Colombo Telegraph

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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