of ethno-religious absolutism.

If unable to prevent the holding of elections in September, it is almost certain that those who stand opposed to the concept of provincial level devolution will attempt to de-stabilise the Council, with a Gaza type state of siege, economic suffocation and a political putsch as the endgame.

This will help neither the Sinhalese nor the Tamils. For the Sinhalese, the pushback from India and the West together with the erosion of support within the Non-Aligned and the BRICS will prove difficult to withstand. The deep state which boxes in the elected civilian leadership will find that it has boxed itself in together with that leadership in a double envelopment by India and the US.

Not that this will be a zero sum game with all benefit accruing automatically to the Tamils, because the endgame may be neither simple nor swift.

There is only one way for such an outcome to be deflected and that is for the TNA to learn from the Sinn Fein/IRA and reach out to all elements in the Southern political spectrum, engage in a sustained multi-track dialogue, persuading and being persuaded. The Sinn Fein not only arrived at a consensus with the Labour government, it succeeded in neutralising Ian Paisley’s Ulster Loyalists.

The TNA must do what it accuses the Government, not without reason, of having failed to do, namely negotiate seriously and arrive at a consensus. There can be no sustainable devolution without broad support from Southern democrats who are themselves patriots. In short, the TNA must convince at least the moderates among the nationalist Sinhalese. It must also convince the professional military. Nothing less than a pledge by the TNA not to unilaterally cross the redline of the existing 13th amendment can achieve such a consensus which could save both communities from entering a deadly minefield.

  • justitia

    Even if TNA wins a majority in an election,the powers of administration will lie with the Military Governor as of now.
    The Governor takes orders only from the president.
    Hence it will remain the “president’s rule”.
    The military is reportedly choosing candidates for UPFA.
    Hence other parties dare not contest/campaign.
    TNA have no need to “convince the professional military” as ‘the military’ is not part of the body politic.
    In any democracy,political parties do not need to ‘convince’ armed forces about election manifestos.
    With the military entering the election by choosing candidates,there cannot be a free and fair election.

  • Suren R?ghavan

    A powerless Dayan is far greater than Dayan with some official powers.

    Excellent analysis. A rare moderate reflection.

    This is why, despite my deep disagreements with your often-camouflaged Sinhala State hegemony in the form of the hatred for LTTE- I respect you. Because you are – at least in your writing- a promoter of workable solution of democracy
    You are one southerner standing for a shared democracy and who could articulate that far better than JHU/JNS/BBS/SR/Rawana Sena/ and all such ethnic centric madness put together. Surely, your argument is modern and displays that Gota’s logic of Sinhala security based on his MBRL is only a Mahavamsic mirage.

    Honestly I think you should not get any state positions but be dismissed by all power circles that you often think will transform by your analysis. Because you are far effective/logical/moderate and democratic when you are just a thinker

    Finally, as a closer observer and a close frined of many TNA MPs, let me assure you that notwithstanding the cry of the external/extreme element- who says that the TNA is walking over the dead bodies of the Mahaveeras , they are trying level best to reach out to the Sinhala South. This is not just in Sumanthiran addressing Matara and Kandy people in Sinhala. ( I wish Thanthai Chelva and Amithalingam did this decades ago) But far deeper conviction within for a southern partnership for democracy.

    But how does the regime response? It appoints a political thug to lead the negotiations. Therefore Dayan, your plead should be with the Rajapakse regime not with Rajavarothiam Sampanthan

    Please get this published in Tamil and Sinhala as well

    Best

    • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

      Hi Suren, thanks, I appreciate it.

      I’m not sure ‘Sinhala state hegemony’ is accurate, and it may be more correct to merely say ‘ state hegemony’, but if it is Sinhala state hegemony, one must note the Gramscian distinction between ‘hegemony’ and ‘domination’.

      If I am accused of recommendations that would cause a shift to the former from the latter, I could not, in clear conscience, plead not guilty.

      As for power and powerlessness, the fact that I have never been tempted to enter mainstream electoral politics (and parliament) would be evidence that my aspirations (and ambitions?) lie elsewhere.

      As for the target audience of actual or potential power wielders, my answer is twofold: firstly, from Plato (the ‘philosopher-ruler’)through Machiavelli (the Prince) to Gramsci ( the ‘Modern Prince’), that has been the target audience of political thinkers. It is inherent in the tradition that I have been formally trained in and is my vocation. Secondly, as Rousseau, Gramsci and Althusser said of the much maligned Machiavelli, though he was formally addressing the Prince, he was, in reality addressing the consciousness of the public; the people.

  • Arthagnani

    DJ
    You are right, of course. Keep on fighting, not for justice as such but that political wisdom and prudence will finally, after these several decades of modaya politics, dawn on the Sinhala leadership. It would indeed be a truly Machiavellian strategy to grant certain powers to the NPC, and watch for further developments and then act accordingly…After all, a victorious and powerful army is occupying the North!!
    However I doubt that anyone among the relevant leadership and the intelligentsia will listen. The fear and loathing of the Tamils among them is too deeply entrenched and perhaps too it would be difficult for the latter to withdraw from the narcotic of hating a minority group.

