President Chandrika Kumaratunga Speech on new Constitution Bill in Sri Lanka Parliament -7 August 2000
Today is indeed a historic day. It is also a special day in the history of a great people, with a history of over thousands of years. Mr Speaker this Constitution is designed to end the ethnic war which totally destroyed the lives of the people of this country. A war which has been the curse impeding the forward march of this country.
Mr Speaker I ask whether the UNP which deepened the ethnic crisis and caused this war has no responsibility to cooperate with us to solve this question, at least now, on behalf of this country.
Can they not act in such a manner when our Government has taken on the responsibility at the risk of our lives to establish permanent peace, putting an end to this war which was started under the patronage of the UNP Government by killing, burning and looting the Tamil people and their property on five occasions between 1977 and 1983.
If the UNP members howl here today like a pack of jackals, it is a big question to me, Mr Speaker, as to how they can form a responsible Government in this country.
I say that this is a historic moment not only because our Government has presented a new Constitution for our country, but also because we hope to take the first and permanent step to end this war in the North and East that was started during the UNP rule, that destroyed thousands of lives for 18 years from the Black July of 1983, and which has been a curse to the forward march of this country.
Mr Speaker, friends, the people of this country gave a mandate to our Government six years ago on a number of clear issues. We put forward our very clear vision to the people of this country during nine rounds of elections from the Provincial Council elections of 1993 onwards.
A main facet of this vision was to put an end to the terror, destruction of life, destruction of democracy and violation of human rights and to consolidate democracy humane values and human rights.
Our Government took a number of steps to end the terror that prevailed in the South at that time no sooner we were elected in 1994 itself and we introduced new legislation to achieve that task. We took action to punish the offenders and we are taking such action even now according to law. Because of this, democracy and human rights have been restored and consolidated in all areas of the country except the North and East.
We have held free and fair elections in this country for the first time today after 17 years and will continue to do so. At that time the youth of this country were burnt in their thousands on tyre pyres. Today we have consolidated democracy, human rights and humaneness in all areas except the North and East.
Although we have been able to put an end to the terror unleashed by the State and different terrorist groups, in the South, we have not been able to put an end to the clashes between the Government Forces and the LTTE Terrorists in the North and East.
We have been witnessing this confrontation with an LTTE terrorist group of about 5000 for a number of years even before we came to power. The LTTE are carrying on their terrorist campaign causing destruction not only in the North and East but also in the entire country for nearly 18 years, saying that they are doing so to liberate the Tamil people who have been living with us for thousands of years in this country. The lives of young people and civilians have been lost in their thousands in this country owing to LTTE terrorism.
While the lives of thousands of young soldiers have been destroyed on the one side, the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim villagers are being cut and chopped to death on the other. The lives of civilians are being destroyed by exploding bombs in Colombo and the other main cities.
Friends, this war was started during the UNP regime.
It was the UNP who carried on this war for 11 years. It was at a time when the whole of the North of this country had been given over to Prabhakaran by the UNP Government that we took control of this country. We liberated 85 per cent of the North . This was something the UNP could never do. It is not only the lives of soldiers, policemen, the Sinhala people that have been destroyed, by Prabhakaran’s LTTE but also the lives of Tamil people and dozens of their leaders. Hundreds of lives. The lives of very valuable Tamil leaders have been destroyed.
Even today the LTTE are keeping Tamil civilians as hostages in areas of the North and East under their control, destroying their lives.
Friends, however much you shout, it is my people and your people who are destroyed by this war. I appeal to you with a sense of responsibility to give your cooperation to this Constitution that is presented today to save the lives of my people and your people alike.
Mr Speaker, I remind this House once again that our government is fighting against LTTE terrorism with determination and strength.
We don’t give weapons to the LTTE. We don’t give money to the LTTE. We don’t bring the LTTE here on the sly, keep them in hotels and hold discussions with them. We have also never entered into clandestine pacts with the LTTE at election times and tried to kill our political opponents.
Within 10 days of our coming to power I openly extended an invitation in writing to the LTTE leader to end this destruction and to have talks and to do something like this. We had talks for 8 months and we stopped the war for eight months.
