25 September, 2020

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Context: An Appeal To All Sri Lankans On New Constitution

By S. Krishnananthan

S. Krishnananthan

To understand my article on the “An Appeal to Sri Lankans on the New Constitution” the context on which I wrote the article is important and the context is going to be the main theme of this article and this context will place my article on the correct perspective. Let my therefore briefly explain the “Context”.

Context:- The process for drafting a new constitution commenced in January 2016 and was moving slowly, but steadily.

The third sitting of the Constitutional Assembly was held on 19th November 2016 and the First Interim Report of the Steering Committee was presented to the Constitutional Assembly by Hon. Ranil Wicremesinghe in his capacity as Chairman of the Steering Committee.The Report was a compilation of the six sub-committee reports on Fundamental Rights, the Judiciary, Law & Order, Public Service, Public Finance and Centre-Periphery Relations.

The Steering Committee is engaged in directly deliberating on core subject areas pertaining to the nature of the State, form and structure of government, principles of devolution, religion, electoral reforms and land. The Second Interim Report of the Steering Committee will be based on these deliberations and is to be presented to the Constitutional Assembly 
and both the Interim Reports do not constitute final decisions of the Steering Committee and the contents of both the Reports are to be debated by the Constitutional Assembly in January 2017.

But it was no debated as planned, the debate was postponed indefinitely. A lot of things happened soon thereafter. SLFP in the government began to send signals that go against the original intention of going all the way for a two third majority and then a referendum for proclaiming a new constitution.

  • The SLFP will ensure that the foremost place is given to Buddhism.
  • The unitary status of Sri Lanka will be protected.
  • The SLFP will not support any Constitutional change that requires a referendum.
  • There will be no change to the Executive Presidential system.
  • There will be no merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
  • Devolution of power will only be through the fuller implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

This means that all our expectations are all annulled . The new constitution will not be presented and the opportunity is lost. The SLFP and the UNP are now at loggerheads over constitutional reforms.

This is the situation when The article by Dr Laksiri Fernando, “An appeal to Tamil Political parties’ appeared in the Colombo telegraph.

The real stumbling block to the constitutional process is the stand taken by both factions of the SLFP and not anything done or not done by the Tamil parties and it is also clear that the SLFP in Government is frightened by the Joint Opposition and unless joint opposition is persuaded to be back in the process there is absolutely no chance of SLFP in Government to back the process for formulating the new constitution It is a crisis of gigantic proportion unless the Joint opposition is back there is no prospect of resuming the process. Is is a do or die situation. That is why I responded with an appeal to all Sri Lankans primarily to draw in the Joint Opposition and resulting in bring back the majority Sinhala opinion articulated by the SLFP into the constitutional drafting process. Hence the thrust of my proposals are addressed to mainly to the hardliners among the Sinhala Community.

This is the context, now you could read again my proposal and also this article .The opinion and stand of the Joint Opposition is crucial because the present leaders of the joint opposition had recently taken a narrow parochial position and threatening to withdraw from the constitution making process.

The leaders of the caliber of Prof G.L.Pieris, Vasudeva, Tissa Vitarana, DEW Genesekara Dilan Perera and even Mahinda Rajapakse could be persuaded to pursue a moderating influence and thereby on the general Sinhala opinion to moderate their stand on “Nature of State”, “Foremost place to Buddhism” and “Centre-periphery relations”. Hence My expectation was for Dr Laksiri Fernando to appeal to the Sinhala leaders rather than appealing to the weaker party. Now is the time for others to come down a little. This is nothing but a negotiating strategy and my proposals are a package and have to look at the whole to understand the parts.

While my appeal to all Sri Lankans are based on the premises that a little compromise on the entrenched position will go all the way for an all inclusive support for the new constitution. Is it too much to expect the Joint Opposition to come down only a little bit on the Nature of State – from unitary yes unitary to unitary with shared power, because we at the same time expect the Tamil parties to come down from federalism to sharing of power and similarly from secularism to foremost place to Buddhism with inbuilt secular concept.

A joint effort from a group of religious and lay dignitaries to personally meet and negotiate with all political parties and persons with influence to be flexible and accommodative in respect of the entrenched clauses and these efforts are necessary outside the constitutional assembly and the steering committee because constitution making should not left to the exclusive domain of the politicians. If we fail to act history will blame us not the politicians for not capturing the momentous opportunity for a good cause.

This is not a zero sum game and a win-win situation is possible and I passionately wanted the support of Mahinda Rajapakse and his group so that the new constitution will last for a considerable period. But the negotiations must be undertaken by people with patience and negotiating skills with positive attitude who could handle this historic prospect. It should not be another missed opportunity. An all inclusive constitution is the ultimate objective.

Now let me move to other issues.

