The Sunday Leader

We Are Looking At A Federal System Within A United Sri Lanka – E. Saravanabavan

By Waruni Karunarathne

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which contested under the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchchi (ITAK) at last week’s general election secured a landmark victory in the North and the East with 515,963 (4.62%) votes and bagged 16 seats – including two national list slots. The TNA has been considering extending conditional support to the United National Party (UNP) to form a national government. However, speaking to The Sunday Leader, newly elected TNA MP E. Saravanabavan said they are yet to discuss whether the TNA will join the new government. However, he said that they would support the reconciliation process if the new government is ready to address their concerns.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

Q: How do you view the results of the recently concluded election and the UNP’s victory?

A: People have given a proper mandate, and the TNA has also secured 16 seats and have become the third political force in the country. This is a good opportunity for the UNP to commence the reconciliation process. We also have a good mandate, and we can work together to achieve reconciliation. In order to achieve reconciliation, they should not hesitate to hand back the entire land in the North originally belonged to the people who have been living in refugee camps and sheds for over 25 years.

The Prime Minister has now got the mandate to do so without further delay. They should also give us a proper reply about the missing people. Kith and kin of those who had gone missing are anxiously waiting for some information to latch on to. Their quest has to be put to rest with proper answers. Further, there are about 300 Tamil political prisoners – as far as Tamils are concerned they are political prisoners. They may be criminals for some Sinhala politicians. When the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) committed crimes they were given a common amnesty. These Tamil political prisoners should also be given a common pardon.

This is time for the UNP to take necessary measures. During the interim regime, it is understandable that they were hesitant to take a clear stance in view of the election. But now they have a clear verdict from the people. They should take measures to stop land grabbing and handover the land to the owners. They have to address the issues about missing people and give a general amnesty to Tamil political prisoners. They have to immediately start a reconciliation process, which we will support once they address our concerns.


Q: Are you confident that the new government will address the concerns of the Tamils in the North?

A: We played a big role in the January 8 transformation. We are the ones who appointed President Maithripala Sirisena. If we boycotted, Mahinda Rajapaksa would still be the President of this country. It was an appeal made by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and President Sirisena, and they should not forget that they achieved their objective with the help of Tamils in this country. We defeated the dictatorship and handed the country over to a democratic government. If Rajapaksa continued to be in power, everybody would have suffered – all ethnic groups including Sinhalese. So we are confident these leaders will take our concerns as priorities and commit themselves to the reconciliation process without further delay. How can we go for reconciliation without addressing land grabbing issues, militarisation issues, and other issues that Tamils are facing at present? Once they resolve these issues, people will automatically have confidence on the government.

Q: Will you join the new government to form a national government? What are the conditions under which you would extend your support?

A: We are ready to support them for a national government. However, the new TNA parliamentarians have not yet discussed this matter. We have lot of ideas, but we will have to finalise after discussing with our leader. It is still premature for us to decide whether we will join the government. After discussions, our leader will tell what decisions to be made.


Q: The TNA has been demanding for a federal solution. But the new government has clearly declared that they would not accept the idea of a federal system. What is the way forward?

A: We have clearly stated that we are looking at a federal system within a united Sri Lanka with properly devolved power. In many countries all over the world, they have implemented a federal system successfully. For example, in Canada, India and Switzerland, and in many other countries where they have two or several different communities, they have implemented various forms of the federal system in which people live peacefully.

We also can do that. Sinhala government that comes into power always opposes any solution given for this issue. Why are they scared? They have to accept that there have been two communities in this country since the time of the British. Majority Sinhala politicians always suspect the Tamils.

There is about 70% Sinhala population in this country and the Tamil population is close to 30%. The North and the East are predominantly occupied by Tamils for more than 2500 years. In this context, you have to share power under a federal system.  Why do they want to suppress the minority Tamil community? Our manifesto was totally endorsed by people without doubts. Therefore, without making adverse demarks, the new government should consider our demands.


Q: The TNA has received a clear mandate from the people in the North and the East. How do you expect to carry forward that mandate to meet people’s aspiration in parliament?

A: For development all what we need is finance. We have a provincial council. I think the government should approve a bank under the provincial council. We have got means to invite people to invest and develop these areas and bring in money to these areas. What the government should do is to allow the North to handle the finance of the province under the Chief Minister of the Northern Province.

President Sirisena has approved that, but the Northern Governor has not given his approval yet. In order for us to move forward, we need a system to handle our funds. Then, there are powers with the centre. We have to work with the centre, we have to give projects and develop it here because we do not have sufficient funds. During Rajapaka’s time, it was completely neglected. We do not have factories in these areas. Even though we had factories earlier like Kankasanthurai (KKS) cement factory, chemical industries, glass factories etc, noting is now functional.

Small-scale work has started. To date, the government has not taken a proper initiative to start factories and create employments. The government has no plan to provide opportunity for Tamils – either through self-employment options or creating employments by bringing back exiting factories that are dysfunctional.

After the war they have not rehabilitated these areas and have not invested money. There have been a lot of discriminations. Now, they have to first develop infrastructure. How do you expect us to develop these areas without the support of the government? We will push these matters forward in the new parliament.