But the LTTE have shown during the past six years that they are not prepared for peace. Even after the war started again, from time to time, we invited them for peace talks, to discuss the new constitutional proposals to provide solutions to the problems of the Tamil people and other minorities. I never talked to the LTTE personally, but through a third party. I have also revealed to the country who these third parties were.
Throughout these six years the LTTE has said that they are not prepared to discuss with us.
When there is every opportunity to obtain the rights of the Tamil people through peaceful means, the LTTE continues to kill the very Tamil people and the valuable leaders of Tamil society for whom it claims to seek liberation.
If the LTTE is not prepared for talks, we should present these political proposals in order to take this country forward ensuring the protection of the rights of the Sinhala people of this country and to safeguard the rights of the Tamil and Muslim minorities.
The LTTE are having an Army only 5000 strong while there are 12 lakhs of Tamils in the North. These 12 lakhs of Tamils are not asking for war. They are only asking for their just rights. Their just rights were denied to them for 52 years and the Government of 1977 using the five sixth majority it had did not take steps to grant them their rights.
The Tamil people who asked for their rights were assaulted, killed and burnt on four occasions up to 1983. In 1983 petrol was poured on them and they were burnt alive, their properties were looted, destroyed and burnt.
Over 7 lakhs of Tamils have left this country owing to the North East war that resulted. The Tamils are asking for their just rights. We should create confidence in them by clearly granting their rights legally because of the questions that arose earlier.
Today we are in power, tomorrow some other party may be in power. Whatever party is in power the rights of the minorities including Tamils and Muslims should be ensured legally. The supreme law that would fulfil this is the Constitution.
That is why we are presenting this new Constitution. Once these rights are ensured we will be able to stop the Tamil people believing that the LTTE are their sole liberators. What most Tamils who have fled to other countries seek is the political and legal guarantee of their safety and their rights. Once they are assured of this fact, they will stop supporting the LTTE. There are several lakhs of Tamils living abroad. It is they who fund the LTTE terrorist and military activities. These funds are obtained through various means, including illegal activities. Many Tamils abroad have met us and explained their plight, their fears and their needs.
It is because of the vast funds the LTTE is getting from the Tamils who fled this country that they have been able to wage this destructive war against the Government and the Sri Lankan people. Once this Constitution is passed the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities and other minorities will live in mutual trust without terrorism, saying that they do not want war. It is when that happens that Prabhakaran will be chased away. Mr Speaker, that’s why we as a Government present this Constitution to the people of this country without any external pressure or influence, at a time when our people and leaders are being killed, and we ourselves have become the target of LTTE bombs.
Up to this time the Tamil people although opposed to terrorism supported Prabhakaran. Sometimes that support was due to coercion. Small children were dragged into the war by force. Money was extracted in foreign countries, but some gave willingly. This happened because the minorities had no trust. They had no trust that their rights will be granted by any Sinhala majority Government during the last 52 years.
Today my Government has come forward making a lot of sacrifices to ensure that trust but when the Opposition that is waiting to take on the next Government insults this exercise in this manner the people will curse not only them but all their followers.We have arrived at this juncture amidst the rivers of blood of our people, our relatives, our political allies and all of us, to bring this document up to this state.
My beloved father Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike proposed the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam pact and signed it to fulfil this need. Our Tamil brothers know this. It had to be torn because of demonstrations against it. Thereafter he was assassinated. It is said that it was done for that reason. But we know that there were other reasons also. There were other people behind it.
It was said that my husband Vijaya Kumaratunga was killed by the JVP because Vijaya myself and our party supported the Indo Lanka Accord that was brought by the UNP to solve this problem. He was assassinated in front of me and my two children. Mr Speaker thereafter I was an ordinary person. If I were one who considered private gain or the number of votes that my party would get I would have given up this struggle long ago.
We shall never give up the struggle started by us according to the philosophy bequeathed to our party and to me personally by the leaders of our Party, Prime Ministers SWRD Bandaranaike and Sirimavo Bandaranaike.
On 18th December 1999 the LTTE attempted to snatch my life just as the lives of my father, my husband, our political friends and other leaders were snatched by political conspiracies, the JVP terror, State terrorism and the LTTE on various occasions.They have robbed me of an eye, but we do politics in order to make this country a fit and proper place for good people to live in.