  • Krish

    Dear Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka – Very wonderfully written. Despite my disagreements with your viewpoints in the past, your integrity and sincerity must be applauded. I follow Srilanka and it’s politics from time to time and take no sides usually. It is this neutrality that makes this move forward in my opinion.

    The highlight of your article is lack of opposition from the south which leaves the TNA in a far better shape. You need a sensible and working opposition lead by a good leader that stands up and questions the Government. In SL, more often that seems to done by Sampanthan-Sumathiran duo than by Ranil.

    The other thing that you got right was TNA negotiating seriously and arriving at consensus. The problem in our part of the world (South Asia) is, we make too much noise and hardly ever reach conclusions in a mutually agreeable manner or good faith. In the case of Sri Lanka, that is true at the moment. But in a post-LTTE world with no war, that should be fairly easy. And a lot would depend on the tone of the disagreements.

    On a slighly-related note, I am always surprised why a country like Sri Lanka with a high literacy rate and greater achievements (as compared to most countries in Asia) is not able to set an example by solving the problems in the last 4 years or so. After LTTE was defeated, one would have thought things would settle down quickly. But not quite! :(

  • Warforpeacehypocrite

    all that dayan is saying is that TNA should settle for 13th amendment brought about by india-lanka accord and should not ask for more (as this is strategic and the sinhala south would not agree anything that goes beyond this) and anyone critiquing that is an extremist.

    • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

      Not quite. Anyone critiquing 13A and seeking to go backwards from it is as much or more of an extremist as those who are dissatisfied, reject it and renounce it as the baseline of negotiations. Thus Gammanpila and Guruparan are two sides of the same coin, even twins.

  • warforpeacehypocrite

    who needs the 13th? recently even a sinhalese MP has described PCs as guns without bullets(1). so why is dayan propping up this rotten fruit of india-lanka accord that neither the tamils nor sinhalese accept?

    as dayan says, the 13th amendment and the TNA run provincial council is in the best interests of Sri Lanka’s national interest (a Sinhala Buddhist unitary state that Dayan disguises under the rhetoric of devolution and the so called “political pluralism”). after all, there is nothing in the 13th amendment to be afraid of or to ‘dilute’ per say. even if TNA wins the northern provincial council, every important decision will be made through the military governor appointed by the sinhala government. the eastern province is a case in point. dayan knows this, the sinhalese know it, and the indians know it as well. so why then is all the fussing over the 13th amendment by the government as Dayan says? because the sinhalese see the 13th as an infringement of sri lanka’s soverignty. to sum it up, 13th is in the best interests of sinhala nationalists as they cant ignore india and as it is important to contain the “tamil problem” through delhi partnership and its proxy TNA. all this devolution and reconciliation rhetoric is there to distract the reader from the point .

    (1) http://www.dailymirror.lk/opinion/172-opinion/31414-powerless-pcs-like-guns-without-bullets.html

    • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

      A far more objective and credentialed source disagrees, and presents a balanced perspective:

      “It is clear from the policies the Rajapaksa brothers have pursued since the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009 that their principal objective has been to prevent forever the emergence of a similar organisation. Now, the surest way to ensure that objective would be to take steps to erode, if not eliminate, separatist sentiment among the Tamil community. And the first measure in this direction would be to implement the 13th Amendment and the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report, especially with regard to incidents of excessive or malicious use of force against civilians in the last few months of the anti-LTTE operations.

      However, President Rajapaksa and Gotabhaya in particular, have always been critical of the 13th Amendment devolution process which created the provincial councils and gave the provinces meaningful powers including over land and the police. The legislation they wish to promote now would effectively take away these powers. They also desire that in future, constitutional changes regarding provincial powers could be accomplished by Colombo with a simple majority of provinces siding with it. This would lead to Colombo retaining in its hands the authority over subjects that are connected with the state security apparatus and, indirectly, demography.

      President Rajapaksa would like to get these changes through before the Northern Council elections which he has announced would be held in September. It is pertinent that he wishes to hold the elections prior to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in November. For the time being, the proposed changes are being resisted by some ruling alliance partners.

      Reconstruction

      A recent visit to Colombo and Jaffna enabled this writer to hear a range of voices and also see the reconstruction activities that have been undertaken by the Sri Lankan authorities in the latter city and area. The resettlement work and the reconstruction of physical infrastructure in the four years that have passed since the LTTE’s defeat have been good. While there is a civilian administration in place, the Governor is a retired army officer and this is a ground for complaint. It is true that Colombo would have had little option but to rely on the army in the immediate aftermath of the conflict for resettlement and development work. However, popular sentiment would now be addressed by reducing the army’s salience. The acquisition of land for the expansion of defence facilities is a major ground for complaint…

      There is no easy resolution of these two fundamentally contradictory visions. In the 21st century, terrorist violence is an issue but the security of plural and multi-ethnic states is best guaranteed in satisfactorily addressing the reasonable aspirations of ethnic and religious minorities including their quest for identity, justice, democracy and development. On their part, minorities must shun violent approaches and understand the concerns of the majority communities. Historical memory, ancient grievances and the dubious lessons of battles lost and won in centuries past cannot guide leaders, particularly those who control the destinies of peoples and countries in this digital age.

