by A. Patabendige
This year is the 60th anniversary of the notorious attempted coup d’etat in SL. Jayantha Somasunderam and DBS Jeyraj have attempted to revive media interest in it for whatever reason. It would otherwise have been forgotten. Some facts however appear to be distorted even now.
Their combined efforts refer to it as a gentlemen’s attempted coup by a few army and police officers and some cunning civilians, all who were apparently from ‘elitist’ back grounds. If ‘elite’ means the best of society or best people probably only Col FC de Saram would qualify. Most of the others, if not all, were from fairly ordinary middle class background. Most of them were getting a measly Government salary. An army captain then would have got Rs 525.00 monthly, hardly an elitist income. This would be probably more than that of an ASP in the police.
Those involved, less three, were non Buddhists which was not mentioned by the above two writers. That the plotters were representative of religious and racial minorities that were about 15 % of the population may have been the glue that bonded them to fiddle with treason.
The overt reasons for the attempt coup has been given as dissatisfaction with the government due to widespread strikes and protests, ill discipline and general deterioration of the administration of the country. However the emphasis of the government on the inexorable rise of the Sinhala language and increasing influence of Buddhist clergy must have been the real tipping point. The plotters may have felt that their pre-eminence in government service was threatened. The state takeover of Christian schools also added fuel to the rising resentment.
A myth about the intentions of the plotters needs to be quashed. There was never going to be a gentlemen’s coup. Those government ministers and the like to be arrested were not going to be treated well. The so called plans for PM Mrs. Bandaranaike and her children to be sent to live in exile in England at Government expense were as ridiculous as the reasons for the attempted coup. This was the PM of Ceylon. Would the British have agreed to be an accessory to a coup in a democratic dominion? The three Service commanders were to be kept under house arrest before being deposed! Col de Saram was to be Army Commander. There was going to be first ‘a military dictatorship’ followed by ‘indirect democracy with a governing council ’to eventually have’ general elections’. A lot of whisky fueled baloney supported by intoxicated but dangerous middle class dreamers.
In fact most of the arrested members of the government were to be incarcerated in the underground Army ammo dump at Army HQ. It had no ventilation. It recalled shades of the Black Hole of Calcutta (1756) where of a total of about a hundred imprisoned by the Indian ruler only 23 Brits and supporters survived overnight. No mention is made of how military officers who opposed the coup would be treated. Kid gloves were not going to be used surely?
Thus the remark supposed to have been made by DIG CC Dissanayake to an ASP to remove his side arm after being inveigled to obeying superior orders, illegal as they manifestly were, that this was going to be a gentlemen’s coup’! This was like the Police in the East who were ordered to surrender to the LTTE by the then IGP 27 years later; only to be massacred. Clearly a rouge element of the gazetted ranks of the Police believed committing treason was a piece of cake. DIG Sidney de Zoysa for example had a reputation for using deadly force that was enhanced after his stay in Jaffna. He was in it but not for a lark.
Arrangements too were to be made according to Somasunderam to deploy “the sabre’ troop” of the First (armoured) Reconnaissance Regiment. Actually there was more than one troop. They form part of a Sabre Squadron. Normally four Ferret Scout cars alone or two with two Daimler Armoured cars could make a troop. There were 12 scout cars and two Daimlers in the regiment at that time. Apparently they were to be used to prevent intervention by non Colombo based troops crossing into Colombo at Kirilipone, Dehiwala and Kelaniya bridges.
The scout cars would have at least machine gun ammo to carry out their task while the Daimler Armoured car had a two pounder gun that fired high explosive. It made a mockery of CC Dissanayake’s reported fairy tale instructions to that ASP about this act of treason being one carried out without any use of violence and by ‘gentlemen’.
The absolutely irrelevant and silly example cited of Gen Ayub Khan’s takeover of Pakistan was given as one the local plotters wished to emulate. Ayub was the Chief Martial Law Administrator (appointed by President Iskander (from the Greek Alexander) Mirza, himself a General, and former army commander) at the time and Army Commander. Ayub was not a Colonel who was looking to keep the three Service commanders under house arrest. He just deposed the very man who appointed him.
