Submission of the APRC Proposals

In a ceremony at the Presidential Secretariat on 23rd January 2008 the long awaited proposals of the APRC (q.v.) were formally handed over to the President Mahinda Rajapaksa by its Chairman Tissa Vitharana. The APRC was to represent all political parties but some of the more important ones like the UNP and the JVP did not participate actively in its deliberations. This is the document that has been demanded by the ‘International Community’ (q.v.) as indicating the political solution to the so-called ‘ethnic problem’ in Sri Lanka. The question is whether it will satisfy them and the other stakeholders in this drama.

The contents of the document have not been officially released but it’s the main provisions have been reported widely in the Press. It has been reported the Chairman of the APRC has succumbed to the dictates of the President. Thus the proposals represent more the position of Mahinda Rajapaksa rather than a consensus of all the parties involved in the deliberations of the APRC.

For a document of such importance it is surprising that there has been little comment on it. As far as is known the President has not said that he accepts this report as the final solution to the 'ethnic problem' although, as stated, it incorporates his own wishes rather than those of the APRC or its Chairman. So far only the speech of Minister Douglas Devananda , founder of the EPRLF (q.v.) has been reported in the Media. The question is why the other Ministers, and even the President himself, have not given their ringing endorsement to the much sought after "solution". The ‘Patriot Lobby’ (q.v.) too has been silent as they generally blindly follow their leader.

The substance of the Report is said to be the implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, and the associated Provincial Councils bill. These are legislation actually passed in 1987 by J.R.Jayawardene (JRJ) and already exist on the statute book. It is ironical that the current President after so much prevarication has finally come down to the position advanced by the JRJ, the iconic leader of the UNP. It is as if the so-called Mahinda Chintanaya has had absolutely no effect on the proposed long-term solution to the 'ethnic problem'. This is not surprising as the Chintanaya, like other election manifestoes in Sri Lanka, was an opportunistic document.  

ACSLU (q.v) will only make a full analysis of the APRC proposal when is officially published in full. Meanwhile the main outlines of the Thirteenth Amendment are well known. Its chief features were:

  1. Tamil was made an "official language" with English as the "link language". This formally upturned the Sinhala Only law established by the Great Hela Revolution (q.v). Thus "parity of status" was finally recognized. What a "link language" does is nowhere defined in the legislation.
  2. Each province has a Governor, a Council, a Chief Minister with a Board of Ministers, and a High Court. These are features normally associated with a unit in a Federal State, the main difference being that in significant matters the actions of these bodies are subject to the President and Cabinet who can override decision with which they do not agree.
  3. Parliament could amalgamate adjacent provinces. It was under this provision that the NP and the EP were amalgamated to formed the North-East Province. This was recently declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
  4. The Governor is the chief executive, and is appointed by the President who can issue directives to the Governor. If the Governor fails to carry out these directives a "failure of administration" would have occurred and the President can take over the powers of the Governor and the Council.
  5. The Board of Ministers has to act through the Governor who in effect can veto any decision proposed by the Ministers.
  6. The Legislative powers of the Council are restricted to the "Provincial List" defined in the Constitution. These exclude matters like the military or foreign affairs. However limited Police powers are given to the Councils.
  7. In an emergency the powers of the Council can be overridden by the President and the Cabinet.

It will be seen that even though a comprehensive machinery of Government is set up for each Province in reality the powers resemble those of a local government body with a few enhancements. It is not known whether changes to this original 1987 scheme have been suggested by the APRC, and if the items in the "Provincial List" are changed in any way.

When JRJ brought down the 13th Amendment he had the support of the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. In fact it had been Rajiv who had suggested the Indian Constitutional model even though JRJ appears to have watered it down. Rajiv had originally intervened in the SL conflict on the side of the Tamils, but JRJ persuaded Rajiv to change sides subject to the Thirteenth Constitutional amendment. It was that this that led the IPKF to fight the LTTE, a fight which it lost as subsequently JRJ's successor Ranasinghe Premadasa helped the LTTE to get rid of the IPKF. It also led to Rajiv being assassinated by the LTTE.

It is unlikely that MahindaR will have the same kind of relationship with the current Indian Prime Minister that JRJ had with Rajiv Gandhi. Several attempts by MahindaR to influence the Indian PM failed miserably. The Indian PM seems to be more ready to listen to the SL Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesighe than to the President.  Besides the situation today cannot be compared with that in 1987 when the 13th Amendment was originally mooted.

The MahindaR – RanilW CFA (see ACSLU Blog ID 8.03) has completely changed the situation. During the six years that this pact was upheld by RanilW and MahindaR the LTTE had been given a de facto territory. It is not likely that they, or the other Tamil leaders, will settle for something less. The two authors of the CFA have to bear full responsibility for a failure of a constitutional arrangement like that of JRJ in the current climate. These two together with Presidents Premadasa and Kumaratunga have to answer for many things. Their failures far exceed those of all political leaders prior to them. As has been pointed out in ACSLU Blog 8.03 the revocation of the CFA was too little and too late, and does not undo the damage it has done.

At the moment there is a great deal of hype that the Wanni is about to be "liberated". The two Rajapaksa brothers (Mahinda and Gothabhaya) has now been joined by the third (Basil) and the entire Defence of the nation has been made into a family affair. Even if the promise of the 3Rs that Killnochchi will fall is achieved it will not mean an end to the separatist problem. Of course the 'Patriot Lobby' and other Rajapaksa devotees will go into paroxysms of joy, but this will be short-lived when they realize that what has happened is that the country has gone back to square one, with the separatist problem largely unresolved.

As mentioned earlier none of the Tamil leaders today is likely to accept the Thirteenth Amendment of 1987. The LTTE rejected it even then. Today even the mild-mannered Sangaree, nor the TVMP terrorists supporting GOSL are likely to endorse it. Only the crafty Douglas Devananda appears to accept it. But we do not know what promises have been held out to him. His ambition is to become the Chief Minister of the North-East Provincial Council. He does not accept the separation of these two provinces. But even if the Thirteenth amendment is implemented and elections held in the North and the East his party may not win the elections in either province. Most probably a surrogate of the LTTE like the TNA may win control, certainly of the NP, and perhaps also of the EP. But this will not lead to a stable situation. The inevitable agitation for an increase in the powers of the Provincial Council will begin, and even if a puppet Governor is appointed he may not be able to control the agitation. The ground will be set for a new LTTE to emerge. It must be remembered that Tamil allies of GOSL like Devananda still sport the Eelaam label in their political parties. As for the TVMP terrorists they were fighting for the LTTE only a few years ago. Their main opposition is to the autocratic ways of Prabhakaran, not to the communal aims of the LTTE as such. If Prabhakaran is killed, perhaps in an SLAF air raid, the ground may be set for the non-LTTE terrorists to return to the LTTE fold. (It was recently claimed that a raid on an LTTE base near Iranamadu had killed a high-ranking LTTE leader, perhaps Prabhakaran himself, but this story has been quietly forgotten).

It must be remembered that all proposals for devolution, including MahindaR's "power sharing" are simply ethnic devolution. What is aimed at is ethnic separation, or what ACSLU has called the 'Apartheid Principle' (q.v). Such a political structure is highly unstable and will implode sooner or later. So there is little hope that the proposals of the APRC will constitute a solution to the separatist problem of Sri Lanka.