On the All Party Conference and Panel of Experts appointed by the President
What this Panel of Experts will manage to produce, which would less likely to be endorsed by an ‘all’ party conference, will merely add to the existing 1997 and 2000 proposals: of value only to legal academics and political historians. Have the panel of experts been mandated to work on a policy document or on a new draft constitution? Will they be able to surpass and go beyond what has been stated in the Mahinda Chinthana, given that their mandate has been solemnized under the latter? Much will depend on the integrity and independence of the members of this panel. One also wonders whether this effort is initiated under the ‘Southern Consensus’ process? If so is it the Southern parties’ views that will be given prominence in the process? Can a government representing the state ever seek to produce a document that will be reflective of only one side of the divide? According to Minister Rambukkuella there is no time line for the panel of experts to finish their work. Again one is naturally inclined to ask the question what the strategy or the road map that the government has for the peace process?
One note about the debate on the label – federal or unitary? The argument to retain the unitary label is based on the theory that the majority community is afraid that any solution other than one based on a unitary Sri Lanka will lead to the division of the country. But we have heard the Mahinda camp say that the government is prepared for maximum devolution within a unitary form of government. Is this the people’s understanding of ‘unitary’, based on which Mahinda was voted into power? What is this maximum devolution? Can it go beyond what has been given through the 13th amendment within a unitary form of govt? The Hela Urumayas even cited the Banda Ache agreement as a successful example where power was shared within a unitary model of government. One constitutional expert actually said that if the Hela Urumayas had actually taken the time to read through the agreement then they would have found that the power sharing was extensive enough to compare it with a federal model of government or even more! I recollect CBK claiming that 70% of the country is prepared for a federal solution! Just that Mahinda won the elections on a ‘unitary position’ we are now told that the people are for a solution based on a unitary system. This leads us to certain fundamental questions about our democratic systems. What is the value that our politicians give to public opinions? Who makes these decisions on what the public opinion is on the question or for the matter on any question? How much does the common man give thought to questions of this nature? And how informed is he to make well informed decisions? Do we allow politicians who are victorious at elections to decide on what the public opinion on a matter is? Any average Sri Lankan will tell us that we cannot leave it to our democratic process to produce the ‘ideal’ leader. We have well witnessed after the 1970and 1977 elections. With a sweeping majority the parties in power interpreted the ‘mandate’ from the people to suit their own whims and fancies. What Neelan Thiruchelvan termed, using constitution making for ‘instrumental’ purposes. All these questions might sound like undergraduate political science exam questions but for me they are very valid ones to our discourse. This is the exact problem that we face in our democracies. Self-declared political pragmatists might suggest that this is a deficiency that comes with democracy and we cannot really do anything about it.
The only check and balances that can apply here is strong people based civil society based initiatives which will keep the people informed and the politicians on their toes. But the usual lamenting has to be recorded here one more time: How effective and people-based is our civil society to play this role?