The three service commanders included a loan service RAF officer Air Vice Marshal JL Barker OBE DFC RAF who was commander of the RCyAF. What the plotters were going to tell the Queen of England about this the next morning would have driven her bonkers.
Was the 3rd Field Regiment Artillery going to keep its 4.2 ins mortars only to fire a ceremonial salute after the coup succeeded or use them to fire on First Battalion Ceylon Light Infantry (CLI) troops that could be expected to come from Panagoda with the formidable Lt Col Richard Udugama? Interestingly the plotters had not given any details of their arrangements to deal with Lt Col Udugama of the CLI, if and when he was arrested. One can only speculate grimly. Maybe Sidney de Zoysa and CC Dissanayake had plans.
One thing is sure if ever there was a confrontation between the Artillery and the CLI, it would have led to civil war and an unprecedented blood bath, the likes of which the country would not have recovered from for decades. The ‘gentlemen’ plotters had arranged for ‘’fully armed dispatch riders of the Signals” to help take over Radio Ceylon. That these men were reservists and not commandos appears to have been given a miss but arming them meant they had weapon work to do. This made the alleged disarming of an ASP by CC Dissanayake look stupid.
According to Somasunderam, and this was news unknown to most even in 2022, Major W Rajapakse the second in command of the First Reconnaissance Regiment with a ‘sabre’ troop was to be at Kiralapone bridge to prevent access to Colombo by troops from the cantonment in Panagoda. He was a Buddhist.
At that time the regiment had 12 unturreted scout cars each with a machine gun and two Daimler armoured fighting vehicles with a two pounder gun that fired high explosive rounds. A ‘sabre’ troop mix would normally have been of two scout cars and two Daimler armoured reconnaissance vehicles. When the coup was uncovered, Major Rajapakse was sent on compulsory leave. He however pleaded he had gone along with the plan with the sole intention of being a whistle blower at the opportune time. He was later reinstated as second in command and even commanded the regiment from March 1964 to April 1965 and again from June 1970 to October 1970!
Another Major Wilton White from the same regiment too was indicted. The history of the regiment however is completely blank about its activities in the year 1962. It was under its founder (1955) commander Lt Col DS Attygalle who later went on to become the Army Commander 10 long years (1967 to 1977) or forever and ever as once feared. Only in SL.
The third Buddhist officer involved was Artillery Capt H Wanasinghe, putting paid to an insinuation that the plotters were all from Royal, Trinity and S. Thomas’ Colleges. There was no officer from Trinity College involved while one from the 26 arrested was from S. Thomas’ College. Wanasinghe from Ananda College first agreed to be a crown witness and was released. When the government changed in 1965 he ceased to be a crown witness. He later became Army Commander (1987-89). Only in SL.
In 1966 when Minister of State JR Jayewardene announced that an attempted coup by the Army had been discovered two Trinitians (including Lieutenant Kobbekaduwa) and two Thomians, among many others, were sent on compulsory leave while the Army Commander Gen Udugama, a Trinitian, was arrested as the leader. All the accused, officers and soldiers, were Buddhists. General Udugama was the first Buddhist to command the Army. In 1977 PM Jayewardene appointed Gen Udugama as Ambassador to Iraq! Only in SL.
That Coup case was farcical. It was thrown out after the prosecution closed but not before two suspects one a warrant officer of the Light Infantry and one a businessman (Dodampe mudalali) had been murdered by being thrown out of the fourth floor of the CID after being tortured. An inspector with an evil reputation was brought into the CID to do just that. Major Labrooy at Army HQ asked General Udugama in writing to forgive him for giving false evidence against him. He said he was threatened to do so. Nothing is more telling than that about how, even why, the government and its then Minister of State, JR Jayewardene were determined to convict Gen Udugama.
