The Karaka Maha Sanga Sabha of the Malwathu and Asgiriya Chapters on Wednesday announced that it had decided at a special meeting held that evening that there was no necessity for a new Constitution or amendments to the present Constitution of the country and urged the Government to stop the Constitution drafting process. According to [...]


Govt has its work cut out; both in Constitution reforms and keeping public on its side


The Karaka Maha Sanga Sabha of the Malwathu and Asgiriya Chapters on Wednesday announced that it had decided at a special meeting held that evening that there was no necessity for a new Constitution or amendments to the present Constitution of the country and urged the Government to stop the Constitution drafting process.

According to the Daily Mirror of Thursday, October 19, the Anunayake of Malwatte Maha Vihare, Venerable Dimbulkumbure Wimaladharma Thera, told the media that they had decided on “the unsuitability of the proposed Constitution.”

The Venerable Anunayake went on to tell the media that “we say that a new Constitution is not needed. The present Constitution is good for us. We will express protest of the Maha Sangha after briefing the Mahanayakes of the Asgiriya and Malwathu Chapters, Ramannaya and Amarapura Nikayas. We urge the Government to stop the drafting process immediately.”

He also went on to state that a special expert panel of scholars had participated at the two-hour meeting of the Karaka Sangha Sabha .

There was an immediate reaction on Thursday from the Government. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe charged that there was an attempt to mislead the public with regard to the statement issued by the Karaka Sangha Sabha and faulted the media for publishing the photographs of the Mahanayakes of the Malwathu and Asgiriya Chapters along with the reports of the announcement although both the Mahanayakes had not been present at the meeting. According to the Prime Minister the Malwathu Mahanayake was not even in the country at the time.

President Maithripala Sirisena, too, came out strongly and alleged that sections of the media were promoting bankrupt politicians for personal benefits.

The last time there were adverse remarks made about the Constitution Reform process, the President rushed and met the Mahanayakes at the Dalada Maligawa and assured them that their fears were misplaced and that he would ensure that no harm would be done to the country through the Constitutional Reform process.

A couple of weeks ago the Joint Opposition’s Parliamentary Group Leader Dinesh Gunawardena called on the Malwathu Mahanayake and apprised him of their concerns relating to the Steering Committee report and was advised by the Venerable Mahanayake that they should believe the assurances of the two leaders of Government that nothing untoward would happen.

It is not clear from the announcement made by the Sangha Karaka Sabha on Wednesday that the meeting was held with the ‘Anudenuma’ (approval ) of the Mahanayakes whether their ‘Anudenuma’ was with regard to the holding of the meeting or whether it extended to ‘Anudenuma’ of the decisions as well.

A clue to this maybe the statement by the Venerable Dimbulkumbure Wimaladharma Thera that they will “express protest of the Maha Sangha after briefing the Mahanayakes of the Asgiriya and Malwathu Chapters, Ramannya and Amarapura Nikayas.” If Government leaders call on the prelates they can clearly obtain a clear understanding of the situation.

We have to judge the Sangha Karake Sabha’s pronouncements only by its oral statements as reported in the media. In view of the seriousness of their call to stop the Constitutional reform process the Sangha Karake Sabha will undoubtedly write to the Government with its reasons for arriving at a decision with far reaching consequences.

It is also interesting to know who comprised the expert panel of scholars who were able to influence the Sangha Karake Sabha in arriving at their decision. Surprisingly none of the media seems to have made an attempt to identify these experts. Such identification will help to understand what views would have contributed to the decision and enable another group of experts to call on the Sangha Karake Sabha and apprise the Venerable members of the contra view.

While the lack of clarity with regard to last Wednesday’s pronouncement is being sorted out, an interesting but important issue arises with regard to the democratic process itself–do religious leaders have the authority and right to veto the mandate of the people?

