(Text of a media release issued by the Leader of the Opposition Mahinda Rajapaksa on November 6th 2019 under the heading “UNP presidential candidate’s stand on the Unitary State”)
The chapter on constitutional reform in the manifesto of the UNP presidential candidate contains provisions to replace the unitary state with a formulation that describes Sri Lanka as an ‘undivided and indivisible’ state. This is accompanied by the pledge that governmental power will be devolved to the provinces to the ‘maximum extent possible’. Identical provisions can be seen in the draft constitution tabled in Parliament by the Prime Minister in January this year.
The UNP manifesto also contains provisions to expand the powers and functions of the provincial councils, to set up a second chamber in Parliament made up of provincial council representatives in order to curb the powers of Parliament, to allow the provincial units to raise funds independently, to place district and divisional secretaries under the provincial councils and to create a Constitutional Court which will adjudicate in disputes between the center and the provincial units. Like the draft constitution, the UNP presidential election manifesto also aims to turn Sri Lanka into a loose federation of virtually independent provincial units.
The draft constitution sought to describe Sri Lanka as an ‘ekeeya rajya’ in Sinhala and as an ‘orumiththa nadu’ in Tamil while carefully refraining from using the English phrase ‘unitary state’ which has specific constitutional connotations. Thus the label of a unitary state would have remained in Sinhala while in Tamil and English Sri Lanka would no longer be recognized as a unitary state. A similar deviousness is to be seen in the UNP presidential election manifesto. Though great care has been taken to avoid using phrases like ekeeya rajaya or unitary state, it has a reference in Sinhala to ‘maubime ekeeyathwaya’ which translates into English as ‘the unity of the motherland’. The phrase ‘maubime ekeeyathwaya’ has no constitutional value but it can be used to misleadingly suggest to Sinhala readers that the manifesto seeks to uphold the unitary state.
Former Chief Minister C.V.Wigneswaran has rejected such devious and dishonest attempts play around with words to convey different meanings to different persons. Significantly, the UNP manifesto has refused to use even the Sinhala phrase ‘ekeeya rajya’ that had been conceded earlier in the PM’s draft constitution to assuage Sinhala sentiments. There is a clearly apparent hardening of the federalist position in the UNP manifesto.
A federal arrangement will never work in this country because the majority of ethnic Tamils live outside the northern and eastern provinces and the vast majority of the Muslims live outside the east. Any attempt to impose a federal system on a country with such a demographic pattern, will be fraught with serious consequences. Even the British colonial rulers never sought to dismantle the unitary state. The Donoughmore and Soulbury Commissions expressly rejected federalism.
The UNP manifesto with its toxic constitutional provisions was presented with much fanfare to the Venerable Mahanayake and Anunayake Theras in order to deceive both the Maha Sangha and the general public. This is the first time that a mainline political party has included in an election manifesto provisions to dismantle the unitary state and to create a federal state in its place. Therefore this is a matter that needs to be taken very seriously.
Regardless of the contents of the manifesto that has already been released, I earnestly request the Venenerable Mahanayake Theras of the Three Nikayas to obtain from the UNP candidate, a written pledge to uphold the unitary state, to oppose federalism and to oppose all the proposals contained in the draft constitution tabled in Parliament by the Prime Minister earlier this year.
Leader of the Opposition