ONFESSIONS OF A GLOBAL GYPSY
By Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil
President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada
Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum
When I returned to my office at John Keells head office in Colombo, I was eager to share my experiences and lessons learnt in Hong Kong as the Guest Executive Chef for a large Sri Lankan and Maldivian food festival. Based on my recent experience, I prepared a detailed checklist for organizing future food festivals, which I shared with my team. This checklist was very useful when I got opportunities in later years, to organize large Sri Lankan food festivals in Asia, the Middle East, South America and the Caribbean. It is always helpful when checklists for the future are prepared when the relevant and recent experience is still fresh in mind.
Organizing large banquets and food festivals within the respective hotels under the same roof is easy. Outside catering done away from hotels is more challenging. I considered organizing a large food festival in another country as the ultimate challenge in catering. Everything had to be planned in detail, based on research focusing on the scarcity of special ingredients, logistics and support in the hosting country.
One day in 1981, Francis Dilip De Silva, a Lecturer of the Ceylon Hotel School (CHS) called me. “I teach Food and Beverage Operations to the fourth and final year students at CHS. Our students would benefit from your experience. Could you kindly give a guest lecture at CHS?” I felt honoured with that invitation and confirmed a mutually convenient time slot for a two-hour lecture. I prepared a lot for this first-ever lecture that I delivered in my life. I spoke about the practical aspects of organizing successful events at resort hotels, and this lecture was well received.
After that guest lecture, Dilip hosted me for lunch at the training restaurant of CHS, which was located at Park Street in Colombo two at that time. A few of my friends were working as lecturers at CHS, including a couple of my batch mates who excelled in their studies. However, none of them had ever invited me to the CHS as a guest lecturer. I wondered if the reason was my poor academic performance during my student years at CHS from 1971 to 1974.
When Dilip became more familiar with me, he said, “To be very frank with you Chandana, I was warned by a few of the other CHS Lecturers that I was taking a risk inviting you to speak to the final year students. They told me that you were one of the worst students at CHS!” After a pause, Dilip added, “I then consulted Mrs. Pearl Heenatigala, the Principal of CHS, who told me to go ahead and invite you as you have done very well in the industry.”
On Dilip’s further requests, I did a few more guest lectures. I simply spoke about practical things I did in the industry, rather than using material from outdated textbooks written by academics without much industry experience. I delivered guest lectures about my recent experiences in training hotel staff, dealing with village problems, innovative guest relations, taking over management of hotels, opening restaurants, and organizing food festivals. I also shared my newly prepared food festival checklist with the students. Students truly loved my series of guest lectures and wanted more. I began enjoying lecturing.
A Surprising Job Offer
One busy morning while multi-tasking some urgent, operational matters of a few of the Keells hotels, as their Manager – Operations, my phone rang. It was Mrs. Heenatigala. “Chandana, I hear some great comments from our students about the ten guest lectures you have delivered at CHS on an honorary basis. Knowing how busy you are at Keells, I am very thankful to you and appreciate the time you devoted to give practical tips to our students.”
She then said, “We desperately need professionals like you to teach industry best practices at CHS. Would you like to join CHS as a full-time Lecturer?”. I was pleasantly surprised by her question. As a former student who was nearly expelled from CHS nine years earlier for very poor academic results during my first year, this was music to my ears.
The next day, I met Mrs. Heenatigala at her office. She had been involved in tourism in different capacities long before 1965, when it was first identified as an industry with potential for becoming a major, foreign exchange earner and employment generator for Sri Lanka. She was a pioneer of the industry within the public sector. In addition to being the Director / Principal of CHS, she was also one of the two Deputy Director Generals of the Ceylon Tourist Board. In that role she deputized the CEO of Tourism in Sri Lanka. She was extremely charming and had a visionary outlook. I liked her personality and she seemed to regard me very highly.
After some tea and a friendly chat, she made an offer to me, but I was not impressed with the salary scale for CHS Lecturers. “Madam, this offer of yours is exactly half of what I earn at John Keells. I simply cannot accept it.” She then explained that CHS salaries are tax free and lecturers usually get valuable overseas scholarships. I thanked her, but declined the offer.
A couple of days later, Mrs. Heenatigala called me again. “In consultation with the Chairman and the Director General of the Ceylon Tourist Board I have found a solution! We will match your current take home salary at John Keells by hiring you at our highest level – as a Senior Lecturer. This position is at the same grade as a Director of the Ceylon Tourist Board.” I was impressed. “Madam, please give me a few days to think about it.” I told her.
All the teaching staff at CHS were older than I. They were Assistant Lecturers or Lecturers. In the history of CHS for 16 years since its inception in 1965, only two Lecturers had been finally promoted to Senior Lecturers after teaching at CHS for 10 years. They were both five years my senior, had postgraduate qualifications/training in Germany and Austria and were my Lecturers when I was a student at CHS.
My wife did not think that leaving a senior managerial position at the head office of the largest group of companies in Sri Lanka to accept a government job was a good idea. “You will not have a company car, free gas and a good benefit package similar to what we currently have from John Keells Group”, she cautioned me. I thought differently and believed that, at times, one has to follow your heart and do things that will give greater satisfaction and sense of fulfilment. I considered that rich and diverse experiences were far more important than money and benefits.
When she realized that I was passionate about teaching, my wife said, “OK, let’s check your horoscope and consult a few astrologers.” Although that was a common practice for a majority of Sri Lankans in deciding on important changes and life decisions, I did not believe in fortune tellers. However, to keep my wife happy, I agreed to consult one famous fortune teller she recommended. He was well-known as ‘The Finger Tip Astrologer’.
