Federal constitutions are for large countries – Small Sri Lanka doesn’t need federalism or asymmetrical federation

 Federal constitutions exist in 26 countries including US, Canada, Russia, Australia, India, Brazil & federal features also prevail in China. What do these countries all have in common? Their size. It is because of the size & the difficulty in governing directly from the centre that federal constitutions were created to hand over some powers from the central government to the smaller provinces (states) The powers of these states derived from the powers devolved by the centre, which inadvertently meant that these powers could at any time be removed or changed. When we can travel to the other end of Sri Lanka within a few hours, it is ridiculous to apply federal options suited for US, Canada, Russia, Australia or India to Sri Lanka & wish to change our constitution to one that resembles these countries? However, let us not forget that we are in reality a quasi-federal nation by virtue of the 13a devolving powers of the centre to the 9 provinces. This system of governance also proved a failure when 3 years after the implementation of the 13a a unilateral declaration of independence was declared in 1990. Over & above all this is the fact that the aspirations of the 1976 Vaddukoddai Resolution continues to prevail endorsed by ITAK in its amended constitution in 2008 confirming its commitment to creating a separate Tamil state. Therefore, the nation & its citizens have every right to insist that the centre continues to hold all executive powers & nothing other than administrative changes should be decentralized to the provinces wherein the centre can at any time remove or change the powers given.

Of the 193 UN member states, 165 are governed as unitary states.

26 nations have Federal Constitutions

Argentina – 23 provinces

Australia – 6 states / 3 territories

Austria – 9 states

Belgium – 3 regions

Brazil – 26 states

Canada – 10 provinces/ 3 territories


Ethiopia – 9 regions

Germany – 16 states

India – 29 states/ 7 union territories

Malaysia – 13 states / 3 territories

Mexico – 31 states


Nigeria – 36 states

Pakistan – 4 provinces / 2 autonomous areas / 2 territories


Saint Kitts & Nevis

Switzerland – is a confederation of 26 cantons

Venezuela – 23 states

UAE – 7 emirates

USA – 50 states

Iraq – 18 governorates / 1 region

Bosnia Herzegovina

Sudan – 17 states

South Sudan – 10 states

Nepal – 7 provinces

There can never be a perfect copy & paste model of any system that can compartmentalize states & people. Every nation is unique & must adopt a system that is suited & reflects that nation’s history, heritage & psyche.

The reason for the UN Charter to include non-intervention in the internal affairs of nations was precisely because external forces can never decipher how a nation functions whatever research or data they gather. There is no legal blueprint for a federal constitution while there is no 100% perfect country because of its federal constitution.

An important component of a federal constitution is its division of regions. Originally the island was divided into 3 – Ruhunu, Maya, Pihiti. The divisions that came later were all foreign imposed which explains the reason for its rejection. The British divided the island for its administrative purposes. The British controlled the island with 1 Governor & the Katcheri system. The Indian influence created the 9 provinces via the 13th amendment. Therefore, the root of the division of regions is itself faulty.

The next component of a federal constitution is the institutional framework dependent on the understanding that the regions carry out the policy framework of the centre while administratively looking after their regions. In short there can be no conflict of interest. This area is where the contention is vis a vis two key provinces that have been agitating for a separate state & using every nomenclature in the global governance systems to curry favour for this ‘separatist cause’. It is this key element that is the basis for the majority to reject any recommendations for a federal constitution facilitating this end objective, in particular when it appears the recommendations are striving to go beyond a federal constitution & propose an asymmetrical federal constitution giving these two key provinces more powers than the others. This is virtually handing over the platter of separation by another name thus fulfilling their original objectives.

In 2014, the GOSL gave the Northern Province Rs5.831m (the highest allocation) of which Wigneswaran and coterie has utilized only 25% as of September 30th 2014. The GOSL has spent from its national budget Rs.290,271 million for the Northern Province alone from 2009 to September 2014.

Since 1987 what have the provincial council system achieved for the people of these provinces that they were not given before its introduction? In the case of the Northern Provincial Council, the province being the least populated of the 9 provinces has always been demanding provincial budget second to the highest populated province the Western province but its budget allocation has never been utilized in full & has returned to the Treasury, while the central government has been utilizing its budget to the welfare of the provinces as well. In short, there is nothing special that the provincial council has done over and above the central government. http://www.dailymirror.lk/100389/underutilisation-of-funds-allocated-to-provincial-councils-editorial

The other component is the separation or devolving of powers from the centre to the provinces – 36 of the 37 subjects have been devolved. As per 13a the provinces have been given all powers except police powers & this has been denied for valid reasons.

Let us not forget that even after the implementation of the 13a proposed by India as being the solution to Sri Lanka’s conflict, the LTTE ran a defacto rule where it had its own police, own army, own navy, own courts, own administrative system, own currency…. TNA, the political party formed by the LTTE is now at the helm & it has not backed down or changed any of the original demands made. Any government would be insane to hand over what the LTTE fought for with the gun which its political wing is trying to achieve through political bargaining. http://www.sinhalanet.net/13a-is-implemented-but-a-failure-36-of-the-37-subjects-have-been-devolved

We cannot evade some ground realities. Indian presence in the North vis a vis hand over of strategic development projects, Indian consular office, Indians developing Kankasanthurai airport/Palali airport, the proposed Air/Sea bridge have all national security implications for Sri Lanka. We have never dealt with the historical issue of illegal immigrants from South India. Can these sensitive issues be handled by the northern/eastern provincial government that owes its existence to the assistance of India to help elect them to their roles? In such a scenario will it not mean that the centre is knowingly virtually handing over 2 key parts of the island to be ruled by a foreign nation?

With the quasi-federal nature of the present constitution, it is curious why TNA would give the impression that there is no federal component to the present administrative structure of Sri Lanka when there clearly is & the TNA has proved a failure at it. Failure in utilizing the budget allocated, TNA has also failed to win the approval of the people as can be clearly seen by the election results & the regular protests against the TNA MPs by Tamils. When the TNA cannot run simple administrative tasks how can they run a complete separate confederation or asymmetrical federation?


Certainly we can look into the various proposals being made but we first need to have answers to these questions.

  • Why there should be a new constitution & what the issues are that makes anyone feel the need for a new constitution & why these issues cannot be dealt with in the existing constitution
  • Who wants a new constitution
  • Who asked for a new constitution
  • Why are external parties so eager for a new constitution? Who are they?
  • Who are tasked to draft a new constitution & how representative of the people’s voices are they?

Any new constitution can be adopted but NOT before

  • TNA & its constituent parties have been investigated & cleared off links to LTTE & LTTE fronts
  • The 1976 Vaddukoddai Resolution demands are dropped in toto

Shenali D Waduge

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