Lingering national problem and constitution settlement

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

S
ri Lanka’s national problem was created and intensified by impulsive
shortsighted political leaders, who were more concerned about their political
fortune than the future state of the nation. Their main interest did not go
beyond their expected political life. They were also overconfident about their
maneuvering abilities. They were anxious to support Buddhist-nationalist
forces for their own political gain and did not have the inclination to reject their
one-sided demands. A few Buddhist clerics had more influence than the
millions who voted at the nationwide polls. If the dissenter was a strident
Buddhist prelate, then he alone was powerful enough to obstruct the political
change considered necessary by the lay government leaders.

Sadly, the Buddhist philosophy has not influenced national politics and the way
the country should be governed to uphold social equality and justice, unity and
peace. The protest by the saffron clad Buddhist monks to the granting of equal
language and other rights to the Tamil people hindered the peaceful co-
existence of different ethnic communities resulting finally in the present turmoil
and uncertain future. The shocking extent of violence and human rights
violations in the country, the latest episode is the forced eviction of nearly 400
Tamils staying in Colombo lodgings supposedly ‘for no valid reason’ by the
Police (June 7 before sunrise) belittle the claim that it is a protector of the
ideals Lord Buddha preached. Instead of unity and peace, the country is beset
now with killings, disappearances, displacements, disarray and intense
suffering of the poor.

The JHU proposals

The JHU, the political party led by Buddhist monks claiming to be the saviours
of the Sinhala race and Buddhism revealed their proposals on May 28 for re-
structuring the Sri Lankan State. These have been drafted on the false
premise that the entire island from the far South to the Northern tip is
indigenous to the Sinhalese and Sri Lanka is a Sinhala-Buddhist country. The
minority Tamil and Muslim communities (not nationalities) are the descendants
of subsequent immigrants. They have no rights in the native country of the
Sinhalese, other than those in their version of “the minority rights recognized
by the United Nations in their resolution titled - Declaration on the Rights of
Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, G.
A. Rres. 47/135, 47 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 210, U.N. Doc. /47/49
(1992)”.

The JHU proposals have been dismissed as hogwash not worth any serious
consideration by liberal Sinhalese scholars and other knowledgeable persons.
Prof. Laksiri Fernando of the University of Colombo has said: “After claiming
that there is no ‘ethnic conflict’ or ‘national question’ in Sri Lanka, the Jathika
Hela Urumaya (JHU) – National Sinhala Heritage Party - has turned the
internationally accepted rights of the minorities upside down in their proposals.
Having drawn attention to the distortions and myths that are the basis for their
proposals, Prof. Fernando has said the JHU has misread the UN Declaration
on Minority Rights. “Perhaps the JHU is not fully aware of the contents of the
UN Declaration on Minority rights,” as the Buddhist political party does not
differentiate between ethnic nationality and national minority.

The title as well as the contents of the UN Declaration does not make any
distinction between the two with regard to group rights. But the JHU is making a
distinction to justify its political aim. “The Declaration, particularly, is meant to
apply to countries where there are overt or latent ethnic or communal
conflicts/frictions like in Sri Lanka. If there are no conflicts, then the relevance
of the Declaration is only in the sphere of promotion but not protection. The
JHU seems to deny the existence of any type of issues or grievances on the
part of the minorities in Sri Lanka”.

After making a superficial adherence to the UN Declaration, what the JHU
statement says is that “Sri Lanka has already granted rights, privileges and
benefits to the minorities far exceeding the provisions of the aforesaid
resolution. This makes a mockery of the adherence, without making any
convincing case for the claim that the minorities enjoy not only rights but also
privileges and benefits far exceeding the Declaration. … The JHU’s emphatic
emphasis on ‘Sri Lanka as Sinhala nation’ completely defies both the spirit and
the letter of the UN Declaration. The JHU is not ready to accept any type of
‘territorial affinity’ to the Tamils not to speak of the Muslims. The following is
what Article 1.1 of the Declaration states in this respect.

‘States shall protect the existence and the national or ethnic, cultural, religious
and linguistic identity of minorities within their respective territories and shall
encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity’. Above is a clear
recognition of group identity of minorities within their respective territories that
the JHU proposes to deny to the Tamils”. (Asian Tribune 4 June 2007)

Clock turned back

The very forces that exacerbated the ethnic division which led to the
disintegration of the island nation culminating in the terrible bloody conflict for
separation have re-emerged robustly, after the change of government
following the November 2005 Presidential election. Ironically, both the anti-UNP
Sinhalese in the South and the separatist LTTE wanted a Sinhala nationalist
as the Executive President for their own reasons. The latter hoped to expedite
the final breakup of the island, through mayhem and self-destruction, while the
former wanted a leader who will not succumb to the machinations and
offensives of the LTTE.

