Sri Lanka’s main Tamil party on Tuesday urged President Gotabaya Rajapaksa not to “regress into naked majoritarianism”, that in the past gave rise to a conflict, resulting in armed hostilities spanning over three decades.
Addressing Parliament, Jaffna district legislator and the Tamil National Alliance’s (TNA) spokesman M.A. Sumanthiran said the equal status of peoples belonging to different races, religions, languages and cultures is not dependent on their respective numerical strength.
“This principle must be acknowledged if our democracy is to survive and indeed flourish, and not regress into naked majoritarianism. Regretfully, in his address to Parliament on 3rd January 2020, the President has articulated such a regressive position,” he said, intervening in the debate on Mr. Rajapaksa’s inaugural address.
Referring to the Ceylon Citizenship Act of 1948, “a rank majoritarian act” that denied Indian origin Tamils citizenship, the Sinhala only Act of 1956, and the two republican “majoritarian” constitutions enacted in 1972 and 1978, Mr. Sumanthiran said it was only after the ‘Black July’, the brutal anti-Tamil pogrom in 1983, that India intervened to “turn the tide”.
The subsequent constitutional amendment — popularly known as the 13th Amendment that came out of the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 — acknowledged diversity in the country and led to the creation of provincial councils to help minority communities exercise a measure of self-governance. Referring to several past initiatives towards a political solution to the Tamil national question, the Tamil parliamentarian said PM Mahinda Rajapaksa assured India at least thrice — when he was President earlier — that he would “implement the 13th Amendment in full and build upon it so as to achieve meaningful devolution.
In his January 3 address, President Rajapaksa sought constitutional and electoral reform for “a strong executive and legislature” and sovereignty of the people. He pledged to “always defend” the unitary status of the country, and “protect and nurture the Buddha Sasana whilst safeguarding the right of all citizens to practice a religion of their choice.” He made no reference to pending concerns of the war-affected Tamil community, or the Tamil people’s long-standing demand of power devolution.
However, welcoming President Rajapaksa’s proposal for a new constitution, Mr. Sumanthiran said considerable drafting work had been done during the predecessor government’s time in office, with the full participation of all parties, including Mr. Rajapaksa’s. “We still have some distance to go, and that is the direction we must continue in if the country is to prosper. Any deviation from that path will spell doom to us all,” he said.