Proposed constitution facing stillbirth?

Last Saturday President Maithripala Sirisena who was in Jaffna to inaugurate the National Tamil Language Day celebrations, took his security detail by surprise after he threw caution to the winds and abruptly alighted from his official vehicle to confront a group of protesters in Jaffna. The President was in Jaffna to inaugurate the National Tamil Language Day celebrations at the Jaffna Hindu College when the incident took place. According to eyewitnesses the President had calmly walked up to the black flag waving protesters and inquired into their problems.

The protesters numbering around 75 and led by former MP M.K. Sivajilingam, along with Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) Leader Suresh Premachandran and Attorney Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam told the President to settle the issue of the LTTE prisoners who are being held without charges.

The President later revealed that he asked the protesters to bring white flags of peace and unity instead of black flags. Though the protesters led by Tamil politicians were reluctant to have any discussions, a group of people led by Northern Provincial Councilor M.K. Sivajilingam met President Sirisena on Thursday (19) at the Presidential Secretariat in Colombo.

During this meeting, they presented their demands to the President and requested him to provide presidential pardon to the Tamil prisoners detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Their demand involves the release of those who have not been prosecuted yet and of those whose trials have already begun.

The delegation also requested to keep these suspects separated from other prisoners who have been convicted for various corruption charges including drug smuggling and provide them vocational training.

They said the case filed under the PTA has been taken up for hearing at Vavuniya Court and later transferred into Anuradhapura Court. They requested the President to transfer that case back to the Vavuniya Court. After this meeting, representatives of the Tamil Students Association of Jaffna University met the President. They also requested to transfer that PTA case to Vavuniya Court again. They pointed out several protests are carried out there due to this reason.

Taking this request into consideration, the President directed the Attorney General’s Department to examine the possibility of taking the required action in this regard. At this meeting, the President pointed out that both parties can get a clear idea by discussing the issues. He said it helps to avoid misunderstandings. President Sirisena said he would make a statement on the measures that could be taken to resolve the matter after discussing it at length with the Attorney General, Police and other relevant authorities.

Minister Sagala Rathnayake, Governor of Northern Province Reginald Cooray, Secretary to the President Austin Fernando, Defence Secretary Kapila Waidyarathne and the Attorney General Jayantha Jayasuriya were among those participated at this meeting.

Protesting Constitution

Government’s plans to bring a new Constitution or introduce major amendments to the current one, seemed to have reached a deadlock by last week with those with strong Sinhala Buddhist ideologies protesting alleged attempts to make Sri Lanka a secular country, Tamil groups led by the TNA demanding the Northern and Eastern Provinces to be merged as one administrative unit and Muslims who do not want to compromise, voicing their concerns about Eastern Province being merged to the North.

It is in the midst of this that President Sirisena urged all the citizens of the country to be aware of the attempts by some sections of society to mislead the public regarding a new Constitution which is still not drafted.

He said: “We had to face a nearly three decade long, brutal war as a result of not providing solutions for the issues in the country in timely and appropriate manner.” President Sirisena requested all the Sri Lankans, as true human beings who love the country, to join with him to build peace and reconciliation among all the communities.

He made these remarks while addressing the Deepavali Festival 2017 organized by the Presidential Secretariat to mark the Festival of Light at the President’s House in Colombo on Thursday (19) evening.

“When the current government is re-building the friendship and mutual understanding which were lost due to thirty-year long war, some extremists are trying to destroy this process,” he said.

The President explained the importance to recognize the identities of all cultures in the country.

“We haven’t drafted any Constitution so far. What was submitted to Parliament was only a report based on drafting a Constitution.

We only want to take ideas and proposals in that regard,” he stated.

His remarks came following Prime Minister’s outburst against media (especially mainstream newspapers) for allegedly spinning a news story about Chief Prelates of Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters ‘deciding’ once again that the country does not need a new Constitution.

Visibly annoyed Prime Minister Wickremesinghe who accused mainstream media of being irresponsible and misleading the public, stressed he will question Diyawadana Nilame of the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy on the matter in which the Chief Prelate of Malwatta Chapter has been wrongly attributed in media as being opposed to the new Constitution.

“When I reached out to the Mahanayake of the Malwatte Chapter, he told me that he had made no such statement and that he was not even in the country. How can the media claim he made such statement? The media is clearly misleading the public”.

He said that the Mahanayake had made a sound statement concerning the new Constitution on an earlier date and that the latter was well aware that a new Constitution had not been drafted but was still in the stages of discussions.

