JATHIKA HELA URUMAYA
PROPOSALS TO THE ALL PARTY REPRESENTATIVE COMMITTEE FOR RE-STRUCTURING THE SRI LANKAN STATE
The present conflict in Sri Lanka has often been described as an “ethnic conflict”. Both the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and the terrorist movement which operates under the name “Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam” (LTTE) call it “national question”. The Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) is not in agreement with this terminology, i.e., the JHU is of the view that neither ‘ethnic conflict’ nor ‘national question’ are correct descriptions and serve to distort the situation.
It is generally agreed that polarisation on ethnic lines is a fundamental feature of any ethnic conflict and indeed a prerequisite to warrant the ‘ethnic’ label. What has happened in Sri Lanka, however, is not polarisation, but its reverse, as a result of terrorist activities of the LTTE. Since 1983 Tamils have been migrating from the so called ‘Tamil homeland’ to regions where the Sinhala people form the vast majority. In fact, Tamil migration has significantly changed the demography in these areas. Today, Tamils constitute the majority community in the most important Divisional Secretariat Division in the country, namely, Colombo.
It is well known that Tamils live in peace and harmony with other communities in all parts of the country. Sinhalese and Muslims, on the other hand, have been denied the right to live in the Northern and Eastern provinces, due to periodic ethnic cleansing exercises carried out by the LTTE.
The LTTE claims that they are fighting for the liberation of Tamils. In the name of Tamil liberation, they have killed more Tamils than Sinhalese and Muslims. Among them are prominent leaders of the Tamil community such as Alfred Doraiappa, A Amirthalingam, V Dharmalingam, Neelan Thiruchelvam, Sam Thambimuttu, S Yogeswaran, Ketheswaran Loaganathan and Lakshman Kadiragamar.
In the light of above, description of the current conflict in ‘ethnic’ terms is abysmal. If there is no ethnic conflict or national question in Sri Lanka, then it is necessary to identify the nature of the present conflict.
The Tamil community has enjoyed a privileged position in Sri Lanka during western colonial rule. The British, for example, adopting the now well-known divide-and-rule policy in Sri Lanka, deliberately favoured Tamils over Sinhalese. Education, trading and employment opportunities were made available to the Tamil community in numbers greater than warranted by their strength in the population. They turned Tamils into a privileged community. The classic example that establishes this is the limited franchise of 1911.
At the first election with limited franchise in 1911, 1160 out of 2958 electors were Tamil. Only English-educated wealthy people qualified as electors. This means that Tamils’ share in the elite community was approximately 40%, even though they comprised only 13% of the total local population.
The privileged status conferred on Tamils was also reflected in the Manning Reforms, announced in 1923. There were 8 seats in the legislative council allocated for Tamils who were a mere 11% of the population, whereas the Sinhalese, who made up 67% of the population (i.e. 6 times the number of Tamils), got only 16 seats.
Tamils enjoyed this privileged status until Sri Lanka gained independence. As Mr J R Jayewardene revealed in the State Legislative Council ( and reported in the Daily News of 10.02.1945), out of 58 department heads, 11 were Sinhalese, 11 were Tamils and the others were Europeans. Although the Sinhala population was more than six times the Tamil population, the two communities had received an equal number of higher government posts even 14 years after the introduction of universal franchise.
Tamil elite lost this privileged position in the post-independent Sri Lanka once the Sinhalese began to claim their due share in society. It is the loss of an undeserved privileged position that has been interpreted as discrimination of Tamils by the Tamil elite who were substantially affected by these turns of events.
It is now clear that the Tamil political leadership has systematically created the myth of a Tamil homeland in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka in order to attract Tamil mass support to their struggle to regain the privileged position now lost. They promised the Tamil masses self rule in their so-called homeland at elections. The mythical homeland theory coupled with the broken promises of the Tamil political leadership naturally frustrated Tamil youth and they eventually decided to launch an armed struggle to achieve the dream world promised by the elite of an older generation.
The JHU emphatically states that Sri Lanka forms one nation that is Sinhalese because Sri Lanka is the homeland of the Sinhalese civilization. Until recently Sri Lanka was called Sinhale, Seylan, Ceylan and Ceylon which essentially mean ‘The Land of Sinhalese’. The status of Sinhalese in Sri Lanka is equivalent to the status of the English in England, Japanese in Japan or Thais in Thailand.
