Political Column 2016 (2)

National Question Can be Solved Only by  Sharing of Power and Not Devolution

 Veluppillai Thangavelu

On January 25 this year Opposition and Thamil National Alliance (TNA) Leader R. Sampanthan left for London and then to the Scottish capital Edinburgh accompanied by his trusted lieutenant Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran, MP.   Sampanthan’s visit to Scotland coincided with the government taking steps to draft a new Constitution.

Scottish experience

Both Sampanthan and Sumanthiran participated at a constitutional workshop held to explore possible alternatives for political solution to the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka. It was held under the patronage of academics affiliated to Edinburgh University, with lessons to be learnt from Scottish experience in the United Kingdom and to study the devolution of power sharing by Scotland under Britain’s Westminster system.

Many mistakenly believe that Scotland is sharing power with United Kingdom (UK) under a federal system.  The constitution of UK is not federal but unitary. Scotland is a good example of  country that enjoys devolved powers within a ‘unitary’ constitution.  In fact, unlike many other countries, the UK has no single constitutional document, it has an unmodified or “unwritten” constitution. Much of the British constitution is embodied in written documents, in statutes, court judgments, works of authority and treaties. The core principles of the British constitution are (1) parliamentary supremacy, and (2) rule of law.

The UK comprises four countries: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, it is a unitary state, not a federation (like Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Russia or the United States), nor a confederation (like pre-1847 Switzerland, the former Serbia and Montenegro or Canada).

Although Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have legislatures and executives, England does not.  The authority of all these bodies is dependent on Acts of Parliament and that they can in principle be abolished at the will of the Parliament of the UK.  An example of a legislature that was created by Act of Parliament and later abolished is the Parliament of Northern Ireland, which was set up by the Government of Ireland Act 1920 and abolished, in response to political violence in Northern Ireland. However, Northern Ireland has since been given another legislative assembly under the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

Difference between Federal and Unitary 

What is the difference between federal and unitary system of government? Government system of a country can be classified into two types of government. Either it can be a federal government or can be a unitary government.

Federal Government

Federal government is a type of national government in which government delegates the power to other elected member of the states. In a federal government, provinces or territories enjoys some rights as are available to the independent states. However international diplomacy, national security, foreign affairs and other kinds of international dealings are solely made by the federal government. It can be in form of federal republic like India, Pakistan or federal monarchy government as Canada or Belgium.  Currently there are 27 federations in the world. Pakistan, India, Brazil, Switzerland, Sudan, etc. are examples of federal republic government while Australia, Belgium, Canada, etc, are examples of federal monarchy government.

Unitary Government

Unitary government is a kind of government in which a single power known as the central government controls the whole government. In fact, all powers and administrative divisions authorities lies at the central place. When a unitary system exists in a multinational state, it is often predictable that values and beliefs of one nationality are imposed over the lesser ones. Today, most of the government system in the world is based on unitary system of government where the central government has the power. Even if certain powers of the centre are decentralised, the centre can create and abolish same at its will. It can be in form of unitary republic or unitary monarchy. UK, Afghanistan, Italy, Zambia Ukraine, Sri Lanka etc. are examples of unitary republic government while Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Barbados, Morocco, Spain, etc are examples of unitary monarchy government.

Kingdom Scotland

The Kingdom of Scotland was an independent sovereign state from the Middle Ages and continued to exist until 1707.  Scotland entered into a political union with England on May 1, 1707 to create the Kingdom of Great Britain, despite popular opposition in Edinburgh, Glasgow and elsewhere.  The union also created a Parliament of Great Britain which succeeded Parliament of Scotland and Parliament of England.

Scotland’s legal system has remained separate from those of England and Wales and Northern Ireland.  Scotland constitutes a distinct jurisdiction in public and private law. The continued existence of legal, educational and religious institutions distinct from those in the remainder of the UK have all contributed to the continuation of Scottish culture and national identity since the 1707 union. Following a referendum in 1997, a Scottish Parliament was re-established, this time as a devolved legislature with authority over many areas of home affairs.

Despite Scotland’s three century-old union with England and the devolution of substantial new powers for the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish National Party (SNP) supports Scottish independence. At the  general election to the Scottish parliament held on May 05, 2011 to elect 129 members, the SNP won a historic 69 seats (45.39% of the popular vote) and its leader Alex Salmond remained First Minister of Scotland. Following the defeat at the referendum he resigned his post.  Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party (SNP) is the current First Minister of Scotland.

However, the independence referendum held on September 18, 2014 was lost by the yes side by a majority of 55% to 45% on an 85% voter turnout. Surprisingly the majority of Scots thought that they can have the best of both worlds by remaining in the union, rather than benefit from a friendly divorce.   

Though Scotland lost the fight for independence, it gained huge power to set income tax rates, some influence over welfare spending, and powers to decide how the Scottish parliament and other devolved political structures are selected and run.  These powers are a step towards a federal Britain, and likely put Scotland on the road to autonomy akin to that enjoyed by an American state. In a unitary political system like Britain, it will cause mighty constitutional problems, which will have to be worked out by all three major parties which have taken a common stand. The powers now enjoyed by Westminster and Scottish parliament are as follows:

Devolved matters include                                            Reserved matters include

agriculture, forestry and fisheries
education and training
health and social services
law and order
local government
sport and the arts
tourism and economic development
many aspects of transport
benefits and social security
foreign policy
trade and industry
nuclear energy, oil, coal, gas and electricity
consumer rights
data protection
the Constitution
  1. Sampanthan has said finishing the war does not mean the ethnic conflict has been resolved.  Building carpeted roads and operating Yale Devi does not resolve the National Question. What he wants is a just, reasonable, workable and a durable political solution within the framework of a united, undivided Sri Lanka. He asks for power to be shared between the centre and the northeast province(s). (http://www.dailymirror.lk/60307/there-is-no-ltte-now-so-how-can-tna-be-a-proxy-sampanthan)

The TNA manifesto

The TNA manifesto issued during 2015  elections to  parliament clearly stated  that  Thamil People are entitled to the right to self-determination in keeping with United Nations International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, both of which Sri Lanka has accepted and signed.   Power sharing arrangements must continue to be established as it existed earlier in a unit of a merged Northern and Eastern Provinces based on a Federal structure. The Thamil speaking Muslim historical inhabitants shall be entitled to be beneficiaries of all power-sharing arrangements in the North-East. This will no way inflict any disability on any People. (http://www.tamilcnn.ca/tna-parliamentary-election-2015-manifesto-released-photos.html)

If Scotland, with some 5m people has their own parliament and control education, banking, law and order, welfare and tax rates, why should 2.3 million   populations be run from Colombo is a fair question that needs an honest answer.

