24 May, 2022


Controversy Over Constitutional Reforms & Gains That Need To Be Protected 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The government has proposed that the report of the steering committee on constitutional reform will be debated in parliament at the end of the month. A member of the Steering Committee spearheading the constitutional reform project, Dr Jayampathy Wickramaratne said that the Constitutional assembly would take up proposals over a three-day period beginning October 30. Finalisation of the process would depend on the outcome of three day talks, Dr. Wickramaratne said, explaining measures proposed to further strengthen the unitary character of the country. He added that the proposals were also meant to ensure maximum possible devolution without undermining the unitary status of the constitution. Since its appointment by the constitutional assembly in April 2016 the steering committee has met on 73 occasions.

The large number of meetings that have taken place is a positive expression of the commitment of the political parties to the constitutional reform process. All parties in parliament with the exception of the ultra Sinhala nationalist National Freedom Front have chosen to remain within the process. The participants have included members of the Joint Opposition who have been implacably opposed to the government but continue to attend the steering committee meetings. As TNA and opposition leader R Sampanthan has said, “No Constitution has thus far been framed for Sri Lanka on the basis of a substantial bipartisan consensus amongst its different people in particular the Tamil people , or on the basis of such bi-partisan consensus between the two main parties and other political parties. The present exercise in Constitution making presents the first such opportunity. “

However, the constitutional reform process continues to remain on slippery soil and is not grounded in the consciousness of the people as necessary for the country. There is also a lack of awareness about some of the key and emotive issues in the constitutional reform process. These include uncertainty about the meaning of the unitary state and the foremost place given to Buddhism under the present constitution. The steering committee has explained that “The classical definition of the English term “unitary state” has undergone change. In the United Kingdom it is now possible for Northern Ireland and Scotland to move away from the union. Therefore, the English term “Unitary State” will not be appropriate for Sri Lanka. The Sinhala term “aekiya raajyaya” best describes an undivided and indivisible country. The Tamil language equivalent of this is “orumiththa nadu”.

Dividing Line 

The issue of whether Sri Lanka should remain unitary in its constitutional structure has traditionally been the line of division between the Sinhala and Tamil polities. The question has been whether Sri Lanka should be a country where a single government dominates, or move towards a federal system in which central and devolved governments can coexist at different levels. Several political parties that have been participating in the steering committee have presented their own alternative formulations as separate attachments to the main report. The SLFP as one of the two main political parties that are in coalition has its own alternative formulations, but in perusing them the seriousness of the challenge awaiting consensual constitutional reform can be seen.

The SLFP position on the unitary state is to stay with the present formulation. It says “The Republic of Sri Lanka is a Unitary State– In the Tamil Language and the English language the word ‘unitary’ shall be used and shall carry the interpretation of the word of the Sinhala Language.” This means that this basic issue of the nature of the state and the method of power sharing still remains to be addressed. It may be in recognition of this problem that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said that minority parties are ready to consider retention of the unitary status of the country in the proposed new constitution and foremost place to Buddhism in case the two major political parties, the UNP and the SLFP agree to grant maximum possible devolution, create a Senate, protect human rights protection of all communities, ensure judicial independence and resettle of those displaced due to the conflict as mentioned in the first chapter of the interim report on the new constitution.

Another area in which there is no consensus is with reference to the foremost place given to Buddhism in the constitution. On this matter, the steering committee report gives two alternative formulations. One is to retain the provision in the present constitution. The other is to modify it by adding to it the need to honour and respect all religions and not to discriminate against them. Some of the country’s leading Buddhist monks belonging to the Buddha Sasana Karya Sadhaka Mandalayala have said that in the existing constitution, Article 9 says that the “Republic of Sri Lanka” shall ensure that Buddhism enjoys the foremost place among all religions, but in the draft of the new constitution, it is stated that “Sri Lanka” will protect the foremost place given to Buddhism. They point out “The removal of the term ‘Republic of Sri Lanka’ will necessarily do away with the State’s responsibility to give Buddhism the foremost place.”

Obtaining Consensus

The Buddhist monks have also objected to the addition of the provision that the State will not “discriminate” between religions. “It is impossible to give Buddhism the foremost place without treating other religions differently. It is obvious that this is an attempt to alter the meaning of Article 9 which gives Buddhism the foremost place”. In addition they have argued that the Interim Report of the Steering Committee drafting a new constitution for Sri Lanka has, within it, the seeds of separatism. They expressed their “deepest disappointment” that the 13th Amendment to the constitution enacted in 1987 as a follow up of the India-Sri Lanka Accord, has been retained. The leading Buddhist monks fear that devolution of power over land and police permitted by the 13th Amendment will led to secession of the Tamil-speaking North and East.

