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“Think like a Sri Lankan”

By Madhuri Ranasinghe.

In a recent discussion on preventing future calamities like “Kalu July,” which fueled a thirty-year
civil war, Honorable MP Mano Ganeshan expectantly spoke about the significance of “Thinking
Like a Sri Lankan.” Unfortunately, as a divided nation, we, the Sri Lankans, have overlooked the
core principles of being true citizens of this country. Instead, we are now focusing heavily on
individual interests, race, and religion, resulting in chaos, division, and socioeconomic challenges
among different communities, impeding the overall progress of our nation.
Context of the National Issue
The Sri Lankan civil war took place from 1983 to 2009 as a response to the ghastly events in July
1983, with the objective of establishing an independent state called Tamil Eelam in the northern
and eastern regions of the country. Spanning 26 years, this war posed significant challenges to the
nation, affecting its population, environment, and economy. In May 2009, the military succeeded in
defeating the Tamil Tigers, but the conflict resulted in an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 lives lost.
Ethnic reconciliation continues to be an elusive goal even after 14 years since the defeat of the
LTTE.
Throughout history, Sri Lanka has grappled with debates surrounding division and power-sharing.
The challenge facing the stakeholders, including the global community, the Sinhala, and the Sri
Lankan Tamil Diasporas, is to find common ground and reconcile their differing perceptions of
these crucial aspects. Achieving this harmony is no easy task, but it is undeniably essential for
political empowerment and reconciliation.
Sri Lanka’s power-sharing debate has revolved around the terms ‘federal’ and ‘unitary.’ In 2019, the
Supreme Court acknowledged the fluidity of these labels, and a creative reform proposal sought to
define Sri Lanka as ‘aekiya rajyaya/orumitha nadu/One State,’ offering potential opportunities for
consensus. Nevertheless, formidable obstacles remain. Regardless of the outcome of this reform
effort, it is crucial for reformers to prioritize the political aspect if Sri Lanka is to ever find a fair and
equitable resolution to its ethnic conflict.
13th Amendment and Indian Influence
The 13th Amendment introduced the concept of Provincial Councils, aimed at establishing a
power-sharing mechanism across all nine provinces in the country, even in Sinhala majority areas,
to facilitate self-governance. Under this arrangement, certain subjects like education, health,
agriculture, housing, land, and police were devolved to the provincial administrations. However,
due to limitations on financial powers and the President’s overriding authority, the provincial
administrations have faced challenges in making significant progress. Notably, the provisions
regarding police and land have never been put into action. Initially, the northern and eastern
provinces were merged to form the North-Eastern Provincial Council, but in 2007, they were
separated again following a Supreme Court ruling.
India has pragmatically advocated a two-stage process in the recent past: first, full implementation
of the 13th Amendment, followed by further progress beyond it. This approach acknowledges the
practical challenge of immediately achieving the “13-plus” formula without first realizing the 13th
Amendment in its entirety. Even today, India’s support for resolving this issue has been revolving
around the same solution.
During a recent visit to India, Honorable President Ranil Wickramasinghe’s discussions shed light
on potential changes concerning the national issue, aligning with India’s interest in regional peace
and power dynamics. The future of the 13th Amendment, a decision made by the President, must
be resolved to satisfy all communities in Sri Lanka and possibly align with India’s diplomatic
interests, as India perceives itself as a legitimate external stakeholder.

According to a recent study conducted by Sanjayan Rajasingham at Yale University, if a
constitution labelled as federal appears politically unfeasible in Sri Lanka, an innominate
constitution could be a viable alternative. Drawing from comparative experiences in countries like
India, South Africa, and Spain, the research advocates for adopting an innominate constitution for
Sri Lanka. These countries’ experiences offer potential pathways to federalize an innominate
constitution and foster the constitutional culture necessary for a future explicitly federal Sri Lankan
constitution.
Belgium’s Model of Unity: Resolving Ethnic Issues through Equal Representation and
Power-Sharing
Belgium’s resolution of its ethnic issues serves as a noteworthy example of successful conflict
management and fostering unity among its diverse communities. In recognition of the country’s
regional differences and cultural diversities, Belgian leaders initiated a series of constitutional
amendments between 1970 and 1993, establishing a unique arrangement to ensure coexistence
and harmonious governance for all citizens.
A pivotal aspect of Belgium’s solution lies in its commitment to equal representation and power-
sharing between the Dutch and French-speaking communities within the central government.
According to the Belgian Constitution, both language groups are granted equal ministerial status,
preventing any single community from making decisions unilaterally. This arrangement fosters a
spirit of cooperation, as any significant decision requires consultation and agreement between both
language communities. Even though the Dutch-speaking population constitutes a majority in the
country, they willingly accepted equal representation to accommodate the interests of the French-
speaking community, particularly in the capital city, Brussels, where both communities enjoy parity.
Belgium’s transformation into a federal state further contributed to resolving ethnic tensions.
Significant powers were devolved from the central government to the two regions, Flanders and
Wallonia, granting them greater autonomy and reducing subordination to the central authority. This
decentralization of power empowered the state governments to address regional issues and
concerns independently.
In addition to the central and state governments, Belgium established a unique system of
‘community governments’ that cater to the specific needs of the Dutch, French, and German-
speaking communities. These community governments handle cultural, linguistic, and educational
matters, further reinforcing the country’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity. By entrusting the
community governments with responsibilities that directly impact each language group, Belgium
fosters a sense of belonging and identity within its diverse population.
Another key factor in Belgium’s success in resolving its ethnic issue is the establishment of a
separate government for the capital city, Brussels. This government ensures equal representation
for both language communities, despite the French-speaking population being the majority in the
city. The decision to share power equally in Brussels showcases a genuine commitment to
cooperation and compromise between the communities.
Belgium’s exemplary approach to resolving its ethnic issue is characterized by equal
representation, power-sharing, and a decentralized federal system. By recognizing and
accommodating the diverse needs of its language communities, Belgium has created a
harmonious and inclusive environment where cultural, linguistic, and regional identities are
celebrated. The successful resolution of Belgium’s ethnic issue stands as a testament to the power
of cooperation, understanding, and respect in building a united and democratic nation.
Sustainable Solution: Resolving Sri Lanka’s Ethnic Issue
Sri Lanka stands apart from any other country in the world, with its own set of intricacies and
complexities. Throughout its history, the nation has been marred by deep-seated ethnic tensions,

impeding progress towards unity and prosperity. Divisions stemming from race, religion, and
regional disparities have fueled conflicts, hindering socioeconomic growth. Nevertheless, amidst
these challenges lies an opportunity for Sri Lankans to unite, think as one cohesive nation, and find
a lasting resolution to the ethnic issue.
While drawing inspiration from successful models like Belgium’s resolution of ethnic tensions or the
South African model, Sri Lanka must craft a unique solution that fits its historical, cultural, and
societal context. Simply replicating another country’s approach may not fully address the intricate
complexities underlying Sri Lanka’s ethnic issue.
At this crucial juncture, Sri Lanka faces the imperative task of resolving its national issue. By
adopting a mindset that reflects the collective identity of Sri Lankans and embracing the diversity
that enriches our nation, we can forge a path towards lasting peace, unity, and prosperity. Learning
from successful models and adapting them to our distinct contexts will enable us to construct a
solution that fulfils the aspirations of all citizens. Through collective responsibility and cooperation,
we can pave the way for a brighter future, where all Sri Lankans coexist harmoniously in a
prosperous society.