(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) –It seems strange that the Joint Opposition (JO) disagrees with the government’s gesture to accept the most salient proposals made by the Joint Opposition itself, said Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe yesterday.
He said that most of the proposals made by the Joint Opposition, including the creation of a conducive environment for the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims to live peacefully protecting the unitary status were identical to that of the United National Party, as well as with the Tamil National Alliance.
Due to this reason, the Premier invited the Joint Opposition to join in order to make the effort successful through discussions.
He made these observations yesterday during the debate on the Interim Report of the Steering Committee on Constitutional Reforms in Parliament.
Premier Wickremesinghe said that Mahinda Rajapaksa, also, during the election, asked for a mandate to set up a Constitutional Council to formulate a new Constitution. He said that they too asked for the same during the General Election and we can’t go against the mandate.
“So, we have been bestowed the responsibility of drafting a Constitution Bill to be considered before Parliament for formulating a new Constitution for Sri Lanka,” Premier Wickremesinghe said. “What the Parliament has to do is only to pass same.”
The Prime Minister further said as an initiation, various Sub Committees were set up, including the Steering Committee and another seven Sub Committees. He added that the six Sub Committees were given six separate subjects.
He also added that in addition, another ad-hoc committee was appointed under the leadership of Minister Susil Premajayantha. He said that the reports of those committees have been handed over to this assembly.
“As the Constitutional Assembly we all got together, agreed and the first step was taken,” the Prime Minister said. “The Steering Committee decided to work on the other subjects which were not bestowed on any sub committee, including the nature of the state, on Buddhism, devolution of power, judiciary etc. While the discussions were in progress in the committees, Parliament queried that it needed to know as to what the committees were doing in this regard. Later, we prepared this interim report to keep the House informed, with several proposals.”
He said that there were no decisions here but only what was discussed there. He added that it was not a draft or a Constitution. The first section had the views and the second contained views of the members on the first section.
“Now we have to attend to the second step,” the Premier said. “After considering the Sub Committee reports and the views of the public the Steering Committee should direct a report to the Constitutional Assembly along with a Draft Constitution Bill. That is the step that we have to come to . So far we have not considered the reports of the sub committees and the public views. Now we have to consider those reports.”
He said then they would go to meet the Mahanayake Theras, the Anunayake Theras and religious dignitaries. He added so that this can’t be completed within two weeks. It might drag on for a few months. “As parties, let’s discuss them here,” the Premier said.
“Before we prepare our report we have a responsibility to have a wide corporation with the public and discuss with them and send the report back to the Constitutional Council. After the Constitutional Council Discussed the matter we can ask it to send their final report back to the Constitutional Assembly with the amendments. They can keep quiet or refuse what we have sent to them. But if the final report is not passed here everything can come to an end.”
Premier Wickremesinghe said that if it was passed before the Constitutional Council with a simple majority, it should be brought before Parliament. He added that if it was passed with a two thirds majority in Parliament, the same would be presented before the Cabinet of Ministers and brought same before the Parliament as the Constitution Bill. “But, if the Constitutional Council passed it with a two thirds majority, the same would be taken before the Cabinet of Ministers and Cabinet in turn would bring same before Parliament as the Constitution Bill. Thereafter Parliament could make a decision and then go for a referendum.”
He said that this could not be done instantly or divide the country. “There is no secret here,” the Premier said. “Now what we have got to do is to continue on. Most important here is that all the parties submitted their report for the first time. In 1972, the Federal Party did not participate. In 1978, the Tamil Liberation Front did not participate while the SLFP left after submitting a report. The package of G.L.Peiris was not agreed to and Tissa Vitharana’s one was not agreed with too.”
He queried should this process that was participated by all despite their differences be aborted or continued on. There are issues yet and we have to discuss and go forward.
The PM said from the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact the issues propped up. “When the Sinhala language was made the official language there was an issue with the Tamils and Rata Sabah. It proved a failure. The the Dudley- Chelvanayagam Pact was signed. At that time a Budddhist monk died in a protest and it came to an end,” Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said. “When the late J.R.Jayewardene formulated the 1978 Constitution the Tamil Liberation Front said that they had a mandate for a separate state. However, they participated in the District Development Sabha and asked for more powers. Although J.R. Jayewardene gave them, the others objected. If those additional powers were given to the District Development Sabha, we wouldn’t have had to face this today’s situation.”
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said that when the 13th Amendment was brought about there was criticism that the country would be divided, yet the Supreme Court maintained that the Unitary Status would be protected. “Those who criticized accept it today,” the Premier said.
“The war was over yet the issue is not over and has been extended to the Muslims too. Not only the Muslims, but the Mahanayake of the Malwatta Chapter had to face the situation too. But now lets go further. Lets discuss and find the best solution,”the Prime Minister said.
He further said that they were not there to wipe out the Sinhala Buddhists while being Sinhala Budddhists and to destroy the country’s unitary status. He said the Constitutional Assembly was not Maithripala Sirisena or Ranil Wickremesinghe, but all as a whole. Therefore, all should get together and have the honour of accomplishing it. He added that suggestions of all the parties should be heeded to.
“For example take the proposals of the Joint Opposition. They say that they suggest, as the Mahanayake Theras state, that a Constitution should not be formulated that affects the unitary status of country and the status accorded to Buddhism. Not only the JO, we too agree with it,” the Premier said.
At this stage the Joint Opposition members began to shout.
“When we agree the JO disagees with our stance. See what happens to the Mahanayake Theras”. “The JO suggests that an environment should be created for all Sinhalese, Muslims and Tamils to live peacefully, protecting the country’s unitary status. Even the Opposition Leader agrees, but not the JO. The other proposal of the JO is that the supremacy of the people should be protected .We too agree with that.”
“We are ready to consider to allow Section 5 of the 1978 Constitution to go unchanged as the JO suggests, We can protect Buddhism. Their proposal that the provinces should not be merged can be discussed as it cannot be done without the peoples’ mandate. Once you suggested to divide the country as Ruhunu, Maya, Pihiti and we agree if the people agree to do so,” the Premier said. “Another proposal was that the Presidential system should be changed and we can discuss it too. Another proposal was to elect the Prime Minister within the Parliament and it can be done. The other proposal that the Opposition Leader should be elected within the Opposition in Parliament. But Prasanna disagrees with their own proposal. That is not our issue.”
The Premier stated that he also readily agrees with the JO’s proposal that the Provincial Council system should not be a threat to the unitary status. “We too try to fulfill the pledge of the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to grant 13 plus, protecting the country’s unitary status,” the Premier said. “The other proposal is that the powers of Local Government institutions should be increased. I like it, but some Ven. monks do not agree. The proposal says that local businessmen should be strengthened. We agree and let us give back what was acquired from Daya Gamage to strengthen the local businessman.”
The Prime Minister proposed, since the government agrees with the proposals of the Joint Opposition he would invite them to work together to make the effort fruitful.