A time of dwarfs: The return of ‘Sudu Nelum’ syndrome
Posted on October 26th, 2017


We live in a time of dwarfs, against whom we have to defend the achievements of giants.We have SWRD Bandaranaike’s historic rupture with the UNP to found a moderate nationalist anti-UNP formation and inaugurate a two-party system, reversed by Chandrika Bandaranaike’s realignment/reintegration of the SLFP with a markedly rightist UNP. We have the Sirimavo Bandaranaike-Felix Dias Bandaranaike-Colvin R. de Silva unitary Constitution assaulted by Chandrika Bandaranaike and Jayampathy Wickremaratne. We have the Gaullist executive presidential Constitution of JR Jayewardene besieged by Ranil Wickremesinghe, who failed twice to be elected to the presidency. Mercifully, President Jayewardene’s grandson Pradip has come forward to take on his distant cousin the Prime Minister, and defend the logic of the Jayewardene Constitution.

Can you think of anything worse than a referendum on a new Constitution which generates a massive NO vote in the South vocally mobilized by the Buddhist clergy and expressing economic protest, and a massive YES vote in the North? That would display to the world’s media a clear picture of a divided island, and through the international media, the impression would stick in the minds of the global public at large. Just for starters, what sentiments and enterprises will that trigger in Tamil Nadu? Well, that is the scenario that a new constitution, which indubitably needs a referendum, will bring about. Who would be wicked enough or crazy enough to want that?

The mother of the new, non-unitary constitution is Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. This was what two publications with a largely Tamil readership, the Uthayan and the respected Tamil Times (London) published in 1994, quoting Wasantharajah, soon to be President Chandrika’s appointee as Chairman Rupavahini:

‘Chandrika replied as follows: “…The present provincial council system is useless…The word ‘federal’ has been abused in the past. Therefore we will avoid that word and implement devolution in a meaningful manner. The country can be divided into five units of devolution, and wide powers can be granted to them. It will be possible to find a solution to the ethnic problem by bringing the North and the Tamil areas of the East under one unit and giving it the necessary powers”. ’ (Tamil Times, 15 July 1994)

This was CBK in 1994. The same toxic, corrosive and highly inflammable stuff was in her ‘Package’ of 1995 and 1997 and in the Steering Committee interim report presented by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and prepared by Jayampathy Wickremaratne. Riding on the back of a popular vote of over 60%, President Kumaratunga could not push through her new Constitution in 1995, 1997, 2000 or at any time during her two terms in office, including her popular first term.

CBK squandered the popularity of her first term on the ‘package’ and the ‘Sudu Nelum’ Movement of which Mangala Samaraweera was in charge. As Anuruddha Ratwatte told me (and reiterated in his book) it was because of the Sudu Nelum enterprise and its effect on recruitment that she could not win the war even after the liberation of Jaffna. What she should have done, certainly after Jaffna was won, was to accept her ally Douglas Devananda’s advice (later tendered publicly at the 50th anniversary of the founding of the SLFP) and implement the 13th amendment, starting with an Interim Administration of which he would be in charge. She just didn’t do that. She knew better, as she always does.

Her laser-like intellect (reinforced by the no less laser-like intellects of her crew of cronies, both retired and young NGOistas) tells her that what she couldn’t do under such favorable circumstances, i.e. a new non-unitary Constitution, she can get done now, when she isn’t even the President and isn’t even popular, but is a has-been ex-President and a wanna-be Sonia Gandhi. Go figure!

The legitimacy of the government or at least the UNP and the PM have been undermined by the revelations at the Bond Commission. The economy is growing at a slower rate than during a long, mid-intensity war. The government is running scared of elections. And it wants to weaken itself by abolishing the executive presidency and moving ahead with controversial, emotive ethnic reforms? Seriously?

This government is afraid not only of Provincial elections, it is apparently afraid of even municipal and Pradesheeya Sabha elections. Hence the likely postponement beyond January 2018. Would such a government, which is afraid of elections at a subnational level, at which the factor of incumbency gives the advantage of being the obvious source of future patronage, and at which there would be a three way split, take the risk of a nationwide referendum with a zero-sum outcome, at which a protest vote on economic issues and abstentions by the disgruntled UNP voters could cause an anti-government landslide? Almost certainly not.

That puts paid to a brand new Constitution for the foreseeable future, because it would indubitably require a nationwide referendum. The Supreme Court has correctly ruled that federalism is not coterminous with separation or separatism, but that does not mean that the same Supreme Court will rule that a dismantling of the executive Presidency and an unethical conversion to undeclared federalism, amounting to a constitutional bond scam, can be effected without a nationwide referendum.

With the government on the run from any and all elections, dodging a ballot bullet, it will get boxed into a Presidential election in late 2019. That can be postponed only by the abolition of the presidential system or by an amendment, but that brings us back to the starting point, namely the requirement of a referendum that the government is anxious to avoid or postpone; one that it cannot risk; MR and the JO’s silver bullet that it is trying to dodge.

