The GTF Submission Is An Agenda For Failure

By Dinesh Dodamgoda

Dinesh Dodamgoda

Dinesh Dodamgoda

The Global Tamil Forum (GTF) published its submission for a new constitution last week. The submission contains counterproductive power-sharing suggestions, hypocrite statements, and an agenda for failure.

The Submission

The submission calls for institutional arrangements of inclusive decision making, partitioned decision making and predetermined decision making. Inclusive decision making mechanisms that the GFT proposes aim to share state power by including the Tamil speaking people’s will in the government by guaranteeing participation of representatives of elites from the Tamil speaking people in the making of governmental decisions. This aim is to be achieved through mandates that guarantee allocated positions in the institutions of governance (legislative, administrative, judicial and armed forces).

Partitioned decision making mechanisms demand for mandates to create a Tamil speaking ethno-linguistic region in the Northern and Eastern provinces, namely “Autonomous Tamil Region” or ATR with administrative autonomy, appropriate legislative power and the executive powers exercised by the Cabinet of Ministers. Hence the GTF implies a call for a ‘separate regional parliament’ for the Northern and the Eastern provinces.

Predetermined decision making mechanisms are to include mandates for prohibited decisions and an extraordinary amendment procedure to amend the constitutional provisions. The GTF calls for ‘vetoes’ as it suggests that the constitutionally guaranteed structures and functions of the government and the centre cannot be altered without the consent of the ATR body.

According to the above discussed decision making arrangements proposed by the GTF, the organisation wants an ethnofederal state on the basis of institutional arrangements under a power-sharing agreement. Therefore, the strategy that the GTF proposes to build sustainable peace and democracy in Sri Lanka is power-sharing.

Power-Sharing Provisions

The GTF included provisions in their submission for central power-sharing, territorial power-sharing, military power-sharing and economic power-sharing. Under the basis that the GTF named as Shared Rule, the organisation suggests to establish a second chamber to make regional/provincial representation as a mechanism to share power at the centre. In a form of government of Parliamentary democracy, a second chamber will establish a bicameral legislature in Sri Lanka. The ATR proposed by the GTF will send representatives to the proposed second chamber and the criteria for representation will be ethnicity. Hence the representatives will position themselves on the Tamil ethnic line at the centre in controlling legislative, executive, and judicial powers in the state.

In terms of territorial power sharing the GTF proposes to establish an Autonomous Tamil Region with an indication to establish a regional parliament for the Northern and Eastern provinces. Hence the GTF considers territory as a proxy for ethnicity. Furthermore, the GTF’s submission suggests to share military power as a right of the Tamil people by guaranteeing the right to due representation of the Tamil people in the armed forces. Moreover, the GTF demands to give the ATR the widest possible power to restructure the economy in respect of the public and private sectors. Hence they demand economic power-sharing provisions as well. In their suggestions, the GTF requests to make provisions to share national revenue between the central and the ATR governments, in addition to the regional generation revenue by ATR.

Power-Sharing is Counterproductive

Power-sharing strategy became popular in the 1990s and the international community attempted to include power-sharing provisions for post-civil war agreements on the basis of ethnicity. However, as Philip. G. Roeder and Donald Rothchild noted, “With little experience in promoting power-sharing arrangements in post-civil war situations and surprisingly little empirical evidence that power-sharing facilitates the consolidation of peace and democracy in ethnically divided societies in the developing world, the international community nonetheless plunged ahead with a series of experiments with power-sharing.” Both scholars went further and stated that the very same institutions that provide an attractive basis to end a conflict in an ethnically divided country are likely to hinder the consolidation of peace and democracy over the long term as dilemma emerges from the gap between the promises needed to initiate the transition and the performance necessary to consolidate peace and democracy.

Although the GTF relies on power-sharing strategy to build peace and democracy in Sri Lanka, power sharing is counterproductive and more likely to bring a recurrence of escalating conflict. One of the main weaknesses in the GTF’s proposal is that it privileges the Tamil people in creating institutions and devising policies in the ATR rather than taking into consideration rest of the dimensions in the society such as non-cultural identities. Therefore, power-sharing that the GTF proposes discriminates identities other than the ethnic Tamil identity and stands against the Laws of equality.

Furthermore, since power sharing institutions that the GTF proposes privilege the Tamil ethno-linguistic identity in the ATR, it gives powers to the Tamil elites to cultivate monopolistic identities through separate schooling, public celebration and propaganda. As a result, individuals from rest of the identities such as non-Tamils and non-cultural identities either will be discriminated or may suffer from unfair treatments.

