‘Constitution requires immediate reforms’

Verite Research, Head of Media Research Deepanjali Abeywardena.

Momentum will be lost if a referendum on reforms to the constitution is not held within the next three months, said Verite Research, Head of Media Research Deepanjali Abeywardena, presenting the sentiments shown by the press on the ongoing constitutional reform process.

The presentation was made at a discussion on the constitutional Reforms and Interim Report of the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly, organized jointly by Internews and the Law and Society Trust, which was held at the auditorium of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies recently.

Member of Parliament and member of the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly of Sri Lanka Dr. Jayampathy Wickremarathne, Law and Society Trust Director Dinushika Dissanayaike, Internews Director Sam de Silva and a select gathering including journalists were invited for the discussion.

“Most discussions in the press have taken place on the themes ‘Unitary and United,’ ‘Supremacy of Buddhism,’ and ‘Federalism and Separatism’ from time to time, but subsequent to the release of the interim report of the steering committee on September 21, 2017, all three themes have been discussed simultaneously,” said Abeywardena.

“From March to August, 2017, the content of the Sinhala press was 46 percent positive, while the content of the English Press was only 42 percent positive. The Tamil Press has been Neutral 49 percent to be exact on what they carried with respect to the constitutional reform process. Among the television channels we monitored, the most negative coverage was by Derana Aruna,” she said.

“The Joint Opposition dominated the discussion on constitutional reform process until the Interim Report was released in late September, after which the other political parties joined the discussions. At present the most vociferous are the Buddhist clergy. But once again, the Buddhist clergy is also divided in opinion. The voice of the clergy can change the press sentiment to a great extent,” she added.

“Up to now, it has been the government that defended accusations made by the Joint Opposition, but now we see former president Mahinda Rajapaksa coming forward to defend actions taken during his tenure with the entrance of two new themes of discussion, namely the ‘Executive Presidency’ and the ‘13th amendment.’ All this time, while the UNP has been defending the reforms, the SLFP has not come out to take ownership, but have only come forward to rectify inadequacies.”

It is time that the UNP and SLFP jointly answer the undermentioned doubts raised over: “Abolishing the Executive Presidency will result in instability, the government lacks a mandate to amend the constitution, NGO’s are behind the draft reforms, reforms will compromise the Unitary State and lead to a Federal State, Buddhism will lose its primacy of place, the new constitution is already drafted and What is the need of a new constitution?,” she added.

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