An interesting connected incident needs to be included. Capt David Rasiah of the Medical Corps had Capt LL (Lucky) Vitharne of the Sinha Regiment (and also Sandhurst and Trinity) as his bestman for his wedding that year. After the church ceremony and before the reception, Capt Vitharne still dressed in his blue ceremonial (No 4 dress) uniform, decided to pay a visit to Col de Saram in the remand prison. He had served under the Colonel in Jaffna in 1961 and held him in tremendous high regard as did most army officers. Having been saluted by the army guards, he had gone in, saluted the Colonel and wished him well, Capt Vitharne then left the magazine prison for the wedding reception.
Unfortunately this act was considered a breach of army discipline and regulations. Vitharne was court martialled. Major TSB Sally, also of Vitharne’s regiment, prosecuted. No evidence of breaking any army rules or regulations was found. Vitharne was discharged only to fall foul of Defence and External Affairs Secretary NQ Dias later, leading to his discharge from the Army.
Accused Douglas Liyanage who had been GA Mannar before 1962 was well known to army officers on Task Force Illicit Immigration (TaFII) duties. He frequented the Mannar (Thallady) Officers’ mess and sounded and attempted to suborn their minds. He probably misled the plotters by exaggerating his military officer contacts assumed dissatisfaction with the Government.
Major Loyola, of the 3rd Field Artillery who was an accused had his brother Lt Ivor Novello and cousin Lt Rex Fernando in the Artillery too.
There was not a single Muslim among the plotters.
PM Dudley Senanayake and former PM Sir John Kotelawela long after their deaths were also alleged by historian KM de Silva to have been involved as allegedly confided in him by Sir John Kotelawela . The Governor General Sir Oliver Goonetilleke was also implicated to no one’s surprise. He was removed with the Queen’s consent and William Gopallawa replaced him
When the case was first taken up, Justice TS Fernando presiding, accepted the defence plea that the court was not legally constituted and dissolved the court. In Parliament Minister Philip Gunewardene stated that ‘It was a ‘fishy business. One fisher appointed three fishers. So the fishing business was caused’. This was a regressive and extremely distasteful reference to caste. The Minister of Justice SPC Fernando and the three Supreme Court judges, TS Fernando, LB de Silva and Sri Skanda Raja were of the Karawa (fishing) caste.
The subsequent second court was also dissolved as one of the judges had as Acting Attorney General been a part of the investigations to the case. A third court deliberated under Justice HNG Fernando for over 300 days and found 11 accused guilty while 15 had been acquitted during different stages of the trial.
An appeal to the Judicial Committee of Privy Council in London was made. The Privy Council deliberated and on December 2, 1965 humbly reported its finding to the Queen that ‘the appeal is allowed and the convictions be quashed’. Most of the freed accused were soon given good jobs by the new UNP government in 1965, starting a trend that became another bad precedent.
Normally at that time in Third World countries coup suspects would be shot at dawn the next day. The judgment of the first court was held by many international judicial bodies like the International Commission of Jurists as a shining example of a ‘bold, fearless and independent judiciary’. That was Sri Lanka then.
A Majoritarian Constitution
1972 Constitution in Retrospect – II
By (Dr) Jayampathy Wickramaratne, President’s Counsel
In this the second part of a three-part article on the 50th anniversary of Sri Lanka becoming a republic, the writer submits that the 1972 Constitution paved the way for constitutionalising majoritarianism in multi-cultural Sri Lanka.
The unitary state
Although Tamil parties expressed their support for the Constituent Assembly process, they were to be disappointed by the substance of the new constitution.
Basic Resolution No. 2 proposed by the Government called for Sri Lanka to be a unitary state. The Federal Party (FP) proposed an amendment that ‘unitary’ be replaced by ‘federal’.
In a memorandum and the model constitution that it submitted to the Steering Committee of the Assembly, the FP proposed that the country be a federal republic consisting of five states made up as follows: (i) Southern and Western provinces, (ii) North Central and North Western provinces (iii) Central, Uva and Sabaragamuwa provinces (iv) Northern Province and the districts of Trincomalee and Batticaloa and (v) Ampara district. The city of Colombo and its suburbs were to be administered by the centre. A list of subjects and functions reserved for the centre, with all others going to the states, was included. Interestingly, law and order and Police were to be reserved subjects.