The happenings so far since the undeclared separatist war escalated early
last year, indicate both sides have some ‘positive’ results in their favour. The
LTTE seems to have the edge now considering the letdown of the moderate
Tamils by the Rajapaksa administration that is openly wooing the Sinhala-
Buddhist chauvinists. The Tamil moderates are being driven to the separatist
camp. The forced eviction of Tamil visitors to Colombo from North-East will also
produce the same result. The repugnance of the international community
towards the government is also clearly evident. Furthermore, the LTTE’s
dictum that the Tamils cannot expect justice or their legitimate rights from the
Sinhala majority government to enable them to live with dignity and confidence
as equal citizens of a sovereign multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural
nation has gained mounting credence. The contradictory moves and
utterances have bared the reasons for the plight of the Tamils since
independence and the desperate desire to seek self-rule. The same game of
making promising statements which in practical terms mean nothing has
started again. The LTTE’s contention that a constitutional settlement to the
ethnic conflict is impossible is also proving to be valid.

The proposals submitted for constitutional reform by the SLFP and the JHU
have shaken not only the moderate Tamils but also the international
community, notably India which has an abiding interest in permanent peace
and a devolved administrative system, acceptable to all ethnic groups in Sri
Lanka. The two sets of proposals are blatantly biased and at complete
variance with the reports of the Experts Panel submitted to the APRC (All
Parties Representative Committee). Even the minority report prepared
exclusively by Sinhalese professionals has the province as the unit of
devolution.

Concerns of International Community

However, the international community (IC) still remains optimistic of a political
settlement that will bestow important decision-making powers to the minority
Tamils, which they are entitled to as a distinct ethnic group having equal
sovereign rights and distinct regions inhabited traditionally by Tamils and
Muslims. The language, culture and custom there are different from those
prevailing in the regions where the majority of the natives are Sinhalese. The
IC wants a settlement to the present conflict within one integrated State without
infringing its traditional multi- regional and demographic character. The way of
achieving unity in diversity, stability and lasting peace was indicated by them in
2003 at the Tokyo donors’ conference. This recommendation has not been
modified or abandoned by the key players. The recent press interview with US
Ambassador Robert O. Blake demonstrates this clearly.

The campaign of the US administration against terrorism following the
September 11, 2001 attack is still continuing. The heightened distinction
between ‘terrorism’ and ‘liberation struggle’ has overshadowed the latter. The
Sri Lankan government is successfully exploiting the global concern on
‘terrorism’ to its advantage in the military campaign against the LTTE. Tamil
militancy arose because of the successive failures over several decades of
non-violent campaigns to secure the legitimate rights of the minority Tamil
speaking people to enable them to live with dignity and confidence as equal
citizens without the fear of violent attacks instigated or encouraged by the
State. The 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom (some have described it as State terror,
because of the then government’s role) and the consequential response by
the militant Tamil youth jolted not only the instigators but also the international
community. Unfortunately, the subsequent aggressive methods used
indiscriminately to seek the ‘sole representative’ status and the separatist goal
(- dual aims) have been counterproductive. The damage is also internal, as
breakaway Tamil groups in the East are challenging the leadership of the
LTTE.

Any political settlement to be considered reasonable must assure the ethnic
minorities (not just rhetorically but constitutionally) the protection of their
regional and national interests, individual rights as equal citizens and the
means to fulfill their aspirations. If the current move fails, it is not just the failure
but importantly its cause will influence the future of the country. How this will
affect the Tamils depends largely on the reasons recognized by the foreign
stakeholders to the failure. The government is aware of this and seems to be
hopeful that the LTTE will be confirmed as the uncompromising party.

