The JHU Proposal to the APRC

Following on the SLFP submission (for which see Blog ID 7.35) the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) has now submitted its own proposals (given below) to the All Party Representative Committee (APRC). These proposals are supposed to define the nature of the Sri Lankan state if and when the current terrorist conflict is over. It has been called the "political solution" to this conflict. The APRC is expected to find a compromise between the various proposals even though its chairman Tissa Vitharana has already given his views on the likely compromise (see Blog ID 7.30). Earlier two reports called the majority and minority reports had been issued (see Blogs ID 6.1 and 6.2) but these are now clearly superseded in the light of the later submissions.

The JHU proposals begin with a long introduction. The designation of the problem as an 'ethnic problem' or a 'national problem' is rejected but no other particular term is suggested. The current conflict is attributed to the resentment of Tamils at the loss of their favoured position under British rule. While this is a factor it is extremely simplistic to represent the problem as a yearning by Tamils for their lost position under British rule. The bulk of the Tamils (as indeed most other Sri Lankans living today) were not even born during British rule. So whatever happened under British rule is a matter of hearsay, not of personal experience for the average Sri Lankan today.

At the outset it is stated that the "JHU emphatically states that Sri Lanka forms one nation that is Sinhalese" and that Sri Lanka (presumably the whole of the Island) is the homeland of "Sinhalese Civilization". This is very similar to the position advanced by many extreme Sinhela nationalists. Nothing is said about the position of non-Sinhela people in the Sinhela homeland. Not only is the status of Tamils, Muslims and Burghers in the Sinhalese homeland not specified so it that of non-Buddhist Sinhalese. The Jesuhelas cannot be said to be a product of "Sinhalese Civilization" which did not have a Christian component. While they have some common cultural elements with the Boduhelas they are also belong partly at least to Western Christian civilization. The JHU must clarify these if it is to insist that SL consists of one Sinhalese nation. The JHU states that "Today, Tamils constitute the majority community in the most important Divisional Secretariat Division in the country, namely, Colombo". If the Tamils are a majority then the Sinhelas must be a minority in their own capital city! What is the status of the majority community (the Tamils) as against the minority community (the Sinhelas) in this most important Divisional Secretariat Division? These questions are not clarified in the JHU proposal.

The JHU describes the Tamils as a "minority ethnic community" and that they have to be "educated" to accept that status. The implication here is that in some respects the minority ethnic community will have lesser rights than the majority ethnic community, the Sinhalese. But there are no details on how the rights of the two groups differ. It is important that the JHU clearly state the differences when it comes to rights and obligations between the minority and the minority ethnic communities.

On the devolution question the JHU seems to take a contradictory stand. It says: "we oppose any move to devolve power in the form of granting self rule in recognition of the 'right of self determination'. Nevertheless, the JHU supports devolution of power and decentralization of administration as a tool of mass empowerment and to improve participatory democracy". The 'mass empowerment' will clearly apply to Tamils in areas where Tamils are in a majority. The difference between 'mass empowerment' and 'self rule' is never specified in detail. This is another of the contradictions that abound in the JHU proposal. The Tamils can take their mass empowerment in the North as self rule for their masses.

Another ambiguity in the JHU proposal is the place of Buddhism which is to be elevated from "foremost place" to "state religion". But what does 'state religion' mean, when compared to the status of other religions. Does it mean the public funds can be expended on Buddhism but not on other religions? The JHU seems to be hiding behind mere semantics without explaining details.

When it comes to the structure of the state four "tiers" are recognized: Gamsabhas, Local Councils, Parliament and Presidency. (I prefer the pure Hela term 'Gamsabha' rather than the Sanskritized 'Grama Sabha'.) Significantly neither Provinces nor Districts are mentioned — presumably they are to be abolished. The latter measure is taken to defeat "the aspiration of minority communities for self rule". This overlooks the fact that this aim can itself be defeated by all the Gamsabhas and local councils in the North and East which have a Tamil majority banding together and taking a united position. In fact the Gamsabhas with a Muslim majority can band together and form the nucleus of an Islamic state. The Gamsabhas in the Kithuna Purwaraya likewise can band together forming a Christian nucleus in the Sinhala homeland. In practice this solution might lead to even greater disintegration of the nation.

