Can The Best Of Constitutions Work In Sri Lanka?

Sri Lankan constitutions have had powerful forces backing them. Our first Constitution was written under the patronage of the British government by a world authority in constitution making, Ivor Jennings, with the assistance of D. S. Senanayake who became the country’s first prime minister under that constitution.

Undoubtedly it was our best constitution that lasted 24 years.

The 1972 Constitution it was claimed was based on a mandate received by the United Front Government of Sirima Bandaranaike which was elected with a two-third majority. Unfortunately it was adopted with the Tamil United Front that represented the Tamil community boycotting it. The fallout of that constitution is now apparent.

The J. R. Jayewardene Constitution of 1978 was based on a mandate of the 5/6th majority received by the UNP government in 1978 but two insurrections – JVP and LTTE resulted in the constitution being torn apart and provisions introduced under compulsion by intrusion of India.

Attempts now being made by the Yahapalanaya government are with no such overwhelming mandates received earlier but with a mandate to replace the Executive Presidency. It was envisioned to receive the blessings of parliament and being endorsed at a referendum held islandwide.

Perhaps the thinking of initiators of this proposed constitution like Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was that equal opportunities being provided to all political, racial and religious segments for representation, the new Constitution will not run into insurmountable roadblocks. But that was not to be.

From the very inception of this government almost all serious moves made was opposed by an opposition that had collected around the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and a political climate was created that was certainly not conducive for constitutional making aimed at bringing the estranged communities together.

Some strong and lasting constitutions are made by strongmen who enforce them by the force of arms but do not generally last for long after their lifetime or by democratic leaders who draw support from the people for democratic principles that last into a foreseeable future, like in the American Constitution. With the foul, raucous, belligerent and intransigent attitude now prevailing in large parts of the Sri Lankan electorate, hopes of enacting a durable constitution are practically non-existent.

The need for a new constitution rose when opposition mounted against attempts made by the previous President Mahinda Rajapaksa to expand the powers of the Executive Presidency to those of dictators and remove the limits placed on the number of times an executive president can hold office. It would have enabled a presidency for life and creation of conditions for emergence of dynasties. Sri Lankan people reacted immediately against such moves and Rajapaksa who considered himself invincible found himself dethroned.

Strong moves are being made to halt the enactment of a new constitution under transparently fake moves. It has been alleged that the new constitution would endanger the prevailing status granted to Buddhism although the draft of the new constitution has not even been formulated! The usual conspiracy theories against Buddhism are being formulated by crackpots who have been coming out with an international conspiracy theory a day against Sri Lanka! But the extent of demagoguery in this country has reached such a pathetic state that they are being believed by some of those who are considered educated and even by ‘learned monks’!

The incessant barrage against a new constitution continues in accordance with the Goebbelsian principle: Continuous repetition leads to conviction of the ignorant that an absolute lie is an absolute truth.

What is the reason for this fanatical desire for presidential power even though it has been de-fanged to a considerable extent with the 19th Amendment? Resurrect it with the remains for a hopeful dictator? Under a parliamentary system such dictatorships are not possible especially with the proportional system of election to the legislature in place.

The state of politics in Sri Lanka right now is such that it is doubtful whether the best possible constitution that could be drafted would work in Sri Lanka. Can a constitution work with those who hitch up their sarongs in the sanctum sanctorum of law making bawling out obscenities and brawl with their opponents? If there is no respect shown to laws enacted in their own interests such as disposal of garbage or control of traffic, will it be different to the attitude to the supreme law of the land: the constitution?

The politicians are not to be solely blamed. Their leaders who selected them for office and the people who keep electing them are to be blamed.

Paradoxically, the solution is to have a new constitution. But how? A tough ask.

4 Comments for “Can The Best Of Constitutions Work In Sri Lanka?”

  1. Gos

    All those who wish to remain servile to the British colonial rule of yesteryear still live with nostalgia. Those 7% of the population who were well versed in English dressed in tailcoat and top hat who ruled the roost looking down upon the poor Sinhala speaking masses who had no say in whatever the govt did at the time. Thank goodness SWRD (who could easily have followed suit) turned the tide on those jackasses ! Constitution? What constitution? Sri Lanka only needs a morninig constitution. Western stupidity does not fit in here !!!

  2. Just Society

    A very thoughtful look at the current non-essential exercise. It can wait until both linguistic societies are fully mature politically. The country has been messed up for over 70 years; it can wait for some more years.

    “Undoubtedly it was our best constitution that lasted 24 years” ; well, in fact it was indeed the source of the problems to come at a later years.

    It ensured that an ethnic group by its majority had the option to undermine the rights of the minority, once defined a group as a minority. It was based on the British model – that is a country with no formal constitution but Magna carta, agreed in 1215. It produced and sustained a powerful empire for a long time.

    Ceylon Tamil society is a distinct society– not the same as the similar named community across the Palk Straights but for a form of language — was coalesced into one entity by the British after 1815, mere 150 years before they left Ceylon and needlessly left it at the mercy.

    A lack of comprehension that reduced a distinct society– to a minority community subjecting them to the whims of distinct numeric majority– sowed the seeds for contention from February 1948.

    Incidentally, those great minds that drafted the U.S. Constitution in 1787 ensured that church and the state MUST be separate. That’s how it has lasted over all these years.

    Religions are fundamentally created to divide the mankind. In a modern world a State is the one to set the rights and obligations of its citizens. That’s how they perceived it then.

    Ideally, a paramount pre-condition to enact a good and lasting constitution is to have a good governance in the country. This government should focus on it in this mandate. Merely a desire to have a new constitution is not a particularly good reason to have one.

    An unruly environment will not provide a sane environment to set up a moral and ethical code of conduct of a state; “…bawling out obscenities and brawl with their opponents” cannot be considered as ideal environment.

  3. NO. because the politicians and the favoured few will continue to do as they want. The police and the security forces will carry on regardless of what the public is going through and the politicians will see to it that they remain to do so. With what? Take a good guess.

  4. Sangaralingham

    Constitution for the people of the country. Not for politicians. Must consider all segment of the population ust reflect the society in every corners of the country right of children minorities elderly disabled with teaching of religious gurus and philosophers with emphasis on right views right intentions right and free speech right action livelihood to most right effort right concentration and reflect the contentment happiness of the nation., cherish oneself with advantage of cherishing others. That means hate speeches discriminatory laws must be not in the picture

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