Constitution making process: JO spells out non-negotiable conditions

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Joint Opposition yesterday stressed that its participation in the ongoing constitutional making process would be subject to 14 non-negotiable conditions.

The JO grouping comprises 51 members of parliament elected on the UPFA ticket at Aug 17, 2015 parliamentary polls.

JO leader Dinesh Gunawardena and former External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris said that the JO had explained its position to the government, which, they said, was divided over the proposed constitutional reforms.

Prof. Peiris highlighted the sharp differences between the UNP and the SLFP on key features including the status of executive presidency. In addition to constitutional reforms, the JO addressed several issues at the media briefing at the Dr N. M. Perera Centre.

Prof. Peiris said the UNP and the TNA had been pursuing a common strategy in respect of a referendum on the proposed constitution whereas the SLFP under President Sirisena’s leadership called for a two-thirds majority in parliament for constitutional reforms sans approval at a referendum. Prof. Peiris said the UNP and the President were still undecided on whether they wanted a brand new Constitution or just amendments to the existing one.

The JO conditions included unitary status, special status for Buddhism, no re-merger of the Eastern Province with the Northern Province, non-devolution of police powers, provision for the cetnre to utilise land in any part of the country, retention of the Concurrent and the government’s right to intervene in any province in matters concerning public security.

Prof. Peiris said that the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe coalition should present its proposals before asking others to do so.

MP Gunawardena said the government’s decision to co-sponsor a Geneva Resolution in Oct 2015 on accountability issues should be taken into consideration when studying constitutional reforms. MEP leader Gunawardena said the Geneva Resolution was aimed at facilitating a federal solution at the expense of Sri Lanka’s unitary status.

Gunawardena said that since the change of government in January 2015, the JO had been resisting the ruling coalition’s efforts to promote separatism, both inside and outside Parliament. “The JO recently briefed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and TNA leader R. Sampanthan on its stand. We reiterated our stand that these conditions cannot be diluted.”

The former President had participated in the discussion, MP Gunawardena said, stressing that the JO participated in the process as the genuine opposition in Parliament.

The MEP leader faulted the Speaker for recognising Trincomalee District MP R. Sampanthan and Anura Kumara Dissanayake as the Opposition Leader and Chief Opposition Whip, respectively, in a bid to deprive the JO of its rightful position in Parliament. MP Gunawardena said the JO had 51 members of Parliament whereas even the TNA-JVP combine had only 22 members.

Prof. Peiris and Gunawardena said that a three-day parliamentary debate in second week of January, 2017 would give the JO an opportunity to inform the electorate of the constitutional reforms process. MP Gunawardena said that there wouldn’t be a vote on the subject.

Prof. Peiris said that the UNP had repeatedly promised to bring in electoral reforms through the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. The SLFP’s support for the 19th Amendment had been subject to the subsequent passage of the 20th Amendment in accordance with all party consensus, Prof. Peiris said, alleging that the promise hadn’t been fulfilled.