When the six sub-committees submitted their reports with proposals for constitution-making on different subjects, it was thought that the process would progress. Yet, it has proven otherwise, as the process has hit a snag due to the fundamental differences arising among the major stakeholders, about the contours of the proposed constitution.
The Steering Committee, entrusted with the task of drafting a report for consideration by Parliament in the evolution of the new Constitution based on the sub-committee recommendations, is planning to present an initial draft this month. But, on the issue of power devolution, differences of opinion have surfaced, casting doubts over the possibility of legislating on the Constitution with a two-thirds majority in Parliament, and approval of the people by a referendum.
SLFP sticks to original policy
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), led by President Maithripala Sirisena, has spelled out that it would take its official stand, in line with the provisions outlined in the first Republican Constitution enacted in 1972 under the government of the then Prime Minister, the late Sirimavo Bandaranaike. It accorded the foremost status to Buddhism as the majority religion, and declared Sri Lanka as a unitary state.The status-quo has remained in the second Republican Constitution that came into being in 1978 under a United National Party (UNP) government.
At the Steering Committee meeting held on Tuesday, the SLFP reiterated that the unitary character of the Constitution and the foremost place accorded to Buddhism should remain intact. Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), a constituent of the government has also taken a similar line. Therefore, consensus with other major parties such as the UNP and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) looks difficult at the moment.
The principal aim of the constitution-making process is to work out a power devolution arrangement to the Tamil national question. A unitary state is a state governed as a single power in which the central government is ultimately supreme and any administrative division exercises only powers that the central government decides to delegate by way of legislations.
Today, the Provincial Councils of Sri Lanka use powers delegated by the Parliament of the central government. They can be taken over at any time by the Parliament, either with a simple or two-thirds majority.
Federalism, on the other hand, is a political system in which the national government and the provinces have their own powers demarcated by the Constitution.
Today, the word ‘unitary’ has become politically sensitive. As such, extra attention is being paid on the terminologies in wording the provisions of the new Constitution. It is anticipated that the advocates of Federalism will employ their technocrats to hide behind the label ‘unitary’ but to have provisions for the devolution of power in the actual context. In other words, it is said, there are attempts to name the proposed Constitution ‘unitary’ despite having provisions for devolution of power to the periphery, in line with Federal principles.
So, those against Federalism are focussing much on the content of the Constitution, to identify such moves. The current status on the process has led to clear divisions of opinion.
Debate in January
Let alone that, the Steering Committee decided on Monday, to have a debate on the new constitutional proposals in Parliament on January 9, 10 and 11.
The views, to be expressed during the debate, will also be considered in drafting the final report. The government is keen to show some progress in this direction, before the March session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Sri Lanka will be featured during this session. The UNHRC will review the progress of implementing the provisions of its resolution, even co-sponsored by Sri Lanka. A political solution is what Sri Lanka is committed to do, among others in the resolution.
TNA engages MS to speed up Constitution making
Against this backdrop, the TNA, the main party seeking extensive power devolution to the provinces, met with President Sirisena last Friday to discuss the future of the Constitution making exercise.
The President, in fact said, he would ask Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to talk to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Mr. Rajapaksa’s Joint Opposition holds sway in mass mobilization against the constitutional process. So, if Mr. Rajapaksa can be won over, the protest being built in the south, can be neutralized. That might be the reason for the President to make such remarks.
The TNA sounds confident that the President is genuine about the constitution-making process. All the 16 TNA MPs attended this meeting.
Sri Lanka growing in significance for US
Ahead of the March session of the UNHRC, some Sri Lankan analysts believe the United States, under its President elect Donald Trump, will soften its approach to Sri Lanka at the UNHRC. The President also seems to be thinking in that way, as he said he would seek fresh engagement with Mr. Trump and ask him to free Sri Lanka of this problem.
Opinions and counter opinions are still expressed in the political field on the outcome of the US election. Some still find it difficult to cope with the loss of Hilary Clinton whereas others with a nationalist bent are elated over it.
Despite all that, Sri Lanka is growing in significance for the US, as a hub in the Indian Ocean region, as asserted by the visiting Navy Admiral Harry Harris, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command. In his address to the Galle Dialogue, he summed up this point when he said, “The Indian Ocean matters to the United States. Sri Lanka matters to the United States. And I believe that the United States matters to Sri Lanka.”
He said, “Colombo is a beautiful modern city that reveals the ancient heritage of Sri Lanka around every corner. I’m thrilled to have the chance to get to know the people of this country better, as I work to deepen our military-to-military relationship.”
“And more generally speaking, it’s great to be here in the Indian Ocean part of the vast Indo-Asia-Pacific region. I’m sometimes asked why I use the term ‘Indo-Asia-Pacific’ instead of the more commonly used term ‘Asia-Pacific’ when describing this critical region.”
My answer is simple. ‘Indo-Asia-Pacific’ more accurately captures the fact that the Indian and Pacific Oceans are the economic lifeblood linking the Indian Sub-continent, Southeast Asia, Australia, Northeast Asia, Oceania, and the United States together. Oceans that once were physical and psychological barriers that kept us apart are now maritime super-highways that bring us together.”
“As the first American four-star officer to visit Sri Lanka in almost a decade, I’m pleased to see the strengthening of security ties between our countries – making my description of this strategically significant region even more apt.”
“I’ve heard it said that there were three things that one must take into consideration when evaluating strategic significance: location, location, and location. As State Minister of Defence Wijewardene just said, Sri Lanka is a strategically important location – truly the pearl of the Indian Ocean on one of our planet’s most critical trade routes.
“You can’t get from Hormuz to Malacca – or from the Red Sea to the South China Sea – without going near Sri Lanka. This east-west trade route links the global economy. Thanks to unimpeded sea lanes, the Strait of Malacca sees over 25 percent of global oil shipments each day, and the South China Sea sees $5.3 trillion in annual global trade. Modern life everywhere depends on this region’s stability. But location without stability and security is a hollow place. That’s something to keep in mind as we discuss the theme of this year’s Galle Dialogue, ‘Fostering Strategic
Indeed, I submit that the rules-based international order – or what I’ve been calling the ‘global operating system’ since I stole that phrase from my good friend Danny Russel – has been underwriting prosperity throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific for the last seven decades,”
It means that the US will not lose Sri Lanka as a strategic point, and whatever happens here matters to them. That is again in defence co-operation. We have to wait and see what is in store for Sri Lanka in political relationship with the US.
New party pushes for LG Polls
Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) is elated about its victories at most elections to the co-operative societies. Party politics is totally against the principles of the co-operative movement which are older than 100 years in Sri Lanka. The SLPP, the newly formed political party backed by the Joint Opposition, has bagged most co-operative societies, as of now. At electoral level, the co-operative societies virtually comprise samples of voters. So, their verdict in the election of members to the respective local bodies is interpreted as the possible outcome of the local authorities’ election.
With this in mind, the SLPP, backed by the Joint Opposition, pushes for the local authorities’ election as soon as possible. All 335 local bodies now function without