ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 52

The charade of constitutional reforms

By S L Gunasekara

It is quite unseemly for adults, particularly adults who claim to be mature and members of the "intelligentsia" [whatever that may mean] to indulge in games of make-believe. Yet, the deluge of criticism that engulfed SLFP proposals to the All-Party Representative Committee proves that indulging in games of make-believe is a game that is even more popular than cricket among many such adults both at home and abroad.

The principal premises on which such criticism is founded are:

i) the proposals will not result in the restoration of peace
ii) they will bring to an end the "peace process"
iii) they are irretrievably flawed in that they propose the continuance of a unitary state and hence deprive the Tamils of autonomy; and
iv) the proposals constitute a return to the proposals made in 1984 and are a manifestation of a "Sinhala supremacist" ideology.

The worthies who mouth these criticisms act on following assumptions:

i) that constitutional reform which would transform our country into a federal state would bring about peace
ii) that a process of negotiations whether with the LTTE or not constitutes a "peace process"; and,
iii) that that segment of the Sri Lankan nation who happen to belong to the Tamil race are entitled to autonomy as against members of all other races and ethnic groups who comprise our multi-racial nation.

It is significant to observe that apart from these shibboleths, none of these worthies has sought to analyse these proposals on their intrinsic merits.

Can even an imbecile for a moment believe that Prabhakaran would ever lay down arms and enter the democratic process merely because Sri Lanka adopts a federal constitution which gives `autonomy' to less than 50% of the Tamils of Sri Lanka [i.e to those Tamils who live in the Northern and Eastern Provinces]?

Prabhakaran, who is wedded to the doctrine reminiscent of the 1st Commandment ["Thou shalt have no other Gods before me" - Exodus 20:3] that the LTTE [meaning himself] are the "sole representatives" of the Tamils, would never be satisfied with a constitution which permits the Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim People of the Northern and Eastern Provinces by their free vote to decide who should rule those provinces even under a federal constitution -- for that would leave open the possibility of Prabhakaran whose word alone is law in large segments of those provinces, having to submit to the jurisdiction of an administration headed by one who is not his lackey.

Conclusive proof of the fact that Prabhakaran would never be satisfied with a federal constitution is to be found in the LTTE's proposals for an "Interim Self Governing Authority" which contained not the faintest trace of any feature of federalism but was indisputably a proposal for a separate state.

Any objective assessment of the facts necessarily leads to the unpalatable but inescapable conclusion that this country could see a return to peace only if the LTTE is annihilated militarily as the Nazis were. If we cannot annihilate the LTTE, the tragic truth is that Sri Lanka will not see peace in the foreseeable future.

In this background, while it is true that the proposals of the SLFP will not result in a restoration of peace, it is equally true that no proposals for constitutional reform even in the form of proposals for a federal constitution will result in the restoration of peace. Accordingly, setting up the APRC and considering proposals for constitutional reform as a means of restoring peace is a futile exercise. In this state of things it is silly to refer to a series of pointless negotiations [whether with the LTTE or others] as a "peace process" — for the only existent peace process consists of the military operations being conducted against the LTTE. Thus the contention that the proposals of the SLFP will bring the "peace process" to an end is nonsensical.

An argument put forward by a respected politician [and hence a member of a near extinct breed] V. Anandasangaree against the SLFP proposals was that granting a federal constitution would strengthen the hands of people who are opposed to the LTTE to mobilize Tamil support against the LTTE. With all due respect to Anandasangaree, this contention is naïve. The LTTE has committed countless unspeakable atrocities against the Tamil People, including the kidnapping of children, depriving the Tamils living under their thrall of freedom, and murdering more Tamils than were murdered by Sinhalese thugs at all the deplorable communal riots. Yet the Tamil people have not risen against the LTTE and rallied round Anandasangaree or Devananda. The only Tamils who were able to rise against the LTTE were Karuna and his gang of terrorists and they were able to do so only because they were both armed and possessed of great proficiency at killing.

Tamils such as Anandasangaree who live among the Sinhalese in the South, governed as they are under a unitary constitution, live in much greater dignity and with much greater freedom than those living in those parts of the country in which the LTTE exercises usurped power.

Thus, the question of the restoration of peace and constitutional reform are mutually exclusive and it is foolish to pretend to see a connection between the two.

The contention that Tamils are entitled to "autonomy" is but a disgusting divisive myth propogated by that sanctimonious hypocrite Chelvanayakam on the outrageous premise designed to destroy any unity among the Sinhalese and the Tamils, that the Sinhalese and Tamils belong to two separate and distinct nations and are hence not fellow members of one nation who should march forward together.

The SLFP proposals must therefore be considered not in the light of whether they could be a means of restoring peace or whether they are the same as or similar to proposals made in 1984, but in the light of whether they would, if implemented bona fide, result in good governance.

I for one do not believe that constitutional reform is essential for good governance — for despite its flaws which are legion, this country could have had the benefit of good governance even under our present constitution if our rulers had used its provisions bona fide and acted as such. However, every Executive President, from the architect of the 1978 constitution J. R. Jayewardene to the incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa, not only did not do so, but abused its provisions to gain selfish ends, all of which has, cumulatively , subjected our populace to an unbelievable degree of misgovernance.

The SLFP proposals are geared to achieving a maximum degree of power sharing — a degree that goes far beyond the `power sharing' envisaged by the 13th Amendment or by G L Peiris's disastrous Bill for a new Constitution placed before Parliament in 2000 in one of his previous political incarnations. By proposing that the district should be the unit of devolution these proposals give to the people of each district a greater voice or degree of participation in the management of affairs which affect them most closely, and prevent them from being dominated by a more populous district in the same province. [It must here be remembered that Karuna's grievance against Prabhakaran was the favoured treatment he accorded to the North as against the East]. Can any genuine devotee of devolution find any fault with that ?

Since the implementation of these proposals would result in about 10 of our 25 districts [40%] being controlled by minorities while the Sinhalese comprise about 75% of the population, the contention that the proposals are a manifestation of a "Sinhala supremacist" ideology is as far removed from the truth as any could be.

I myself am no believer of devolution and a resultant proliferation of political ‘hangers on’ vested with governmental powers. However, it is incredible that those devotees of devolution in the name of "power sharing" should insist on the Province [and in the case of the Northern and Eastern Provinces, an amalgamated Northern and Eastern Province] being made the unit of devolution rather than the district. It would appear that the opposition to the proposals of the SLFP by those advocating federalism is based not on an objective appraisal of the proposals, but on their having been incurably afflicted with the divisive, Tamil supremacist ‘Chelvanayakam mindset’.

(The writer is a senior lawyer and president of Sinhala Jathika Sangamaya)

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.