by M.A. Sumanthiran MP
The Tamil People of this country have one big complaint. They’ve had it for over sixty years. The ‘democracy’ that is practised in this country since ‘independence’ in 1948 is nothing but majoritarianism.
When the colonial masters left, we were handed over to the Sinhalese to rule over us. Not even the purported protection in Section 29(2) of the Soulbury Constitution could prevent the disenfranchisement of the Tamils of recent Indian origin in 1949 and the passage of the ‘Sinhala only’ Official Language Act on 1956.
A simple majoritarian rule naturally gives to the permanent majority race the right to rule over permanent numerical minorities in the country. That is the wrong end of democracy; and we Tamils were the recipients of that.
When the country became a Republic and created for itself an autochthonous Constitution, the Tamils were literally left out in the cold and were prevented from participating in the making of that Constitution. The Second Republican Constitution in 1978 was also enacted without the consent of the Tamil People.
In 1987, forty years after the end of colonial rule, we saw a light at the end of the tunnel when the 13th Amendment was made to the Constitution. With all its flaws, it nevertheless recognized that Tamils could have some say in their own governance at least in the areas in which they are a majority – the North and East.
Even after aggressive colonization and forced demographic change (the Sinhala People were 9% in the Eastern Province in 1947 and grew to 29% by 1981!), Tamils were still the largest majority in the East. Recognizing that the Tamil People historically inhabited the North-East, the two provinces were temporarily merged. The substance of devolution in the 13th Amendment was grossly inadequate, and for that reason the Tamil People rejected it, and clamoured for improvements to it that would make devolution meaningful.
In the quarter century that followed the 13th Amendment, while the Tamil militants fought a separatist war, the moderates tried to make devolution work. From Mangala Moonesinghe Select Committee Report in 1993, through several proposals of Constitutional Reform during President Chandrika’s time, we arrived at the APRC convened by President Rajapakshe, all seeking to achieve maximum possible devolution within a united country.
In the aftermath of the war that ended in May 2009, the TNA which was elected to represent the Tamil People, has been trying to negotiate with the Government to finally settle this sixty year old conflict by means of meaningful power-sharing arrangements.
These efforts have not borne fruit since the Government seems to be of the opinion that there is no necessity for any of that since the armed rebellion of the Tamil youth has been successfully put down. They have also argued that the existing arrangements are good enough and the people at the grass root levels can have access to governance through participation at local and provincial councils.
It is in this background that calls for Northern Provincial Council elections intensified and the Government was running out of ideas to offer any more excuses for not holding the same. In order to divert attention, the Government decided to hold election to the Eastern Provincial Council and caused its dissolution one year ahead of its normal term. That the Central Government can cause such a thing to happen in itself is an indication of the degree of devolution that is possible under the 13th Amendment.
The TNA for the first time decided to participate in the election to a provincial council. The Tamil People were encouraged to exercise their franchise and express their willingness to work out a meaningful scheme of arrangement whereby people in their localities can determine their own destiny. The run-up to the polls was marred by the usual abuse of State resources by the ruling UPFA, which the Elections Commissioner was powerless to prevent.
The Government having successfully repealed the 17th Amendment and having done away with the independent commissions was having a free hand. The non-independent Elections Commissioner, Police and Public Service served the government party well.
The SLMC which decided to go it alone attacked the Government more intensely than even the TNA and the UNP at the election campaign. Anti-Government votes were thus collected by the SLMC, TNA and the UNP. The Government managed to win only 12 out of 35 seats and was roundly defeated – or so we thought! Parties that campaigned against the Government won 22 seats.
Having very narrowly pipped the TNA to the post as the single largest party, the UPFA bagged the two bonus seats and together with the NFF got to 15 seats in the 37 member council. But the clear defeat of the UPFA at the Eastern Provincial Council notwithstanding, the UPFA is tipped to form the administration there! The SLMC, which collected all the anti-government Muslim votes, may provide support to the government in an anti-democratic move and help the UPFA to form the government in the East.
If any Muslim persons wanted to support the government, they had the option of voting for the UPFA. In fact an equal number of Muslim members have been elected from the UPFA list as from the SLMC list. The votes cast for the SLMC were clearly and unambiguously anti-government. In spite of that, we may witness the spectacle of the defeated UPFA forming the government in the East.
The provincial council system is said to be the solution to the Tamil National problem of this country. Having rejected this system as not a meaningful method of sharing power, the Tamil People nevertheless stepped out and participated at this Election in very large numbers.
Despite all the violations, the TNA fared exceptionally well. For instance, in the Batticaloa District the TNA got 40,000 more votes than it received at the 2010 general elections. Overall, the TNA obtained 67,000 more votes than in 2010. The government got 53,000 votes less than what is got in the 2010 elections.
The UPFA has lost the 2012 elections. The parties that contested against the government got 22 seats. It was the UPFA that was in power prior to the elections. And so the people have rejected that party and wish to see a change. Despite all this the UPFA is seeking to form the administration at the PC. If that is allowed to happen, they will not be honouring the will of the people and democracy
The 13th Amendment was brought in as a solution to the Tamil National question. But the fact that 11 out of 12 Tamil members elected are from the TNA must not be forgotten or ignored. Otherwise along with the skewed democracy that allows the losers to form a government, we will also have skewed devolution that leaves out the very people for whose benefit this institution was set up in the first place.
All of this will definitely have very serious negative consequences.