by Rajan Philips
The SLPP’s election fireworks in Anuradhapura may have perished instantly in the Sacred City’s ancient lakes. But political moves and counter moves are emerging independent and regardless of local government elections being held or not held in the near future. New developments are being reported both within the governing (SLPP/SLPFA) alliance and outside it, as well as independent of the government and on behalf of the government. There are four potentially significant developments that have been and are being reported in the media:
1) Shifting political alliances both within the governing alliance and among opposition parties.
2) An ‘all-party’ initiative in parliament to persuade the government to take steps for restructuring debt payments to tide over the country’s critical foreign exchange shortage.
3) The sudden and shocking return of White Vans in Colombo even as the government is trying to improve its human rights image in time for the March UNHRC sessions in Geneva, and while the Catholic Church is threatening to ‘go global’ in its search for justice for the victims of 2019 Easter Sunday bombings.
4) Foreign Minister GL Pieris’s unusually expansive interview to The Indian Express, during his recent visit to India, and his exclusive interview with S. Venkat Narayan, Sunday Island’s Special Correspondent in New Delhi.
Shifting Political Alliances
On Thursday, February 17, the Daily Mirror reported what would appear to be very consequential shifts occurring within the political alliances that underpin the current composition of MPs in parliament. According to the Daily Mirror, twelve of the political parties who are now part of the SLPP/SLPFA alliance and all of whom were left out of the of SLPPs’ family rally in Anuradhapura, are expected to announce in early March the formation of a new alliance, while remaining part of the SLPP-led government.
The leading lights of the new alliance will be Ministers Wimal Weerawansa, Udaya Gammanpila and Vasudeva Nanayakkara, as well as the Chairmen of the three crucial parliamentary committees – Tissa Vitarana (Committee on Public Accounts – COPA), Charitha Hearth (Committee on Public Expenditure – COPE) and Anura Priyadarshana Yapa (Committee on Public Finance – COPF). The new alliance is expected to include a few SLFPers as well, two of whom are also committee chairs.
What will the group’s ministerial troika (Wimal/Gamanpila/Vasu) do? Will they quit cabinet, or stay on as ministers until the President shows them the door? Giving up their cabinet positions may mitigate their political culpability until now, while getting fired will not improve their already tarnished political credibility for the future.
The formation of this alliance will not result in the government losing its current parliamentary majority, but it could take away the government’s two-thirds majority which will be required to effect constitutional changes. The President and the SLPP could just ignore the group, forego the craving for two-thirds majority, and give up on going ahead with constitutional changes. That in itself will be a positive outcome for the country. The country will be spared the agony of going through an ‘organic’ constitution after the disaster over organic fertilizer!
The new alliance could also bring pressure on the President and the government to undertake basic remedial measures that are desperately needed to tide over the country’s current financial and food crises. But there is nothing automatic about the effectiveness of this group in influencing policy or changing government direction. And its effectiveness will be limited unless the group is prepared to work with opposition MPs and parties, as well as more constructive SLPP MPs, on specific issues that are now critical to the country.
Principled cross-floor collaboration can serve two purposes. One, acting as the legislative branch of government, parliament could take independent positions on critical issues to countermand mistaken presidential actions and provide alternative routes for the country’s government. As a consequence of this, parliament can establish its constitutional role in the presidential system without being a mere rubber stamp to the president.
Many have commented on President (G) Rajapaksa’s rootlessness in political parties as a source of weakness for his presidency. Conversely, it could be argued that the deep rootedness of previous presidents in their parties (except Sirisena, who was neither here nor there as President) was a source of weakness for the legislative branch. Shouldn’t parliament use the present opportunity to restore its constitutional role and function?
The Daily Mirror news story also reveals shifting alliances within the opposition in parliament. Of special note are reported discussions involving Champika Ranawaka, UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and parliamentarian Kumara Welgama. A coming together of upstart ambition and decadent frustrations, to paraphrase the inimitable turn of phrase of Doric de Souza! Where and how far this convergence will carry, it is not worth a second of speculation. What is pertinent is that Champika’s overtures to Ranil are reportedly the result of Sajith Premadasa’s failure to respond to Mr. Ranawaka’s request for deputy leadership in the SJB.
Mr. Ranawaka apparently is not the only one feeling unrequited in the SJB. “Minority parties” affiliated with the SJB are also reportedly disappointed that Mr. Premadasa is not heeding their calls for formalizing a broad alliance where ‘minority parties’ can maintain their identities. If Sajith Premadasa is reluctant to go into broad alliances, it may be due to his own insecurity and there are also reports about other prominent and young UNP-defectors who too are not very pleased with the leadership and the insulated inner circles of Premadasa the Younger. But I am trying to get to a different point here.
