Chennai, December 30 (The New Indian Express): The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government’s efforts to give Sri Lanka a new constitution to address the vexed ethnic issue and strengthen democracy have hit a rough patch.
While there were broad-based and transparent public consultations and the various sub-committees have submitted their reports to the Steering Committee presided over by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremsinghe, there is, as yet, no clarity as regards the fundamental issues which have plagued Sri Lankan polity since independence from Britain in 1948.
Contentious issues such as the Nature of the State, whether it will be federal or unitary; the Unit of Devolution, whether the Northern and Eastern provinces will be united to form a single Tamil-speaking province; and whether Buddhism will retain its “foremost place”; have been left to the Steering Committee. But till date, there is no word from that committee, even though the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government is about to complete two years in office.
However, the Steering Committee’s reticence on the fundamental issues is understandable given the heat these generate in the ethnically divided Sri Lankan polity. While the minority Tamils insist on turning Sri Lanka into a federal state and unifying the North and East to form a “Tamil Homeland” (within Sri Lanka), the majority Sinhalese see these steps as stepping stones to secession. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is re-merging, has said that there could be power sharing at the Center but not autonomous ethnic ghettos.
Tamils and Muslims want Sri Lanka to be a secular state, but the majority Sinhalese-Buddhists want Buddhism to be the “foremost religion” with the state obliged to protect it.
The division on these issues is not just between the government and the opposition but is found within the rainbow coalition in power. While a section of the government is for radical change and has threatened to quit if its demands are not met, the majority are agitating against any change.
While there is wide support for the introduction of the First Past the Post System, the small and minority parties are demanding a substantial place for Proportional Representation.
(The featured picture at the top shows the main chamber of the Sri Lankan parliament)