APROPOS OF CONSTITUTIONAL REFORMS
Posted on June 23rd, 2016

By Rohana R. Wasala

The armed terrorist struggle for creating a separate state in Sri Lanka was decisively defeated in 2009. But the separatist ideology is still very much alive and there are signs of it flourishing again. According to the US State Department the LTTE fronts active in that country continued their collection of funds for their activities through 2015, though the outfit still remains on its list of banned foreign terrorist organizations, so designated since August 10, 1997. Yet the Americans support the demand by expatriate Tamils, the TNA, and Tamil Nadu politicians that the government ‘demilitarize’ the north. Despite this, the Sri Lankan government lifted its ban on a few of these fronts in September last year. Chief minister Jayalalitha of TN has pledged to make one of her priorities the creation of Eelam in Sri Lanka that the terror leader Prabhakaran envisioned. (Jayalalitha very recently declared that she wants to pressurize the central government to get the island of Kachchativu returned to India; actually, India recognized Sri Lanka’s ownership of the uninhabited  island in 1974. She is now demanding its return because she thinks that the problem of Tamil Nadu fishermen having to poach in Sri Lankan waters will end with the possession of Kachchativu. But the truth is that those Indian fishermen penetrate much deeper into Sri Lankan maritime territory to steal the fish resources that rightfully belong to Sri Lankan fishermen, who are Tamil in that area.) Northern provincial council chief minister TNA’s Vigneshwaran charges that all governments in Sri Lanka since 1948 have committed genocide against Tamils. A set of some 15 proposals made by the NPC has no reference to the majority community, but seems to imply that it is impossible for minorities to live with them without special arrangements to look after themselves (hence probably the proposal for separate zonal councils for Tamils and Muslims). One proposal is that Sri Lanka be renamed The Federal Republic of Sri Lanka”; another is that the president be elected as per clauses 54-55 of the Indian constitution!  and Vigneshwaran proposes that Sri Lanka’s history be rewritten! A suggestion he is reported to have made in Jaffna recently before Swiss ambassador in Sri Lanka Heinz Walker-Nederkoorn is that the Swiss system of government be adopted by Sri Lanka (another of the 15 proposals referred to above), in spite of the fact that there is no rational basis for such a novelty to be introduced. Switzerland is a small landlocked country in Europe about two thirds the size of Sri Lanka. There are hardly any similarities between these two countries in terms of their geography, demography, history, economy, or culture, or in terms of the respective problems they face. Visiting dignitaries from the West go to Jaffna, no doubt, to inquire into the current situation there after their rescue from terrorism and the restoration of democracy to them, and we should thank them for their concern with the welfare of our people. But if they accept, without rational investigation, the myths that the racist politicians there entertain them with as if these narratives were gospel truth, then those visitors,  be they diplomats or something else, are doing a great disservice to the ordinary people of this country. Septuagenarian Vigneshwaran (77) himself grew up, studied, worked in the legal field  and finally retired as a supreme court judge, having lived in Colombo for most of his life to date among the allegedly ‘genocidal’ Sinhalese.

Of course, none of such racist Tamil politicians are talking too openly or too explicitly about separation at this stage. That will come later, as we may be sure, going by what we know about their traditional strategy of ‘a little now, more later’. They are only asking for a federal state at present, but the truth is that under the 13th amendment to the constitution (imposed on Sri Lanka by India in 1987), Sri Lanka already has a federal system of government. The northern and eastern provinces were temporarily merged in September 1988 and demerged from 1st January 2007 by the supreme court which declared the merger on the earlier occasion was illegal. But the Tamil racist politicians’ goal of a separate Tamil speaking sovereign state in the north and east of Sri Lanka is unmistakable. And this is what the reasonable majority of the multiethnic Sri Lankan population fear.

Probably, the PM and the President think that Vigneshwaran’s claims and proposals are too fantastic to be taken seriously. President Sirisena recently assured an increasingly sceptical public of his determination to put a final end to the Tamil separatist ideology. The vital question is: How? It is the general belief among common people that Mahinda Rajapaksa came very close to achieving this aim through equitable development across the country that would create an environment of economic growth and political stability, in which the demand for separation would die a natural death, but Mahinda was effectively checkmated by anti-nationalist forces working  according to a different agenda  that has nothing to do with Sri Lanka’s welfare. Though Mahinda had a well thought out plan of action to achieve what they call reconciliation through economic development and restoration of democratic governance which the LTTE had denied to the north for so many years, he was not allowed enough time and the peace of mind to realize his aims.