Devolution: The word devolution does not apply in my proposals, I deliberately did so because devolution has a meaning only when powers are transferred from a higher body to a lower body, now we are drafting a new constitution and the constitution defines powers at various levels and the use of devolution is superficial! But when 13A was formulated to was actually a devolution from the center to the lower body, Yet 13 A did not refer to devolution on the entire amendment. I stand by my use of terminology – power sharing instead of devolution.

Electoral Reforms: Electoral Reforms shall be looked at from local as well as national perspective. The national issues need national perspective and a smaller electrode will not broadened the mind of a politician, When FPP is combined with Proportional representation the major portion of members elected will be for FPP and only a small number added to have overall proportional system and that will not satisfy the minority parties outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces and small parties like JVP

Rajya Sabas: It is actually “Grama Rajya’ as recommended in the Sub-Committee Report on the Centre-Periphery relations. I had carelessly used the Term “Rajya Sabas” instead of ‘Rajya Sabas.’I very much regret the lapse and I apologies for my carelessness. The best term may be “ward Committee”- a grassroots level democratic institution.

Grama Niladaries and Divisional Secretaries should be attached to the Provincial Councils to enhance the governance at grassroot level.They could be engaged on agency basis to do central subjects like national identity cards , elections and other similar central subjects without in anyway weakening the center.

Before I conclude I should thank Dr Laksiri Fernando and other commentators for their valuable comments on my previous article and I expect continued engagement in this process for the good of our motherland.

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Latest comments

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    Grama Niladaries and Divisional Secretaries should be attached to the Provincial Councils to enhance the governance at grassroot level.They could be engaged on agency basis to do central subjects like national identity cards , elections and other similar central subjects without in anyway weakening the center.

    Above is very good proposal for Tamils all over the world and come to settle in Vanni. So, Indian Tamils also cn have Sri lankan national identity cards. they also can vote what ever th Sabha. Tamils become really international but they have a sy in Sri lankan politics.

    Only the Sinhala buddhists listen to Sinhala Christians sying give eelam to Tamils, listen to muslims. But, Tamils have their country, Muslims have their country. Tamils have enacted Thimpyudeclration and Sinhala people are second class citizens in their own country.

    Another important thing is powersharring, empowerment of smaller parties, smaller units of govt, it will be anarchy. They all want land and police powers. It will be anarchy. Central govt is simply useless. Sri lanka with 22 million and just 65,000 Sq. KM will be similar to India which has 1.3 billion, 3.3 million Sq. Km area, about 15 major langguages, 29 states, about 300 dialects. Every one is a king. but, the country is struggling and they don’t have even toilets. But, it is a democracy which has filthy rich people.

    What other country has that smaller three wheeler parties have a role ?. India has so many minority that are not recognized. Brahminism alone has how many religious minority groups. ?

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      How many minorities are in budhist monks ? BBS terrorists, paedophile, animal abuser , rapist , thief , co””k su@@er etc. What do you do with those minorities

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        Latest news in UK is that the Prime Minister of UK, Mrs Theresa May has offered to give more devolution to Scotland in exchange for support for Brexit. This is how problems should be solved by a process of give and take. Compare this to situation in Sriilanka, when Sinhala politicians are refusing to moderate their stance. Even people like Prof. Laksiri Fernando and another person who does not have the guts to reveal his name and writes as Vishvamitra, who both claim to be moderates, are spitting venom. Prof Laksiri says that re-demarcating eastern province at present will open the Pandora’s box, little realizing that Pandora’s box was opened in 1984 when Sinhala racists dis-enfranchised Indian Tamils, and this opened Pandora’s box that we are now trying to close. Vishvamitra says north-east merger is both unsuitable and futile without giving any valid reasons, when merger of Tamil kingdom with rest of Srilanka has proved to be unsuitable and futile, by the amount of bloodshed that has occurred and the animosity that prevails between Sinhalese and Tamils. As I have been telling in these columns that except for a handful of Sinhalese, the rest are not willing to share power or territory with Tamils, even though there is archaeological and historical evidence to show that Tamils are the first settlers in Srilanka. Until and unless there is international intervention, Tamils will never get justice under Sinhala rule.

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    This is the reason why Tamils OPPOSE unitary state:

    Because in a unitary state ALL the structures are dictated to by the
    whole country majority. That is the Sinhala people in this case.

    And by the way it is not the fault of the sinhalese that they are in the majority in Sri Lanka.

    If you analyse the Tamil requirements , it is to make the majority a minority and erase their (majority ethnicity) existence in Sri Lanka.

    So the only identities left are to be the GLOBAL identities : Tamil , Muslim and Christian and some AGNOSTICS…

    The plan is to get rid of the Sinhala and Buddhism from Sri Lanka.

