26 January, 2021

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Who Is Afraid Of A New Constitution?

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

I have simply ‘plagiarized’ the title from the theme on which the People’s Power (PP) and the National Movement for a Just Society (NMJS) have organized a public meeting on this Wednesday, the 18th January at the Colombo Public Library. Whatever the speakers are going to say at that meeting, the theme is sharply accurate in capturing the questioning minds of the ordinary masses on the dubious ‘twists and turns’ of politicians and other public figures on the question of a New Constitution. Who is afraid and why? These are the question I would like to address in this article.

Repeated Mandate

The people of this country have given a mandate to their elected representatives since the 1994 elections repeatedly to draft and promulgate a New Constitution. The main reason has been the authoritarian nature of the power structure under the present constitution. When we refer to the 1994 elections, it means the mandate given to the People’s Alliance (PA) and that is the predecessor of the present United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), including the traditional Left parties. By the year 2000, the United National Party (UNP), the predecessor of the present United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) also came around and agreed for a New Constitution.

The main Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), and the main Muslim party, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), among other minority parties, have been yearning for a constitutional change to resolve many of their problems for a long time. They have expressed no objection for a New Constitution.

However, these objectives, promises or pledges were not fulfilled although the country came closer to a new constitution in August 2000. This is almost 17 years ago. Now that draft is quite outdated. What delayed a new constitution then? One can argue, the war delayed a new constitution. But the war was over in May 2009, except perhaps the war mentality on the part of some politicians? This is 8 years ago. Is it the ‘war mentality’ then that frightens some people of a New Constitution? It is quite possible by going through what they say and do about the matter.
The mandate for a New Constitution does not arise from a single election but through a series of elections. This mandate is not given to a President alone, but primarily to the Parliament and the Members of Parliament continuously. After all, it is the Parliament and the Members of Parliament and the people at a referendum that should bring a New Constitution.

There were and have been other factors. There is no question that making a new constitution or even drafting one is no easy task. Amending a constitution in contrast is relatively easy. The present constitution is quite a rigid one in terms of its amending procedure. It requires a 2/3 majority in Parliament and a referendum, not only for a new constitution, but even for fundamental amendments. This is one reason why the 19th Amendment could not completely overhaul the presidential system. Some who suggest fundamental amendments without going for a referendum are quite oblivious to this fact, among others.

A New Constitution for a New Era

Constitution making process should be completely democratic. There should be no manipulations or hanky-panky. The process should be transparent and accountable to the people. The constitution makers should be frank and open to the public. It is not for the ‘international community’ that a New Constitution should be made, but for the people of this country. A New Constitution should however take the international norms and trends suitable to the country into account. The process of new constitution making can also be quite an educational experience to the public on democracy and good governance, if properly handled and communicated. There are so many advantages in this respect. Sri Lanka can be revolutionized and modernized.
The January change or ‘revolution’ in 2015 has by now encountered so many setbacks, obstacles and disillusionments. A proper New Constitution could undoubtedly rejuvenate this process again and put the democratic process back on track. The existing constitution is a legal hotchpotch. It is obsolete not because it is too old, but because it is not fully democratic from the beginning. It is now with full of contradictions, haphazard amendments enacted back and forth.

A New Constitution could lead to many other progressive changes and pave the way for a sustainable economic development for the benefit of the poor and the middle classes, and not (merely) the rich. It could promulgate justiciable economic and social rights to a great extent. Those are not in the present constitution. A New Constitution could bring our foreign policy into a proper balance without overtly depending on anyone or any power. It should have a chapter on foreign policy. Most importantly, it could end the senseless ethnic conflict and bickering and at least could pave the way for its achievement. For all these to happen, there should be a New Constitution and not patchwork to the obnoxious (Bahubutha) present constitution.

Who is Afraid?

There are some people who are afraid of change by nature. Some may be perennially conservative and lazy to undergo change. This laziness could easily come from the bureaucracy or the public servants and particularly the mandarins in the legal establishment/s. For a new constitution, they have to work hard. Their incompetency may get exposed. Even after a new constitution their responsibilities would become stiffer. That is one group who apparently influencing some Ministers and politicians.

There are others who are afraid of democratic change because they lose power and privileges directly. These are the parasitic politicians. Therefore, patchwork might be their best option. They cannot now completely oppose any kind of change. They now argue therefore for Amendments instead of a New Constitution. This is also the very reason why a new constitution making could not progress after 2000. Even that year, according to some sources, the effort became stalled because the incumbent President wanted to keep her power little longer.

