Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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An open letter to Hon. Duminda Dissanayke, General Secretary / SLFP

Posted by harimpeiris on January 31, 2017

(Published in the Daily News of 27th Jan 2017)

Dear Duminda,

 

Consultation on Constitutional Reforms

 

I thought I must write to you openly when I learned through the mass media, that some SLFP seniors in government were unsupportive of serious constitutional reforms and accordingly had persuaded President Sirisena, as SLFP leader to direct that the SLFP engages in some dialogue and consultations on the proposed reforms. You may consider my views as part of this consultation and on my part, they are complimentary to my personal submissions to the LLRC during its public hearings and draws from my experience as the former Director General of Relief, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation under President Kumaratunga and more recently as Chairman of the Resettlement Authority.

 

  1. Consider the mandate of January 2015

 

I believe the context for the current process of constitutional reforms is the mandate received by President Sirisena in January 2015, which is clearly a mandate for reform. Those of the SLFP who were not part of securing that mandate, but now within Government, who were corrected by the sovereign voting public of our country, should be extra careful when opposing that mandate and defining the mandate is certainly not the purview of the defeated candidate former President Rajapakse.

 

  1. Public consultations of the constitutions have already occurred

 

You are no doubt aware that public consultations on the proposed constitutional reforms occurred throughout our country and there was opportunity for all stakeholders to make their submissions through this consultation process. It would be useful for the SLFP to not reinvent the wheel as it were but to study, incorporate and draw from the public consultations already held.

 

  1. A democratic deficit

 

A vast majority of the period since the introduction of the first republican constitution of 1972 and continuing through the period of the current constitution of 1978, Sri Lanka has been governed under Emergency Regulations which have superseded the Constitution and thereby compromised and damaged constitutional governance and the rule of law in our land. While this situation may have been understandable in the context of our decades long civil armed conflict it becomes untenable in a period thereafter. The democratic deficit which Sri Lanka suffers from needs to be rectified through constitutional reform and the abolition of the executive presidency, the implementation of electoral reforms, the strengthening of individual and human rights, are all part of the efforts to address this democratic deficit.

 

  1. Creating an inclusive state

 

It was former member of Parliament and LTTE suicide bomb victim late Dr. Neelen Tiruchelvam, who perhaps best explained the rationale for constitutional reforms nearly twenty-five years ago, when he stated that we should rectify “the anomaly of having imposed a mono ethnic state on a multi ethnic polity”. It is patently clear to all but the willfully blind, that Sri Lanka is a society polarized on ethnic lines, with state institutions and structures of governance that are non-inclusive and intolerant. The virulent demagogy surrounding the singing of the national anthem also in Tamil at last year’s national day celebrations, demonstrates both the mono ethno-lingual nature of state festivals in the past and how much we need to reform to be inclusive and tolerant. If the SLFP position is that the 13th amendment should first be implemented fully, then there is no impediment to the executive decisions of immediately gazetting those provisions of the constitution not yet implemented.

 

  1. Examine prior SLFP positions on devolution under President Kumaratunga and President Rajapaksa

 

The SLFP has had a rich tradition of seeking political solutions of inclusivity, diversity and tolerance going back to the Bandaranaike – Chelvanyagam pact more than half a century ago. More usefully and practically, it is incumbent upon the SLFP to learn from and incorporate the policies, politics and thinking of both the SLFP led PA and UPFA governments of President Kumaratunga and President Rajapakse. Especially relevant in this regard are the various work, recommendations and policies of President Rajapakse under his initiatives of the All Part Representative Committee (APRC) and its various working groups, all ably headed and led in the past by the old left leaders of DEW Gunasekera and Prof.Tissa Vitharane. If former President Rajapakse is not standing by prior SLFP government positions on devolution including those of his own Administration, then such policy changes may well be construed as opportunistic and parochially motivated for extraneous reasons of temporary political self-interest by a person who promises to topple the government during the calendar year and need not be taken seriously.

 

  1. Seriously examine Rajapakse Administration mistakes and avoid a return to the past

 

I would respectfully submit that a key requirement for the SLFP, before the next general elections due in mid-2020, is an open and honest examination of what went so badly wrong, especially during the second Rajapakse term and seek not only remedial measures but also to chart a new course for the future rather than advocate a return to the past. The public perception and allegations of rampant corruption, mismanagement of the economy especially in mounting public debt on grandiose and ill-conceived projects, ruining our foreign relations with all our key trading partners, violating and abusing human rights with impunity, including press freedom, centralizing power in the executive presidency, subverting the judiciary and institutionalizing nepotism all contributed to ending the Rajapakse presidency, sooner rather than later.

 

Finally, I admired your courageous and principled stand in supporting then common candidate Maithripala Sirisena during the presidential election of 2015. Your political foresight and maturity is a tribute to your late father and I can think of no younger leader better suited to hold the responsible position of SLFP General Secretary.

 

As you are aware, I currently serve as Advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, but please consider these submissions as done in my personal capacity.

I take this opportunity to wish you every success in your endeavors.

 

With best regards,

 

Harim Peiris

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