However, Assembly proceedings show that the Tamils were clearly for a compromise. Dharmalingam, who was a main speaker of the FP under Basic Resolution No. 2, stated that the existing constitution had failed as it was not designed for a multi-ethnic country. He pointed out that in ethnically heterogeneous countries where unitary constitutions had been in operation, concessions to the federal principle have been made to meet the demands and aspirations of the minorities. Where there has been a refusal to concede the federal principle, there have been movements for separation. The FP distanced itself from secessionists such as C. Sunderalingam and V. Navaratnam, referring to them by name, and stated that it was not asking for a division of the country but for a division of power.
Dharmalingam made it clear that the FP’s draft was only a basis for discussion. Stating that the party was only asking that the federal principle be accepted, he suggested that as an interim measure, the SLFP, LSSP and CP should implement what they had promised in the election manifesto, namely that they would abolish Kachcheris and replace them with elected bodies. He stated: “If this Government thinks that it does not have a mandate to establish a federal Constitution, it can at least implement the policies of its leader, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, by decentralising the administration, not in the manner it is being done now, but genuine decentralisation, by removing the Kachcheris and in their place establishing elected bodies to administer those regions.”
Sarath Muttetuwegama of the Communist Party, the first political party in the country to propose federalism, in 1944, followed Dharmalingam and stated that ‘federal’ had become a dirty word not because of the federal system of government but because of what the FP had advocated. He was clearly referring to the FP’s association with the UNP and the conservative policies it had followed, such as voting against nationalisations, the takeover of private schools and the Paddy Lands Bill. Seemingly oblivious to the offer that Dharmalingam had made, he asked why the FP had not used the phrase ‘regional autonomy.’ Speakers from the UF who followed Muttetuwegama made it clear that the UF was in no mood to consider the FP’s offer to settle for much less.
Consequently, Basic Resolution No.2 was passed, and the FP’s amendment was defeated in the Steering and Subjects Committee on 27 March 1971.
Dr Nihal Jayawickrama, who was the Secretary of the Ministry of Justice, under the UF Government, and played an important role in the constitutional reform process, has said that the first draft prepared under the direction of the Minister of Constitutional Affairs did not contain any reference to a ‘unitary state’. However, Minister Felix Dias Bandaranaike proposed in the Ministerial Sub-Committee that the country be declared a ‘unitary state’. The Minister of Constitutional Affairs did not consider this to be necessary and argued that while the proposed constitution would have a unitary structure, unitary constitutions could vary a great deal in form. Nevertheless, the proposed phrase found its way to the final draft. ‘In course of time, this impetuous, ill-considered, wholly unnecessary embellishment has reached the proportions of a battle cry of individuals and groups who seek to achieve a homogenous Sinhalese state on this island’ Dr Jayawickrama observed. ‘Reflections on the Making and Content of the 1972 Constitution: An Insider’s Perspective’ in Asanga Welikala (ed), The Sri Lankan Republic at 40: Reflections on Constitutional History, Theory and Practice vol 1 (Centre for Policy Alternatives 2012) 43.
It is significant that the FP continued to participate in the Constituent Assembly even after its amendment was rejected. Records show that its leader, S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, regularly attended the meetings of the Steering and Subjects Committee.
With the advantage of hindsight, it could be said that acceptance of the FP’s proposed compromise for a division of power would have proved to be a far-reaching confidence-building measure on which more could perhaps have been built later. Moreover, such an acceptance would have ensured the continued participation of the FP in the Constituent Assembly. Even had the FP, as the UNP eventually did, voted against the adoption of the new constitution, their participation in the entire constitution-making process would have resulted in greater acceptance of the 1972 Constitution by the Tamil people.
Although they discontinued participation at a later stage, Federal Party MPs nevertheless took oaths under the new Constitution. Tamil parties soon united under the banner of the Tamil United Front (TUF), which later became the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). At the famous Vaddukoddai conference of 1976, the TULF embraced separatism and adopted a resolution calling for a separate state called ‘Tamil Eelam’ in the Northern and Eastern provinces. At the 1977 elections, the TULF contested on a separatist platform and swept the Tamil areas.
