26 June, 2022


We Must Not Put Cart Before Horse On Constitutional Referendum

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

We must not put cart before horse on constitutional referendum: First trounce the Joint Opposition

Many experts say that if amendments to the constitution live up to what is really needed, they have to be substantial and hence need to be approved at a referendum. If an entirely new constitution is to be enacted it will of course require a referendum. There are different views on whether a referendum can be won; most naysayers are Ministers from the Sirisena-wing of the SLFP; conversely, political radicals seem confident of victory. The point everybody is blind to, however, is that the Joint Opposition (JO) and hate-mongering chauvinists have to be confronted and defeated BEFORE the referendum. This hate-mob has to be shattered now before it goes on the rampage. Once the JO is politically broken the referendum will be plain sailing. On the other if chauvinist “terrorism” runs riot and law and order is undermined it may not even be possible to conduct a referendum. We already see, on every side incitement, disruptions and street actions, some genuine and justified, others JO instigated attempts at sabotage.

Where are Messrs Sirisena and Ranill? This the moment when they must rise to the challenge, come into the open guns blazing so to speak, and mobilise to defeat the JO, even on the streets if need be. Instead, one of them is tied up in knots within his own party’s convolutions, unable to decide about the Executive Presidency, devolution, the structure of state and other fundamentals. The other seems to be hiding under his bed. The crisis now facing constitutional change is a crisis of leadership, or rather the absence of leadership. The void encourages internal forces to pull in many directions. Sirisena has not stamped his imprimatur or made a bold declaration of principles; Ranil is missing in action.

Contrast this with 1972 and 1978 – whether you like or dislike those constitutions is beside the point. Would any ‘onside’ MP or party stalwart have dared to sabotage the Sirima-Colvin or the JR leadership? Firm leadership (and a massive parliamentary majority to boot) ensured that no internal force dared to undermine the process. Today the main battle is not what to write in the constitution but how to get the damned thing passed at all! Ok, the contents are crucial of course; I am making an overstatement to drive home my point that this duumvirate leadership has gone to sleep. The second eleven, not the front line batsman, face the JO’s strike bowlers, its rag-tag chauvinists and its desiccated wattaka.

Defeating the JO politically

What are S&R so frightened of? The JO is a bloated corpse, it is weak and it can be punched and deflated if the other side had guts and strategy. I will give you irrefutable proof how depleted the JO is. I refer to the turnout at the 27 January JO Nugegoda rally where we were promised a sea of 100,000 people. How many turned up? Less than ten thousand! There are many such reports and I did my own semi-scientific checking.

The Island and the Daily Mirror of 28 January carried the same full-frontal picture of the main part of the crowd. I divided the whole picture into one-inch squares, counted the number in each and added. The total is 1860! Impossible it’s too small so jack it up and say there are 3000 in the picture. This is the main part, the full-frontal, so there must have been large numbers on the two sides (very few in the blind-sided back). Even if I make the absurd concession that the number on each the sides was the same as on the full-frontal, the total falls short of 10,000.

The point is not the size of the crowd but my assertion that the JO is weak and cannot mobilise; it can be drawn out and routed. And this must be done now before it expands its network of disruption and mayhem. If S&R are too timid to accept leadership there are others in the wings ready to step in. Civil society movements for one – I was at a seminar on 7 Feb which asserted it would pickup the baton if the leaders were in a funk. Maybe the JVP and the JHU too have ideas.

An economic programme

Citizen Banda or Jane nona may justifiably demur: “I cannot feed my family on constitutions, nor will fundamental rights pay for children’s schooling and clothing”. True, if you fight constitutional battles in isolation, ignoring the far material problems of ordinary folk, it will be too abstract. The Sinhalese especially will be unenergetic about Tamil rights or devolution. Therefore economic issues have to be linked into the mobilisation.