The true homeland of Tamils is the Tamilnadu (literally, Land of the Tamils) state in India, which gave birth to the Tamil civilization. Hence Tamils are a ‘nation’ in Tamilnadu, but are only an ethnic minority community in Sri Lanka. Their status in Sri Lanka is similar to the status of Tamils in Malaysia, Koreans in Japan or Chinese in Thailand. Hence, Tamils cannot claim to have a homeland nor a right to self-determination in Sri Lanka. They can however enjoy any right enjoyed by any other citizen in the country. Furthermore, they are entitled to enjoy the minority rights recognized by the United Nations Organization in their resolution titled “Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, G.A. Rres. 47/135, 47 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 210, U.N. Doc. A/47/49 (1992)”. Sri Lanka has already granted rights, privileges and benefits to the minorities far exceeding the provisions of the aforesaid resolution. Sri Lanka has, in this respect, surpassed even most of the western countries.
It should be further emphasised that mere presence of a significant minority community does not necessitate devolution of power on ethnic lines or the introduction of a federal structure. Although each of the following countries has a very significant ethnic minority group in comparison to Sri Lanka, none of them are federal formations:
- Indians in Fiji - 44%
- Amerindian in Guatemala - 43%
- Nepalese in Bhutan – 35%
- Indians in Qatar - 36%,
- Afar in Djibouti - 35%
- Russians in Latvia - 30%
- Russians in Kazakhstan – 30%
- Russians in Estonia – 28%
- Uzbeks in Tajikistan - 25%
- Amerindian in Ecuador – 24%
- Azeri in Iran - 24%
- Albanians in Macedonia - 23%
- Ceylon Tamils in Sri Lanka -9%
In light of above analysis, it is abundantly clear that the armed struggle launched by the LTTE has no historical or ideological basis. Hence, the JHU does not believe that terrorist activities of the LTTE can be brought to an end by offering a political solution by way of devolution of power or restructuring the State. Since the LTTE is fully aware of the fact that there is no basis for their armed struggle, they are not genuinely interested in a negotiated settlement. This has been evinced by failed peace processes that took place in 1985, 1987, 1990, 1994, 2002 and 2006. Therefore, the LTTE should militarily be defeated and misguided Tamils should be enlightened of their true identity as a minority ethnic community.
Although the JHU is still not convinced that there is an ethnic conflict or that Tamils have genuine grievances along the lines articulated by separatists/federalists, we firmly believe that we should listen to Tamils because they would best know of their grievances. If, for example, they are able to convince us that their struggle for ‘self-rule or self-determination in the North and East of Sri Lanka’ is legitimate and in terms of history that can be substantiated, the JHU would support them for a separate state without question. However, that Tamil voice, i.e. a voice that can articulate anything, including grievance and aspiration, freely, will not emerge unless the Tamil community is freed first from the LTTE. Hence, the restoration of normalcy in the Tamil majority areas is a pre-requisite for initiating such a dialogue.
In the present context, the Tamils have lost the fundamental right of freedom of expression. Their freedom of expression is limited to what the LTTE wants them to express. Whoever who raised an alternative viewpoint has been silenced with threat, death or by forced exile. Therefore, we cannot initiate a genuine dialogue with the Tamil community as long as the LTTE possesses weapons. Therefore, we propose that demilitarization followed by restoration of democracy and pluralism ie, accommodation of alternative Tamil viewpoints are pre-requisites in any attempt to solve the grievances of Tamils, if there are any.
Since no minority community in Sri Lanka is a nation, we oppose any move to devolve power in the form of granting self rule in recognition of the ‘right of self determination’. Nevertheless, the JHU supports devolution of power and decentralization of administration as a tool of mass empowerment and to improve participatory democracy.
2. NATURE OF THE STATE
Sri Lanka should be described as a “free, independent, sovereign and unitary state” in its constitution. The unitary character is an essential ingredient of the Sri Lankan constitution considering (a) its unique Sinhala civilization, (b) small extent, and (c) the emergence of secessionist trends in the recent past. Any attempt to convert Sri Lanka to a federal state should be roundly defeated since there is no historical or geographical basis for establishing a federal state. Hence, the present constitutional provisions to ensure that the unitary character of the State cannot be amended without obtaining people’s consent at a referendum, shall persist in their present form.
