22 September, 2020

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Sobitha Must Switch To A Secular And Pluralist Ethos: An Action Plan To Abolish EP Takes Off

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Sobitha thero’s Movement for a Just Society (MJS) inaugurated its campaign to abolish the Executive Presidency (EP) at a meeting at the New Town Hall, Green Path, on 24 July. The event was a notable success and attracted professionals and opinion makers from numerous walks of life (academics and lawyers were prominent), an audience made up of every political party (except the SLFP cowering in trepidation of its shadow, that is its own declared principles), all faiths, and a pack of big shots. It was heartening to see Madam Chandrika, Opposition Leader Ranil, TNA leader Sampanthan, Gen. Fonseka and Chief Justice Shirani in the front row – if Anura Kumara was there, I did not see him. Apart from top leaders there were cohorts of other biggish shots; Aturaliye Ratana thero, Udaya Gamanpila, Ravi Karunanayake, Mangala; I am not sure if Siritunga was there. Bahu, infected by a bout of habitual congenital sectarianism, boycotted the event, but some NSSPers were present. The Dead Left was represented, of course not by the leaders who were cosseting their Cabinet sinecures, but by Polit Bureau members; I met the LSSP’s Wimal Rodrigo and CP’s Nagendra.

The speakers, in addition to Sobitha were Jayampathy Wickremaratne, Deepika Udagama and Victor Ivan. JW’s topic was the Road Map (which  I outlined it in the Sunday Island and the Colombo Telegraph website on 13 July).  The crucial Road Map (RM) was crafted by the MJS, that is Sobitha’s team, and it binds the president-elect to a step by step procedure. Point 1: The manifesto will contain the draft text of the constitutional amendment; point 2 will explain the new parliamentary system to the public and point 3 will seek a mandate to dissolve the sitting parliament if it shrinks from endorsing the approved constitutional amendment by a two-thirds majority. Therefore the next presidential election will, de facto, be a referendum on the wording of the text of the proposed abolish-EP constitutional amendment and an authorisation of a Road Map implementation procedure. A watertight mandate will therefore be obtained at this de facto referendum.

The star-studded assemblage at the inaugural meeting

The star-studded assemblage at the inaugural meeting

Two other matters in the Road Map will be affixing dates to milestones and the constituency structure of the new parliament. The milestones, for example, will say: The constitutional amendment will be tabled X days after electoral victory, it will be promulgated in X+Y days, the old parliament will be dissolved on day X+Y+Z, elections for a new one will be held in say another month. Provisions such as these will be enshrined in the election manifesto as a Road Map whose remit will run for six months. If the draft constitutional text and Road Map are approved at this de facto referendum there is no need for delay. RM is procedural and precludes procrastination and cheating as Chandrika and Mahinda have done; twice each. Secondly, parliamentary electoral demarcations and related matters such as how many first past the post, how many PR, how many multi- member electorates, will be outlined in the manifesto.

[Aside: Jayampathy grumbles that I assert exclusive originator status of the Single Issue (SI) and Common Candidate (CC) concepts and reminds me of a conversation he and Mahinda Ratnayake had with me prior to my first strategy paper. I also recall a chat, a week earlier, with Sumanasiri and Mahinda in Peradeniya. If these gentlemen wish to be acknowledged as accomplices and fellow felons in SI-CC fireworks, now a nationwide carnival, I am happy to recognize them as co-conspirators in original sin. Shortcomings, if any, in the final formulation are entirely mine].

Deepika and Victor made valuable, if slightly tangential presentations at the 24 July seminar. What came across from Deepika was first her preference for a whole new constitution and second a belief that constitution making must not be rushed, the public must ingest proposals and arrive at a consensus that society has digested. It has to be a slow process of assimilation and a full consultative mechanism was essential she opined. Sobitha had to intervene immediately after her talk and put things back on track. In so far as opposition to EP is concerned, society and every political colouration in the country has ingested it, digested it and pronounced it an iniquity; it has to go, and it has to go now. Where has Deepika been for the last 30 years? (The thero didn’t say that; that’s my kind of language).

