- I see no reason why the majority of public could not agree to the word ‘United’, instead of ‘Unitary’ - M.A.Sumanthiran
- Prof. Ghai drafted Kenya’s and Papua New Guinea’s Constitutions
- Federal State is the last nail that will be driven into the coffin of reconciliation
- Fear and mistrust crept into Sinhalese in the South as if any change is made to the word ‘Unitary’
Prof. Yash Ghai, a Harvard Scholar and Prof. Emeritus of the Nairobi University, was a Kenyan who had over the years been regarded as an international expert in constitutional making. It was a great honour for the University of Nairobi to have educated and nurtured such a magnificent scholar. He has been invited by many developing countries to formulate and assist in the drafting of their own Constitutions.
Most modern scholars feel that the Kenyan Constitution is one of the clearest examples of a near perfect Democratic Constitution. Prof. Ghai was responsible for almost its entire draft. He was also responsible in drafting the Constitution of Papua New Guinea. In fact a few weeks ago, Lal Wijenayake, Attorney-at-Law referred to the Kenyan Constitution and said that we should be able to adopt our own Constitution based on the Kenyan Experience. After the promulgation of the near perfect constitution the Presidential Election resulted in 44 deaths and a rigged election. The Supreme Court annulled the election and ordered a fresh one. The main opposition candidate withdrew his candidature. From the time the Supreme Court gave this order the Chief justice and the other judges were under constant threat and on the day Prof. Ghai was addressing the BASL the Deputy Chief Justice was shot at and the Driver had been injured. So much so for Kenyan experience.
‘Democracy Reporting International’ (DRI) is a German NGO from Berlin and its perceived objectives are, to promote Political Participation of Citizens, Accountability of State Bodies and the Development of Democratic Institutions, worldwide. These objectives are truly honourable and well conceived.
They had invited Prof. Ghai to Sri Lanka to educate Sri Lankans of the need to promulgate a New Constitution. The Bar Association has quite correctly invited Prof. Ghai at the instance of the DRI, to participate in a seminar organized by them, where the objective of the DRI was to foster a public debate on Constitutional Making Process, the Rights of the Citizens and to Enhance the Awareness of the General Public regarding the Constitutional Making Process.
The BASL was very careful in who they invited to the panel; both sides of the divide, for and against the present Constitutional Process. At the seminar, Prof. Ghai made a laborious effort to eradicate the fear of Federalism in the minds of Sri Lankans, drawing from universal experiences like Canada, and he strived to prove that the fear of Federalism is nothing but a terminology used by Constitutional Experts, which would be an indivisible country. Therefore, in order to bring in national reconciliation and foster goodwill between the two or three ethnic groups, federalism could be adopted with certain modifications in order that the minority groups will feel safe and secure with any future Constitution.
The allegations, which had not been founded on any evidence, is that our present constitutional process is being funded by the powers of the West, who had vehemently opposed the war to eradicate terrorism. They also say the present Government has become a tool in the hands of the super powers who are interested in manipulating our country’s resources, and our sovereignty. Even if one dismisses this as outlandish street gossip,which should have been destined to the dustbin, one cannot, if possessed with unbiased independent view, question the involvement of the DRI, the German NGO in Sri Lanka and its chief spokesperson Prof. Ghai, who believes that the Canadian example and the Kenyan example would help the Sri Lankan Constitutional process without any perceivable objections.
The allegations, which had not been founded on any evidence, is that our present constitutional process is being funded by the powers of the West, who had vehemently opposed the war to eradicate terrorism
As far as the Canadian Example is concerned the referendum held in 1995 where the separatist nearly won their battle for a separate state of Quebec , is the last refuge for those who advocate Undivided or unitary Sri Lanka.
It is very clear that Prof. Ghai, the best spokesperson and Ambassador for Federalism, was imported by Democracy Reporting International (DRI), who seem to believe that the only acceptable solution for the international community is the solution that is being advocated by the TNA. Therefore, the allegation that international interference in our constitutional process is more or less proved by the manner in which they invited Prof. Ghai, who was acclaimed by M.A. Sumanthiran PC, as having even influenced the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, where in a judgment the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka quoted a passage from one of his many treatise, with approval.