And that is about what seems to be a shared reluctance among Gotabaya/Basil Rajapaksa (SLPP), Sajith Premadasa (SJB) and Anura Kumara Dissanayake (JVP/NPP) to enter broad alliances with other parties. The reluctance might be due to different reasons – arrogance and not having to answer to anyone (Gotabaya/Basil), insecurity (Sajith), and – call it – progressive puritanism (JVP/NPP). But the effect of this shared reluctance would be a major shift in post-presidential electoral politics that needs to be watched as the electoral dynamic unfolds over the next three years. The past alliance champions – Mahinda Rajapaksa, Ranil Wickremesinghe and Maithripala Sirisena are now spent forces with little consequence.
National Unity over National Debt
There is nothing more serious than the national debt burden, and its aggravation of foreign exchange shortages and import capacity limitations. There have been suggestions for negotiating debt payments and calling on the IMF for help. But the government and the Central Bank have done nothing about either suggestion. In the absence of government action, a group of government and opposition MPs have been putting their heads together to urge the government to act promptly on negotiating with the country’s creditors and for approaching the IMF.
TNA’s MA Sumanthiran has been the convenor of these discussions, the second of which was attended by R Sampanthan (TNA), Sajith Premadasa, Dr Harsha de Silva and Eran Wickremaratne (SJB), Rauf Hakim (SLMC), Mano Ganesan (TPA), , Shanakiyan Rasamanikam (TNA), and from the ‘government side’ Charitha Herath (COPE Chair), Tissa Vitarana (COPA Chair) and Anura Priyadarshana Yapa (COPF Chair). Former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya attended the second meeting. The first meeting was also attended by Ranil Wickremesinghe and Kabir Hashim (UNP), and Dr Harini Amarasuriya (JVP/NPP).
As reported in the Sunday Island last week, Mr. Sumanthiran has indicated there is agreement in the group that the government should commence renegotiating with creditors before running out of existing foreign reserves and reschedule loan settlements. The group recognized renegotiation as a multi-step process, which could be guided by the experiences of other countries such as Argentina and Uruguay. The purpose of debt negotiations would be to ensure the continuous flow of essential goods and the continued protection of the poor and vulnerable social groups.
Again, there is no indication how far this initiative will go. But this is an instance and an opportunity for parliament to assert itself and literally compensate for the lack of political will on the part of the President and the Minister of Finance. There is another angle to this initiative given the convenor-role of Sumanthiran. It underpins the unifying role of national debt and everything ‘economic’. It also speaks to Mr. Sumanthiran’s role as a parliamentarian and a constitutional lawyer, and his abilities to work across party lines and ethnic boundaries on matters that are of importance to all Sri Lankans. I cannot think of a Tamil parliamentarian before him who would have played such a national role so well while being inflexibly principled on matters affecting the rights and expectations of Tamils as Sri Lankan citizens.
White Vans Return
The most shocking development last week was the return of White Vans after nearly seven years. In the first reported instance, goons in a white van attacked the house of TV journalist Chamuditha Samarawickrema with rocks and faeces and drove away with impunity. In the second instance, Catholic civic activist Shehan Malaka Gamage was arrested and taken way by CID men who too had arrived in a white van. Gamage managed to livestream the arrest on Facebook, calling it abduction, and the publicity forced the CID to produce him in court where the Magistrate released him om bail.
Gamage’s arrest stirred the ire of Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, who endorsed Gamage’s description that what was done to him was abduction. The Cardinal went on to call it “an uncivilised, thuggish act that should have no place in a democracy.” The Cardinal lambasted the Attorney General who authorized the ‘arrest,’ reminding him that the country’s Attorney General is “a public servant and not a tool of politicians.” According to media reports, the Cardinal also condemned the attack on the residence of journalist Chamuditha Samarawickrama, and “expressed his disbelief that the government would resort to such tactics with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session just days away.”
It is not only the UNHRC that the government will have to worry about for this year’s month of March. Cardinal Ranjith has put the government on notice that Sri Lanka’s Catholic Church is working with the Vatican to help find justice for the victims of the 2019 Easter bombings. The outspoken Cardinal has said that “if we cannot find a solution within the country, we will try going through international organizations.” And that “the government alone must take responsibility for that, because it is the government that has not paid an iota of attention to this.”
The return of the White Van a week after the release of Human Rights and Constitutional Lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah might suggest that the SLPP operatives in the government do not know what they are doing. More sinisterly, the family, the SLPP and the government might be switching sides as they struggle to contain the continuing fallout from the Easter bombings. First they promised retributive justice to Catholics at the expense of the Muslims. Now the SLPP government might be trying to woo the Muslims and abandon the Catholics.