Regarding a brand new, from the bottom up, constitution, as opposed to amendments to abolish EP and put an alternative in place (including the format of the new parliament and a set of checks and balances), the thero thought it infeasible and I firmly agree. Asking that all outstanding constitutional issues be fast-forwarded and fixed right now is plain otherworldly. It is impossible to reach consensus on a whole new constitution within months; society has to mature to where, for example, consensus on devolution can even be imagined. Right now there is consensus to abolish the abominable Executive Presidency; does it have to wait till the year dot, till everything else is agreed upon by everybody? Good generals win battles one at a time.

Victor Ivan undertook a broad discursive presentation. His message was that the government had squandered an opportunity after the war and his point of departure was humanist and the imperative of tolerance all round. I was in agitated anticipation that he would repeat his celebrated critique in Ravaya a fortnight ago naming Gotabaya as the fly in the ointment and the man whose association with Sinhala-Buddhist extremism sparked off commotion. However he studiously avoided it for reasons unknown – the organisers certainly made no such request.

The dumb elephant in the room

I am strongly of the view that current action-strategy must be Single Issue oriented. The abolition of EP and what to put in its place – spelling out the nuts and bolts of the new parliamentary system and drafting a 17th Amendment-like set of checks and balances needed even in a parliamentary system – must be the focus of action. Therefore other constitutional changes, however important in their own right, must not be yanked into the action plan. However, discourse and discussion should be broad and touch on all important constitutional matters that need to be addressed eventually. This was indeed what happened in the seminar presentations of the speakers and during question time; that’s excellent.

Deepika referred to the significance of a chapter on fundamental rights (she wanted SI expanded by its inclusion right now). Two speakers mentioned a socio-economic chapter and noted that the Indian Constitution has provisions directing the state to social and economic goals. Jayampathy emphasised the independence of the judiciary; and so on. But believe it or not; not one person, neither the thero nor any of the speakers or any discussant, touched on or even mentioned the national question! I am in agreement that devolution should not be included in the current amendment package and I endorse a short-term action plan limited to EP abolition (more precisely, I originated the concept). But when a broad and open discussion is undertaken about the collapse of Lankan polity, for every participant to remain dumb on the national question is astounding. It hardly needs mention that, together with crisis of the State, the national question is at the root of why the country collapsed; together they over-determine Lankan polity.

For a seminar such as this to run from 3pm to 5.30pm (when I left) without one mention of this gigantic elephant in the room left me aghast. And add to this, not one word was spoken in Tamil in the entire two and a half-hours. (Jayampathy made a 5 minute summary of his presentation in English; maybe he felt sorry for Sambamthan). It is a little complicated for others that MJS is headed by a monk, but I am fine with it because I trust Sobitha and the MJS organisers on the national question. But the perception of the average Tamil or Muslim may be more cautious. If the organisers arrange events with so little sensitivity to this type of realpolitik imperative they will only add to their worries.

One last grumble and I am done; and I hope the organisers appreciate that my grumbling is motivated by a desire to make this crucial endeavour a success. At least two commentators from the floor and several people sitting near me were asking why the project should have religious overtones. Not Buddhist overtones alone though that was most prominent, an overall religious complexion such as studding the podium with religious dignitaries, making numerous references to faith-based organisations and heads of religions, and starting the symposium by everyone standing palms together respectfully intoning a full recitation of Buddhang Sarananag Gachchami.  And gosh, what pretence to get whisky-sipping cigar-chomping old reprobates like me to mumble: Sura-meraya maja-pama-dathana veramani sikkhapadam samadhami. Will abstinence expedite the downfall of the Executive Presidency?

It was all a shade too much like a religious gathering. It’s the first meeting and the organisers are on a steep learning curve. There will be more seminars as the campaign moves on and I have been assured that the format will improve. I was pleased that the members of the audience who grumbled that the religious tone was too prominent were all Sinhala Buddhists. Erasing the Executive Presidency is not a religious task; it would be wiser and more productive to switch the mood and ethos of this very valuable initiative into a wholly secular dimension.

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Latest comments

  • 6
    6

    .
    Let them (Srilanka and Sinhalese) sort this out…..this is their problem and they are going downhill very fast, unfortunately north- east is being dragged with them.

