by Tisaranee Gunasekara
"..........for countries are not always true to themselves.” – — Tagore (East And West)
Having removed the sole really-existing impediment to dynastic rule with the 18th Amendment, the triumphant Rajapakses are hatching the next step in their constitutional revolution.
According to Minister Maitripala Sirisena, the 19th Amendment will introduce a hybrid of proportional representation and first-past-the-post systems. It will also reform the 13th Amendment, the Indian-propelled constitutional provision which devolved a measure of power from the centre to the provinces and, thus, from the majority to the minorities.
According to the website, Asian Tribune, the government plans to reduce the number of constituencies from 160 to 140 via a re-demarcation process. 140 parliamentarians will thus be elected under the first-past-the-post system, 70 under the PR system and 15 from provincial/national lists. Indubitably, all changes will be custom-made to obtain the maximum politico-electoral advantage to the UPFA. The aim would be to ensure an adequate parliamentary majority for the Rajapaksas, for a long time to come.
The 18th Amendment is a perfect prototype of Rajapaksa constitutional-making. The main purpose of the Rajapaksa constitutional revolution is to provide a political and legal basis for long-term Rajapaksa Rule, in stages. This incremental strategy saves the ruling family the trouble and the uncertainty of facing a referendum. It also enables them to amass absolute power almost in stealth. The radical transformation of the constitution, one amendment at a time, makes it easier for the South to maintain its pose of indifference. A brand new constitution, in one-go, would have compelled us to discard our apathy and face reality.
By using a piecemeal approach to constitution-making, the Rajapaksas have rendered any such collective awakening unnecessary. This way we can convince ourselves that the each amendment is of miniscule import and the Rajapaksas are no different from other power-hungry and vainglorious would-be-despots. Just as Tamil society thought Velupillai Pirapaharan was just a shade more brutal and extreme than competitors, nothing more alarming. And oh-so disciplined and determined and effective, a man who always delivers, a man capable of leading Lankan Tamils to the promised land of Eelam.
Mutilating the 13th Amendment
The Tamil Parties Forum (TPPF) consists of ten anti-Tiger Tamil parties, all of them of moderate political persuasion and most members/supporters of the Rajapaksa administration. Their demands are remarkably modest: the full implementation of the 13th Amendment, improved resettlement, compensation for war victims and an end to state-mandated colonisation. Logically, they are the ideal partners in any genuine effort to reincorporate Tamils into Lankan polity, economy and society.
Well, not according to Rajapaksa logic, because despite their anti-Tiger and pro-government credentials, these parties are floundering in a political limbo. Thus when Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao came visiting, the TPPF requested her to persuade the Rajapaksa administration to “engage the elected representatives of the Northern and Eastern Provinces in the resettlement and rehabilitation work” (Daily Mirror – 3.9.2010).
This one incident suffices to illustrate the distressing state of Tamil politics in post-war Sri Lanka. When Lankan Tamil politicians have to ask a visiting Indian official to persuade the Lankan government to involve them in rehabilitating and resettling Lankan Tamils, it indicates a level of powerlessness and marginalisation totally inapposite with any genuine peace and nation-building effort.
Historically there were two main impediments to a political solution to the ethnic problem – the LTTE and Sinhala supremacism. The Tigers are gone, but Sinhala supremacism is triumphantly ensconced in the heart of the state. Sinhala supremacists believe that there was just a terrorist problem, which began and ended with the Tigers.
President Rajapaksa too denies the very existence of an ethnic problem and is inimical to devolution. His 2007 ‘political solution’ proposed the replacement of provincial councils with district councils with less power, empowering the president to appoint all district chief ministers and a senate, with the president having the right to appoint a majority of members.
Clearly for the President, the real problem is excessive devolution rather than inadequate devolution, which is why his ‘solution’ proposed de-empowering the minorities and re-empowering the President. The timing, however, turned out to be less than propitious for this parody of a political solution; the Tigers were around, Sinhala supremacism was not quite triumphant, India still counted for something and devolution was yet to become a non-issue. There was an outcry against a ‘solution’ which offered Tamils less than they have currently. In consequence, the proposal was shelved and the APC charade commenced.
Will the 19th Amendment revitalise this old Rajapaksa proposal?
According to Minister Sirisena, the 13th Amendment will be reformed to “give the local government bodies more authority” (Daily Mirror – 14.9.2010). Is this a euphemism for replacing provincial-level political devolution with district or local government-level administrative decentralisation? Minister Sirisena’s remark about “doing away with the existing weaknesses in the 13th Amendment” (ibid) hints that this de-empowering may be achieved by abolishing the Concurrent List.
According to the Asian Tribune, the President has appointed a four member committee to draft the 19th Amendment. And this committee tasked with ‘rationalising the 13th Amendment’ does not contain a single minority representative, not even the amenable Douglas Devananda or helpful Rauf Hakeem. This telling exclusion reveals the Sinhala supremacist mindset of the Rajapaksas, their indifference to minority concerns and contempt for minority opinions.
Obviously even pro-Rajapaksa minority parties and politicians are destined to be just window-dressing in Rajapaksa Sri Lanka. The maximum any Tamil or a Muslim can hope for is some crumbs from the Rajapaksa table in return for serving the Rajapaksas faithfully, a future they share with the Sinhala majority.
“The doctrine of the Superman led to the methodical creation of sub-men” argued Camus in The Rebel. The Rajapaksas’ insatiable appetite for illimitable power is gradually rendering all other Sri Lankans powerless. The 18th Amendment did away with the most democratic provision in the 1978 Constitution (term-limit clause) and the most democratic amendment to it, the 17th. The 19th Amendment is likely to mutilate the 13th, thereby destroying the second most democratic amendment to the 1978 Constitution.
A 19th Amendment which de-empowers the minorities may seem irrelevant, if not welcoming, to the Sinhala South. The truth is that the Rajapaksas’ antipathy to devolution is linked to their antipathy to democracy. Devolution and democracy impede absolutist rule and are fundamentally incompatible with the Rajapaksa project of ‘all power to the family, forever’.
Whenever the ruling family manipulates the constitution or the law to amass more power, they infringe on our rights and violate our freedoms and repressing the minorities is but a dry-run for repressing the majority, once economic malaise sours the Southern mood. That is why the attempts to roll back democracy and devolution should be seen as parts of a tyrannical totality which must be resisted equally.
The Rajapaksas are using Sinhala supremacism to win southern consent for their anti-democratic constitutional revolution. But finally even Sinhala supremacism is a weapon in the Rajapaksa arsenal to defend familial rule. Thus Tiger leaders KP and Daya Master are favoured while the anti-Tiger Gen. Fonseka is jailed. Sinhalese who permit themselves to be deluded by the patriotic razzle-dazzle of the Rajapaksas would do well to ponder this seeming paradox.