The outcome of Thursday’s talks between Mahanayake Theras and President Maithripala Sirisena in Kandy on the former’s campaign against the government’s proposed constitutional reforms etc has been described as fruitful in some quarters. The President has, by rushing to Kandy, demonstrated his concern for the opinion of Buddhist monks. The powwow was cordial.
But, as for the new Constitution, we believe, the Nayake Theras have got a typical yanne-koheda-malle-pol—irrelevant—response. They have made their position very clear that there is no need for a new Constitution at all, but the President says he will make one that is acceptable to them! The prelates should explain whether they are agreeable to such an arrangement, having rejected the idea of a new constitution lock, stock and barrel.
Even if the protesting monks agree to consider the President’s offer, they won’t endorse a constitution sans the unitary status of the state, the foremost place given to Buddhism and other such key features they hold sacrosanct. The objectives of those, including the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and a section of the international community, who pressure the government to introduce a new Constitution, run counter to the position of the Maha Sangha, especially where devolution is concerned. Never the twain shall meet, one may say. Drafting a constitution to the satisfaction of both these camps is well nigh impossible.
The 2015 Geneva resolution co-sponsored by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government is the mother of all constitutional issues troubling the yahapalana leaders at present. The question is why the government did not consult all stakeholders without plunging feet first into co-sponsoring that resolution.
Now that the government has undertaken to devolve more power and appoint a hybrid war crimes tribunal as demanded by the UNHRC at the behest of the US and its allies, there is no way it can renege on its pledge. The yahapalana regime cannot wish away its Geneva commitments and the attendant political issues. Human rights have sadly become an instrument in the hands of the western powers, which use them to make inroads into the sovereignty of the countries they want to reduce to puppets. So, desperate to keep China in check and promote their interests in this region, they are sure to use Sri Lanka’s Geneva commitments as a goad to make the yahapalana leaders more pliable.
Meanwhile, the TNA has urged the government to go ahead with the new Constitution and place it before the people at a referendum for their endorsement. Before that, a constitution will have to be drafted and the President has undertaken to ensure that it passes muster with the Maha Sangha before taking any action to promulgate it. There’s the rub! What is acceptable to Mahanayake Theras will be unacceptable to the proponents of federalism. Supposing a referendum is held by any chance on the new Constitution to be made, with or without the consent of Buddhist monks, are the TNA leaders ready to accept its outcome in case it turns out to be unfavourable to them and stop demanding federalism thereafter?
The government may have been able to wriggle out of a difficult political situation through the President’s meeting with the Nayake Theras on Thursday, but its problems are far from over where constitution making is concerned. It finds itself between a rock and a hard place. Co-Cabinet Spokesman Rajitha Senaratne has said the government will have to go ahead with its constitutional reform project in keeping with its promise to do so at the last two elections. Whether the government is so strong as to translate such rhetoric into action without heeding Buddhist monks’ shot across its bow remains to be seen.