Sri Lanka: Phony moves toward democratic constitutional change
Posted on October 24th, 2017

By K. Ratnayake World Socialist Web Site
24 October 2017

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe presented a constitutional assembly” steering committee report last month. Although he declared the aim of a new constitution was reconciliation and development,” the accompanying debate shows that every faction of the ruling elite is thoroughly steeped in divisive Sinhala communalism.

The report presented on September 21 will be debated for three days from October 30 to November 1, during which time the Sri Lankan parliament will meet as a constitutional assembly.

In March last year, the parliament decided to act as a constitutional assembly (CA) to prepare a new constitution. This is an anti-democratic body and not a genuine constitutional assembly directly elected by workers and poor.

The decision was backed by the ruling coalition led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and United National Party (UNP), as well as the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and a faction of SLFP MPs supporting former president Mahinda Rajapakse.

Wickremesinghe boasted the CA would present a consensus constitution” of all political parties for the first time since independence in 1948. However, the discussion has dragged on for more than a year and, after 60 sittings of the steering committee,” only an interim report has been produced.

During the 2015 presidential election, President Maithripala Sirisena promised democratic changes” to the constitution, including the abolition of the executive presidency and the strengthening of parliament to ensure good governance.” This phony campaign, backed by the JVP, TNA and various pseudo-left organisations, was a means of exploiting popular anger toward Sirisena’s rival, the incumbent President Rajapakse, and his attacks on democratic rights.

The ousting of Rajapakse was in reality a regime-change operation backed by the US and India. Washington was hostile to Rajapakse’s close relations with Beijing and wanted Sri Lanka to line up behind its military build-up in Asia against China.

Presenting the report to parliament, Wickremesinghe said the new constitution would ensure no divisions on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity or social background. It would provide equal distribution of the benefits of economic development … widen democracy and establish peace and stability.”

At the same time, the prime minister declared: Sri Lanka should be a unitary state.” He stated: We are a proud Buddhist nation. And the constitution is to be drafted on ‘Buddhist policies and principles.’”

Wickremesinghe noted the report replaced the words unitary state” with more suitable words and formulas such as Sri Lanka should be an undivided and indivisible country.” He said Buddhism would be given the foremost place while assuring to all religions their rights.”

These comments demonstrated the utter hypocrisy of Wickremesinghe’s claims that the constitution will ensure no racial or religious divisions and will establish equality and democracy. His remarks are nothing but a vow to maintain the supremacy of the island’s ethnic majority Sinhalese Buddhists.

Under the banner of defending the unitary state and the foremost place to Buddhism,” the Sinhalese ruling elite has systematically discriminated against the Tamil minority and exploited communalism to divide the working class. That resulted in the 30-year communal war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which was defeated in May 2009.

Sirisena and Wickremesinghe have promised some minor concessions to the Tamil elite and its main party, the TNA, in order to strengthen bourgeois rule. The US and India, which are concerned about the risk of communal unrest, have advised the government to accommodate the TNA in a power-sharing arrangement.

The TNA earlier presented a proposal for a federal system, but later dropped it. TNA leader R. Sambandan praised the interim report, adding, we must not be hanging on to words like federalism.” However, the TNA is hoping that the 13th Amendment to the existing constitution will be implemented, devolving greater powers to the majority Tamil provinces of the north and east.

The interim report demonstrates that the ruling coalition is not agreed on how far to go in making concessions to the Tamil elite. The UNP is proposing to merge the northern and eastern provinces—a longstanding TNA demand. But the SLFP is opposed. It demands the removal of a clause in the present constitution to hold a referendum to merge the provinces.

Just one week after the interim report was announced, Sirisena spoke at a Buddhist ceremony. He declared that the report does not project a concept of federal state,” then added: I will never allow a constitution that will break up this unitary status.” He affirmed there would be no downgrading in the new constitution of any clause or paragraphs pertaining to Buddhism that are in the current constitution.”

Sirisena and Wickremesinghe campaigned to abolish the executive presidency but there is also no agreement between the ruling parties on this matter.

For all its claims to be establishing a new democratic constitution, the government is in fact preparing dictatorial rule and taking repressive measures against workers and the poor.

After nearly three years in office, the government has been discredited because of its implementation of savage, IMF-dictated austerity measures. Struggles have erupted in the plantations, power sector, petroleum industry, railways and universities, to mention a few. About 8,000 medical students have boycotted lectures for nine months, while other students are continuing to campaign against the privatisation of education.

The government depends on the betrayals of the trade unions, on one hand, and, on the other, the unleashing of the police and military to crush strikes and student protests. Fearing defeat, the ruling coalition has postponed local government and provincial council elections.

Along with these repressive measures, the government has integrated the country more closely into US war plans against China. Last week, the Sri Lankan armed forces held joint exercises sponsored by the US military in Trincomalee. Next month, US Deputy Secretary for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon will visit Colombo for a Partnership Dialogue” between the two countries.

The Rajapakse-led faction of the SLFP, with the backing of various chauvinist groups and Buddhist monks, has launched a virulent communal campaign. While participating in the CA, this faction is accusing the government of seeking to divide the country and create a federal system to satisfy the TNA.

In a statement on October 16, Rajapakse warned the government to stop its destructive measures.” He is seeking to exploit the growing opposition to the government and divert it into reactionary communal channels. He is openly campaigning to topple the government.

The struggle for genuine democratic rights is bound up with the fight against war and attacks on living conditions. In the struggle for a secular democratic state, every form of discrimination, including on a racial or religious basis, must be opposed. These tasks can be achieved only by the working class, supported by the oppressed masses, in the fight for socialism.