This reluctance to do away with power was the very reason why now infamous Mahinda Rajapaksa didn’t do anything for a new constitution. Otherwise it was promised first in 2005. His easy excuse was the war before 2009. Otherwise, he was a strong critic of the presidential system during his so-called ‘human rights days.’ After the end of the war, he went in the opposite direction enhancing the presidential powers through the 18th Amendment. This is now history. This is however a good lesson for the people and democratic campaigners not to rely too much on any leader, even on Maithripala Sirisena or Ranil Wickremesinghe. They all are dubious mortals! It is always better to rely on principles and policies than people. Even among democratic or human rights campaigners, this is the case. Only we need to give credit when the credit is due, whether it is MR, MS or RW.

Why Afraid?

Maithripala Sirisena made seemingly an unprecedented sacrifice when he agreed to give away many of his powers when the 19th Amendment was proposed. However, it is not final. Since he has assumed the leadership of the SLFP, his manner seems to have changed slowly. It could be due to the policy differences between the UNP and the SLFP even on the question of a new constitution or constitutional change. It could be something more. The SLFP Ministers now expressing the view that they are against the total abolition of the presidential system. This could be discussed and agreed upon by the main parties. They should come up with a viable and an alternative solution. The UNP also should not be silent on issues. No system could run with dual power for a long period. There can be checks and balances. There is a difference between the two.

If the SLFP is proposing some sort of retention of the presidential system or office, what could be the reason/s? Could it be the fear of change? MS has not yet articulated his views on the matter while he has become quite pronounced on some other matters. The latter is not necessarily a negative thing. In the present setup, there can be checks and balances between the President and the Prime Minister within a healthy framework of mutual cooperation. It could go on the lines of ‘Lichchevi’ policies that RW has been advocating. However, none of these is a reason to abandon a New Constitution and go for some dubious patchwork.

I myself proposed to the Public Representation Committee (PRC) in April last year that the President could be elected like in Ireland, within a parliamentary democracy, and could have functions limited to ‘national security’ and ‘national reconciliation’ only. All other functions should be ceremonial. However, an elected President should resign from party positions to be independent and fair by all parties and all communities. I was not at all thinking about MS, but an elected President in general. Likewise, the Governors of Provinces could be the President’s appointees, on the advice of the PM and in consultation with the Provincial Councils, and they can also be responsible for ‘national security’ and ‘national reconciliation’ on the advice of the President and all other functions strictly being ceremonial.

If the ‘phobia’ for extending or deepening devolution is ‘national security,’ then that could be alleviated under such an arrangement. There is no need to keep an Executive President. What I have proposed is ‘Cooperative Devolution’ where Provincial Councils could exercise enhanced powers or responsibilities under a broad unitary framework while working with the Centre and the National Government in cooperation for the national good.

Undoubtedly, the Centre-Periphery Sub-Committee Report and some other reports have stirred up the hornet’s nest. Some people knowingly or unknowingly describe them as a ‘Constitutional Draft.’ The Steering Committee or the Prime Minister’s office has not cleared up the matter for some reason. They also have not come up with their own Draft. If not a Draft, at least Basic Principles for a New Constitution should be now submitted to the people. Otherwise it may appear that even the promoters of a New Constitution are afraid of a New Constitution.

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Latest comments

  • 7
    1

    Prof. Laksiri: Ranil-Sira and the Cabinet of corrupt clowns are afraid of the Right to Information that will reveal the development Debacle in Sri Lanka and massive corruption. Racism against minorities is used to distract moda masses from this!

    Ranil-Sira Jarapalanaya govt. is in a panic today – running around to find FDI because of the failure to attract real investment and create GOOD JOBS.

    There is a need to re-think the whole failed Economic Development model and examine the Role of Harvard University’s economic hit men in Sri Lanka’s development disaster at this time.

    Sri Lanka needs environmentally and socially sustainable development process given annual droughts, water shortages, floods and sea level rise due to climate change.

    But after the Volkswagon car plant debacle organized by the clown Harsha de Silva, Ravi K. says Coca Cola Corp. wants to invest in Sri Lanka – a vary dangerous project indeed. Coca cola was thrown out of India for water pollution and there are various cases against it – just like Volkswagon.

    In a number of districts of India, Coca Cola and its subsidiaries are accused of creating severe water shortages for the community by extracting large quantities of water for their factories, affecting both the quantity and quality of water. Coca Cola has the largest soft drink bottling facilities in India. Water is the primary component of the products manufactured by the company. Sri Lanka is facing drught, water and energy crisis, and electricity shut downs annually due to climate change and global warming, and environmental degradation due to a failed development model.