As the power sharing privileges the leaders of Tamil speaking communities with mandated resources and powers that are not available to the leaders of other communities such as leaders of non-cultural identities, the GTF proposals threatens the establishment of a healthy pluralistic society and civil society organisations including NGOs that represent interests of non-privileged identities. Therefore, in terms of establishing and maintaining a healthy pluralistic society, the GTF submission creates obstacles.

The GTF proposals give the Tamil politicians expanded agenda control powers and means to frame agenda items as cultural conflicts. So, these politicians can reframe their demands as challenges to their allocated decision making rights and aim to gain expanded agenda control powers over various subjects such as sole control over natural resources or economic resources in the ATR. Any opposition to such demands may be interpreted by those cultural politicians as challenges to their sovereign rights. The danger is that these claims and counter claims by the Sinhalese minority in the ATR can result not only a debate over constitutional provisions, but even a civil war that threatens the peace.

Moreover, as the power sharing privileges a number of elites from the Tamil community, it concentrates state powers into their hands. The danger in this dimension of power-sharing is that it enhances those leaders’ ability to threaten the existing constitutional order as a few can impact on many of the ATR institutions and stability. Any opposition to such a move can result again even a protracted conflict or a civil war.


Although the GTF identifies ethnic Majoritarianism as the cause for problems, they proposes to establish an ATR with provisions for a regional ethnic Majoritarian administration. As one can view, ethnic Majoritarianism and Minoritarianism are two sides of the same coin. They create conflicts as they divide societies on ethnic lines. As the constructivists view, “often the politicization of ethnic identities is endogenous to the political process and in the absence of political-institutional constraints identities tend to be more fluid”. Therefore, politicised or politically privileged ethnic or religious groups tend to subsume all other groups and communities and often it creates “pathological situations” as it was in Yugoslavia and Rwanda or even in Sri Lanka in to a certain extent. Surprisingly, the GTF’s proposal is to privilege selected groups and create a majority on the basis of ethnicity.

The GTF submission states that they are for a plural, multinational state. However, as I mentioned the GTF wants to privilege the Tamil ethnic identity. Once you privilege ethnicity over other identities such as non-cultural identities, you discriminate non-ethnic, non-cultural identities. We live in a society with multiple and cross-cutting identities and ethnicity is one of them. Therefore, by proposing to privilege ethnicity how can the GTF stand for pluralism? Furthermore, the GTF calls for equality. Yet, how can they call for equality as they want to politically privilege a group only on the basis of ethnicity. Does not it infringe the Law of equality or equal liberty that the GTF wants the new constitution to respect as the GTF calls for “racial, religious and gender equality”? Moreover, as the ethnic group that the GTF proposes to privilege politically is a minority group in Sri Lanka, does not the GTF’s proposal undemocratic as well? The reason is that it stands against Westminster principles that the GTF proposes for Sri Lanka that respects the majority’s will.

An Agenda for failure

The GTF’s submission for a new constitution is an agenda for failure as its basis, power-sharing, has given rise to at least seven key problems that have thwarted the consolidation of peace and democracy. As observed by Philip G. Roeder and Donald Rothchild, power sharing limits democracy; empowers ethnic leaders even to challenge power sharing agreements; by privileging interethnic allocations for power and resources, power sharing discriminates other minorities such as non-cultural communities; even where ethnic elites are initially sincere in their commitments to power sharing, ‘the second-generation problem’ arises when ambitious, upcoming leaders with more radical demands try to replace moderates; expanded representation in power sharing causes governmental inefficiency as mechanisms such as ‘vetoes’ can end up governments in deadlocks; as power sharing institutions tend to be inflexible and unable to adopt to changing social conditions during a transition from intense conflict, it may not meet challenges posed by a post-conflict environment and result in governmental rigidity; and as it may be difficult to enforce the rules of a power sharing arrangement against opportunistic behaviour by the leaders of ethnic groups that are major parties to the agreement, power sharing may suffer from inadequate enforcement problems. These problems are directly relevant to the GTF’s proposals as well.

However, when power-sharing arrangements fail, the GTF as a proponent of power-sharing can call for two more typical, extreme solutions, namely establishing a protectorate under foreign power(s) or international organisation(s) or partitioning the state as the last resort. Yet, the proposal for a protectorate that power-sharing proponents propose is also a failure. Except for exceptional cases like Canada’s federal system that survives for nearly a century due to the exceptional role of the Judicial Committee of the British Privy Council in London that gives Canadian provinces the powers to appeal, it is proven that international protectorates will not last long. Hence partitioning the state is the ultimate solution that the GTF as a proponent of power-sharing can think of as a mechanism to build sustainable peace and democracy. Therefore, it is likely that power-sharing institutions that the GTF proposes would not build peace and democracy in Sri Lanka and may create a separate state in the Northern and Eastern provinces as the ultimate solution that the proponent of power-sharing offers.