But how can they be related to constitutional matters, you will rightly ask. The answer is at three levels. First the constitution has to be restructured by inserting a missing chapter – directive principles of state policy instructing the state to intervene in the national economy. China under Deng did not need this provision because the Communist Party is supreme, Lee Kwan Yew did not need it either as unquestioned authority gave him the ability to direct and manage the economy. But Lanka needs an enabling constitutional framework that will impose duties on the government.

The second level is that by widening the battle to add economic concerns that enthuse people the fight against reaction, disruption and the JO can be expanded. Plans to open new industries, expand economic activity or enter into partnership agreements with other countries (China and India) are blocked, sabotaged and disrupted by the JO and its political goons. These forces must be defeated in lockstep with the battle for a new or amended constitution. Maybe in the final analysis it will be more an economic battle against reactionary classes than a constitutional battle – that’s fine. If you defeat the JO first you will get a better constitution and greater economic rationality.

Remember the ‘Single Issue Common Candidate’ mobilisation? We did not get everything we wanted; the executive presidency was downgraded, not abolished. But what victories we have scored; removed Rajapaksa, safeguarded democracy and now we have a chance to pursue a constitutional option which may overcome the worst transgressions on the national question. If like then, we get a fairly decent even if not perfect constitution by broadening mobilisation, it would be a big step forward. But to repeat, be warned, unless the JO and its goons are FIRST defeated, we will have no constitutional options at all!

Devolution as a broader concept

The third level is to link economics to devolution. So far devolution has been discussed only in the context of giving Tamil people space to breathe and manage their own affairs. This has been a high pressure issue hence the use of devolution for economic restructuring has been forgotten. I will use my two closing paragraphs to address this lacuna.

The Development (Special Provisions) Bill gazetted on 25 November 2016 can be used as a starting point to kick. I assessed the Bill on 8 January and suggested improvements, but overall I welcomed the effort to link economic planning to devolution. It is not feasible to recapitulate all that here. (The Bill now seems to be stuck in the system and not come before parliament; maybe the privileged classes and their liberal ‘theoreticians’ have stymied it). The Bill’s subtitle, abbreviated, reads: Facilitate National Policy . . .  including Accelerated Economic Development”. The gist is regrouping districts into five Regions, establishing five regional authorities called Regional Development Boards, supplement by a centralised Policy Development Office and an Agency for Development and thereby establishing a national planning mechanism with a decentralised component. The alarming thing about the current constitutional discourse is that it lacks any initiatives like this. Specific mechanisms is a matter for legislation but the constitution must mandate and point in this direction?

I will end as I started; nothing can be achieved on the constitution, economy, law and order, devolution or pacifying the Tamils until and unless the JO, its chauvinists and its goons are subdued. People say Sirisena can mobilise thousands in the NCP, they say despite criticism of their appointment that Ravi and Ranjan could mobilise mass forces, I know that Sudharsa, Britto, Philip and their movement can mobilise some peole from Negombo, and the small left sects can each offer a mini-bus full (say 13 each, so 20 sects equals 260 bodies). The forces to face the JO are there, but no organising leadership.

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Latest comments

  • 1

    Kumar David

    “nothing can be achieved on the constitution, economy, law and order, devolution or pacifying the Tamils until and unless the JO, its chauvinists and its goons are subdued.”

    JO can rely on the support of JVP, JHU and many in the UNP who are naturally against any devolution of power.

    Active bigoted bad boys can be found in all parties.

    • 0

      Wake up Kumar!
      Ranil is hiding because he has looted the country via the Central Bank bond scam. He is GUILTY as hell and the buck stops with Ranil Wickramasinghe who has been protecting Mahinda Rajapaksa too.

      Ranil must go!
      This is a major crisis for all decent non-racist people in Sri Lanka who voted for Yahapalanaya but got Jara-palanaya from Ranil who is also protecting Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family from corruption investigations.

      Now the truth is out about RW: Sri Lanka’s politics would not have hit the lower depths of corruption if it were not for Ranil supporting MR so that he could be opposition leader during the corrupt and murderous Rajapaksa regime years.