The place of Buddhism
According to Dr Jayawickrama, Dr. de Silva’s original proposal called for the guarantee of freedom of thought, conscience and religion to every citizen. However, the Prime Minister requested that this proposal be added with a provision for the protection of institutions and traditional places of worship of Buddhists.
Basic Resolution No. 3 approved by the Constituent Assembly was for Buddhism to be given its ‘rightful place’: ‘In the Republic of Sri Lanka, Buddhism, the religion of the majority of the people, shall be given its rightful place, and accordingly, it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster Buddhism, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Basic Resolution 5 (iv).’
Basic Resolution 5 (iv) referred to read: “Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have and adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”
But by the time the final draft was approved, the proposal had undergone a further change. Article 6 of the 1972 Constitution is as follows: ‘The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster Buddhism while assuring to all religions the rights granted by section 18 (1) (d).’ Section 18 (1) (d), in the chapter on fundamental rights, assures to all citizens the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
To the question of whether constitutionally guaranteeing special status to Buddhism not available to other religions of the land might adversely affect the non-Buddhists, Dr de Silva retrospectively responded in the following manner: “The section in respect of Buddhism is subject to section 18 (1) (d) and I wish to say, I believe in a secular state. But you know when Constitutions are made by Constituent Assemblies they are not made by the Minister of Constitutional Affairs. I myself would have preferred (section 18(1) (d)). But there is nothing…And I repeat, NOTHING, in section 6 which in any manner infringes upon the rights of any religion in this country. (Safeguards for the Minorities in the 1972 Constitution (Young Socialist 1987) 10.)
Dr Jayawickrama has been more critical. ‘If Buddhism had survived in the hearts and minds of the people through nearly five centuries of foreign occupation, a constitutional edict was hardly necessary to protect it now’, he opined. (‘Colvin and Constitution-Making – A Postscript’ Sunday Island, 15 July 2007).
Basic Resolution No.11 stated that all laws shall be enacted in Sinhala and that there shall be a Tamil translation of every law so enacted.
Basic Resolution No.12 read as follows: “(1) The Official Language of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala as provided by the Official Language Act No. 32 of 1956. (2) The use of the Tamil Language shall be in accordance with the Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act No. 28 of 1958.”
Efforts by the FP to get the Government to improve upon Basic Resolutions Nos. 11 and 12 failed. On 28 June 1971, both resolutions were passed, amendments proposed by the FP having been defeated. S.J.V. Chelvanayakam informed the Constituent Assembly that they had met with both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Constitutional Affairs, and while the meetings had been cordial, the Government had refused to make any alteration to the Basic Resolutions. He stated that the FP would therefore not attend future meetings. “We have come to the painful conclusion that as our language rights are not satisfactorily provided in the proposed Constitution, no useful purpose will be served in our continuing in the deliberations of this Assembly. By taking this step, we mean no offence to anybody. We only want to safeguard the dignity of our people.” There was not even a dramatic walk out. ‘We do not wish to stage a demonstration by walking out’, he added.
That Dr Colvin R. de Silva, who prophetically stated in 1955, ‘one language, two countries; two languages, one country’, should go so far as to upgrade the then-existing language provisions to constitutional status has baffled many political observers. In fact, according to Dr Jayawickrama, the Prime Minister had stated that it would be unwise to re-open the language debate and that the better course would be to let the ordinary laws on the subject operate in the form in which they were. By this time, the Privy Council had reversed the decision of the Supreme Court in A.G. v Kodeswaranthat a public servant could not sue the Crown for breach of contract of employment and sent the case back for a determination on other issues, including the main issue as to whether the Official Language Act violated section 29 (2), as the District Court had held. Dr. de Silva did not wish the Supreme Court to re-visit the issue. ‘If the courts do declare this law invalid and unconstitutional, heavens alive, the chief work done from 1956 onwards will be undone. You will have to restore the egg from the omelette into which it was beaten and cooked.’ He had, however, resisted a proposal made by Minister Felix R. Dias Bandaranaike that Sinhala be declared the ‘one’ official language of Sri Lanka.
