Sunday Leader Editorial
A constitution, good or bad, can be wrecked by its own makers.
Most constitutions in countries around the world have been made with good intentions and their provisions are held as being democratic and for the good of the people but in many countries distorted and perverted to the gain of those responsible for their implementation.
Sri Lanka’s first constitution, known as the Soulbury Constitution drafted by Sri Lankan leaders with the outgoing British rulers, had the well intentioned provision of protecting minorities. It held that no community or religion be granted rights and privileges not granted to other communities and religions preventing discrimination against minorities.
The provision was done away with and it enabled enactment of the Sinhala Only Act which sent the country down the Gadarene Slope culminating in a 30-year-long war from which we are still trying to recover.
Solomon Bandaranaike the Oxonian, would have known very well the consequences that would have entailed from his demagogic act. But he was motivated by his burning desire to be the prime minister and on winning his premiership through this rash, racist and discriminatory act, thought he could make amends with subsequent legislation. By then the country had been engulfed in flames and Bandaranaike himself.
The next constitution, the Republican Constitution was enacted under the leadership of his widow, Sirima but the villain of the piece was the holder of a PhD from the London University, Dr. Colvin R. de Silva who hailed his own creation as history making but ignoring the fact that all Tamil MPs walked out of the Constitution Assembly, washing their hands off his ‘historic creation’.
Modest and unassuming President Maithripala Sirisena is attempting to draft a constitution in consultation and co-operation of all with interests of the country. On Thursday, in Parliament, he stressed the need to build opinion on bringing about reconciliation between estranged communities by resolving the national issue and if the need arises through a referendum on proposed new constitution.
President Sirisena, with no pretences to constitutional punditry, realises that a fundamental law, the constitution, is required to bind together the many communities that have been torn apart and for that the co-operation and goodwill of every segment of the nation are required.
Unfortunately for Sri Lanka there is a significant political segment that is hell bent in exploiting any conciliatory moves made towards the Tamil minority through constitutional provisions. In recent weeks we have been hearing echoes of that disgusting and nauseating 40-year-old croak: Menna aaye rata bedanda hadanawo! (They are once again trying to divide the country).
This croaking chorus is being led by Mahinda Rajapaksa, the former president who claims to have won the war against terrorism and united the country. Even if his claim for victory is granted, he only won the War but the country people wise are divided.
The Sinhalese and Tamils remained estranged for five years of his post ‘victory’ period and it is only after the formation of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government that positive moves towards reconciliation are evident with moves made to alleviate Tamil grievances despite tremendous pressures exerted by the Rajapaksa faction.
Reconciliation among communities and religious groups that have been torn apart is difficult and time consuming as evident in many countries faced with similar situations.
Sinhalese and Tamils drew far apart during the 30-year period and it would take much time for wounds to heal.
What is Rajapaksa’s solution towards integration of the Sinhalese and Tamils? So far he and his supporters have been beating the racist war drums to drive out the present government and not being concerned with reconciliation. Does his solution amount to completely ignoring the demands of the Tamil and other minorities in order to keep the nation undivided? Or is it to permit minorities only to enjoy crumbs that fall off his table?
Mahinda Rajapaksa in the first flush of victory declared: Those who are with us are patriots and those against us traitors. Going by the tattoo of his war drums it appears that he still sticks to this definition of patriotism.
President Sirisena is committed to the implementation of a new constitution. As his speech on Thursday reveals it requires deep study of all segments of the population and it is best if the constitution is presented to a referendum of the people. A constitution obviously must reflect the views of all significant segments of the population – majority as well as minorities.Compromises are called for by all concerned.
That unfortunately is difficult if a constitution is looked at solely with the objective of returning to power through an election by hook or by crook.