      Sri Lanka needs a new generation of Clean leaders, the New Constitution is a mere distraction from the Rotten Political Corruption of which Ranil and MR are joint operators.

  • 4

    So this is the form of “democracy” you believe in David?

    First knock off the opposition before holding any polls?

    [Edited out]

  • 0

    Prof. Kumar David:

    You are talking against JO. but, JO i smostly anti-buddhist – communists and LSSP od different kinds. They are like you, just use the ideology to make their bellies fat.

  • 0

    Prof. Kumar David:

    It is you Tamils are the nuiscence which keeps JO like parties alive. If Tamils, who are Tribalists fighting for their own homeland away from Tamilnadu,are not there, it is easy for Sinhala people to get rid of JO like politicians.

  • 0

    Prof Kum! It is easier said than done. The article does not highlight the cold war that prevails amongst the members of the ruling coalition. That is the root cause of this stagnation. What united them to make the change in Jan 8, 2015? The answer: the common interest to throw Jarapassa out. But what happened afterwards? Member of the coalition were undermining each other. The motive appears to be to have an edge, politically, by 2020. The dirty linen of each member was good ammunition. The plank of the coalition was “Good Governance” or the brand name “Yahapalanaya”. Is that done? I need not elaborate an answer. In view of the fact that there is no conviction for a serious offence and only an occasional remanding of JO stalwarts has made a sizeable amount of people to feel that they were taken for a ride, including those who are “UNP by descent”. What Prof Kum does not evaluate is that today’s strength of the JO is the weakness of the coalition Government in its action of governance and the lack of common touch. The acid test is that if the same Presidential election of Jan 8, 2015 were to be held today, what would be the result? If there is a swing to the other side then Prof Kum’s smashing is only limited to a concept. On the other hand if the swing is favourable to the ruling coalition, then the concept can be realized and the strategy has to be evolved.

  • 2

    Is this a Mussolini descendant who converted to a Hindu?.

    Ravi of course can mobilize Pathlaya. What can Ranajan mobilize. unless he join Mmangala and get a few on to the streets.

    Batalanda Ranil, the Constitutional Architect has already planned the new Education Curriculum for Yahapalana suckers.

    He is going to introduce Hair Dressing and Dress making at A Level. ,

    While his mate Bodhi Sira was blessing the D.S Sennayaka Maha Vidyalam.

    It is a bit confusing. Isn’t it?.

    This Professor counted only nine thousand something. which is a bit more than Kirella, Marickkar,and a few other UNP heavies, who came up with figures ranging from 4000 to 6000.

    No wonder the Professor is brave enough to demand that his idols, Batta and Sira bring their supporters on to the Yahapalana streets to thrash the Joint Opposition.

    Can;t wait to see the fun.

    Is the Professor going to be in the front with a Cinnamon Pole alongside Ranjan, Galleon and those whom he mentioned from the Bible Belt.

    • 1

      KASmaalam K A Sumanasekera

      “Is this a Mussolini descendant who converted to a Hindu?.”

      The original Aryan Adolf Hitler (before Anagarika Dharmapala)was a vegetarian, which reflected the Nazi (or Brahmin) obsession with Aryan bodily purity.

      We hear Gota too is a vegetarian. Is he a Hindu Brahmin too?

      Please clarify.

    • 0

      Everyrhing above K.A. Sumanasekara has said is true.
      He is an experienced Lake House and Lakbima ‘journalist’ who scratched the backs of Rajapakses.

      [Edited out]

  • 0

    Prof Kum maintains that the JO must be crushed and Sirisena-Ranil leadership is sleeping. Is it? Or is it a case where there is a cold war between the two for being the Supremo of Sri Lanka and that division is being exploited by the JO?

    The CBK-Ranil Government ended in one year. Unlike MY3, CBK gave all portfolios, including defence, to a UNP minister. But CBK was belittled. (Not that she was any good at that time). Result? Making the saying “Hell hath no fury than a woman scorned”, all the constitutional resources were harnessed to bring the elected Government down. My guess is (it could be wrong) had the UNP on the face of it like what they do now to MY3 treated CBK with some respect that Government would have survived the life time of the then Parliament. UNP must admit that it was easier to deal with CBK as President than MY3, when they had and even now having an effective Parliamentary majority.

