BEYOND THE RHETORIC: STRIVING TO UNITE IN DIVERSITY | Daily News

BEYOND THE RHETORIC: STRIVING TO UNITE IN DIVERSITY

“Our nation comprises many races, each with a culture and a history of its own. It is for us to blend all that is best in us, and to set ourselves with the resolute will to build up that high quality, and to join with the other nations of the world in establishing peace, security and justice for all people” - D S Senanayake, the first Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, on February 4, 1948

For the first time in our 70 years post-independence history, all our parties have had a stake in Constitution-making exercise voicing their fears and aspirations loud and clear. True, there is little consensus, and still more leagues to tread to see some light at the end of the tunnel, but the multi-party involvement it receives is heartening to note.

The debate on Constitutional Reforms, during which Parliament convened as Constitutional Assembly, saw the active participation of the UNP, SLFP, JVP, TNA, other minor parties and even the Joint Opposition group. Two more days were added to the initial three-day arrangement for the debate as many were eager to take the floor and place their views on record.

The debate kicked-off at a time when the new Constitution has become a topic in the popular dialogue. Reminding the quote, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes” (English preacher Charles Spurgeon), the analysts pointed out the popular perception on draft proposals was largely driven by half-baked truths, misinformation and misinterpretation of the content.

Democratic dialogue

The debate opened up a healthy dialogue on thorny areas related to the Constitution. It provided a platform for all parties to articulate their positions and lobby for what they stand for. The SLFP and Jathika Hela Urumaya stood their ground on retaining the Executive Presidency while the JVP and some in the UNP insisted on its abolition.

The TNA aspired for a ‘federal’ solution within an ‘undivided and indivisible country’ but was willing to consider any agreement the two main parties accept. This was an unprecedented stand the TNA has taken under the leadership of R Sampanthan with the earnest desire to hammer out a final solution for national question.

The JO flatly rejected the Interim Report and wanted the entire exercise be abandoned right away on the grounds that it endangers the unitary character of the State and foremost place for Buddhism. This was despite the repeated assurances by the Government that the ‘ekeeya rajya’ and foremost place for Buddhism will be intact in the new Constitution.

Political football

The JO’s has been an approach of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds when it comes to constitution-making effort. They involved in every step of the process so far from unanimously adopting the Resolution to presenting the Sub-Committee and Steering Committee reports. Two JO stalwarts MPs Dinesh Gunawardena and Prasanna Ranatunga were overwhelmingly appreciated for their active participation in the Steering Committee deliberations all throughout. But outside Parliament the JO fiercely led a ‘No’ campaign against a new Constitution instilling fears of secession in the minds of people in the Southern polity.

The JO members however were unable to quote any harmful proposal in the Interim Report to shore up their claims. Many argued that the JO opposed for the sake of opposing turning a blind eye to many progressive features in the report. JVP Leader Anura Dissanayake commented that the JO was using the report as a political football to bag more votes at the upcoming Local Government polls.

Finding a common ground

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, in yet another attempt to engage with the JO constructively, went on to read out the JO’s observations in the Interim Report point by point, making it clear that reaching an agreement on most of them will not be difficult. He invited them to keep aside the political slogans, come to grips with the issue that led to war and help resolve it amicably.

“We in the Government are on the same page with you on many of these proposals, the TNA is not disagreeing and the JVP agrees. What more you want? Why do you disagree now? Let’s sit at a roundtable and discuss how we can reach a consensus,” he told the JO.

“We will consider all the proposals. Nothing has been finalized. The process will stretch out beyond April. This report only contains reflections of Steering Committee deliberations so far. We are not yet into drafting the bill. The prime objective of this debate is to consult the views of all,” the PM said allaying fears of imposing a new Constitution on the country overnight.

Arguments and counter-arguments

Minister Mangala Samaraweera, TNA MP M A Sumanthiran, State Minister Dilan Perera, known for their moderate views, were among those who well-exploited the debate to dispel the public misconceptions, counter-argue the JO’s claims, and assert the importance and true spirit of the proposals made.

Minister Samaraweera, who took the floor after UPFA MP Dullas Alahapperuma, reminded the House how MP Alahaperuma together with colleagues Dilan Perera and late Nalanda Ellawala went from village to village campaigning for a new Constitution under the ‘Sudu Nelum’ Movement started in 1995.

“The draft Constitution that MP Alahapperuma then campaigned for was a far more progressive one in terms of power sharing compared to what we have proposed today. That draft Bill did not contain the word ‘unitary’ but ‘united’. It even facilitated police and land powers to the Provincial Councils,” he turned tables on the MP.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s election manifesto that promised to lay down a procedure similar to what is being followed today to make a new Constitution, his inaugural address at the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) in 2006 during which he advocated for ‘maximum possible devolution of power’, his undertaking to fully implement the 13th Amendment and even go beyond that, were cited at many a times by legislators to expose the diametrically opposite stand Rajapaksa and his allies have taken today.

“The inability of leaders to stand by what they accept and keep to their commitments even after they cease to hold power has been a major setback in the country,” Opposition Leader R Sampanthan noted while quoting at length several past statements by Rajapaksa.

Former President Rajapaksa, who spoke in the debate on the fourth day, criticized the attempt to bring in a new Constitution as a ‘conspiracy’ and called for conscience votes on it. Observing that he had been overwhelmingly quoted over the past three days said his was an attempt to unite the country and not divide it.

Reflective thoughts

State Minister Dilan Perera’s 40 minutes speech was frankly retrospective of the past mistakes committed and the many opportunities Sri Lanka as a nation missed. “Don’t miss the last bus,” he warned while pleading all parties to be willing to compromise to resolve the national question once and forever. “Remember, the TNA after Sampanthan would hardly agree to include the word ‘ekeeya’ and offer Buddhism the foremost place. Let’s grasp this golden opportunity. We got this problem from our fathers as they could not solve it within their lifetime. Even we are gradually getting old now. Are we going to pass this burden to our sons?”, he asked.

With the dates set for the LG polls, the delicate process of Constitution-making is at the risk of being exploited as a political battle-cry. The window of opportunity unlocked in January 2015 to hammer out a deal cutting cross party lines is becoming narrow, but hopes continue. Whither are we bound if we miss the last bus? 

 


 

There is 1 Comment

Country must be ashamed for the failure to maintain the dignity of this small island with large populations mainly Buddhist. Instead of peace and prosperity many a hardworking ant intelectual of all racial religious group left the country. Sll re sing wake up just because you are shunned by the people joint opposition must contribute to make country awake again but remember majority of current politician will not see the day with country revitalised. again. Most of you in the seat of power away in the upper strata but those those who you train educate we hope make the country great again envy of the rest of the world. Now you are no different from myannar

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