We are of the view that the status of Buddhism should be upgraded from “foremost place” to “State Religion” in the constitution. Sri Lankans have been practicing Buddhism as the majority’s religion for an unbroken period of 2,300 years. No country in the world has practiced one religion for such a long unbroken period although there are a lot of countries which have conferred state religion status to their historical religions. Hence, Sri Lanka’s uniqueness in the world due to Buddhism and Buddhism’s unique status in Sri Lanka shall be recognized in the constitution by offering the status of “state religion”.
4. PEOPLE REPRESENTATION
The JHU propose to introduce a four tier system of people representation, namely,
(a) Grama Sabha
(b) Local Councils
(d) Executive President directly elected by the people.
The JHU strongly opposes any move to create larger representative units such as provincial councils for the following reasons.
(a) Such units do not empower the people at the grass root level. Instead, they create another set of rulers, similar to parliamentarians, who exercise power over the people and enjoy perks at the expense of the public.
(b) Larger units encourage secessionist trends.
(c) Ethnic distribution in Sri Lanka is such that the aspiration of minority communities for self rule cannot be realized by establishing larger units at province or district levels although they promote such units.
5. EXECUTIVE OF THE STATE
5.1 Executive Presidential System
The JHU endorses the continuation of the executive presidential system with amendments. We are of the opinion that the executive presidency provides stability required by an economically weak, politically volatile militarily threatened and socially divided country. It should be noted that the cabinet executive system or the Westminster System was a result of the attempt of the British to accommodate their king and royal supremacy in their hierarchy. It is a backward and obsolete system and therefore there is no country in the world which has gone back to the cabinet executive system from the executive presidential system.
We further propose to hold Presidential election and Grama Sabha election simultaneously to avoid unnecessary expenditure on elections and hostile relationships between the president and the cabinet ministers (There will be only Presidential and Grama Sabha elections and parliamentary members will be elected based on the results of Grama Sabha elections, as explained below).
The JHU recognizes and advocates the necessity for suitably amending the executive presidential system in Sri Lanka. We are of the view that the president should be answerable to the parliament and subject to the judiciary writ of criminal and civil jurisdiction.
There should be a deputy minister in charge of Presidential Affairs in the parliament who should answer questions raised by parliamentarians regarding presidential affairs and co-ordinate the President and parliament. Further, the president should be present in parliament once every three months for a debate on presidential affairs and respond to questions that are raised. Similarly, the President should participate in the debate for the presidential vote in the annual budget.
5.2 Size of the Cabinet
Considering the recent trend of appointing almost all government parliamentarians as ministers, the JHU propose to restrict the size of the cabinet by introducing a constitutional provision for upper and lower limits. The ideal range for the cabinet of ministers is not less than twenty and not more than twenty five. We further propose to abolish non cabinet minister posts and to limit the number of deputy minister posts to 30.
The parliament is the supreme legislative body. Members of the parliament will be elected through an election to be held for the Grama Sabha as explained below. Local Councils will exercise limited legislative power over the subjects in the Local Council List and Concurrent List in the Constitution subject to the parliamentary powers.
6.1 Grama Sabha
There shall be a Grama Sabha for every Grama Niladhari Division (GND). The GND shall be further divided to wards by the National Delimitation Commission considering extent, population and other geographical and demographical factors.A representative from each ward will be elected to the Grama Sabha. Members of the Grama Sabha will elect a chairperson and a deputy chairperson.
6.2 Local Councils (Pradeshiya Sabha and Municipal Councils)
Local Councils will consist of Pradeshiya Sabha and Municipal Councils. Boundaries of Pradeshiya Sabha and Municipal Councils will be re-demarcated and 200 local councils will be established. Urban Councils shall be absorbed into Pradeshiya Sabhas or converted to Municipal Councils considering extent, population and revenue. The existing boundaries of pradeshiya sabha should be redefined considering extent, population, resources and other geographical and demographical factors.
Membership of a Local Council is formed by chairpersons of Grama Sabhas situated within the limits of that Local Council. Members of the Local Council shall elect a chairperson and a deputy chairperson for the Local Council. The Local Council can exercise limited legislative power over the subjects available in the Concurrent List and Local Council List of the Constitution.