I do not know whether Dr. Ghai was briefed about the solemn understanding given by the President and Prime Minister that this present Constitution will not lead to a Federal State. The statement and any overt or subvert insinuation that this would lead to a Federal State is the last nail that will be driven into the coffin of reconciliation.
Otherwise, this would only lead to sentiments like Wimal Weerawansa, virtually justifying his brother-in-law’s action of throwing a bomb at the Parliament. The word ‘federalism’, is a favourite and most loved word by the Sinhala Chauvinists who would permit raising the ugly head of racism to prevent any reconciliation.
But, the real intentions of the TNA are yet to be known. Parliamentarian Sumanthiran was very explicit in trying to defend what is found in the English translation of the word, ‘Unitary State’. He sees no reason why the majority of public could not agree to the word ‘United’, instead of ‘Unitary’. He also stressed, “Why should Buddhism be given a special status in the Constitution?” “I am not a Buddhist. By having this clause in the Constitution, you have discriminated against other religions”. I do not know what the Prime Minister or the President have to say about this statement.
This would lead to even a moderate, conciliatory Buddhist siding the radical, racialist elements in the Southern Camp. This was realized by His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, who said he would support the Buddhists in their struggle to keep Buddhism in the rightful place, which is the place given by the 1978 Constitution.
Every single politician and those of the majority community who are very sympathetic to the Tamils and Muslims should remember that neither the words ‘Unitary’ in Article 2 and Article 9; the place given to Buddhism are‘not negotiable’ and one would postulate that if the intentions of the TNA are genuine and if they do not want any division of the country today or in the future, and would love to work in a united framework, they must get over this question of ‘Unitary’ and Buddhism and go ahead with other progressive resolutions to devolve power to the periphery. I felt saddened by the very sincere statement made by Sumanthiran, that unlike their predecessors who refused to participate in the Constitutional-making process and walked away from Constitutional Assemblies, they have decided to work with the two major parties and agree to anything that they propose to bring forth a new Constitution.
The remark that shook me was when Sumanthiran said he and R. Sampanthan, a genial person and the senior mentor of the TNA, are considered as traitors by the general public of Jaffna for having agreed to participate as Members of the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly. The Tamil papers are full of articles calling them traitors for having agreed with the major parties.
Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran, when you made that remark, I feared for your safety, security and well being. As a moderate and my sincere wish is that the fate that fell upon the leaders of the TULF, A. Amirthalingam, V. Yogeswaran and my senior M. Sivasithamparam and TULF leader and politician, Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam, who was my classmate at Royal College and my contemporary at Law College, would not fall upon the two of you.
Mr. Sumanthiran, your contention, that these are sentiments expressed by a minority of the Tamil people, does not hold water as the leadership to these extreme elements are given by your own Chief Minister, C. V. Vigneswaran, M. K. Sivajilingam and Ananthi Sasitharan.
But, the real intentions of the TNA are yet to be known. Parliamentarian Sumanthiran was very explicit in trying to defend what is found in the English translation of the word, ‘Unitary State’.
Fear and the mistrust have crept into the heart and soul of the Sinhalese in the South as if any change is made to the word ‘Unitary’ and if the place given to Buddhism is taken away, it would be a stepping stone for separation. Though the moderates like R. Sampanthan would cry hoarse and state that the devolution could be achieved through a united undivided Sri Lanka; it would be thrown to the fire and the extreme elements would capture political power with the Tamil Diaspora.
What they could not even achieve even after 30 years of war, they could do so through a Constitutional process, backed by a supine Government beholden to the minority vote.
Another aspect which worries the Southerners is the fact that the present Government has lost its credibility in the undemocratic manner it virtually blocked the intervention of the Supreme Court in the Provincial Council Amendment Bill.
The support the TNA wholeheartedly gave this piece of legislation makes any fair minded pro-devolutionary citizen in the South suspect the intentions of the Government and the TNA.