    :-)

    • 3
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      aratai,

      These guys and girls are going to bell Mahinda the big cat: They never can. It is all wishful thinking and talking: When it comes to action Mahinda will fire the cannon with thunder that all the rats will run to their holes. At least for one more time.

      After all these people in this alliance are politicians: Diogenes the arch cynic would come out with his lantern and look for an honest man/woman in this crowd. Can he find one?

      Yes, it is a crowd with with crowd psychology and a negative goal: To abolish EP. They have no clear solution to the burning problem for six decades – the intolerance to ethnic and religious minorities and racism. Is anything said about abolition of racism? No. They want only abolish EP first, and happily live ever after? It never will be.

      There is an even more ferocious lion waiting in the background, that is the Sinhala Buddhist supremacy: Without belling that big cat abolishing EP is no salvation to the Tamils, Muslims or Christians.

      Without racial and religious harmony there will never be peace or prosperity.

      Remember my words after the next election for the presidency, you will all be wiser.

  • 4
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    How come K A Sumanasekera (LEELA) our very own think tank was not invited for it? if he had gone then he could have represented the vellalas!

    • 2
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      Peace Lover,

      Opposition politicians were attending the meeting of Sobitha thero’s Movement for a Just Society (MJS) inaugurated its campaign to abolish the Executive Presidency (EP).

      In the meantime here is a piece of news that I came across today in a web site with the heading:

      “Student attacked in South as posters warn Tamils and Muslims to leave”

      A Tamil student has been attacked at the Sabaragamuwa University in the south of the island, as posters appeared across the campus warning all Tamil and Muslim students to leave the town immediately.

      Santhirakumar Sutharshan from Mukamalai was attacked with wooden logs by persons wearing masks, early on Sunday morning. The student was beaten unconscious and has since been admitted to Balangoda hospital for treatment, the report said.

      The attack comes as the names of Tamil and Muslim first year students were published on posters that have been plastered across the campus, calling for them to leave the southern town.

      This is how the society and the state treats Tamils and Muslims while politicians are having a side show. People go after secondary things while primary matters gets brushed aside.

      Are we witnessing a decaying society and a decadent state?

      I hope the CT does not practice the same kind of self censorship of such news items as the the embedded media of Sri Lanka did blacking out Aluthgama anti-Muslim riots.

  • 4
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    A valuable and positive contribution. Most of our people are too wedded to religion. Perhaps it will take time to wean them from that. What is most unfortunate was people refusing to see ‘the elephant in the room’ mentioned above. It may be it is out of a wish that the elephant is not there! But simply wishing will not make the elephant vanish!

    Sengodan. M

    • 0
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      Saintgotoven,

      Otto the Rhino does, just scribble a Rhino with a pencil in your toilet, a magical Rhino will emerge from the walls and you’ll be squeezed to purge whats all in your intestines in peppers and mustard through your bottom pinhole.

  • 1
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    I have several concerns about the proposal to abolish executive presidency -though the idea is one worth considering.
    1. The next presidential election will be held to elect a new President for a term of office. If the common candidate campaigns on a platform to abolish it and appoint a prime minister etc.after the election, how will this exercise get legitimacy constitutionally, under existing law?

    2. If the common candidate is preparing the political platform for the election campaign purly on the issue of abolishing EP, will such a campaign be able to capture the imagination of the electorate? Generally, electors are motivated by what is to be gained by changing a leader. If they are only going to get a new prime minister and cabinet plus some independent commissions, or perhaps rule of law and good governance, I am afraid this will not be enough to cross the line.

    3. What about the political and economic program under the new government? Surely, the common candidate appearing in the next Presidential election, cannot disregard this aspect. If he or she does, it will be seen by the public as a hollow campaign.

    My suggestion for this movement is to prepare a Ten Point plan including key changes the new government will embrace,including rule of law and good governance as one, and work towards identifying a prime minister and shadow cabinet for the duration of the campaign. Make this nominal prime minister campaign as the common candidate so he or she will have more credibility in the eyes of the electors because they then know that once elected he or she will implement the ten point political,economic and constitutional program.