Clearly, Maithri wants to show that his aim is to produce a permanent solution through the peaceful means of a new constitution, now that he doesn’t have to worry about terrorism, which Mahinda eliminated. But the problem is how Maithri is going to succeed in forging a constitution that will be acceptable to all the communities, while preserving the unitary character of the nation state. The main reason for saying this is that, knowingly or unknowingly, he allowed himself to be used by local and foreign forces inimical to Sri Lanka who wanted to reverse the forward march of the country that was going apace under Mahinda’s leadership..

A glance at the 22 chapter final Report on Public Representations on Constitutional Reforms (May 2016) reveals the anti-majority bias of the proposed reforms: if the suggested recommendations are passed the new constitution will be more pleasing to foreign vested interests and separatists than to ordinary Sri Lankans. This is a contradiction of the basic principle that …the origin of power is in the people” which is stressed in the report by the PRCR Committee (appointed by Maithri). The commissioners observe ….we need to build consensus around the reforms and to engage actively with citizens to build support. For this, we need political leadership and imagination.” Can we be sure that a sufficient number out of the present lot in parliament are gifted with these qualities?

Despite the fact that we have locally no dearth of suitable constitutional experts, seasoned diplomats, and political scientists and distinguished legal consultants to serve in such a position, the government seems to have appointed a set of individuals to the PRCR committee who are relatively unknown or generally less known than those we would expect to be invited to perform that extremely important task in respect of Sri Lankan affairs. Of the two academics (political science) appointed, Professor Gamini Samaranayake, former chairman/UGC, hasn’t apparently taken part at all in its deliberations. Was it sickness or some other unavoidable circumstance that prevented him from doing so, or did he leave the committee deliberately over some disagreement with the others? There is no mention of or reference to the professor, except in the list of names of the members. He has not signed the final report either.

The report states that the members had to achieve much within a too short a time. The final product indeed shows signs of it having been rushed out.

I can’t predict how the majority community and the minorities in general will respond to its contents (by ‘contents’ I mean mainly, the public’s submissions under the different subjects to be covered in the constitution, and the committee’s recommendations based on them). There is no doubt that the recommendations are well meant within the parameters given by the powers that be, but they seem to have a tendency to represent the majority community as xenophobic, which it is not. That is how I feel as a layman who loves nothing but peace and prosperity to the people of his beloved homeland, but I hope that I am wrong in that negative impression about what could be basis for the future ‘supreme law of the land’.

In the view of the committee members, Sinhalese fears are a consequence of years of conflict and war in our country and the suspicion and mistrust it has engendered between communities”. How can the Sinhalese ignore the growing mass of evidence that suggests that the separate state concept is still alive. Have the commissioners considered in depth what led to conflict and war” in the first place? Don’t they recognize the fact that the communalist minority politicians behave in ways that exacerbate these feelings in the Sinhalese, who don’t usually think in terms of communalism? Instead, the commissioners blame the situation on what they call ethno-religious nationalism” of different groups (but, in terms of our experience, this phrase almost exclusively refers to Sinhalese Buddhists). The nationalism that the majority of Sri Lankans believe in embraces all the communities that live in the country; it cannot be described as exclusively ethno-religious. Sri Lankan nationalists are predominantly Sinhalese Buddhists, because numerically they form the majority. The Sinhalese who are nationalists are nationalists, not because they are ethnically Sinhalese, but because they are Sri Lankans. That Sri Lanka is their only homeland is also an indisputable fact. We have Sri Lankan nationalists too who are of other ethnicities and religious affiliations. Minority politicians who champion the rights of only their groups to the exclusion of others are actually communalist; in fact, there are minority politicians who are pro-national, and non-communalist. However, the ‘racist’ label is usually tagged on to those who dare to speak up for the rights of the Sinhalese majority even in their accustomed inclusive way (i.e. not forgetting about equal rights for others).

