by Sumi Moonesinghe narrated to Savithri Rodrigo
While I was in training in England, there had been a change at the helm of the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation. Neville Jayaweera had been transferred as Government Agent to Vavuniya and a new Director General had taken his place. His is name was Susil Moonesinghe.
As the end of my training period loomed close, I realized I wasn’t ready to leave England just yet. I wanted to stay on, just one more year, to complete my PhD. I sent in my request for an extension of one year to the new Director General but my request was denied. It was then that finality hit and I had to make arrangements to return.
I returned to my familiar surroundings at the station in 1971 and settled in. Even though I had been away for some time, nothing much had changed in a way. It’s quite amazing how good branding transcends time. The name change of Radio Ceylon to the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation had made no difference to everyday conversation. Nearly everyone referred to CBC, which came into being through the CBC Act of 1966, as Radio Ceylon – the name stuck. What I didn’t foresee however was that the name Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation would be short-lived.
With the transitioning of Ceylon into the status of the Republic of Sri Lanka on May 22, 1972, CBC would get a yet another name change, just six years after, to what the station is presently known as – the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation.
A few days after my return, the Director General wanted to see me. This summoning was nothing out of the ordinary as I had been sent by CBC on training and he would want to know the value addition I now bring to the station. I walked the corridors leading to his office and the moment I set eyes on him, I couldn’t speak. This was unusual for me because throughout my years of school, university and England, I was not a woman who would get fazed or dumbstruck by any male. I had studied, lived and worked as the only female in the room and had always considered males as part of my life and not to be romanced around.
But this was totally different. Here I was in the Director General’s room, looking at the most handsome man I had seen in my entire life. If there is anything called love at first sight, this was it, although I didn’t recognize it at the time. I don’t remember much of that first meeting.
I returned to my usual routine. My engineering room was upstairs, in a building with three floors, at the back. It became a habit for me to peek out of the windows whenever I had the chance to check if the Director General was walking those long corridors that the station was famous for. A bonus was the car park being close to my office and at a vantage point from my window. Each morning I would see him park his car and I wouldn’t take my eyes off him as he walked all the way down to his office.
I would make various excuses to go out of my room, just to catch a glimpse of him or to go to his room to get information or ask a question. I could have done all this by phone or by sending a memo but I would drum up an excuse just to see him.
I think there was some mutual affection building up because Susil too started calling for me at various times and sometimes for issues totally unrelated to my role. He would ask me to sit through recruitment procedures and interviewee evaluations with him. While I worked in his room, I noticed the incessant telephone calls he would receive. Having been appointed by Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike into this post of Director General, Susil was a political appointee and as was the norm, he was inundated with politicians asking him to employ their various supporters at CBC.
I soon realized there was a subtle flirtation on his part as well He called me into his room one day and said, very stiffly, “Miss Senanayake, I have two tickets for a play. Would you like to go as I can’t seem to make it?” This was totally unusual as it was not work related and out of the blue. Not daring to ask him why he was giving me the tickets, or how he got them or what it was for, I simply said, “Yes, definitely, Sir. Thank you.”
He gave me the tickets and I went with my uncle to see the play. While we were quite engrossed in it, my uncle said, “Sumi, who is that man looking at you constantly?” I turned my head and saw Susil in the front row, staring at me but trying not to show that he was. It dawned on me that he gave me the tickets not because he couldn’t attend the play but because he knew I would be there too. I pretended not to notice, although my heart was beating very fast and by way of explanation told my uncle, “Oh that’s my boss at the station. He’s the Director General. He’s probably surprised to see me here.”
Work went on. SLBC had some visiting engineers from Yugoslavia and Susil placed me in charge of accompanying them to see the Esala Perahera, which is believed to be Asia’s grandest festival. A vantage point to view the pageant from the Queen’s Hotel in Kandy was generally reserved for CBC, as thousands gather for the parade that takes Buddha’s tooth relic, which is generally housed in the Temple of the Tooth, around the streets of Kandy.
The engineers and I were to spend the night at the Hotel Suisse, which had also been arranged. Susil apologized to the Yugoslav engineers of his inability to accompany them but assured them of being in good hands, pointing to me.
That night as we readied to watch the perahera, Susil surprised us by arriving at the Queen’s Hotel and taking a seat among us. He explained that he had completed his work and decided to make it to Kandy. I was secretly very happy to see him although I maintained my composure. The arrival of the whip crackers, those who herald the start of the pageant may have saved me from some embarrassment, if only he saw my face, beaming with delight.
