When paper tigers meet serious people
Posted on July 11th, 2017

By Rathindra Kuruwita Courtesy  Ceylon Today

Last week the Mahanayake Theras of three sects declared that they are opposed to the drafting of a new Constitution. And this is seen as a serious setback for the government and the more liberal sections of government supporters seem to think that this was a serious blow to the government’s attempts to ‘fix serious structural issues of the country’.

Now, I will admit that this was a political setback for the government, but I will also state that I was not surprised when this happened. Sections of the Buddhist clergy had been increasingly defiant of the government in recent months, after figuring out that there would be no pushback from the government and the government’s reaction to this declaration clearly demonstrated that it is, to borrow a line from Mao, ‘a paper tiger’. So expect to see similar incidents over and over again, in the coming months.

Constitution is no answer

I agree with the Mahanayake Theras that there is no need to bring in new Constitution. I agree in the sense that I don’t believe, at all, that a new Constitution will solve any of the messes we find ourselves in. For example, no Constitution is going to solve the ‘ethnic issue’ or get us out of the socio-economic rut we are in. Moreover, the fact that we have messed up a series of golden opportunities presented to us and have proceeded to destroy structures that worked well for a long time, have nothing at all to do with any of our Constitutions.

I know that this is not a popular position. Almost everyone agrees that a Constitution (or amendments to it) will fix our problems. If that was not the case, why did the Rajapaksa loyalists support the 18th Amendment to the Constitution or the Buddhist clergy believe that Articles in the Constitution will protect Buddhism or territorial integrity?

So, the truth is that we all love the Constitution and its power to influence. Don’t get me wrong, I also believe that the Constitution can be important and I want certain things to be introduced to the Constitution. For example, I want social and economic rights to be enshrined in the Constitution. But I am also aware of the fact that Articles in the Constitution will not address any of our bigger problems, for example, our continuous path to collapse when certain countries who were much worse off than us have achieved great things. For example, what nations with large Chinese populations have achieved. No one says that Constitutions of China or Singapore are models that we should follow and the reasons for their success can’t be found in their Constitutions.

Anyway, I will attempt to address this ‘deep’ stuff later. What I want to focus today is to attempt to explain why I believe that the government faces opposition from all fronts because it continues to ignore the nature of politics and the State.

Paper tigers

Few other legal documents had been criticized in recent decades like the J.R. Jayewardene Constitution. Since the early 1980s unionists, students, clergy, SLFPers, JVPers, and so on, had been protesting the 1978 Constitution pointing its many deficiencies. And one of the main campaign promises of the Sirisena administration was the creation of a new Constitution and after his election in January 2015, the electoral victory of his ally, Ranil Wickremesinghe in August of the same year and the swiftness of 19A, many believed that one of the first things it would do it is the formulation of a new Constitution.

From the beginning one of the ways in which opponents of the administration attempted to discredit the new Constitution was by convincing people that the Yahapalana Government will change the unitary nature of the country and will end the prominence given to Buddhism. A significant number of people now actually believe in this propaganda and I think this is why things have not and will not work out for Sri Lanka; it’s our inability to think rationally.

The average IQ of Sri Lankans is 79, if the average would have been higher, let’s say over 100 like in many countries with Chinese populations, people would have figured out that these claims are false.
As I have said many times I don’t like or trust Ranil Wickremesinghe, but I know that the unitary nature of the country or the prominence given to Buddhism can’t be changed in the proposed Constitution.

Demographics is destiny

Richard Scammon and Ben Wattenberg first used the phrase ‘demographics is destiny’ in the 1970 book ‘The Real Majority’, about electoral politics and the role played by the changing demographics of the US and now it’s a popular phrase used by both the left and right.

Sinhala people make up about 75% of the population of Sri Lanka; out of that 70% are Buddhists. And in the last few years their birth rate has picked up slightly (don’t believe me? Check out Census Department data), which would mean that there will be no significant change in Sri Lankan demographics.

Given the fact that the Constitution needs to be approved by a two-thirds majority in Parliament and a referendum, to change things like the unitary status and the place of Buddhism, it is obvious that Ranil Wickremesinghe will not be able to pass a Constitution that the Sinhalese don’t like.

Action not words

As I mentioned the J.R. Jayewardene Constitution is one of the most unpopular pieces of legislation we have and those who voted for President Sirisena expect the Constitution to be changed. As the majority of the voters have demanded a new Constitution it is up to the government to come up with one and ensure the will of the winners is imposed.