Chapter 20 of the report deals with the subject of  affirmative action and reconciliation”. The use of the phrase ‘affirmative action’ here is historically ironical. The ‘affirmative action’ measures introduced since 1956 to address the anomalies that the particularly dispossessed  Sinhalese majority had been subjected to in their only homeland during colonial times were later found problematic. Among the reforms suggested in Chapter 20, the rights of those with different sexual orientation” (commonly known elsewhere as LGBT – lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) form one item. Should a culturally sensitive piece of legislation like this be imposed on our rather conservative people? Not many are ready yet to stomach such ‘newfangled’ ideas as same-sex marriage. (Sex between two males would be treated with the same moral disapproval as it was in Victorian London in Oscar Wilde’s time (1854-1900), where homosexuality was condemned as gross indecency”. Though there is no question about the necessity of safeguarding the human rights of people of different sexual orientation, should this be included in the constitution in a hurry where more nationally pressing issues are crying to be resolved on a priority basis? For example, a more important issue than gay rights is the question of religious fundamentalism, esp. Christian and Islamic fundamentalism, both of which are threatening our society today. Fundamentalist ideologies of religions could lead to mutual exclusion. The recommendations in Chapter 4 might not be adequate to deal with the issues.

In Chapter 3, we have controversial submissions like this: .. refugees of Sri Lankan origin who had to leave the country due to war, terrorism and persecution and their offspring should be offered dual citizenship free of charge; registration of citizenship need (s) to be decentralized. …”. Such proposals will evoke conflicting responses from the majority and minority communities. Not all Sri Lankans left Sri Lanka for foreign destinations due to war, terrorism, and persecution”; most did so as economic refugees, exploiting temporary disturbances. The brief recommendations made in response to submissions including the above are: (a) To treat all Sri Lankan citizens equally whether one becomes a citizen by descent or registration, and (b) Those who become citizens by registration should take an oath of allegiance, which do not address the central issue. Of course, these recommendations will be debated during the actual constitution making. However, since the parliamentary composition of the ruling coalition does not reflect the relative strengths of the diverse shades of opinion (regarding the issues) that really exist among the general populace, how can the constitution makers ensure that no community is subjected to discrimination in terms of the supreme law of the land?

Annex G comprises a provisional list of public submissions. It lists 3655 individuals and organizations that made submissions. Looking at it one feels that only minorities including marginal groups among the majority Sinhalese seem to have taken these public consultations seriously. The majority Sinhalese seem to be sceptical about its mission, and they are least represented in it. Could this constitution making project succeed, I wonder?

The commissioners can only be expected to act on the assumption that the leadership that they say is essential is already available in the form of the ad hoc UNP-SLFP coalition that currently rules. But it seems that, in this alliance of incompatibles, united only by the common goal of pre-empting a return of Rajapaksa ascendancy, the actual power rotates round an axis that runs between Maithri as president on the one side, and the trio Ranil, Mangala  and Chandrika (as prime minister, foreign minister, and SLFP advisor, respectively) on the other. It is not strictly right to describe the present ruling alliance as a proper UNP-SLFP coalition, because only some SLFP MPs including defeated candidates among them have joined it. Almost all of the currently sitting SLFP MPs won their seats because of Mahinda, but now they have to repudiate him in order to please Maithri. It is quite clear that Maithri, who contested the presidential election as a party-less common candidate under the swan symbol having walked out of the SLFP in anger, readily accepted the leadership of the SLFP, having little moral or legal right to that post. Soon after marginally losing the presidential election, Mahinda let his successful challenger assume the leadership of the party in order to save it from the fate of immediately depleted parliamentary presence. It was due to his clever move that so many SLFPers were able to get into parliament at the August 17 election. The president could have dissolved parliament soon after the January 2015 presidential election if Mahinda insisted that the UPFA government continue to rule because they had the majority of seats. In such a situation the UNP would have won the election overwhelmingly. By appointing Ranil as PM, Maithri was fulfilling an earlier pledge to the former. I don’t think he will betray him for the rest of his term, especially because of the Rajapaksa factor.