    Development model of Ranil-Sira Jarapalanaya, inviting hodes of Chinese and Indians to invest when resources are depleting and climate change shock is here.

    • 4
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      Dr. Laksiri Fernando

      RE: Who Is Afraid Of A New Constitution?

      Repeated Mandate

      “The people of this country have given a mandate to their elected representatives since the 1994 elections repeatedly to draft and promulgate a New Constitution. “

      “There are some people who are afraid of change by nature. Some may be perennially conservative and lazy to undergo change.”

      Once in power, they are happy with it. Why give up power? Thank you JR!

      Sirisena has recently earned the titles of Turncoat, Traitor, Gona, Mala-Peretahya, and Sevalaya.

    • 0
      0

      CocoCola,Mac Donalds,Kentucky fried chicken,Pizza Hut etc., ere no match for our own Elephant House and other similar cool drinks and short eat products that were not there in 1948 produced by our local manufaturers when we celebrated liberation from the British.
      The afore said multi national demons were permitted to invade SL by our rulers and their cronies who have a hand in assisting that process to earn profits and cut deals while our ordinary folks are paying a high price consuming such rubbish and getting sick thro misleading catchy unregulated adverts.,ignoring how harmful such products are for their health.
      But our rulers will not permit or tolerate foreign judges investigating human rights abuse by them against the people who elected them even after having given an undertaking in the UN on the basis of a flimsy excuse of an imagined fictional sovereignity while cowing down to every insulting dictate of the IMF when begging for a loan.

  • 4
    2

    Maybe you should remember that anything Ranil or Chandrika have ” formulated” in the past has been terrible. . So the majority of people in this country are scared of a new constitution !!.simple as that.

  • 4
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    You damn sinhala Buddhist….criminals, rapist & thugs ruled since 1948….wake up uncle…

    • 0
      0

      Sounds like you are upset your hero was smashed by RAJAPAKSA. But now we have a traitor who may give your Illam as long as you vote for him

  • 0
    0

    [Edited out]

  • 3
    0

    In short, the Government is even afraid to govern!

    The so-called National Govt. is going to be playing with the new Constitution for
    lack of courage, till Elections come around is a guess.

    • 1
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      Punchinilame: “In short, the Government is even afraid to govern!”

      The GoSL is being blackmailed into governing is a particular way – nothing new here as successive GoSL since independence have adopted this path.

  • 1
    1

    I think, when Ranil visit Englang, he got the plan for this constitution. Appointing Jayampathi Wickramrathne as one of the chief editors is also part of that plan. Now, Ranil is Switzerland, whould be to brief about the progress.

    Ranil is wasting peoples money just because he wants to live his life.

    What a waste of money is that constitution. IT states even how devide cullery, pot and pans when two people divorces. In this case Tamil homeland and the rest.

    Why people are forgiving Ranil to this. Mangala and CBK are part contributors. Voters are to blame. but, Ranil is form colombo. So, muslims and Tamils vote him primarily.

  • 2
    5

    People did not give a mandate for a new constitution. Anyway, it is usurped by Tamils, christians and NGOs.

    People gave a mandate to prosecute thieves and to eliminate corruption in the govt. but, Ranil did not do it. Ranil took FCID under him and it is doing nothing. It is just a political organization.

    • 3
      1

      Prophet jim softy dimwit peace be upon you

      “People did not give a mandate for a new constitution.”

      Peace be upon you jimmy.

      UNFGG, UPFA, JVP &TNA Manifestos: Parliamentary Elections 2015
      Summary

      Deshodaya

      Page 4 UNP election manifesto clearly stated the following:

      Constitution: A new constitution to further strengthen democracy, bring equality and restore good governance through discussions with all parties. Strengthen the Fundamental Rights Chapter.

      JVP manifesto included the following on new constitution:

      Constitution: A new constitution to restore democracy and freedom
      respecting all nationalities within 1 year through a referendum.

      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/
      wp-content/uploads/2015/08/
      Election-held-LAA.xls-.pdf

      Where were you all these months? Were you too busy playing with your Willi?

      By the way, Colombo Telegraph published this as attachment on 13 August 2015.

  • 4
    0

    “Who Is Afraid Of A New Constitution?”

    Of course the merchants who created, promoted and continue to sustain the infamous Lankan language/religious divide.