    The current proposal leaves a lot of unknowns beyond the abolition of EP and most people may not want to vote for a common candidate with many unknowns. The idea may have some traction among educated segments of society and some leaders but what is essential at this time is to develop a democratic alternative to current governance model, and a machinery to advocate it with a ten point plan commonly understood by larger electorate.

  • 5
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    Kumar David –

    Ranil– Chandrika- Fonseka- Shiranee- Sambandan- JHU –JVP -Sobitha Thero jointly participate in historic rally –Dark era ending..?

  • 2
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    No doubt the combined opposition will be equal to the task. MR knows he is in for a good fight which is why he is working on introducing reforms himself. Probably he will present some kind of compromise EP before the election not the whole hog. What then?

  • 7
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    How Beautiful it would be if M-Sobitha could remove religious bits out of these meetings… I noticed that when BBS Gnanasara & Gang entered Rabukwella office saying they have a petition to submit, Keheliya has to bow down to Ganasara when accepting the petition… And at the end of meeting, Gnane and the clan said some Pirith and all officials have to kneel down in front of cunning Gnane… M-Sobitha should not use these ugly tactics and remove this religion dimension out of these civil activities…

    • 0
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      Why don’t you ask Kumar to offer Sobith a trouser to put on and cover his robe when he comes to SI and CC meetings.

  • 2
    7

    Its amazing how distracted the Lankans are! The main problem facing them is not the government (even of some other form of government is established the fundamentals will not change, only the faces will change). The major issue for Lanka is the growing threat from radical, unrepentant, bloodthirsty Wahabism, which is nothing other than terrorism masquerading as a religion. All these politicians must heed the call of the times, join Hindu India, and deal a lethal blow to Islamic terror that in engulfing the country. The full head cover of women (purda or whatever it is called in SL), the long, unkempt beards and caps of fanatics is the first manifestation of the evil intent from these fanatics. Halal concept is their way of giving the entire Lanka population a flavor of things to come and very soon the demographic bomb in the form of exploding Muslim childbirths will engulf this pristine paradise. The SInhalese reader should not get distracted, and stay focued like a hawk and deal these barbarians an annihilating blow.

    The path for the enlightened Lankans, whether Buddhist, Hindu or Christian , it to look to Israel and follow their example. The best form of defense is a lethal attack!

  • 4
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    Why is Sampanthan sleeping on the picture you posted? Defeating MahindaR cannot be done by collateral attacks. This EP killing venture is the new trick of “This war cannot be won” clique.

    • 3
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      C. Wijeyawickrema

      Sampanthan must be listening to Fonseka’s coded messages carefully. Fonseka was telling Sam how he would assist the International Investigation into war crimes, snitch, betray the clan and looking forward to legal advice from Sam’s legal team.

      I think Sam must provide the necessary legal safety net to Fonseka. However Sam is unable to protect him from Gota’s white vans.

    • 0
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      Perhaps he is dreaming. Dreaming of VP.

    • 0
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      Kumar’s plan goes far beyond “This war cannot be won” and such sayings or tunes. This game is to divide Sri Lanka to pieces and obliterate it.

  • 2
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    Then only south Indians will vote for him. He will lose worse than Ranil.

  • 2
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    Secularism is a good concept, like in India but will that be accepted by the majority Mahawamsa mind set, Mahanama brain washed, Sinhala only, Buddhism only minded people ? None of the Sinhala politicians will ever accept it due to the fear that they will loose in any elections, let alone JHU,JVP, Champika,Nervyn, Athuraliya, Gnanasara, Gunasena Amarae and the likes. Only the Tamils and Muslims will welcome such a proposition of secularism, since they have no fear of their religions getting highjacked or destroyed by anyone.

    Majority lankans will not change their attitude not because they are very religious or practicing true Buddhism but are scared of other religions, race, their aggressive hard work and talents. They are simply scared of imaginary fears about other minorities taking over them in every aspect of life.

    They think these minorities numbering less than a quarter of the population will just take over and make their lives miserable.

    That’s the imaginary fear and a long standing suspicion they were preached, cultivated, makes them support eradication of all minorities from Lanka by any means, illegal or violent. They think they can only live in peace after that and allowing or accepting all the murder and mayhem carried out in the fake name of ‘state security’ against minorities by successive Lankan governments. They don’t seem to understand that they are digging their own grave and dragging the country down the pit of no recovery.