Current US view

The following statements cited here are those made by US Ambassador
Robert Blake during the interview C.A.Chandraprema had with him (published
in ‘The Island’ June 1 and 2) pertaining to the preferred political settlement to
Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict . These generally reflect the views of other
concerned foreign governments, particularly India. The latter too has
repeatedly said that there is no military solution and a permanent political
settlement based on suitable power-sharing arrangement and devolution of
powers to the ethnic minorities is the only practical way to secure durable
peace. India expects a structure similar to theirs, particularly at the second tier
with province as the unit of devolution, as agreed under the 1987 Indo-Lanka
Accord. Sri Lanka cannot afford to unilaterally abrogate it, as was done
decades ago with pacts reached with Sri Lankan Tamil political leaders.

The US Ambassador stated that terrorism exists because of the failure of
successive governments to address the grievances that have given rise to
terrorism in the first place. “That is why we advocate a political solution to the
problem and not a military solution”. Citing as examples, the political settlement
of the conflicts in Northern Ireland and the Aceh province in Indonesia, he said
it was possible there, because of the courageous leaderships within the
countries themselves. He was absolutely right when he observed: “The reason
why the LTTE has been able to thrive for so long is because it has been able
to argue with some reason that it is the only organisation that supports the
rights of the Tamil people, and that successive governments here have failed
to deliver on promises to improve the rights of the Tamil people”. There were
opportunities to undercut this claim of the LTTE but sadly these were not
seized because of the lack of bipartisan efforts due to the customary
confrontational politics. Attributing the disturbing human rights violations to the
escalation of the war, the US Ambassador said: “the best way to improve the
human rights situation in this country would be to arrive at a political solution to
this conflict”.

On the intransigence of the LTTE leader that makes any move towards a
negotiated political settlement a non-starter, he said: “I think there is a lot of
pressure on the LTTE not just from the United States but from many countries
around the world. If you look at the law enforcement front, there has been a lot
of constructive action taken in France, in Britain, Australia, and many parts of
the world. There is a growing international consensus against the LTTE and
that would encourage them to come to the negotiating table in good faith. And I
think another factor that is important is that the Tamil Diaspora is getting weary
of the conflict just as the Tamils in this country are getting weary of conflict. If
the government can come up with a solution through the APRC process, that
will have a very powerful effect in mobilizing the Diaspora and all the Tamils in
favour of a political solution and thereby force Prabhakaran to come to the
negotiating table in good faith. Almost every Tamil that I speak to wants a
federal solution within a united Sri Lanka. They do not want a separate Eelam”.

When the Ambassador was told that whatever solution the APRC comes up
with, it would not be acceptable to the LTTE he did not think that would be the
case now. To quote: “I wouldn’t put the blame on the LTTE. I think the first
challenge before the APRC is the consensus power sharing proposal that is
widely acceptable to all the Tamil people. Don’t worry about the LTTE. You
should try to come up with something that will attract the support of the broad
majority of the Tamil people, both inside the country and outside the country. If
you have their support, they will be able to put a lot of pressure on the LTTE
and Prabhakaran to accept a credible proposal”. He is expecting a lot from the
Tamil Diaspora as an influential group to play a significant role in the
settlement process. It is true there are knowledgeable persons in the Diaspora
but the LTTE’s loyal followers and agents have effectively kept them silent. It
remains to be seen whether the Diaspora will play the useful role envisaged by
the hopeful Ambassador.

He also cautioned against giving excuses for not coming up with sensible
power sharing structure. He said: “I think there is now the opportunity to come
to a solution, a power sharing proposal that allows Tamils a greater say in the
things that are important to them – how money is spent in the areas where
they live, about education, healthcare and so on. Those are decisions that
they cannot make now. By the way, those are things that the Sinhalese people,
the Muslim people and all the other minorities want as well. So we are not
saying that the Tamils should have anything special. We are just saying that
the Tamils should have the same rights that every other Sri Lankan citizen now
enjoys”. The optimism he conveyed throughout the interview rested mainly on
the assumption that Chairman Prof. Tissa Vitharana’s report containing the
fused majority and minority sets of proposals of the Expert Panel will be the
basis for reaching a consensual structure for sharing and devolving the
powers of the State. Since no reference was made to the controversial SLFP
and the JHU proposals, apparently these have not been considered significant
for resolving the conflict permanently.