The issue of Constitutional Reform including the abolition of the Executive Presidency, Election Reform and the resolution of the Ethnic Problem has been on the national agenda since 1994 when President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga sought and obtained a mandate for such changes. More recently this issue has come to the forefront owing to the efforts of the late Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera who understood the harm done to the country by the present Constitution. President Maithripala Sirisena obtained a mandate for such reform in January 2015.

More recently former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in a statement issued to the media confirmed that President Sirisena had obtained a mandate for the abolition of the Executive Presidency and for Electoral Reform although he claimed that they did not get approval for anything beyond that.

This would mean that the endorsement of the 5.8 million people who voted for the former President have to be added to the 6.2 million who voted for Present Sirisena to determine the nature of the mandate given at the last presidential election.

The question is whether religious leaders can veto the overwhelming mandate of the sovereign people by issuing a verbal edict. This is not to say that their views should not be heard or considered. Indeed the government leaders should, as they have repeatedly promised to do, obtain the views of religious leaders in taking important decisions.

When the late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike was compelled to tear up the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam pact due to the unrelenting pressure from sections of the Buddhist clergy, he did so with the greatest of reluctance. At the time he did so he warned that he was doing so because of the pressure on him but that he would not be responsible for the consequences of his action in tearing up the BC pact.

The rest, as they say is history. In this unfortunate incident of abrogating the BC pact there is another important lesson for us Sri Lankans. That is that such far reaching decisions should not be driven by emotions and passions but by dialogue, persuasion and cold reasoning.

That this is still possible was demonstrated in Parliament last Friday in the interaction between Prime Minister and Dinesh Gunawardena over the likelihood of further postponement of local government elections. The discussion went on with great dignity and decorum despite the back and forth of both veteran politicians who adopted a problem solving approach. This was a refreshing change from the usual disruptive behaviour by some members which has often left Speaker Karu Jayasuriya completely exasperated and would have been a good lesson for the other members.

Incidentally the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna leader has an important role to play in the Constitution Reform process and in dinning sense into the Joint Opposition to play a constructive role in the Constitution Reform process. It is probably due to his efforts that the JO is remaining in the Constitutional Assembly and not withdrawing from the process like the National Freedom Front.

Dinesh Gunawardena has been misunderstood by some as a racist which he is not but only one who is conscious of ensuring that the rights of the Sinhalese are not harmed. He is not averse to the rights of the minorities being ensured as evident by the critical role he played in the formation of the Democratic People’s Alliance that supported Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s presidential election bid in 1988. He helped formulate and endorsed the DPA manifesto which had many positive features that were intended to address minority issues.

It is time for Dinesh Gunawardena to answer the nation’s call and play a similar positive role at a time when the country is going through a critical phase in its history.

The pronouncement of the Sangha Karake Sabha also highlights another grave weakness of the Government. Its failure to address the criticisms made by its opponents on not only the Constitution Reform Processes but even other positive achievements of the Government has given those of the Joint Opposition and their ilk a field day to spread discontent among the people.

The importance of an effective communication strategy on the part of the Government cannot be overemphasised because it is clear from Joint Opposition spokesmen that they are mortally scared of canvassing their views through a referendum. They have clearly stated that they have to win the war by winning the first battle, namely, depriving the Government of its two thirds majority in Parliament.

The JO and its allies will undoubtedly have many tricks up their sleeve. One strategy espoused by Parliamentarian Wimal Weerawansa is to put pressure on individual Parliamentarians not to support the Constitution when it comes before Parliament. He advocates getting the clergy of the local temples to surround the houses of the MPs to ensure they act “patriotically” and vote against a new Constitution.

Another important step in the process of marketing the Constitution Reform process is to get the UNP and the SLFP on the same page. Some SLFPers in government are holding back and forgetting that it is a consensual government which must talk with one voice to achieve the Yahapalana goals. It is high time that President Maithripala Sirisena called his troops to fall in line and support the common cause with heart and soul.

The Government, therefore, has its work cut out for itself in dealing not only with regard to the content and process of Constitution Reform but also keeping the public on its side in this endeavour. One hopes that, for the country’s sake, it will not be found wanting in this task. (

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.