In the past, the Sri Lankan rulers ignored without any clarity of the internal arrangements required for the country in the first constitution, which resulted in them failing to achieve their objectives to develop the nation. Thereafter went on to introduce two new constitutions prepared in the dark without consulting the people, that resulted in many amendments and the country was in chaos plunging it into a bloody civil war that ended in 2009 with the help of India and few western nations; again following negative peace years to 2015, when the same nations replaced the rulers. A fact to date not well understood by the people, in spite of manmade disasters popping up like mushrooms all over the island caused by their bad governance. The previous rulers were voted back to parliament and are sitting in opposition, who simply swept the issues under the carpet and are making life difficult for the present rulers to click in an uncertain political dynamics. All this is possible because people here irrespective of ethnicity or religion worship their leaders like a would-be-god making them feel important. After all the leaders are only human like any other citizen and people cannot change the behavior of these leaders for change comes from within; who are tolerated by the people in a country ranked 73 out of 188 countries, classified under ‘high human development’ category in 2015, the year the present rulers took control of governance. To these people and their rulers there is a lesson to learn on philosophy of governing from the great philosopher Aristole.
Earlier at the time of independence in 1948, to resolve the ethnic problem many safeguards for the minorities were provided in the first constitution of Ceylon as Sri Lanka was then known. Yet the leader worship mentality of the people enabled the leadership to work in violation of the constitution by excluding the protective provisions that gave safe guard to the minorities. These provisions were systematically removed in the second constitution and went out of the way to include protective provisions for Buddhist Sinhalese, not needed for the majority community under true democracy. Then came the present constitution with certain obnoxious features and subsequent amendments that are bluntly discriminatory to the minorities. This led the country to a civil war and with Indian intervention the 13th amendment to the present constitution was introduced in 1987 to devolve power to the peripheries with the Provincial Council System intended mainly to protect the rights of the Tamil speaking minorities. Unfortunately, that was never implemented properly and helped only to prolong the civil war. Today, the Tamil speaking people are expecting the core of the 13th Amendment to be drafted into the new constitution in full, excluding the concurrent list that provided overlapping responsibilities between center and the peripheries making it difficult to implement the provincial council system.
At a time when the people of the country, in particular the poor are unable to make ends meet, it appears to them that the legislators are fiddling with the constitution. But though it is still on the drawing board it was well conceived with inputs never done in the past coming in from the people. Both the President and the Prime Minister have repeatedly said that unitary status and pride of place for Buddhism will be retained in the new constitution. The government needs only to include clauses in the constitution to enable the followers of other religions to practice their faith without hindrance in any part of the country and the new constitution will only come into operation if it gets accepted by the people in a referendum.
To understand the volatile nature of the whole process it is desirable to refer to the history of Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), that gained independence almost 70 years ago. Today, there are as many number of political parties indicating how much the population has polarized into small constellations and not surprisingly the country is in a mess. Though not all these parties are in the current parliament, many are very active throughout the country to disturb any attempt of good governance; as the result the ruling political parties are unable to come to any agreement in the legislature to take the country forward. The bitter truth is that even though the elected representatives have changed over the years, they have taken the parliamentary membership with the mindset of their predecessors. This frame of mind goes to the pre independence period and have not changed for almost a century; people need to wake up to realise that this trend if allowed to continue would only further ruin the country.
A golden opportunity now exist and the President and Prime Minister has demonstrated to the people that they are different and with their respective legislators to assist them would go ahead with the revision of constitution. They have at every opportunity explained to the people of the need to get the ethnic conflict a thing of the past; making it clear to them of their policy to resolve the national issue; by providing all the minorities’ protective provisions discarded from the first constitution and provisions related to language and provincial council system in the current constitution included into the new constitution under preparation with no fuss about remerging of N-E, if those in East vote in favour of merger in a referendum. Basically, the new constitution is to confirm all the positive features of the earlier constitutions and to remove any grey areas related to devolution of power to the periphery; that would enable smooth implementation of the same.
At a time the government is expected to publish the interim reports on the proposed new constitution; Northern Breeze has followed the recent events in the north that give a better understanding of how political brains are ticking in the north on the subject of the constitution making from the side of the Tamil speaking minorities. The present northern politicians could be classified into three groups; one that support the process with people like Sumanthiran, a young President’s Council and is one of Sri Lanka’s top human rights and constitutional lawyers appointed on the National List of Tamil National Alliance (TNA) as a Member of Parliament in 2010 and returned to the legislature on elected in 2015 General Elections as one of the Member of Parliament for the Jaffna District. Sumanthiran a key player is doing a yeoman service supporting his leader to resolve the issues of their people in parliament; opponents claim with him in the break-up of TNA party is inevitable. In all probability the new constitution is expected to include the following key proposals as a minimum:
- The Nine Provinces shall have true devolution of power and united as Republic of Sri Lanka and that subdivisions of the districts and subsequent territories of the local government entities shall be declared by the President in concurrence with the respective Provincial Council administration.
