More Sinhalese than thou

COLOMBO, JULY 20. The pre-election ``more Sinhalese than thou'' syndrome seems to have gripped the ruling People's Alliance (PA) and the opposition United National Party (UNP) within days of the two agreeing on a document to share power with the Tamil minority. If the UNP leader, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe, has been denying reports in the state-owned press that he is consorting with the LTTE, the Government is preoccupied with denying rumours that ``safeguards'' to protect the pre-eminent status of Buddhism have been removed from the new draft constitution.

On Thursday, the Government put out a statement titled ``Foremost Place for Buddhism'', reassuring Sri Lanka's majority community that the chapter on Buddhism in the draft constitution of October 1997, the basis for the recent PA-UNP discussions, ``remains unchanged'' in the latest draft.

The draft formulation on Buddhism in the proposed constitution is no different from the provisions in the present constitution, and in fact, provides an additional safeguard that the Minister in charge of Buddha Sasana will regularly consult the clergy. In both the draft, and the 1977 constitution that is now being followed, the subject is dealt with in Chapter 2.

The local media have been awash with reports that the proposed constitution has excluded safeguards provided to Buddhism in the present constitution.

Meanwhile, in a bid to be one up on the Government, and to stem the growing impression among hardline Sinhalese that it had weakly caved in to Tamil demands, the UNP has said it would ask the Government to submit the new draft constitution to the Buddhist clergy for their approval. This was resolved at a meeting of UNP parliamentarians yesterday, local media reported.

The clergy, known as the Maha Sangha, have voiced objections that while many, including foreign diplomats, had been consulted on the draft document, the Government had not shown it to them.

Bus exploded

UNI reports:

The LTTE exploded a bus after disembarking all passengers in northern Vavuniya today while 12 militants were killed in sporadic clashes with security forces in Sri Lanka's northern Jaffna peninsula during the last 24 hours.

The bus carrying 19 passengers and some school children was going from the main Vavuniya bus depot to a nearby place when the militants stopped the bus and asked the passengers to get down. Then the bus was exploded.