What then can those who fear that a Sinhala electoral backlash in 2019-2020 would put paid to a political settlement with the Tamils, do now, and how can they do it? The answer is obvious if only logic and reason are your guides. The problem is that ideology intervenes. The logical answer is to effect a reform well before 2019, but keep it well within the limits that do not risk the reform being referred for a referendum. The most recent model is the 19th amendment which trimmed the excessive powers of the presidency. That is what a reform can do—trim the surplus or put more meat on the bones, but not undertake a complete change.

This is both feasible and easy. But there is a problem and that is of ideological extremism of two entirely contradictory, actually antipodal, varieties. The first is that of neoliberalism. Those of neoliberal persuasion insist on going beyond constitutional reform to total constitutional transformation i.e. a new Constitution. These are not merely fringe elements. This seems to be the view of the UNP, the TNA and the large, loquacious, sporadically logical lady.

Then there’s the other ideological extreme, namely these who do not want any constitutional reform whatsoever if it impinges on center-periphery relations. These are the neoconservatives and the New Right, located in the anti-government space and increasingly apart from the mainstream Joint Opposition.

The problem could be resolved if there is a mainstream consensus on pragmatic reform which eschews both the total transformation option as well as the zero change one. It will not be resolved because the main driver of the project for a new Constitution is lodged well within the ruling troika while by contrast, the anti-reform extremists are nowhere near the center of Joint Opposition decision making and are increasingly critical of both the JO and MR. What then is the way out?

‘The One and Only Path’ is the title of a recent article on the blog of a world renowned scholar. The friend I most respect and admire, Richard Falk, Emeritus Professor of International Law at Princeton, who teaches these days at the University of California, Santa Barbara, argued in a recent speech in Europe that the two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestine problem is no longer an option and that the focus should instead be on a one-state solution in which Israel’s apartheid structure is dismantled.

It seems to me that we in Sri Lanka could learn from Prof. Falk’s diamantine thinking. The ‘two-state solution’—Sri Lanka/Tamil Eelam– the Tamil separatists barbarically pursued was buried at Nandikadal. It may be revived someday through other means (leveraging the Indo-US axis, a Pongu Thamil civic uprising, a referendum etc.), but as Iraqi Kurdistan shows, that bluff could be forcefully called too.

The Tamil ‘one-and-a-half state’ solution of federalism by any other name is not going to work either, not least because it requires a referendum at which it will almost certainly be shot down by the Sinhala majority for whom federalism by any other name smells as bad.

What does that leave? A state of denial in which one pretends that there is no Tamil problem is one option, i.e. playing ostrich? That apart, there is a one-state solution, in which existing subnational autonomous units are strengthened while residual discrimination is legislatively eliminated.

If we apply that to Sri Lanka today, now that the Sudu Nelum Syndrome is back and CBK has driven the government into a minefield, what can be done? Be realist and effect political triage. The whole messy project of a new Constitution,and the internally (intra-governmentally) divisive issue of the abolition of the executive presidency which divides the coalition, should be junked in favor of a stand-alone effort which addresses the North-South Question. There too the aim must be a recalibration which does not risk a referendum by impinging on an entrenched clause.

What we are really talking about is the adjustment of the existing system of Provincial Councils which we have worked (ironically, except in the North) for thirty years this year;a constitutional adjustment, pressing the re-set button on the 13th amendment. With a solid phalanx of the Buddhist hierarchy from the Malwatte Chapter through Asgiriya to Amarapura having just come out decidedly against a new Constitution, the abolition of the Executive Presidency and the envisaged dramatic further empowerment of the Provinces, such a revision and upgrade of the existing 13A is not merely the best that can be achieved on the devolution front during thisadministration’s tenure, it is also the only thing that can be achieved. The window for such re-engineering is closing fast.

2 Responses to “A time of dwarfs: The return of ‘Sudu Nelum’ syndrome”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    This is pot calling the kettle black.

    Sri Lanka ceased to be a unitary state in 1987 with the 13A. It made Sri Lanka a federal state. The unitary label is kept for namesake only. If Sri Lanka is to become a genuine unitary state, 13A must be abrogated.

    Adjusting the existing PC system is far more dangerous than the new constitution!

    The new constitution can be defeated because it must go into a referendum. But another backdoor secret adjustment of the constitution (13A) just like the 13A itself cannot be prevented. This is called “piecemeal Tamil Eelam” (“a little now, more later”) appropriately named by Chelvanayagam.

    Although Chandrika was behind 4 devolution attempts (including this one), none worked! The only trick that worked (and destroyed Sri Lanka) is 13A. Lets identify and distinguish between extreme dangers that are unlikely and moderate dangers that are likely. The latter is far more dangerous than the former.