Obtaining bipartisan political consensus on the nature of the state and foremost place for Buddhism is important as both of these are entrenched clauses in the constitution which will require approval by the people at a referendum if they are to be changed. If there is no UNP-SLFP consensus on these two issues victory at a referendum will be next to impossible. The Joint Opposition has proven skills in mobilizing Sinhala nationalism. Even if the UNP-SLFP consensus is obtained, victory at a referendum will be difficult unless the Joint Opposition is also brought on board. This too will be next to impossible unless the prevailing clauses pertaining to the unitary state and foremost place to Buddhism are maintained.

A public opinion survey carried out by the Centre for Policy Alternatives earlier this year showed a strong commitment to the unitary state by those who were polled with only 11 percent saying they wanted the unitary state taken out of the constitution. Similarly only 15 percent wanted the foremost place to Buddhism to be taken out of the constitution. This suggests that any constitutional reform that seeks to weaken these two concepts can trigger off widespread opposition from the Sinhala majority that can destroy the prospects for any constitutional reform that requires the approval of the people at a referendum. It would be a tragedy if the unique opportunity that has arisen for justice and reconciliation through the UNP-SLFP coalition government should fail due to the use of words and phrases that bring out primeval fears.

What matters now, and will always matter, are actual practices and deeds on the ground that ensure that all communities feel that they belong to the country and all individuals have confidence they will be treated equally and fairly regardless of their religion or ethnicity. The past two years of the UNP-SLFP government have been better in this respect than the years that came before. This is the gain that needs to be protected first and foremost.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    we do not need a new constitution if it is to
    include provincial councils and a senate
    since both are white elephants
    we only need a non executive presidency and a joint first past the post and list system

  • 2

    A constitution is a set of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is governed. In Srilanka’s constitution Buddhism has been given foremost place in the constitution. Once this is given, the equality principle is thrown away and no point of talking about other religions, other races, other languages because Buddhism does not stand alone. It includes, Buddhist monks, Buddhist temples, Buddhist people, Buddhist politicians. Once this principle is agreed there is no need to get consensus from Tamils, Muslims, and Christian Sinhalese. Only a Buddhist can become the head of government, Only a Buddhist can become head of Military and only a Buddhist can become head of any institutions including the Provincial councils. I would suggest it is better one of Mahanayake’s take over the government including President. We don’t need any elections, we don’t need to bother about law and order & justice. Let them run this state!

  • 3

    What matters now, and will always matter, are “actual practices and deeds on the ground that ensure that all communities feel that they belong to the country” and all individuals have confidence they will be treated equally and fairly regardless of their religion or ethnicity.

    The “actual practice” and “now matters” is Sinhala Jury Verdict. That is being ensured by the electioneering being planned to be installed, in the Secret Solution. The 20A is ensuring that foolish TNA will never be CM in East; Hakeem will be forming with Sinhala parties. TNA deserves that because foolish TNA voted for that too.

    Tamils fought to save their language, religions, culture and the land they ancestrally lived and ruled. None of these which are being occupied and subjugated by the Sinhala Imperialism is being freed by this new Secret Solution, which is intended to form two Provinces wide world’s largest Rapist Army Camp. Nowhere there is any mention about how Tamils lives will be returned back to Tamils, without using Rapist Army to occupy & salve them. Rather, the game playing of jargon “Maximum Devolution” is going to be used as the Trojan Horse until Appe Aanduwa finalize the sale of contracts of “Land, Space and Sea” to China and India to buy them protection against UNHRC’s war crime accusation. But it is very loud and clearly pronounced in the “Dutugamunu Rajyayawe” constitution, by using superlative words, one over the other in multiple layers to describe the unitary nature of the Dutugamunu Rajyaya, to ensure that the Tamils’ slavery under the unitary is the truth but devolution is only fake.

  • 2

    The constitution is repeating many times that “Buddhism Only” and “Dutugamunu Rajyaya Only” has to the priority and foremost and if any political space let out, in that only, maximum possible devolution. That will be like the Tamils prisoners under the “Dutugamunu Rajyayawe” will be refused all three times meals, but will be fed maximum. (According fake pundit Jehan PhD that is very possible, based on the Lankawe Sinhala Chauvinist History. )

    The Secret Solution is allowing forcing a Sinhala CM to North-East by electioneering techniques. 20A saying explicitly that winning party cannot form the peripheral government. Sinhala Parties, by offering perks to traitors like Deva, Hakeem, they will be controlling the peripheral government from Central Government floors. The Sinhala-Muslims Central government can have added needed representatives of Sinhala-Muslims origins and take over any provincial government. This is over and above dismissing the provincial government blaming any law province passes as a motive to divide the country.

