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Rajapaksa revises stand on unit of devolution

Rajapaksa now favours the "province" as the unit to accord with the wishes of the minority Tamils and the international community, reports PK Balachandran.

world Updated: Sep 17, 2007 14:31 IST
PK Balachandran
PK Balachandran
Hindustan Times

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had earlier favoured the "district" as the unit of devolution, is now understood to favour the "province" as the unit, to accord with the wishes of the minority Tamils and the international community, particularly India.

According to informed sources, Rajapaksa told leaders of the ruling alliance recently, that he wanted the "province" to be the "unit of devolution", and the "district" to be the "unit of administration." In other words, power will be devolved to the provinces, but it will be exercised through the district level administrative mechanism.

The Tamils have been fighting for provincial autonomy for decades, first peacefully, and later violently. The 13 constitutional amendment, enacted in the late 1980s under Indian pressure, had given a modicum of autonomy to the provinces. But the Tamils rejected it saying that it was too little too late. The majority Sinhalas also found the system to be unsatisfactory as they equated provincial autonomy with virtual secession.

When Mahinda Rajapaksa became President at the end of 2005, the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) proposed that the provinces be made politically defunct, and the district made the unit of devolution instead.

But this put off even the moderate Tamils, who were against secession and were supporting the President. India and the rest of the international community, which had been urging Rajapaksa to quickly come to a political settlement with the Tamils, were also dismayed.

Hindustan Times learns that Professor Tissa Vitharana, Chairman of the All-Party Representative Conference (APRC), which is charged with the responsibility of working out a devolution package based on consensus, is expected to come out with a proposal on the new lines advocated by Rajapaksa by September end. Vitharana would circulate his proposal to the members of the APRC and seek their views before coming out with a final package.

Constitution to be unitary

Informed sources say that the Vitharana proposal will describe the new constitution as a "unitary" one, in deference to the strong feelings against the concept of "federalism" among the majority Sinhala community. Also, there will be no re-merger of the Tamil-speaking Eastern Province with the Tamil speaking Northern Province. The Tamils, who have been fighting for federalism and the unity of the North and the East, will be disappointed. But the Vitharana proposal has features which will be welcomed by the Tamils.

For example, the proposed devolution system will not have a Concurrent List, over which both the Centre and the Provinces will have legislative power and in which the Central law will prevail over the Provincial law. Parliament, which is unicameral now, is expected to become bicameral, with a Lower House directly elected by the people, and an Upper House elected by the provincial assemblies.

First Published: Sep 17, 2007 14:23 IST