There is an ongoing process to make a ‘new constitution’ for Sri Lanka to replace the existing, which has been amended 19 times. The first Constitution for Sri Lanka, commonly called the Soulbury was a document drafted by British colonial ruler, Herwald Ramsbotham Soulbury.
The first Constitution lasted for 25 years from 1947 to 1972. In 1972, the first indigenous, Republican Constitution was introduced. The present second
Republican Constitution of 1978 is still operative for the last 39 years.
There is a sense of unease among Sri Lanka’s Buddhist community against the country’s 2.2 million Tamils, who comprise 11.21 per cent of the population, over the new Constitution drafting process.
The new constitution making process officially started with the appointment of 19 members for a committee on Constitutional Reform in January 2016. Their report was released in May 2016. Meanwhile, a constitutional assembly was established by a parliamentary resolution on 9th March 2016 with the appointment of 21-member steering committee chaired by Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe. The steering committee had its first sitting on 5th April 2016.
The Wijenayake committee report, six sub-committee reports and the interim report of the steering committee (IRSC) created unrest within the Sri Lankan community. Overwhelming majority of Sinhalese community led by Buddhist monks made the following points:
• There is no mandate given to the government to introduce a new constitution. It is being dictated by several International NGOs and western countries.
• The process neglects Sinhalese people; the new constitution is a result of a presidential election promise given to Tamil National Alliance (TNA).
• The interim report aims to abolish the executive presidency and make ‘province’ as the primary unit of devolution. Currently District is considered the basic administrative unit of Sri Lanka.
• Further IRSC recommends recognising the Northern and Eastern Provinces as a single Province. Motivation to carry forward the fundamental concept of Northern and Eastern provinces are traditional homeland of the “Tamil people”
Sinhala community is of the view that certain recommendations mentioned in the IRSC would weaken the ‘centre’ and strengthen the ‘periphery’ in a ‘disproportionate’ manner.
They further point out that self-governed Northeastern province eventually will result in a Kosovo like state and also a precursor for the separatist movements in Tamil Nadu.”
Professor Channa Jayasumana is the Secretary of National University Teachers Association, Sri Lanka.
(The column was first carried in National Herald on Sunday. What’s carried here are edited excerpts).