The Sunday Leader

No Party Has A Mandate For A New Constitution – W.D.J Seneviratne

By Camelia Nathaniel

Minister of Labour and Trade Union Relations W.D.J Seneviratne says that the proposal for the appointment of the Constitutional Assembly was taken up for debate for a second day in Parliament on Wednesday, February 24.  He also stated that electoral reforms should be taken up first at the constitutional council meeting and in no way will the rights of the minority be undermined by reforming the electoral system. With regard to the constitution, he told The Sunday Leader in an interview that in order to frame a new constitution none of the parties had received a mandate to do so. Hence he added that the next best solution was to go by the democratic principle of amending the constitution. Hence in order to amend the constitution too there is a procedure that has been set out in the 1978 constitution and it must be done in accordance with those guidelines.

Following are excerpts of the interview:-

Q:  There are allegations that the government lacks a genuine need to pass the proposal to appoint the Constitutional Assembly. Why is it not being taken up?

A: Not that it is deliberately postponed. Earlier it was presented in parliament and thereafter opportunity was given to some of the leaders of the parties to express their views on May 12. Then it was debated again on Wednesday and Thursday and the SLFP requested that it be postponed because they wanted to discuss this matter with the central committee, and obtain the approval of the central committee regarding the procedures. The procedure was suggested by the Prime Minister on the 9th of January ninth and the SLFP proposed amendments to it. Now the Prime Minister has agreed to those amendments and an amended procedure was presented to parliament on the 23rd and a number of members of parliament representing different parties got the opportunity of expressing their views. I believe that after the SLFP gives it their approval or sanction after consulting the central committee, a vote will be taken in order to pass it.


Q: However there are allegations that the delay is due to the split within the SLFP and the party’s inability to agree on matters. Is this true?

A: SLFP as a responsible party will have to consider these proposals and amendments very seriously. The SLFP parliamentary group took up the position that this must be put to the Central Committee where various sectors of the SLFP like trade unions, party organisations are represented and they must be made aware of it. Then approval will be obtained. That will then be conveyed to the prime minister, I believe before the next parliament date.


Q: There is disgruntlement that the reconciliation process is going too slow. What progress has been made with regard to the reconciliation process?

A:  We are not for conflict and very much in favour of reconciliation, while preserving the territorial integrity of the country. That aim is now harnessed by the Tamil National Alliance as well. Even Sampanthan said that the aim is to live within a unitary country. That is a very good signal and I doubt there is any difficulty in reaching a compromise between the Sinhala and Tamil parties.

Everyone must realise that this is an opportunity that has been given to us in order to achieve a lasting solution to the ethnic problem. The 13th amendment is now there and we can also consider some of the other provisions that are beyond the 13th amendment as well. Also if there are any other statutory provisions suggested by the parties where the minority parties can enjoy more minority rights without dividing the country, or undermining the territorial integrity, then we can consider devolving as much power as possible.


Q:  Government initially spoke about a new constitution, but now they are deviating from that stance to bring in amendments to the existing constitution. Why?

A:  Frankly the truth is that none of us got the mandate to frame a new constitution. None of the parties got the mandate and the existing constitution has a lot of infirmities.  Therefore it has been a long felt need that this existing constitution be repealed or amended. Since there is no mandate to bring a new constitution, we must go by the democratic principle of amending the constitution. So in order to amend the constitution too there is a procedure that has been set out in the 1978 constitution. So we will have to follow that provision and then nobody can sabotage our efforts. That is why we followed the procedure that was suggested by the Prime Minister. In our amendment we say that we must follow the provisions laid down by the 1978 constitution for the purpose of amending the constitution and also to convert the whole house into a committee. Now this is going to be a constitutional assembly, so it must be converted to a committee. Hence the committee must discuss and thereafter alongside there will be a Steering Committee headed by the Prime Minister and other Members of the Constitutional Assembly will go ahead with the drafting of the constitution.


Q:  With regard to the rift between the two factions of the SLFP, what is the current status?

A:  Well there are no great differences between the two factions as such. We have a common interest in these matters but the only thing is that as far as this constitutional framing is concerned, we are on the same platform and there is no conflict. We discussed the amended procedure in parliament on the 23rd. The opposition faction outside the government too is agreeable on this as is the faction that is with the government.

With regard to the framing of the constitution and the provisions that will be included, in order to bring about certain changes with regard to national reconciliation, economic development, change of electoral system, which is foremost, and in order to achieve these main targets we should be able to work together without any division.


Q:  As for the split within the SLFP, and the opposition SLFP members talking about forming a new party, how do you perceive this situation?

A: We should think as a party and the welfare of the party. Breaking up the SLFP means the party will be weakened and this will be advantageous to the other parties and they will gain supremacy if this happens.  Our rival party is the UNP and a split will only benefit them and not at all the stability of the SLFP. The SLFP majority stand is to get the SLFP together and form a government.  The party leadership should also take measures to unite the party and bring the members together in order to strengthen the party. This should be the stand of the SLFP leadership and all the other members.


Q:  But Mahinda Rajapaksa has now set up a new party office and making plans to form the new party. So under these circumstances, can the party be reunited?

A:  Mahinda Rajapaksa is an advisor to our party and he is a leader of the opposition group. He is also the former chairman of the party, but now he has no power to act as the leader of the party. Since he is not the leader of the opposition, he cannot use that office and neither can he use the office of the leader of the SLFP.

So under these circumstances, he too needs an office to work from, so I don’t think it’s entirely wrong for him to have an office from where he can work from and even meet the public.

However I don’t think that he will use this office for the purpose of breaking up or dividing the SLFP. Rajapaksa has always been a leader who loved the party and I don’t think he will do anything to break up the party or weaken it

Q:  In case he does leave the party or break it up and form a new party, will the party take disciplinary action against him?

A:  Well that is something that will have to be discussed if and when such a thing happens. Right now it’s only speculation and nothing like that has happened. We have spoken to many SLFP members and no one is interested in breaking up the party.


Q:  There were some allegations from some MPs who joined the government that other seniors have been ill-treating them or giving them step motherly treatment. Is this true?

A:  As far as I am concerned that is not the case. I have entrusted my deputy minister a certain portion of the responsibilities and we work together harmoniously without any issues.


2 Comments for “No Party Has A Mandate For A New Constitution – W.D.J Seneviratne”

  1. raj

    Your are inside corrupted country called Sri Lanka sir. You don’t need to have mandate for everything. You completed thee work, then go to people. If you cannot make a new constitution, then let the Tamils separate from Sri Lanka. Tamils should not rely on Singhalese for their survival. Most Singhalese intellectuals are wasting no time to do their part to suppress Tamils and to make sure Singhalese retain superiority. One race is superior to other, then it cannot be united.

    • Just Society

      This is really uncalled for. In fact it is the other way around. The significant Sinhala psyche is that of insecurity. Ceylon Tamils for a long time are to partly to be blamed for it for not instilling that they are a distinct society, separate and distinct from the similar entity across the Palk Straight.

      They would have somewhat understood of that significance in the last thirty years. Sri Lanka must be made to become as great nation. There are intellectuals within the Sinhala society who fully understand it. But it will take a significant effort of those with power to nullify that insecure psyche.

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