Colombo Telegraph

Only In A Theocracy Is A Constitution Decided By The Clergy: People Not Sangha Must Choose Constitution

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

It is satisfying when ideas come to fruition; case in point, the Single-Issue Common-Candidate suggestion struck gold in January 2015. Two months ago, I asked “Is this a Single Term Government?” and the phrase is now popular even in the Sinhala media. In 2015 when Jeremy Corbyn won leadership my prediction that support for Labour would surge has been spot-on and my post UK election forecast “Jeremy Corbyn: Britain’s next prime minister” is on track. The term duumvirate for the power apex in Lanka has found a buyer (free loader sans acknowledgement) and Dead-Left is selling well. Conversely, my plea for left unity has not won converts; the paradox of left sectarianism is that things that do not work in their theory, work in practice!

Anybody including a Nikaya is entitled to express and canvass views. Along with likeminded citizens I have the right to dissent. A three-quarter decent charter replacing JR’s iniquitous one will aid prosperity, unity and democracy. The stand taken by the Sangha Sabha on 4 July is lamentable and the fuller statement of Asgiriya a day or two earlier is inexplicable as it alleges provisions that, in fact, will not be in the constitution. The Island of 4 July under the prominent caption ‘Asgiriya Chapter Totally Rejects New Constitution’ reports: “The Asgiriya senior monks led by the Mahanayake declared that one of the objectives of the proposed new constitution was to make way for separatism and remove the foremost place given to Buddhism in the existing Constitution”.

This beats me. All public discussions and reports have stated that the Chapter on Buddhism will not be touched. The Prime Minister declared this in parliament and not one of the Subcommittee Reports mentions anything of the sort. The Joint Opposition is deliberately spreading the fib that the intention of the drafters and the government is to help evil Tamils and the remnants (if any) of the LTTE to divide the country, destroy Buddhism and install Federalism. Goebbelsian lies; what else do Joint Opposition (JO), Mahinda Rajapaksa, his cohorts and corrupt SLFP Cabinet Ministers aligned to the President, indulge in? Some hope to split the government as the corruption noose tightens round their necks. All SLFP Ministers agreed to the abolition of the Executive Presidency and a referendum to enact a new constitution when they supported the 9 January 2016 resolution in parliament to set up a Constitutional Assembly and to hold a referendum. It is regrettable that Asgiriya to now deceived by Joint Opposition fiction.

Why on earth would a Sinhala-Buddhist Prime Minister and an overwhelmingly Sinhala-Buddhist government want Federalism when the TNA hasn’t asked for it and the majority of Tamils don’t want it? That may be thanks to the Wigneswaran Chief Ministerial experience. What forces are planning to undermine Buddhism, destroy the Sinhalese race and promote separatism? In faked up JO mythology and decrepit Dead-Left ideology it is global imperialism. Even Vasudeva and Vitarana know this is an inane fairy tale; the public isn’t that dumb. It would be a pity if the clergy, of any religion, buys this JO-Dead Left con. But the Island report adds “The Mahanayke told visitors that an objective of the new constitution was to destroy the existing Buddhist environment and do away with the unitary status of the country to please foreign powers”. The only people who support a secular state are Marxists like this writer and enlightened liberals. Unfortunately, our number is small since cultural backwardness prevails in the country at large.

The report adds; “Most Ven. Gnanaratne thera warned that if the proposed Constitution sought to reduce the powers of the President it would have a negative impact on the unitary status of the state and pave way for the division of the country”. This again is contestable. Whether the executive powers of a president are reduced or not has no effect on the unitary status of a country. The United States is explicitly federal but the executive powers of the President are enormous; they are only limited by the division of power between the three branches (Executive, Legislative and Judicial) and unaffected by US federalism. Federalism and an executive presidency coexist stably. Unity is ensured by prosperity, pluralism and democratic traditions (E pluribus unum) not by adherence to the Christian faith (the US Constitution is explicitly and aggressively secular) or a bogus status conferred on American English (Spanish is de facto an official language in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Florida and other States I don’t know about).

The Indian President is a toothless figurehead. The constitution does not define States as federal though the Supreme Court has held that, de facto, India is federal. But none of this, one way or the other, has had any bearing on unity and sovereignty. Separatist tendencies in the 1960s in Tamil Nadu died out when India emerged as a strong unified market and it became clear to even the dumbest Tamil that being an Indian was a better than revanchist hogwash. The dismal failure of Hindu India to offer a materially and culturally fair deal to Muslim Kashmir will aggravate tension till this alienation ends. An efficacious market, linguistic and cultural pluralism, and constitutional secularism unite a nation. JR-type Bonapartist executive constitutions and Mahinda-type dictatorial uses of executive powers do not.

No more procrastination: Table the draft Constitution

Prime Minister Ranil was at pains to explain at the BMICH a few weeks ago that constitutions must not be rushed; there needs to be patient consultation till the fullest achievable consensus is reached; a substantial majority of the people and all communities must accept it. He was supported by a visiting dignitary, a retired South African Deputy Chief Justice. But surely, we are long past that stage, this has been dragging on for two years; Lal Wijenayake led a monumentally large public consultation process; six subject-wise Subcommittees reported back months ago. The drafters are ready to submit a first version within weeks of getting clearance. A Steering Committee interim version has existed for months.

Procrastination allows the Joint Opposition, dissident SLFP Ministers and trouble makers to sow dissension, split the government and undermine the constitution. President Sirisena is adamant about one thing only, being irresolute; he is unflinching about being impotent; his knees jellify when the sangha snaps its fingers. No more time should be given for the directionless to stagger this way and that. Table the draft now! Let the Steering Committee, Constitutional Assembly and parliament do some work instead of warming their bums. With public education and vigorous campaign the Joint Opposition and its fellow travellers can be defeated in the public arena and a referendum can be won.

True, a degree of uncertainty accompanies such forecasts because of unforeseeable splits; but one must act, not be frozen into inaction. There are a few legitimate issues still to sort out – should have been ironed out long ago – but foot dragging will not bring consensus closer. The following need to be resolved expeditiously:

1. Will there be s second chamber (Senate) and how will it be constituted?

2. What will be the partition of seats between first-past-the-post and proportional? What will be the mechanism of proportional allocation?

3. How will the right of the centre to override devolved provincial powers during an emergency be worded?

4. The separation of powers between Governors and Chief Ministers is surely worth revisiting. This is not a partisan but a technical exercise to be resolved by discussion.

5. The creation of a Constitutional Court and the extension of the judiciary to set up Courts of Appeal sitting in the provinces are unlikely to attract controversy.

One big headache is President Maithripala Sirisena’s congenital indecisiveness (personally he seems a decent man) but look at what he has done! Prior to his election he swore before the nation to abolish the executive presidency, but then, within days, he signed an agreement with the JHU promising not to do anything that requires ratification at a referendum – a stark, blatant, glaring contradiction. His advisors on constitutional matters are as dim-witted as his henchmen on electricity policy.

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