The Centrality of Devolution in Development

The Centrality of Devolution in Development

4 weeks ago

The centrality of devolution in development
In Sri Lanka, the Tamil individuals’s political and financial aspirations should not be separated

The outcome of Sri Lanka’s August 5 general election had few surprises. The Rajapaksa household is decisively on the nation’s helm for the following 5 years. The fragmented political opposition is struggling to come back to phrases with their decimated parties and in some circumstances, sealed destiny.

Within the north, the Tamil Nationwide Alliance (TNA), which nearly solely represented Tamils dwelling within the north and east for a decade for the reason that nation’s civil battle ended, is swallowing a bitter tablet. Its presence within the 225-member Parliament, the place the Rajapaksas have simply garnered a formidable two-thirds majority, has diminished from 16 to 10 seats.

Editorial | Consolidating control: On Sri Lanka elections

Tamil voters within the north not solely selected three candidates from hard-line Tamil nationalist teams important of the TNA, but additionally elected 4 candidates from events aligned to the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP or Folks’s Entrance) of the Rajapaksas. In reality, they gave Angajan Ramanathan of the SLPP-aligned Sri Lanka Freedom Get together the very best share of votes in Jaffna.

Whereas the TNA has ceded the floor to rivals on both facet, political observers have learned the end result as an unmistakable shift. Voters, they be aware, have moved away from their chief political considerations — which the TNA sought to foreground — to their rising financial misery that the TNA is accused of ignoring.

Letting down its personal individuals

It’s not laborious to understand this studying, on condition that the TNA-led Northern Provincial Council squandered its first, huge alternative to control the province in 2013. The irony of then Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran, who spearheaded its failure and subsequently broke away from the get-together, contesting individually and profitable a seat on this ballot is one other matter. But it surely doesn’t change the truth that the TNA, as an influential Alliance and a collective of legislators, was principally apathetic to its individuals on regular basis distress. It was neither in a position to envision a revived financial system to assist households to address the battle’s merciless aftermath nor prepared to course-correct after the Northern Provincial Council’s wasted time period led to 2018.

A big departure from the past

Within the 4 years of the Maithripala Sirisena-Ranil Wickremesinghe authorities, the TNA privileged a political resolution by means of constitutional reform over all the things else, together with war-time accountability that the southern polity is reluctant to actually or absolutely confront. Its leaders’ efforts in the direction of a brand new Structure can’t be rubbished looking back, for the TNA, like many others, believed that the prospects for such reform had been larger underneath an unprecedented ‘nationwide unity’ authorities that Sri Lanka’s two foremost nationwide events cohabited. They gave the previous authorities an actual probability. Besides that the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe authorities badly let down the TNA, on whose assist it managed to outlive its time period. In flip, by ambitiously placing all its eggs in a single basket, the TNA let down its personal individuals.

The youth had been jobless, whereas their mother and father’s livelihoods quickly dwindled. Farmers had been hit by alternating droughts and floods, whereas fisherfolk, confronted with conflicts huge and small, struggled to remain afloat. Scores of ladies within the north and east, sole breadwinners of their households, suffocated in predatory debt and a few tragically ended their lives. In 2016, Sri Lanka’s poverty headcount was highest within the Northern and Japanese provinces, in accordance with the newest Family Earnings and Expenditure Survey.

An unhelpful separation

The grave financial situations of Tamils dwelling within the north and east, and the obvious shift of their voting sample on this ballot, may lead analysts to border their mandate as one merely for pressing financial aid.

Tamils deliver clear message to leaders

It’s true that the TNA, managed largely by Tamil elites, is paying an enormous value for separating the political and financial realities of its voters, focusing narrowly on one whereas neglecting the opposite. However to construe the vote in opposition to the TNA in some constituencies in favor of candidates aligned to the Rajapaksa administration as a shift away from long-pending political calls for is at finest reductive and at worst harmful.