    But the Buddhism is forcefully and constitutionally enforced on Tamils. What is happening is neither Sirimavo nor JR was able get from SJV’s or Amirthalingam signature to their constitutions is being obtained from Sampanthar and Sumanthiran for the Secret Solution. They, in fact kicked out FP and TULF leaders from the conventions rooms saying ” Parah Demelo get out of this room”. They had self-respect, so after they were kicked out they refused to sign off for Dutugamunu Rajyayawe and Buddhism Only constitutions. Sumanthiran and Sampanthar, who want to steal the credit of Jasmine Sooka for forcing the Secret Solution revival, is nodding for everything Chandrika and Ranil asking for.

  • 1

    The Jehan PhD is arguing how to enrich and replace the 9A in a way so that the Buddhist extremists will vote on it without being they feel they are insulted by asking equality in religion by Tamils. The fake pundit, in other way, is telling that the UNP-SLFP unity is having something slickly passed through by Tamils’ approval for to satisfy the Buddhist extremists. Nowhere the pundit crook is talking about educating the Sinhala Buddhist extremist to give up their demand to abolish other religions, but to recognize them under a secular status, which is the norm of the current contemporary civilized world. Then for what heck these crooks formed the “UNP-SLFP Union”, if they are not going to tell the Sinhala Buddhist extremist the right, without fearing one of them being hurt by the other in the election by provoking racial sentiments?

    This is like the Cat’s kid is beating up the mouse’s kid in the name of playing; the watching mouse kid’s mom is asking the Cat to stop the cat’s kid hurting poor mouse kid; the cat is replying, “Listen, here I now have a job of watching my child playing without being hurt by that tricky mouse kids; if I ask my child to stop playing and he feels got hurt by that stopping, then you know you and your child will be in trouble by my child, Tell me, then, what makes to ask from for freedom for you child from my child?”.
    Unless the funding agency stop, Pundit Jehan PhD will not allow the Sinhala Buddhist Extremists to come to know what is right or what justice is, but will demand the Tamil to give up everything so that he can pamper the extremists and his political parties can keep winning.

  • 0

    Every time politicians talk or trying bring a revised constitution everyone jumping up and down when Shinhala only and Buddhist religion came on entire Sinhala population were happy and at the end entire population was brain washed by the racist

  • 0

    Democracy is said to be the MOAG (Mother Of All Governments). However one can use “fear (often imagined)” to exploit it. McCarthy was an exponent and right now Trump is using this.
    In 1948 Ceylon disenfranchised some citizens probably to disempower the minorities.
    While the justification was debated, in 1956 SWRD B brought in “Sinhala Only”. Some sixty years later the economic, educational and social structure of Tamils have been decimated.
    Are Lankans better off? Of course not because we been trying out various remedial measures for quite a while. New Constitution has become a pastime. This time Nation Freedom Front is keeping out. Why? Hoping that voters will rate this as a bold move! The Joint Opposition is nit-picking on some words.
    We are in “Flesh is willing but the Spirit is not”.
    Will extending the 1948 method of disempowerment help? Sorry Jehan this is on the table.


  • 0

    Spain gave full Devolution Catalonis. Now, Catalonis wants to separate, even the european Union is nervous. Because, EU may become an empire with small shanty govts which anyone of them can not stand on it’s own. Take Japan. Just before the war, Japanese were eating tree barks, they were very short. Itis the same thing in the West. Only one genration enjoyed everything. So, after annihilating Sri lanka’s success will be enjoyed by only one generation. After that the country goes babkrupt and politicians won’t be able to play the same game. they will have to cut down every thing and the mess they created. In that perspective, it is better to make the Sinhala the only language. that will satis fy at least 70% of the country. that will go with many countries in which the only language is the majority language. dissolve so many govts. Make one govt and nine municipality councils to decentralize administrative work as well as to promote regional development that govt does not have to regulate. Most Dalit Tamils are said to be former sinhala people. Only way to make their lives better is convert them them to sinhala people and provide them better facilties it will be sure that Tamils won’t look after them there after. The other thing abolish the prime minister privilages which are similar to enjoyed by a president. Because, President is elected by the people. PM is elected by the electorate and Political party.

  • 0

    Gains to be protected for whom . Ravi K,Mahendran,Aloysius, and Ranil?? Bloody joke !

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