‘It’s Time Sinhalese People Understand Their Leaders Lied about Federalism’

Speech in Parliament by MP Gajen Ponnambalam, April 23, 2022 posted by Tamil Guardian, London

Speaking in parliament Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, leader of the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF), stressed that the removal of the executive presidency is not sufficient, instead a total reform of the state on federal lines is needed.

“For the first time, Sinhalese people are questioning their own leaders,” Ponnambalam told parliament. They are calling into “question 74 years of leadership and the very system”.

“It is the same thing that Tamils have said for the last 74 years that this system is a failure. It is a system that is exclusivist, that will side-line people, that will create enemies within the state, and you need to change it” he maintained.

Ponnambalam’s speech comes amidst widespread protests across the island with Sri Lanka’s main opposition party calling not only for a change of government but the introduction of a 21st amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution which would repeal the executive presidency. However, Ponnambalam explains that for Tamils and Muslims, this is an institution that they have some leverage on as “you need 50+ per cent of the votes to get elected on the first round”. It can thus be seen as a “moderating factor” as a person who “aspires to that position will have to allay the fears of non-Sinhalese”.

Yet he also acknowledges that “it’s an undemocratic, dictatorial system, that needs to go”.

Examining the protests, he asks;

“Why is it that in the North-East, the Tamil people who have consistently voted against the Rajapaksas, who have consistently stood for accountability, that Gotabaya Rajapaksa stand before an international criminal court, and that Tamil people can get justice, why is it that consistently stood against génocidaires and war criminals” are not protesting.

“Why is it that the South is up in arms but the North-East is quiet?”

“They are quiet, not because they don’t want the Rajapaksa’s out” but because for “74 years we have been asking for a system change as well”.

A system change is needed “that empowers all the people of this country, that says Sri Lanka belongs to all its people, not just the Sinhalese Buddhists, but also Tamils, Muslims, and Up-Country Tamils”.

“If you’re not prepared to do that then today’s change is only premised on the lack of democracy to the Sinhalese people of the south”.

He further added that if the executive presidency is to go it needs a referendum. “If you are prepared to face a referendum, surely you should be prepared to go before the people by changing the whole system”.

He slammed the failure of Sri Lankan opposition parties to take on this issue and stressed that Tamils are willing to be “full partners” in changing Sri Lanka by not only repealing the executive presidency but bringing about its “true potential of being a multi-national country”. This can only be achieved through a federal constitution.

It is “time that Sinhalese people understand that their leaders will never tell them the truth, that federalism has nothing to do with separation. On the contrary, that federalism is the system that is pursued by countries that are foremost economically in this world and has shown in countries where federal institutions have been recognised for non-majoritarian systems those people have rejected separation” he added.

Read more here: Streets quiet in the Tamil homeland as protests flare in the South

Read more here: ‘Protesting is not new to us… it’s new to them’ – A Tamil student reflects on the protest in Jaffna

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