By Gagani Weerakoon
Government leaders yesterday warned the country that this was the ‘last chance’ the country had to bring about a lasting solution to the ethnic or national problem by bringing in a new Constitution.
“For the first time, the biggest representation of Tamil people, the TNA, has actively participated in the process of constitutional reforms and this chance will never ever come to us. Already, it took decades to reach this juncture,” said the majority of the Cabinet Ministers and other ranks who joined the second day of the three-day debate on the steering committee interim report of the constitutional assembly.
“Sri Lanka cannot afford to miss this window of opportunity to create political stability and achieve prosperity and economic development,” Finance and Mass Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera, participating in the debate said, while pleading with..his colleagues to seize the opportunity and go forward as one nation.
He asked as to how anybody could object to a Constitution that guarantees rights of all citizens and essentially honours the Buddha’s teachings of ‘Metta, Muditha, Karuna, Upekka’. The Minister, who took the floor after UPFA MP Dullas Alahapperuma, said that MP Alahapperuma together with colleagues Nalanda Ellawala and Dilan Perera went from village to village campaigning for a new Constitution in 1995 under the ‘Sudu Nelum’ Movement.
“It is he who asked in the House today whether the country needs a new Constitution. The draft Constitution that MP Alahapperuma then campaigned for was a far more progressive one than what we have proposed in terms of power sharing. That draft Bill did not contain the word ‘unitary’ but spoke about a united country. It even agreed to offer Police and land powers to the provinces,” the Minister said.
Samaraweera said that former leaders S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, J.R. Jayewardene, Mahinda Rajapaksa, Rohana Wijeweera and also the Communist Party had pointed out that all had agreed beyond question that there is an ethnic issue in the country.
“All people, irrespective of background and which part of the country they live in, have suffered the horrors of violence for long years. They have sadly been deprived and cheated of the rights of economic prosperity that this nation could have achieved during the last 70 years. All the citizens of this country desire for lasting and sustainable peace, equal citizenship, respect, economic prosperity, equal protection of the law and they all want to call this land their home. We must be able to be united in diversity,” he said.
The Minister pointed out the Constitution making process followed by the Government was completely a bottom up and all inclusive process which left nobody behind.
Minister Dilan Perera: All parties will have to show some flexibility and reach the compromising point. There is no point fighting for the last ounce of the pound of flesh because that would never bring about solutions. We would not stop this process in fear of bomb threats from the NFF. The SLFP is ready to be flexible in the name of a solution for the national problem. This is the last bus. We cannot afford to miss this. Ours is a history of missing the bus always.
JVP MP Sunil Handunnetti: We decided to support this Constitution because we have realized that there is a need for that. We know that both main parties played football with the national problem and on the issue of abolishing the executive presidency. We need to see that the executive presidency is abolished, but that is not to get an executive Prime Minister.
Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne: I always fought for the abolition of the executive presidency. Devolution is not a new topic.
It has been there for a long time now. None could oppose this and call himself a true patriot. There is no other traitor than those who oppose this. The biggest victory for this Constitution is that TNA agreeing to support it. That was an unprecedented opportunity. Therefore we must grasp this opportunity.