In 2015, with the formation of the ‘yahapalanaya’ government the President and the Prime Minister took initiatives by converting the Parliament into a Constitutional Assembly to prepare a new constitution for the country. This undertaking that would impact on the life of ordinary people throughout the country, is unfolding into a real life drama and is receiving much coverage in the media. The actions of past and present legislators from all parts of the country on this confirms yet again that ‘It’s not that the legislators in Sri Lanka care for the voters less, but that they love the power of ruling them more’, contradicting what Brutus said in the William Shakespeare play Julius Caesar (III, ii, 22), “Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more”.
Today many feel the distraction caused by the mass protest held last week in Jaffna for the resolution of several demands may make matters worse for the Constitutional Assembly to get the new constitution approved by a referendum. Issues such as release of prisoners taken into custody under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), releasing of lands that has been taken over by the security forces during the war, reducing the security forces in the north and east of the country after the war; are the effects and not the cause of the war, could all have been settled during the negative peace years after the war. A close study of the issues infer that their demands are reasonable and the present rulers should have resolved most of them if not all in the past year they have been in power and there would have been no cause for a mass protest on these issues.
It is this negativity continuing under the ‘yahapalanaya’ government, which made the affected people to protest at this juncture; of course the situation was exploited by the opponents of Tamil National Alliance (TNA), whose leader is also the Leader of Opposition in the Parliament, was not amused by the events. But the veteran leader of TNA should have known better, for his party with the North Province Chief Minister should have put their acts together, reviewed the issues among them and then officially taken these matters with the government and a plan of action drawn. The ‘yahapalanaya’ government should have at least acknowledged and announced a plan of action to resolve these issues, without leaving the affected people to protest on the streets; resulting in the security forces and other defaulters to make statements to the effect that these matters won’t be resolved in a hurry or at all.
As reported in an earlier posting in Northern Breeze, these problems appears insoluble largely because the past regime was unconscious of the social capacity that existed and the social potential waiting to be developed in peace time. After ending the war in 2009, the past regime took advantage of the collective consciousness of the average Sri Lankan society that stubbornly credited it for crushing the Tamil rebellion. The regime refused to bow down to any external pressures; took many bold dictatorial decisions to implement its own interpretation of Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism plan to spread Sinhala Buddhism in the two war torn provinces that was once merged. The previous rulers knowing there are other ethnic and religious minorities in these provinces, should have made special effort to respect each other’s rights and brought them in to form a united country. The regime retained large military personnel under the pretext of securing the sovereignty of the country; in doing so neglected to resolve many basic needs of the war affected Tamil speaking people.
As negative peace years rolled on, the moderates Sinhala Buddhist and the affected minority communities’ desire for positive peace realized the irrationality of the rulers and ventured to mobilize public opinion to overrule it. Thus motivated by civil society the people rejected the previous regime at the beginning of the year in January 2015 largely for good reasons, with some popular discussion at the time reflected the optimism that resurfaced in the lead-up to the General Election in August 2015.
The new leaders have already initiated a process through the proposed constitutional reforms to address the root cause of the demonstration in Jaffna, which was resolving of the ethnic problem. The legislators irrespective of which political party they belong have had their say in the Constitutional Assembly and draft report on the contents is to be presented in parliament for review. Thereafter the legislators have the collective responsibility to canvass to explain it to their voters prior to the referendum to accept the new constitution. True few legislators in power have given an opinion that holding a referendum was risky with reforms designed to devolve further powers; but all have accepted that the country must resolve the ethnic problem, without which the minorities will be deceived by the very legislators whom they voted in at the last elections.
The new constitution must include a clause to say ‘any two adjacent provinces may merge if people of the said two provinces independently vote yes at separate referendums held in to be merged provinces only’. On the touchy re-merger issue of North and East provinces, it must be appreciated the Eastern Province composition is totally different today, than at the time of independence when a merged North-East was considered as one unit. The two provinces shall remain de-merged until the people of both provinces give a ‘yes’ vote at a separate referendum held in each provinces. In fact, such referendums could be held under the present constitution to merge any two adjacent provinces in any part of the country without any fuss and without the involvement of any other provinces.
The President has the capacity to deliver, should confront the problem head-on and resolve them one by one without accumulating it to the last allowing dissent to brew in the country. That would cause sure defeat of the legislators in government when they face the people at the poles; exactly what their opponents, in particular the “Joint Opposition” (JO) and other extremists in the country want; to send the ‘yahapalanaya’ leaders home so that they can fill their seats in parliament. Sri Lankan has given the mandate to the President, who should ‘take the Bull by its horns’ and resolve all issues from the war separately at the earliest; enabling an easy passage for the referendum on the new constitution.