Those averse to the Tamil group’s historic demand for larger political autonomy could readily embrace this financial logic to dilute and even disregard their persisting name for political rights. Distinguished supporters of the Rajapaksa regime have already sought the abolition of the provincial council system and the 13th Modification. An end result of the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987, the Modification stays the one legislative assurance until the date for devolving powers to the provinces. It’s a part of the few incremental, however essential, positive factors comprised of the 1980s, in opposition to the tide of Sinhala-Buddhist majoritarianism that swept the island since Independence.

The Tamil management, together with the TNA, could deem the 13th Modification inadequate however none would disagree that it’s obligatory. In spite of everything, on the coronary heart of the Tamils’ long-pending demand is the professional want for larger management of their lives. To have the ability to actively form their political and financial destinies is at the start a democratic proper, but additionally a significant test in opposition to a majoritarian state deriving energy and legitimacy from its core ethno-nationalist base.

An alliance of Malayaha Tamil MPs that stood out

Furthermore, political empowerment will not be reducible to financial progress, however financial improvement — which the Rajapaksa brothers have promised to now expedite — will show futile until residents have the political company to tell the method. For improvement to talk to the wants of the individuals, devolution of energy is central, not incidental. Devolved political energy alone can guarantee residents are in a position to construct, strengthen, and enter native administrative constructions, establishments and experience which might be essential to considerate improvement and its sustenance.

It’s over a decade for the reason that TNA unequivocally deserted previous calls, together with from the LTTE, for separatism. The Tamil individuals don’t have any urge for food for one more armed battle and the southern management is aware of this effectively. The Tamil individuals’s quest for justice post-war is completely different, as they navigate their realities with resilience and pragmatism. To them, justice will not be merely a set of points on a guidelines or a United Nations decision to be addressed sequentially. It’s about coping with the destruction and trauma of the previous, the livelihood misery and lingering militarisation of the current, and the problem of a simply and dignified future.

The Tamil voters’ message to each nationwide leaders and their very own elected representatives has been unambiguous in each essential election post-war, about their political and socioeconomic priorities — be it the 2013 northern provincial election, the 2015 presidential and parliamentary polls, the 2018 native authorities polls, the 2019 presidential election and the current parliamentary election. Are the leaders prepared to hear?


A Political Solution – Who needs what Kind of Solution?

Shivanthi Ranasinghe

September 13, 2020

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) got a nasty shock at the recently concluded general elections. Meera Sirinivasan for The Hindu warns in the article titled “The Centrality of Devolution in Development” that to interpret this result “as a shift away from long-pending political demands is at best reductive and at worst dangerous”.

As Sri Lanka is yet again at a juncture where a new constitution is being contemplated, a reality check on Srinivasan’s warning is timely. It is important to understand the validity of the demand as well as its feasibility. After all, this demand for self-determination has been dominating Sri Lankan politics and international relations for a very long time. 

Despite the passage of time, persistence, and international pressure, this “historic” demand is still far from its goal. Srinivasan argues that it is a legitimate and democratic right to be able to “actively shape their political and economic destinies” and a necessity as “a vital check against a ‘majoritarian’ state deriving power and legitimacy from its core ethno-nationalist base.” 

The first question that must be clarified is: who is it that is being referred to as “their”? 

Who are “They”?

Throughout her argument, Sirinivasan interchanges “their” to refer to both the Tamil community and the Tamils living in the North and East. However, Tamils in Sri Lanka are not confined to only these two areas of the Island. In fact, over 52 percent of Tamils live outside these two areas. Furthermore, the North and East there are not only Tamils in the North and East, but also Sinhalese and Muslims live there. 

In the East, the three communities live in roughly equal proportions. The rising Muslim population however may overtake the other two communities before long. It is true that at present the Sinhala and Muslim presence in the North is marginal. However, that absence was artificially created by the LTTE. 

The domestic mechanism to investigate the causes for the three decade war against terrorism, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) finds that the ethnic cleansing of the Sinhala families living in Jaffna began as far back as 1977. By the mid-1980s, the LTTE was evicting the Sinhalese in earnest. “By 1987, there were no Sinhala residents left in Jaffna.” According to the census department, in 1981, there were 5,684 Sinhala families living in the Jaffna district. These families have told the Commission that they wish to return to the North, where they were born and bred. 

