By Mangala Samaraweera –
I hope that good sense will prevail and that today, the 28th of April 2015, will be a historic day for Sri Lanka. It should be remembered as the day which heralded the beginning of the end of the all powerful executive presidential system in our country. Since introducing the First Republican constitution in 1972 we have journeyed from a Westminster form of government to an all-powerful Executive Presidency introduced by the Second Republican constitution. However both these Republican constitutions proved to be inadequate to meet the dreams and aspirations of all the communities, ethnic groups and religious groups living in our country.
Having suffered the consequences, and realized our mistakes, we are gathered here today to make an important course correction.
The 19th Amendment to be passed today abolishes many of the executive powers of the presidency while retaining the executive nature of the presidency.
The Supreme Court held that in order to abolish many of the other powers, a referendum would be needed. Therefore it will be the task of the next parliament to completely abolish the executive system in favour of a fully-fledged parliamentary democracy.
In the course of this debate, it has become clear to all, that our country has suffered for too long from the corrosive and crippling effects that unchecked, centralized power wracked on our democratic institutions and political culture.
We know that this unaccountable system was in many ways at the root of many of the most pressing national problems. It is at the root of the culture of impunity and the widespread corruption that we experienced over the last few years.
It is in the context of such experiences, that President Maithripala Sirisena was given a mandate to abolish the executive presidential system. The citizens of Sri Lanka and indeed future generations will applaud President Sirisena for taking resolute action to fulfill his promises to the people, within the parameters of the Supreme Court ruling.
This amendment alone will not be the panacea for all our nation’s problems. Reduction of the executive powers of the Presidency is only one important step in the challenging journey that we, as a nation, must undertake in order to create “A New Sri Lanka”.
However, we must take heart from the fact that by working together in this House, our nation has achieved so much in just 108 days.
I am hopeful that the new Parliament, to be elected by the people later this year, will shed divisive politics and unite on issues of national significance. In particular, I am hopeful that that new Parliament will do what many other governments attempted but failed to do – to introduce a new constitution, in fact ‘the Third Republican constitution’ of Sri Lanka.
A new constitution, which will celebrate Sri Lanka’s ethnic, religious and cultural diversity and pluralism and meet the aspirations of all the peoples of Sri Lanka. Whether it is the tensions between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities or the Sinhalese and Muslim communities, eradicating the motivation for terrorism and violence requires us to go beyond dealing with its symptoms. The root causes of ethnic conflict need to be addressed once and for all, constitutionally. Along with democracy, rule of law and human rights, reconciliation and ethnic harmony must be the foundation for the new Sri Lanka we all dream about.
A new constitution that addresses the concerns and grievances of the minorities is the urgent need to be addressed by the next parliament. The resolution of our ethnic conflict, which continues after war, is sine qua non for Sri Lanka’s march forward toward peace and prosperity.
I am reminded of the preamble of the constitution of UNESCO:
“Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”.
On 4th of February this year, the Government made a pledge to ensure that never again will we allow this country to be traumatized by the shedding of the blood of her citizens.
Let us not forget that injustice and inequality breed hatred, discontent and violence. To stand true to her word, the Government’s pledge must be etched into the foremost sites of rebellion – the hearts and minds of her citizens.
Under the leadership of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration, I am certain that we will form and implement a consensus on the national question that has evaded previous governments. We will use our collective political will to construct a great peace for our country.
During the last several years, Sri Lanka pursued a policy of aggression towards the international community. We alienated our friends and also international organisations. In the process, we isolated ourselves.
But within a short span of 108 days, we have managed to take some steps to steer our nation back on course. And today’s formal announcement in Washington on the Secretary of State’s visit to SL on the 2nd of May signifies the return of Sri Lanka to the center stage of International Affairs.
As we make this course correction, and re-integrate with the international community, we must not lose sight of our national obligations.
To refrain from opening up our nation to international ignominy and making ourselves once again vulnerable to intrusive external interventions, we must initiate a credible domestic investigation into allegations of violations of human rights.
Such developments are important also to clear the name of our armed forces who have received international recognition as a professional and disciplined force. Today, our courageous soldiers are in the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal saving the lives of those affected by the recent devastating earthquake.
As I explained when I addressed this House on the 18th of March, the Sri Lankan diaspora, whether Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim, has a vital role to play not only in the reconciliation process, but also in taking Sri Lanka forward as a nation.
I spoke that day about initiating a process to review the individuals and entities in the diaspora community who were listed under the Extraordinary Gazette 1854/41 of 21 March 2014. This process has already been initiated.
The time has come for all the people of Sri Lanka who truly love their country to decide to work together to overcome their differences and reach consensus.
Let not our short-term political goals hinder our nation’s progress. Let us discard the rhetoric of hatred, mistrust and division on both sides of the divide and stand together hand in hand as Sri Lankans to reap the fruits of the Asian century.
*Mangala Samaraweera MP’s Speech in Parliament on 19A – 28th April 2015