- The concurrent lists of power between the national and the provincial to be abolished and the powers devolved to the Provincial Councils under the 13th Amendment to continue as devolved powers and to include decentralize Land and Police powers and establishment of a provincial police post and the clause on merger of N-E retained.
- Sinhala and Tamil shall be the Official Languages of the country and divisions with percentage of one linguistic minority exceeds one eighth of the division population, to be declared (through gazette notifications) as Bilingual Divisions by the President where both official languages and the link language shall be used in that division.
- All religions shall be recognized as in the present constitution.
- The parliament to approve the new constitution and thereafter if needed people to approve the constitutional proposals at a referendum for the whole country.
Second is the dissatisfied group that is not happy with the proposals who are calling for federation of regions, made up of people like Justice Wigneswaran, a retired Supreme Court Judge was chosen in 2013 by TNA as its Chief Ministerial candidate at the first Northern Provincial Council (NPC) elections and was voted in with the most number of preferential votes. They claim the proposals in the constitution do not go beyond provisions in the present 13th Amendment; stating that the amendment takes a unitary approach that TNA has vehemently opposed in the past and wants North and East merged in proposed constitution without any referendum. These views are shared by many with in TNA and other political parties with and without representation in parliament.
The third group represent majority of the ordinary people including those most impacted by the civil war who want a correct constitution in place to safeguard their basic rights to enable them to get on with their life and resolution of all problems caused by the war that are not yet resolved, that includes Ananthy Sasitharan, with over 15 years’ Sri Lankan Administrative Service experience gained in four of the five districts in the Northern Province, vacated post to contest in the same NPC elections and won the second highest preferential votes to get elected as a Member and in a Minister of the Council. Ananthy was not popular with the leadership of the party for rebelling against them to express views freely at the international gathering in Geneva on the sufferings of her people in the hands of the security forces during the final stages of the civil war. Champion of Human Rights – Ananthy began involving herself with NGO activities concerning women and families of disappeared and/or missing persons and soon it became apparent that she had an independent agenda and remains at the interface of two contradictory positions, being the wife of a person who is both a perpetrator of human rights violations as well as a victim.
It was in the aftermath of the war that these three political personalities from the North first grabbed attention and TNA is fortunate to have such resolute persons each with different background and capabilities who continue to pursue with their particular brand of controversial political objectives with single minded determination. Sadly, each have chartered independent courses in politics and their acts are not coordinated well within the party they represent and that has on many occasions discomfited TNA. Bitter Truth is in spite of their talents if the divisive trend on the constitution goes unchecked by the leadership, will only contribute to the downfall of the TNA and the people who voted them in will miss the opportunity to arrive with a new constitution to resolve their long term issues with the State. This reflects the situation in the North and similar mixed feelings prevails elsewhere in the country on the constitution matter and differs only in what they want.
It was in the aftermath of the war that all political personalities each with different background and capabilities have regrouped themselves after the 2015 General Elections pursuing with their particular brand of controversial political objectives with single minded determination to draw up the new constitution for the country. Sadly, each group has chartered independent courses and their acts are not well coordinated well within the group they represent and there are others from outside disturbing the whole process. Bitter Truth is if this trend of the various groups in parliament goes unchecked by the respective leadership, will only contribute to the downfall of them reaching their goals and the people who voted them in will miss yet another opportunity to resolve their long term issues with the State.
Everything is possible if the rulers and the ruled stop living in the past glory and assist in the process and thereafter abide by the proposed new constitution to start working in harmony; improve the efficiency and productivity of economic activities for the country to develop it to become a leading nation in Asia. Yet, those living in all corners on the island including many enlightened people of all communities are opposing the new constitution for different reasons; they should first understand Aristole’s governing philosophy and await for the release of the draft constitution that is yet to be made public; then study the details to which the matters have been analysed to produce a constitution acceptable to all and resist any temptations to blindly support the opponents on either side of the divide, including those locals living overseas who always click during times of uncertain political dynamics. Bitter truth is the New Constitution is to retain all the positive aspects of the earlier constitutions and some new clauses that has the net result to satisfy all the people of this little nation.