    Lankans mindset, educated or not, cannot be changed, except a very few. Even educated majority race living in foreign countries have the same attitude, in spite of living in democratic countries for years as citizen of the respective nations. They enjoy democracy in these countries but doesn’t want to share that with fellow Tamil or Muslim citizen of their country of birth. They get angry and annoyed if the minorities ask for equal rights and want them to go to ‘their’ country as if they themselves are the sole owners of Sri Lanka.

    Nothing is going to happen for Lanka to prosper in the near future unless and until something drastic forced the ruling or future regimes to change course. They will never change anything themselves. That’s the unfortunate and the sad truth, regrettably !

    This vain attempt of fielding a single candidate to abolish EP or do anything good for the country will not bring any expected result in my humble opinion. Anyway, I wish I was proved wrong sooner than later.

    • 0
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      Bruz:

      don’t be dumb.

      Will muslims accept secularism.

      They will kill each other as they every where. Even in Sri Lanka, they thrash Sufis.

      How christians and Catholics. they will try to convert each others devotees.

    • 0
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      Leave out the mindset ‘extreme Sinhala Buddhists’, ‘very very moderate Vahabi Muslims’ do haul ‘AZAN’ that says ‘THERE IS NO GOD BUT ALLAH’ (when one says there is no other God, it’s an insult to all other religions) five times a day through deafening loud speakers at their mosques and ‘peace loving Tamil tigers’ were allowed to elect their rump LTTE to Northern Province.

      Besides, Sri Lanka has a much much more secular constitution than any Muslim majority country on earth.

  • 1
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    I fully agree with Sri Gamage. Have these educated men and women of law talked with common people before going with this single issue common candidate. These are all educated people. What about the commoners. What would a normal person want or get out of such a campaign? Do they care about civil rights, freedom of expression, freedom of press,democracy being restored- I don’t think so. Every one lie till get power and fool the masses. Time and time again each presidential candidate came to power promising to abolish EP but ended up keeping it since they love the power they get from it. As famously said by JR in 77 only thing he can’t do in that constitution(power vested by it as the EP) only thing he can’t do is turning a woman in to a man and vice versa-everything else, he could.
    Normal people are being abused by the government after government and exploited their vote for a lunch packet, arrack bottle, loaf of bread, note books, or some times for mammoty. Why would it be different this time, because of Sobitha Thero. But I don’t think most people will find it comfortable(most educated Sinhala Buddhists, most minorities)to vote for a Buddhist monk after all the chaos/malice we saw in the last few months. No one sure doesn’t want a Buddhist Iran in Sri Lanka where Khameni is the leader of the society and the politicians elected comes below that religious stratosphere(which I think is the goal BBS trying to drive the country towards) And it is a disaster to more liberal leaning people of the country. People believe Monks has no place in politics. Like Mr Gamage says good governance and EP issue should be few issues, these are important to only scholars not for the regular people of the country. They need to address their pocket book issues. I personally don’t think Sobitha Thero is the best common candidate if they want to defeat MR. and as I read elsewhere that MR has already started to high-jack the abolishing EP theme and do it before the election leaving the opposition with no edge on that issue. Apparently he plans to pass it before the elections and will sign it in to a law only if someone else wins. He plans to postpone signing it if he wins. and He has already put former CJ Sarath Silva to work on the new(fake) constitution.
    Jay Chambers(aka Chares Wijay…), BBS agents and supporters like you who lives in US while your kids are being protected under US flag tries to advocate Israeli annihilation methods on Sln citizens. Yes you fund BBS, and give propaganda ideas to BBS, and you act like trolls in liberal news sites like this. Because it is not your kids who are going to die. This same idea came out of Gandasara few weeks back can’t be a co-incidence.

    All you show is your racism and you try to purify the country risking the lives of many other parents of all races who has no choice but to live in SL, while your kids are protected in US. Shame on you.

    As of 2012 currently Buddists are 70% and 14% muslims. Buddhists are in no way close to being wipe out of SL in forseeble future(Statistically it is like in 400 years the earliest).

