MEP Leader Dinesh Gunawardena bluffs and does not answer the questions straight.

Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) Leader and Colombo District UPFA Parliamentarian, Dinesh Gunawardena, who believes in the paramount importance of preserving the identities of different communities when drafting a new constitution, says devolution should be considered only after a dialogue with the groups demanding devolution. “Following a model of another country won’t help us,” he says. The veteran politician in an interview with the Sunday Observer, he stresses there must be people’s participation, irrespective of the North, East or South when the constitution is being drafted. “We must formulate the best pattern, only then can it be called devolution or participation for development by preserving the identities of different ethnicities in society,” he points out.

Excerpts:

Q: Why do you oppose the Constitutional Assembly and what are the key areas you have addressed?

A: The Joint Opposition’s position is that the constitution should be followed to amend or repeal it. The present Constitution states this procedure. What is proposed by the Government is a resolution to have a Constitutional Assembly outside Parliament, which is a separate body. We deferred it because it will violate constitutional provisions and we insist that Parliament should follow procedure. The late President J.R. Jayewardene followed the correct procedure and amended the Constitution. The Seventeenth Amendment followed these procedures. We must follow due procedure, so that Parliament becomes the committee and Standing Orders of Parliament will guide it.

Q: Do you propose a Select Committee or a Constitutional Assembly to draft a new constitution?

A: The Constitutional Assembly will comprise all Members of Parliament. It will be a committee and that provision is in the Standing Orders.

10678640_732681696802609_2218721532253055532_nQ: What is your stand on devolution? Are you opposed to any form of devolution? Is devolution necessary to solve the problems of the Northern and Eastern provinces?

A: Devolution has to be considered after having a clear dialogue with those groups demanding devolution. Following a model in another country and planting it here will not help us. There has to be participation of all the people, irrespective of the North, East or South, when sections of the constitution are being drafted.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has appointed oversight committees. In the Donoughmore Constitution, there was a Parliamentary Executive Committee system where all could participate in constitutional making.

Marksman_news_1328120564671Q: Does the MEP oppose the 13th Amendment or do you propose any changes?

A: The 13th Amendment needs many changes. Some people say follow the Indian constitution. The 13th Amendment has gone beyond the Indian Constitution. There are problems to be sorted out, specially regarding the Constitution and implementation.

After the defeat of the LTTE, people want participatory development. We have to reformulate many things at local government and district level.

Q: We already have Provincial Councils. In your opinion, should the Provincial Councils be abolished or continued?

A: We want to strengthen the Local Government system. Pradeshiya Sabhas and the Districts should have more powers for development at grassroot level. Today even Provincial Councils are represented on a district basis. We have Provincial elections and District elections. At District level, there are MPs for the Province. Members to the Provinces are also elected at District level, but are known as Provincial Councils.

muslimsQ: What is your idea about giving Police and land powers to the Provinces?

A: Certain things are being implemented with the participation of Provincial Councils. We must identify the areas which need development. We have one of the best Fundamental Rights clauses in our Constitution.

No one is talking about our Fundamental Rights. Anyone from the North or the South can submit a Fundamental Rights petition to the Supreme Court.

Some people say, ‘give us what is in Canada.’ Canada is a confederation and we are not. Some others want a constitution similar to that of India. We have gone beyond the Indian Constitution. Development safeguards for different sections of society should be discussed.

WIGNESWAREN (3)Q: The Northern Province Council(NPC) Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran has gone to the extremes regarding autonomy for the North, to the extent that even the TNA wants to keep him out. Do you think that such extremist ideas could be a danger to Sri Lanka?

A: Extremist ideas and propaganda are always dangerous to Sri Lanka. That is what has caused this crisis. We must think afresh. The NPC Chief Minister should understand this is Sri Lanka. If he thinks this is Canada or some other country, it is wrong and coming from a Chief Minister who has been sitting on the Supreme Court bench for years is sad.

buddhist-monks-protest-in-colombo_11Q: Do you think the new constitution should give priority to Buddhism or identify Sri Lanka as a secular state like India and Nepal?

A: We don’t have to identify ourselves with anyone. We are Sri Lanka. The British took over power and signed the 1815 Convention. Let us not forget, the British did not keep to their word and betrayed the 1815 Convention.

It is under this Convention that inheritance of thousands of years of being an independent state was protected. Buddhism had a special place and status. The Buddhists never harassed others. The rulers always sought the blessings of Buddhism.

Buddhist kings, Prime Ministers or Presidents never went against any religion. It is the extreme elements who create problems in our country. Our legislature is of a high standard. The issue of Article Nine included in the 1972 and 1978 Constitutions was because it was from the 1815 Convention. This is not something that happened suddenly. It has to be protected and maintained.

Q: How would constitution- drafting affect the delimitation process?

A: What is being discussed today is whether the Executive Presidency should be abolished or changed and that the present electoral system has to be changed to a mixed system by doing away with the preferential voting system.

It is good to work out an electoral system. It wouldn’t take much time and it should be over within two or three weeks. If the government introduced the 20th Amendment, we would have voted and it would have been law by now.

Q: Should the Executive Presidency be abolished or not? What is your party’s stance?

A: We have advocated the abolition of the Executive Presidency. Those who held the Executive Presidency said that they will not use certain powers, but the Executive Presidency still exists. We should abolish it to have a healthy democracy.

Q: What are the key areas the new constitution should focus on? Should it be a new electoral system, First Past the Post or a mixed system?

A: There was a Parliamentary Select Committee on electoral reform under my chairmanship. We unanimously recommended a mixed system, where the First Past the Post has the maximum-more than Proportional Representation. Parliament adopted the Local Government laws based on these recommendations. We should follow this in Provincial Councils and Parliamentary elections without dragging it further.

sri lanka 1Q: Do you think certain foreign powers are behind the new Constitution?

A: Many foreigners are trying to advise us. But the advice has led to controversy. No foreigner advised Dr. Ambedkar when he drafted the Indian Constitution. No foreigner advised Dr. Colvin R. de Silva to draft the 1972 Constitution. We have eminent people to fulfill this task. We can draw up a constitutional draft without listening to Finland, Norway, Canada or anyone else.

Q: Will you hold meetings to raise awareness regarding your ideas about the new constitution?

A: Yes we would. We appreciate the Government’s stance of not rushing through this process. Every day, the Joint Opposition meets not only in Colombo but in other areas too explaining to the people the exact situation. We are for positive changes to be included in the Constitution. There is no doubt about that. But we want the Government to abide by the Constitution.