The Fortune Teller
When my wife took me to meet ‘The Finger Tip Astrologer’ in Colombo five, I was surprised how crowded his waiting area was. He probably was the most popular and reputed fortune teller in Sri Lanka at that time. After an hour of idling, I was getting bored with the long wait and my wife was getting annoyed with my jokes and pranks while waiting for our turn. “Please be serious and don’t joke when we are called to his office.” she warned me.
Finally, when it was our turn, the old astrologer looked sharply at my face, fingertips, palm, and the horoscope. He said, “What a lucky man! Most of your life you have gotten things for free.” When I laughed at that comment, he felt that I was being sarcastic, and wanted to prove to me that he was right. He then said, “Young man, you did not spend any of your money to buy all of the items you are wearing today. That gold chain and the watch, your shirt, the pair of trousers, the belt and the pair of shoes, all are presents given to you!” He was correct.
He added, “even the car you drove to come here today is not yours, someone else pays for everything. All of the houses you lived in your whole life and are living in today are free for you. Free food and no rent. Am I correct?” I stopped smiling and under my breath said, “Yes, Sir. You are correct.” Now that he earned my attention and respect, he commenced predicting about the future. “Very soon, you will return the car you drove today to the owner, but someone else will present you with a car immediately after that. No worries.”
“Today, you have come to consult me because you wish to make a decision about a new job and a major career change. Don’t worry. Accept the new offer you have. This new job will open many exciting doors for you. Because of the experience you will gain in this new job, for the rest of your life you will have two options of careers. Accept the offer!” My wife and I were speechless as we were totally baffled. How could he know all of this? However, when the astrologer made his final prediction for my future, I could not help but respectfully disagree with him.
The astrologer further predicted that very soon I would commence studying and would never stop studying for various degrees and professional qualifications. He identified me as a late developer who will become a lifelong learner. “Sir, all of what you said before is accurate. However, I must tell you that your final prediction is wrong! When I graduated from CHS seven years ago, I decided that I would never ever touch a textbook or study for any examination for the rest of my life. I am a bad student and simply hate studying!” I told him. “Wait and see, I give you three months to commence a lifelong journey of higher education and learning. You will do well.” He made his concluding comment with a grin.
The same day, I signed my contract at CHS and gave notice to John Keells. My resignation shocked many well-wishers who thought that I would have a very bright future at John Keells Group. In spite of their disappointment, my Director, Bobby Adams and the Group Chairman, Mark Bostock gave me excellent testimonials. Mr Bostock wrote, “We will miss Chandana, but I am happy that in his new position, he will be able to make a significant contribution to prepare future generations of managers for the hotel industry.”
On my last day at John Keells, after a quick round of goodbyes, I returned the keys to my company car and came home with my father-in-law, Captain D. A. Wickramasinghe in his Keells company car. After coming home, he told me, “Go to the front driveway and enjoy your 28th birthday present from Ammi and I, which has arrived two months in advance!” There was a nice, old English car parked in the driveway. It was a 1955 Riley with the original wooden interior panels, and the rest upgraded recently with a beautiful, bottle green colour. The fortune teller was right in his first prediction.
Exactly 10 years after my joining CHS as a first-year student and seven years since I had graduated, I returned to CHS, now as a Senior Lecturer. One of my former bosses and five years my senior at CHS, France-trained Indrapala Munasinghe also joined CHS on the same day as a Senior Lecturer. On arrival at CHS we were snubbed by the only other CHS Senior Lecturer at that time. I clearly felt that he was unhappy to accept me as his peer.
After a quick orientation, Mrs. Heenatigala wanted to have a one-on-one discussion with me. “Chandana, I have a challenge with some of the senior members of the teaching staff, who strongly feel that you are not qualified to be appointed as a Senior Lecturer”, she said. I was quick to say, “That’s too bad for them. I cannot go back to John Keells as I have resigned from their employment!” She then said, “I have a solution. Don’t start teaching yet. We will arrange for you to obtain a postgraduate scholarship as soon as possible. Until then, just spend your time observing at other’s classes and labs.”
An ILO & UNDP Fellowship
My next formal meeting with the CHS Principal was held just before Christmas. That meeting was very different. She happily announced, “I have a great Christmas present for you, Chandana. I managed to arrange an excellent fellowship in Hotel and Catering Training and Teaching for you in four European countries over a period of over three months starting early January, 1982. This is a prestigious, fully-paid fellowship funded and arranged by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Your first five weeks will be at a high level ‘Training Methodology’ study program at the Turin Centre – the professional training and education arm of the International Labour Organization (ILO).”
As my wife was unhappy to be separated for three months, I successfully negotiated with Mrs. Heenatigala and obtained her permission for my wife to travel with me to spend the whole fellowship period in Europe, provided that I pay her travel fare. We planned our trip with study programs in Italy, Switzerland, Scotland and England. In between the official stops, we managed to travel by ship and train to eight other European countries with quick visits to meet with a few relatives, CHS colleagues, friends and former guests of Hotel Ceysands and Hotel Swanee.
We had a great time, but I had one challenge. I was compelled to study hard, do educational assignments and pass examinations particularly at the Turin Centre in Italy, ILO headquarters in Switzerland and the University of Surrey in England. Strangely, I ended up enjoying those study programs and examinations. I decided to do further studies soon after the fellowship ended. My lifelong learning journey which commenced in 1982, never ended as I embarked on back-to-back study programs in a variety of subjects in different countries over the next forty years. The fortune teller was indeed right in his final prediction.
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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