I am a Sinhala Buddhist, a robust dark Sinhalese as the saying goes, and a very good Buddhist.
However, I will never carry a tray of flowers and sit under every “Bo” tree I see. I have lived my life according to the principles of Buddhist philosophy. From the age of five I have learnt Buddhism by going to the temple every Saturday for two hours. We are not prepared to bequeath to our children the sorrowful fate that was inherited by our generation during the beastly era after 1977.
In order to rescue this country that has been heir to one of the greatest civilizations of the entire world, based on Buddhist philosophy from the days of our ancient kings, we have come forward at the risk of our lives.
We have not seen anywhere in the world the majority community not acknowledging the rights of the minorities. We should acknowledge minority rights and ensure them legally in this Constitution, as an honest Government and not give rights by the Constitution as during the past and nullify them in action.
I should like to state very clearly that if this is done properly we could march forward to prosperity in a country where humaneness will reign supreme. The proposals on which this constitution is based were presented to this country on a day like this on 3rd August 1995, five years ago.
It was to the leader of the UNP as the main opposition party that I first extended an invitation to meet me before I did so. They met me on August 2nd. We discussed it before presenting it to the country. Now they are howling like jackals.I am ashamed at this behaviour. I wonder whether they are an Opposition.
The UNP leader ran away asking the others to howl like jackals. We invited the UNP after presenting it to the Cabinet. We discussed and asked for their support. We said we are prepared to discuss anything and that it was only a draft. We were prepared to discuss any amendments. But we did not get any support from the UNP for the last five years. Then we discussed with all other parties and presented it to the country on 3rd August 1995. That was the initial draft.
I then asked the LTTE whether to send the draft to them and discuss it. But they were not prepared to do so. It was thereafter that we presented it to the Parliamentary Select Committee. Discussions were held there under the Chairmanship of Professor G. L. Peiris. We presented the document incorporating certain amendments to Parliament in October 1997. Then once again I invited the UNP, but their support was not forthcoming to ensure the two thirds majority. Thereafter, I invited 13 parties now in Parliament after the 1999 Presidential election to discuss it again and incorporate any necessary amendments.
The nine constituent parties of the Peoples Alliance discussed it for two weeks in depth and brought certain amendments and invited the Tamil parties next.It was discussed with them also for two weeks and we then invited the UNP. We must record our appreciation that the UNP acceded that request and came for talks.
Before the discussion the UNP leader wrote to me and proposed various things. He wrote to me asking me to give various things to the LTTE. We have his signed letter.He suggested a time frame for the discussions.We welcomed that and both the UNP and the Government Group decided to wind up in four weeks. However, the UNP dragged this discussion on for 18 weeks taking on even minor and irrelevant matters for discussion. We suspected this from the very beginning.
We were working on the premise that we should discuss this document which had been approved by 12 of the 14 parties in Parliament, whatever the impediments. After 18 weeks of discussion I and a number of my Ministers agreed to all the clauses of the new Constitution except one.We accepted several amendments proposed by the UNP.
Here Member of Parliament Choksy participated very fruitfully as those on our side. Others of the UNP team cooperated with us. I am very thankful to them for that. At the end of 16 months of discussion and deliberation on June 30th, we had reached agreement on all the clauses except that on the Executive Presidency. We had included the subject of the Executive Presidency three times in the agenda, on June 30th and twice earlier. Everytime the UNP did not give us their decision. Finally this had to be completed on June 30th. They asked for one more day to give their decision.
We gave them one more day on July 7. On that day too they said they cannot make a decision. Thereafter I told them to kindly inform us about their decision and say whether they are for or against. Then I told them that if my presence at the meeting was a problem for them, I will walk out allowing them to discuss it. Then the UNP group including their leader told me to stay on saying it was not a problem at all. Then I told them to inform us of their decision but they didn’t do it either. They said they will inform their decision after discussing it in the Sub Committee. The date for the Sub Committee meeting was scheduled for July 19 which was after a lapse of 14 days. On that day too a UNP MP, who is present here today, came as the sole UNP representative and said he had not been empowered to take a decision on this and asked for a fresh date for a discussion. This then was the fifth discussion held on a single item. We did not discuss anything else.