On October 30, 1990 the entire Muslim population, numbering around 72,000 persons, were expelled from Jaffna within two hours. In 2002, LTTE strategist Anton Balasingham apologized for it, calling it a “political blunder” and invited the Muslims to return. However, the fact remains that the reason for the LTTE to expel the Muslims in the first place was the Muslims’ objection over the creation of a Tamil homeland. 

Therefore, as Attorney-at-Law and author Dharshan Weerasekera reasons, there cannot be any further devolution until the evicted Sinhalese are resettled in their former homes in the Northern Province as they too have a right to enjoy the benefits of such devolution. Without taking this foremost step, the very demand for self-determination for Tamils is nullified because the fundamental principle of law states that “one cannot benefit from one’s own wrong.”

To ignore this fundamental principle “would in effect be validating ethnic cleansing as a tactic for gaining ‘self-determination’, which would be an absolute travesty of justice, not to mention morality,” points out Weerasekera. 

Therefore, the reference to “their” cannot be exclusive to the Tamils, but must also include the Sinhalese and Muslims as well. This however still leaves the question as to the Tamils who can claim ownership to this political solution – will it entitle all Sri Lankan Tamils or only the Tamils in the North and East?

For whose Benefit is the Demand for a Political Solution?

The TNA represents only the Northern and Eastern provinces. Their sole focus is winning self-determination for Tamils. Yet, they received a very poor mandate from their own voters. Their abysmal election results have been attributed to neglecting the economy. Yet, even in the political front, the TNA has failed by,

1. Miscarrying the proposed constitution

2. Allowing Provincial Councils to become defunct

1. Miscarrying the Proposed Constitution

Despite international support, TNA failed to implement the much-touted political solution. This was due to the passive resistance by other minority parties, including the Tamil parties outside the North and East. 

It is noteworthy that the Good Governance Government (GGG) from January 2015-November 2019 was a coalition of minorities and some other parties. Furthermore, GGG had the most unusual setup where both main political parties cohabited in the Government. The legitimate Opposition, with 55 MPs representing eight provinces, was ostracized. Instead, the TNA with only 16 seats within the aforementioned two provinces was appointed as the official Opposition. Equally contentious was the obvious partnership the TNA had with the Government. 

With a two-thirds majority in Parliament on its side, the TNA had the best working environment to push their most desired solution. TNA indeed took up the opportunity. They designed a system that would pump Central Government’s powers into the Provincial Councils (PCs), making the Central Government dependent on the PCs.

These plans were not scuttled by the Sinhala Buddhists. It was the Muslim politicians and their Tamil counterparts outside the North and East who quietly rejected this effort. Not only would they have not benefited from this arrangement, but it would also have adversely affected them.

Without an overriding central control, the province’s ethnic ratio would become the domineering factor. In very simple terms, the province will be ruled by the majority of that area and the minority communities within will have very little say. The Central Government will be without the powers to redress any wrongs or injustices or assure equity. The national politicians will not have a say in matters concerning their respective communities.

As political analyst CA Chandreprema observes, for minority parties outside North and East to agree to this solution would be political hara-kiri. Even Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe did not want to claim ownership of this proposal, notes Chandreprema. This will certainly not be the “vital check against a ‘majoritarian’ state,” that Srinivasan seeks in a political solution.

Even for the Tamils in the North and East to benefit, the two provinces need to be merged, explains Chandreprema. Without such a merger, the Tamils in the East will come under the Muslims’ dominance. They will never agree to such a situation. However, a merger between provinces cannot and should not take place without a referendum from the two provinces. It is highly doubtful that the Muslims and Sinhalese will agree to a situation where they will come under Tamil domination.

