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Lanka ruling party for district as unit of devolution

Sri Lanka Freedom Party proposes grassroots level democracy by delegating power to district council, reports PK Balachandran.

world Updated: Apr 30, 2007 17:31 IST

Sri Lanka's ruling party, Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), is likely to propose that power be devolved to district councils rather than the provincial councils as is the case now, according to media reports.

There is also an offer to replace the present executive presidency by an executive prime minister, responsible to parliament.

The SLFP's proposal is expected to be announced on May Day, before formally presenting it to the All Party Representative Conference on devolution set up by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The proposal envisages a second chamber at the Centre called the Senate. The senate will comprise the chairmen of the various district councils and forty others appointed by the President. There are 22 districts in Sri Lanka.

But the executive powers of district council will be held by a district minister appointed by the president. And the district minister will be a member of the Central Council of Ministers.

The SLFP, which is the party of president Rajapaksa, is in favour of grassroots level democracy on the pattern of the Indian Panchayati Raj system. Rajapaksa has been inspired by the ideas of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Indian Sports minister Mani Shankar Aiyer both of whom pushed through Panchayati Raj.

Proposal receives flak

The SLFP's proposal has already been criticised by the opposition United Nationl Party (UNP), and the parties of the minorities like the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC).

These parties are for the continuance of the Province as the unit of devolution. It was the UNP which had instituted the Provincial Councils system way back in 1988. And the Tamils have been demanding a large amount of provincial autonomy in lieu of full independence.

The Muslims are eager not to counter the Tamil demand for provincial autonomy because a good number of them live in the Tamil-speaking north and east.

The minorities want the executive presidency to stay, albeit in an amended form. This is because an executive president, elected directly by an all-Island vote, will be depending on the vote of the minorities also. An executive prime minister, indirectly chosen from the ruling party in parliament, may not need minority support. To that extent, he may not care for the minorities.

The minorities also fear that if parliament is given all the power (as in the Westminster system), then effective power will permanently reside in the majority Sinhala community which constitutes 80 per cent of the population.

This is because parliament is bound to reflect the population ratio in the country.