A new constitution: Promise, need or bluff?
Posted on October 19th, 2017

DR. UPATISSA PETHIYAGODA Courtesy The Island

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Buddhist monks objecting to the proposed constitution

Your columns have attracted much discussion on whether a New Constitution was promised or necessary. Whether such has been promised or not is a matter of contention. Since electoral promises are not meant to be taken seriously, this is -rather like a blunt pencil – somewhat pointless. Regarding a requirement, many, including the Mahanayakes have dismissed the need. There was also Maithripala Sirisena’s promise that no change requiring a referendum will be made.

To many, this debate is boring. To me, the Constitution to the populace is akin to a soother to a baby. It serves to curb disturbing howling, and promises the sucker, milk which it does not deliver. Once the chap is lulled into drowsiness or sleep, the soother can be thrown away. The masses are in disquiet. There are daily riots and demonstrations. The issues are multiple – SAITM, Uma Oya, Central Highway, Hambantota Port, the Mattala Airport, bond scams, coal and gas tenders, destruction of Wilpattu, – pushing of Salawa and Meethotamulla tragedies into the pages of history. Add to this the escalation of Living Costs and the seeming unconcern of politicians, engaged in their own quest of obscenely increased rewards. In other words, it is a real “pigs’ breakfast”.

The philosophy appears to be to allow the ‘files’ (or grouses) to accumulate, inviting termites who in due time, will dispose of them. Meanwhile, the indulgence in senseless rituals – prize-givings and sports meets, ribbon cuttings and tree plantings, Visits to ‘holy’ places like Thirupathy, Kataragama, Anuradhapura, Maligawa and Malwatte and Asgiriya – inconsequential meetings, conferences and seminars and a multitude of other diversions which take away from the monotony of useful work is disquieting. I believe the Sinhala word “kalakanni” may be of relevance. But then, like water, we may have ‘found our own level’.

Mercifully, the contagion has not spread to the developed World. I have not seen Trump plant a single tree, Merkel cut a single ribbon, or May watch a single concert – these are simply not newsworthy and at best, merely personal diversions. Not so here – in addition to the direct cost in money and wasted time, a horde of lesser minions put in their grinning attendance – all at State (that is you and me) cost. This extravagance is also accompanied by others not working either, because politicians have arrogated to themselves, every exercise to need their personal intervention – classifiable as “acts of commission”.

To cap it all, there is the proposition that a draft Constitution will be subjected to a popular Referendum. My understanding is that a referendum (a la Switzerland) relates to a single issue with a “Yes or No” vote. Hypothetical examples – an Executive President or not, should promises be honoured or not (?). Certainly not for a document running into a hundred pages and perhaps five times that, if annexures and dissident views are included. Limited literacy of the public and indeed of Parliament, means that to expect a considered opinion is optimistic lunacy. So, to revert to the title of this piece, Constitution talk looks like an attempted bluff.

DR. UPATISSA PETHIYAGODA

One Response to “A new constitution: Promise, need or bluff?”

  1. Senerath Says:

    Not satisfied with UNP’s present conduct – JR’s grandson
    2017-10-20 01:56:18

    While pledging to defeat the new proposed Constitution, the grandson of the first Executive President of Sri Lanka Pradip Jayawardena said he has decided to contest the upcoming local government polls from the SLFP because he is not satisfied with the United National Party (UNP) conduct.

    Mr. Jayawardena said yesterday at a press briefing that his grandfather introduced the present Constitution because there was a credible reason to introduce it but said there was no such need to bring in a new constitution today.

    When asked why he decided to contest from the SLFP not with the UNP, he said even the JR Jayawardena came into politics from the communist party in 1941.

    “I have a problem understanding what the UNP is doing now, because the UNP is the inheritor of this Constitution and inheritor of the Presidential System. The UNP the one should be defending the President System. But today they try hard to break it,” he said.

    Mr. Jayawardena who is the SLFP organizer for the Gampaha said he would contest for the Colombo Municipal Council in the upcoming local provincial election. When asked whether former President Mahinda Rajapaksa asked him to join the Joint Opposition, he said Mahinda Rajapaksa had requested him to contest from the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna but said he would contest under the SLFP.

    Defending the Executive Presidential system, Mr. Jayawardene said that there is a myth amongst some people that late JR introduced the 1978 constitution to enjoy excessive powers himself. “The truth is that JR first proposed and called upon for the creation of an Executive in 1966 in the best interest of Sri Lanka. His nother attempt was in 1971 at the Constituent Assembly created by Sirimavo Bandaranayake.

    He said if the late JR’s proposal was adopted in 1971, Ms. Bandaranayake would have become the first Executive President of Sri Lanka and not his grandfather.

    Commenting on the draft new Constitution proposals which are now out in the open Mr. Pradip Jayawadene says it is quite clear that the clauses relating to unitary state and Buddhism are being tampered with. “Though we are told nothing will be changed, we must ask the question, if there is no change why touch them at all? If we make the so-called changes, where would they lead us to?” asks Mr. Jayawardene.

    “What is the basis and what are we trying to archive from the new Constitution. In 1972, we wanted to create a republic. In 1978, we wanted to change the Parliament system and the presidential system. Whether it was good or bad, it was reasonable. What is the reason of a new Constitution?” he queried.

    “In 1995, former President Chandrika Bandaranayake sought to convert Sri Lanka in to a federal state proposing our country to be redefined as a Union of Regions. This is Federalism. In 1995, JR who was in retirement, read the entire proposal and the same morning called Ranil Wickramasinge, leader of the UNP and then Leader of the Opposition and asked him to immediately oppose the proposed Federal package.

    Today we are playing with the Constitution again. The interim report of the steering committee wants to remove the word ‘Unitary’ and replace it with the Sinhala word ‘Ekeeya Rajyaya’ and the Tamil word ‘Orumiththa Naadu’.

    “It is also proposed that the Presidential system is abolished. We have already devolved power to the provinces through the 13th Amendment. The President and his representative, the Governor, is the only safeguard we have against secession. As we all know Varatharaja Prerumal already tried it once and failed because of the Executive Presidency.

    It is now too late to abolish the Executive Presidency. If we abolish it and centre’s executive power around the PM, the executive would no longer be independent and comes under pressure of party politics. We know that MPs can be swayed due to many influences. They can then threaten the PM as his survival is dependent on them” he said. (Darshana Sanjeewa)

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