The Gamsabhas seen to be the king-pin of the entire scheme. This is clear when we look at the JHU recommendations for the three branches of Government:

There is very little discussion of the actual division of power between the three arms of the State. So it is difficult to assess how my devolution is present in the suggestions. While the aim may have been to enfranchise the rural sections of the population the arrangement does no sit well with the recent demographic changes which have seen increasing urbanization. Even though the scheme aims to reduce the power of the minority communities, especially the Tamils, it is not clear how this could be achieved. If the major community continues to be polarized between the UNP and the SLFP (with the JVP playing an ambiguous role) it is difficult to see how racism and communalism can be kept out.

Some 12 reasons are given extolling the virtues of the proposed system. However these may not realize in practice. The claimed stability of Government results from the fewer elections and the Presidential system. However the political division between the traditional parties could be manifested in the Parliament, and deadlock can occur. Also if Parliament controls the budget and the President the Executive there could be a situation in which the two positions are wielded by persons of opposite political persuasion.

The proposed structure reflects the views of a small-minded party. The only thing that can be said about it is that this system will have absolutely no chance of being recommended by the APRC and adopted by GOSL.


JHU Proposals to the All Party Representative Committee
for Re-structuring the Sri Lankan State

  1. Introduction

    The present conflict in Sri Lanka has often been described as an "ethnic conflict". Both the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and the terrorist movement which operates under the name "Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam" (LTTE) call it "national question". The Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) is not in agreement with this terminology, i.e., the JHU is of the view that neither ' ethnic conflict' nor 'national question' are correct descriptions and serve to distort the situation. It is generally agreed that polarisation on ethnic lines is a fundamental feature of any ethnic conflict and indeed a prerequisite to warrant the 'ethnic' label. What has happened in Sri Lanka, however, is not polarisation, but its reverse, as a result of terrorist activities of the LTTE. Since 1983 Tamils have been migrating from the so called 'Tamil homeland' to regions where the Sinhala people form the vast majority. In fact, Tamil migration has significantly changed the demography in these areas. Today, Tamils constitute the majority community in the most important Divisional Secretariat Division in the country, namely, Colombo .

    It is well known that Tamils live in peace and harmony with other communities in all parts of the country. Sinhalese and Muslims, on the other hand, have been denied the right to live in the Northern and Eastern provinces, due to periodic ethnic cleansing exercises carried out by the LTTE. The LTTE claims that they are fighting for the liberation of Tamils. In the name of Tamil liberation, they have killed more Tamils than Sinhalese and Muslims. Among them are prominent leaders of the Tamil community such as Alfred Doraiappa, A Amirthalingam, V Dharmalingam, Neelan Thiruchelvam, Sam Thambimuttu, S Yogeswaran , Ketheswaran Loaganathan and Lakshman Kadiragamar.

    In the light of above, description of the current conflict in 'ethnic' terms is abysmal. If there is no ethnic conflict or national question in Sri Lanka, then it is necessary to identify the nature of the present conflict. The Tamil community has enjoyed a privileged position in Sri Lanka during western colonial rule. The British, for example, adopting the now well-known divide-and-rule policy in Sri Lanka, deliberately favoured Tamils over Sinhalese. Education, trading and employment opportunities were made available to the Tamil community in numbers greater than warranted by their strength in the population. They turned Tamils into a privileged community. The classic example that establishes this is the limited franchise of 1911.

    At the first election with limited franchise in 1911, 1160 out of 2958 electors were Tamil. Only English-educated wealthy people qualified as electors. This means that Tamils' share in the elite community was approximately 40%, even though they comprised only 13% of the total local population. The privileged status conferred on Tamils was also reflected in the Manning Reforms, announced in 1923. There were 8 seats in the legislative council allocated for Tamils who were a mere 11% of the population, whereas the Sinhalese, who made up 67% of the population ( i.e. 6 times the number of Tamils), got only 16 seats. Tamils enjoyed this privileged status until Sri Lanka gained independence. As Mr J R Jayewardene revealed in the State Legislative Council ( and reported in the Daily News of 10.02.1945), out of 58 department heads, 11 were Sinhalese, 11 were Tamils and the others were Europeans. Although the Sinhala population was more than six times the Tamil population, the two communities had received an equal number of higher government posts even 14 years after the introduction of universal franchise.

    Tamil elite lost this undue privileged position in the post-independent Sri Lanka . It is the loss of an undeserved privileged position that has been interpreted as discrimination of Tamils by the Tamil elite who were substantially affected by these turns of events . It is now clear that the Tamil political leadership has systematically created the myth of a Tamil homeland in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka in order to attract Tamil mass support to their struggle to regain the privileged position now lost. They promised the Tamil masses self rule in their so-called homeland at elections. The mythical homeland theory coupled with the broken promises of the Tamil political leadership naturally frustrated Tamil youth and they eventually decided to launch an armed struggle to achieve the dream world promised by the elite of an older generation.