  2. Ananda-USA Says:


    Under the Proposed NEW TRAITORS CONSTITUTION of Sri Lanka, the National Government of Sri Lanka would not have the power to DISMISS a MERGED Northern and Eastern Provincial Government from DECLARING INDEPENDENCE UNILATERALLY, as the Central Government of Spain INTENDS TO DO under Spain’s Constitution to stop Catalonia from EXERCISING the independence it DECLARED UNILATERALY …. today!

    Sri Lanka will not have the POWER to PROTECT ITSELF from DISINTEGRATION as Spain DOES under its Constitution! Are we PATRIOTS going to ALLOW the Yamapalanaya to ENACT this TREASON??

    Catalonia declares independence from Spain, direct Madrid rule looms

    By Sam Edwards and Angus MacSwan

    Reuters•October 27, 2017

    BARCELONA/MADRID (Reuters) – The Spanish government moved to impose direct rule over Catalonia on Friday, stripping the region of its autonomy less than an hour after its parliament declared independence in a stunning show of defiance to Madrid.
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    Although the Catalan declaration appears to be a doomed gesture, both sides’ moves take Spain’s worst political crisis in four decades to a new and possibly dangerous level.

    Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called for calm and said the rule of law would be restored in Catalonia, where secessionists have long cherished the dream of a separate nation.

    A crowd of more than 2,000 independence supporters gathered in the Ciutadella Park outside the regional parliament in Barcelona, shouting “Liberty” in Catalan and singing traditional songs as the independence vote went through.

    The motion passed in the parliament after a passionate debate from advocates and opponents of independence said Catalonia constituted an independent, sovereign and social democratic state.

    Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont left the chamber to shouts of “President!” and mayors who had come from outlying areas brandished their ceremonial batons and sang the Catalan anthem “Els Segadors” (The Reapers).

    “Catalonia is and will be a land of freedom. In times of difficulty and in times of celebration. Now more than ever”, Puigdemont said on Twitter.

    But immediately after news of the vote, which three opposition parties boycotted, Spanish shares and bonds were sold off, reflecting business concern over the turmoil in the wealthy region.

    Within an hour, the upper house of Spain’s parliament in Madrid authorized Rajoy’s government to rule Catalonia directly — an unprecedented move in Spain since the return of democracy in the late 1970s.

    In Brussels, the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said the independence vote changed nothing and the EU would only deal with the central government.

    The United States, Britain, France and Germany also swiftly dismissed the declaration and expressed support for Rajoy’s efforts to keep Spain united.


    Rajoy’s cabinet was meeting on Friday evening to adopt the first measures to govern Catalonia. This could include firing the Barcelona government and assuming direct supervision of Catalan police forces.

    “Exceptional measures should only be adopted when no other remedy is possible,” Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said in an address to the Senate on Friday morning.

    “In my opinion there is no alternative. The only thing that can be done and should be done is to accept and comply with the law,” said Rajoy, who has staked out an uncompromising position.

    How direct rule would work on the ground – including the reaction of civil servants and the police – is uncertain. Some independence supporters have promised to mount a campaign of civil disobedience.

    The main secessionist group, the Catalan National Assembly, called on civil servants not to follow orders from the Spanish government and urged them to follow “peaceful resistance”.

    “Tensions are likely to rise significantly over the coming days,” Antonio Barroso of Teneo Intelligence said in a note.

    “Demonstrators might try to prevent the police from removing Catalan ministers from their offices if the central government decides to do so. This increases the risk of violent clashes with the police.”

    The crisis unfolded after Catalonia held an independence referendum on Oct. 1 which was declared illegal by Madrid. Although it endorsed independence, it drew only a 43 percent turnout as Catalans who oppose independence largely boycotted it.

    The crisis has split Catalonia and caused deep resentment around Spain. National flags now hang from many balconies in the capital in an expression of unity.

    Catalonia is one of Spain’s most prosperous regions and already has a high degree of autonomy. But it has a litany of historic grievances, exacerbated during the 1939-1975 Franco dictatorship, when its culture and politics were suppressed.

    The chaos has also prompted a flight of business from region and alarmed European leaders who fear the crisis could fan separatist sentiment around the continent.


    “It is not going to be easy, it is not going to be free, it is not going to change in a day. But there is no alternative to a process towards the Catalan Republic,” lawmaker Marta Rovira of the Junts pel Si pro-independence alliance said in a debate leading to the vote.

    After the debate, lawmakers from members of three main national parties — the People’s Party, the Socialists and Ciudadanos — walked out. Members of the pro-independence parties and the far-left Podemos then voted 70-10 in favor in a secret ballot aimed at hindering any attempt by Madrid to lay criminal charges on them.

    Spain’s constitutional court said it was reviewing the vote. The state prosecutor and other parties have three days to open a case.

    Montserrat Rectoret, a 61-year-old historian, was among the crowds in Barcelona.

    “I am emotional because Catalonia has struggled for 40 years to be independent and finally I can see it,” she said.

    (Additional reporting by Paul Day, Julien Toyer and Jesus Aguado, writing by Angus MacSwan, editing by John Stonestreet)

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