The UNP, the TNA, the SLFP and the JVP were engaged in a ‘constitutional conspiracy’, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa told Constitutional Assembly yesterday.
Participating in the debate on the interim report of the steering committee of the Constitutional Assembly, the former President said: “Look at the manner in which the debate on this interim report has been conducted during 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 of them are yahapalana stakeholders, they are all in a constitutional conspiracy.”
Full text of Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s speech at the Constitutional Assembly:
The Constitutional Assembly began the process of drafting a new constitution nearly 20 months ago. Six sub-committee reports containing various proposals were released in November 2016 and in September this year the interim report that we are debating now, was tabled in Parliament. I have issued detailed statements commenting on the specific proposals made in the various documents that have been released by the Constitutional Assembly up to now and I do not intend repeating myself here. We participated in this constitutional reform process with honesty and an open mind. When the political parties were asked to submit their views, the Joint Opposition sent in written submissions. We participated in the various sub-committees. It’s not that we didn’t have our doubts about the bona fides of the government. We saw the blatant fraud perpetrated on the people of this country through the 19th Amendment which the government introduced for the purpose of abolishing the executive presidency. But we participated in the constitution making process in order to look after the national interest.
Yahapalana manipulation is glaringly obvious in this whole process. 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.
In any event nobody obtained a mandate to bring in a completely new constitution at either the presidential or parliamentary elections held in 2015. According to the constitutional proposals that have been unveiled, every subject that is now on the central government list is to be evaluated and assigned to the provinces if the provinces can handle it. The concurrent list is to be abolished and the powers therein handed over to the provinces. Even the implementation of the few functions left to the central government are wherever possible, to be carried out by the provincial authorities. In formulating national policies and standards the central government will have to consult each and every provincial council separately. Land, police and finance powers are to be devolved to the provinces. Once all these powers are devolved to the provinces, the central government cannot take them back even with the combined authority of a two thirds majority in parliament plus a countrywide referendum.
A devolved power can be taken back only if each and every provincial council gives its assent to the proposed change. If these proposals are enacted, there will be no point in the present members of this house contesting for parliament next time. They will be better off contesting for the provincial councils because that is where real power will reside. A federal unit or an independent state in the northern and eastern provinces has been a political project pursued by northern politicians since the 1950s. In order to hide the chauvinism and exclusivism that underlies this demand for a separate Tamil state, the devolution of power has always been touted as an arrangement that will be of benefit to all provinces and not just the north and east. All this while, the leaders of other minority based political parties may have been passively and unthinkingly nodding their heads to the demand for more and more devolution of power orchestrated by the TNA lobby.
But now when confronted with the moment of truth, the leaders of political parties based on other ethnic groups and religions may be having second thoughts due to the clear danger that these proposals pose to their own interests. This may be why this process has not progressed beyond the “collecting and publishing of ideas and suggestions” as the government likes to put it. The devolution of power in the manner proposed may be in the interests of northern Tamil politicians but it will place all other minority community based political parties at a disadvantage. The Muslim community cannot possibly agree to the proposal in this interim report that the northern and eastern provinces be considered one province. In 1987, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress was formed in protest against the merger of the northern and eastern provinces. It is unlikely that the Muslims of the north have forgotten how they were treated when Tamil chauvinists held unfettered power. What prevented the Muslims of the east from being similarly treated at that time, was the presence of the Sri Lanka army.
If by some chance the Northern and Eastern provinces are not merged, it will be interesting to see whether the Tamil people of the East believe their interests will be served through the further devolution of power. How do the Up-country Tamil leaders regard the idea of a new constitution that would place their population under two or three different all-powerful provincial councils with a central government that has no power to intervene on their behalf even in the case of disputes and complaints? Up to now, all leaders of the various ethnic and religious communities other than the Tamil politicians of the north have always sought power at the centre. If the current proposals are implemented, the centre will lose all power. In order to justify their constitutional proposals, members of the government has been saying that I too had mooted a concept called ‘thirteen plus’. What the present government means by thirteen plus is the division of the country. But what I meant by thirteen plus was the closer unification and integration of all communities living in this country through mechanisms like a second chamber of Parliament.
In India, the vast majority of Indian Tamils live in Tamil Nadu. 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.
There is the widespread suspicion that the government may try to get the new constitution passed in Parliament through the same means adopted to change the system of elections to the local government institutions and the provincial councils in the recent past. There are over 40 MPs who contested and won the last Parliamentary elections under my leadership and who now hold portfolios under this government. They can defeat this constitution in Parliament by not voting for it. There was an immediate and dramatic improvement in the quality of life, the availability of employment and education in the north in the wake of the development projects launched by my government in that area after the war ended. However today we see that the needs of the people have been cast aside and the needs of the politicians in the north are being given priority. This I believe is a pay-off for the contribution made by certain internal and external forces towards the change of government in January 2015.