    The JHU emphatically states that Sri Lanka forms one nation that is Sinhalese because Sri Lanka is the homeland of the Sinhalese civilization. Until recently Sri Lanka was called Sinhale, Seylan, Ceylan and Ceylon which essentially mean 'The Land of Sinhalese'. The status of Sinhalese in Sri Lanka is equivalent to the status of the English in England, Japanese in Japan or Thais in Thailand. The true homeland of Tamils is the Tamilnadu (literally, Land of the Tamils) state in India , which gave birth to the Tamil civilization . Hence Tamils are a 'nation' in Tamilnadu, but are only an ethnic minority community in Sri Lanka. Their status in Sri Lanka is similar to the status of Tamils in Malaysia, Koreans in Japan or Chinese in Thailand. Hence, Tamils cannot claim to have a homeland nor a right to self-determination in Sri Lanka . They can however enjoy any right enjoyed by any other citizen in the country. Furthermore, they are entitled to enjoy the minority rights recognized by the United Nations Organization in their resolution titled "Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, G.A. Rres. 47/135, 47 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 210, U.N. Doc. A/47/49 (1992)". Sri Lanka has already granted rights, privileges and benefits to the minorities far exceeding the provisions of the aforesaid resolution. Sri Lanka has, in this respect, surpassed even most of the western countries.

    It should be further emphasised that mere presence of a significant minority community does not necessitate devolution of power on ethnic lines or the introduction of a federal structure. Although each of the following countries has a very significant ethnic minority group in comparison to Sri Lanka, none of them are federal formations.

    • Indians in Fiji - 44%
    • Amerindian in Guatemala - 43%
    • Nepalese in Bhutan - 35%
    • Indians in Qatar - 36%,
    • Afar in Djibouti - 35%
    • Russians in Latvia - 30%
    • Russians in Kazakhstan - 30%
    • Russians in Estonia - 28%
    • Uzbeks in Tajikistan - 25%
    • Amerindian in Ecuador - 24%
    • Azeri in Iran - 24%
    • Albanians in Macedonia - 23%
    • Ceylon Tamils in Sri Lanka -9%

    In light of above analysis, it is abundantly clear that the armed struggle launched by the LTTE has no historical or ideological basis. Hence, the JHU does not believe that terrorist activities of the LTTE can be brought to an end by offering a political solution by way of devolution of power or restructuring the State. Since the LTTE is fully aware of the fact that there is no basis for their armed struggle, they are not genuinely interested in a negotiated settlement. This has been evinced by failed peace processes that took place in 1985, 1987, 1990, 1994, 2002 and 2006. Therefore, the LTTE should militarily be defeated and misguided Tamils should be enlightened of their true identity as a minority ethnic community.

    Although the JHU is still not convinced that there is an ethnic conflict or that Tamils have genuine grievances along the lines articulated by separatists/federalists, we firmly believe that we should listen to Tamils because they would best know of their grievances. If, for example, they are able to convince us that their struggle for 'self-rule or self-determination in the North and East of Sri Lanka ' is legitimate and in terms of history that can be substantiated, the JHU would support them for a separate state without question . However, that Tamil voice, i.e. a voice that can articulate anything, including grievance and aspiration, freely, will not emerge unless the Tamil community is freed first from the LTTE. Hence, the restoration of normalcy in the Tamil majority areas is a pre-requisite for initiating such a dialogue.

    In the present context, the Tamils have lost the fundamental right of freedom of expression. Their freedom of expression is limited to what the LTTE wants them to express. Whoever who raised an alternative viewpoint has been silenced with threat, death or by forced exile. Therefore, we cannot initiate a genuine dialogue with the Tamil community as long as the LTTE possesses weapons. Therefore, we propose that demilitarization followed by restoration of democracy and pluralism ie, accommodation of alternative Tamil viewpoints are pre-requisites in any attempt to solve the grievances of Tamils, if there are any.

    Since no minority community in Sri Lanka is a nation, we oppose any move to devolve power in the form of granting self rule in recognition of the 'right of self determination'. Nevertheless, the JHU supports devolution of power and decentralization of administration as a tool of mass empowerment and to improve participatory democracy.

  2. Nature of the State

    Sri Lanka should be described as a "free, independent, sovereign and unitary state" in its constitution. The unitary character is an essential ingredient of the Sri Lankan constitution considering a) its unique Sinhala civilization, b) small extent, and c) the emergence of secessionist trends in the recent past. Any attempt to convert Sri Lanka to a federal state should be roundly defeated since there is no historical or geographical basis for establishing a federal state. Hence, the present constitutional provisions to ensure that the unitary character of the State cannot be amended without obtaining people's consent at a referendum, shall persist in their present form.