  • 4
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    Laksiri,

    There is no doubt that there is a need for a new constitution considering the fact the changes made in the constitution througout the period after independence did not provide necessary environment for safety and security of the citizens. The country faced frequent challenges, frequent violence, and complete violation of rule of law and justice system. 1972 constitution brought improved social development but with removal of minotities right protection along with religious favourism. 1978 constitution created a one man power which paved the way for authoritarian dictatorship. There was constant and continuous bloodbath in this land for more than three fourth of period after independence. There is no peace, there is no justice, and more than 200,000 people were lost their lives and their belongings for no other reason than political opportunism. What went wrong? We are still do not want to learn from our past and make remeady for the mistakes we made. Every Sinhala leadership accepted that there is a national problem but they are afraid to meet the challenges and face the truth or tell the truth. They are afraid to Fundamentalists, they are afraid to loose the power. The greediness of Power make them powerless to do good things.

  • 0
    0

    “Who Is Afraid Of A New Constitution?”

    Nobody scared of changing the constitution in Lankawe, where people are accustomed to have their breakfast with one constitution and have it changed or amended for dinner. Those who sold Colombo Pong Cing as freehold to birth submarines now protesting 198 years leasehold of Hangbangtota for trades. Those who orchestrated Weliweriya had sent protesters and opposers to HangBangtota lease signing. Then they promised to Chinese ambassador that they will not do it.

    The same Old People are creating opportunity to make another 18 billions. They are not scared to fool the already Modayas Sinhala Buddhist confusing by sending the protesters and opposers to the same events. These crooks are pretending they care about the Sinhala Buddhist to create opportunity for them. So, it is not on Constitutional change, but they did know to pick up on JVP’s demise to goto UNHCR too.

  • 1
    0

    Where on Earth do democratically elected Government make new Constitutions behind closed doors?.

    The reasons are simple.

    UNP is the party of lies. false promises and underhand deals to make mega bucks.

    No need to give examples..

    Their strategy is to fool the great majority of the inhabitant population, who are poor rural people.

    5.8 Million voting age inhabitants knew it.

    But Bodhi Sira sold their souls for 25 pieces of Silver in the form of Presidency.

    Batalanda thought Bodhi Sira will abdicate himself.

    And everything will be hunky dory to draft the new Federal Constitution with the help of US Embassy in Colombo and UNP & Surendran new alliance in London.

    That is the main reason for going behind closed doors..

    • 2
      1

      KASmaalam K A Sumanasekera

      “Where on Earth do democratically elected Government make new Constitutions behind closed doors?.”

      The process of drafting of the constitution is dissimilar to “Peep Show”. I am sure you are familiar with “Peep Show” where whenever you get the urge you slot some coins in the appropriate holes and watch what is unraveling behind the box and when you are tired you go back to where you live.

      Every bit of draft constitution will be published and debated in the Parliament.

      If you are so concerned about the process and have some ideas(?) express them through proper channels.

      I reiterate this is not a “Peep Show”.

      • 0
        0

        Dear Native,

        Do you codgers still go to slot machines? do they still have them in the Diaspora Cities?.

        With so many Tubes from India alongside the West and even a spanking new , dedicated Srilankan Tube coming with Batalanada’s Yapalanaya , why do you have to brave the snow to put coins there.

        Just plug in the I Pad and lie on the bed,

        But make sure the Missus doesn’t catch you, if you have one.

  • 0
    0

    My comments:

    (1) Anybody and everybody can say “We want a new constitution.” without first articulating the draw-backs of the present system. If we try to implement our own pet thinking in drafting a new one, then it can be subject to pressures resulting its abandonment. Drafting a near fool proof constitution is no joke.

    (2) The article attributes the change in behaviour of Maithripala Sirisena (MY3) to his accepting the leadership of SLFP. But what is little known is that his partners are trying to pull his leg. If that was not there, the cold war between the “Yahapalana” partners would be at bare minimum levels. You cannot expect MY3 to be a King Elara who implemented the law on his son or a King Salman implementing the law on one of the Princes in Saudi Arabia. Don’t forget the fact that the same thing in worse and crude style was practised upon President Kumaratunga (CBK) by members of Ranil’s Cabinet, resulting in CBK appointing her own ministers followed with the dissolution of Parliament. Had Ranil’s Cabinet members behaved better that regime would have continued its full term and the landscape would be quite different to that of now.

    (3) I largely agree with the author on his model of Presidency. The exception is the ability to correct something quite obviously wrong (Recent appointments of the Governor of Central Bank etc.). Otherwise there is no point of him being directly elected. In Singapore, the President is directly elected and on certain matters the Cabinet has no say on the Presidential decisions.