It is obvious not only from the frank statements of the US ambassador but also
other concerned leaders that the LTTE leader can no longer continue to
remain attached to his boyhood ambition. The future of the Tamil community in
Sri Lanka is at stake. It should not be sacrificed for the sake of pursuing an
idealistic goal that has no international support at present. If a constitutional
settlement to the conflict is not possible as hoped by IC including India,
because of the inability of the APRC or APC to reach an agreement on
constitutional settlement then it becomes a different matter. The present
differences amongst political parties on electoral reform (7 political parties
including the UNP and JVP have not endorsed the Parliamentary Select
Committee Chairman’s interim proposals) do not give an encouraging sign for
possible agreement on constitutional reform. The vital constitutional settlement
needed for real peace and the advancement of the messed up country seems
not in sight. Apparently, without some external compulsion the stalemate will
persist.

President’s muddled stance

The word ‘negotiation’ is now used by the Sri Lankan President evasively His
party’s proposed structure even falls far short of the one implicit in the 1987
Indo-Lanka Accord, which in principle is embedded in the 13th Amendment.
Does he expect the LTTE to negotiate on the basis of the district or village as
the unit of devolution? With the present Constitution itself being an impediment
to change and hence to peace and the allied forces in the South determined to
keep the unitary structure intact (some even want it reinforced), what is the
certainty that an agreement with the LTTE will be effected.

Both the 1972 and 1978 Republican Constitutions were drafted to meet
parochial aims, disregarding the interests and concerns of the ethnic
minorities. National interests and aims were considered the same as those of
the main political party in power. The all powerful presidency in the 1978
Constitution was created primarily to fulfill the personal ambitions of its
founder. National unity, forging common national identity, creating permanent
social environment conducive for peace and development, and ensuring
balanced regional development were not considered by the architects of the
two previous constitutions. They had the covert aim to keep the ethnic
minorities powerless. They took for granted that the entire country belonged to
the Sinhalese, a presumption that the JHU has come out openly in their
proposals. The muddling scheme started with the setting up of the APC, APRC
and the Experts Panel with well-known Sinhala bigots as members. The
national constitutions of politically stable countries were drafted by experts (not
self-seeking politicians and ethnically biased patriots) on the basis of set
principles and broad guidelines decided by their political leaders. The reverse
seems to be the case now in Sri Lanka as evidenced by the happenings after
the Expert Panel submitted the reports.

Apparently, the APC, APRC and the Experts Panel were set up mainly to
appease the international community that was urging for an early political
settlement to the protracted destructive conflict. The different statements
concerning the resolution of the conflict have been confusing, contradictory
and misleading. The haphazard way the process of constitutional reform is
proceeding with proposals fundamentally opposed to those recommended by
the Experts Panel and lately claiming that there is no ethnic problem now is to
say the least mind boggling. What an ingenious way to solve a national
problem by denying its existence!

May 31 Al Jazeera TV interview with President Rajapaksa which was reported
widely by the local press (source used here is the Sunday weekly ‘The Nation’
June 3, 2007) also gives the muddled stand and approach to the resolution of
the national problem. He told the interviewer that there is no religious or ethnic
conflict in Sri Lanka; the international community is completely wrong in
accusing his army of human rights violations; and India holds the key to Sri
Lanka's political future. The latter was in response to the query, whether talk of
a humanitarian intervention, or a Kosovo-style imposed separation, disturbs
him. He said “there is only one country that can acceptably involve itself in Sri
Lanka - the giant next door, India”. This acknowledgement concerning the
need for India's support is the positive piece but its effect can only be judged if
and when it materializes. Whether this is just to appease New Delhi in the light
of India’s discontent with Rajapaksa administration or serious invitation for
India to intervene and help in the resolution of the lingering conflict is unclear.
Perhaps, the assumption is India will not be willing to get involved again, after
the bitter experience in the late 1980s and the national tragedy in May 1991.

Contrary to the common belief that ethnic discrimination via majoritarianism
(Sinhala majority rule) and political distrust between the Tamil minority and
Sinhalese majority is at the root of the conflict, the President expressed the
view all differences that existed between the two communities have now been
buried. The real divide, he said, is now between the terrorists and the rest of
the country. If there is only the ‘terrorists’ problem, is the government trying to
solve this through APC – APRC – Experts Panel and additionally through
negotiations with the ‘terrorists’?

Asked whether immediate negotiation depends on prior military victory, the
President was emphatic that it was not so and that a political solution was his
only aim but at the same time Prabhakaran must be weakened militarily. He
was willing to talk without the LTTE having to surrender arms but they must
stop fighting first. Does this mean his only aim is a political solution to
Prabhakaran’s problem? His view of the LTTE is also unique. He said: “What
he (Prabhakaran) represents, is the interests of a small group. Not the needs
of the Tamil people”. The Tigers are "not a Tamil terrorist organization, there
are Sinhalese, Muslims and Tamils in this group".