An autochthonous Constitution
1972 Constitution in Retrospect – I
By Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne
This week marks the 50th anniversary of Sri Lanka becoming a republic. We observe the anniversary at a time when the large majority of our people are yearning for comprehensive constitutional reform – “system change,” as they put it. Many believe that, after the failure of the first and second republican constitutions, the time is right for the Third Republic.
This article, in three parts, is based on a paper that I contributed to a collection of essays, titled, Sirimavo, published by the Bandaranaike Museum Committee, in 2010. When Sunethra Bandaranaike invited me to contribute an essay on the 1972 Constitution, I told her that I would be unable to say much good about it. This, I explained, was despite Dr Colvin R. De Silva, the Minister of Constitutional Affairs of the United Front government who steered the constitution-making process, being a former leader of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party to which I belonged and my senior in several fundamental rights cases, beginning with Palihawadana v. Attorney-General (Job Bank Case), the first fundamental rights case, under the 1978 Constitution. “You can write anything”, Sunethra assured me. My friend, Tissa Jayatilleke, edited the publication.
Replacing the Soulbury Constitution
The Independence Constitution of 1947, popularly known as the Soulbury Constitution, conferred dominion on Ceylon. The Governor-General was appointed by the British sovereign. The Parliament of Ceylon consisted of the King/Queen, the Senate and the House of Representatives. Executive power continued to be vested in the Crown and was exercised by the Governor-General. The Cabinet of Ministers was charged with the general direction and control of the government and was collectively responsible to Parliament. The form of government was in the Westminster model, which meant that the Governor-General would act on the advice of the Prime Minister. By the oath of allegiance, Senators, Members of Parliament, and all holders of office, including the Prime Minister, Ministers and heads of departments and judicial officers, swore to ‘be faithful and bear true allegiance to the King/Queen.The first move towards making Ceylon a Republic was made by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, who, on becoming Prime Minister, in 1956, informed the other governments of the British Commonwealth of Ceylon’s intention to become a Republic, within the Commonwealth. A Joint Select Committee of the two Houses of Parliament, on the revision of the Constitution, accepted the principle of establishing a Republic, within the Commonwealth. It was also agreed that the parliamentary form of government would continue with the President being a constitutional head of state. The President and the Vice-President would be elected by the legislature, fundamental rights recognized, appeals to the Privy Council abolished, and a court established to adjudicate constitutional matters and hear appeals from the Supreme Court.
Although sub-section 4 of section 29 of the 1947 Constitution provided that ‘in the exercise of its powers under this section, Parliament may amend or repeal any of the provisions of this Order, or of any other Order of Her Majesty in Council in its application to the Island’, the question whether Parliament could replace the British sovereign, who was a source of the legal authority of the Constitution and a constituent part of Parliament, had been raised, among others, by J.A.L. Cooray in his Review of the Constitution. The Privy Council stated in Ibralebbe v The Queen (65 NLR 433, 443) that the reservations specified in section 29 were ‘fundamental’ and in Bribery Commissioner v Ranasinghe that section 29 (2) was ‘unalterable under the Constitution’(66 NLR 73, 78). Although obiter (not essential for the decision), these statements gave support to a move initiated by the Left parties towards a new ‘homegrown’ or ‘autochthonous’ Constitution with a complete legal break from the existing constitutional order in preference to amending the Constitution. There was also a definite trend in the Commonwealth towards enacting ‘homegrown’ constitutions to replace those given by the United Kingdom.
