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Sri Lankans advocate people's mandate for new Constitution

Religious leaders have thrown their weight behind giving power to minorities and those who are 'powerless'

Sri Lankans advocate people's mandate for new Constitution

Venerable Dambara Amila Thero addressing the inauguration session of the National Movement for a New Constitution, at Sri Lanka Foundation Institute in Colombo on March 15. (ucanews.com photo)

Niranjani Roland, Colombo
Sri Lanka

March 17, 2017

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A new movement spearheaded by activists, academics in Sri Lanka want a people's mandate for their new constitution.

The National Movement for a New Constitution held its inaugural session on March 15, attended by religious leaders.

"We underwent 30 years of civil war and lost many things. Now if we need political, social and religious reconciliation we should go for a new constitution," said Venerable Dambara Amila Thero, a Buddhist monk who addressed the session at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute in Colombo.

Mano Ganeshan, Minister of National Co-existence and National Languages earlier told ucanews.com the government will present the new constitution to parliament this year but they were still drafting the constitution and were not yet finished.

Venerable Thero was hopeful. "With a new constitution we can fully abolish the executive power of the presidency, change the electoral system, give power to minorities and those who are powerless in terms of their ethnicity and religion," the Buddhist monk said.

Leading civil rights activist Gamini Viyangoda said that people in Sri Lanka never had a chance to vote on their constitution before and that had caused trouble.

"All past constitutions were made by the rulers and not the people. This was the main reason for their failure so now we should take the democratic path," said Viyangoda, convener of Purawasi Balaya (Citizens' Power).

Nira Wickramasinghe of Leiden University told The Diplomat that "the three constitutions of post-independence Sri Lanka helped demarcate and define a majority from within the citizens, pitting them against non-Buddhists and non-Sinhala speaking minority communities."

The Sri Lankan government is expected to address demands for the political recognition of Tamil minorities in its revamp of the 1978 constitution. However, not everyone is in favor of the plan or equal rights for the Tamil community.

"We will oppose this fraudulent new Constitution," said former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa at a rally in Colombo, as reported by local media.

"The motive of the new Constitution is to appease the Tamil minority in their quest for political independence," he said.

"We have to safeguard our victory," he added, referring to the Sri Lankan Army's victory over the Tamil Tigers that ended the war.

Opposing this attitude was retired Anglican Bishop Duleep de Chickera of Colombo who attended the movement's event.

"Minority rights should be protected in the constitution and minorities should feel that they are equal members of this country," said Bishop Chickera, a leading rights activist.

"Devolution of power is necessary and power must be shared," he added.

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