The Sunday Leader

Can Constitutions Make Politicos Or Politicos Destroy Constitutions?

by Gamini Weerakoon

With the dubious reputation of producing ‘periodicals’ in constitutional making rather than lasting constitutions, Sri Lanka is now all agog in producing another constitution - some say – that could provide the people with everlasting freedom and  others  predict damnation of all freedom.

The paradox of Sri Lankan democracy and indeed of many modern democracies is that citizens, who hold contemporary politicians in greatest of contempt, entrust tasks such as making of constitutions to politicians despite their lamentable record.

Time and again politicians present themselves at elections promising ‘curd and honey’ to the people but leave behind only bitter tastes in their mouths and are thrown out. But they bounce back with the promise of more ‘curd and honey’, are elected and thrown out once again. This is the repetitive cycle of Sri Lankan democracy and also many other modern democracies.

Making of constitutions go through the same process as elections but not as frequently.


Constitutions and politicos

The counter argument is that in a democracy it is not possible to make a constitution without politicians. They are a necessary evil. Perhaps no other country has a greater collection of rogues, scoundrels, demagogues and pious hypocrites under one brand name than ours. So, an attempt is being made to bring in intellectuals, academics, professionals into the process. But most of them are affiliated or are sympathetic towards one political party or another.  This leaves us to the inevitable conclusion: People get governments and constitutions they deserve. But hope springs eternal in the human breast, as the saying goes and now we are about to tear up one another into doing away with a constitution which was distorted and spat upon by those who did not like it from the very beginning but lasted for almost 44 years through an insurrection and 30-year-long separatist war.

As observers of the working of four post-independent Sri Lankan constitutions, we wonder whether the need for change of constitutions was the constitutions per se or politicians who found constitutions as obstructions to their political juggernaut.

The omens are not good with the take-off for the new constitution though their objectives, the promoters – Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe of a new constitution – swear, are sincere and intended for the welfare of the country. Together, these two leaders are said to command a two-thirds majority in parliament that is required for the enactment of a new constitution.


Tricks fair or foul

However, a minority group in parliament in the hope of resurrecting the defeated President Mahinda Rajapaksa, is trying out every trick – fair and foul – in the political book to wreck attempts at making a new constitution and thereby bring down the Good Governance Government – Yahapalanaya  Aanduwa.

The aim of this group is despicable:  Arouse rabid racism and religious strife which they attempted to do but were defeated in their efforts at the last presidential and parliamentary elections. That is the only political trump card in their hand which they hope to play the next time with devastating effect. Indications are that they hope the opportunity will come their way when framing the new constitution.

Racist and religious fanatics were caught with their sarongs up when in haste they revealed their propaganda strategy. Even before the government or the two parties comprising it announced any proposals, anti-government propagandists attempted to spread religious and communal fires in Sinhala regions of the country by openly declaring that the new constitution would do away with the pre-eminent place conferred to Buddhism in the last two constitutions and a federal constitution was being proposed. Both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe denied the allegations saying no such proposals had been made.



Constitutional punditry is not required in making of the supreme law of the land with Sri Lanka having much experience. New constitutions will be futile without the consensus of the minorities as well as of the majority community.

This time the government is acutely aware of racial and religious minority grievances and these groups are expected to co-operate in the effort. While there are yet many ‘insurmountable issues’ to scale in this regard the greater threat emanates from bellicose Sinhala agitators.

There are aggrieved groups of Sinhalas who have staged two insurrections, the causes of which seem to be only partially recognised. These were not simply revolts of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie as classical Marxism has it, but there are deep underlying reasons such as those of certain castes, still by and large, confined to the line of work carried out by their ancestors such as tree climbers. Such issues rubbish highfalutin constitutional lingo limited to racism and religion now bandied about in the English language media. Flame throwers will undoubtedly attempt to ignite these incendiary cockpits when the time is ripe.

The opposition to a new constitution – any constitution – now comes from two groups – one from the remnants of the traditional left that has opposed almost all constructive projects such as D. S. Senanayake’s revival of Dry Zone agriculture with schemes such as the Gal Oya, not forgetting their objections to restoration of the Ruwanveliseya being a waste of bricks. Their past leaders have confined objections to democratic ways and the remaining ‘dead left’ are expected to follow that line and should not be a cause for much worry.

The far more dangerous are the young and middle aged characters – political neophytes – in search of authors’ attempting to make their mark on the body politic of the nation. They want to be the heroes of the nation and mucking up constitutional proposals is their aim. New extremist but vague organisations such as the Sinha Le (blood of the Sinhalas) have made their presence felt.


‘Independent Media’

They find themselves resonating well with anti-government ‘Independent Media’, longing to bring the Rajapaksa regime back. Some owners of these ‘Independent Media’ are well known pole vaulters – with one owner now in government – but undoubtedly do a reverse vault if the time comes.

Another is an unscrupulous ‘Independent Media Acquisitor’ having acquired a dynastic organisation through devious means. This operator lost the most highly paid of CEO jobs with the fall of the ‘Paksas’ but now siblings of the mudalali clan are being actively pushed up in the fallen party ladder by this Independent Media Organisation in the hope of a resurrection of the fallen regime.

The anti-constitution propaganda is on the make in these ‘Independent Press’ and TV organisations and the democratic Yahapalanaya has to counter this propaganda in a democratic way.

Journalists of these ‘Independent Media Organisations’ are absolutely free to write what they want – except about the skullduggery of the proprietors.

To us, now far from the Madding Crowd, a basic question remains unanswered:

Can constitutions make politicians or do politicians break down constitutions that obstruct them?


2 Comments for “Can Constitutions Make Politicos Or Politicos Destroy Constitutions?”

  1. Sangaralingham

    People must act and send responsible and wise men and women represent the miappears from the reports from various media some not more not interested in governing the country honestly loyally responsibly with high morals and justice

  2. Reconciliation is not simply shaking hands, nodding heads and smiling at the offended or aggrieved person. It is resolving the issues that caused the offence and enmity between the offender and the offended.

    Constitution drafting should be based on the historical rights, inherited by the people, when the country was last colonised.

    In our island, now called Sri Lanka, there were two nations with two territories, two languages and two cultures, when the last coloniser, Britain, captured the island.

    Therefore, reconciliation should restore the rights of the people of Tamil nation.

    And constitution drafting should be based on the equal rights of the last two pre colonial nations.

    There is lack of; knowledge, ability and leaderrship in SL, either to do reconciliation or to draft a constitution, necessitating UN intervention.

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