He also opined: "Until the terrorists are weakened, they will not come for talks".
Asked whether this was feasible he replied confidently that this would be
“sooner than most people realize”. He strongly rejected the suggestion that
this amounted to the pursuit of a "military solution". He explained that “the
emphasis on military action is a minor element in the pursuit of a political
compromise”. He said: “It won't be long, before Prabhakaran realizes that he
has no choice but to negotiate. We have weakened them. When he is weak he
talks about peace. When he becomes strong, then he wants war." The
interviewer failed to ask what kind of issues will be discussed! Will it be similar
to what was discussed during the six months 2002-2003?

The President also categorically denied charges of abductions. He said: "Many
of those people who are said to have been abducted are in England,
Germany, gone abroad. They have made complaints that they were abducted,
but when they return they don't say”. When the relatives of those alleged to
have been abducted met the President on June 1, he told them, in 90% of
cases brought before the Mahanama Tillekeratne Commission on Abductions,
the person allegedly abducted had returned. The President said: “The
persons who had disappeared were either domestic servants who had wanted
to escape; lovers who had eloped; or men and women who had left their
spouses after a domestic dispute. Due to a large number of complaints of
abductions being made for narrow political reasons, police investigations into
the genuine complaints about abductions had been hindered." It is baffling why
servants, lovers and disappointed spouses have started disappearing
recently? It is equally strange that abductions for political reasons or to be
more specific as in the case of the two Red Cross Tamil workers abducted in
Colombo whose bodies were found in Ratnapura to discredit the President
should occur now? Why has impunity suddenly escalated in recent months?
Incidentally, only in Sri Lanka there seems to be two types of official inquiries –
impartial and the other. A national newspaper reported that the President had
ordered on June 5, “impartial probe into Red Cross worker killings”. Under the
rule of law and civil conduct, all official probes should be impartial.

The down-to-earth impartial columnist, Sanjana Hattotuwa in his factual
comments on the Al Jazeera interview has mentioned (‘From Democracy to
Farce’, Daily Mirror 7 June): “It is a confused and confusing riot. Reading it, I
was almost convinced that all one really needs to do to secure peace, and
indeed, for the LTTE to take the upper hand in global media stakes, is to stay
silent and watch the ignominy of this government drowning in a quagmire of its
own confusion.” In his earlier article titled ‘Enemy of the State’, he stated
boldly, “this government’s war on terror in not my name”. Having read this
article fervently in the Daily Mirror, I am not at all surprised, it “received an
exceptional outpouring of support from Sri Lankans in the country as well as
from the Diaspora, both Sinhala and Tamil”.

An appraisal of India’s stance

Some analysts have described India’s stand on Sri Lanka as that of ‘see no
evil, hear no evil and speak no evil’. But lately there are desperate calls for a
shift towards a pro-active role as against the ‘wait-and-see’ stance. At the June
2-3 SAFMA Parliamentary Forum held in Singapore attended by eighty three
Parliamentarians from the eight SAARC countries a declaration passed at the
end of the two-day deliberations “urged India's active support for efforts by Sri
Lanka to find a lasting negotiated settlement” to the internal conflict. The state-
owned Daily News reported on June 5 that “the Lankan delegates said they
were happy with the overall outcome that epitomized a landmark declaration
endorsing active Indian support in the ‘Peace Process’, by all Member States.”
It also stated that the particular clause in the declaration urging “India as the
immediate neighbouring power, to actively support efforts for a lasting
negotiated political settlement” was mooted by the Sri Lankan delegation.

According to (Retired Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India
and presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai) B. Raman’s
June 2 analysis – ‘Sri Lanka & India: Facing realities’, “India has two roles in Sri
Lanka. The first is as a catalyst to promote a political solution to the problems
and grievances of the Sri Lankan Tamils and Muslims, who are also Tamil-
speaking, in a manner which would give the Tamils and Muslims full political
rights without weakening the unity of Sri Lanka and without adding to the
bitterness between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. The second is to ensure that
terrorism does not pay and that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
does not become a role model for terrorist organisations elsewhere in the
world, including India.” Incidentally, his analysis followed India’s National
Security Adviser, M.K.Narayanan,’s talk with pressmen at Chennai on May 31,
2007 which triggered some harsh media comments in Colombo.

