The recently passed resolution by the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) headed by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has evoked mixed to negative responses from the South.
While some state that the resolution contains nothing new from their earlier demands, many have raised concerns that it would pave the way back to separatism.
Nation spoke to several politicians representing various political parties and communities on their suggestions to a durable solution to the long-standing ethnic question which continues to plague this country.
Resolution is in violation of the Constitution – Amunugama
Minister of Special Assignment, Dr. SarathAmunugama said the solution for the country should be found through the existing Constitution.
Speaking to Nation on the resolution by the NPC, Amunugama pointed out that the resolution was a move made beyond the Constitution and therefore was a violation of the law.
“The Constitution clearly states that Sri Lanka is a unitary State. It does not state that Sri Lanka is a federal country. People should understand that. Therefore, we should stick to what the Constitution of the country states,” he said.
13+ is the solution- Mano Ganesan
Minister of National Co-Existence, Dialogue and Official Languages, Mano Ganesan insisted that the solution to the ethnic question was in the improvement of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
“The solution should be reached through 13+, as promised by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon,” he said.
Speaking to Nation, Ganesan said the new Constitution should focus on a meaningful power sharing modality but said should refrain from using terminologies such as ‘federalism,’ and ‘unitary’.
“The concept of power sharing is not only for the North and East. It should be applicable for the whole country,” he added.
When asked whether the North and East should be given special provisions, as demanded by the TNA and the Northern Provincial Council (NPC), Ganesan said there was no harm in doing so. “In India, Kashmir has some special provisions. Likewise, in Sri Lanka, the Northern and Eastern Provinces have made certain demands. Therefore, there is no harm in granting certain provisions or privileges to both provinces,” he added.
SLFP-UNP should come to a consensus – DEW
Former Minister and Leader of the Communist Party DEW Gunasekera stated that both constituent parties of the Government should come to a consensus on the possible solution before talking to Tamil and Muslim parties.
Speaking to Nation, Gunasekera said the solution to the ethnic question could only be reached by improving or upgrading the 13th Amendment.
“As far as the land powers are concerned, the Government could come up with a clear policy on to whom should the State land be given. Then, as far as the Police powers go, they could start with the traffic police,” he said.
“However, I believe certain key powers of the police should be with the Central Government,” he added.
When asked on the resolution of the NPC, Gunasekera said both the TNA and the NPC had jumped the gun by coming up with its resolution. “The demands are not something new. But I think the TNA jumped the gun at this juncture by coming up with such demands,” Gunasekera opined.
TNA should build confidence in the South – Tissa Vitharana
Leader of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and a former minister, Prof. TissaVitharana said the TNA should focus on building the confidence of the people in the South if it were to be successful in campaigning for its demands.
Vitharana told Nation that its demands and proposals mentioned in the recently passed resolution at the NPC was unlikely to get the support of the South at this particular juncture. “There is a fear among the people in the South of linering separatist ideas. Therefore, even the extent of devolution within a unitary state is viewed with suspicion,” he said.
“What needs to happen is that everyone must sit together and come to a consensus. The TNA should start understanding the reality, build the confidence of the South and then try to increase the scope of its demands,” he added.
We are not for division – TNA
Chairman, NPC, C.V.K. Sivagnanam said they never demanded a separate State and added that the TNA was for a meaningful power sharing.
“What we have suggested is for two states, similar to what we had long time ago such as ‘Up Country’ and ‘Low Country’. We are not for separation,” he told Nation.
When asked whether the NPC demanded special provisions for the North and East, Sivagnanam said that that the resolution never demanded special powers for the North and East. “We have not demanded special powers. What we have said is that the North and East be re-merged and considered as one linguistic region,” he said.“We have said that the people should decide on what they want. No separate state. We are for power sharing under one country.”
When asked on the negative responses for the resolution from the South, Sivagnanam pointed out that the NPC proposals too were on the same lines as the resolution adding that there was no need for the rest of the country to feel that the TNA was trying to divide the country. “We have stated our proposals for the constitutional reforms. It does in no way call for a division of the country,” he added.
It’s like asking for Eelam – SLMC
The Tamil National Alliance are making a call for a Tamil State through federalism, it would take them back to square one, which would be asking for Eelam, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) observed.
President of the SLMC, Shafeeq Rajabdeen said that just because the North had passed the resolution cum bill did not mean that the East had accepted the same.
The Party leadership is scheduled to meet during the first week of May to discuss the proposal cum resolution passed by the NPC seeking to establish the merger, amalgamation and unification of the Northern and Eastern Provinces into one federal system of governance and rule.
“The merger and demerger is a matter in the hands of the people living together in those areas. If the Provinces become one District, Muslims will become a minority and not the majority,” he said.
He also mentioned that there were no representatives of the SLMC in the NPC. “There are however shortcomings. In the North and the East, Tamil is the mother tongue while Sinhala is an alien language. They have not been taught to read and write in Sinhala. Every Sri Lankan should know both the languages and the link language, English, The solution must be acceptable to Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans and must not be unconstitutional,” he remarked.
Resolution has no validity – Dinesh
Referring to the resolution approved in the Northern Provincial Council (NPC), Leader of the Joint Opposition, MP Dinesh Gunawardena remarked that they did not welcome the move, adding that neither the resolution nor the move to bring one had any validity.
“The Executive President possesses powers in terms of acting on national security and this situation now is tantamount to a moment of urgency and if he does not act in this regard and exercise the power afforded to and vested in him, it would constitute a lapse on his part,” Gunawardena noted, adding that in the past former President Ranasinghe Premadasa had dissolved the NPC.
He also said that if the TNA has both the strength and the political need to push their propaganda, they should have placed such before the Government, instead of precipitating a constitutional crisis by moving the resolution in a Provincial Council.
“The UNP Government headed by the Prime Minister, of which certain Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) MPs are Ministers, will not do anything regarding this resolution because the Government is a party to this type of political game,” he mentioned.
“By bringing such a resolution, the Chief Minister of the Northern Province has violated the powers entrusted to the Provincial Council. No such subjects have been devolved to the Provincial Council in order for such a resolution to be brought,” Gunawardena added.
He alleged that the Chief Minister had moved a resolution where the Provincial Council has no power. According to Gunawardena, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution allocates certain subjects to the Provincial Councils and only on those subjects can resolutions be brought and passed.
Merger not a solution -JVP
The JanathaVimukthiPeramuna (JVP) has ruled out the possibilities of finding a solution to the ethnic question through merging the North and East.
Commenting on the recent resolution passed in the Northern Provincial Council (NPC), Propaganda Secretary of the JVP, MP Vijitha Herath said that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) was presently inciting racism in order to achieve their narrow political ends.
What this will result in is that simultaneously one will see racism being incited by the Sinhalese too, he noted, adding that such a situation would then favour the TNA, which had failed to achieve anything through the Provincial Council they controlled.
“This move by the NPC and the TNA represents a threat to national harmony,” he observed.
He pointed out that the Provincial Councils system had failed to provide a solution to the national problem in Sri Lanka adding that it had in fact become a burden to the country.
“We as a Party helped separate the North and the East as two separate Provinces. Forming one federal State amalgamating the Northern and Eastern Provinces can never be done,” he said.
He also mentioned that the proposal to merge the two provinces would not be accepted by the Eastern Province. “We are a small country in which the Tamils, the Muslims and the Sinhalese and all others live together,” he opined.