Would you undergo or put a loved one through an unnecessary but quite drastic, risky surgery? This is precisely what the UNP leadership and Chandrika Kumaratunga are trying perpetrate on the Sri Lankan body politic, through a new Constitution.
They seek to effect such change to the Constitution that cannot be limited to reform through the procedure of amendments. But what could such change be?
There is no Sri Lankan commitment to a new Constitution made to the Human Rights Council. Thanks to our neighboring friends, the only reference to a political solution is to the implementation of the 13th amendment, which is far more modest than that which is envisaged by a new Constitution. So it perfectly possible to leapfrog accountability/transitional justice and move directly to the political resolution item of the Geneva resolution, by implementing the 13 amendment, with necessary modifications and improvements.
The government’s contention that there is no reason for the Joint Opposition to oppose the government’s Constitutional project, is another example of the Constitutional bond scam now in play. Firstly the Rajapaksa administration’s joint communiques of May 21st and May 23rd 2009 with the Government of India and the UN SG Ban Ki Moon, and reproduced in the UNHRC resolution of May 27th 2009, did not promise to implement “13 Plus” still less “go beyond 13A”. Of the two communiques only the one with India mentioned 13A and that too was only to “implement the 13th amendment”.
President Rajapaksa promised 13 Plus and NOT to go beyond the 13th amendment. And therefore he did not promise a new Constitution. As anyone who has had a 13th birthday knows, if anyone asks your age six months after that, you reply “13 plus”—which in no way means you have gone “beyond 13”. You are “beyond 13” only on your next birthday, i.e. when you hit 14.
The question is why not go that painless route? The answer logically is that the government seeks a change that goes beyond a reform. Why would the government do so?
Indeed this is the point that Gamini Jayawickrama Perera has recently made when he reminded an audience of the vast strides the North Western Province made during his tenure as chief minister, and pointed out what was possible within the present system, asking pointedly “If I could do it why can’t you?” However, that pragmatic place doesn’t seem to be where the UNP leadership is coming from. Equally obviously the government does not intend to go in for a new amendment of a scope and scale which could be passed by only a two thirds in parliament without recourse to a referendum.
Just when you thought things couldn’t be morally worse, you learn that Mangala Samaraweera does not intend the new Constitution to be trade-off for getting us off the ‘war crimes’ accountability hook. When asked by the foreign correspondents whether the US and UK leaderships may no longer insist on the implementation of the Geneva 2015 UNHRC resolution, the Foreign Minister replies disgustingly that “ even if they don’t insist, we insist” on implementation. This means that the government’s agenda is not ‘quasi-federalism OR Special Courts on war crimes’, but ‘quasi-federalism AND Special Courts’, except that the sequence has changed and its federalization first, Special Courts second.
What this means is that there is a deal between the Ranil-Mangala-CBK troika (which has a pathetically few ‘official’ SLFP loyalists), the TNA’s Sumanthiran-Sampanthan duo, the Global Tamil Forum/the British Tamil Forum, and a handful of Western states with important Tamil Diaspora vote banks (and colonial hang-ups). What’s in it for Ranil and Mangala are (a) the prospect of permanent electoral support (and perhaps funding) for the UNP from the Tamil community in Sri Lanka and overseas, and (b) a transfer of power from the President to the PM and the UNP which would remove the roadblocks to and facilitate the smooth implementation of their re-colonization project of the transferring the ownership of the geo-strategically vital island of Sri Lanka from us, the people, the citizens, to them, the foreigners.