19 September, 2019

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Too Soon For Constitutional Change 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The release of the Constitutional Assembly’s Steering Committee report on constitutional reform gave the hope that it would be the government’s priority in the coming months. This calculation was buttressed by the government’s repeated postponement of local government elections which became extended to the postponement of provincial council elections also. The problem facing the government is that any local election would pit the coalition partners against each other, possibly to the detriment of their alliance. This led to speculation that the government would go into a referendum on a new constitution on the basis that this would be the best way to reunify the government alliance. It was argued that a referendum would impel all parties that supported the candidacy of President Maithripala Sirisena at the presidential elections of 2015 to get together again as a unified force to win the referendum.

However, it now seems more likely that the long postponed local government elections will take place prior to the referendum. The report of the Steering Committee on constitutional reforms has not yet reached the stage of being a draft of the new constitution. At the present time it is only a set of principles and proposals that are 26 pages in length.  It is not written with the requisite degree of detail and specificity to be a draft constitution.  his is also immediately visible in the fact that the Steering Committee report is unsigned.  It is still far from being a consensus document which can be seen by the fact that the eight annexes to the 26 page Steering Committee report from eight political parties amounts to 65 pages in length.

A perusal of the set of 9 documents that comprise the Steering Committee report with annexes would reveal that political parties are still far from reaching agreement on many of the principles of the new constitution. Although the Steering Committee report asserts there is general consensus that the Executive Presidency as it exists today should be abolished, most of the political parties want it to continue albeit with reforms.  Although the Steering Committee report proposes an alternative formulation of the unitary state, most of the political parties are in disagreement with it.  These parties include the SLFP, headed by President Maithripala Sirisena and co-partner with the UNP in the government which takes a stand that is contrary to the Steering Committee report on both these issues.

Avoid Alienation 

The government has announced that the Steering Committee will meet once again on October 19 to discuss its report and annexes. The government has also set aside three days beginning October 30 to discuss these matters in parliament. There is anticipation that these deliberations will yield a sufficient consensus for the constitutional drafters to get on with the task of preparing a draft constitution. This is likely to take several months. This process is unlikely to be completed by January next year when the local government elections are most likely to take place according to the Election Commissioner. It is unlikely that the constitutional drafters on the government side will wish to bring the outcome of constitutional discussions to the public attention until after the local government elections.

Constitutional reform is highly charged for both political actors and the general population. It is liable to be distorted and misinterpreted. The mere fact that the government is engaging in constitutional reform in the context of international pressures on it due to war time excesses has enabled the opposition to attack the government. The opposition has claimed that the government’s reforms are meant to surrender to the demands of the international community and to pave the handing over of war heroes to international tribunals. The opposition has been claiming that constitutional reform is meant to appease the international community rather than to protect the national interest.

Therefore, in the next three months the government will be focusing its attention on how best to win the local government elections. A key instrument for electoral advancement will be the forthcoming budget, which will be out in November and is expected to contain many attractive features for the general population. There is unlikely to be much progress in terms of advancing the constitutional reform process.   If at all the government will engage in a strategic retreat to the existing conservative formulations of the unitary state and the granting of foremost place to Buddhism.  This is the common denominator to which all Sinhalese-led parties will accede. The government will wish to avoid alienating its majority Sinhalese voter base.

Ideal Scenario

The repeated postponement of local government elections has given rise to a belief that the government has lost much of its popularity and that the opposition is strong. This impression is given credence by the fact that people are ever willing to complain against the government for its failure to transform the economy into a high performance one in which the cost of living is reduced, salaries are increased and exciting new job opportunities are created. This has enabled the Joint Opposition led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to project itself as a strong force that can capture state power in a few years if not topple the government immediately. The prevalence of strikes by various trade union groups is attributed to the strength of the Joint Opposition which is seen as having a hand in every trouble for the government.

The ideal scenario for the government would be to use the opportunity presented by the local government elections to dispel this negative image. The government will go into these elections as rival political parties represented by the United National Front (UNP and allies) and United People’s Freedom Alliance (SLFP and allies). They will be contesting each other, which is the situation that they tried to avoid by postponing the local government elections. However, their main opponent, the Joint Opposition will not be in an advantageous situation either. The main party of the Joint Opposition will be the newly formed SLPP which comprises SLFP members loyal to the former president as its main component. The new party will be hard pressed to break the monopoly the UNP and SLFP have long enjoyed.

Reports from the field indicate that ordinary SLFP members prefer to stay with their traditional party, the SLFP, which is part of the government and enjoys the benefits of state power rather than join the SLPP, which is given leadership by the former President. It is also reported that the SLPP is having difficulty in some areas in finding suitable cadre who are prepared to contest the elections.  Prospective candidates are aware that voters at the local level are more likely to vote for a candidate who has access to the state machinery. This lays the ground for victory by the government parties at the local government elections.  Such victory may also lay the ground for victory of the government at a referendum on a new constitution. The post-election challenge will be to come up with a consensus document that harmonises the Select Committee report with the annexes of the political parties.

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Latest comments

  • 3
    1

    Jehan Perera: Was it difficult to decide that if there were a constitutional referndum, Yahapalanaya would vanish ?

    • 1
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      He has an even bigger concern, if Yahapalanaya vanishes, that his pocket will be empty. For him, the greenish colour of the Dollar is much more than the country.

  • 7
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    Too soon for a constitutional change !

    What a somersault you and Laksri Fernando have done now. Treamondous ! Well done mates !! . You both are no different from other long line of Sinhalese politicians in deceiving the Tamils. Continue with your community’s long tradition of betraying the Tamil community.

