Yuthukama Challenges govt. on certain fundamental issues



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By Dr Palitha Kohona


The proposals submitted by Yuthukama to the public in the presence of the President of the Republic, last week, are well crafted, reflect the views of a majority of those who voted for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and should be subject to serious discussion. Some of the proposals may go through a process of refinement during the public debate, but they should be explored seriously. They also reflect some of the deepest concerns of the people, which found expression in the results of the recently concluded presidential election. There is an air of expectation in the country that these concerns will be addressed. Yuthukama backed the campaign of Gotabaya Rajapaksa solidly and was one of the key stakeholders that mobilised the voters to bring him into power.


Yuthukama has consistently supported the concept of a unitary state for Sri Lanka. There are no doubts or qualifications in the position that it advocates. This country should be a unitary state. This is the position presented to the voter by the winning presidential candidate and which was overwhelmingly and unequivocally endorsed by them. Any nuances to this approach that were advocated by the previous regime were summarily rejected by the vast majority of the people.


The President firmly reiterated this position in his inauguration address before the sacred Ruwanweliseya in Anuradhapura. Although muffled reservations have been mumbled by certain elements in our society, the president has drawn a line in the sand from which it would not be possible to retreat and still remain credible. The constant ignition of social and ethnic tensions with a barely camouflaged separatist agenda based on a notion of devolution of power and a possible eventual separation will now need to be brought to an end. The vast majority of voters in Lanka, amongst whom were many minority voters, did not endorse the separatist agenda. For them, an unambiguously unitary state provided the best opportunities for stability, and economic and social advancement.


Many in Sri Lanka firmly believe, for very good reason, that greater autonomy for the provinces will not solve the basic aspirations of the people for a better life. The majority in Sri Lanka's capital city, Colombo, consists of the minorities, Tamils and Muslims. They enjoy all the benefits of an area of the country which is economically disproportionately prosperous. They have good schools, their temples and places of worship are thriving, they are well represented in the professions and their businesses compete successfully. Social integration continues to be achieved with exceptional rapidity. All this has been realised, not through autonomy but by being provided the space to benefit from opportunities available on equal and non-discriminatory terms. There is little doubt that the rest of the country could mirror this success within a unitary state. One recalls that during the colonial era, language or the lack of autonomy for the provinces did not hinder the elite of all communities, irrespective of ethnic origin, from successfully achieving their socio-economic dreams in the country.


It is also important to remember that the Northern and Eastern provinces were created following the Colebrooke - Cameron Commission report 1833, not to address the wishes of any minority but for administrative and financial reasons and also to dilute the political unity of the Kandy an Kingdom. Large parts of the Kandyan Kingdom were hived off to be attached to the Northern and Eastern provinces. 


President Rajapaksa has also asserted categorically that all citizens should enjoy equal rights irrespective of their ethnic, religious and social background. He repeated this stance in his address to the nation on Independence Day. Sri Lanka has pandered piece meal to demands based on ethnic politics in the past, and has not come anywhere near to solving the so called ethnic issues. The bickering which started before independence continues despite all the efforts undertaken by different leaders. The basic needs of all the people, especially the economic aspirations of those living in non-urban and remote areas, remain inadequately addressed. In the circumstances, the fresh approach proposed by Yuthukama and articulated by the president needs to be given space to be tested. Many advanced countries have minimised ethnic tensions by creating equal economic opportunities for all their citizens. There is hardly an example from elsewhere in the world where ethnically determined separation has succeeded in resolving social and economic tensions.


In addition, consistent with the situation in many developed states, the President has underlined the need for all citizens to be governed by the same law. Yuthukama has campaigned for this policy approach all along. Lanka, being a very small political and geographical entity, it stands to reason that all its citizens be governed by the same law and enjoy the same rights, privileges and obligations. The geographical entity Sri Lanka is far too small to be divided and governed by different laws which only tend to exacerbate the differences among its people rather than encourage the development of a common identity. As a people, Lankans must be encouraged to think as one people and obstructions to the evolution of a common identity must be removed. Now is as good a time as any.


Consistent with the principle of ensuring the supremacy of parliament, Yuthukama also proposes that the parliament be conferred the powers to override, amend or terminate any law that has been adopted in any provincial council by simple majority. This will be a significant step towards entrenching the national Parliament as the supreme law making authority and ensuring that the whole country, as small as it is, is governed by the same basic laws. It is difficult to imagine what fundamental issues of intrinsic concern to the nation as a whole need to be reserved for the local authorities. 


On language, Yuthukama has categorically reflected the current position, namely that Sinhala, the only language originating in the island of  Lanka, and the language used in the governance of the country for over 2500 years, shall be the official language which should be proudly used for official purposes, including for communications made internationally. Translation facilities are readily available today, including through the electronic medium. Even the leaders of Maldives, our neighbour to the west, do so. However, Yuthukama also acknowledges the right of Tamil speakers to be educated in Tamil and deal with the Government in their own language, should they so desire. This has been the position of Sri Lankan leaders at least since the fifties. 


Yuthukama also proposes that law and order should be the responsibility of the central government. This may cause concern to those wedded to the externally imposed and internally reviled 13th Amendment. But the need for uniformity and the creation of one national identity has been often highlighted during the election campaign. It also needs to remembered that many influential forces in our society have articulated  serious reservations about the utility of the provincial councils.


This was particularly evident during the election campaign. Provincial councils have been described as costly and ineffective white elephants. With road, rail, telephone and internet communications expanding and becoming very intrusive and effective, the concept of provincial councils in a small geographical entity as Lanka would sound archaic. This is an era when it is possible to run a large office in New York with the help of a cellular phone while lying on a beach in Arugam Bay.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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