The Sunday Leader

Patriots And Political Opportunists In Constitutional Making

Proposals for constitutional changes in Sri Lanka arose around 8 years after Independence with the strident cry for Sinhala-Only gaining momentum. The Soulbury Constitution – the first constitution – held the Sri Lankan people together but was not good enough for racial extremists.

This was the commencement of ‘Going down the Pallang’ or the Gadarene Slope, as Western Classicists would have it. All that led to a 30-year civil war, the consequences of which are too well known and need no repetition.

The statesman like speech of Rajavarothiam Sampanthan in Parliament on the presentation of the Interim Report of the Parliamentary Committee by its Chairman Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was a welcome departure from the bitter invective of Tamil leaders that have greeted such presentations in the past. On many occasions they have boycotted such presentations. The Leader of the Opposition, who is also the Leader of the TULF, was not commenting on the contents of the Interim Report which is to be debated later on in the Constitutional Assembly. But his introductory remarks gave much hope for progress and even success of a new constitution that could help all Sri Lankans.

He said: No constitution has so far been framed on the basis of substantial bi-partisan consensus among Sinhalese and Tamils or on the basis of bi-partisan consensus between the two main parties (UNP and SLFP) and other political parties. The present exercise presented the first such opportunity. A constitution based on such reasonable consensus would give the constitution a legitimacy and credibility the country needed.

The constitutional making process would be done within the framework of a united, undivided and indivisible Sri Lanka and this is the framework within which all of us will voluntarily acknowledge and accept, he said.

Such an enlightened stance devoid of the usually harsh rhetoric and invective of Tamil politicians gives much hope not only for constitutional making but the reconciliation between the Tamil and Sinhalese people as well.

Cynicism and doubts of the credibility of Sinhalese politicians among Tamils has been the main hurdle to the progress of national unity and it is now incumbent on the part of Sinhala politicians not to foul up the refreshing air that has blown into our political scene.

Ranil Wickremesinghe in presenting the Interim Report correctly pin pointed: It was up to the SLFP and the UNP to reach an agreement on the fundamentals of the new constitution and the future of the country depended on the ability which the two parties have to reach such an agreement.

The National Unity government is holding together despite desperate attempts made to wreck it and the optimistic prophesies of Mahinda Rajapaksa for its quick demise. The passage of the controversial PC polls (Amendment) Bill with a 2/3 majority indicated that the SLFP faction within the government had not rebelled as predicted.

It is essential for our politicians, particularly parliamentarians not to confuse the making of a constitution with political opportunism. The constitution is the supreme law of the land that should be designed to protect all citizens of a country and not to victimise opponents while protecting individuals concerned. This unfortunately seems to be the view held by some of our legislators who have failed their O-Levels.

How successful a constitution would be to serve the interests of the people will depend on the spirit in which it is enacted. A good example is the American Constitution whose founding father’s quotations are still relevant even in democracies spread out in the wide world.

Sri Lankans swear by their patriotism day in and day out. Every one of them will swear to shed ‘their last drop of blood for Sri Lanka’. It is that spirit that has to be infused into the constitution. Even if cranks, dictators and eccentrics happen to be elected to position of power, provisions of a constitution should be such that a madman cannot make his country a mental asylum .Institutions that check and balance powers of presidents such as the American constitution are good examples. The fallout of a constitution will ultimately depend on legislators who will use it to create new legislation and judges who will interpret it.

A constitution that is abused by an executive president with a pliant legislature cannot protect the people and can be a disaster to a country. We have experienced all that.

The new constitution should be framed with the interests of Sri Lanka at heart and not for individual political interests. The constitutional making process will provide an opportunity for people to distinguish between patriots and political opportunists.

1 Comment for “Patriots And Political Opportunists In Constitutional Making”

  1. Gos

    It is not the Constitution idiot ! It is all to do with who is in power. UK has no written Constitution at all but succesive govts manage to funtion somehow, with one party in power or occasionally in combination. There was even one govt with only one Member to make up the majority and still was able to run the full course !!! That was because they act with responsibility as MPs. Even the current UK govt does not have the required majority but has struck a deal with a most unlikely minority party. Sri Lanka does not depend on the written Constitution despite having one, has never done so since ’72. SL’s civil wars and racial divides can never be resolved by re-writing its Constitution by the dictats of the US/UK/India. It will lead to a worse crisis than that existed before 2009 !

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