    Tamils never believed that this govt will bring a new constitution or will solve their problems. So it is not a surprise to us Tamils. Only fools like Sampanthan and Abraham continue to believe you.

    You could fool TNA Sampanthan and Abraham but not Tamil people.

    • 3
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      Tamils should realise that going after traitors in Sinhala community would not help them. It is only the real sinhala leaders like MR, GR the Tamils have to negotiate with…

  • 7
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    All of this constitution making discussions reminds me of CBK and her constitution. It was thwarted by Ranil.

  • 6
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    Jehan Perera and Laksri Fernando are singing the same song suddenly on constitution.

    It looks like both are directed and guided by the same master. Any idea who that master is ?

    • 2
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      Yes, the US constitutional advocacy was in the country recently and Jayamathi was in London to meet their Master, rather to appease their Master th Diaspora. What this guy cries about is not quite his frustration but an earnest request for the government not to go for other elections but the referendum.

  • 2
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    The current constitution was not ratified and accepted by the minorities but thrust into their throats. The new constitution although in a draft state, will not be accepted by the Tamils for one reason and the Sinhalese for another. The Tamils wants a federal form of government in Sri lanka within an undivided state. That should be enshrined in the new constitution or amend the old constitution. That is their stance for a long time. There is no change in that demand. They do not want to divide the country. The Sinhala leaders should think hard about it for the sake of the country.

  • 5
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    Jehan, Laksiri and even Jayampathy should tryout for the Sri Lanka Gymnastic team for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. I will recommend that they do not tryout for Balance Beam, Pummel Horse, or the Rings. They can try the uneven bars of which they seem to have some talent.

    However they will have a very good chance on the floor exercise as they are showing good form on Flips, flops, splits and somersaults in the air and landing firmly and immediately doing reverse flips and flops again. G.L. Was the master in flip flops but lately he is boringly consistent in doing one flip only. May be age is catching up with him.

    They want Srisena to get another Term. So they are working on the Tamil flip floppers to get Tamil votes. They are not drawing much of a crowd. Though there are many gymnasts in the UNP and the SLFP it is best for these aging gymnasts to get International coaches from the US, Russia and China. UNHRC is not the place for them to go for support. Keep on flipping and flopping. You may be able to fool enough Tamils. They are a gullible lot for a prize.

    • 1
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      Did you mean, ‘They are a gullible lot for a price’. I think you did.

  • 0
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    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 2
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    The Most Dangerous species that walk on two legs and eat with hands are the Sinhala Intellectuals. Like hyenas seen a carcass, Jayampathy, GLP, Laksiri Fernando, Thero De Silva, Jehan PhD….. man all are doing all kind of their gymnastics. Man you name it, they all seems to have been tipped by the Joint Comedy Club. Even Native Veda couldn’t balance them, this time. Even though he is still doing well on tackling Champawati, he has been beaten aback by united attack of Russia, America, China, India, Britain, France,… even Thero de Silva-the Cuba also there man! What can I say……. “Mathuraikku vantha Sauthinaiyoo”(“Appears to be the God is testing Kingdom of Mathura”- as said in an old legend). I think Yuan going depreciate tomorrow on the money market. Guys, bet on the rupees if you play your gambling on money market. (Too sad, these guying learning spinning on the NGO’s donations have reduced CT to Meethotamulla)

    First they came for Indian Coolies; I did not speak out,
    Because, I am not a coolie.
    Then they came for North-East Kallaththonies; I did not speak out,
    Because I am not a Kallaththony.
    Then they came for the Kaaththankudy Kalu thambiya; I did not speak out,
    Because I am not a Kalu Thambiya.
    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
    -a Poem by an anonymous Sinhala Buddhist, who was double crossed by Sinhala Intellectuals.

    • 3
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      “The Most Dangerous species that walk on two legs and eat with hands are the Sinhala Intellectuals.”

      The most dumb species that walk on two legs and eat with hands are the Tamils. They do not have the brain to understand that any Sinhala politician that gives a Federal solution is committing political suicide. Tamils will never get a Federal solution or Elam in Sri Lanka. Pack your bags and return to from where your ancestors came to Sri Lanka.

  • 1
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    Mallaiyuran

    Great ! Well written !!

    Why didn’t you lay a finger on TNA cheats ?

  • 2
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    The boring Harvard educated good for nothing NGO Jehan perera has suddenly invented the back peddaling !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • 0
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      This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

    • 4
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      Come on, he has a life to live as well. He needs his dollar to buy his bread. So when everything is quiet, he has to invent some news.

  • 1
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    Yes Jegan,

    But we should never give up. Postponing does not mean that we are giving up!

    One step back, two steps forward!

    The failure of the government on all fronts had badly damaged the image of the government.

    They always capitulate to Mahinda.

    Every initiative of the government results in failures.

    They fear Mahinda and when confronted always take a step back.one stepback, then two steps back until nowhere to go back.and then a collective suicide!

    But people are above the government

    Corruption continues, corruption, more corruption and more and more corruption ! Now the question is who is more corrupt?

    The government apologists argue the the former government is more corrupt.
    and that we have to support the less corrupt!

    Both are negative alternatives!

    However we should not lose hope for a decent new constitution that will have the support across racial and political divides!.

    Nation Building is a noble task.

    But eradication of corruption and nepotism is a prerequisite.

  • 0
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    Suddenly Jehan realised the virtue of winning the LG polls!! He has discovered empirical evidence to succeed too!! Who would offer another PhD to him (uncle Sam, Modi, Geremy Corbyn or Prince Hussain)? Theresa May is too busy with Brexit……..

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