They said we should all hold another discussion on July 21. I had planned to go abroad that night on a strictly personal and important matter, but I cancelled the trip and all other work and agreed to that date. On that day too they came and said they had no decision and that they would discuss it in their Working Committee and inform us. Then I told them we can’t wait any longer and that this was the fifth time we were discussing this problem. You are not telling us your views kindly tell us whether you are for or against this or if you wish to propose an amendment tell us so. Again they said they will it discuss at the Working Committee and inform us. When I asked for the date on which they will inform us they said they will discuss it in the Working Committee on the 27th and 28th and inform us soon.
We came to know through the newspapers that they had held the Working Committee meeting on the 27th. Then on the 28th or 29th their party chairman Mr. Jayasuriya had telephoned our, the Minister of Constitutional Affairs of our Government and vaguely said they don’t like the idea very much and that they wanted another discussion with the President. At that moment, we had given the Constitution for printing. I said that even if we have to remove a page, if we can reach a consensus on this matter, we would do it. This message of the UNP chairman given on the 29th reached me only on the 30th.
I had a very busy schedule on the 31st. So I cancelled my first appointment on the 1st and offered them the opportunity they sought. They said their leader won’t be able to come on the 1st. When I asked whether they could come on the 2nd they said that on that day too their leader won’t be able to turn up. These people only ask for dates and then say their leader is unable to come. Then I spoke directly to the UNP Chairman.
Due to our great desire and dedication to end the ugly confrontational political culture which had existed in the country all these years and create a new political culture which would go forward on the basis of consensus, the discussion the UNP promised to conclude in four weeks was dragged on for 18 weeks. We were prepared to spend time. But if this is the kind of response we get, Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask whether this is a party? Are these representatives of the people? Do they love their country? I ask you, is this the way they act if they are people’s representatives who have a concern for the interests of the people? I have told you the history.
This is how we drafted this Bill. Although the UNP is now obstructing it, a large number of proposals made by the UNP are included in it. However, Mr. Speaker, I wish to state briefly what we are trying to do through this Constitution. On the one hand we believe that the people of this country elected us to power in 1994 in a massive wave of support to restore democracy and human freedom in this country. As I said before, we have stabilised human values, freedoms and democracy in all parts of the country except the North and East.
As part of democracy we are now in the process of ending the confrontational and politics of revenge and create a new political culture, a system of consensual government at least with the major political parties.
Mr. Speaker this Constitution will establish such a form of government. Through this we have also introduced the executive committee system which exists in certain countries which decides and promotes government activities with the participation of all parties. We are introducing this system to the Provincial Councils.
Similarly the new Constitution has many provisions than in the present one to stabilise democratic freedoms and human rights we have been safeguarding since ’94. It is our desire to further strengthen and expand this. In addition, for the first time the Rights of Children’s have been enshrined in a Constitution. This will stabilise the program we have already started to wean away youth from liquor and drugs and protect children from abuse.
For the first time this Constitution has provisions to protect the environment and prevent environmental damage and pollution. Generally these are our proposals to stabilise democracy, human rights and human values in this country. Similarly this new Constitution has strong provisions to protect Buddhism, the religion and philosophy of the Sinhala majority of this country, which is the foundation of Sri Lankan culture. I wish to state here clearly that some people are spreading false rumours everywhere, after having discussed with me for five months, that we have surreptitiously removed the original clause for the protection of Buddhism which was included in the Constitution. This is a total fabrication.
Mr. Speaker, we have not even dreamt of such a thing, we will never contemplate it either. While protecting the rights of the majority Sinhala Buddhists in this country we will safeguard the fundamental human rights and freedoms of all sections of people living in this country.
There is another section Mr. Speaker which has solutions for the most dangerous problem of this era, the ethnic problem specially of the Tamil people which had been aggravated over the last several decades, by devolving power to the minorities. Some of the major problems the minorities and minority religions have are the inability to find schools for their children and non-availability of employment opportunities. These are problems common to under-developed countries. We should find solutions to these, while finding solutions to the other problems of our people.
