FEDRALISM IS GOOD
By Shyamon Jayasinghe,
It is reported that President CBK has said that federalism is the
answer to the national question. She had gone further and said that
eighty per cent of the people would support federalism. Maybe she
knows the feel of the people. The fact is that the latter are now
attuned to accepting a kind of power sharing of a federal nature-
a situation that didnt prevail when CBKs father tried
to bring in a modified federalism. The LTTEs has played a historical
role in the evolution of our islands politics by getting the
country to a situation where the people would be federal- friendly.
Whatever may be President CBKs flaws, one thing about her is
that she has always looked upon the national question with a broadness
and progressiveness that a responsible leader should evince. She and
her illustrious mother had never been racial. It had been rare to
seen the two pander to ethnic xenophobia, meaning the fear/hate/aversion/toward
different ethnic groups or religious groups. Before these two, Dudley
and Premadasa had been similarly tempered; not JR, who by his strategic
silence encouraged the infamous1983 riots.
Federalism is about power sharing. It is very clearly not a division
of the country ( rata bedeema). Nor can it necessarily
lead to a break up of the country anymore than a unitary state could.
If we were to give federalism to the Tamil speaking communities
of the North & East (I am deliberately avoiding LTTE
here) it would mean that Sri Lanka would have two sovereign powers
one at the new state/states level and the other at the National level.
This is unlike the current Regional Council system where Regions have
no sovereignty. Federalism entails a written constitution that lays
down the division of powers at the two levels of sovereign government
and a Supreme Court that would enforce the formal division of powers.
National- level powers covering the entire island would include the
critical ones of defence (i.e. army, navy, and air force) and foreign
affairs just as the present unitary government currently enjoys.
This arrangement has to be distinguished from that of a confederation,
which is a collection of totally sovereign states. Short of confederation,
federalism is more satisfying to those seeking regional autonomy for
the simple reason that under the former the state does, under normal
circumstances, enjoy sovereign power for its entire internal management
with little intervention from the centre. In the quality of interference
from the centre, however, there can be varying degrees of difference.
The constitution of India, for example, allows the centre to take
over the state government although under extreme and objective circumstances.
On the other hand, the constitution of Canada is more rigid as far
as this is concerned.
Therefore, there is no one type of federalism. The model we select
will have to suit our circumstances and would have to be negotiated.
On a practical consideration, the less financial clout and independence
that a state has, the more would be the interference because dependence
on the centre would entail the laying of conditions by the latter.
A rigid type of federalism is unthinkable in Sri Lanka because of
the relative poverty of resources in the North & East. On the
other hand, in todays changing global economy a state can enrich
itself in the financial, transhipment and other international services
sector very profitably reducing its dependence on the land.
I referred to the concept of being federal-friendly.
This reflects the willingness of the people to share power with the
Tamil-speaking population who have been living for ages in the North
and East. It is pointless trying to engage in an exploration of ancient
history in order to determine questions such as who occupied those
areas first- the Sinhalese or Tamils. Such are theoretical issues.
We have to accept the present and go forward from the present. We
have lost the economic value equivalent to about 150 years by going
into a destructive war. Sri Lanka has tremendous potential to move
forward into prosperity for its people if it sets aside divisive issues.
The islands Buddhist heritage provides an ideal potential mental
environment for tolerance and living in peaceful coexistence with
our Tamil brethren. Our leaders should exploit inbuilt values such
as these in dealing with this question. There is a concealed xenophobia
or predisposition in people to be averse or fearful of those they
regard as different. Leaders are the culprits who have
been historically exploiting this. In Nazi Germany Hitler enabled
the xenophobia to erupt. In Sri Lanka, there are leaders on both sides
of the divide who engage in inciting such xenophobic eruptions between
ethnic and religious groups etc; Leaders do this for their power-seeking
ends. This happened in 1983 to our detriment. There should be a national
consensus among our leaders and the media not to exploit mass foibles
of this nature and to move firmly toward inclusive policies and practices
derived from the acceptance of equality of all people. An appropriate
education must be imparted in schools. This is the only long-term
path for keeping Sri Lankas integrity and preventing a break
In the drawing of a federal constitution, firstly a strict time frame
for the operation of the ISGA should be layed down. After the deadline,
there should be free and fair elections to the state body of the North
& East so that genuine representatives of the Tamil people would
be at the helm. Secondly, safeguards must be enshrined in order to
protect the new minorities of the new state, namely the Sinhalese
and Muslims. Thirdly, the current Regional Councils should continue
to remain as subordinate bodies. In Australia, we have the federated
states and the Territories. The latter have fewer powers
than the states. A similar arrangement for the present Regional bodies
other than the North & East can be considered