The Prime Minister then noted that he had later been informed that it was in fact the Diyawadana Nilame that had called the press conference and made statements regarding the new Constitution.

“If it was the Diyawadana Nilame who made these claims then his name and picture should have been carried and not of the Mahanayake’s and I will be questioning the Diyawadana Nilame regarding this matter soon”.

He then called on the media personnel present at the occasion to call their editors and inquire as to how such a story about the Malwatte Mahanayake was published when the Prelate was not even in the country.

However, the Mahanayake Thera of the Malwatte Chapter is yet to make a statement on the matter. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that he would go against the views of the majority in the governing body – a necessity in a democratic body – which the Prime Minister may find difficult to relate to.

The Karaka Maha Sangha Sabha, of the Malwatte and the Asgiriya Chapters which met in Kandy on Wednesday (18) with the participation of Anunayake of the Malwatte Maha Viharaya, Ven. Dimbulkumbure Wimaladharma Thera; the Anunayakes of the Asgiriya Maha Viharaya, Ven. Wendaruwe Upali Thera and Ven. Anamaduwe Sri Dammadassi Nayaka Thera, said that there is no need for a new Constitution or even amendments to the present Constitution, and urged the Government to stop the Constitution drafting process immediately.

Anunayake of the Malwatte Maha Viharaya, Ven. Dimbulkumbure Wimaladharma Thera, after the meeting that went on for about two hours, told the media that the proposed Constitution will lead to a division of power going down to the level of Pradeshiya Sabhas or local bodies.

“The present Constitution is good for us. We will express our protest after briefing the Mahanayakes of the Asgiriya and Malwatte Chapters, and the Ramanna and Amarapura Nikayas. We urge the Government to stop the drafting process immediately. The President’s powers should be intact. However, an electoral system based on first-past-the- post system is necessary,” the Thera said.

Lekhakadikari of Asgiriya Chapter Dr. Medagama Dhammananda Thera said introducing a new Constitution at this juncture will lead to communal and ethnic divisions.

“The proposals made in the proposed Constitution are detrimental to the unitary character of Sri Lanka. Decentralization of State power will create a serious situation. It is evident that the country will be divided,” he said.

Though many have criticized the Maha Sangha of getting involved in national politics and intervening in decision making, it is quite evident that not only the Maha Sangha but other religious leaders in the country also have a massive say in the decision making process of the government and the State.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka on 25 August 2017 overwhelmingly condemned the Government’s decision to legalize abortion.

Catholic Bishops Conference President Rt. Rev. Dr. J. Winston S. Fernando in a letter said the matter was discussed in depth during a plenary meeting held recently.

“We say no to abortion under any circumstances. We believe that the precious life of a human being starts at the very moment of conception and is sacred,” he said and underscored the fact that no one had the right to tamper with human life in any way.

On the other hand Archbishop Malcom Cardinal Ranjith in February clearly said that he is completely against legalizing abortion as it is considered a sin. Many attempts made by moderate Muslim civil groups and the legal fraternity to amend the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act came to an abrupt end due to massive protest against it by Muslim political leaders, religious groups and conservatives.

Amidst this chaos, were also witnessed indirect attempts by certain individuals who are pushing for a new Constitution offering ‘ransom’ to President Sirisena. They have now begun a campaign to emphasize that the President could continue in office till 2025 if the proposed reforms come into effect.

This may have triggered due to the uncertainty of the President giving into the decision by the Maha Sangha, as he (President Sirisena) vouched that he will not give his consent to anything against the wish of the Maha Sangha.

Irrespective of whether there is any truth to President Sirisena seeking a second term, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) which backed the common Opposition candidate at the 2015 Presdidential Election, last week vowed to defeat any attempt to seek a second term, saying President Sirisena had no moral right to seek another term.

“He [Sirisena] won the last Presidential Election, promising to abolish the Executive Presidency. On the day of his inauguration, he again pledged that there would be no Presidential Election again. He reiterated that promise at the cremation of Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera. Now, his faction of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) tells the country it wants President Sirisena to contest again.

They could hold any opinion, but President Sirisena cannot backtrack now on his promise made at the last election. If he comes forward to contest a Presidential Poll again we will go all out to defeat him the way we defeated former President Mahinda Rajapaksa” JVP’s Propaganda Secretary MP Vijitha Herath said.

He noted that even though the SLFP claimed that the incumbent President would be their best candidate at the next Presidential Election, the President had to clarify his position on the matter.

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