The present constitutional reform is of interest since it comes after the end of a bitter protracted war that bled us all morally and spiritually. Instead of the values of love, peace, coexistence and solidarity, based on a way of life of sharing and caring, we were led to slaughter each other for territory, geography, power, dominance and supremacy. Each side promoted forms of chauvinism where the other was demonized, and the whole social order became permeated and infused with the ideology and politics of chauvinism- on all sides of the barricades. Innocent civilians and whole communities paid the price for indiscriminate shelling and bombing, being played and preyed upon, and by the widespread devastation and irreparable loss of life and livelihood. This war, gruesome, at times barbaric, was a result of a violent fault-line fracture in the very foundations of our State and political order, flowing from the dominant values and the way of life that it imposes and demands.
The people of Lanka have paid the ultimate price for a Constitution and a Political Order that have led them to an unceasing spiral of multiplying crises, indebtedness, poverty and insecurity. Most importantly, this process of State and constitutional building has robbed them of their sovereignty. It has left them without the power to enforce their will and determination, their decisions and aspirations, upon their political representatives, and upon the laws, policies, rules and practices of the State that fatally affect their lives and future. They only have the power to vote for the best candidate who can delude them most and promise them heaven and lead them to hell, repeatedly, while accumulating their own power, privilege and fortunes. This has been the bitter reality. But, after repeated betrayals and false promises, the people are awakening to the reality that for them to be free, they would have to take effective collective control and command of their State and society and so guide the ship towards the shores of universal peace, solidarity, prosperity and happiness. The current constitutional reform process will be most crucial. It is like a laboratory for educating and illuminating the people as to the path of ignorance and illusion and a scientific path of achieving democratic freedom, independence and liberation, with truth and justice for all.
The Constitutional reforms so far have served to centralize political power in the hands of a ruling class elite that takes turns in operating this highly centralized and monopolized hegemonic State, as opposed to empowering, advancing and consolidating the democratic power and will of the people to exercise effective and collective control over their Land, their society, their community, their lives and their future. This sovereign and supreme principle and most fundamental right of the people to be the conscious architects of their life and future, has been effectively robbed by accumulated violations of human rights and democratic freedoms, and gross abuse of power. The Sri Lankan State is on trial internationally and internally for its failure to honour human and democratic rights and basic civilized norms of decency. It is in this context that the current constitutional reform process is unfolding.
Is the present constitutional reform process aimed deliberately, willingly and consciously towards a new beginning? Of a radically thoroughgoing, systematic and systemic process of democratic transformation? Will it be a process of uprooting and reversing this historical trajectory of the State? A State and a Political Order that has become fatally infected by individualism, egoism, competition, corruption, abuse of power, based on perpetuating and proliferating ideologies and practices of religious intolerance, polarized class and caste hierarchies, of racial supremacy, national chauvinism and patriarchal bigotry and authority?
So, should we hope and pray that the present constitutional reform process shall result in a radical restructuring of the State, based on a program of structural transformation that would unite our people as the one indivisible Family of Mother Lanka. For this vision to be realised we would have to overcome all illusions, all misconceptions and ingrained prejudices that we have been nurtured by mother’s milk and ingrained deep into our sub-consciousness. Overcoming the roots and structures of violent division should be the top most priority, and the guiding spiritual principle of the constitutional reform process. Securing the accessible and enforceable right of all citizens, nations, nationalities, ethnicities, religious communities and social groups to enjoy a life of peace, unity, and solidarity, with dignity, equality, and justice- as the people of Lanka should be the transcending, overarching vision, principle and objective of any constitutional reform process worthy of its name. A house divided shall fall. A house united shall stand. Are we to build a new State on new democratic foundations and principles? Or simply patch up the fault-lines, repair the cracks, add new paint and curtains, while the old house is made to stand upon the same tottering, crisis-ridden and sinking foundation?
A radical reform process would yield a Constitution that would enshrine the fundamental right and empower the people of Lanka to have effective and immediate control over their political representatives, guided by a code of conduct and ethical-legal practices deliberated by their own independent representative bodies. These independent bodies, directly elected and supervised by their respective constituencies, shall have the sovereign power and capability to hold their political representatives, and the State accountable and recallable for any and all violations of their human and democratic rights, and for violations of their life, dignity and security. Such collectives of people’s independent interest groups, lobbies and constituencies should be accorded constitutional recognition and supplied with the means and facilities to carry out this function. I would suggest that a bi-cameral legislature be set up with an upper house to represent all marginalized and vulnerable groups, such as suppressed nationalities and national minorities, workers, farmers, fishing community, suppressed castes, and certainly women, with a veto power for each such collective advocacy lobby. This could balance the preponderant Sinhala majority and the self-seeking parasitical needs reflected in the lower house. Devolution of power must be coupled with sharing power at the Centre. Only then can we begin to think about constructing a radically new and vibrant people’s democratic constitution as the backbone of a democratic State and a democratic political order worthy of its name. At the very minimum, religion should be kept out of the State. The PTA rescinded. Justice and reparations delivered to all victims of war. Transparent and credible accountability ensured for alleged war crimes and atrocities, including for those claimed to have disappeared. Release of all political prisoners. End to militarization and land grabbing. A democratic political solution that respects the right of internal self-determination of oppressed nationalities. The basic question is, who shall exercise political power and govern the State? The people, through exercising their own autonomous organized collective will, power and capacity? Or, by the wealthiest, most powerful clans who have a monopoly of power, wealth, status and privilege, to command the will and the fate of the country and the people? The current constitutional reform process would be a litmus barometer of the limits of democratic transformation that can be expected from the Lankan State and its governing ruling class.
Whatever it is, we should all be alert and conscious as to whether the new constitution would be a real break and a step to the future, or a yet another regular drama enacted to clean up the act, wash away the blood stains and scars, sweep all criminal violations under the carpet, inject the people with more illusions, and just do business as usual? Someone had inquired from a book seller whether he had a copy of the Sri Lankan Constitution for sale. He had replied, ‘sorry, I don’t sell periodicals’. Time will tell !