    If Muslims increased 400% in the last years, Sinhalese have increased similarly in 600% . Read the correct statistics from your guru Gota’s government census numbers in 2012. without spreading lies to deceive people and incite violence.

  • 1
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    This is selfish intellectuals betrayal. They are going on the the religious racists’ back for another ride. They are using a Buddhist Monk to bring in a change they want. They think Tamils are over. Muslims are scared. So, anything they set up now will be a never ending “Milk and Honey” flow for them.

    We Tamils have seen this at DS’s time. He united the Sinhalese intellectual and boycotted the Soulbury Commission until whatever he wanted is received. After 66 years of Sinhalese thunderstorm, rain, lighting, howling wind, this international inquiry appears to a Novah’ arch in the distant dawn for Tamils. Now these religious and political cream of Sinhala Buddhism(Rather leftist Buddhism), the modern Satan, putting up plan to render laughable object, the OHCHR’s commission and take the wheel for another roll to protect the murders.

    OHCHR is investigating; it will have ruling. There, Tamils can ask for a constitutional guarantee for not another 147,000 massacre in five months. Srima mass murdered Sinhalese. Because of that UNP came to power for 17 years. Sinhalese showed that are not the easy one to forget killing done to them. Then Premadasa mass murdered Sinhalese. Now SLFP for 20 years. But King killed 147,000 Tamils in five months. He has to be on the throne for the time Sinhalese Buddhist thinks deserve for this deed. That is why these intellectuals belive they too have share on the throne. So they are taking a twist on this turn.

    Even, as far as Sinhalese side, Prime Ministers were equally bad as Presidents. Srimavo killed as much as Sinhala Boys Premadasa Killed. JR and King are good for Sinhala Buddhists. Then whom the these intellectual trying to buy out?

    Constitutional Guarantee! Constitutional Guarantee!

    Tamils needs it as minimum. Anybody look for Tamils support must guarantee that. Sinhala Buddhist must be educated to accepted that by those who want Tamils support. We are not for another Banda – Selva pact or Dudley – Selava Pact. No promise of Future. Tamils should pursue the international investigation for current action.

  • 0
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    @ Jim Softy:
    You got a valid point there about secularism in SL but look at our neighbor India. They have the second most Muslim population in the world, next to Indonesia and the second most populated country in the world, after China. Indians follow a number of religions we have never seen in any other country. Comparatively they are balancing and managing the religious divide. Extremists in any religion will create trouble. Discriminated races, religions and various tribes fight for their rights in any country. India has such problems but they have rule of law and order to a great extent than SL. India has problems with Muslim extremists, Kashmiris, Sikhs, Hindu extremists, Assamese and other marginalized and minority tribes. Sri Lanka has only 4 major religious sects and three languages, but the country has no rule of law and the Govt. is very discriminatory and doesn’t treat citizen equally.

    Extremism is a by product of discrimination. Muslims are killing Muslims in many countries, Muslims are killing Christians in some African countries, Christians and Catholics killed each other in Northern Ireland..but in Sri Lanka one major race and it’s armed forces are killing, raping, kidnapping, murdering minorities and the Governments do nothing about it. Even some Buddhist monks are encouraging these evil acts against other religious people and races.
    How nasty and mean these rowdyism is ? I didn’t mean to say India is perfect but SL can behave and rule the nation much better than the much bigger and complex India. Secularism can only work with a good leaders and a responsible unbiased government. No leader seems to be secular yet in our country. They are all power hungry lot using religion to ride on every one of us. If any one thinks they care for even Buddhism , it’s utter nonsense !

  • 0
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    Prof. David,I do not think that this proposal of a single issue candidate will work. There are many reasons, one being that I for one will not vote with any body giving him a blank cheque.This issue had been aired through nearly year and the final constitutional proposals should have been aired in the public.

    The way things are moving the chances are that the incumbent will succeed and the EP will remain.

    The only solution is to move back to the Soulbury constitution.The 1972 and 1978 constitutions I consider illegal and perversion of democracy.

    If you can provide CT with your e-mail address I will send you a detailed critic of your proposal.On the other hand Colombo Telegraph can forward it to me.

    Remember one thing the BBS had screwed your proposal beyond redemption.

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