Everyday Issues in Democratic Parliamentary Politics … Now in Sri Lanka

ONE. Michael Roberts: Democratic procedures in plural societies, whether in the West or the East, invariably seem to spawn a proliferation of parties and/or factions. These factions and minute parties can imperil the democratic process by generating instability and even rendering instability into a permanent feature of the political order during some moments in a country’s history. This sort of development was one factor that enabled the Nationalist Socialist Party to rise to power in the Weimar Republic; while Mussolini’s rise to power was also encouraged by such fragmentation. Given the several parties/factions in Sri Lanka’s present polity amidst the sometimes intractable issues arising from a spatial distribution of three ethnic communities — where “Muslim” constitutes a “religio-ethnic group” (embracing the Yon but not the Ja) when set alongside the categories “SL Tamil,” “Malaiyaha  Tamil” and “Sinhala” — the creation ofa new constitution needs to address this problem.

TWO. Press Release from TNA, 30 December 2015: “TNA and SLMC leaders held 1st Round of talks aimed at realizing the aspirations of the Tamil and Muslim people in the proposed new constitutional arrangements. These discussions will continue.” TNA + mUuslim 12

THREE. Jehan Perera for National Peace Council: “Factional Infighting can undermine Political Solution,” 31 December 2065

The government has declared its intention of prioritizing constitutional reform in the New Year.  Parliament is to be converted into a Constituent Assembly (parliamentary committee) that will deliberate on issues pertaining to a new constitution. The government has also appointed a 24-member committee drawn from political and civil society leaders to obtain the views of the people and feed them back to the parliamentary committee. The promise to amend the constitution was made by government leaders at both the last presidential and general elections that took place in January and August of this year. Their main pledge was to abolish the executive presidency and to change the electoral system from one based on proportional representation to a mixed system of proportional representation and first-past-the-post voting in which parliamentary seats would be apportioned in proportion to the total number of votes obtained by each of the political parties.  There is a general consensus in society about the need to reduce the power of individuals elected to power and to ensure their accountability.

However, amongst the key issues that will need to be part of the constitutional reform process is the issue of power sharing between the different ethnic and religious communities who, together, constitute the Sri Lankan nation.  At the regional level for this has been the demand since 1956 when the Sinhala Only Act was passed to make Sinhala the only national language. Attempts to change or even soften this law at that time were not supported by the Sinhala majority. So deprived having the Tamil language as a national language the Tamil parties demanded devolution of power to regions to be demarcated linguistically. This was opposed by the ethnic majority assuming it would lead to a federal state. This has been the most contentious issue in post-independent Sri Lanka. Efforts made by previous leaders of government to tackle this problem from 1957 onwards floundered due to opposition from nationalist elements in the polity who roused the fears of the general population that it would mean the break-up of the Sinhalese-dominated state.

The National Peace Council believes that the present period offers a unique and unprecedented opportunity to politically resolve the ethnic conflict once and for all, based on equity and justice. This is due to the cohabitation of the two main political parties headed by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in the National Unity Government. Historically these two parties have never worked together to resolve the ethnic conflict. Instead when one party sought to resolve the issue the other party took to the streets against the proposed solution. It is noteworthy that virtually all of the small political parties, whether ideology-based or ethnic and religious-based, are broadly supportive of the National Unity Government.  We note that the government has gone to the extent of postponing local government elections that might have been divisive in the context of the constitutional reform process.

We urge that the opportunity that now exists should not be undermined by factional infighting in both north and south.  It appears that this factional infighting is less about policy differences than about power struggles for inclusion in the political process and control.  We call on members of all political parties to start discussions within their parties and collectively towards a vision of Sri Lanka as a prosperous and united nation where the rights of all are safeguarded.

FOUR. Shamindra Ferdinando: “TNA, SLMC seek consensus on new Constitution amidst turmoil,” ISLAND,  

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The TNA and the SLMC are seeking consensus on proposed new Constitution and electoral reforms. Political sources told The Island that top level TNA and SLMC delegations had met at the Opposition Leader’s Office, Colombo 7 on Wednesday in the wake of newly established Tamil People’s Council (TPC), too, seeking to represent Tamil speaking people at future deliberations with other political parties as well as the government.

The TNA secured 16 seats including two National List slots at the Aug. 17 parliamentary polls. The SLMC won one seat on its own while several of its candidates were elected on the UNP ticket at the same election. Northern Province Chief Minister C V Wigneswaran of the TNA, Dr P. Lakshman, Consultant Cardiologist at the Teaching Hospital, Jaffna and T Vasantharajah, the Secretary of the Batticaloa Civil Society co-chair the group.

Former Supreme Court judge Wigneswaran led the TNA to an overwhelming win at the first Northern Provincial Council polls in Sept. 2013. Sources said with President Maithripala Sirisena and Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe declaring their intention to introduce a brand new Constitution within the next few months, the TNA and the SLMC were keen to reach an understanding on a set of proposals.

Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan, Parliamentarians Mavai Senathiraja and M. A. Sumenthiran represented TNA at Wednesday’s discussion while SLMC Leader Minister Rauff Hakeem, Party’s Deputy General Secretary and Mayor of Kalmunai Municipal Council Nizam Kariyapper, Former MP M. B. Farook and SLMC Foreign Affairs Director A.M. Faais represented the SLMC. Sources stressed that the two parties wouldn’t compromise on opportunities currently available to minorities under the executive presidential system.

They said the TNA expected the government to deal with it in all relevant issues, including the formation of the proposed war crimes court in early this year. The TNA believed that the TPC’s endeavor could cause serious harm to their overall strategy, sources said. There hadn’t been any discussion between the TNA leadership and Wigneswaran regarding formation of a separate outfit to represent Tamil speaking people, sources said. Sources pointed out that those who had been rejected by the electorate at the last parliamentary polls in spite of being backed by Wigneswarn were likely to exploit the situation. However, the TPC has publicly denied having any ulterior motive while declaring that its only interest is the well-being of the community.

Well informed sources told The Island that the TNA would remain an ally of the UK-headquartered Global Tamil Forum (GTF) with the primary focus on the setting up of proposed war crimes court.

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Filed under historical interpretation, language policies, parliamentary elections, plural society, politIcal discourse, power politics, power sharing, reconciliation, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, world affairs

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