The Parliament shall consist of 270 members. The composition of the parliament shall be as follows.
|Chairpersons of Local Councils||
|Professional and Trade Union representation||
|Minor party representation||
|Minority community representation||
(i) Chairpersons of Local Councils
All chairpersons of Local Councils will automatically be members of the parliament. Although they have been elected by members of the councils by simple majority vote, a 75% majority will be required to remove them. In this manner, if electors are not satisfied with the conduct or performance of their parliamentarian, they can at anytime replace their parliamentary representative without waiting for the next election. Further, the Local Council can temporally appoint a person in lieu of the chairperson if he is unable to perform his duties.
(ii) National List
There are 40 seats allocated for appointments from the national lists of political parties. These seats will be allocated among the political parties and independent groups based on number of votes polled by them countrywide at Grama Sabha elections. The appointing authority can recall them with or without a reason after completion of one year in the parliament. There should be minimum educational qualifications for National List members to further enhance professional representation in the parliament.
(iii) Professional and Trade Union representation
There will be 5 parliamentary seats allocated for the largest trade unions. There will be another 17 seats allocated for professional bodies whose opinion is crucial in policy making and implementation. Organizations of lawyers, medical practitioners, Accountants, Engineers, Economists, University Teachers, University students, farmers, planters and business community are such important professional bodies. This is a conceptual document and criteria for selection of trade unions and professional organizations are subject to discussion and review.
(iv) Minor party representation
Since there are 245 seats allocated for political parties and independent groups, any group which has received more than 0.4% of the total votes is entitled to at least one seat in the parliament. Unfortunately, such genuine proportionate representation always causes unstable governments. Nevertheless, these significant alternative views should also be considered at the highest decision making body.
Hence, it is proposed to allocate one seat each to political groups who polled more than 1% of total votes at the Grama Sabha elections and failed to secure a parliamentary seat, with a ceiling of five seats. If the qualified political groups are less than five in number, the balance seats can be filled from the national lists.
(v) Minority community representation
It is observed that several significant ethnic minority communities have lost their representation in parliament in the recent past. Burghers and Malays are such two communities. Although the Veddah community has been living in this country for more than 2,500 years according to historical evidence, they never had a representation in any legislative council. Therefore, it is proposed to allocate one seat each to the Malay, Burgher and Veddah communities to be appointed by the Prime Minister elect.
The JHU is of the view that there should be equilibrium in all organs of the State, namely, executive, legislature and judiciary. Hence we firmly stand for independence of the judiciary and totally reject the concept of establishing a Constitutional Court consisting of non-judge members which will dilute the supremacy of the Supreme Court.
8. ADVANTAGES OF THE PROPOSED STRUCTURE FOR THE STATE
(i) The proposed electoral system ensures clear simple majority in the parliament for the winning party. Hence, there will be a stable government. Nevertheless, it is near impossible for the winning party to obtain more than 75% of the seats which forms the special majority due to features such as national list, professional representation and minor party representation. Hence, this system prevents governments from acting in arbitrary manner.
(ii) Since there are only two elections, namely presidential and Grama Sabha, a lot of public funds, time and human lives can be saved.
(iii) People have the opportunity to change their representatives in the parliament without waiting for the next elections. Therefore, actions of the people representatives will reflect the will of the people.
(iv) Minority parties have the opportunity to climb the political ladder up to the parliament by securing a victory in a small Grama Sabha ward.
(v) Since a minister’s electorate is very small and limited to a Grama Sabha ward, he can evenly distribute resources available in the ministry without favouring one district.
(vi) Since the Ministers are members of Local Councils and Grama Sabha in addition to parliament, there will be vertical integration of development activities.
(vii) Since Presidential election and Grama Sabha election will be held simultaneously, hostile relationships between the president and the cabinet ministers can be avoided.
(viii) Since the electorates for representatives are very small, cost of an election campaign will be affordable to the candidates and as a result politicians’ dependency on wealthy sections of the population will be drastically reduced, thereby minimizing corruption.
(ix) People can exercise power at the grass root level creating a participatory democracy.
(x) This system avoids creating larger units which can hinder people’s access to representatives.
(xi) Public representatives at higher levels will be minimized and thereby the burden on public coffers in terms of maintenance of institutions and their members will be eased.
(xii) Aspiration of minority communities to secure control of people representative councils can easily be met in Grama Sabha and Local Council levels than in district or provincial units.
29 May 2007.