Major political parties in Sri Lanka have flatly rejected the Tamil National Alliance (TNA)’s demand for federalism.
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)-led United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA); United National Party (UNP)-led United National Front for Good Governance and the Janatha Vimukthi Perumana (JVP) have, in unison, said the demand, if accepted, would lead to division of the country.
“Certain terms” will be interpreted to convey “different meanings” in Sri Lanka, said Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, general secretary of the SLFP. Federalism is one of them and “if you say federalism, people would think you are for separatism”, he added. The TNA has stated in its manifesto that power sharing arrangements must be established based on a federal structure, as they existed during the merger of Northern and Eastern Provinces. At the time of the manifesto’s launch, the Alliance leader R. Sampanthan had expressed hope that the major political parties in the country would accept the demand. Dinesh Gunawardena, leader of the Mahajana Eksath Perumana, one of the constituents of the UPFA, said the concept of federalism was “old”, and blamed the TNA for “trying to create an issue, which has settled”. Besides, by raising the demand, the Alliance has made a “huge negative statement”.
D.M. Swaminathan, a UNP leader and the Rehabilitation Minister, said his party is for a unitary State.
It is keen on turning Jaffna, the capital of the Northern Province, into a modern city with all facilities. The UNP manifesto has stated that devolution of powers can take place after taking the consent of all stakeholders.
Vijitha Herath, a JVP spokesperson, said the TNA, which had raised the demand at the time of election to in Northern Provincial Council two years ago, has done it again to get votes as parliamentary polls are due this month. This is being used by “chauvinistic political parties” in southern parts of the country to seek votes from the Sinhala Buddhist community. “It is not healthy,” he added.
While Mr. Yapa said devolution can take place under the 13 Constitutional Amendment, Mr. Gunawardena stated he was for participatory democracy – strengthening local bodies and ensuring people’s participation at grassroots levels.