Thamils have rejected national parties since independence

No consensus exist how to define democracy. It has been variously defined, but commonly it is defined as government by consent and discussion. The 1972 and 1978 constitutions were enacted not only without consent by the Thamil people; they were passed amidst opposition and protest. Genuine democracy means not unifying territory, but unifying people.

In every election held since independence the Thamil people have decisively rejected those national parties dominated by Sinhalese that stood for unitary form of government.  

Thamil Civil Society Forum’s Proposals

In this context the Thamil Civil Society Forum’s Submission to the Public Representation Committee on Constitutional Reforms deserves closer attention and scrutiny by all those involved in the constitutional process, including academics and political parties.    “http://tamilguardian.com/files/File/PRC%20submission%20TCSF.pdf” http://tamilguardian.com/files/File/PRC%20submission%20TCSF.pdf. The proposals cover wide ranging subjects that are still considered controversial or unconventional. The following are some of the questions and reservations raised by the Forum in its proposals:

(1) The fear that like in 1947, 1972 and 1978 the constitutional process based on majority vote is ill-suited, particularly so for a deeply divided society like Sri Lanka. Hence, how the constitutional process will deliver an acceptable solution to the National Question.

(2)  The dominant nation has used the state, its constitutional and legal apparatus to preserve its dominant status. Under the existing   hierarchical state structure the other constituent nations and peoples of Sri Lanka have been regarded as subservient peoples and nations to the dominant (Sinhala Buddhist) nation.

(3) The National Question cannot be solved merely by guaranteeing individual rights, good governance and the rule of law. The National Question is about the right to self-determination of the different nations that constitute Sri Lanka including the Thamil Nation. The right to self-determination of the Thamil Nation is fundamental to Thamils to enjoy their individual rights and freedoms.

(4) The constitution must recognize the right of self-determination of the Thamil Nation and must provide for a secular state.

(5) The unitary  character of the state  permits Sinhala Buddhist nationalism too impose a deep hegemony through a composition of bounded unity of territory, state and nation of the island revolving around a majoritarian axis of Sinhala Buddhist religion, language, culture and people. Hence, the Forum believes that any devolution of power within the understanding of a unitary state will not resolve the problem.

(6) There are two problems associated with devolution within a unitary state:

(A)  Devolution assumes power is with the centre and devolves power to the peripheral not as a matter of right, but on its own volition. This for reasons stated above is unacceptable.

(B) When the constitution identifies itself as unitary that devolution arrangements will be interpreted by courts within a unitary culture to favour the central government. 13th Amendment is a case in point.

(7) The Forum stands for a federal model. It rejects the argument that the labels ‘unitary’ and ‘federal’ are unnecessary. There are fundamental characteristics of what a unitary and a federal constitution constitute.  The assumption that federalism will lead to secession is a myth   spread and perpetuated by the Sinhala political leadership. Secession is a matter of fact and its eventuality cannot be necessarily facilitated or prevented by a particular constitutional design.

Divi Neguma Bill dismantled devolution

We saw the 13th Amendment as the first step towards devolving powers to the provincial councils, but we also saw how the centre refused to vest land and the police powers to the provincial councils. This is because Sinhalese politicians view devolution of power as the first step in creating separate state for Thamils in the North and the East a far fetched and fanciful theory.  That territorial power sharing mechanism will threaten the territorial integrity of the state. However, such fears have no basis as long as the centre is in charge of defence.

Divi Neguma Bill passed during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure of office transferred powers vested by constitution and by tradition to an unelected Jana Sabhas was an insidious attempt to dismantle devolution. The Bill encroached into the sphere of the Provincial Council functions and it came at a time when Gotabhaya Rajapaksa fervently advocating the abolition of the Provincial Council system and the 13th Amendment altogether. The Jana Sabhas were to have the power to prepare their own budgets and development plans and to obtain the necessary financial allocations from the central government. The elected provincial councils and local government authorities were to be legally obliged to seek approval from the unelected Jana Sabhas to launch any project. The worst aspect of the Bill is the involvement of huge amounts of money (estimated 80 billion rupees) through Divi Neguma banks which would not come under the Central Bank rules and supervision. Not surprisingly the then Supreme Court rightly determined that the Bill should have the consent of all the 9 Provincial Councils to become law.  In 2012, there was no elected Provincial Council for the North. The legality of the consent letter submitted by the Governor of NPC was challenged by the TNA successfully in the Supreme Court.

In the absence of an elected Northern Provincial council the bill needed to be passed with two thirds majority in national parliament.  This ruling by the Supreme Court triggered a vindictive impeachment motion in parliament against the Chief Justice and his subsequent removal from office.

Scrapping of the 13th Amendment

Stung by the ruling of the  apex court’s ruling on a key bill making it mandatory to obtain the nod of the yet to be formed Northern Provincial council, two allies in Sri Lanka`s  then ruling coalition demanded the scrapping of the 13th amendment as it would “cripple” the parliament. Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa called ” for the abolition of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution without further delay since there is a looming threat to national security. The ongoing efforts by a political grouping led by one-time LTTE mouthpiece, TNA to hinder the passage of the Divi Neguma Bill in parliament meant that in spite of Sri Lanka’s battlefield victory over terrorism separatist sentiments were strong, unless the government acted swiftly and decisively the ongoing crisis could have an impact on national security as well. He pointed out that already the TNA and some of its overseas supporters had been pushing for SLA pullout from the Northern region. It would be a mistake on our part to view protests against Divi Neguma Bill in isolation Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told The Sunday Island.”   “http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=63716” http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=63716

I have dwelt at length  on 13A and subsequent attempts to  abolish it altogether to demonstrate the fact that parliament can abolish devolved powers  altogether or just refuse to implement  the land and police  powers given in the constitution itself.

