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News Features  


 

Will NE merger put the lid on reconciliation process?
By Wilson Gnanadass 
Former TNA MP M. K. Sivajilingam last Monday (20) sent a reminder to the government that Tamils in general have still not forgotten that the bisected north-east must be reunited.
His attempt to rekindle the forgotten subject obviously put not only the government that is currently negotiating with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to find a political solution to the national question, but even the civil society in an uncomfortable position.
Surprisingly, there was no response from the government. A response, either positive or negative would have trapped the government and would have caught it off guard.
The north-east that was merged in 1988 was de-merged in 2006. President J. R. Jayawardene merged the north and the east by using the Public Security Ordinance to amend the Provincial Councils Act.

However the Supreme Court in its judgment on October 16, 2006 held that the purported amendment of the Section 37(1) (b) of the Provincial Councils Act by the then President, by an emergency regulation was invalid and consequently the proclamation made by the then President on September 8 1988 constituting the northern and eastern provinces as one unit was also invalid.
Though Sivajilingam meant it to be a clear message to the government and the world, it is unlikely that the once separated provinces would ever be unified.
This fact might hurt the sentiments of the Tamils as the creation of a unified northeast entity is a fundamental issue to their struggle for democratic rights. Also this is one issue on which there is unanimous agreement among all Tamil political parties from the northeast.

The Muslim factor
For the Muslims, a merger is anathema. They would certainly not like to see the community dwindling under a merger. One third of the Muslims in a de-merged north-east would become insignificant under a merged north-east when the Muslim population would be reduced to one sixth.
Late A. H. M. Ashraff, realizing this fact, demanded a separate Muslim council under a merged north-east.
Nizam Kariyappar, a leading lawyer and member of the SLMC believes once the government commits itself to what extent it would go with the devolution, then the question of unit of devolution could be discussed and also feels talking of merger at present is premature.
“On the other hand if a new constitution framework is looked at then we must find out how the Muslims in the east will enjoy power. The question of merger is harmful.
“But the most important thing to talk about is a clear demarcation of powers to the centre and the periphery,” he said.

No room for merger?
Could Sivajilingam’s statement make any adverse impact on the ongoing TNA-government talks is another question that is raised by many. Many worry that this might undermine the talks and further jeopardise the existing relationship the TNA has with the government. The TNA’s position is very clear. The party has said that it will not press for the merger right now but would try to reach a consensus on it. However, some wonder whether Sivajilingam’s statement is aimed at disrupting the TNA-government talks.
According to Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare Minister Dilan Perera, the ex-MP’s statement is sure to cause a dent in the relationship the TNA has built with the government.
He believes the statement has a ‘mischievous twist’ and also feels this could generate unnecessary tension between both Tamil and Sinhala communities.

Perera pointed out that the de-merger of the northeast was purely due to the actions of the LTTE leader and confirmed that there would be no chance in the future for a merger of these two provinces.
“My friend Sivajilingam should understand that the eastern province has a chief minister elected by the people and he should ask himself whether it would be fair by the easterners to amalgamate the province in which they live in with the north.
“All what Sivajilingam should do is to participate in the northern provincial council election and have his people in the council and enjoy powers, without making unnecessary statements,” he said.
Be that as it may, if the Tamil parties are going to take up the merger issue again, it will delay the reconciliation process or even put an end to the process. It is up to them now to decide what is best.