This situation has dragged on making this problem very complex and spread as a cancer in our body politic. The time has run out when we could have very easily granted the rights of the minorities. The trust and confidence which existed among the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims has broken. It is this loss of confidence that led some of them to demand a separate state.
How can we give them that confidence after the manner they were killed and burnt in 1983 ? How can we tell them that it will not happen again under a government of the Sinhala majority? This is the only way in which we can give that confidence without dividing the country.
I personally and my government is totally against a division of this little Sri Lanka. I wish to remind you that it will never happen so long as our government remains in power. If we are to prevent a division and carry this country forward as a united, strong and sovereign state we should share power to a certain extent with the Tamils and Muslims who have lost confidence in us. It is those proposals for sharing power, Mr. Speaker and dear Members of Parliament that we are presenting with this constitution. I have studied this problem at length a few decades ago before I became President, by myself, with my political friends and when I was abroad. After returning to Sri Lanka I have delivered many long lectures on this issue. We have analysed and studied every word in this new Constitution for seven and a half months from 20th January this year.
I can very sincerely state that we can remedy the injustice caused to the minorities through these devolution proposals. I sincerely feel that this will provide a lasting solution to this problem while safeguarding the rights of the majority Sinhalese in this country. I believe we can find lasting solutions to these problems. We can extend this confidence to the Sri Lankan Tamils who have fled this country and are now living abroad.
We have already started talking to them. The day we build that confidence those Tamils will not need Prabhakaran’s terrorism. We have even told the UNP that we have decided to send this Constitution to the LTTE through legitimate channels once it is approved by this House, to seek their ideas and views. If they are prepared to discuss this we are willing to talk. But the killings must stop for a friendly dialogue. As we have repeatedly said, the only condition is to stop killing, freeze the war and hold discussions.
Mr. Speaker some people are spreading false rumours to the effect that through this Constitution we will be bringing an end to the unitary state. This Constitution will never disrupt the united nature of the country but rather enhance it. There will be no impediment whatever by this Constitution to this country being united. In fact its unity will be strengthened.
What will be happening is something different. The central government will perform all major duties as a united and sovereign government and all legislation having a major impact on the country will be formulated by this august assembly. Provinces will be the same as those existing today. The existing Provincial Councils will be given powers to formulate laws and regulations to a certain extent and the right to conduct the provincial administration.
Mr. Speaker this is not something new. What was the system of administration in ancient Sri Lanka during the time of Sinhala Kings? What was the system in the great historic kingdoms which existed in your native area the North Central Province?. The King did not grab all powers to the central government. The King identified himself as the clear leader of a united Sri Lanka.
But the King’s powers were devolved to leaders of villages known as gramanayakes, who administered them as autonomous units. That was the system which existed during that time. Large villages which managed their economic activities including agriculture and small industries were administered by rural leaders. The King formulated common laws and regulations and informed the people about them through rock inscriptions etc.
But other laws and regulations concerning the village such as water supply, land use and paddy cultivation were drawn up by the village leader called “Gramini.” There were several other terms by which this village leader was referred to. This system of devolution of power is not a strange thing to us Mr. Speaker. Power was devolved even during that time. Land ownership was devolved in that manner. There was a very strong and successful administration in this country during that time.
But wars occurred in this country due to various foreign invasions, specially from South India. Even history and social scientists say that our kings were able to withstand those invasions due to the strong socio-economic system which existed at the time. The basis of this system was that the King remained as the head of state without any partisanship while his powers were devolved to the villages. That system has now been modernised to suit the modern world. Today after more than 2000 years activities in all countries not only ours, have increased by leaps and bounds. Populations have increased a hundred fold. To manage these huge and extensive activities of people and society, there must be a more systematic, better organised, and wider system in place.
Mr. Speaker it is the system of devolution which was created in Sri Lanka by Buddhist governments that we have modernised and tabled in this House today, through the Provincial Council system. It is not we but the previous government which introduced the Provincial Council system for the first time in this country.
When the Indian Government exerted pressure they introduced the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord by amending the Constitution for the 13th time.