Demand by TNA for a federal structure

This is why TNA is demanding “a solution founded on the principle of internal self determination in areas of historical habitation of the Thamil-speaking Peoples, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka.” (TNA Manifesto -2015 parliamentary election)

The Thamil people have a long trail of broken promises, torn agreements entered in good faith, empty talks, history of oppression, mounting discrimination, loss of lives and lands and immense suffering.  President Sirisena told the BBC Sinhala service that   he will never agree to international involvement in the proposed judicial inquiry. This is after Sri Lanka co-sponsored the resolution adopted by the UNHRC on October 01, 2015 which called for inter alia “……and further affirms in this regard the importance of participation in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, including the Special Counsel’s office, of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers, and authorized prosecutors and investigators.” This came as a total disappointment to the Thamil people who played a major role in regime change.   “http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-35376719” http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-35376719

Today, there is real fear that history may repeat itself once again.  We have a national government committed to good governance that offers a unique and historic opportunity to usher in ethnic peace, economic prosperity and political stability. The government must enact a constitution based on federalism that will give maximum autonomy to the Thamil speaking people to manage their own home affairs. (Colombo Telegraph-  https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/jaffna-low-castes-stoned-arumuka-navalar-godfather-of-vellahlaism/comment-page-1/#comment-1942625)

Govt. Must Educate Importance Of International Participation In Trials

February 5, 2016

By Veluppillai Thangavelu

Veluppillai Thangavelu

The Commissioner of Human Rights Council Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka on January 05, 2016. Apart from meeting the President, Prime Minister, the Opposition Leader and others he will also visit the North to see at first hand the post-war situation there.

The government is still struggling to stabilise the country politically and economically. Many problems related to rehabilitation and re-settlement of thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) remain a daunting task to the government. Though more than 6 years have lapsed since the end of the war, thousands of IDPs are still living in welfare centres and make shift huts without basic amenities.

The inordinate delay in releasing private lands acquired by the armed forces to the rightful owners is causing lot of heartburn among them. The IDPs are losing patience after waiting, in some cases, for over 25 years that include 6 years after the war.

The government has appointed a high powered committee to take a census of the lands still under army occupation in order to release them to the owners. According to an army spokesman, lands required for public security will not be released, but adequate compensation will be paid to the owners.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Poverty is a gigantic problem in the North, which is emerging from a 30-year conflict that decimated the area’s economy along with the people’s livelihoods. Those who have been re-settled lack jobs, houses, toilets, drinking water, schools, hospitals etc.

Out of 25 administrative districts, people from 9 districts, including Mullaitivu, Moneragala, Mannar and Batticaloa had a higher rate of poverty in comparison with others. In fact, in Mullaitheevu which faced the brunt of the war, 30% of the people are living below poverty line at national level (UN Annual Report -2015).  According to Sri Lanka’s official national poverty line, a person is identified as being poor  if his or her real per capita consumption expenditure falls below Rs.3,967 (December 2015) per month.

Problems relating to Thamil prisoners still linger on. President Sirisena’s promise to solve their problem before November 7 did not materialise. Here too, the government has appointed a committee to make recommendations, especially those suspects detained for long years, a few over two decades. Out of a total of 217 prisoners, 39 have been sent to army run rehabilitation camps; a few have been released on completing their term leaving approximately about 168 prisoners pending.

The 89,000 war widows have been virtually allowed to fend for themselves. LTTE cadres who were released after rehabilitation are undergoing tremendous hardship. During rehabilitation they were not given any vocational training, instead they were taught Sinhala language. The rate of unemployment is very high among them and some are resorting to petty crimes. In the absence of massive foreign investments, life after the war will continue to be hard for war affected victims.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’s visit also coincides with the bickering going on regarding the participation  of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers, and authorized prosecutors and investigators in terms of resolution 30/1 adopted by the UNHRC. Operative paragraph 6 stated clearly that UNHRC “….takes note with appreciation of the Government of Sri Lanka’s proposal to establish a Judicial Mechanism with a Special Counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, as applicable; and affirms that a credible justice process should include independent judicial and prosecutorial institutions led by individuals known for integrity and impartiality; and further affirms in this regard the importance of participation in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, including the Special Counsel’s office, of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers, and authorized prosecutors and investigators.”

Now, after a lapse of 4 months President Sirisena seems to entertain second thoughts regarding this specific operative paragraph. In an interview to the BBC on January 21, 2016 he claimed he was for a purely domestic inquiry mechanism without foreign judges or personnel, because he had faith in the Sri Lankan legal system and processes. His tone was emphatic and as though to reinforce his statement he told the Al Jazeera that there is a possibility that “foreign technical knowledge” may be sought, but no foreign personnel, no “outsiders” would be involved.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’ s on his part further muddied the situation by telling Channel 4 News on January 21, 2016 that Government had not ruled out a foreign judicial inquiry on alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka. But, two days later on January 28, he told parliament he had never told such a thing during the interview he gave to Channel 4. He accused both the Daily Mirror and The Island being unnecessarily concerned about the probe on alleged human rights.  He went on to say that he would never allow an international war crimes probe and clarified the recent statement made by President Maithripala Sirisena that foreign judges are not needed for the probe saying the president only meant that most of the activities with regard to a probe will be done by local experts. “Myself, the President and the others in the government are of the same view,” he said.

