THE PROPOSED AMENDMENT TO THE BUDDHIST TEMPORALITIES ACT AND THE COMING CONSITUTIONAL CHANGE:  IS THERE A SINISTER CONNECTION?
Posted on December 26th, 2015

DHARSHAN WEERASEKERA

A proposed Amendment to the Buddhist Temporalities Act was published in the Government Gazette on 4 December 2015.  On 21st December 2015, the Government submitted a motion to Parliament outlining its plan to convert Parliament to a Constituent Assembly to oversee the enactment of a New Constitution.

The said motion says that one of the reasons for the new Constitution is to provide a ‘Constitutional resolution of the national issue.’ It is reasonable to suppose that this will involve imposing some form or other of a federal system on this country.  The same motion says, however, that the draft of the Constitution will be submitted to the people for approval at a referendum.

If even a hint of federalism is in that draft, the Sinhala-Buddhists will reject it.  So, either the Government expects the new Constitution never to be enacted into law, or it has figured out a way to win at the referendum.  In my view, the latter is the case, and the proposed Amendment to the Buddhist Temporalities Act is the key to the plan.

At the risk of sounding like a ‘conspiracy theorist’ I shall discuss the above matter briefly, because, if I’m wrong in my conjecture, there’s no real harm, but if I’m correct, it is best for members of the public to be aware of the issue, and to start devising counter-measures, before its too late.

THE ARGUMENT

As I have indicated above, if there’s even a hint of federalism in the draft Constitution, the Sinhala-Buddhists will reject it.  Is it still possible to win at a referendum under those circumstances?

To win at a referendum, one needs an absolute majority of the valid votes cast at such referendum.  If the minorities vote in solid blocs, and the draft also gets the support of the UNP vote base (which I understand is roughly 30 percent of the national electorate) the Government can get close to the 50% mark.  If the Government can get even a small fraction of the Sinhala-Buddhists to approve the draft, victory is guaranteed?

But can the above be done, on an issue as visceral to the Sinhala-Buddhists as that of federalism?  In my view it is, under the following scenario:  if one splits the Sangha, i.e. gets a powerful faction of the Sangha to support the draft (not overtly but tacitly, enough for them not to be seen by the public as actively resisting it) I believe it would be possible to get a fraction of their respective congregations to tolerate the draft, and vote ‘yes’ on it.

The next question is, What would affect a split in the Sangha as aforesaid?”  Obviously, there would have to be a strong enough incentive, a quid pro quo involved.  In my view, this is where the proposed amendment to the Buddhist Temporalities Act becomes important.

Section 7 of the Buddhist Temporalities Act sets out the procedure for appointing the Diyawadane Nilame of the Dalada Maligawa.  As far as I understand it, at present that procedure is that when a vacancy occurs in the said office, the following parties:

  1. The Mahanayaka Theros of the Malwatte and Asgiriya Viharayas
  2. The Pradeshiya Lekams of holding office within the Kandyan Provinces
  3. The Basnayake Nilames of all Devales within the Kandyan Provinces, and
  4. The Trustees of all temples within the Kandyan Provinces of which the annual income during the preceding year is over one thousand rupees

Meet in Kandy and elect a successor.

Section 6 of the proposed Amendment makes a profound and drastic change to the above procedure, as follows.  In the event of a vacancy in the Office of the Diyawardene Nilame, only the following parties, to wit:

  1. Representatives of the Malwatta Viharaya
  2. Representatives of the Asgiriya Viharaya
  3. The Basnayake Nilames of only the four Devales connected to the Maligawa
  4. The District Secretary for Kandy

Will participate in electing the successor.

In short, the power of electing the Diyawardena Nilame, the custodian of the Daladawa, generally recognized as the most valuable religious treasure of Buddhists in this country, is effectively transferred to the Malwatta and Asgiriya temples, with the four Basnayaka Nilames of the Devales immediately connected to the Maligawa and the Kandy District Secretary thrown in.

If one looks at this in terms of the participation of representatives of the different Nikayas in the election of the Diyawadene Nilame, one sees that, under the present system (which I understand has persisted since the 1800’s with only minor changes) there is room for representatives of the Amarapura and Ramanya Nikayas to participate in said election (if they happen to be trustees of the temples mentioned in the Act).

Under the Amendment, the capacity of the Amarapura and Ramanya Nikayas to participate in the election of the Diyawadena Nilame, albeit to a limited extent, is entirely removed, and the power to elect the Diyawadena Nilame, or at any rate the monopoly on such power, is handed to the Malwatte and Asgiriya chapters of the Siam Nikaya, no doubt to the advantage, both spiritual as well as temporal, of the said two chapters.

I leave it to the reader to decide if the above change is a sufficient quid pro quo to get at least a fraction of the said two chapters to give the nod to a draft Constitution that might include federal elements (but sufficiently disguised, say, as proposals for devolution of power to facilitate reconciliation, or some such thing)?

CONCLUSION

As I indicated at the very start, I hope I’m wrong in my conjectures.  Nevertheless, in my view, it is best for members of the public to keep abreast of developments in regard to the matters discussed above, if they are not doing so already, and to devise counter-measures if any are needed.

To put it another way, if the Sinhala-Buddhists take it as a premise, or an article of faith, that a Constitution that compromises the territorial integrity of the country, or which has the potential to compromise such territorial integrity, if it is ever put to a referendum, will invariably fail, it may be necessary to question that premise.

At any rate, given what is at stake, it may be wise to formulate some contingency plans in case such a Constitution is put to a referendum, but with a plan in place to manipulate the referendum.  As the saying goes, Better to be safe than sorry.”

Dharshan Weerasekera is an Attorney-at-Law.  He is the author of two books:  The UN’s Relentless Pursuit of Sri Lanka (2013), and, The UN’s Subversion of International Law:  The Sri Lanka Story (2015)

 

2 Responses to “THE PROPOSED AMENDMENT TO THE BUDDHIST TEMPORALITIES ACT AND THE COMING CONSITUTIONAL CHANGE:  IS THERE A SINISTER CONNECTION?”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    A federal constitution will be inevitable as things are shaping up. It is not just this government but also the previous government’s fault. Ethnic Sinhalese displaced from the north and east were not resettled and both regimes stuck to 13A – a federal structure with only in name unitary.

    This dislike to interfere in 13A itself is its approval. Therefore, not just the UNP but sections of the SLFP will also either support a federal constitution or will not meaningfully oppose it.

    In this context, the least damaging is to follow the Indian federal model. It has its checks and balances which 13A doesn’t have. It doesn’t allow the use of Tamil language nation wide as it is not an official language.

    Essentially Sinhalese have lost the entire northern province and most parts of the eastern province as well. It is more important to save western and other provinces from Tamil encroachment. The Indian model as it is, helps save the little that is left. Otherwise Tamil Eelam map will extend to Colombo, etc. and takeover economic nerve centres as well. Saving Sinhala majority districts and provinces is more important than salvaging the already lost north and the east.

    This difficult choice will have to be made sooner than later.

  2. Ancient Sinhalaya Says:

    From Lankacnews:

    Tamil Eelam: A Church-funded political project

    https://bharatabharati.wordpress.com/2013/04/05/tamil-eelam-a-church-funded-political-project-shenali-waduge

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