Raman has compared India’s current policy of only limited support of a
defensive nature to the Sri Lankan counter-terrorism efforts to fighting with
one hand tied in the back as the Indian Army did in Sri Lanka during the period
the IPKF was mandated to disarm the Tamil militants and restore peace. He
has said that India’s stand amounts to: “We will help you to protect yourself
from attacks by the LTTE, but we will not help you in neutralising the terrorism
capabilities of the LTTE for which proactive operations might be required.”
Actually, not only India but also the vast majority of Tamils realized the need
for a powerful militant group to bring about a political settlement to their long-
standing problems. But the violence directed against civilians and also their
own people became repulsive. This has had a debilitating effect on the widely
acclaimed Tamil culture. Forced child recruitment by militant Tamil groups is
now a concern of the UN and international human rights organizations. This is
not helping them to improve their image.

His assessment of the present Sri Lankan government from a wide global
perspective can be discerned from the following: “The Government of
President Rajapakse has created a negative image of itself by going back on
past commitments of its predecessor Governments to find a political solution
within a federal model; by undoing the merger of the Eastern and the Northern
Provinces; by trying to impose a dictated peace on the Tamils by attempting to
restore the status quo ante in 1983 before the Tamils started their militant
struggle; by indulging in the disproportionate use of intimidatory and punitive
force against the Tamils through air strikes and the use of heavy artillery in its
counter-terrorism operations; by causing thereby a serious humanitarian
situation; and by creating difficulties in the way of India and other members of
the international community responding to the situation by rushing
humanitarian relief.”

He did not mince his words, when he said: “Mr.Rajapakse must realise that his
credibility is very low in New Delhi as well as other capitals because of the way
he has been trying to handle the Sri Lankan Tamil issue. That was why there
was a marked lack of solidarity with Sri Lanka when the LTTE brought into
action its air capability. A terrorist organisation acquiring an air capability
should be a matter of great concern to India and other members of the
international community. But yet, their reaction was studiedly low profile
because of their disappointment and even annoyance with him over the way
he has been handling the Tamil issue since he came to power in November,
2005. “It serves him right”, was the prevailing view in many capitals.”

He wants India to do more to help Sri Lanka in its counter-terrorism operations.
“But that doing more has to be as a quid pro quo to its reverting to its policy of
a federal solution.” And if Mr.Rajapakse refuses to re-adopt the federal model,
let him stew in his own juice was his concluding remark! What India must
realize is not just the President who will pay the price for the bungling but
terribly the hapless and helpless people of all races – Sinhalese, Tamils and
Muslims who are crying for peace. A regular contributor to ‘The Island’ daily
responding to Raman’s remark wrote – “Mr. Raman and other retired officers
in India who contribute regularly to the Sri Lankan press, should realize that
‘stewing in one's own juice’ is far more preferable to stewing in the ‘juice’ of
another's creation. This is what independence, sovereignty and self
determination are all about”. Besides the strong nationalistic sentiment, the
attention drawn to the meaning of ‘independence, sovereignty and self
determination’ is intriguing. The Tamil separatists too are clamouring for the
same in the belief stewing in ones own juice is better than that of the
Sinhalese. The trouble with both Sinhalese and Tamil ultra nationalists is their
thinking reflects conceit and lacks vision and liberalism.

In conclusion

All who remain devoted to their motherland, known in the olden days as the
Garden of Eden or Paradise on earth should ask themselves, why the once
peaceful flourishing country has not come up with a stable constitution since
independence in 1948? How come many countries that gained independence
around the same time have not been changing their constitutions periodically?

The fact that the Sri Lankan Society is pluralistic with varying regional features
because of different languages, traditions, religions and social customs was
ignored deliberately. The constitution adopted in 1972 and 1978 was for an
imaginary nation and not for the real country presently called Sri Lanka.
Unless the present leaders realize this fundamental mistake and take a
realistic view, the chances are the present divisive constitution will continue to
be an obstacle to unity, political stability and lasting peace for many more
years. Without the required structural changes, Sri Lanka has little chance of
progressing fast in order to improve the living conditions of the millions
struggling to survive. Finally, no one should forget it was the inapt system that
reinforced the division in the Society which ultimately led to the call for
separation.

[The writer is Former Additional Deputy Secretary to the Treasury, Sri Lanka
and UN Advisor, Development Economics/Planning]
June 10, 2007