Cabinet Spokesman and Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne said yesterday the yahapalana government had been given a mandate by 6.2 million voters to introduce a new Constitution and that the final Constitutional draft had to be studied before making any comments on it.
He told the weekly cabinet news briefing that there was no reason to look at other options in place of a new Constitution amid the statement issued by the Thrinikaika Sangha Sabhava saying that a new 'Constitution was not the need of the hour' taking center stage at the weekly cabinet news briefing.
Ministers Senaratne and Dayasiri Jayasekara responded when journalists asked about the government’s stance on this statement.
Journalist: The Mahasangha have requested the government not to introduce a new Constitution and if necessary bring electoral reforms. What is the government’s stance on this matter?
Minister Senaratane: This government has a mandate from 6.2 million voters to introduce a new Constitution.
Journalist: Don’t you think that there will be a strong impact on the mindset of the people against a new Constitution when the Mahasngha opposes it?
Minister Senaratne: This is what has happened since 1958. When the Sinhala was made the State language, Tamil extremists said the Tamil language will be finished. But from what can be seen it was not so. Whether we need a new Constitution or not will be decided by the 225 parliamentarians and the people of this country. The final Constitutional draft is still to be finalised and the contents will be known only after that work was completed.
Minister Jayasekara: I don’t understand why this matter is discussed on the roadside, in boutiques and temples. It is unnecessary to do so. This country has suffered a lot because of extremism and malicious mindsets of a few. Not only Tamils and Muslims but even the Sinhalese have suffered a lot because of this kind of negative thinking. The final decision on power devolution and the unitary character of the country will be clearly stated in the final draft. We have not come to that stage up to now.
Journalist: But there is no consensus on the main issues like power devolution, the unitary character of the country and the executive presidency among the main two political parties -- the UNP and the SLFP and even within the parties.
Minister Jayasekara: That is what I say. We will introduce a draft Constitution that contains suggestions and the aspirations of all stakeholders. Parliament which convened as a Constitutional Assembly has appointed six committees to consider various proposals and there are six reports before the Constitutional Assembly. It is highly unethical to discuss these matters piecemeal.
Journalist: But there are different views among different people and groups on the new Constitution.
Minister Senaratne: That may be. But we have to consider the majority view. When Parliament approves the draft Constitution by a two-thirds majority it will become the basic law. However, if the Supreme Court rules that a referendum is necessary the government will have to conduct a referendum. Every effort to introduce a new Constitution will come to an end should the people reject the new Constitution at a referendum That is why the final say is with the people. It is glad to hear that TNA and Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan says that the Tamils will accept a Constitution only if the Sinhalese accept it.
Minister Jayasekara: We must keep in mind that introducing a new Constitution is not a job that should be done only by the Sinhalese. It must be a collective effort with the participation of all Sri Lankans and approved by all Sri Lankans.
A Tamil newspaper journalist: The statement issued by the Mahasangha has created a kind of antipathy among the Tamils. They think the attempt is to disrupt reconciliation and power sharing.
Minister Senaratne: This was what has happened right throughout. In 1972, Ms. Sirimavo Bandaranaike introduced a new Constitution to strengthen herself. In 1978, J.R. Jayewardene did the same by introducing the second Republican Constitution. Mahinda Rajapaksa introduced the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 2010 to acquire absolute power as the executive and none of those leaders considered power devolution or reconciliation. The only person who did it was President Maithripala Sirisena who introduced the 19th Amendment and voluntarily pruned his own powers. He will not introduce a new Constitution without consulting all Sri Lankans.
Minister Jayasekara: No one, no organization nor any group must destroy this country. Besides, there is nothing for the government to hide. We are doing in a transparent and acceptable manner. (Sandun A Jayasekera)