Ethnic-based federal units disadvantageous for minorities: MR
Posted on November 3rd, 2017

Yohan Perera and Ajith Siriwardane Courtesy The Daily Mirror

Former President and Parliamentarian Mahinda Rajapaksa, who participated in the debate on the constitutional reforms proposals, said the creation of ethnic or religion based federal units with powers akin to sovereign states will place the minorities living in those federal units at a disadvantage.

He said, in India, the vast majority of Indian Tamils live in Tamil Nadu whereas in Sri Lanka however, the majority of the Tamil people are permanently resident outside the North and East.

Even though there is a significant concentration of Muslims in the East, the vast majority of the Muslims are permanently resident outside the East. The creation of ethnic or religion based federal units with powers akin to sovereign states, will place the minorities living in those federal units at a disadvantage.I request the government to give up this quest for a new constitution which serves only the interests of northern Tamil politicians and places virtually everyone else at a disadvantage and to concentrate instead on fulfilling the original constitutional pledges they gave the people at the 2015 presidential elections. For a start, the government should let the public know their collective decision on the abolition or otherwise of the executive presidency. The other important matter that needs the attention of this house is the reform of the elections system. The way the elections laws for the local government institutions and the provincial councils were changed was haphazard and arbitrary and this will pose a grave danger to the stability of the governing institutions of the country.

He said the Yahapalana manipulation is glaringly obvious in this whole process of constitution-making .

The views that our MPs expressed in the various sub-committees were dropped when the reports were published. Look at the manner in which the debate on this interim report has been conducted in the past three days. First a UNP minister speaks on behalf of the government. Then a TNA member speaks on behalf of the opposition. Once again an SLFP minister speaks on behalf of the government. Then a JVP member speaks on behalf of the opposition. All these parties are yahapalana stakeholders, they are all in the constitutional conspiracy together. The genuine opposition force which is the Joint Opposition gets only two or three opportunities to speak a day. In order to justify their quest for a new constitution, members of the government have been claiming that I too had pledged in my manifesto for the 2015 presidential election to bring in a new constitution. That is true, but the question here is that the present constitutional proposals seek to divide the country whereas what I had in mind was a constitution that would enhance the unity and togetherness of all the communities that live in this country,” he said.

The former President also said that all MPs should be allowed to vote according to their conscience when the voting is taken up on the new constitution

Mr Rajapaksa who was speaking during the debate on the constitutional assembly said he is making this request especially from Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

We have told the joint opposition MPs to vote in favour of the new constitution if they think the proposed new constitution is a good one. Likewise allow the ruling party members to do the same” he said while highlighting that there are 52 MPs in the joint opposition.

Further he said SLFP members in the government who oppose the new constitution are welcome to join the joint opposition. Also he urged the government not to create unrest among ethnic and religious groups by pushing for a new constitution.

There is an unprecedented unrest among the religious and ethnic groups which we have never been before. The Mahanayakas and even the Cardinal has expressed concern about this constitution” the former President claimed.

Responding to repeated statements made by ruling party members that he also pledged to bring in a new constitution, Mr Rajapaksa said he did make that pledge.

I did promise a new constitution and I did it with genuine intention. I always acted with honesty and tried to bring in reconciliation right from the time the war ended. We started development while working on reconciliation. Issues we face today would have ended if the then opposition supported us in this endeavor” he said.

We are committed towards resolving the issues faced by the Tamils, therefore don’t label us as extremists” he said.

However he said joint opposition cannot support proposals that weaken the centre. Mr Rajapaksa was of the opinion that no one including the current MPs will be willing to contest a general election in the future if the legislature is weakened.

He charged that there is a proposal to devolve all powers of the centre to provincial councils and to set a federal state by merging North and East.

At this moment he asked Deputy Minister M L A M Hisbullah whether Muslims would welcome a merger. Mr Hisbullah replied saying they would not welcome it. Joint opposition MPs responded to this with loud cheers.

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