Can Sri Lanka Take That Giant Step Forward?

Despite a multiplicity of contentious proposals some with obviously malicious objectives, crass political opportunism and other negative features evident in the process of making a new constitution, the realization by three main political parties to overcome the bogey of racism that has been holding us back is a giant step forward for Sri Lanka.

The UNP and a faction of the SLFP coming together with the backing of the TULF on many issues, despite the incendiary cry that stalled this country’s progress: ‘Menna rata bedanna hadanawo’ (They are trying to divide the country) has isolated the alarmists still riding the hobby horse of communalism.

There is still a long way to go for the three main Sri Lankan parties to reach consensus on a new constitution with the resolution of many contentious issues but ridding the monster of racism opens up vistas not seen before. The main Tamil party, the TULF, backed the common Presidential candidate Maithripala Sirisena in 2015 for Presidency. Since then the two sides have been treading softly on contentious issues bearing in mind the disasters that lie ahead for their supporters and the country if they fail to keep the friendship going.

Equally significant is that the main opposition faction led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is now isolated, ideologically painted into a racist corner. The only punch left with him is racism: the National Unity government of UNP-SLFP selling off the rights of the Sinhalese for support from Tamils and Muslims.

This, to say the least, is political bankruptcy. Rajapaksa is not offering any solutions and his faction does not want a new Constitution but wants to keep the existing Jayewardene Constitution with certain amendments.

This is the same Constitution he had pledged to abolish twice before when he contested Presidency and won and reveled in it by removing the limits of a term of office of a President to two terms thus enabling him to be President for life.

The procedure adopted to draft the proposed Constitution had the approval of all parties in Parliament – at least in the beginning – and cannot be still faulted. An Interim Report produced by various Committees of the House has been presented to Parliament and it is to be debated for three full days before a final draft is made.

Consensus has not been reached even on vital issues such as on the abolition of the Executive Presidency between the two main sponsors – the UNP and SLFP. It is inevitable that when a Constitution is drafted by many political parties, individual interests of leaders and their parties tend to find expression in the main document. The Maithripala faction wants to retain Presidency while the UNP is opting for a Westminster system where the Prime Minister is the de facto Head of State. The sustainability of the proposed Constitution would depend on how these important issues are resolved in the Constituent Assembly. If not done with the commitment to a lasting Constitution, this entire exercise will be of no use.

The objective of some to have a stillbirth for the proposed Constitution is evident from the highly incendiary propaganda being whipped up amongst the public over said provisions that has yet to be finalized by the Constituent Assembly and Parliament itself. The pre-eminent place to Buddhism granted in the Jayewardene Constitution being reduced or nullified; inclusion of federalist provisions surreptitiously, are some of the time bombs being placed around the countryside. The fact that the entire three Nikayas of the Maha Sangha objecting to the provisions of a Constitution that has not yet been drafted is demonstrative of the potency of the faked news that is being propagated on the Constitution.

For a new Constitution to become operative, the new Constitution should have to be approved by a 3/4th majority in Parliament and then at a referendum held in the whole country. Thus it is apparent even to the simplest of minds that the diabolical conspiracies that are alleged to be hatched by the Yahapalanaya government to destroy Buddhism and opt for federalism are inventions of the anti-government demagogues who hope that the constant repetition of a blatant lie could, after sometime, appear to some gullible listeners to be the truth.

It is obvious that the objective of those opposing a new Constitution or even changes in the constitution is one of toppling this government at a referendum, the easiest way of doing it.

Voters who are interested in their welfare and that of Sri Lanka should consider whether radical changes brought to the Constitution or a new Constitution will be in accordance to their wishes.

Sri Lanka has been wallowing in the sewer of communalism for 61 years and is still politically and economically stagnant while other countries, even in South Asia are making progress. Sighing and recalling that this country was ahead of those countries like South Korea and Singapore in the sixties is of no solace to us.

A moment has come for us to decide whether we are to remain in that sewer with only a dollar for the day in the pocket recalling the days of the ‘glorious past ‘or take a giant step forward.

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