Playing one group against another never works and it always backfires. That has been the story of the entire Rajapaksa power trajectory – its slow rise, sudden peak and the rapid decline. Power not only corrupts and corrupts absolutely, but also comforts the futility of learning nothing and forgetting everything. Of all people, Prof. GL Pieris, easily the most erudite person to be in any Rajapaksa cabinet, gave a demonstration of this during his recent (February 6-8) visit to India.
India – a tried and examined pal
Foreign Minister GL Peiris visited his Indian counterpart Subramanyam Jaishankar in the first week of February. At the end of his visit, the Minister gave an interview to the Indian Express and to the Sunday Island’s Special Correspondent in New Delhi. The latter interview appeared in the Sunday Island last week – in the paper’s print and electronic editions but did not make the cut to the trendy online version. In the Sunday Island interview, Minister Pieris indicated that he had a better understanding of what the people of Jaffna need after spending three days in the peninsula, than any Tamil MP who, according to Pieris, is usually preoccupied with war crimes, which the Minister did not make it a point to deny as he usually does.
The key takeaway from the Sunday Island interview is his refutation of the claim (attributed to ex-Chief Minister CV Wigneswaran) that the proposed new constitution will remove the 13th Amendment and “convert Sri Lanka into a Unitary State instead of a Federal State.” The Minister called the assertion “irresponsible speculation” while not bothering to clarify to the Indian journalist that Sri Lanka is a constitutionally stipulated unitary state. He went on imply the need for patience till the Experts Committee releases its much awaited draft without indulging in “surmises and conjectures.”
In his Indian Express interview (which seems poorly transcribed and was reproduced in the Daily Mirror on February 14), the Minister was categorical that “the 13th Amendment is an integral a part of Sri Lanka’s Constitution of 1978.” Its “primary characteristic,” Pieris said “is a division of powers between the central authorities and the provincial councils.” He rightfully blamed the current suspension of the Provincial Council system on the previous government and the TNA for indefinitely postponing all provincial council elections through legislative inaction by parliament.
Quite apart from the 13th Amendment and Provincial Councils, the Indian Express interview is remarkable for its unusual expansiveness and its glowing allusions to the historical and currently “strategic” linkages between India and its “utmost isle” (Milton), including a potential “financial integration” of the two countries. The Minister described India as “a tried and examined pal that’s all the time there for us.” While admitting to the apparent competitiveness in Sri Lanka’s dealings with India and China, the Minister asserted that “there’s something very particular about Sri Lanka’s relationship with India … a particular high quality about it,” and deemed it “inconceivable that Sri Lanka would (have) allow(ed) our nation for use in opposition to India.”
The Minister identified different economic sectors as underpinning the evolving “strategic relationship” with India. They include ports and harbours, electrical energy, petroleum, tourism, prescription drugs, and of course all the financial credit help which sets up for the “integration of the financial system of India and Sri Lanka” for mutual benefits. If Ranil Wickremasinghe had said half as much, he would have been tattooed and crucified no sooner than he got off the plane at Katunayake. But Pieris may have the Teflon touch as a Rajapaksa Minister.
It could also be that whatever Minister Pieris says in India may be of little consequence for the President or the Prime Minister in Sr Lanka. But that is hardly the way for the government of Sri Lanka to manage its relationship with India. It can get counterproductive when it is apparent that the Sri Lankan government, or Minister Pieris on his own, is trying get New Delhi’s help to deal with UNHRC in Geneva. Besides the UNHRC, there is the EU, and now the Vatican and the whole Holy Catholic See to deal with. Connecting all the external dots internally is the return of the White Van to violate the streets and homes in Colombo. Either the government is inexplicably dumb, or it is assuming that it is cleverer than everyone else in dealing with human rights.
Thomians triumph in Sydney
Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.
Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!
who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:
The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.
Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.
But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.
Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.
A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.
Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.
A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.
The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.
Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.
The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts. But the Thomians had other ideas.
The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable. Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.
It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.
Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.
The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.
In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.
Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.
Marked stress on Asia in US foreign policy
US President Joe Biden’s recent tour of some Asian powers is indicative of a renewed and enhanced interest the US is beginning to take in the Indo-Pacific region. In this his first Asian tour the President chose to visit Japan and South Korea besides helming a Quad meeting in Tokyo and there is good reason for the choice of these venues and engagements.
The first phase of these bridge-strengthening efforts by the US began in late August last year when US Vice President Kamala Harris visited South-east Asia in the wake of the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Besides being driven by strong economic compulsions, the US intention was also to ensure that too much of a power vacuum did not open up in the region, following its pull-out from Afghanistan, since China’s perceived expansionist designs are a prime foreign policy concern of the US.