Again on February 2, Wickremesinghe said that there is a constitutional bar on the appointment of foreign nationals as judges in Lankan courts. Lanka is not a signatory to the Rome Statute to accept foreign judges and courts. Allowing foreign prosecutors is also difficult because the Bar Council of Sri Lanka is unlikely to give foreigners a foothold in their exclusive preserve. If the Rome Statute is the problem, the way out is to sign the Statute. But, Wickremesinghe has always claimed credit for not signing the Rome Statute, saying had he done it to save Rajapaksa and others from the gallows after trial by the International Criminal Court.

It is apparent that the government has no intention whatsoever to implement the resolution fully. It might come out with further excuses claiming the resolution does not make the inclusion of foreign judges and prosecutors “mandatory”. It only talks of the importance of their participation in a Sri Lankan mechanism. It does not say that they SHALL be included. The stress is on setting up a “credible” mechanism. While ruling out foreign judges, President Sirisena has said that foreign technical expertise will be welcome.

However, to keep the UNHRC and other concerned countries in good humour, the government is talking about setting up a Truth Commission; a Missing Persons’ Office, and an Office of Reparations. Public consultation on redrafting the country’s constitution to provide for greater devolution of power to the Thamil minority is already on going.

The foreign media and foreign dignitaries were not slow in taking the Government to task for reneging a key paragraph in the UNHRC resolution. Human Rights Watch (HRW) one of the first to fire a salvo, said the Sri Lankan government should fulfil its commitments to the UNHRC by ensuring that foreign judges and prosecutors play a significant role in the mandated accountability mechanism for wartime abuses. The HRW went further castigating the government that it should be implementing its plans for a war crimes tribunal with international participation. It noted that progress on the implementation of the resolution has been slow and not wholly transparent.

The US Ambassador to the UNHRC in Geneva, Keith Harper, said Sri Lanka must have foreign judges in the accountability process on the war. Harper, who was involved in talks with the Sri Lankan government when the resolution on Sri Lanka was drafted before it was submitted and eventually adopted by the UN Human Rights Council, last October, said the accountability process can be credible only if foreign judges are involved.

Wickremesinghe told Channel 4, that the government would put together a mechanism for accountability and reconciliation by May. “I don’t think there is anything to be worried about. We are all people who fought for it. I put my neck out more than anyone else and by May all these doubts will go out.” This at most is only half the truth. When President Chandrika Kumaratunga introduced the new constitution in the Parliament in August, 2000 saying devolution of power was the most effective way to solve the ethnic crisis and appealed for support from the opposition, the UNP members led by Wickremesinghe reacted by tearing copies of the draft bill and burning it inside the parliament chamber.

If there is anyone who has given his neck to resolve the national question within a united and undivided Ceylon with maximum devolution of power to the Northeast, then it is R.Sampanthan.

It is Sampanthan who wants a permanent and durable solution to the national question that is acceptable to ALL three communities. He is a moderating influence in the affairs of Thamil politics. He criticises the extremists on both sides of the divide. He has eschewed separation, attended Independence Day celebrations after the change of government in 2015, and supported the government on crucial issues like the 19th Amendment. What more, it is Sampanthan who asked the Thamils to vote for Sirisena and vote for a change of government.

Sampanthan has faced and still facing strident criticism from Thamil extremists who accuse him of practising politics of appeasement. They have targeted Sampanthan and Sumanthiran as “traitors” and burned their effigies in Jaffna, Geneva and London. Even the Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial has accused Sampanthan of moving too close to the government at the expense of Thamil people’s interests.

The failure or the delay by the government to release army occupied lands to facilitate resettlement of IDPs, the indefinite  incarceration of political prisoners, the plight of 89,000 war widows, the threat posed to the livelihoods of Thamil fishermen because of poaching by Thamil Nadu fishermen have all added to the litany of woes and worries of Sampanthan.

Many Thamils now feel very pessimistic about their future. They say in unison, going back by past history, Sinhalese leaders cannot be trusted. Memories related to broken promises, betrayals, and discriminatory legislations, state sponsored Sinhalese colonisation give Thamils little hope that things will be different under Sirisena/Wickremesinghe regime. The flip flop over the implementation of Operative paragraph 6 has turned many optimist Thamils into pessimists for the first time since this government came to power.

The UNHRC resolution co-sponsored by Sri Lanka cannot be treated like another piece of paper. There is more to it. According to David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s South Asia Research Director the adoption of the resolution is a turning point for human rights in Sri Lanka, and crucially recognizes terrible crimes committed by both parties during the armed conflict. Although far from perfect, if the resolution and the underlying commitments of Sri Lanka’s government are implemented in good faith it presents an opportunity for victims to finally get the truth and justice they have been waiting for.”

The resolution calling for international judges, defence lawyers, prosecutors and investigators to ensure the credibility of the justice process is crucial. Sri Lanka has time and time again shown it is both unwilling and unable to investigate war crimes allegations against its own forces or hold perpetrators of grave abuses to account. Additionally, the local judiciary has always acted subservient to the ruling party. The only time when it stood its ground, Chief Justice Ms Shirani Bandaranayake was impeached by parliament on trumped up charges and then removed from office by Mahinda Rajapaksa in January 2013.

More importantly, the attempt to draw a new constitution will face insurmountable problems, if Sirisena/Wickremesinghe renege on the full implementation of the UNHRC resolution. The clear mandate given by the people both at the Presidential and Parliamentary elections should be respected.

In Sirisena’s own words “no one will be allowed to reverse the transformation that took place on the 8th of January, 2015. It is a silent revolution of the people who committed themselves for the independence and the democracy of the country. “

The government should not succumb to empty threats by Sinhalese extremists like Dayan Jayatilleka who is promising dire consequences, including impeachment, if the resolution is implemented. Instead, the government should educate the people about the importance of international participation in trials relating to serious human rights violations and war crimes.

It is hoped Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein the visiting Commissioner of UNHRC will adequately brief the Government the serious political fallout if Sri Lanka fails to comply with the resolution fully and credibly.(*https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/govt-must-educate-importance-of-international-participation-in-trials/)

விக்னேஸ்வரனுக்கு இரண்டு தேர்வுகள்தான் இருக்கின்றன!

