Former Chief Minister of merged North and East A. Varadaraja Perumal said Right to Self Determination should not be only given to Tamils but to people in every region of this country. Autonomy in every region is a must for the government to deliver efficient development to the people.
“The latest Constitution in Nepal can be a very good model for Sri Lanka. Some 500-600 regions have been united in India for the past 60 years as a result of their quasi- federal Constitutions. More than 40 years’ conflict in Nepal had been settled with a federal Constitution. When federalism was not there in America a civil war occurred,” he said.
Following are excerpts:
As you arrived in Sri Lanka, one of your interviews stated that you are keen on contributing to the devolution agenda. What exactly would be your contribution? Would it be a contribution directly to the government or as an individual?
There cannot be any institution called ‘individually’. Former President J.R. Jayewardene made the Constitution of the country for his own interest, thus this country suffered for the last 40 years. Therefore, the next Constitution should not be for the interest of any individual, a specific group or even a specific race. It should be for the benefit of all communities and all regions of this country.
You say the Constitution should be drafted in a thoughtful manner. If so what are the main elements that should be included in the new Constitution?
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe has given a clear picture on how the Constitution shall be framed. The executive presidency should be abolished and the cabinet system should be re-introduced. Therefore the Parliament will play the Legislative role and the President will be nominal.
Both the proportional representative system and first past the post system were failures in this country, therefore electoral reforms is a must in the current scenario. From 1994 onwards when former President Chandrika Kumaratunga came to power, this country repeatedly attempted to bring a new system, which will have a mixture of both electoral systems.
The third element would be devolution. The Prime Minister had already stated that devolution will be implemented to the satisfaction of all communities. Thus the Public Representation Committee for Constitutional Reforms was formed and it had gathered ideas from various parts of the country, from people to party representatives. I was told that the committee has gathered enthusiastic ideas. All communities of this country will support devolution, abolishing the executive presidency and electoral reforms.
Therefore, I don’t think the government will have to bow down to any side, especially to extremist ideas. This government is a unification of both ruling parties. If the leaders are willing, people will also move towards peace and fraternity. They want the Constitution of development, not conflict, and currently it is the role of the leaders to deliver to the people as they promised. It is not simply the abolishing of executive presidency, electoral reforms or greater devolution to the provinces, but they must add many other elements to the Constitutional reforms.
It is a must to fully restore the independence of judiciary. The essential element is the rule of law, through which devolution can be achieved. The Constitution should vest the supremacy on people. Parliament is not supreme but the Constitution. Parliament is part of the legislative system and it is not the only legislative system. Devolution should be very clear unlike the 13th Amendment. The 13th Amendment had many hindrances within itself; as a result it turned out to be a failure. Devolution of power in the Constitution should be very clear without any ambiguity and without provincial councils being subjected to overriding by Parliament.
The latest Constitution in Nepal can be a very good model for Sri Lanka.
How far is federalism practical to Sri Lanka?
Federalism means the degree of devolution to the provinces. The federal system is the best system to resolve the ethnic question in the country and also the conflicts between the regions and centre. When power is concentrated in the centre, the regions will be neglected. People in the regions should rule themselves. Therefore right to self determination should not be only given to Tamils, but to people in every region of this country. Autonomy in every region is a must for the government to deliver efficient development to the people.
Let it be unitary or federal, leaders just campaign for the people. But most people aren’t aware of the actual meaning of unitary or federal. Some sections in this country take the extremist line to frighten the people and say that federalism will bring in divisions. Federalism will not bring divisions. More unitary features will bring in problems. It is the unitary system that brought a war to this country.
Some 500-600 regions have been united in India for the past 60 years as a result of their quasi- federal Constitution. More than 40 years’ conflict in Nepal had been settled with a federal Constitution. When federalism was not there in America a civil war occurred.
Therefore in the last 250 years, history has proved that the federal system has played a role in uniting nations than dividing. Some Sinhala leaders for their own vested interest, to capture power, have always misled the people of this country.
I don’t know the stand of the current government, but I would request them to implement absolute devolution. The 13th Amendment was a failure because it was not implemented properly.
You have recently said that you were not present when the Indo-Lanka Accord was signed and that you never met Former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Is that true?
I met Prime Minister Gandhi in 1985 and I was one of the participants in the Thimpu Talks, which was between the Tamil delegation and the Sri Lankan Government delegation.
My point is that the 13th Amendment was not drafted by India and it did not get the approval of the Government of India. The 13th Amendment was completely drafted by J.R.Jayewardene and his team. Indo-Lanka Accord is a general agreement and it is not a Constitutional draft.
I feel I have been misunderstood and misquoted.
Being the former Chief Minister of the North-East, do you agree that the Northern Provincial Council is malfunctioning?
Northern Provincial Council is not complaining about anything regarding devolution. They are not talking about what they should talk, instead they are talking about the Army, UN, refugees and disappearances. It seems like they do not care about devolution. They are sitting at a place where the slogans do not match. They have failed to do their business at the Provincial Council. They have failed to do their duty. They have passed 260 resolutions in the last two and half years, but have not passed a single resolution connected to devolution of power.
After two and half years only corruption has come out of their council.
Is it true that you will be representing the Reconciliation Task Force established in the North and East headed by Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga?
I didn’t receive any such offer. I want this country to be developed. I want all communities of this country to live united with peace and fraternity. In such a situation although former President Kumaratunga is not in power, she has the authority to achieve something positive. She tried her level best to introduce a political solution that was almost closer to a federal set up. She campaigned against the war among Sinhala people.
Therefore I will agree to her offer if she invites me to join her.
How do you think issues relating to political prisoners and missing persons must be dealt with? Do you think these issues have created a negative reputation about the current government like the previous?
This government should not keep these for issues. Thousands of people who were directly involved with the LTTE and who engaged in serious acts of violence are free to function and they are released. Why should they only keep these prisoners in remand? This is itself is against reconciliation.
The government should find a practical stand to solve these issues.
Again the extremists in this country are behind these issues. Extremists at both ends do not have a place in this country. If they contest elections alone nobody shall vote for them. People of all communities in this country have created a golden opportunity and the government should make every decision with determination.
Even in the issue of missing persons, the government should find ways and means to satisfy the people who have lost their kith and kin. Most people have vested interests; they want to make every issue racially sensitive.
Do you also believe that the international community will help the Tamil people to achieve their aspirations?
I don’t say that the international community must do so, but if they are willing to help us solve problems it is completely fine.
I’m not against the international community, but I would like to make a point that they will not stick to our demands.
BY Mirudhula Thambiah / Ceylon Today