By FD Syndicate –
1987 is the birth year of Sri Lankan Federal governing system that prevails up to today. Since then Sri Lankan unitary state inserted characteristics of a quasi-federal state midst of strong dissenting sentiments from the Singhalese dominated nationalists camp. Sri Lankan federalism that we enjoying today and establishing it in the Sri Lankan Political landscape was not an easy process. Present day Quasi Federal system wasn’t offered in a silver tray instead it has blood stained history with full of political mockery and gimmicks. Many people sacrifice their lives as they stand for devolution of power and political power sharing with minorities towards sustainable peace. Vijaya Kumaranatyunga is one such humanitarian politician who strongly supports for Devolution of power and sacrifices his life for that cause. Thousands of Tamil masses struggled to fulfill the aspirations and homeland for Tamil people and lives of those who died need to be remembered.
Historically Federalism was used as political scapegoat, election manifestation and defeating point of the opponents. In many occasions entire country was draged in to the political discourse on federalism with out clearly identified subject matters. Agreements, pacts and protest were integral part of more than 5 decades of Sri Lanakn federalism journey. Merely it’s the word federalism that was either supported or opposed. Federalism is a political phobia for some parties and the ultimate truth for the other parties. Truly that should be the way in which people should polarize, as Federal is totally opposition to the popular unitary system, which is the popular choice of Singhalese.
Federalism as life style.
Whenever a Sri Lankan meets another Sri Lankan Specially among Singhalese the first thing they ask is where are you from? The answer has very strong sentiment and it will be decisive in some cases on their future relationships as well. If the answer is somewhere closer to his or her native place then there will be more questions and building links. This is a very clear notion of regional or sub regional belongingness among Sri Lankans. This belongingness could have move further if both the persons belongs to southern village where strong sentiments were exchange as southerners and this is relatively apply on Kandyans, “Rajarata” (anuradhapura-polonnnaruwa environs) or Uva , Sabaragamuwa people as well. I hope this is same with Jaffna and Batticoloa people as well.
This regional belongingness, which is mainly identified on cultural and sub cultural ties, has created strong ties among the people who live in those areas or contribute to those cultures. These Identities rather divisions are nothing much to do with geographical regions as well as they don’t have any clear understanding on their boundaries. Any body who contribute to that cultural identity with substantial proofs are taken as insiders of this regional belongingness. This lifestyle behavior was an ideal situation for Asymmetrical devolution of power within Sri Lanka. Unfortunately with given powers and authorities and clearly demarcated regional boundaries Provinces were failed to cultivate a regional belongingness where politicians only use provincial council as a ladder to move next tire of the political hierarchy. The provincial councils were operated only as an administrative mechanism and nothing more in Sri Lanka.
Federalism is a life style and it’s a life style that communities adopt their lives with commitment to respect for it. Its not a purely a governance mechanism but also a pluralistic lifestyle and when a community embraces federalism with regional belongingness and its impossible for turning back as it changes the whole lifestyle and the landscape of political dealings, mindsets and social behavior. Federalism is a strong threat to nationalism, as under federal system nationalism has no political power unless it’s a homogeneous society or artificially created homogeneous society. Religion or ethnic hegemonies will have to respect other ethnicities and religions as power behaves differently in different geographical areas.
Federalism will bring regionalism and also self respect to many minority communities. Especially minorities such as Muslim community will gain more decisive power under the federal system. It was very much visible in first Northeastern government where Muslim Congress operated as a very strong opposition even in the midst of violence. It will be a failure if federalism tried applied with unitary products. As an example northeastern provincial council is unitary output and in a federal output there should be a separate province for southeast region for Muslim community as well. Therefore we have to identify new boundaries and new approach if we are serious about Federalism and this is some thing Tamil politicians may not happy as well. Its difficult to operate federalism with unitary cloths and Tamil politicians also need to compromise with Muslim Minority over their aspirations for separate Province.
Operational harmony of federalism for two decades is nothing but due to dormant situation of most vulnerable northeastern provincial council. There were tug o war between provincial governments and the center in few occasions when opposition parties in control of the provincial governments but solved in favour of state or some times in favor of province and rarely it was defined by the courts. Sri Lankan federalism rarely defined by the court and therefore it has many loopholes that need to address by the state and the provincial governments.
Over the two decades there was a clear process that center tighten its grip towards the provincial governments and when ever provincial government attempted to strengthen its powers center striped off those power or center take back the issue under preview of center and make province a just a stamp. Situation worsened whenever political party of the center government-enjoying majority in the provinces as provincial government simply carried out the orders of the center and also work against the simple understandings of the devolution of power.
There were no proper mechanism to solve the disputes between center and province and when ever opposition in power in the province have to gone through many obstacles to enjoy constitutionally given rights to provinces. Practically for two decades Sri Lankan state satisfied Singhalese aspirations of Devolution according to the party needs of the governing political party. Sri Lankan government never attempted to reactivate northeastern government and strengthen it, as Singhalese governments knew that it’s a time bomb that can blast any time and the consequences of it.