கடலில் மூழ்கிறவன் ஒரு துரும்பைப் பிடித்தாவது கரையேற முயற்சிப்பது போல வட மாகாண சபைத் தேர்தலில் தமிழ்த் தேசியக் கூட்டணியின் முதன்மை வேட்பாளாராக விக்னேஸ்வரன் போட்டி போட்டபோது அவரைக் கொழும்புத் தமிழன், வாசுதேவ நாணயக்காரரின் சம்பந்தி, அவரது பிள்ளைகள் சிங்களத்திகளை திருமணம் செய்தவர்கள் என்று அர்ச்சித்தவர்கள் – தூசித்தவர்கள் இப்போது அவரைத் தலையில் தூக்கி வைத்து காவடி ஆடுகிறார்கள். அவருக்கு உடுக்கு அடித்து உசுப்பேத்துகிறார்கள்.
கஜேந்திரகுமார் என்ற நொண்டிக் குதிரையில் பணம் கட்டிப் பணத்தை இழந்தவர்கள்தான் இப்போது வின்னேஸ்வரனைப் பஞ்சகல்யாணிக் குதிரை என நினைத்து அதில் பணம் கட்ட வெளிக்கிட்டுள்ளார்கள்.
விக்னேஸ்வரன் என்ன சொன்னாலும் எதைப் பேசினாலும் அதற்குப் பதவுரை, விரிவுரை, பொழிப்புரை எழுதி அவரை அரசியலில் ஒரு சாணக்கியன் எனப் படம் காட்டப் பார்க்கிறார்கள்.
புலத்தில் வாழும் வன்னியின் எச்சங்கள் தங்களது தாளத்துக்கு ஆடுகிற ஒரு கட்சியை உருவாக்க நினைக்கிறார்கள். பேரவை என்ற சொல் அவர்களுக்கு வாலாயமான சொல். எடுத்துக் காட்டு அனைத்துலக ஈழத்தமிழர் மக்களவை, கனடியத் தமிழர் தேசிய அவை போன்றவை. நடந்து முடிந்த நாடாளுமன்றத் தேர்தலில் தமிழ்த் தேசிய மக்கள் முன்னணிக்கு வாக்களிக்குமாறும் சைக்கிள் சின்னத்துக்கு புள்ளடி போடுமாறும் பகிரங்கமாக அறிக்கைகள் விட்டன.
தன்னை ஆன்மீகவாதி என்று சொல்லிக் கொள்ளும் விக்னேஸ்வரன் அரசியலுக்கு முற்றிலும் புதியவர். வட கிழக்கில் நடந்த போரையோ வேறு உயிர், உடமை அழிவுகளையோ அறியாதவர். முதலமைச்சராக வந்த பின்னர்தான் தனக்கு வடக்கில் வாழும் மக்களின் துன்ப துயரங்கள் தெரியவந்ததாம்.
இப்போது விக்னேஸ்வரன் புதிதாக ஒரு கண்டு பிடிப்பைக் கண்டு பிடித்துள்ளார் என அவரது தொண்டரடிப் பொடியாழ்வார்கள் இணையதளங்களில் கிறுக்கித் தள்ளுகிறார்கள். அறியாமை தவறில்லை. ஆனால் அதனைப் பகிரங்கப்படுத்துவது அறிவீனம்.
“ 2103 ல் இருந்த சுயநிர்ணயம் எனும் பதம், 2015 தேர்தல் விஞ்ஞாபனத்தில் இல்லை என்பதையும் போட்டு கொடுத்து விட்டுச் சென்றிருக்கிறார்” என வன்னியின் எச்சங்கள் நடத்தும் இணையதளங்கள் செய்தி வெளியிட்டுள்ளன. அந்தச் செய்தியை வெளியிட்டுத் தங்கள் முதுகிலே தாங்களே தட்டிக் கொள்கின்றன.
விக்னேஸ்வரன் “என்னுடைய ஞாபகத்தின்படி 2013ம் ஆண்டின் தமிழ்த் தேசிய கூட்டமைப்பின் தேர்தல் விஞ்ஞாபனத்தில் சுய நிர்ணயம் என்ற பதம் இருந்த போதிலும் 2015ம் ஆண்டில் பாராளுமன்றத் தேர்தல் காலத்து தேர்தல் விஞ்ஞாபனத்தில் அதாவது வட மாகாண சபைத் தேர்தலின் போது வெளியிட்ட தேர்தல் அறிக்கையில் தமிழர்களது சுயநிர்ணய உரிமை வற்புறுத்தப்பட்டதாம். ஆனால் “2015 ஆம் ஆண்டு நடந்த நாடாளுமன்றத் தேர்தல் தொடர்பாக வெளியிட்ட தேர்தல் அறிக்கையில் அது இல்லை என்றே நினைக்கின்றேன்.பின்னையதின் வரைவைத் தான் ஒரு வெள்ளிக்கிழமை எனக்கு பரிசீலிக்க அனுப்பி வைத்தார்கள். அதைப் பரிசீலிக்க முன் சனிக்கிழமை காலையில் உத்தியோகபூர்வமாக மக்கள் முன்னிலையில் அது வெளியிடப்பட்டது” என விக்னேஸ்வரன் வட மாகாண சபை உறுப்பினர்களோடான சந்திப்பில் சொன்னாராம். அதைத்தான் வன்னியின் எச்சங்கள் கெட்டியாகப் பிடித்துக் கொண்டார்கள்.
சும்மா வெறும் வாயை மெல்லுபவர்களுக்கு விக்னேஸ்வரன் அவல் கொடுத்தால் விடவா போகிறார்கள்?
உண்மை என்ன? 2013 இல் ததேகூ வெளியிட்ட தேர்தல் அறிக்கையில் சுயநிர்ணய உரிமை பற்றி சொன்ன அதே வாசகம் 2015 இல் ததேகூ வெளியிட்ட தேர்தல் அறிக்கையிலும் அட்சரம் பிசகாமல் இருக்கிறது.