    The whole requirement of federalism is to remove the Sri Lanka majority and convert this to a Provincial Majority. In order for independent or minimum centrally control Tamil Ethnic Provinces…Then Northern and Eastern Provinces or North-Eastern Region. (Note: This is still less than what LTTE fought for::see Tamil Eelam maps)

    In WHICH case the Sinhala politican MUST ask for a Sinhala Province/Region within Sri Lanka JUST like there are TAMIL Provinces : (Northern and Eastern Provinces)…This Sri Lankan IDENTITY is SOLD only to gullible SINHALA-BUDDHISTS. Tamils will be Tamil, Muslims will be Muslims.

    Sri Lankan := is a common noun used by the state tto address it’s citizens :::>>THAT IS ALL THIS WORD IS and THIS is ALL it can EVER BE…………

    In Fact, Where Sinhala people live in majority numbers ARE the MOST MULTI-(cultural | religious | caste | lingual) areas within Sri Lankan territory.
    ———————————————————————–
    The Southern , Parts of Western Province, Uva, Sabaragamuwa, Central, North-Central, North-Western, Certain part of Eastern province SHOULD be AMALGAMATED and a Sinhala homeland or an area of HISTORICAL HABITATION OF SIHALA-BUDDHISTS CREATED. Then AND then only should the 13 amendment to CURRENT SRI LANKAN constituition SHOULD BE IMPLEMENTED FULLY.

    OTHERWISE, THIS IS THE BIGGEST INJUSTICE AGAINST SINHALA-BUDDHISTS of ALL Caste groups.

    This is WHAT IS REQUIRED FOR LONG TERM VIABILITY OF THE SINHALA-BUDDHIST CIVILISATION IN SRI LANKA (CEYLON).

    ANY POLITICAN a POLITICAL Party or a group that is NOT supporting this VIEW is a Traitor of the Sinhala-Buddhists and SHOULD BE IDENTIFIED AS SUCH….

    PLEASE NOTE Sinhala/Sinhala-Buddhists:

    ********We are NOT living in the Dutugammunu and Elara era **********

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    Whatever the constitution. .if Ranil has had an even tiny part to play in its drafting…..will not acceptable to the majority of the people. He has betrayed this country on too many occasions. .

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    S. Krishnananthan,

    I have encountered your quiet disappearance when comments are not in your favour. Hence, the following prelude.

    If you are unwilling to meet questions raised against your position, you ought to keep your wisdom to yourself. When you scatter your unsolicited wisdom on CT, you consent to answer them without being an escape artiste.

    – ‘This means that all our expectations are all annulled ‘.

    Expectations never get annulled, – Only agreements, decisions, etc.

    – ‘ … because the present leaders of the joint opposition had recently taken a narrow parochial position and threatening to withdraw from the constitution making process’.

    How recent is the shift in position you are speaking about? What did you expect the leaders of the joint opposition to do? Is this the first time you see a narrow parochial position of the present leaders?

    – ‘The leaders of the caliber of Prof G.L.Pieris, Vasudeva, Tissa Vitarana, DEW Genesekara Dilan Perera and even Mahinda Rajapakse … .’.

    Just for clarity which caliber of theirs are you speaking about? Is there a single quality you admire in any of them? What were your expectations?

    Isn’t something terribly wrong with you for you to expect anything better from them? Why raise your expectations when past records decry that.

    – ‘a little compromise on the entrenched position’.

    You are appealing to all Sri Lankans. Who are the Sri Lankans you have in mind. Are you appealing to Tamils also. If so, which entrenched position of Tamils is bothering you? Haven’t Tamils compromised enough already?

    Why do you plead for a unitary arrangement (with shared power) when such powers could be usurped unilaterally by the majority community.

    What harm would befall Sinhalese people under a federal arrangement. Why are we still debating when the answer we need is already there.

    You might come back with a third article to further elucidate the context of your thinking. If you do, please provide satisfactory responses to my queries also. Even better, if you provide your response under my comment.

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    Dear Nathan,

    If all political parties and communities cooperate, a win- win situation is possible and an inclusive constitution will become a reality because this is not a zero sum game..

    If you really read my article above before commenting you will have all the answers for your questions,

    Please listen to others before jumping to question.

    Listening is an important skill all of us should cultivate

    Thanks for continuously engaging

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      You, as usual, have manufactured a way to sidestep your responsibility to offer answers to my questions.

      The quotes in my comment are bits and pieces of your text. As such, your, ‘If you really read my article’, stands exposed.

      When all my questions arise from the arguments you make in your article, for you to say that I will have all the answers for my questions’ there, is being ridiculous.

      I challenge you to ‘show’ them yourself!

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    If I were you, I will have your head checked by a professional.