However, the US President’s recent wide-ranging tour of East Asia seems to have been also prompted by some currently intensifying trends and tensions in the wider stage of international politics though the seeming power vacuum just referred to has a significant bearing on it. The immediate purpose of the US President’s tour seems to have been to bolster his country’s backing for Japan and South Korea, two of the US’ closest allies in East Asia. This is necessitated by the ‘China threat’, which, if neglected, could render the US allies vulnerable to China’s military attacks on the one hand and blunt US power and influence in the region on the other.
While Taiwan’s airspace has reportedly been frequently violated by China, sections in Japan have reasons to be wary of perceived Chinese expansionist moves in Japan’s adjacent seas. Moreover, many of China’s neighbours have been having territorial disputes with China, which have tended to intensify the perception over the decades that in the Asian theatre in particular China is a number one ‘bogey’. For historical reasons, South Korea too has been finding the increasing rise of China as a major world power considerably discomforting.
Accordingly, the US considers it opportune to reassure South-east Asia in general and its allies in the region in particular of its continuous military, economic and political support. Though these are among the more immediate reasons for Biden’s tour of the region, there are also the convulsions triggered in international politics by the Russian invasion of Ukraine to consider.
Whereas sections of international opinion have been complacent in the belief that military invasions of one country by another are things of the distant past, the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine in February this year proved them shockingly wrong. We have the proof here that not all authoritarian rulers are prepared to adhere to the international rule book and for some of China’s neighbours the possibility is great of their being attacked or invaded by China over the numerous rankling problems that have separated them from their economic super power neighbour over the decades. After all, China is yet to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and is increasingly proving an ‘all weather friend’ of Russia. Right now, they are the strongest of allies.
The ‘China threat’ then is prime among the reasons for the US President’s visit to East Asia, though economic considerations play a substantive role in these fence-strengthening initiatives as well. While South-east Asia is the ‘economic power house’ of the world, and the US would need to be doubly mindful of this fact, it would need to reassure its allies in the region of its military and defense assistance at a time of need. This too is of paramount importance.
President Biden did just that while in Tokyo a couple of days back. For instance, he said that the US is ‘fully committed to Japan’s defense’. Biden went on to say that the ‘US is willing to use force to defend Taiwan.’ The latter comment was prompted by the perceived increasing Chinese violations of Taiwan’s air space. After all, considering that Russia has invaded Ukraine with impunity, there is apparently nothing that could prevent China from invading Taiwan and annexing it. Such are the possible repercussions of the Russian invasion.
Meanwhile, North Korea is reportedly carrying on with its development of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. On this issue too, South Korea would need to have US assurances that the latter would come to its defense in case of a North Korean military strike. The US President’s visit to South Korea was aimed at reassuring the latter of the former’s support.
However, as mentioned, economic considerations too figured prominently in the US President’s South-east Asian tour. While being cognizant of the region’s security sensitivities, bolstering economic cooperation with the latter too was a foremost priority for the Biden administration. For example, the US is in the process of formalizing what has come to be referred to as the Indo-Pacific Trade Treaty. The US has reportedly already inducted Japan and South Korea as founding members of the Treaty while, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand are mentioned as prospective members to the treaty.
The perceived threat posed to Western interests in South-east Asia by China needs to be factored in while trying to unravel the reasons for this region-wide endeavour in economic cooperation. It needs to be considered a Western response to China’s Belt and Road initiative which is seen as having a wide appeal for the global South in particular.
While the Russian invasion of Ukraine is having a divisive political and economic impact on the world, international politics will increasingly revolve around the US-China stand-off on a multiplicity of fronts in time to come. Both sides are likely to try out both soft and hard power to an exceptional degree to exercise foremost influence and power in the world. As is already happening, this would trigger increasing international tensions.
There was a distinct and sharp note of firmness in the voice of the US President when he pledged defense and military support for his allies in Asia this week. Considering the very high stakes for the US in a prospering South-east Asia, the US’ competitors would be naive to dismiss his pronouncements as placatory rhetoric meant for believing allies.
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.
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‘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
News1 day ago
Lanka’s Amb. in Tokyo quits amidst bid to secure USD loan
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
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
Sports1 day ago
Kamil Mishara expelled from Dhaka after having ‘visitor’ in hotel room
News8 hours ago
Economic crisis: MR, ministers, CBSL Governor, Dr.PBJ ignored IMF warnings
Features4 days ago
Ranil-Rajapaksa Interim Government and Cabinet are a betrayal of the People