2013 தேர்தல் அறிக்கை

 தமிழ்மக்கள் சுயநிர்ணய உரிமைக்கு உரித்துடையவர்கள்.(The Tamil People are entitled to the right to self-determination)
2015 தேர்தல் அறிக்கை
ஐக்கிய நாடுகளின் சிவில் மற்றும் அரசியல் உரிமை, பொருளாதார, சமூக மற்றும் பண்பாட்டு உரிமைகள் தொடர்பாக எழுதப்பட்ட பன்னாட்டு உடன்படிக்கைகளுக்கு ஒப்ப தமிழ்மக்கள் சுயநிர்ணய உரிமைக்கு உரித்துடையவர்கள். அந்த உடன்பாட்டை சிறிலங்கா அரசு ஏற்றுக்கொண்டு இணக்கமும் தெரிவித்துள்ளது.
(The Tamil People are entitled to the right to self-determination in keeping with United Nations International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, both of which Sri Lanka has accepted and acceded) 2013, 2015 தேர்தல் அறிக்கைகள் மட்டுமல்ல 2010 இல் நடந்த பொதுத்தேர்தலிலும் இதே கோட்பாட்டை ததேகூ முன்வைத்தது.
2010 தேர்தல் அறிக்கை
தமிழ்மக்கள் சுயநிர்ணய உரிமைக்கு உரித்துடையவர்கள். (The Tamil People are entitled to the right of self determination) தமிழ் பேசும் மக்கள் உள்ளக சுயநிர்ணய உரிமைக்கு உரித்துடையவர்கள் என்பதால் ஒன்றுபட்ட இலங்கையில் தங்கள் வரலாற்று வாழ்விடத்தில் இணைப்பாட்சி (சமஷ்டி) அடிப்படையில் ஆட்சியமைக்க உரித்துடையவர்கள் என்பதை தொடர்ச்சியாக, முன்னுக்குப் பின் முரண்படாத வகையில் ததே கூ தனது தேர்தல் அறிக்கைகள் மூலமாக 2001 இல் இருந்து வெளியிட்டு வருகிறது. விக்னேஸ்வரன் தமிழ் மக்கள் பேரவை அரசியல் கட்சி அல்லவென்றும் 2013 இல் ததேகூ வெளியிட்ட தேர்தல் அறிக்கைக்கு ஏற்ப ஒரு அரசியல் தீர்வை முன்வைப்பதுதான் அதன் நோக்கம் எனச் சொல்கிறார். இது கட்டிய மனைவி வீட்டில் கல்லுப்போல இருக்க விலைமகள் வீடு தேடிப் போனவன் கதையாக இருக்கிறது. உண்மை என்னவென்றால் விக்னேஸ்வரன் தனது அரசியல் அறிவுப் பஞ்சம் காரணமாக தானும் குழம்பி மற்றவர்களையும் குழப்பப் பார்க்கிறார். அதற்கு வட மாகாண சபை ததேகூ இன் உறுப்பினர்கள், அமைச்சர்கள் இடங்கொடுக்கக் கூடாது.

விக்னேஸ்வரனுக்கு இரண்டு தேர்வுகள்தான் இருக்கின்றன.
(1) தமபே இல் அவர் தொடர்ந்து இணைத் தலைவராக இருக்க வேண்டும் என்றால் வட மாகாண சபையின் முதலமைச்சர் பதவியை விட்டு மரியாதையோடு விலக வேண்டும்.
(2) வட மாகாண சபையின் முதலமைச்சராக தொடர்ந்து இருக்க விரும்பினால் அவர் தமபே இன் இணைத் தலைவர் பதவீயல் இருந்து மரியாதையோடு விலக வேண்டும்.
அவருக்கு வேறு தேர்வில்லை என்பதை வட மாகாண சபையில் உறுப்பினர்களாக இருப்போர் வெட்டொன்று துண்டிரண்டாகச் சொல்ல வேண்டும்.
தமிழ்மக்கள் தமிழத் தேசியக் கூட்டமைப்புக்குத்தான் வாக்களித்தார்கள். விக்னேஸ்வரன் சொல்வதுபோல் அவருக்கோ, மக்கள் கட்சிக்கோ அல்ல. (21-01-2016)

Last Chance For Settling The Festering Ethnic Question

Veluppillai Thangavelu

January 5, 2016

President Maithripala Sirisena will be completing a year as President on January 08, 2016. A year ago he was the Minister of Health in Mahinda Rajapaksa’s cabinet. He was first elected to parliament in 1989 representing Polonnaruwa and was re-elected in 1994, 2000, 2004 and 2010. In 1997, he was appointed as the General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) but was beaten in 2000 following which he became one of the Deputy Presidents of SLFP. He staged a come back as General-secretary of the SLFP in October 2001 following Dissanayake’ s defection to the United National Party (UNP. President Kumaratunga appointed Sirisena as Minister of River Basin Development and Rajarata Development in the new UPFA government in April 2004. He belonged to a family which settled down in Polonnaruwa as colonists during DS Senanayake’s time and, therefore, not a politician from the political elite and socialites. Throughout his political career, he remained an unflashy and a low profile politician.

In November, 2014 Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned from his post as President and announced his candidature two years ahead of schedule. The news of his resignation took everyone by surprise, including his close confidants, advisors and even the opposition. The only exception was Rajapaksa’s trusted Astrologer of over 30 years who gave him the go ahead telling him that according to his horoscope he is an invincible personality and a blessed man. He will win a third term resoundingly.

Since first elected as President in 2005 by defeating Ranil Wickremesinghe from the UNP, Mahinda Rajapaksa has consolidated his political power beyond anyone’s expectation.  The 18th Amendment virtually made him an elected dictator more powerful than JR Jayewardene the godfather of the executive presidential system of government. The 18th Amendment further strengthened the presidency at the expense of the legislature, the judiciary and the citizens, thereby exacerbating the imbalance inherent in the system. Mahinda Rajapaksa did away the two terms limit to continue his rule in perpetuity. As executive president he along with his siblings, controlled 80% of the budget expenditure. His cousins and nephews who had little education were appointed as Ambassadors, Heads of Corporations etc. Some one produced a Rajapaksa’s facility tree that depicted about 250 relatives working at the Temple Trees.