Sri Lankans never experienced sense of true federalism ever in our history; therefore many Sri Lanakns see it through the eyes of politicians and opinions of media. Deeply divided Sri Lankan society failed to see any light in federalism as Singhalese politicians pointing federal and separatism as one. For many Singhalese it’s a separatism agenda and Tamil agenda. It is very unfortunate that the golden opportunities which Sri Lnkans got through 13th Amendment to taste federalism was never used due to petty political desired of Singhalese politicians. Singhalse dominated center made 13th amendment in to a dormant experience and destroyed all the important characteristics of it and expectations of those who supported it. 13th Amendment was not the best solution but it was a good beginning but nationalistic agenda and lack of interest in the Singhalese dominated center made it only a civil administration mechanism.
Unitary and United mistake
Unfortunately for Singhalese people and Singhalese vocabulary the words unitary and undivided sounds very close meanings. Therefore many Singhalese mistakenly identified unitary as undivided state and introduced the opposition of it as Federal and its dividing the state. The word provincial council “ Palath Sabha” was highly used all most all the political discussions and platforms that is a primary version of federalism or quasi-federalism. Federalism was not properly defined in Sri Lankan experience and it was more or less introduced as a mechanism for devolution of power.
For Singhalese masses devolution of power is not an issue, as they don’t feel it as Tamils feel. For Singhalese masses devolution of power is some thing that they are being able to do things without going in to many bureaucratic red tapes. Singhalese masses expecting a better civil administration with out too many red tapes and get their things done. There aspirations are simple and they want their building plan approval in closest place and irrigation management without going to Colombo or road reconstructions by their provincial leaders. A politically Singhalese mass doesn’t experience insecurity or discrimination or harassments as every thing happens in their language and every government office is conform to the governing hierarchy and a Singhalese is on top of these hierarchies.
The most vulnerable issue is why there is a need for devolution of power. It is clearly part of the aspiration s of the Tamil community. For Tamil masses Devolution is a different meaning. For Tamil masses it’s a joyful experience of Self-rule and Shared rule. In more explanatory words federalism or devolution of power in Tamil psychosis is more political authority over their issues and more political consensus with the dominant ethnicity. Further more Federalism for Tamils is coming out of discrimination they experience over the decades and prominence for their language, culture, religions and development for Tamil masses. Political analysts from the Tamil community were very critical on the authority of Sri Lankan president irrespective of who ever in the power to dissolve the Provincial government. The above fact was a clear limitation to practice a fully-fledged federal system. The president’s powers over provincial government have been controlled by Indian supreme courts judgments and still it can be challenge in the courts. In the 1995 CBK political proposals there were no clear presidents authority over the dissolution of the provincial government but it was add in to the CBK political package later. There is no clear indication whether presidential decree can be challenge in our courts.
Ignorance or coveredness?
After 20 years of practicing federalism, Sri Lankan government party Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) put forward new set of proposals that draw backs all the historically achievements of the minorities and the SLFP proposals no way even come closer to a solution for ongoing ethnic conflict. The proposals of SLFP are the weakest among all their proposals and clearly indicate the rising of conservative and nationalistic mindset that CBK been able to controlled. The Present SLFP proposals are primitive and weaker than all the three proposals that CBK brought forward since 1995.
Sangaree factor and Tamil aspirations
Now the Sangaree factor is coming to lime light again all these days Singhalese nationalistic camp was praising V Anadasangeree veteran TULF politician and Douglas Devananda for their support for negotiated settlement but these two person openly rejected Government proposals as its not even worth to discussion. Both Mr. Ananda Sangree and Mr. Douglas Devananda being Tamil politicians will never agree some thing less than what they enjoying now under the 13th Amendment. Soon we can see how the nationalistic camp criss corss with these two politicians on their federal Demand. Very correctly Mr. Ananda sangaree and Douglas Devananda and other Tamil political parties rejected SLFP proposals as its totally unmatched with the Tamil peoples aspirations. SLFP proposals are only a political bulling of Tamil people.
War between Center Vs Province
When there is a strong center, which handled every thing of the public life, and making decision of every small thing from public smoking to onion price then provincial councils system will automatically fail. Center politics never come out with any political system that reduces the role of center and given more authority to provinces. All the political packages discuss devolution while safeguard powerful center which existing and operating against the provincial system.
Powerful Executive president, 225 parliament members and bunch of politically authoritarian Ministers will never create healthy environment for growing devolution of power. Still even after 20 years we are in the primary stage of devolution of power or federalism. We never taste the federalism or devolution of power as a society. Our political maturity didn’t grow up over the two decades; we are still maintaining the same old understanding that we hold 20 years back. The main reason of the failure of provincial council system was there wasn’t any political willingness for that system, no proper devolution taken place and it’s a Singhalese devolution but not addressed the ethnic issue.