Without vetoing that system as in the past, we have tabled this document to enhance the rights of all communities living in this country. I will not try to explain them in detail now. I hope our Constitutional Affairs Minister and other Ministers will discuss all those provisions in detail when the debate on the second reading is taken up on the 7th and 8th with your approval.
Mr. Speaker we have seen in world history in countries like ours where there are people belonging to different communities and cultures and speaking different languages various problems have cropped up among those communities specially during the 20th century. As far as I know each and every such country that has solved this problem successfully, has done so not by getting the central government or the majority community to grab all powers in the land.
They have solved this problem satisfactorily by the powers vested in the Central Government and the majority community being shared with others in a fair manner. It is only when power is shared in a just manner that this problem can be solved. Mr. Speaker. We can cite the USA, Canada, India, Pakistan, Switzerland and Australia as examples. Then there are a lot of other countries in Asia and the Americas.
It is through a federal system that Germany and countries in old Europe have solved their problems and marched forward preventing a break up or division of their countries. They have solved their problems by releasing or devolving to a certain extent the powers centralised in the Government. Therefore Mr. Speaker as one who loves my country, and one who fights for this country having put my life at stake, as well as the lives of other members of my government, I say that as a government we are ready to take the necessary risks, face all threats and dangers to do justice by all communities who share this land.
Very recently one of our closest political colleagues and friends was murdered on the road by the LTTE at Ratmalana. They are trying to get at more people. But we are performing this duty we have undertaken with great dedication and sacrifice, because we have the necessary confidence. Unless we give the guarantee to the Tamil people including the 7 lakhs supporting the LTTE that we would not at least kill or burn them through this Constitution, it will be our people who will be killed on the streets of Colombo by Prabhakaran. It is our people who are being hacked to death by the LTTE by storming villages. The UNP should not forget that it is not only the SLFP or PA people. Those killed are also UNP people. Not only my people but Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s people are also being exterminated. Therefore, I request you to behave with a sense of responsibility.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to repeat over and over again that a small section of our people including certain members of the Maha Sangha are having a wrong impression about this system of devolution of power.
|There is a handful of Sinhalese who think that all Tamils and Muslims should be killed and only the Sinhala Buddhists should live in this country.
Mr. Speaker, we do not dream empty dreams that are impractical. As practical politicians we know that such things cannot be implemented.
We are living in a world of globalization. When something takes place here, on the other side is India. There is the United Nations Organization. Mr Speaker, as some people propose to us we cannot cut and chop all the minorities in this country and throw them into the sea.
This country cannot be only for the Sinhala Buddhists. I don’t believe that there are such fools in this country, like the handful of people who seem to think so. If we are to safeguard the rights, of the Sinhala Buddhists and achieve peace, we can talk about our rights forever but what is the solution to these bombs that are hurled at us.
How can we stop the destruction caused to this country by LTTE terrorism? Although we talk about Sinhala Buddhist rights aloud how can we achieve such rights? Let us first give the rights of the people in the North the absence of which is the basis of terrorism. I tell this House on this occasion that we can definitely and successfully win the war in the North by granting their rights.
In addition to the several lakhs of Tamil people in the North, Tamils living abroad collect millions of rupees and during the previous regime the LTTE has bought six ships, and they are still being operated. When they attempted to buy some more ships, our Government stopped it. Weapons are bought with that money and smuggled into the country in these ships. When we took over, the Navy was in a very weak condition. The necessary ships and equipment were not there.
Now we are spending thousands of millions of rupees and improving the Navy like the other armed forces. Now we have bought new equipment. It takes some time. It takes three years to take delivery of a ship after placing the order, however much we try to hurry. Taking delivery of a plane ordered takes a little less time, but it takes at least one year. You can’t just go and buy these things like you buy a saree from a shop. We will somehow find the money for it. We can find the money because we have strengthened the economy of this country.
If we are to make a success of this war, we still hope that the LTTE will see at least an iota of truth and agree to this political programme. However if this doesn’t happen and if they are inviting us to war, we shall continue to fight.
We can finish it soon, but before that we should strengthen the rights of the people including Tamils and the Muslims who are against LTTE terrorism in the back of their minds and only asking for their rights and for peace. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, we are presenting this Constitution today.
