The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the principal Tamil grouping in Sri Lanka, has denied media reports that it is planning to meet the Mahanayakes or the High Priests of Buddhism in Sri Lanka soon, to explain to them the need for a new Sri Lankan constitution to devolve power to the provinces so as to solve the Tamil question.
TNA’s spokesman and Jaffna district MP, M.A.Sumanthiran said on Wednesday that it makes no sense to discuss the constitution with the Mahanayakes or anybody at this point of time, since it has not been drafted yet.
“We have to have at the least, the Interim Report of the Steering Committee to know what could be in the constitution. The Interim Report is yet to be drafted. We may get the report by the end of July,” Sumanthiran said.
“We had said that we would meet various sections of the community, including religious leaders, to discuss the constitution. But this will be at the appropriate time, not now,” he clarified.
He is a member of the Steering Committee chaired by the Prime Minister.
According to Dr.Jayampathy Wickramaratne, another member of the Steering Committee (which comprises party leaders) is examining the draft clause by clause . Half of the clauses have already been considered in detail. The rest may be taken up and finalized by month end.
Wickramaratne told a local daily that there is no question of anyone imposing a constitution on the people because it will be put to the people’s decision through a referendum after it is passed by the Constitutional Assembly with a two-thirds majority.
The present constitution says that if there is to be any change in an entrenched clause it has to be put through a referendum as finally, sovereign power is vested in the people of the country .
One of the entrenched clauses is the Executive Presidency. No matter what anyone might say, President Maithripala Sirisena is committed to abolishing the Executive Presidency and therefore the constitution has to go for a referendum. Wickramaratne said.
He however admitted that time is running out. The government has only three more years to go. And as elections approach, political parties tend to view the constitutional changes from their electoral prospects point of view. For an example, he cited the fate of the August 2000 constitution which was opposed at the 11 th.hour by the opposition United National Party (UNP) because the dissolution of parliament and fresh elections were only a few weeks away.
Given the sudden speeding up of the Steering Committee’s work (there were three meetings last week) the Joint Opposition started crying wolf, warning that the status of Buddhism is to be altered; and that the unitary character of the constitution is to be changed to the federal to meet the Tamil minority’s clamor.
It is suspected that opponents of the new constitution (both within and outside the government) made the Mahanayakes come out with a statement opposing any constitutional change.
The President then met the Mahanayakes and assured them that the unitary character as well as the “foremost place” for Buddhism will be ensured. Furthermore, he assured that he would consult the Mahanayakes before supporting the constitution.
In a country which is more than 70% Sinhala-Buddhist, the Mahanayakes are seen as the guardians of the majority community’s ethno-religious interests. Hence the reported bid by the TNA also to meet them for talks on the constitutional changes.