SLFPers in the government are saying that they want to strengthen the SLFP that is supposed to be a partner of the ruling ‘national’ government, and their ultimate goal is to form an SLFP government in 2020. Will the UNP willingly allow that? Its leader Ranil is already PM, and it will be natural for him to aim at the presidency after Maithri’s term ends. For now, Ranil’s declared aim is to pass the new constitution, which seems to be designed to accommodate minority demands that are potentially injurious to the unitary status of the Sri Lankan state. The leadership that the members of the PRCR Committee say is needed is already there, as suggested before. But that is not the leadership that the country needs. The country needs a leader who can unite the different communities and save the country from being fragmented on ethnic lines, without surrendering our independence and sovereignty to aggressively interfering foreign powers.

These are my personal opinions. If you think they are worth supporting or attacking rationally, please do as you wish.

2 Responses to “APROPOS OF CONSTITUTIONAL REFORMS”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    The surprisingly strong support for BREXIT from the EU shows that even the patriotic people of Britain don’t want to be dominated by other Europeans, and that they wish to preserve their British way of life. It threatens to CONFOUND the global economic pundits chanting the siren song of economic prosperity over that of national sovereignty.

    Many British people don’t want to trade their independence and sovereignty for the much touted economic trinkets from membership in the EU. These Britons rightly believe that union with a TOP-HEAVY nameless and faceless EU bureaucracy in Brussels will not yield them superior economic benefits. They believe that they can do better on their own with unfettered trade with all countries of the world, devoid of the destructive immigration policies of the EU that will permanently change the very character of Britain.

    Irrespective of the FINAL RESULT on the BREXIT VOTE due tomorrow, nearly HALF of the British people have opted to maintain and preserve their ancient sovereignty and British ways.

    Likewise, we SRI LANKANS must love, treasure, protect and defend our independence and sovereignty from those who would enslave and yoke us to their economic and political agendas. We MUST retain the freedom to choose in the BEST INTEREST of our Motherland as the winds of global politics wax and wane.

    In particular, just as nearly half of Britons are doing now, we should CATEGORICALLY REJECT economic union and creeping political annexation by India with a SRI LANKAN EXIT!

    REJECT the ETCA which is the thin end of a vast political conspiracy to gradually annex our country.

    Restrictive TRADE, ECONOMIC and POLITICAL unions are UNNECESSARY with powers who have INVADED and COLONIZED our Motherland in the long history of our country.

    Like Switzerland, which remains outside the EU and trades freely with all nations of the world without TRADE AGREEMENTS, but enjoys a robust economy and the highest standard of living in Europe, let us remain a proud independent sovereign nation that is FREE TO CHOOSE AT WILL our trading, economic and political allies IN THE BEST INTEREST of our nation.

    In DOING SO, let us preserve and defend our ability to FOSTER the lives and interests of OUR CURRENT CITIZENS and THEIR DESCENDANTS yet unborn, far into the future, keeping out illegal immigrants and new LEGAL immigrants enabled to settle in the country under agreements such as the ETCA.

    FAILURE to control our borders against the influx of more immigrants, both illegal and legal, will INEXORABLY CONDEMN our people to becoming a MINORITY in their own Motherland, thus destroying FOREVER our Motherland as the Sinheladvipa, the homeland of the Sinhala people!

  2. plumblossom Says:

    We do not need provincial councils which only promotes separatism. The provincial councils only duplicate the already existing system of ministry, district secretary, divisional secretaries, grama niladhari system which has functioned for decades. In addition, there are the municipal, urban councils and pradeshiya sabhas who elect their officials to ensure that there is local government representation and to ensure that local matters are dealt with. The ministry, district secretary, divisional secretaries, grama niladhari system is how government plans get implemented at the district, divisional and the grama niladhari level. The only thing the provincial councils do is duplicate this already existing system and is totally unnecessary. Since Sri Lanka is a small country. Therefore what is agreed at the parliamentary level in terms of plans can be implemented islandwide via the ministries. If anyone in any province wants to suggest anything innovative, they can do so via their MP at the parliamentary level. A small country such as Sri Lanka needs a strong central government and just one plan for the entire island to move forward. For this the existing ministry, district secretary, divisional secretaries, grama niladhari system is sufficient. At the local level there are the municipal, urban councils and the pradeshiya sabhas to take care of local matters.

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