One Response to “Sri Lanka: Phony moves toward democratic constitutional change”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    A POWERLESS TOOTHLESS National Parliament that CANNOT DEFEND & PROTECT the Nation against SEPARATISM & DISINTEGRATION is NOT WORTH HAVING! The New TRAITORS CONSTITUTION makes it WORTHLESS, a MERE FIG LEAF to permit SEPARATISTS to HIDE UNDER …. MIGHT as well RAZE IT and SAVE the MONEY! THAT is the SIGNIFICANCE of what Wimal WEERAWANSA said!

    Under the Proposed NEW TRAITORS CONSTITUTION of Sri Lanka, the National Government of Sri Lanka would not have the power to DISMISS a MERGED Northern and Eastern Provincial Government from DECLARING INDEPENDENCE UNILATERALLY, as the Central Government of Spain INTENDS TO DO under Spain’s Constitution to stop Catalonia from EXERCISING the independence it DECLARED UNILATERALY …. today!

    Sri Lanka will not have the POWER to PROTECT ITSELF from DISINTEGRATION as Spain DOES under its Constitution! Are we PATRIOTS going to ALLOW the Yamapalanaya to ENACT this TREASON??

    …………………………..
    Catalonia declares independence from Spain, direct Madrid rule looms

    By Sam Edwards and Angus MacSwan

    Reuters•October 27, 2017

    BARCELONA/MADRID (Reuters) – The Spanish government moved to impose direct rule over Catalonia on Friday, stripping the region of its autonomy less than an hour after its parliament declared independence in a stunning show of defiance to Madrid.
    Related Searches
    Catalunya SpainSpain Catalonia IndependenceSpain Catalonia ReferendumMap Of Spain CataloniaCatalan Spain

    Although the Catalan declaration appears to be a doomed gesture, both sides’ moves take Spain’s worst political crisis in four decades to a new and possibly dangerous level.

    Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called for calm and said the rule of law would be restored in Catalonia, where secessionists have long cherished the dream of a separate nation.

    A crowd of more than 2,000 independence supporters gathered in the Ciutadella Park outside the regional parliament in Barcelona, shouting “Liberty” in Catalan and singing traditional songs as the independence vote went through.

    The motion passed in the parliament after a passionate debate from advocates and opponents of independence said Catalonia constituted an independent, sovereign and social democratic state.

    Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont left the chamber to shouts of “President!” and mayors who had come from outlying areas brandished their ceremonial batons and sang the Catalan anthem “Els Segadors” (The Reapers).

    “Catalonia is and will be a land of freedom. In times of difficulty and in times of celebration. Now more than ever”, Puigdemont said on Twitter.

    But immediately after news of the vote, which three opposition parties boycotted, Spanish shares and bonds were sold off, reflecting business concern over the turmoil in the wealthy region.

    Within an hour, the upper house of Spain’s parliament in Madrid authorized Rajoy’s government to rule Catalonia directly — an unprecedented move in Spain since the return of democracy in the late 1970s.

    In Brussels, the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said the independence vote changed nothing and the EU would only deal with the central government.

    The United States, Britain, France and Germany also swiftly dismissed the declaration and expressed support for Rajoy’s efforts to keep Spain united.

    FIRING THE GOVERNMENT?

    Rajoy’s cabinet was meeting on Friday evening to adopt the first measures to govern Catalonia. This could include firing the Barcelona government and assuming direct supervision of Catalan police forces.

    “Exceptional measures should only be adopted when no other remedy is possible,” Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said in an address to the Senate on Friday morning.

    “In my opinion there is no alternative. The only thing that can be done and should be done is to accept and comply with the law,” said Rajoy, who has staked out an uncompromising position.

    How direct rule would work on the ground – including the reaction of civil servants and the police – is uncertain. Some independence supporters have promised to mount a campaign of civil disobedience.

    The main secessionist group, the Catalan National Assembly, called on civil servants not to follow orders from the Spanish government and urged them to follow “peaceful resistance”.

    “Tensions are likely to rise significantly over the coming days,” Antonio Barroso of Teneo Intelligence said in a note.

    “Demonstrators might try to prevent the police from removing Catalan ministers from their offices if the central government decides to do so. This increases the risk of violent clashes with the police.”

    The crisis unfolded after Catalonia held an independence referendum on Oct. 1 which was declared illegal by Madrid. Although it endorsed independence, it drew only a 43 percent turnout as Catalans who oppose independence largely boycotted it.

    The crisis has split Catalonia and caused deep resentment around Spain. National flags now hang from many balconies in the capital in an expression of unity.

    Catalonia is one of Spain’s most prosperous regions and already has a high degree of autonomy. But it has a litany of historic grievances, exacerbated during the 1939-1975 Franco dictatorship, when its culture and politics were suppressed.

    The chaos has also prompted a flight of business from region and alarmed European leaders who fear the crisis could fan separatist sentiment around the continent.

    NOT EASY

    “It is not going to be easy, it is not going to be free, it is not going to change in a day. But there is no alternative to a process towards the Catalan Republic,” lawmaker Marta Rovira of the Junts pel Si pro-independence alliance said in a debate leading to the vote.

    After the debate, lawmakers from members of three main national parties — the People’s Party, the Socialists and Ciudadanos — walked out. Members of the pro-independence parties and the far-left Podemos then voted 70-10 in favor in a secret ballot aimed at hindering any attempt by Madrid to lay criminal charges on them.

    Spain’s constitutional court said it was reviewing the vote. The state prosecutor and other parties have three days to open a case.

    Montserrat Rectoret, a 61-year-old historian, was among the crowds in Barcelona.

    “I am emotional because Catalonia has struggled for 40 years to be independent and finally I can see it,” she said.

    (Additional reporting by Paul Day, Julien Toyer and Jesus Aguado, writing by Angus MacSwan, editing by John Stonestreet)

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