By Ashwin Hemmathagama
Nearing the delivery of an election promise of the Unity Government, the Prime Minister and the Chairman of the Steering Committee (SC) Ranil Wickremesinghe tabled an interim report promising the country to present a better Constitution, which will help develop the nation, keep Sri Lanka intact and cultivate peace and harmony among all citizens.
The interim report tabled yesterday at the Constitutional Assembly deals with matters covered by chapters 1 and 2 of the present Constitution, Nature of the State, Sovereignty, Religion, Form of Government, Electoral Reforms, Principles of Devolution and Land along with the formulations that reflect the deliberations of the SC. This interim report also includes the observations and comments by members of the SC on principles and formulations.
Delivering the historical speech, the Prime Minister said: “Today the Government took another step in presenting a new Constitution as a part of the pledge made on 8 January 2015. We expect to draft a Constitution which has no divisions such as race, religion, ethnicity or social background. It is a Constitution that will ensure equal distribution of the benefits of economic development. The Constitution should be used to widen democracy and establish peace and stability. These are unfamiliar things for us for over three decades. Building a strong economy and prosperity for all are some of our aims. The interim report is a legal document that can be used as the base to start discussions.”
Describing some of the salient points of the interim report, the Prime Minister said: “The first chapter includes the principles and formulas, which show the efforts of the Steering Committee. The second chapter provides the observations and concerns the committee members raised. There is no necessity to have a majority or a minority report, whereas the opinion of all members of the committee is included in this report. The TNA has taken a bold step to agree on the content of this interim report provided the two main political parties come into an agreement first. The first chapter proposes Sri Lanka should be a unitary state. So the responsibility of reaching an agreement between the UNP and the SLFP has fallen on us and it will decide the future of the country.”
Rejecting the fallacies on removing the prominence given to Buddhism in a future Constitution, the Prime Minister said: “We are a proud Buddhist nation. Our Constitution protects this status. The new Constitution is drafted based on these Buddhist policies and principles. We will not leave room to create issues, unnecessary public fears, divide the country and destroy the economy. This report addresses many serious issues the country has faced.”
The Prime Minister expects the interim report will lead to a wider discussion in the country and such discussions will be the basis of a Constitution. According to PM Wickremesinghe, the Steering Committee will prepare the draft Constitution, which will be presented to the Constitutional Assembly after allocating a few days in October for debates.
Leader of the Opposition Rajavarothiam Sampanthan, commending the Government for its commitment and courage to find firm solutions for the burning issues the country is facing, said: “We are engaged in the process of making a Constitution for our country, the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. As Sri Lankan Members of Parliament we on behalf of the people we represent are engaged in making the basic supreme law – the Constitution of Sri Lanka. This is being done within the firm framework of a united undivided and indivisible Sri Lanka. This is the framework within which the Constitution will evolve and which all of us will voluntarily acknowledge and accept.”
According to MP Sampanthan, the successful conclusion of the Constitution-making process will bring in an acceptable, reasonable and substantial national consensus and a firm finality to issues.
“Sri Lanka would perpetually be a united, undivided and indivisible country in keeping with the basic supreme law of the country, and on the basis of free will and consent of all its people. Sri Lanka is a country inhabited by different people with distinct identities, the Sinhalese, the Tamils, the Muslims, the Malays, the Burghers and so on. Sri Lanka is also a functional democracy, in which several political parties function. While the two main political parties have alternatively formed the Government in this country, other parties too have played their own role,” he said.
“No Constitution has thus far been framed in Sri Lanka on the basis of a substantial bipartisan consensus amongst it’s different people, in particular the Tamil people, or on the basis of such bipartisan consensus between the two main parties and other political parties. The present exercise in Constitution-making presents the first such opportunity. A Constitution based upon such a reasonable consensus would give the Constitution the basic supreme law of the country, a legitimacy and credibility which the country direly needs. This would bring the Constitution out of the realm of political expediency and give the Constitution a character which would create the ideal of a Sri Lankan identity and a Sri Lankan nation. We have not been able to achieve this in the 70 years since independence,” he added