The Constituent Assembly route
It was this trend towards and desire for an autochthonous Constitution that led the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and the Communist Party (CP) to not support the call of the 1965 government of Dudley Senanayake of the United National Party (UNP) to re-establish the Joint Select Committee on the Revision of the Constitution. The SLFP, LSSP and CP, which later combined to form the United Front (UF), whilst declining to serve on the Joint Select Committee, proposed that a Constituent Assembly be set up to adopt and enact a new constitution. At the general election of May 1970, the UF, as reflected in its manifesto, sought from the electorate a mandate to permit the Members of Parliament to function simultaneously as a Constituent Assembly. The Assembly would draft, adopt and operate a new constitution, the primary objective of which was to make the country a free, sovereign and independent republic dedicated to the realisation of a socialist democracy that would guarantee the fundamental rights and freedoms of all citizens.
At the above-referenced general election, 84.9% of the voters, a significantly high percentage even for an electorate known for its enthusiastic participation in elections, exercised their franchise. The UF won 116 out of 151 seats on offer but obtained 48.8% of the total votes cast. With the support of the six nominated members and the two independent members who won their seats with the help of the UF, the latter now commanded 124 seats in the 157-member Parliament. The UNP was down to 17 seats. The Federal Party (FP) won 13 seats while Tamil Congress (TC) won 03.
The Governor-General, in the course of delivering the first Throne Speech of the new Parliament, called upon the Members of Parliament to form a Constituent Assembly in keeping with the mandate asked for and given by the people at the general election.
That the Address of Thanks to the Throne Speech was passed without a division is also important. On 11 July, 1970, Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike wrote to all members of the House of Representatives to invite them for a meeting to be held on 19 July, 1970, to consider and adopt a resolution for constituting themselves into a Constituent Assembly.
The meeting was to be held at the Navarangahala, the newly constructed auditorium of Royal College, Colombo, and not in the chamber of the House of Representatives, signifying the intention of the UF to make a complete break from the 1947 Constitution. Dr Colvin R. de Silva, the Minister of Constitutional Affairs, emphasised that what was contemplated was not an attempt to create a new superstructure on an old foundation. It is a matter of great significance that all political parties, represented in Parliament, participated in the formation of the Constituent Assembly on 19 July, 1970.
J.R. Jayewardene, the Leader of the Opposition and Deputy Leader of the UNP, joining the debate on the resolution to set up a Constituent Assembly, reminded the UF that it had a mandate only from less than 50% of the people. Nevertheless, if both sides of the legislature, the victors and the vanquished, agreed to make common cause in enacting a new basic law through a legal revolution, that new law, if accepted by the people, will become the full expression of the hopes, desires and aspirations of the present generation.
V. Dharmalingam of the FP, while questioning the need to go outside the existing Constitution, noted: “We are making common cause with you in enacting a new Constitution not as a vanquished people but as the representatives of a people who have consistently at successive elections since 1956 given us a mandate to change the present Constitution which has been the source of all evil to the Tamil people.”
The leader of the FP, S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, urged the Assembly to reach common ground on controversial issues and quoted Jawaharlal Nehru in support: “We shall go to the Constituent Assembly with the fixed determination of finding a common basis for agreement on all controversial issues.”
V. Anandasangaree, speaking on behalf of the TC, stated that his party did not wish to be a stumbling block but requested the Government to be fair and adopt the new Constitution unanimously.
Indicating the acceptance of the Constituent Assembly route towards the adoption of a new constitution by all political parties, the proposed resolution to form the Constituent Assembly was unanimously passed on 21 July 1970.
It is significant that all political parties represented in Parliament participated in the formation of the Constituent Assembly, thus giving legitimacy to the process. However, the Constitution that the Constituent Assembly adopted lacked similar legitimacy. The Federal Party discontinued participation after the Assembly decided to make Sinhala the only official language. The United National Party voted against the Constitution. With all political parties agreeing on the Constituent Assembly process, it was a unique opportunity to adopt a constitution that had the support of the people at large. But Assembly proceedings show that the United Front, which had a two-thirds majority but had received a little less than 50% of the popular vote, imposed a constitution of its choice. The Constitution also extended the term of the legislature by two years which had a chilling effect on Sri Lankan democracy. There is certainly a lot to learn from the 1970-72 reform process.