  3. Buddhism

    We are of the view that the status of Buddhism should be upgraded from "foremost place" to "State Religion" in the constitution. Sri Lankans have been practicing Buddhism as the majority's religion for an unbroken period of 2,300 years. No country in the world has practiced one religion for such a long unbroken period although there are a lot of countries which have conferred state religion status to their historical religions. Hence, Sri Lanka's uniqueness in the world due to Buddhism and Buddhism's unique status in Sri Lanka shall be recognized in the constitution by offering the status of "state religion".

  4. People Representation

    The JHU propose to introduce a four tier system of people representation, namely,

    • (a) Grama Sabha
    • (b) Local Councils
    • (c) Parliament
    • (d) Executive president directly elected by the people
    The JHU strongly opposes any move to create larger representative units such as provincial councils for the following reasons.
    • (a) Such units do not empower the people at the grass root level. Instead, they create another set of rulers, similar to parliamentarians, who exercise power over the people and enjoy perks at the expense of the public.
    • (b) Larger units encourage secessionist trends
    • (c) Ethnic distribution in Sri Lanka is such that the aspiration of minority communities for self rule cannot be realized by establishing larger units at province or district levels although they promote such units.

  5. Executive of the State
    • 5.1 Executive Presidential System

      The JHU endorses the continuation of the executive presidential system with amendments. We are of the opinion that the executive presidency provides stability required by an economically weak, politically volatile militarily threatened and socially divided country. It should be noted that the cabinet executive system or the Westminster System was a result of the attempt of the British to accommodate their king and royal supremacy in their hierarchy. It is a backward and obsolete system and therefore there is no country in the world which has gone back to the cabinet executive system from the executive presidential system.

      We further propose to hold Presidential election and Grama Sabha election simultaneously to avoid unnecessary expenditure on elections and hostile relationships between the president and the cabinet ministers (There will be only Presidential and Grama Sabha elections and parliamentary members will be elected based on the results of Grama Sabha elections, as explained below).

      The JHU recognizes and advocates the necessity for suitably amending the executive presidential system in Sri Lanka. We are of the view that the president should be answerable to the parliament and subject to the judiciary writ of criminal and civil jurisdiction.

      There should be a deputy minister in charge of Presidential Affairs in the parliament who should answer questions raised by parliamentarians regarding presidential affairs and co-ordinate the President and parliament. Further, the president should be present in parliament once every three months for a debate on presidential affairs and respond to questions that are raised. Similarly, the President should participate in the debate for the presidential vote in the annual budget.

    • 5.2 Size of the Cabinet

      Considering the recent trend of appointing almost all government parliamentarians as ministers, the JHU propose to restrict the size of the cabinet by introducing a constitutional provision for upper and lower limits. The ideal range for the cabinet of ministers is not less than twenty and not more than twenty five. We further propose to abolish non cabinet minister posts and to limit the number of deputy minister posts to 30.

  6. Legislature

    The parliament is the supreme legislative body. Members of the parliament will be elected through an election to be held for the Grama Sabha as explained below. Local Councils will exercise limited legislative power over the subjects in the Local Council List and Concurrent List in the Constitution subject to the parliamentary powers.

    • 6.1 Grama Sabha

      There shall be a Grama Sabha for every Grama Niladhari Division (GND). The GND shall be further divided to wards by the National Delimitation Commission considering extent, population and other geographical and demographical factors. A representative from each ward will be elected to the Grama Sabha. Members of the Grama Sabha will elect a chairperson and a deputy chairperson.

    • 6.2 Local Councils (Pradeshiya Sabha and Municipal Councils)

      Local Councils will consist of Pradeshiya Sabha and Municipal Councils. Boundaries of Pradeshiya Sabha and Municipal Councils will be re-demarcated and 200 local councils will be established. Urban Councils shall be absorbed into Pradeshiya Sabhas or converted to Municipal Councils considering extent, population and revenue. The existing boundaries of pradeshiya sabha should be redefined considering extent, population, resources and other geographical and demographical factors.

      Membership of a Local Council is formed by chairpersons of Grama Sabhas situated within the limits of that Local Council. Members of the Local Council shall elect a chairperson and a deputy chairperson for the Local Council. The Local Council can exercise limited legislative power over the subjects available in the Concurrent List and Local Council List of the Constitution.

