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UNP set to abandon federalism as a goal

world Updated: Sep 26, 2007 17:02 IST
PK Balachandran

The opposition United National Party (UNP) which had pledged to make Sri Lanka a federal state to resolve the long standing ethnic conflict in the island, is now thinking of backing out of it.

The media quoted senior UNP MP and former cabinet minister Ravi Karunanayake as saying that his party was "seriously considering the idea of repositioning itself" in regard to the concept of federalism.

He said that the UNP chief, Ranil Wickremesinghe, had proposed this at the commemoration of the 101 st birth anniversary of the Late JR Jayewardene, a former party leader and Sri Lankan President.

Political observers said that the proposed change was an attempt on the part of the UNP to ingratiate itself to the majority Sinhalas, for whom the concept of federalism smacked of separatism and secession.

But the Tamils, who have been fighting for federalism and who have been supporting the UNP in several parts of the country, will be alienated from the party if it were to abandon federalism as a goal.

Suresh Premachandran, MP representing the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA) told Hindustan Times that if federalism was abandoned by the Sinhala majority, there could be no talks on a political solution between them and the Tamils.

Pledge in Oslo

In 2002, after the ceasefire agreement with the LTTE was signed, the then UNP government had pledged to find a "federal" solution to the ethnic conflict. The Oslo Declaration signed by the government and the LTTE in December 2002 had this written into it.

Since then, much water has flowed down the Sri Lankan rivers. Today, the ceasefire agreement is in a shambles and the majority Sinhala community and the Sri Lankan government have all but formally abandoned federalism. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said that any devolution of power to the Tamil minority will have to be within a unitary constitution.

Role of international community

And this seems to enjoy international support. Through its Ambassador in Colombo, Super Power United States has signaled its readiness to support a devolution package which avoids mentioning the terms unitary or federal as both these terms are very controversial, with the Tamils being averse to the term "unitary" and the Sinhalas being averse to the term "federal."

India, the regional heavy weight, which once actively promoted federalism in Sri Lanka, has become indifferent now.

Given these conditions, it has become very difficult for the UNP to keep to its commitment to federalism.