Retaining the parliamentary form of government
Whilst the desire of the UF was to make a complete break from the Soulbury Constitution modelled on the British system, it nevertheless considered the Westminster model of parliamentary government to be suitable for Sri Lanka.
However, J.R. Jayewardene proposed the introduction of an executive presidency, a proposal opposed even by Dudley Senanayake, a former prime minister and the leader of the UNP. Interestingly though, Jayewardene was to have the last word. After he was elected Prime Minister in 1977, the UNP he led having obtained an unprecedented five-sixths majority in Parliament, Jayewardene introduced the executive presidency through the Second Amendment to the 1972 Constitution. He followed it up with the Second Republican Constitution of 1978, based on an executivepresidency sans any checks and balances usually found in countries with a presidential form of government.
It is salutary, in the above context, to recall the words and sentiments expressed by Sirimavo Bandaranaike during the debate on the Second Amendment to the Constitution: “The effect of this amendment is to place the President above the National State Assembly. Above the law and above the courts, thereby creating a concentration of State power in one person, whoever he might be. This has happened in other countries before, and history is full of examples of the disastrous consequences that came upon such nations that changed their Constitutions by giving one man too much power. (…) We oppose this Bill firmly and unequivocally. It will set our country on the road to dictatorship and there will be no turning back. This Bill will mark the end of democracy in Sri Lanka, as the late Dudley Senanayake realized when these same ideas were put to him in the United National Party.”
Dr De Silva warned against the danger of counterposing the Prime Minister chosen by the people who are sovereign against a President who is directly elected: “Let me put it directly and more strongly. You have the Prime Minister chosen by the people who are sovereign. Then, if you have a President, chosen also by the sovereign people directly through the exercise of a similar franchise, you have at the heart and apex of the State two powers counterposed to each other, each drawing its power from the same source, the sovereign people, but each drawing the power independent of the other.” No Constitution will be able to define adequately and satisfactorily the relationship between the two, he explained.
(Next: Part II: A Majoritarian Constitution)
Jacqueline concerned about situation in Sri Lanka
Jacqueline Fernandez, who is very much a part of Sri Lanka, and now a big name in Bollywood, has been in the news quite often, the past few months – for various reasons.
However, she does worry about the situation in Sri Lanka and had this to say on Instagram:
“As a Srilankan, it is heartbreaking to see what my country and countrymen are going through. I have been flooded with a lot of opinions since this began from around the world. I would say, do not be too quick to pass a judgement and vilify any group based on what is shown. The world and my people do not need another judgement, they need empathy and support. 2-minutes of silent prayer for their strength and well-being will bring you much closer to them than a comment based on a loose grasp of the situation,” she wrote.
“To my country and countrymen, I am hoping this situation comes to an end soon and through means which are peaceful and for the benefit of the people. Praying for immense strength to those dealing with this. Peace to all!” she added.
More than 6 bn worth of substandard drugs dispensed to patients
Manudam Mehewara Initiative by Dialog, MAS, Hemas & CBL reach 10,000 families, invites all corporates to Join its countrywide emergency relief mission
Ninewells Hospital raises awareness on thyroid disease in newborns to commemorate World Thyroid Day 2022
‘Dates have the highest sugar content to fight Coronavirus’
U.S. Congress to probe assets fleecing by US citizens of Sri Lankan origin
Sunday Island 27 December – Headlines
News6 days ago
Canadian declaration of ‘Tamil genocide’ may influence European parliaments, EU – Maj. Gen. (retd.) Gallage
News3 days ago
MR had not decided to resign on 09 May, says Weerasekra
News24 hours ago
Lanka’s Amb. in Tokyo quits amidst bid to secure USD loan
News4 days ago
Two views on Gota going, food crisis threat by August: Ranil
News2 days ago
More Opp. members switch allegiance as six more ministers are sworn in
News3 days ago
Speaker proposes how to steer SL out of crisis
News5 days ago
PM blames ‘last administration’ for country’s current crisis
Features4 days ago
Ranil-Rajapaksa Interim Government and Cabinet are a betrayal of the People