Not only the Astrologer, had many people thought is Rajapaksa invincible in an election.  He saw no opposition candidate capable of defeating him anywhere in the horizon. He was confident he will make history by winning the presidency for a third time. . From the opposition ranks, he only saw Ranil Wickremesinghe as the likely opponent. Ranil Wickremesinghe cajoled the UNP to nominate him as the presidential candidate.  When he approached the leader of the Thamil National Alliance for support, R.Sampanthan politely declined. He told Ranil Wickremesinghe that he cannot ask the Thamil people to vote for a losing candidate. He asked him to look for a strong candidate, likely someone outside the UNP, to contest Rajapaksa. It was then the hunt for a presidential candidate gathered pace not within the opposition parties but right inside the ruling UPFA. It ended in Maithripala Sirisena pitted against Rajapaksa who least expected the turn of events.

A relatively low profile Cabinet minister stunned the country by winning a bitterly fought election against his former boss. On the day of the election, Sirisena has gone into hiding with his family in a coconut estate owned by one of his friend from Dodangaslanda. Emerging from his hiding next day, he told the press that had he lost the election he and his family would have been murdered by Rajapaksa.

Sirisena (63) was elected president of Sri Lanka after polling 6,217,162 (51.28%) of the total vote cast as against 5,768.090 (47.58 %) polled by Rajapaksa. In predominantly Thamil and Muslim populated 5 districts in the Northeast provinces, Sirisena polled a staggering 978,111 (74.35%) of the total votes. Thus the 332,705 (1.26%) votes lead Rajapaksa had over Sirisena in the predominantly 16 Sinhalese districts was more than off-set by the votes polled by Sirisena in the Northeast  provinces plus Nuwara Eliya district (272,605 – 63.88%)  votes as against 468,939 (31.64%) votes polled by Rajapaksa. Sirisena won by an overall majority of 449,072 votes.

In the 2010 presidential election Rajapaksa polled 6.015,934 (57.88%) as against 41, 731, 85 (40.15%) giving Rajapaksa a majority of 1,842,749. Thus compared to 2010 presidential elections, Rajapaksa’s vote bank decreased by 247,844 (10.88%) in 2015. There was an increase of 955,990 registered voters in 2015 compared to 2010. At the parliamentary elections held on August 17, 2015 history was repeated.  Rajapaksa’s desperate attempt to stage a come back as Prime Minister failed. The UNP won 106 seats and the UPFA 95 seats. UNFGG polled 5,098,916 (45.66%) votes and UPFA polled 4,732,664 (42.38%). Together with the SLFP (Sirisena) the UNFGG was able to form a national government.

Following the defeat of Rajapaksa, democratic space has increased in the Northeast. Thamil people still have daunting problems that remain unaddressed and unresolved. Foremost is the return of lands grabbed by the army during and after the war ended in May, 2009.  Though about 3,359.5 acres of land in the Northeast have been released, still there are many thousands of acres of land still occupied by the army.  The army is resisting the re-settlement efforts of the government   and there is reluctance on its part to vacate occupied lands.

As of November 01, 2015 in the Jaffna district a total of about 7,075 acres of land belonging to 10, 495 families in 7 Pradesha Sabhas (See Table 1 below) are occupied by the army. These displaced people are living in 31 welfare centres, with relations and friends for over 25 years. More over 172 houses, 16 schools, 19 temples, 12 public places, airport, fishing port, hospitals, banks and  bus stands continued to be occupied by armed forces. In Jaffna where IDPs have been allowed to resettle, they need 39,770 houses, 31,845 toilets, including 729 toilets for the handicapped.  Additionally, 2,713 toilets and an unspecified number of schools, hospitals have to be renovated. A total of 627.517 kms of road within the re-settled area have to be re-constructed.

On December 30, President Sirisena handed over 701.5 acres of land to the original owners and thus the balance is now 6,373 acres. He has since promised to release all private lands seized by the armed forces within 6 months.

There are 13,487 acres of land in Mullaitivu district, 501 acres of land belonging to 123 individuals in Kilinochchi and 4,000 acres of land in Mannar and Vavuniya still under army occupation. Thus 14,361 acres of private land is still occupied by the armed forces in the North. This does not include several thousand acres of privately owned paddy lands, lands belonging to the Agricultural department, Forest Department and other departments continued to be occupied by the armed forces. The inordinate and inexcusable delay in releasing private lands owned by the people is exacerbating tensions among the IDPs. People are losing patience after waiting for 25 long years that include 6 years after the war to go back to their own lands.

In contrast to the pathetic and gloomy situation in the North, the government went the extra mile in the East to release 818 acres of land belonging to 1,250 families and another 237 acres owned by 634 families, but occupied by the Sri Lanka navy. Many temples and a well known school Sampur Maha Vidyalaya were located in land. The re-settlement is now in progress with the help of UNHRC, NGOs and help from Thamil Diaspora to build temporary shelters.

One of the glaring and autocratic mis-use of state power was the taking over and vesting of 818 acres of land in Sampur belonging to displaced Thamils in 2006 following army offensive in Mavilaru. The poor Thamil refugees who were mostly peasant farmers and fisher-folk hoped they can go back to their lands and homes or what remained over after the war ended in May, 2009. Promises were made in parliament by the then powerful Minister of Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa that the displaced people will be resettled after de-mining. That was a misleading statement and an attempt to keep the Thamil politicians and the IDPs in good humour.

