Sri Lanka: Endless Debate — Ekiya or unitary or unary?

Now, let us look what it is meant by “unitary”. According to the Oxford Dictionary, unitary means forming a single or uniform entity –relating to a system of government or organization in which the powers of the constituent parts are vested in a central body.

by Priyantha Wijayatunga

( October 20, 2017, Stockholm, Sri Lanka Guardian) As we all may know, “Republic of Sri Lanka is a unitary state” according to the current Constitution of Sri Lanka. Therefore, we believe that Sri Lanka is an undivided and single state, by definition. However, it is learnt that in the draft English document/report that is being highly discussed currently by many parties and individuals on a possible future constitution of Sri Lanka, it is stated that Sri Lanka is a free, sovereign and independent republic which is an Eekiiya Rajya/ Urumitta Nadu. The word “unitary” is not being used any longer and also not any replacement with an appropriate English word appears there. And proponents of the document claim that “Urumita Nadu” means “Eekiiya Rata”, whereas opponent of it claim that it means united country implying that it consists of several states, similar to a federal state such as the one in USA; therefore the word “unitary” should be used instead, like in the current Constitution to make sure that Sri Lanka is an undivided and single country.

However, according to Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, MP, one of the chief architects of the draft document, the use of the word “unitary” has some problems. According to him the word “unitary” does not mean that there cannot be a separation of the state. For example, the UK is unitary but it allows its components to break away at their will. Therefore, his opinion is to use no English word but the Sinhala word “Eekiiya Rajya” and “Urumitta Nadu”, which in his opinion is the best Tamil word for the Sinhala word “Eekiiya Rajya”, since there is no best English word to mean “Eekiiya”. Furthermore, according to him there are examples of some countries where terms from respective native languages are used in their English version of the constitution to mean one, single and undivided country. However, it is clear that it is best to use a suitable English word to mean “Eekiiya” in the English version of the future constitution of Sri Lanka, since internationally it will be read, referred and interpreted. Any misinterpretations can lead to controversies internationally, and they could lead to many problems for Sri Lanka, after all being a small country and with some reputation for having various types of pressure from the international community, at least recently.

Now, let us look what it is meant by “unitary”. According to the Oxford Dictionary, unitary means forming a single or uniform entity –relating to a system of government or organization in which the powers of the constituent parts are vested in a central body. This implies that constituent parts exist and they are left with no powers vested in them. And Collins Dictionary gives an example for the word unitary as follows. A unitary country or organization is one in which two or more areas or groups have joined together, have the same aims, and are controlled by a single government. So, the same implication applies here too. In one sense, since the word unitary deals usually with two or more constituent parts with a central body, one day the vested powers in the central body may be sought by these constituent parts, by sharing them, or a similar situation may arise. Note that it may be the case that a unitary country exists as long as its constituent parts hold the same aims. So, in that sense, the opponents of the separation of state dislike the word ‘unitary’. However, the word ‘unitary’ has been used for many years in Sri Lanka to mean “Eekiiya” and, therefore, its meaning is known to the people of Sri Lanka in that sense rather than having it well-defined.

If the word “unitary” to mean “Eekiiya” is not used mainly due to its problems elsewhere in the world and those mentioned above, my suggestion is to use the adjective”unary”. Note that it is very important to use an adjective to describe a state because, otherwise, one may be able to describe it differently by incomplete references even to its own constitution. The word “unary” almost never has been used outside the disciplines of mathematics, computer science and alike; but to my best understanding it means the nature of being oneness or “Eekiiya”. According to the Oxford and Macmillan dictionaries, the word “unary” means consisting of or involving a single component or element (especially of a mathematical operation). Furthermore, according to Collins Dictionary, “unary” means consisting of, or affecting, a single element or component. So, it is clear that the word “unary” means existing or being operated alone or as a single entity. Even though the word “unary” is almost confined to mathematics and related disciplines, it is never impossible to use it in other contexts such as political, sociological and so on. And the best thing about it is that it never refers to either any constituent parts of the entity that it describes or any central body therein. It defines just oneness. Note that wherever there is a central body or centre there are constituent parts or a surrounding environment. If it is needed that Sri Lanka is an undivided and single country, then it needs to remove any traces of possible divisions, such as constituent parts and so on. Thus, the word “unary” serves the purpose well. Here, note that all the quotes from dictionaries referred here are based on their online versions. I wish that my suggestion of the word “unary” to the future constitution of Sri Lanka to describe it as “Eekiiya Rajya” will create some discussion among those who are involved in preparing a new constitution and all other interested parties. Of course, in the event of having no new constitution, but a revision of the current one, the proposed word can be adopted after careful discussion.

( Priyantha Wijayatunga, Ph. D. is a Senior Lecturer at the Umeå University, Sweden)

Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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