8 Comments for “We Are Looking At A Federal System Within A United Sri Lanka – E. Saravanabavan”

  1. Lanka Watch

    The Govt. should be a little more frank and explain as to why federalism does
    not suit Sri Lanka where as it flourishes in smaller countries like Switzerland
    and bigger countries like our closest neighbour India and Canada ,USA and
    many other countries and it is a success story in those countries and the govt
    knows it fully well. It is very clear here that the majority wants to have a ‘ruler
    and the ruled” policy. The hurried attempt by the President and the PM to get
    a govt. formed with losers and tainted MPs from SLFP/UPFA is to side line TNA.,tho’ they bragged that the selected ministers would be exemplary people
    with higher educational background. Most Ven. Sobitha Thera warned UNFGG before the election, that if tainted MPs are taken into the cabinet to administer
    the country, he will question the President/PM and may work against the ruling party. Twice in the recent past the Tamil people of N/E had come to the recue
    of the President and the PM and helped them establish democracy and not dictatorial rule The right option available for the Tamils prior to election was to
    have boycotted the election as both leading parties did not speak or had MOUs with Tamil parties and the results would have been disastrous and heart breaking. Even at the swearing in ceremony of the PM, there was no mention about reconciliation nor about settling the minority issues, which does not seem to take the priority. If the govt. is shy to use this word ‘federalism’ ,Tamils will be happy with another name provided properly devolved powers are given to Tamils of N/E within a united Sri Lanka.
    Some of the TNA MPs are bilingual and they should take the initiative to have
    one on one TV debates with those who oppose federalism and find out what their fear is. It is agreed that the Tamils want to live in harmony with majority people with their rights protected and they should understand that federalism is not a
    dirty word and lets move forward in the right direction..

  2. ranjit demel

    yes a fderal system is the best for devolution of power.i prefer a frderal system for s.l. with police and land rights for the federal states.iam against the meger of the n.p. with the e.p.a federal setup is not separation.if this government under h.e r.w.was only a unp government then probably the problem of d.of power could have been solved for the satisfaction of the tamils.unfortunately it is not.h.e.the president,the sinhale Buddhist nationalist of the jhu.and the jvp although not in the government would prevent hon p.m. to move the way he wants.the mindset of the present president is not different than m.r. and he will make his moves when the time comes.hon p.m. has to take care.

  3. Patriot

    “After the war they have not rehabilitated these areas and have not invested money. There have been a lot of discriminations.”
    Above statetement is furthest from the truth, as bad as Ch4 fabrications, but coming from a TNA or LTTE memeber, it is not a surprise, as we are now used to Wigneswaran’s and LTTE’s fabricated propoganda to mislead the world.
    As a matter of fact the previous regime lost many Sinhalese votes for pumping in funds for development of the North and East several fold more than the rest of Sri Lanka. One has to only take a picture of Today’s Jaffna and compare with Jaffna that was prior to 1983, when the full blown LTTE distruction began.
    As for federalism, it is a NO NO as the entire country belongs to its citizens and the Sinhalese who were the original inhabitants have welcome all other communities to live as equals in any part of the nation. We should not allow any ethnic community to carve out a region by committing genocide of other etnic groups living in regions claimed. There should never be any mono-ethnic region in Sri Lanka.
    Someone is trying to justify a federal state by referring to Switzerland, a country created very recently by Western powers. Sri Lanka is not in that category and is an ancient nation like Japan, England, Egypt, etc. Imagine dividing these countries based on ethnicity or religeon?

  4. Mahesh Fernando From CA USA

    Federal system in Canada and US is not to separate racially. Canada and US have huge land masses. In Sri Lanka’s case we are a miniature nation, which is
    just a size of a county in US. Saravanabavan is throwing lies to grab nothing but EELAM. He wants his “Tamils only North and East”, while more Tamils are living nationwide.

    • Haran

      Under federal system, any one from sri lanka could live and work in any part of the united island. Sri lanka coexisted for thousands of years with both Sinhalese and Tamils, both sharing common ancestry and helping one another.

  5. punchinilame

    Sinhala politicians will never open their mouth on the matter of resolving the
    National Issue – as they want to exist on Sinhala Votes. This is reality. We have
    now undergone 30 yrs of civil war, and a resolution of the matter in the 21st
    century is overdue. With UN coming into the scene, SL is forced to conclude this
    matter to the satisfaction of all. The Sinhalese will stand to benefit in the long run
    if an amicable understanding is reached, than be forced by the I/C. Politicians
    know very well how effective Federalism is effective all over the world and Peace
    reigns thereof, but when it comes to Sinhala politics, some imaginary factors
    are highlighted even by the sinhala intelligentsia – it is they who need to come up
    with this as a final solution.

  6. gamarala

    Tamils are not going to “run away” with the north and east. They only wish to live peacefully as equals – in every sense of the word – in the Lankan nation.
    They want to develop their areas by themselves with foreign help. Sinhalese appear afraid that they will become prosperous if this is allowed – after suffering under Mahinda R.

  7. Nimal

    For what a federal system? why dividing an area on ethnic lines? What are the very specific problems of tamils in Sri Lanka to ask for federalism or any ism?

    Pls remember that Unitary Sri Lanka is not negotiable.

    Whatever the government will be pls remember that days will be numbered if there is any isms going to be installed within Unitary Sri Lanka.

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