      13th Amendment

      The 13th Amendment is the cornerstone of the position of the overwhelming majority of the Tamil political class. It has already been diluted by the decision of the Court regarding the inadmissibility of the merger of the Northern and the Eastern provinces. Any further weakening of the Amendment is unacceptable to them. The Indian position too is to support the implementation of the Amendment. Recently, the Union Minister for External Affairs, Salman Khurshid, urged his Sri Lankan counterpart that elections for the Northern Provincial Council need to be held within the time frame announced by President Rajapaksa and under the present provisions of the Constitution…”

      (Vivek Katju is a former Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan. This article appears in”The Hindu”)

  • Off the Cuff

    Dear Dr Dayan Jayatilake and Suren Raghavan,

    You wrote “Anyone critiquing 13A and seeking to go backwards from it is as much or more of an extremist as those who are dissatisfied, reject it and renounce it as the baseline of negotiations”

    The above statement implies that no provision within the 13A should be amended by the removal of powers already granted, not withstanding any injustices that such powers may cause to any party affected by it. Why should that be so? Do you believe that all that is embedded within the 13A is Just, Fair and Equitable by ALL communities within Lanka? Doesn’t that sound like Bush’s doctrine of “you are either with us or against us”?

    The 13A appendix 2 referring to Inter-Provincial Irrigation and Land Development Projects, state that

    2:5 The distribution of all allotments of such land in such projects will be on the basis of national ethnic ratio. In the distribution of allotments according to such ratios, priority will be given to persons who are displaced by the project, landless of the District in which the project is situated and thereafter the landless of the Province.

    The National Ethnic Ratio is the cornerstone of the Ethnic Integration Policy of Singapore. It has been successfully operated for about 3 decades and is still being applied.

    The current National Ethnic Ratios are

    Sinhalese…………..74.88%
    Sri Lanka Tamil……..11.21%
    Indian Tamil…………4.16%
    Sri Lanka Moor……….9.23%
    Burgher……………..0.18%
    Malay……………….0.18%
    Other……………….0.15%

    Though it is JUST, Fair and Equitable because as per clause 2.2, the financial burden of development is passed on to the whole country and hence get distributed according to the National Ethnic Ratio, would this not be seen later as Sinhalisation of the North and East by the very same Tamil politicians who now want the 13A implemented?

    That is a question that Suren Ragavan could answer, given that he is a closer observer and a close friend of many TNA MPs. A workable democratic solution requires moving away from hardened viewpoints and the ability to compromise in the name of Justice an Equality.

    The benefits of these development are prioritised to the residents of the province by clause 2.5 with the lowest priority ending with unaffected residents of that province. Though it can be argued that those outside the province is not specifically excluded, the inclusion is not specifically mentioned either. In order to leave out speculation later, should it not be specifically added to 13A?

    2:7 The distribution of allotments in such projects on the basis of the aforesaid principles would be done as far as possible so as not to disturb very significantly the demographic pattern of the Province and in accordance with the principle of ensuring community cohesiveness in human settlements.

    How on Earth could this be complied with, when 2.5 calls for Land allotment according to the National Ethnic Ratio?

    2:4 The selection of allotees for such lands will be determined by the Government of Sri Lanka having regard to settler selection criteria including degree of landlessness, income level, size of family and agricultural background of the applicants. The actual application of these principles, selection of allottees and other incidental matters connected thereto will be within the powers of the Provincial Councils

    The above clause confers the power of selection to the Provincial Council for a development that is paid and maintained (clause 2.2 and 2.8 read together) by the citizens of the whole country. The Provincial Council appears to be a free loader.
    How do you justify it?

    Where does an aggrieved party go to for redress?

    Land within the control of a Provincial Council should relate to the population living within it. Such relationship should be universal if Equality is to be upheld. No provincial council should control excess land.

    Northern Province
    Population 1,058,762
    Land Entitlement on per capita allocation 3433 sq km
    Actual extent 8884 sq km
    Excess Land 5451 sq km

    North Central Province
    Population 1,259,567
    Land Entitlement on per capita allocation 4084 sq km
    Actual extent 10472 sq km
    Excess Land 6387 sq km

    Eastern Province
    Population 1,551,381
    Land Entitlement on per capita allocation 5030 sq km
    Actual extent 9996 sq km
    Excess Land 4965 sq km

    Western Province
    Population 5,821,710
    Land Entitlement on per capita allocation 18,878 sq km
    Actual extent 3684 sq km
    Shortfall of Land 15,194 sq km

    The above are 4 examples of disproportionate land currently allocated to a province. This should be corrected and if there is an excess such land should be converted to Central Territories similar to the Union Territories (7 of them) found in India.

    I support devolution fully but by what logic can one justify conferring Land Powers without correcting the injustices embedded within 13A?

    How then can an unmodified 13A be accepted as a baseline?

    These are just a few problems with the 13A that needs rectification.
    Going backwards is hence inevitable if Justice is to be served.