When our people were being killed after we presented this draft Constitution on the 3rd of August 1995, our Ministers and MPs having started movements like the Sudu Nelum Movement,and intellectuals, university students, lecturers, teachers, some journalists, a large number from non governmental organizations, a large number of Maha Sangha and dignitaries of other religions went from village to village taking this message into the four corners of this country during the last five years. We staged street dramas and gave this message to the entire country through all the media.
After all this if anyone says that we are rushing through the Constitution it is a brazen lie. Such people are not fit to be engaged in politics in this country, Mr Speaker. This morning on my way here I saw in the ‘Divaina’ and the ‘Lankadeepa’ newspapers banner headlines asking why we are rushing through this Constitution. I don’t know what they mean by rushing through. This rushing through took five years, Mr. Speaker. We submitted the main provisions of this Constitution to all including the leader of the UNP and to the whole country. There has been no rush or hurry at all. The only thing is that it took five years to present this and to pass it into law, that is all. We admit that shortcoming. We can’t help it.
Even when we had won 80 per cent of the electorates in the Parliamentary elections, we have only a single vote majority in Parliament because of the UNP Government’s Constitution that is now in force. Because of this peculiar Constitution and the crazy system of elections. Mr. Speaker, it is only because we didn’t have the two-thirds majority that we were unable to pass this. We were very keen to do it. That is why we clearly asked the people during nine rounds of elections from the Western Provincial Council election in 1993, the Southern Provincial Council election in 1994, the General election and the Presidential election in 1994, the local government elections in 1997, the three rounds of Provincial Council elections in 1999 and again the Presidential election in 1999, to do what we are doing today.
The people very clearly gave us a mandate during these nine rounds of elections to do this today. Though anybody may hoot or howl like jackals, we shall go through with this. Mr. Speaker I believe that all those who are in this House, whether on this side or that side are representatives of the people. It is that word that is used to describe them. Mr. Speaker if all of them including myself and you represent the people, I say that a two thirds majority is not necessary, and that the simple majority alone that the people of this country gave us on so many occasions is sufficient.
A Constitution is a legal document that reflects the needs of the greater number of the people in a democratic country. It is through the vote of the people that all the people’s needs and aspirations are expressed. This is the basic element of democracy. Mr. Speaker, if the people of this country gave us a clear mandate through nine rounds of elections during a period of six and a half years from May 1993 to December 1999, to bring this Constitution before Parliament, we should bring it before Parliament. It is my bounden duty to do so as the Head of State of this country.
It is that mandate that I clearly asked from the people seven months ago on 21st December 1999.Mr Speaker, it is to resolve the ethnic issue that has been a curse on our peoples’ lives and the progress of this country and to end the war that I as President and my Government asked the people to give us the power. That’s why we are bringing this legal document before Parliament and trying to get it passed into law.
Mr. Speaker the people gave me a clear mandate even when I had been injured in the bomb explosion and some were saying that my thinking had been affected. I am responsible only to the people of this country and I have no reason to ask anyone else. The people of this country have asked us nine times to bring this document before Parliament, but Mr. Speaker the people of this country never told me to ask the UNP before presenting this with Parliament. They never asked me even to discuss with the UNP.What I asked for was a mandate to bring this before Parliament. However we as a Government that respects human values and democracy, consulted the UNP. We want to put an end to this divisive political culture that has existed in this country and was made worse after 1977. That’s why we invited all parties in Parliament, mainly the UNP to enter into discussion with the approval and fullest co-operation of my Government.
But the people of this country didn’t tell us or lay down conditions, they only asked us to bring this Constitution. Please keep that in mind very clearly. We have come forward at the risk of our lives to some day end this despicable and divisive political culture that has existed in this country for fifty years; this terrible inhuman beastly war; the destruction caused by it and the terror of tyre pyres and such base episodes and not to bequeath this unfortunate fate to our children’s generation.
