KEYNOTE: ‘The ‘F’ word and the Tamil National Question’ by Shiral Lakthilaka, 5.30-7.00pm, 19th September


JDA Perera Gallery, Horton Place, Colombo
Free & open to public. Parking available inside the venue. Seating limited.


In Sri Lanka, merely acknowledging federalism’s role and relevance in constitutional reform risks derailing the process comprehensively. The popular imagination in the South invests in the term an almost unshakeable fear of eventual secession. Years of vilification, negative stereotyping and misinformation have been – at least for those vehemently opposed federalism– successful. Opposition to the idea, and indeed, a clear understanding of its central place in architecting a new constitution, remain, respectively, high and low. On the other hand, much of this opposition stems from the enduring inability of some of federalism’s greatest champions to clearly address some of these fears, and communicate clearly what it is, and is not. Lawyers often assume society writ large to have as good a knowledge of the law as they do, and politicians often support or decry federalism based purely on parochial, electoral gain. Principled, reasoned arguments around federalism, embracing for example concepts that call for the recognition of multiple nations within a united Sri Lanka, are central to meaningful answers around the Tamil national question.

And if the Tamil national question is seen as central to realising the democratic potential of Sri Lanka post-war, federalism and its discontent needs to be tackled head on. How can this be done? Given an electorate in the South largely unable and unwilling to support federalism prima facie, what can politicians do to strengthen critical reflection and support? Why is it even necessary, if as some would argue, existing provisions in the constitution are entirely adequate?

Can there be meaningful debates around the Tamil national question without resorting to federalism and its promise? If maximalist demands continue without any compromise, and reciprocally, majoritarian fears around secession continue to hold hostage meaningful debates around a new constitutional framework, what is the fate of federalism in Sri Lanka and indeed, if it fails, the prospects around addressing the Tamil national question meaningfully?

Respondent: Ameer M Faaiz

Keynote by Shiral Lakthilaka