Govt . Needs To Listen To The People Or Risk Being Ousted – Patali Champika Ranawaka
By Camelia Nathaniel
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q: With many issues to be resolved in the country, do you think that priority at the moment should be given to formulate a new Constitution?
A: I must state very clearly the priority of the moment is definitely not the formulation of a new constitution. President Maithripala Sirisena received the mandate from the people last January to make certain significant democratic changes within the first 100 days. Among these changes was the abolition of the executive presidency, next the independent commission and the changes in the electoral system.
The first two of these were done according to the legal leverage available but the third, to change the electoral system was not possible. The democratisation faze was completed to a certain degree.
However on August 17, 2015 it was clearly mentioned in the people’s mandate to the UNF the approval to discuss with other parties the possibility of formulating a new constitution. That was how this topic of the new constitution came to be.
Q: Is this exercise practical and necessary?
A: Well there are two myths about this constitution. One is the constitutional determinism, where they believe that the answer to every problem is the new constitution. This is an absolute myth, as the world today is a shrinking state. It is diluted from many angles. Therefore the state today is in a flux. Therefore trying to resolve all problems with a new constitution is a mere joke. Constitutional determinism came in the 1800’s with modernism, but now it is not valid.
Secondly a constitution should be formulated on a certain consensus. Mrs. Bandaranaike had the constitution in 1972 which was very good. At the time it was a revolutionary move, but the UNP did not vote in favour and the Tamil party absconded. That constitution therefore did not receive the morale legitimacy. Then in 1978 J.R. Jayewardene brought in a constitution and the SLFP and the Tamil party did not support that. There too lacked the morale legitimacy. Perhaps the most important features in that constitution was the Human rights clause and the proportional representation clause. This electoral system has many good qualities in comparison with the electoral system before. However, it was spread among the people in a very negative manner. By this system even the minor political parties received a fair chance. Then the two main political parties got a choice. If a party had to appoint a representative to an electorate then the people have no choice but to vote for him. However according to the preferential system, the voters had a chance to elect the candidate they desired most from a list of candidates. But since those with ample money abused this system and took advantage, the whole system came under criticism.
The biggest failure was that these political parties tried to make these changes without the participation and dialogue of the people. Chandrika Bandaranaike leant the biggest lesson by trying to do that. She gathered a few and tried to formulate a new constitution but she failed and her government too failed with that attempt. Therefore we must remember that a constitution should be formulated not in palaces, but by consensus.
The foremost objective should be the changing of the electoral system. Therefore if this government formulates the new constitution according to these three factors, it will beneficial for the country. But if they try to do it without a proper consensus, the government will suffer the same fate as Chandrika and lose their credibility even further.
Q: There are allegations that the government is trying to change the Constitution based on the interests of the TNA and some Western nations. Do you agree with this theory?
A: A constitution cannot be done based on the Tamil needs or the needs or agendas of the west. We should be open to discussion and not be afraid to debate all issues and concerns. The country’s sovereignty has been stabilised by the three accords that were signed by Chandrika, Mahinda and Ranil with the JHU. Moreover what the Tamil parties need to do first is practice the local government system. For instance during the last year, they had only utilised 10% of the funds allocated for the Northern Province. But without even being able to use the allocations made for them, they are just blaming the south. Further due to the global warming, the North will find it very difficult in the future, but the people have realised this but not the politicians.
Q: How do you perceive the proposed Theravada Bhikku Dialogue bill?
A: This is not a proposal by the government but this request came from the chief prelates. But this proposal is nothing new either and has been discussed since 1972 and Ranasinghe Premadasa had made a promise to the chief prelates to bring in this bill. Many previous presidents and governments tried to bring in this bill.
The issue is that while there are many codes of conduct for the various ‘Nikayas’, the country’s law has not accepted these rules. Therefore this code of conduct cannot be practiced. Even in the past when certain parties tried to control the Buddhist establishment, several other factions were formed. This is the way the Amarapura nikaya was formed. This paved the way for the radical monks to engage in social activities. If not, from Walpola Rahula thera to Sobitha thera, could not have engaged in politics. If the Mahanayake’s had the authority to silence them, then they could not have come this far. However this bill was proposed by the chief prelates and they should bring this bill through proper understanding and dialogue.
Q: Will political devolution create varying laws that will differ from province to province and create further divide?
A: Even currently statutes can be made within the provincial councils, for various areas, but not laws. However they must be careful in making these changes. For instance, the Tamil population was in a certain position in the country in the 1970’s, but today they have regressed not progressed.
They faced a greater defeat in trying to gain autonomy. The North gained economic stability only after terrorism was defeated. The North was prosperous in the 70’s and they excelled in various spheres, but with the struggle for a separate state, they lost all that.
Therefore I believe that the only path to progress is unity. There are still some elements like Wigneswaran who are trying to cling onto the separatist ideology and destroy unity, but if he is not careful he will face the same fate as Amirthalingam. There is a famous saying that those who ride on the back of wolves, end up in the wolves belly.
Q: The people voted for the new good governance government hoping for a great change. But one year later people are disgruntled and claim that the change they anticipated was not achieved. Do you agree?
A: No I certainly don’t accept that. The people have received some demands but not all. The people asked for democracy to be restored and that has been delivered. This government has listened to the people and this was evident even in the budget where when the people objected the government was ready to listen to them and changed many proposals. That flexibility was achieved.
The people are now free to speak up even against the government and this was very evident even in the Hirunika incident. The society is now more open and free. The people’s financial stability too has improved.
However the people also expected this government to combat corruption, but in this area the government has been a total failure. There are three reasons for that, the first are the inadequacies of the laws, as the system is too slow. In 100 of the cases filed, in 96 of them the perpetrators have walked free because of the inadequacies.
Next although there was great corruption in the past while implementing most of the development projects, these thieves are free as there is no proper mechanism to prosecute them or punish them.
Third this has become a political tool. For instance Rajapaksa threatens the government that he will destabilise them and under the table strikes a deal to exempt him from prosecution. Even the whole process of bringing the culprits to book, has become a huge political deal.
Further although the new government branded some as being part of the Rajapaksa regime, today the same regime is there sans the Rajapaksa name. Under these circumstances there is great disappointment of the government. The government has dangerously damaged the morale legitimacy. This is the same thing that happened to Rajapaksa. This government too is losing that morale legitimacy among the people who brought them to power.
Q: There are concerns that the proposed Constitution is an Apartheid Constitution, which is against the interests of Sinhala natives just like the South African old Apartheid Constitution. What is your take on this?
A: A constitution has not been formulated yet and we can only see what is in it once the constitution is formulated. These are sentiments propagated by some to gain political clout. We will certainly not allow anyone to degrade the country or Buddhism.