    • 6.3 Parliament

      The Parliament shall consist of 270 members. The composition of the parliament shall be as follows.
      Chairpersons of Local Councils 200
      National List 40
      Professional and Trade Union representation 22
      Minor party representation 05
      Minority community representation 03

      • (i) Chairpersons of Local Councils

        All chairpersons of Local Councils will automatically be members of the parliament. Although they have been elected by members of the councils by simple majority vote, a 75% majority will be required to remove them. In this manner, if electors are not satisfied with the conduct or performance of their parliamentarian, they can at anytime replace their parliamentary representative without waiting for the next election. Further, the Local Council can temporally appoint a person in lieu of the chairperson if he is unable to perform his duties.

      • (ii) National List

        There are 40 seats allocated for appointments from the national lists of political parties. These seats will be allocated among the political parties and independent groups based on number of votes polled by them countrywide at Grama Sabha elections. The appointing authority can recall them with or without a reason after completion of one year in the parliament. There should be minimum educational qualifications for National List members to further enhance professional representation in the parliament.

      • (iii) Professional and Trade Union representation

        There will be 5 parliamentary seats allocated for the largest trade unions. There will be another 17 seats allocated for professional bodies whose opinion is crucial in policy making and implementation. Organizations of lawyers, medical practitioners, Accountants, Engineers, Economists, University Teachers University students, farmers, planters and business community are such important professional bodies. This is a conceptual document and criteria for selection of trade unions and professional organizations are subject to discussion and review.

      • (iv) Minor party representation

        Since there are 245 seats allocated for political parties and independent groups, any group which has received more than 0.4% of the total votes is entitled to at least one seat in the parliament. Unfortunately, such genuine proportionate representation always causes unstable governments. Nevertheless, these significant alternative views should also be considered at the highest decision making body. Hence, it is proposed to allocate one seat each to political groups who polled more than 1% of total votes at the Grama Sabha elections and failed to secure a parliamentary seat, with a ceiling of five seats. If the qualified political groups are less than five in number, the balance seats can be filled from the national lists.

      • (v) Minority community representation

        It is observed that several significant ethnic minority communities have lost their representation in parliament in the recent past. Burgers and Malays are such two communities. Although the Veddah community has been living in this country for more than 2,500 years according to historical evidence, they never had a representation in any legislative council. Therefore, it is proposed to allocate one seat each to the Malay, Burger and Veddah communities to be appointed by the Prime Minister elect.

  7. Judiciary

    The JHU is of the view that there should be equilibrium in all organs of the State, namely, executive, legislature and judiciary. Hence we firmly stand for independence of the judiciary and totally reject the concept of establishing a Constitutional Court consists of non judge members which will dilute the supremacy of the Supreme Court.

  8. Advantages of the Proposed Structure for the State

    • (i) The proposed electoral system ensures clear simple majority in the parliament for the winning party. Hence, there will be a stable government. Nevertheless, it is near impossible for the winning party to obtain more than 75% of the seats which forms the special majority due to features such as national list, professional representation and minor party representation. Hence, this system prevents governments from acting in arbitrary manner.
    • (ii) Since there are only two elections, namely presidential and Grama Sabha, a lot of public funds, time and human lives can be saved.
    • (iii) People have the opportunity to change their representatives in the parliament without waiting for the next elections. Therefore, actions of the people representatives will reflect the will of the people.
    • (iv) Minority parties have the opportunity to climb the political ladder up to the parliament by securing a victory in a small Grama Sabha ward.
    • (v) Since a minister's electorate is very small and limited to a Grama Sabha ward, he can evenly distribute resources available in the ministry without favouring one district.
    • (vi) Since the Ministers are members of Local Councils and Grama Sabha in addition to parliament, there will be vertical integration of development activities.
    • (vii) Since Presidential election and Grama Sabha election will be held simultaneously, hostile relationships between the president and the cabinet ministers can be avoided.
    • (viii) Since the electorates for representatives are very small, cost of an election campaign will be affordable to the candidates and as a result politicians' dependency on wealthy sections of the population will be drastically reduced, thereby minimizing corruption.
    • (ix) People can exercise power at the grass root level creating a participatory democracy.
    • (x) This system avoids creating larger units which can hinder people's access to representatives.
    • (xi) Public representatives at higher levels will be minimized and thereby the burden on public coffers in terms of maintenance of institutions and their members will be eased.
    • (xii) Aspiration of minority communities to secure control of people representative councils can easily be met in Grama Sabha and Local Council levels than in district or provincial units.