By cameralism is not always a compulsory segment of federalism but it will be useful as check s and balances in pluralistic society and diverse political environment. When a country moves to a federal system from center based unitary system its very useful to have second chamber for minimize the damages and to show the commitment of the state towards power sharing with minorities. In many second chambers unrepresentated minorities and many diverse groups are given opportunity to take part in the countries decision-making. If there is no popper devolution and there is no need for second chambers in that’s sense SLFP proposals is absurd mixture of a second chamber and poor devolution.
Even though Political powers were clearly identified in the 13th amendment it was never practiced within Sri Lanka. According to 13th amendment all provincial governments are entitle to have a police force and provincial police force is under DIG whom responsible to Chief minister of the province and IGP of the country. Also provincial high courts were given appellant powers within the province. Provinces were given powers to taxation and management of water resources and land subject to certain limitation, which falls in the third list. None of these powers were practiced while strengthening provincial laws enactments but abused whenever center needs to involved political gimmicks. The best examples was when Minsiter Rajith Senarathna attempted to distributed deeds for land holders there was objections from the provincial chief ministers challenging land is a provincial issue and Court upheld the argument by province as its clearly mentioned in the 13th amendment but every thing stopped from there. No operation-taking place in province as it’s not the political psyche of Singhalese political leadership to grant more powers to province. Since there is no active northeastern government in power this wasn’t create any pandemonium but if there was a north eastern government then center will never allow province to decide on lands or center will declare majority of the important land under their preview. In practice Singhalese dominated center never intend to have share rule nor for self rule instead a rule according to center. Is this what Tamil People expected?
Efficacy was another debated among the Singhalese people when the 13th amendment was brought. The argument of one segment of the Singhalese community was, this is a repetition and a white elephant as there is no need for another system for civil administration. The southern psyche looked at it as a mechanism for civil administration and nothing about a life style for people to get involved. The Entire efficacy was undermined and up to now it’s operating similarly to the old unitary system and only there is only a change of name board. Again we don’t have any experience how does it apply to northeastern province where a Tamil politician operates it with different mind set and aspirations. When ever center feel that they need to penetrate in to the provincial issue relevant minister declare the issue is under government preview. Like that there were many issues in health and education sector was brought under the central government.
No support or financial authority was given to province but as much as possible scrap the powers or provinces. Whenever school is in dispute it will be declared national school and automatically it will become a part of center. There were many hospitals staff went of demonstration to get the state nod for centralize their hospital. Efficacy of Federalism in Sri Lanka was utter failure and there was no political willing from the state and even trade unions was allowed to change the constitutional rights of provinces. There was no respect from the center towards the rights and the efficacy of provinces. Up to now there is no political independency is given to the provinces and all the provincial decision are taken according to the ruling party policies of the center. Provincial councils were seen as a millstone in the political journey of politicians and nothing serious other than that.
Provincial councils were seen as a potential self-sufficient system as it can easily reach many untapped resources and taxations and development mechanism. Unfortunately this was not practiced and it was given few revenue channels and up to now much of its expenditure born by the national budget. This fiscal dependency directly hindered political authority of the provincial councils. The concurrent list always decided in favor of center, as there is no resistant from the province over power grabbing by center. In the 13th amendment there were clearly defined authority to provinces to initiate development programmes and get the revenue to develop the province and moving towards the regional self sufficient which was totally curbed by Singhalese dominated center with the agreement of Singhalese dominated province.
Even though 13th amendment talking about a three lists there was no proper mechanism over dispute resolution or practice. The council of chief ministers is not a statuary body and therefore it doesn’t have any political authority or constitutional authority to dispute resolution. The intentions of power devolution was forgotten by the time and now it is totally operating as civil administration body instead of self rule or shared rule paradigm. In the other hand there are no disputes sprung up as every thing is pre designed by the center and provinces are only do the implementation part of it. This is a waste of resources and repetition in administration. Provincial council as a stepping stone towards broad federalism has been aborted half of the way and it has become a burden to the society and unwanted mechanism or sub-dormant institution in public life. Provincial councils are more or less name boards while center absorbing more and more powers of give to the provinces.
Most important point is why we are talking about political power sharing? The decade old conflict insisted a political power sharing and self-rule for minorities. Whatever language they request from the beginning minorities ask for self rule. It’s the core of 50-50 power sharing or Rata Sabha of B-C pact or D-C pact and finally 13th amendment. Up to now minorities were not taken seriously and always bulling with nonsense. This nonsense of majority community is pushing minorities towards the separatism or they intend to end the conflict by war. Bullying minorities indicate two things first the center doesn’t serious on devolution and they have another plan that’s is end everything by military solution. Second point that center indicate is minorities wont get any thing better therefore they have to keep quite and agree what they have achieved under the 13th amendment. Final conclusion is that peace is far away and war is in our doorstep. No serious government will put forward such a nonsensical proposals as political solution.
This is also clearly indicating the internal conflict of governing party as they totally reverse back their old political stance under CBK regime. For Tamil people its no matter whether its coming from CBK or MR finally they look ate its from Singhalese majority. We as Singhalese have to be shameful over our failure over a sustainable political solution and failure to bring peace.