    The issue in summary is what happens after 2020 and during this time how to be on the political lead. That is what disunites both of the groups now in coalition. Both the parties can pull each other’s legs. Blue Ministries may not be given the money. MY3 can drill through the divisions in the UNP and form a Government with another UNP MP as the PM. The possibilities are endless.

    We did not elect a coalition with a cold war between the partners. We want a job of work done apart from throwing Jarapassa out. Leave alone big things like Constitution making. Are the manageable things managed properly? If not, how can we guarantee that the very foundation of the country (Constitution) would be sound, authored by fighting cocks?

  • 3

    Sri Lanka is becoming a rogue state, not adhering to the UN HRC resolution and heading towards failed state.

    It will soon be expelled from CHOGM.

    Don’t waste time, nothing will work in Sri Lanka, Separation will save the Tamils and hopefully will bring the Sri Lankan to focuss on themselves to face survival, as a China colony.

  • 0

    The funny thing is that even if the JO had only 10,000 plus in the crowd at Nugegoda– which is hard to believe since the UNP mentioned a figure that was several times higher–the question is why neither the UNP nor the official SLFP nor the JVP nor any combination, have/has been able to have a public rally with a demonstrably larger crowd than Nugegoda. Why don’t they try to fill the same space at Nugegoda? :)))

    • 2

      The war monger types:

      “Why don’t they try to fill the same space at Nugegoda? :)))”

      What would be the purpose of filling the same space at Nugegoda?

      Why should anyone in his/her right mind who is also gainfully employed waste his/her time at such unproductive event?

      Space at Nugegoda is much suited to those who are unemployed and have no purpose in their life.

  • 0


    A demonstrably larger crowd cannot fill the same space at Nugegoda. This is the reason whY the UNP,SLFP[official] or the JVP desist from choosing this location.

    • 0

      Let us walk away from crowd arithmetic.

      There is serious political work to do to keep of forces of communalism and corruption.
      It is time to think outside the box.

  • 0

    “The JO is a bloated corpse, it is weak and it can be punched and deflated if the other side had guts and strategy.”

    They thought so about the UNP in 1956, but the corpse came to life in 1960 briefly.
    When return to life ended months later, the same boast came up only to be humiliated in 1965.
    Then there was the even bigger boast in 1970, and the corpse returned to life as a monster in 1977 to wipe the parliamentary left off the political map for all practical purposes as well as weakened the SLFP.

    The parliamentary left and its theoreticians do not know the meaning of mass political work.
    It was mass community work that brought the left to the fore in the 1930’s.
    It was mass resentment in 1954 which humiliated the UNP regime.
    The parliamentary left talks of organizing: it does nothing but manipulate to gain a few seats here and there.
    What was achieved with the mass resentment against the 17-year misrule by the UNP. Mahinda Rajapaksa made a name for himself by leading the protest before the fall of the UNP.
    The UNP shifted to a mode of self-destruction during the dictatorship of Jayawardene. That trendhas not been fully reversed.

    The UNP is no more the pre-1977 UNP; But Ranil has divided the SLFP— how effectively I am not sure.

    Nothing is worse than underestimating the foe. Imagining the death of the fore will be to invite death to one’s self.

    To romanticize the MS-RW alliance is being naive. It came without a serious agreed political programme and soon after the parliamentary election of August 2015, any semblance of any programme began to fade, only to be wiped off mid 2016.

    “…if the other side had guts and strategy”? That “if’ is an IF in big bold font that this space will not allow.

  • 0


    You manifest as SJ at 4.21PM, and as sekera at 4.25PM; All within a matter of 04 mins.Awaiting sivasegaram.
    Prof:Kumar David must be smiling that smile of unruffled composure!

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