By R. Sampanthan –
This country has had three Constitutions thus far. The first has been the Soulbury Constitution enacted by our colonial rulers. We had the first Republican Constitution in 1972, which brought about several radical changes to the Soulbury Constitution. I will not go into the details of those changes. It would be sufficient for me to state that the main flaw in the 1972 Constitution was that it removed the safeguards provided to minority peoples in the Soulbury Constitution and entrenched majoritarianism.
It was enacted without the consent of the minority people. My Leader, the late Mr. S.J.V. Chelvanayakam – the acknowledged leader of the Tamil people – did not accept the 1972 Constitution. He resigned his Seat in Parliament and wanted a verdict pronounced by the Tamil people on whether the 1972 Constitution was acceptable to them or not. The verdict of the people was overwhelmingly clear. They rejected the 1972 Constitution. I might say that it was the enactment of the 1972 Constitution that paved the way for the demand for a separate State. It was not long before the 1972 Constitution was replaced by the second Republican Constitution of 1978. This too was enacted without the consensus of the Tamil people. The 1978 Constitution too entrenched majoritarianism.
The main objectives of the 1978 Constitution were the installation of the Executive Presidency and the introduction of a new electoral system – the Proportional Representation System. Both in 1972 and 1978 the Governments of the day were able to muster a two-thirds majority on their own and were able to enact the Constitutions, as desired exclusively by them without the need to look for a national consensus. Effective democracy and the making of a Constitution in keeping with the consensus of the whole nation were subverted by majoritarianism. The views of the distinct peoples who constituted the nation were regarded as irrelevant. This is precisely why that even almost seven decades after Independence, we have failed to evolve into a single Sri Lankan nation. This country has had the unfortunate experience of being ruled under Constitutions which did not have the consensus or the consent of all its people. If all the peoples in this country are to evolve into a single nation, the Sri Lankan nation, this grave error needs to be corrected.
Over the past several decades, we have experienced several dire consequences of this failure to evolve a Constitution based on consensus. There has even been a demand for a separate State. We have had a war that has raged for over two-and-a-half decades. The war went through various phases.
I do not think there is a need to state too much about the war, Sir, except to state that this vicious war pushed the country backwards at least a further 50 years and caused immense suffering to all its people, particularly the Tamil people. The war has come to an end and more importantly, there is no longer a demand for a separate State. The demand for a separate State was given up even before the war came to an end. The Tamil people have at successive elections – Parliamentary, provincial and local authority elections – after 1987 clearly confirmed and democratically endorsed that definite policy. And it is in this background that there is no longer a demand for a separate State and it is also in this background that we are seeking to resolve the national issue within the framework of a united, undivided and indivisible Sri Lanka. It is within this framework that we are looking at a new Constitution that will also resolve the national question.
I might read the relevant paragraphs of this Resolution, Sir, which state, I quote:
“AND WHEREAS the People have at the Presidential Election held on 08th January, 2015 given a clear mandate for establishing a political culture that respects the rule of law and strengthens democracy;
AND WHEREAS His Excellency Maithripala Sirisena, President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka has clearly expressed his desire to give effect to the will of the People expressed at the aforesaid Presidential Election by enacting a new Constitution that, inter alia, abolishing the Executive Presidency;
AND WHEREAS it has become necessary to enact a new Constitution that, inter alia, abolishes the Executive Presidency, ensures a fair and representative Electoral System which eliminates preferential voting, strengthens the democratic rights of all citizens, provides a Constitutional Resolution of the national issue, promotes national reconciliation, establishes a political culture that respects the rule of law, guarantees to the People’s fundamental rights and freedom that assure human dignity and promotes responsible and accountable government.”
There can be, surely, no dispute, Sir, of the urgent necessity to fulfil these needs and there can also be no question that the people of this country have given to President Maithripala Sirisena and to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe a mandate to fulfil these urgent needs. That position, Sir, is abundantly clear.
All the Members of this House are going to come together, discuss every issue and devise a new Constitution that will achieve the total or maximum consensus in this House, which, after Cabinet approval, will have to be approved by Parliament by a two-thirds majority – which is achievable only by cutting across party divisions – and which must also be approved by the people at a Referendum cutting across ethnic, linguistic or any other divisions. Then, this country will, for the first time, have a Constitution based upon not merely consensus within this House, but also consensus amongst the people in this country based upon the sovereignty vested in the people. That, Sir, would be the greatest day in this country’s history, the day on which all the people in this country would have come together to form the Sri Lankan nation – where and in which country every citizen has a sense of belonging to Sri Lanka and a sense that Sri Lanka belongs to him or her together with his or her fellow citizens. I would very earnestly urge all Hon. Members of this House to wholeheartedly participate and support this initiative across party or other divisions in keeping with universal values and constitutional arrangements that prevail in several countries the world over in circumstances and conditions similar to what prevails in Sri Lanka, so that this country can march towards genuine reconciliation, peace and prosperity with a better and brighter future for all our people.
I want to make a special appeal to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa – unfortunately he is not here now. He has the stature of a national leader and his support in this national endeavour is important. The country, all its people and the nation need his support. It would be my submission, Sir, that he needs to place the interests and the well-being of the country before anything else and positively contribute to this initiative. He himself has taken steps towards remaking the Constitution so as to address the national question. There have also been instances when he did the right thing. He would pave for himself a new future if he now did the right thing by being positive in the making of a new, just and equitable Constitution that also resolves the national issue and serves the country.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Maithripala Sirisena have referred to many matters, many missed opportunities in the course of their speeches. President Maithripala Sirisena referred to the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact, the Dudley Senanayake – Chelvanayakam Pact and the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. The said three documents contained vitally important commitments made by national leaders of the greatest stature.
Leaders such as the much-respected Hon. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, the much-respected Hon. Dudley Senanayake and the much-respected President J. R. Jayewardene made very positive contributions through their commitments in those three documents to the resolution of the national question.
As pointed out by President Maithripala Sirisena, many things have happened since the enactment of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Much work has been done towards framing a new Constitution under different Governments, under different leaders, starting with President Ranasinghe Premadasa, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Much work has been done. Let us come together, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to give our country a new future. Let us all rise to the stature required of us at this crucial moment in this country’s history.
I thank you, Sir.
*The speech made by R. Sampanthan -Leader of the Opposition – in parliament on the 12th of January 2016