Foreign interference in the constitution-making process
The United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) charged that the new constitution that is being drafted is influenced by foreign powers. UPFA Parliamentarian Keheliya Rambukwella said that the current constitution drafting process was a farce and that it would only lead to a division of the country.
Below are excerpts of his interview with The Sunday Morning:
There is a school of thought that certain political parties are promoting extremism using the process of drafting a new constitution. What is your opinion?
There are two things that you’re talking of here at the same time. One is drafting a constitution, and the other is extremist political parties. It is very evident now that there are extremist parties in all quarters, religions, and races. The degree of extremism can be seen all over the media. Ironically, what keeps happening right now is that certain politically motivated activities are taking place.
I would like to mention what happened at the end of 2014 in Beruwala. It was totally orchestrated for political gain. So when you talk of extremists, it is very difficult to draw a line between actual extremists and those who are on a political mission. With regard to the drafting of the Constitution, if you look at the manifesto of the President on 8 January, 2015, it clearly states that there’ll be constitutional amendments – to amend the Constitution and to not engage in a referendum.
It is the need of a political party to hold on to their position. So then you get into agreements.
If I may quote Sumanthiran from a meeting in Jaffna recently, he said that various promises were made to the TNA for their support and they say that the UNP and the JVP already agreed; and he was expecting the support of the 21 MPs of President Maithripala Sirisena.
So I really cannot answer your question of whether extreme political parties are obstructing the constitution-making process. Promoting extremism and drafting a new constitution are two different things.
Different parties and groups have varied opinions on what the new constitution should entail. In your opinion, what should be the main focal point of the new constitution?
It is not my opinion, it is the general public’s. Now, all successive governments and the present Government made a pledge to the public in their manifestos – various political parties including the one I belong to – saying that there’ll be amendments to the Constitution to the extent where the President should be responsible to the Parliament for upholding media freedom, appointing the Chief Justice, and so on and so forth. All these were agreed on by all parties, but the question is the manner in which it was done.
For example, on 9 January, 2015, groups that wanted a federal state got together. The UNP, TNA, JVP, and SLFPers backed by Chandrika Kumaratunga joined together. They are the people who constituted the Constitutional Council. The Speaker, Prime Minister, President, Leader of the Opposition, small parties, and the JVP were the politicians.
Then, the members of the public were selected, such as Radhika Coomaraswamy who was in the UN and promoted the R2P (Responsibility to Protect) – that is exactly what the political front, the LTTE, wanted. So where is the independence? So now, with this so-called independent constitutional council, there is a serious doubt, and nobody is taking responsibility.
When the IGP appointment came in, only six people were in the Constitutional Council. So where is the fair play? It is rotten. It is meticulously planned. This is the typical American method. This is what America did in Iraq and what they did to Gaddafi. These are agendas that are planned completely outside of Sri Lanka. You cannot isolate the Constitution, because there are other interests such as Diaspora requirements and other outside agendas. The constitution-drafting process is a complete fraud backed by outside interests such as the Diaspora’s and NGO’s.
Can there be consensus for a new constitution based on our history?
That depends on the contents of the constitution. As long as it is an indigenous one, I’m sure there’ll be consensus, but not one that has been influenced by a foreign hand.
Looking at the issues this country has faced in the last few months, should priority still be given to the drafting of a new constitution?
The process is taking place, there is a team making the constitution. You may not know it, I may not know it, and the general public may not know it, but Ranil Wickremesinghe, Jayampathy Wickremeratne, and Sumanthiran are working on it together. This one is completely influenced by other countries.
Sri Lanka has in the past looked at various models used by other countries to bring about constitutional change. Should we look at countries like India – where powers are devolved – or any other country, or should we come up with a home-grown solution?
It has to be indigenous; it has to be home-grown. Having said that, being intellectual people, we must not get stuck in a well – we must look at other ideas. If you look at the Indian Constitution, the President can dissolve a province, but in Sri Lanka a president cannot do so unless you have a reason. If you look at India as a model, we can seriously consider it.
Primarily, let us strengthen the 13th Amendment. Look at the requirements of national security and then strengthen the 13th Amendment. A constitution must deal with the requirements of the land that we live in. We need to look at the welfare of all people but this concept of federalism or “homeland” should not be entertained.
Do we need a new constitution as a whole or will constitutional amendments suffice?
I would say that you need to look at it very independently; not being partisan or biased towards ethnicity; not in the spirit of resolving the issues of ethnic groups – certainly not.