    You start with “The process for drafting a new constitution commenced in January 2016 and was moving slowly, but steadily.”

    Then you say: “This means that all our expectations are all annulled . The new constitution will not be presented and the opportunity is lost. The SLFP and the UNP are now at loggerheads over constitutional reforms.”

    Do you know why Federalism is implemented in several successful countries?

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      Tasan

      ” Do you know why Federalism is implemented in several successful countries?”

      Could you name those successful countries.

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    ‘Devolution: The word devolution does not apply in my proposals, I deliberately did so because devolution has a meaning only when powers are transferred from a higher body to a lower body, now we are drafting a new constitution and the constitution defines powers at various levels and the use of devolution is superficial! But when 13A was formulated to was actually a devolution from the center to the lower body, Yet 13 A did not refer to devolution on the entire amendment. I stand by my use of terminology – power sharing instead of devolution.’

    People are voicing that politicians are corrupt. Then why should we keep the power with the politicians? Why not empower administrative body such as ‘regulatory authority’ without political interference to carry out managerial duties presently vested with the politicians/ministers? If these duties are properly carried out by such authorities devolution or sharing will not be required and also chance of corruption could become minimal.

    ‘Grama Niladaries and Divisional Secretaries should be attached to the Provincial Councils to enhance the governance at grassroot level.They could be engaged on agency basis to do central subjects like national identity cards , elections and other similar central subjects without in anyway weakening the center.’

    GN’s have become extension as politicians’ tools. GN’s office needs to be better organized, vibrant and empowered to protect environment, security and health issues. Their functions should not have discriminatory qualities. Today Provincial Councils and Pradeshya Saba officials demand bribes to get any documents approved. If the bribes are not paid the public will be given a ride from pillar to post wasting valuable time. How can you stop such corruptions by changing the constitution?

    Giving Buddhism foremost position itself paves way for discrimination. No religion should be given foremost place in a constitution. Religion is only a faith. It cannot become a law. Only fanatics will call for it to be made law. Such laws based in beliefs will have laws based on beliefs and forever cause violence. Laws based with wisdom will exercise peaceful administrative exercises. If anyone wishes to bribe god, do so after death.

    A good constitution must reflect all citizens identified equally, treated equally, treated with respect and comfort. If these concepts are absent, all are wasting time and money.

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      What Adrian talking is contradictory what this article is asking.

      What should be done is abolish the 13th amendment. Because, that is power sharing or power devolution among politicians. that will have no end as the politticians are fighting for more.

      Instead, concentrate the political power, devolve the administrative duties properly. The deputy minister or the Ministry Secretary should be a administrative person who knows about the subject and who can deliver. MInister should be there to take only the political decisions.

      All the programs should be approved by the cabinet. Minister should be there only to watch the implementation.

      It is basically the system we had earlier.

      Present system of deviding political and expect the country’s development is just destruction.

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    A very positive contribution!

    Out of the box innovative ideas enrich the discussions

    Thanks Andrian

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    Thanks Adrian and Jim Softy for very valid points,

    Both of you argue for going back to a centralized unitary administrative structure with some modifications.

    But centralized form led to dissatisfaction not only among ethnic groups but among people in the periphery.

    The centralized structure led to Colombo centered administration which findls expression eloquently in this JVP slogan, “Kolambata Kiri Appata Kekiri”

    Ceylon/ Sri lanka was always in search of alternate forms of governance structures
    Thus,

    • Demand for federalism earlier by SWRDand Kandyan Sinhalese and later by Tamil parties
    • Provincial Councils under Donoughmore Commision recommendations
    • Replacement of kachcheri System with eleted councils
    • Political Authority systems
    • Regional Councils
    • District councils
    • District Development Councils

    The search is still on, with hardly any unanimity. Let all of us come to an understanding.

    Corruption and nepotism are endemic since Independence , it spread in Geometric progression.
    Unless necessary checks and balances with rule of law and vigilance civil society acts as oversight mechanism, I could not be easily eradicated.

    I always prefer a secular constitution with no role for the government.

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    Correction
    One above the last line,

    I t is not” I “could not be easily eradicated, but corruption could not be easily eradicated..

    Regret very much for the error

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    The process of drafting a new constitution should be within the ambit of the Indo-Sri Peace Accord which is still binding on India and Sri Lanka. As the 13th Amendment is already in force, it cannot be weaken by drafting a new constitution. The moment Sri Lanka deviate from the context of the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord, I am sorry to state that Sri Lanka will have to pay a heavy price. Though the North-East Province is de-merged, the international community is monitoring the infiltration of Islamic terrorism on various pretexts. India for its part may demand an explanation for violating the Peace Accord. Sri Lankan political leaders may twist but they have to come to square one.

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