What the government did was to vest the said land with the Board of Investment (BOI) by a presidential gazette notification. A further presidential gazette notification gave away the land to a private limited company styled Sri Lanka Gateway Industries on 99 years lease. This company established in June, 2010 had an ambitious plan to develop an Industrial Zone with necessary physical and social infrastructure, in a land extent of 36 sq.kms (9000 Acres) in Sampur in the Trincomalee District. This location was chosen because the industries targeted for the proposed Industrial Zone require direct access to a dedicated and a deep water jetty to cater to Cape–Size vessels. The project location also has a vast stretch of un-inhabited land and is considered most suitable for this purpose.

The Rajapaksa cabinet approved the project on 23 February 2011. The industrial project will include an Oil and Petrochemicals Refining Facility, Vehicle Manufacturing and Assembling Plant, Fertilizer Plant, LNG degasification and storage facilities. Power Generation, Transhipping Coke and Thermal Coal etc.etc. The project was expected to cost US $4 billion and will take place over three phases. And who owned the shares of Sri Lanka Gateway Industries?  It was none other than Prabath Nanayakkara who was the Chairman and sole director! Prabath signed the agreement with BOI on June 13, 2012. And who is Prabath Nanayakkara who was ready to invest US$4 billion?

A little known businessman, Nanayakkara Prabath’s meteoric rise ran parallel to President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ascent to power. Prabath’s mainstay is Dilshan Wickremasinghe (38) who is the son of the President’s brother-in-law, Nishantha Wickremasinghe, who is also the Chairman of Sri Lankan Airlines. This shows Mahinda Rajapaksa was not lily white and he ran the government to the benefit of his own family members and others close to them.

The gross injustice done to the hapless Thamil refugees was redressed by none other than President Maithripala Sirisena. Through a gazette notification the President revoked the BOI agreement on 07 May 2015 and released the land held by the BOI and leased to Sri Lanka Gateway Industries (SLGI) to the rightful owners. The SLGI petitioned the Supreme Court and obtained an interim   restraining order on May 15, 2015 suspending the release of lands.  But after a full hearing on May 21, the Supreme Court lifted the stay on the transfer of land in Sampur to the rightful owners.

I am writing at length about SLGI simply to demonstrate the magnanimity and the sense of justice displayed by President Sirisena, in stark contrast to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s arrogance and total contempt for the rights of ordinary and underprivileged Thamil citizens of the country. He punished the people of Sampur once during the war and then after the end of the war by robbing their lands.

More serious problems faced by the Thamil people in the Northeast is the release of political prisoners, tracing involuntary disappearances during and after the end of the civil war, resettlement of 89,000 war widows, the reduction of the army, decentralization of power etc.

The number of political prisoners held in prisons for decades has been progressively reduced during the last 6 years. Yet, a total of 217 prisoners remained in prison. Out of this 39 prisoners have opted to under go rehabilitation in army camps.   But, the fate of the remaining 188 prisoners remains in limbo. President Sirisena gave an assurance that his government will find a solution before November 7, 2015. However, this assurance was not kept. Apparently, the Attorney General Department is placing road blocks against the release of prisoners. A Special Court was established to expedite the cases, but the Attorney General Department is asking for time to file charges.

Despite wide spread pessimism among the Thamil people, there is light at the end of the tunnel that a new constitution will be drafted within 6 months or within one year in 2016. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will move a resolution in the parliament on January 9 to coincide with the first anniversary of President Sirisena’s presidency for converting the House into a Constitutional Assembly, marking the formal inauguration of the process of making a new Constitution in the place of the 1978 Constitution. Once the Parliament adopts the draft Constitution Bill with a two-thirds majority, the Bill will be sent to Provincial Councils for opinion and eventually, tested through an island wide referendum among the people. If this process succeeds, it will be the fourth constitution after independence.

The constitution is best described as a bundle of compromises. This statement is very true because everyone at the Constitutional Assembly had to compromise because there was no way everyone could get what they wanted.  US constitution enacted in 1787 AD work even in the present day. During the last 228 years the US constitution has been amended only 33 times, that is roughly one in seven years!

Canada’s Constitution Act, 1867 and the Charter of Rights enacted in 1982 created power sharing at federal, provincial and municipal levels.  Prior to 1982 only 32 minor amendments have been made to the constitution.  In each of the 10 provinces in Canada, the provincial government is responsible for areas listed in the Constitution Act, 1867, such as education, health care, some natural resources, and road regulations. Sometimes they share responsibility with the federal government. There are three territories populated by aboriginal people (First Nation) who have their own governments, with responsibilities that are delegated to them by the federal government. The sharing of powers as outlined in the Constitution Acts of 1867 and 1982 is the glue holding a vast country like Canada together.

In Sri Lanka the first autochthonous Soulbury constitution lasted for 25 years, Mrs Bandaranaike’s unitary republican constitution for just 6 years and Mr. Jayewardene’s executive presidential constitution may be for 38 years with 19 amendments!

The 1972 and 1978 constitutions were aimed at Sinhalization of the Sri Lankan state. It assigned   foremost place to the religion and language of the majority at the expense of the national minorities. The framers of these constitutions aimed at consolidation of a power structure and were opposed to the Thamil people’s demand since 1949 for power sharing and a regionally decentralised state system based on federalism.

The year 2016 will be the make or break of Sri Lanka among the comity of nations. Therefore, all eyes are on President Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Head of Office for National Unity and Reconciliation Chandrika Bandaranaike, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan who together brought about the January 8 revolution.

The year 2016 is also the year of reckoning for TNA Leader R. Sampanthan who has given an assurance to the Thamil people that there will be a reasonable, workable and a durable political solution within the framework of a united, undivided Sri Lanka. He has appealed to the government the recognition of Northeast provinces as the historical habitat of the Thamil people and the Thamil speaking people. The Thamil people are entitled to the right to self-determination and shared sovereignty over land, law and order, enforcement of the law so as to ensure the safety and security of the Thamil people and socio-economic development.

The year 2016 provides the last chance for settling the festering ethnic question satisfactory to all three communities and take Sri Lanka on the road to prosperity and lasting peace. (January, 2016)


About editor 3016 Articles
Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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