To be or not to be

By Maheesha Mudugamuwa

With speculation that Sri Lanka is looking at re-implementing the ancient three Rata Sabhas (Ruhunu, Maya, and Pihiti) in place of the nine provinces and around 638 provincial councillors, questions are being raised about the future of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that resulted in the formation of the provincial council (PC) system.

Some predict that the abolition of PCs would save billions of rupees a year which can then be redirected towards the development of the country, while others believe it isn’t realistic to re-implement the Rata Sabhas in the present-day economic atmosphere.

Nevertheless, many questions on the PC system remain unanswered while a date for the long-delayed PC election too is yet to be decided by the Government.

Initially, it was said that the Constitution would be amended and along with it the PC system, but now with the proposed 20th Amendment being put forward, the amending of the Constitution has once again been put on the backburner.

As learnt by The Sunday Morning, the division of the country into three regions – Ruhunu, Maya, and Pihiti – has been proposed to enable equal access to the country’s resources as well as to eliminate ethnic issues that have prevailed over the past decades.

Even though rumours to the contrary are making the rounds, it is learnt that a final decision on the proposal is yet to be made by the Government.

State Minister of Provincial Councils and Local Government Affairs Sarath Weerasekara said a public discussion on the PC system was ongoing, while several organisations were also proposing various systems as alternatives to the present system that was introduced to the Constitution via the 13th Amendment.

“One such proposal is to divide the country into three regions like it was during the ancient times,” he told The Sunday Morning.

However, the Minister stressed that he hasn’t taken a decision on the matter and is studying all the proposals submitted to him.

Thun Sinhalaya

Thun Sinhalaya is the world’s oldest political division.

As described in an article by former Permanent Secretary and Senior Citizens Movement – Mahanuwara President Dr. Sudath Gunasekara, the divisions were permanently marked on the ground in 427 BC by King Pandukabhaya with village boundaries laid all over the island, though the divisions were conventionally accepted for millennia before that.

The three political divisions of the island continued for 2,242 years up to 1815 AD with only minor changes in size and boundaries, with the latest change being from 1505 to 1815, pertaining to the identification of the Kandyan Kingdom and Maritime Provinces with the advent of the Europeans.

Additionally, in the South Asia-China Dialogue in 1983, it is said that the Principality of Ruhuna, also referred to as the Kingdom of Ruhuna, is a region of present-day Southern and Eastern Sri Lanka. It was the centre of a flourishing civilisation and the cultural and economic centres of ancient Sri Lanka. Magama, Tissamaharama, and Mahanagakula (now called Ambalantota) were established here.

The Maya Rata (Principality of Maya Rata), also known as the Kingdom of Dakkinadesa, was a medieval era Sinhalese kingdom located in the western part of Sri Lanka. The capitals were Kelaniya and Panduwasnuwara. The boundaries of the Kingdom of Maya Rata are Deduru Oya River from North, and Kalu River from South.

Practical solution needed

That the re-implementation of the Thun Sinhalaya is being considered, was criticised by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), which sarcastically told the Government to appoint three kings to rule these three regions like in ancient times; they were clear in expressing that they believe it is not practical.

Speaking to The Sunday Morning, former JVP MP Sunil Handunnetti stressed that the JVP, from the very beginning, opposed the PC system and had always urged successive governments to strengthen the local government instead.

“The PC system is a white elephant and almost all issues that have prevailed in society at present have arisen after the introduction of the 13th Amendment,” he stressed, adding that even though the JVP opposed the system, for as long as elections are held, the party would contest.

Speaking to The Sunday Morning, People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) Executive Director Rohana Hettiarachchi said: “In order to hold the PC election, the electoral system should be changed by passing an amendment to the Provincial Councils Act,” stating that the existing Act (Provincial Councils Elections [Amendment] Act No. 17 of 2017) will come into effect after 2021.

“Then, automatically, the previous electoral system would function. But for that to happen, approval should be obtained from the Cabinet and Parliament. That process will take two or three months,” he stressed, pointing out that if the Government decided to go ahead with the proposed new system, the Delimitation Report of the Delimitation Committee would need to be gazetted by the President, which would also take at least three months.

Political will questioned

Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) National Co-ordinator Manjula Gajanayake stressed that it was the previous Government’s responsibility to hold the PC election.

“All 225 members are responsible for the situation as they had defeated the Delimitation Report. Once they defeated the report, another committee was appointed under the chairmanship of the former Prime Minister – and we still don’t know what has happened to that report,” he stressed.