In my hurry to pack for Kandy, I realized I hadn’t brought any toothpaste. We were by now back at Hotel Suisse and I was getting ready for bed. I am very fastidious so the thought of going to bed without brushing my teeth filled me with dread. I had an idea. I knocked on Susil’s door and asked him if I could borrow some toothpaste, which he willingly passed on to me. After brushing my teeth, I went back to his room and knocked on his door in order to return the toothpaste. Looking back, going back to that room to return the toothpaste was a rather flimsy excuse on my part, although at the time, my intentions, at least to me, seemed good.
Years later, Susil would recount this story with all the bells and whistles he could muster, saying, “I was seduced by Sumi with a tube of toothpaste!” He considered this the start of our romance and for my birthday one year, hung up a giant cut-out of a toothpaste tube at the entrance to the house. His sense of humour was endearing and definitely one of the reasons I fell in love with him.
Getting back to the perahera night, I had fallen asleep having brushed my teeth with Susil’s toothpaste. Around midnight, there was a knock on my door. Not used to having people knock on my door in the middle of the night, I asked tentatively, “Who is it?” Imagine my surprise when I heard, “It’s me, Susil. Please open the door. There’s been an accident.” I quickly opened the door and let in a very distressed Susil. “One of the officers at the Seeduwa Transmission Station has been killed. He was shot dead accidentally by a security guard on duty.” He slumped into a chair, looking ashen.
True to my nature, I took charge because I knew we had to manage a bad situation that could escalate into something truly worse. Several phone calls later and after some fires had been dampened, Susil asked me if he could remain in my room. “With all this going on, I can’t sleep,” he said. He made himself comfortable in his chair and we talked until morning, while I sat on the bed.
The conversation slowly gave way to other topics like my life. I told him of my fiance in England who was still employed at the State Engineering Corporation but on a leave of absence as he was reading for his PhD. By this time, we were chatting as if we had known each other for years. I gleaned that Susil had a wide network and basically knew everyone — an expansive directory of the who’s who. So I asked Susil if he could speak with the Chairman of State Engineering Corporation Dr. A N S Kulasinghe to obtain a leave extension for my fiance as he wanted to complete his studies but needed the job to come back to. “Ah, anything for love,” was Susil’s reply.
The next morning, not only did Susil call Dr. Kulasinghe and get an agreement for the extension, but also manipulated proceedings so that the Yugoslav engineers traveled back to Colombo in his official car with his driver, which meant, I would be traveling to Colombo with him. By this time, it was understood that a romance was blossoming.
While we were driving back, Susil remembered our conversations earlier. I had told Susil that my parents lived in Kegalle and he suddenly suggested we visit them. When we got to my parents’ home, I introduced Susil as my boss and the Director General of CBC. I believed that by meeting my parents, Susil would know my roots and the family I came from. There was nothing to hide. I was an open book.
My parents, who were used to always seeing me in the company of males, didn’t bat an eyelid when I brought him home. Over the course of a cup of tea, Susil, who was his absolute charming self, gained the complete confidence of my parents. Just as we were readying to leave, my mother looked at Susil and said, “Please see that she doesn’t get married to that Tamil boy. I am lighting two lamps appealing to the gods to break up that relationship.” Susil promptly replied, “Amma, please light one more lamp and the affair will end.”
He then asked my mother to give him my horoscope saying, “I have a good astrologer and I will check on whom she will get married to.” Of course, my mother promptly gave him my horoscope, such was the trust he had built up in the briefest of times.
While Susil knew all about me, I knew little of Susil or his lineage. I knew he had studied at Royal College and was a lawyer with an amazing gift of the gab. I did know he was married but in the middle of a budding romance, that didn’t seem to matter. But what I didn’t know was that he came from a very distinguished line of an elite Sinhala Buddhist family. His paternal grandmother was Anagarika Dharmapala’s sister. They were the children of Don Carolis Hewavitarane.
As a child, I remember learning about Anagarika Dharmapala, who was renowned for his non-violent Sinhala Buddhist nationalism and a leading figure in Sri Lanka’s independence movement against colonial rule. A global Buddhist missionary, he pioneered the revival of Buddhism. However, this was not what impressed me at all. It was simply Susil who held my undivided attention and now, love!
Susil had politics in his blood and in 1960 had contested the Polgahawela seat in the General Elections under the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna. His network and influence in politics saw him appointed organizer for the Southern Province of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, in preparation for the 1970 General Elections. When the United Front, led by Sirimavo Bandaranaike won the 1970 elections, Susil’s hard work towards the win paid off and he was rewarded with the appointment of Director General of the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation.
His business contacts too were expansive. But his strong urge to be politically active never left him and he continued being a livewire in pushing a people-centric political agenda with whatever party he supported.
(To be continued)
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.
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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
News22 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