A lot of liberals believe that disagreement is part of the political process, that people who disagree profoundly with each other can live together and that there is nothing wrong with continuous debate. But as German jurist and political theorist Carl Schmitt observed ‘parliamentary debate does end, and someone gets his way while someone else does not’. He adds that ‘the State’s job is to provide not the coffeehouse for the debate, but the threat of a beating to compel the loser to accept the result.’ And as long as UNFGG, whose leadership consists for the most part are liberals or former leftists, refuse to realize what the State’s job is and that politics is inherently brutal and non consensual by its very nature, it will continue to lose face.

Rathindra holds an MSc on Strategic Studies from S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, NTU, Singapore, and can be reached via rathindra984@gmail.com

5 Responses to “When paper tigers meet serious people”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    Very good analysis.

    I agree that demographics is destiny. However, it doesn’t favour the majority as much as it should. The majority is divided along political parties. The blue camp didn’t mind the Joint Statement Sri Lanka made with the UN Chief just 4 days after winning the war to eventually reverse it. The green camp didn’t mind the CFA and “Tamil traditional homelands” (1987). Therefore, no matter how damaging, any move will find around 35% Sinhalese supporting it without thinking. Minorities obviously support anything detrimental to the nation.

    There is another reason. Close to 1 million Sinhala workers (mostly women) are working in the Middle East at any election. Very few minority people do same. This is an enormous disadvantage for the Sinhalese. This reduces Sinhala voters to 73% and increases minority voters to 27%. In other words, a 4% automatic shift to the separatist camp even before voting begins.

    Not to mention election fraud. The only way election fraud is detected (let alone prevented) is if loyal rival party representatives are present throughout voting at polling booths. This is especially true in the north and east. Sadly, the more nationalist camp could not find people willing to do so in many polling booths in the north and east in 2004, 2005, 2015, etc. This allows proxy voting and vote rigging with the support of officials who have their own strong political views (as postal votes show).

    On that note, even a referendum has to be hard fought to defeat constitutional amendments.

  2. Christie Says:

    The Hindu the mouth Piece of the Indian Empire says in a recent article that the Indian Empire has failed in Nepal and Ceylon (Sri Lanka).

    I am sure this is a reference to the local Constitutions that India is trying to impose on the two Indian Colonies.

    India was unsuccessful in imposing it supported constitution on Nepal.

    So The Hindu is fortune telling about Ceylon.

  3. SA Kumar Says:

    the Indian Empire has failed in Nepal and Ceylon -Rajiv tried but failed because We-Tamil kicked them(IPKF) out but they have succeed now once helped to defied We-Tamil forces.
    eg: Indian flag is flying in Jaffna & Hambantota

    Kaput !!!

  4. Wetta Says:

    Quote” …And one of the main campaign promises of the Sirisena administration was the creation of a new Constitution and after his election in January 2015, the electoral victory of his ally, Ranil Wickremesinghe in August of the same year and the swiftness of 19A, many believed that one of the first things it would do it is the formulation of a new Constitution.”

    Can someone verify the truth of this statement?

    To my understanding, Ranil , Maithree and the clan has never put this “new constitution” idea to the “public” as an election promise and therefore they never got a mandate to bring in “a new constitution”. They only said to public that they will get rid of the “executive presidency” in the constitution. That means, to the common person who voted for this government, everything else in the constitution will stay as it was, except for the executive presidency.

    Therefore even if they “had to” draft a new constitution for the “practicality” of removing the executive presidency, everything else should remain unchanged because there was never a mandate for anything else.

    Also, even if someone promises to bring a new constitution they have to get the mandate from the people for the “type of” new constitution they propose rather than generically saying “new” constitution. This is because by saying new constitution one can make the country, as an example, a colony of of another country, because of course that also will be a new constitution. How valid is that?

    Apparently there has been some arbitrary agreement between few civil organisations and the Ranil/Maithree clan about forming a “new constitution”, and I am not sure if it elaborated on what type of new constitution will it be, and it never saw the public eye in the form of an “election manifesto”. Therefore I don’t think this government has any mandate to bring in a new constitution except changing the executive presidency in the constitution. To me, it will be illegal to change anything else in the constitution in the guise of changing the executive presidency.

    Can someone kindly correct me here with facts if I am wrong in my view above?

  5. Dilrook Says:

    @Wetta

    They did promise a new constitution but you are right, they didn’t get any mandate for the specific constitution they have in mind. Of the promises, the mandate was clearly for the abolition of executive presidency. Sirisena cannot do it as at least 4 of his close family members now have presidential ambitions.

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