I am certain that all Members of Parliament and Ministers of my Government and all the nine parties that constitute the Peoples Alliance will give their fullest co-operation in this matter. Mr. Speaker it is the majority of the people of this country, especially the Sinhala Buddhists who voted for me in December 1999 even when the catchers of Prabhakaran went from village to village and said “don’t give your vote to Chandrika, vote for the other person”.
I will not mention the name here. Definite investigations were carried out and I have the report. Even when they said so it was the Sinhala Buddhists of this country who voted for me. Mr. Speaker, when I wanted to bring this Constitution the Tamil people were enthusiastically waiting to vote for me but Prabhakaran didn’t allow them with his terrorism. However, in areas where Prabhakaran could not wield his influence like in Jaffna, I received more votes. I should like to remind that it was the Muslims in this country who contributed most to make up my 51 per cent plus votes. The Sinhala people are not opposed to this.
I very earnestly and with extreme humility call upon the Maha Sangha on this occasion as the Head of State of this country and as one who respects Buddhism, having moulded my life according to Buddhist philosophy, as a practising Buddhist, to give your full blessings to my Government and to me to implement the mandate given to me by the majority of the Sinhala Buddhists of this country.
All leaders of other religions have a special responsibility. I request their co-operation. I know that that co-operation is forthcoming. The mandate of the people of this country and their co-operation was expressed on December 21st last, also. Before that it was expressed eight times. Now I request you the leader of the Opposition and the leader of the UNP to give us that co-operation honestly and truly without vacillating, in the name of the people of this country and in the name of the mandate they gave nine times for this.
On this occasion we hope to present this Constitution today and debate it on the 7th, 8th and 9th next week and adopt it as a solution to this great national calamity that has been with us for the last 18 years. But we will not end this matter with the Constitution alone. I request each and everyone of you to participate in this task taking decisions personally, true to your conscience to carry forward the political procedures necessary to implement this Constitution.
Finally I would like to mention that in the various journals and newspapers published internationally and even in the United Nations reports, the crisis in Sri Lanka has been named by journalists, experts, intellectuals and academics as one of the most terrible and destructive wars of the twentieth century in any country in the world, because we have not solved the ethnic crisis in this country. I will not be satisfied by merely saying that this crisis is due to our misfortune. This crisis is man made. It was created by the generation of our parents and some of our generation, too.
Our generation can also end this.Its solution is in our hands. I entreat everybody not to oppose this move without proposing an alternative, by merely saying irrelevant things. Mr. Speaker, we are doing this regardless of the number of votes we will get. Unfortunately hitherto no Government that ruled this country has come forward to solve this question because they were only mindful of the number of votes they expected to get. I will not speak about the times of our ancient kings.
Today is a historic day because we have for the first time in the history of this country, as a Government, without being influenced by anybody and regardless of foreign influence, taken this step. As a government we have kept to our pledge given before the election that we shall introduce a new constitution. We have now done so amidst all the impediments and obstruction by the opposition, who should give us their support. We have presented this in the face of LTTE threats and opposition. We know that this is the best way the Tamil people can obtain liberation and not the LTTE path of terror.
We have presented this despite LTTE attempts to kill me and my Ministers. We have taken this step boldly, because we know it is the only way to extricate our country from the abyss into which it has fallen; to save our country from the cruel path that has befallen it.
I should like to tell this august assembly that it is this foundation that will enable our country to make available to all communities living in this country equal rights, self respect, and to create a society where people can live an upright life. It will also enable the creation of a prosperous nation with a sound economy on the foundation our Government has laid.
Mr. Speaker I express my gratitude to you for having given me this opportunity as the Head of State to present this supreme piece of legislation to this House.I also thank the Hon. Leader of the House Ratnasiri Wickramanayake, for making arrangements to perform this task here today. I also thank Professor G. L. Peiris, Minister of Constitutional Affairs who devoted his energies, sweat and toil to compile this Constitution during a period of six years from June 1994 when we made preparations to contest the 1994 election.
I must also express my thanks to the members of the UNP who participated in negotiations with us on this matter, and suggested several amendments. I must particularly thanks Mr. Choksy for the personal contribution he made as a member of the UNP delegation. I also express my thank personally and on behalf of the Government to all the Ministers, Parliamentarians and all public servants who worked indefatigably to perform this task.