No external pressure behind new Constitution: Sirisena

Allays concerns that special place for Buddhism will be withdrawn.

Updated - October 18, 2016 02:39 pm IST

Published - January 09, 2016 10:28 pm IST - COLOMBO:

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, who started his second year in office on Saturday, denied the charge that his government was trying to draft a new Constitution under external pressure.

“No foreign country has advised me or Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe,” he told Parliament, after the Prime Minister tabled a resolution proposing a new Constitution. “We have enough competence, knowledge, experience and the power of understanding [to write a new Constitution].”

Referring to concerns in certain quarters that the special place for Buddhism, given in the 1972 and 1978 Constitutions, would be withdrawn and security forces would have to function as per the advice of external powers, the President appealed to people not to be misled by the campaign of extremists, whether they belonged to the northern parts of the country or the south. He assured the House that all sections, including intellectuals and experts, would be taken into confidence while drafting the Constitution.

Recalling that the previous Constitutions did not promote reconciliation among people of different ethnic groups and religions, Mr. Sirisena, who echoed a point made by Gopalakrishna Gandhi, former High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka, here on Friday, felt that had the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact of July 1957 and the Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact of March 1965 been implemented, Prabahakaran [founder of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and advocate of secessionism] would not have emerged in the 1980s. He also regretted how opportunities were missed in the past to resolve the ethnic problem, despite those in power had two-thirds majority in Parliament.

As for the argument that the system of executive presidency would be needed in times of civil war, the President said one had to go into causes behind the Eelam War and his government would ensure that there would not be another such war, by fulfilling the aspirations and requirements of people all over the country.

Commenting on the inclusion of references in the resolution such as the constitutional resolution of the “national question” (concerning the Tamils) and promotion of ethnic reconciliation, Rohan Edrisinha, a constitutional expert, told The Hindu that it was for the first time that such a focus had been given to the rationale. Sri Lanka was in need of a new Constitution for other reasons, including the Bill of Rights and greater independence for the judiciary.

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