By Dharisha Bastians
The Tamil National Alliance yesterday expressed disappointment over the delays in formulating a mechanism to draft a new constitution for Sri Lanka, and urged the Government and all Sri Lankans to seize the historic opportunity to change the country’s Governance culture.
Addressing a media briefing at the Opposition Leader’s Office in Colombo yesterday, TNA Spokesman and Jaffna District Legislator M.A. Sumanthiran said the Tamil party did not want to see a dilution of the constitution- making exercise, even as the President sought consensus on the mechanism to draft the new supreme law.
“The whole constitution making exercise is aimed at changing the governance culture in Sri Lanka. It is important that this change happens,” Sumanthiran told reporters.
“It is important that the objectives stated in the preamble of the resolution presented to Parliament on 9 January be achieved,” he said, adding that the Government should move forward, keep to time-limits and set up a constitutional assembly without delay.
“The President’s desire for consensus must not be used by regressive forces to scuttle this constitution making project,” Sumanthiran asserted.
The TNA Lawmaker said that the effort made by the Government to enact a new constitution was important, because it was also an attempt to redress the grievances of a people who were “small in number”, and as a result of those numbers have suffered deprivation.
“If we are to put behind us the bitter experiences of the past and move forward as one country, there must be a new set of rules by which we must engage with one and other,” he added. This new set of rules had to be introduced through a new constitution, the TNA Spokesman said. “A new constitution won’t solve all our problems. But it is an important first step towards this new engagement,” he added.
Sumanthiran said the TNA was less concerned with labels referring to ‘unitary’ or ‘federal’ character of the state, but more interested in what the new power sharing proposals would entail.
“The Tamil people have made it clear in one their political aspirations for power sharing – not as a separate nation, but within Sri Lanka, in a country where they can also have a share in governance,” he explained.
The TNA Lawmaker said that consensus on devolution was not impossible, citing the 2000 draft constitution drawn up by the Chandrika Kumaratunga administration. “Known as the GL-Neelan consensus, that draft constitution was approved by the entire cabinet, which included Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was a minister at the time. Even the UNP only opposed the constitution on the basis of the continuation of the executive presidency, and not the proposals for power sharing,” Sumanthiran explained.
He recalled that the question of sharing power had arisen in 1949, soon after independence. In the drafting of Sri Lanka’s first republican constitution in 1970, the concerns of the Tamil people, which were much less than separatism or federalism had been shot down by majorities in the constitutional assembly, Sumanthiran said.
“Such acts of majoritarian tyranny led us to all the bitter experiences of the past,” he said. The idea that majority numbers can suppress the political aspirations of a minority people is not in keeping with democratic principles, he added.
“For the first time we have a Tamil party that is willing to participate and contribute to the constitution making process. We have two main parties sharing power in Government. This opportunity is not to be missed,” Sumanthiran urged.