ur collective prayers have been answered and the Presidential election is over with little violence as feared by many. My own doubts and fears about the state of democracy and the political wisdom of our voting public have been laid to rest. As in Post-WW II Britain, at a time when Winston Churchill as the Prime Minister, was held in great admiration and awe, as a hero whose leadership helped save Britain and Europe from the scourge of Nazism, he was soundly defeated in the general election that followed. While the British public acknowledged with deep gratitude the service and leadership of their war time PM, they opted for another to lead them - to a lasting peace, during which period India and other colonies gained their independence, and the British Empire was dismantled -a task which Churchill had openly declined to participate in. I see similar wisdom demonstrated in SL, where the people have opted for a leadership to usher in a lasting peace in our troubled land. I have confidence that these hopes are well grounded and can be achieved with the support of peace loving men and women of goodwill of all races and faiths, in our multi-cultural and multi-facetted society, who I believe comprise the silent majority.
The other important factor that contributed to the changes seen, was the people’s perception of the growing corruption and misuse of public funds and what can be described as “unjust self enrichment”, which resulted in the growth of the “Casino culture”, eroding the value structure and ethics taught by the four great religions practised in our land. This trend was seen even in India where the Modi government swept into power, as a backlash against rampant corruption observed. The dictum -”Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” come to mind. Of course the new dispensations in both neighbouring countries, need to deliver on their promise to be truly transparent and accountable in their governance. This is the greatest need.
A right of information act, and other such measures, which will help reinforce the Rule of Law, will be urgent needs
The need for Constitutional change is on the lips of many right thinking people. We have had two new republican constitutions since Independence - in 1972 and in 1978. We now have a hybrid presidential form of Government which has reposed enormous powers in the incumbent President and virtually placed him above the law. Although there were Constituent Assemblies assembled to draft these constitutions, many hold the view that they were the brainchild of dominant personalities of the time, Colvin R. de Silva and the Jayawardene brothers. As far as I am aware there was little consultation with the right thinking public, the professionals, constitutional lawyers and intellectuals, minority political leaders, religious leaders and others so vitally important if this document was to serve the purpose of safeguarding peace, justice and good governance in the land.
At this time when much is being talked about the need for important changes to the Constitution or indeed drafting a new one, it is my view that adequate thought and emphasis needs to be given to the manner in which this objective can be best achieved, with lasting benefit to the Nation. We can learn from the experience of other lands. The experience of South Africa [SA] comes readily to mind.
At a recent seminar to commemorate the life of Nelson Mandela, held at the OPA [of which I am a member of the Forum, as a nominee of the IESL], the SA Ambassador , was the lead speaker, and in response to my question, explained at some length the long process by which the new SA Constitution was formulated and enacted. Every effort had been made to get inputs from all sections of the intelligensia. SA like our land, had gone through a long, bitter and divisive period of virtual civil war and armed conflict. Peace had been restored and a fresh Constitution needed to be adopted, to be the foundation for a lasting peace. That had been achieved in the most participatory manner possible. This is reflected in the drafting of the “Preamble” found on the page of the Constitution document.-[which is a booklet of 181 pages.]
The first two paras of the preamble are quoted below
“We the people of South Africa, recognise the injustices of our past;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
Respect those who worked to build and develop our country; and Believe that SA belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.
We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to -
Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice fundamental human rights;
Lay the foundation for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and build a united and democratic SA able to take its rightful place as a sovereign
state in the family of nations.”
“May God protect our people .............” [ Also words in other SA languages]
Perhaps it is opportune to consider not only the need to redraft or to amend the existing SL constitution, but the best manner in which this may be done -to be of lasting benefit. The South African experience in drafting their Constitution, as also the experience of other functioning democracies eg. the USA and India may be considered. Being a multi-cultural society, we need to have a Constitution which will be inclusive and promote a truly inclusive Sri Lankan Identity, as the SA constitution has so effectively done. Tinkering with provisions, without an in-depth study through a wide consultative process, may not be adequate in achieving good governance and a truly lasting peace. [It can perhaps at best be a first step].
Visit by His Holiness the Pope.
An event which can contribute greatly towards maintaining peace, tranquility and goodwill in our land during this somewhat divisive post-election period, is the visit to our country by Pope Francis. He is universally seen as a Godly man, whose simple and sincere lifestyle speaks much more eloquently than words of Christian values of integrity and service, which he espouses.. His visit will be a Blessing to our land and its people, where happily, people of different faiths live side by side, with much goodwill towards each other. SL can demonstrate to the world that a lasting peace can flow from a spirit of “live and let live” and by being a truly tolerant society, where the sanctity of life, as taught by all our great religions, -reigns supreme.
The writer is a Chartered Civil Engineer and Arbitrator, and is a Forum member of the OPA, - as a nominee of the IESL [The Institution of Engineers, Sri Lanka.]