    (4) I look forward the day the Provincial Councils working in co-operation with the centre instead of making sweeping political statements. If an ethnic inferiority/superiority complex plays with devolution then process of devolution is difficult.

  • 1
    0

    Choice is clear. Thief and a Traitor Or Thief and Patriotic. You cant stop the thieving no matter which party comes in, so stick with the patriotic

  • 0
    0

    The need for a new constitution has been felt even before 1994. The promise of a new constitution has been made to the people at every election since 1994. however the issue is being dragged adopting various ruses. It is apparent that those who made this promise only intended to fool the people. But the question is `how long are they going to fool the people?

  • 1
    0

    Who Is Afraid Of A New Constitution?

    The ‘Kattadiyas’ who thrive on the misery of the people.

    Gunadasa Amarasekara made a ‘Kattadiya-like statement yesterday/ today. MR ‘ may have stolen/but he did not betray the nation’. What an obsanity!

    This is like a professional Kattadiya telling an infertile woman seeking his help ‘If you sleep with me, you will become pregnant’.

    Dr,Rajasingham Narendran

    • 0
      0

      Doctor,

      Don’t you guys rub Sandalwood on a lingam and give your women to drink, before you lay them?.

      Wonder who are smarter?..

  • 0
    2

    The new constitution will be the “Same Old Wine, in New Bottles”.
    It will consist of the “privileged few” also known as ‘governors of provinces’, members of – parliament, provincial councils, municipalities, town councils etc., etc.

    They will have all powers to arrogate more powers to themselves, obtain more social/financial benefits for themselves, and live well above the levels of ordinary citizens, while practising religious hypocrisy by visiting temples, even abroad.

    Only the intelligentsia outside these groups will be afraid.

    Some, like Laksiri Fernando will go broad, and preach to the fools they left behind.

    “For forms of government let fools contest…………………”

    https://www.google.ca/#q=for+forms+of+government+fools+contest

    • 0
      0

      You need to have psycho check. Else I really dont kno wwhy you name Dr Fernando or the like too as not different ot chamelian charactors such as a DJ (Dayan Aka Jayathialaka) – who would plan to die one day as ultra sinhalaya nationalist.
      The problem is there simple men of your kind would always see no difference but we have noticed more differnece today than had been under Meeharaka Rjaakshes.

      • 0
        0

        Dan Fernando,

        Dr.Laksiri Fernando seconded the motion to award honorary doctorates to Mahinda Rajapakse and Gotabaya Rajapakse at the Senate of Colombo University.

  • 0
    0

    [Edited out] Comments should not exceed 300 words. Please read our Comments Policy for further details.

  • 0
    0

    Everbody including this UNP -NGO has forgotten the past. The govt promised to change the electoral system and to introduce discipline, behaviour guidelines for politicians. Nothing happened yet. Instead, Ranil became the biggest thief and he is supporting others to steal.

    People wanted corruptions to be stopped and cut down the humongous cabinet, and make politicians accountable.

    Instead, Ranil wanted a new constitution because that is what INGOs, christians and Tamils need. They will have more power than the sinhala buddhists. CBK told this in advance. that is her agenda.

  • 1
    0

    The drought, the economy, human rights charges by the United Nations, all these are important issues that the government should deal with instead of trying to change the constitution for their benefit.

    I am afraid it is another waste of time and money. Meanwhile they are afraid to hold local elections, since it is not to their benefit.

    Waiting till 2020 when this government will be covered by a landslide.

  • 0
    0

    Your question should have been: who is not afraid of the new constitution?

  • 0
    0

    Reducing Presidwntial powers dilutr its unitary caharacter. Abolishing provincial councils will increase it. Power can be devolved to the pradeshiya saba. Strenthening the fundemental rights chapter will ensure justice. The judiciary to should be given greater powers. We can learn much from the British constitution. Many laws can be linked to the fundemental rights chapter. The constitution should be secular while it should contain buddhist Dharma as its core value. the west ties up its constitution to the dhamma in the bi8ble.

  • 0
    1

    Dr/PRof Laksiri Fernando
    This gentleman is astute in brining in arcane, if not self indulgent, reasoning to justify or condone, in his subtle quasi-academic manne any and every act or policy of Ranil and his government.
    Is is downright dishonest of him to ignore the historical facts and geopolitical threats facing this Island called Sri Lanka. He , in my opinion, has always attempted to obfuscate the truth in favour of the Yahapalanayaya government which many now believe is run by Ranil at the behest of western , neocolonial interests

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