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Secession and the TNA’s stand

| by Nirmala Chandrahasan

( November 6, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) I came across the following statement in an article by Prof. G.H Peiris , titled "A Comment on the campaign to abolish the Presidential System", appearing in the island newspaper dated October 24, 2014. While arguing against the abolishing of the Presidential system G. H Peiris concludes his piece with the following statement, "with a TNA leadership now more or less committed to a resumption of the secessionist campaign , there is every possibility that the regime change would lead the country into total chaos, probably featured civil war ,which of course would pave the way for the NATO to get into its democratization act in a partitioned island of Sri Lanka."

I am not sure whether the writer is aware that the TNA leadership in general and the leader of the TNA in particular Mr. R. Sampanthan have in Parliament and outside, and in their Manifesto categorically stated that they are for a United Sri Lanka, and are not espousing a separate state. What the TNA is asking for is that the Constitution of Sri Lanka of which the 13th Amendment is a part, should be fully implemented. This would mean that not only the northern and eastern provinces but all the provinces of the country likewise, will have some say in the administration of their local areas without over centralization at every level. This is scarcely a scary scenario, given the limited powers contained in the 13th Amendment under which the Governor of the province has substantial powers and the financial powers of the Councils are very restricted. If however the system is administered in a fair manner in accordance with the constitutional provisions ,and without the Centre interfering in or undermining it, there could be some measure of devolution, which I have no doubt the people of all communities would welcome.

If the Writer was aware of the TNA stand on this matter, the above quoted statement could be a very mischievous one. But, I would like to give the good professor the benefit of the doubt. Today the majority of the people of Sri Lanka of whatever community they belong are of one mind on the question of a united country as they have collectively experienced the sufferings and displacements which were brought about by the insurgency. The insurgency itself was created by certain legislative enactments which the minority community perceived as unfair to them together with communal riots from 1956 onwards culminating in the 1983 holocaust which had been directed against the minorities by unscrupulous politicians, thugs and criminal elements. It must be kept in mind that the insurgency itself was predated by a long period of non violent parliamentary agitation and peaceful Satyagraha, interspersed with broken pacts and unfulfilled promises. The best way to prevent any future insurgencies, be it in the North or in the South, is for the rulers to learn from the mistakes of the past without repeating them. Having an executive President, or a Prime Minister as under the previous Constitution is not what will prevent such a situation as the writer of the article seems to imply.

The TNA, which represents the Tamil people of the Northern and Eastern provinces, as evidenced by the elections held so far including the Northern Provincial Council election, is presumably reflecting the sentiments of these people when it states that it is for a united country and is not for secession. However as in every society there are fringe groups who espouse extreme positions. Such groups are usually very vociferous about their stand but this does not mean that the silent majority agree with them, it only means they have no time to join in such debates as their priority is rehabilitation of their shattered lives in the war devastated areas. As the TNA has made its stand explicit that should be an end to the matter.

In this instance I would have not felt it necessary to refute the writer’s contention except that it is being linked to the question at issue, which is whether or not the presidential system should be abolished. While I do not wish to enter into the controversy regarding this matter, I would think that the question of abolition of the Presidential system or not should be viewed squarely from the point of view of constitutional principles of division of powers and good governance instead of bringing in communal overtones and building up highly unlikely scenarios.

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