Therefore, this is a solution that looks great on paper to those who see the Central Government as a Sinhala-Buddhist “majoritarianism” and hence a bully; and the Tamils in North and East as the underdog and ignores all other stakeholders. In reality, this will hurt the minorities more than the majority for it is only in the North and East that the Sinhalese are without a greater presence. Thus, this will effectively divide the country with the North and East under Tamil dominance (if the two provinces are merged) and the rest under the Sinhala dominance. Hence, this will not see the light of the day unless this is forced through against the peoples’ will. That of course would be most undemocratic.

2. Allowing Provincial Councils to fall defunct

PCs were formed at the behest of the Rajiv Gandhi regime as a foundation for Tamils to exercise self-governance. The rest of the country was forced to accept this system that they neither asked for nor needed. This was bitterly opposed by the nationalists for they feared this as a step towards separatism. However, India was firm and the then Sri Lankan Government under President JR Jayawardena conceded. Except for the land and police powers, the PCs are currently empowered with all the other legislative powers as per the Constitution.

It is most unfortunate that the Chief Minister of the temporarily merged North-East province Annamalai Varadaraja Perumal acted in a manner that heightened the nationalists’ fears. He moved a motion in the Council on March 01, 1990, to unilaterally declare the merged provinces as “Independent Eelam”. The then-president R Premadasa was thus forced to quickly dissolve the PC and take it under Colombo’s administration.

However, after the East was freed from the terrorists, the Eastern PC was formed on May 10, 2008. The election for the Northern PC (NPC) was held on September 21, 2013. Yet, quite petulantly the TNA dominated PCs refused to use the opportunity and prove their case that they are capable of governing themselves. 

Instead, NPC Chief Minister CV Wigneswaran for five continuous years returned the funds and projects from the Central Government claiming that these are not “theirs”. Instead of making use of the powers already at hand, TNA continued to demand greater autonomy. Ironically, those provinces that once opposed the system are now working smoothly with the Central Government.

By 2018, the terms of all nine PCs had expired. The previous government in which the TNA played a prominent role hung on to a technicality to postpone elections. To date, the TNA had not protested over this outcome even though the PCs were formed specifically to give them autonomy.

It is not a surprise that the TNA’s vote base is steadily and rapidly declining. Living the life of elitists the TNA had quite sadistically allowed their own electorate to suffer by not utilizing the powers granted by the PCs. As a result, the people in these areas suffer enormously from unaddressed and accumulating economic and social woes.


The TNA is being disingenuous. Their proposed constitution is not democratically possible. Despite the drama, they presented a proposal that is unacceptable to all stakeholders – including the Tamils in the North and East (unless the two provinces can be merged).

They also failed to protect the PCs. This was handed over to North and East Tamil politicians on a platter at India’s insistence. This intervention cost India heavily. Yet, during its five-year term, neither of these two TNA dominated PCs looked after the people, nor allowed the Central Government to do so. People are held hostage to prove a political point – not unlike the TNA’s erstwhile boss, the LTTE.

It is obvious that TNA is not serious about a political solution. This call for autonomy for Tamils is just a political slogan that gives them a reason for their political existence.

The most important component in this debate however should not be about the politicians’ rhetoric. It is the people, their worries and hopes that matters the most.

During a recent visit to the Northern peninsula, this writer made a number of interesting observations. These observations and the exchange of ideas with the people include,

1. Many of the educated, elderly people live in empty and neglected homes. Their children are living overseas, where the economic prospects are better;

2. Despite the end of terrorism, a considerable extent of land remains abandoned. The owners are overseas and do not wish to return home leaving their present comfortable lives;

3. Those in the most vulnerable segments continue to be marginalized by a rigid caste-based system. Without basics such as housing or essentials as drinking water, the poor are trapped in poverty;

4. As a political solution, people want an income that will give them the freedom to live with dignity and independence. Thus they wish for more investments in the North in the form of factories and industries. This will allow people to find jobs without leaving their hometown or their families behind;

5. The war is seen as a matter of the distant past and not something relevant to the present.

Sirinivasan argues that economic development sans a political solution “will prove futile unless citizens have the political agency to inform the process.” However, it is evident that without a robust economy where the benefits flow to all levels of society, a political solution – whatever it might be – will be without owners.


About editor 3017 Articles
Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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