Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sri Lankan New Constitution Needs To Unify All Communities

Intent on pushing through its planned constitutional reforms, the government is putting the final touches to the proposed legislative amendments. The amendments are said to be planned in three stages.

Several reforms, including the eligibility of a person to seek a third term presidency, expunging constitutional obstacles to the implementation of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution and some radical electoral reforms, are being considered by the government to be incorporated in the new constitution.

Intended Reforms
The government needs a two-thirds majority vote in Parliament to put into effect any constitutional reforms of this nature. Although it is only five votes to command that two-thirds majority, as things stand now it looks like it will be a light matter to harness those five vital votes from opposition benches. But if the government could push through the intended reforms with some help from various parties in the opposition it will have some positive effects in the area of national economic development.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), which are the major parties representing the minority communities have already flashed a green light for the proposed constitutional reforms.

Both parties have decided to back the constitutional reforms provided however that the government treats the urgency of a solution to long outstanding Tamil ethnic grievances on a top priority rating.

Ambitions and Agendas
The government would do well at this point in time to acknowledge the conditions stipulated by these two political parties, mend fences with them and then move on smoothly to the business of pushing through the planned constitutional reforms.

When new constitutions were introduced in the past they reflected the policies of the parties and personal agendas of the leaders of those parties who introduced those reforms. Those were the very reasons why the country could not sustain any meaningful long-term development strategy.

The first constitution of the country drawn up by Sir Ivor Jennings did not reflect the expectations and aspirations of the people of this country. He framed the entire thing without consulting as much as one other person.

The 1972 constitution which was introduced by former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike was also drawn up in a manner that secured her personal ambitions and agendas.

So, also was it with former President J.R. Jayewardene when he introduced the 1977 constitution to promote his personal ambitions.

Recurrence of Tragedies
All these constitutions failed to address the aspirations and grievances of minority communities in the country with the cumulative effect of disastrous repercussions on the entire nation. The disasters and scale of destruction let loose in the wake of these constitutional changes put back the country's development clock by several decades. Preempting the recurrence of the tragedies of the past now rests wholly in the hands of today's political leaders.

Different communities namely the Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Burghers are domiciled in Sri Lanka. They speak the Sinhala, Tamil and English languages and following different religions.

In the circumstances, the constitution of the country should be such that its provisions proactively foster the welfare and wellbeing of all communities in the country.

There is no need for hasty constitutional reforms. A general consensus approval of all sections of the people would be essential before such reforms are implemented. In order to fully exploit the potential of the opportunity now at hand, President Mahinda Rajapaksa would do well to first of all introduce constitutional changes, which will promote national harmony.

This will need an in-depth study of the constitutions of neighboring countries. For example, the Indian constitution was prepared only after multi-ethnic and multi-religious factors had been exhaustively studied. This is the basic reason why there has been a vast improvement in race relations in that country.

Extensive Deliberations
Today, the South African constitution is hailed as the best in the world. The Constitution of South Africa was also prepared after having extensive deliberations with different religious as well as ethnic communities in the country.

If Sri Lanka follows in their footsteps there will be nothing to prevent us seeing a new constitution that will unify all communities in this country.

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