Sri Lanka's monks vow to fight constitutional reform

Sri Lanka's Buddhist monks threatened to hold nation-wide protests against the move to give political autonomy to the minority Tamil community.

Published: 10th July 2017 08:48 PM  |   Last Updated: 10th July 2017 08:48 PM   |  A+A-

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COLOMBO: Sri Lanka's hardline Buddhist monks today vowed to resist the government's decision to draft a new Constitution, threatening to hold nation-wide protests against the move to give political autonomy to the minority Tamil community.

Claiming that President Maithripala Sirisena government has no mandate to introduce the new constitution, hardline monk Maagalkande Sudaththa told media here the country's influential Buddhists are going from district-to-district to educate their followers about the "dangers" of the proposed Constitution.

The hardline monks vowed to back the opposition mounted by the monk leaders against the government's move to change the island's constitution. They threatened to hold street protests against the government's decision. Sudaththa's remarks came after Sri Lankan government asserted that the government will go ahead with the process of drafting the new Constitution to give its Tamil minority greater autonomy.

Government spokesman and Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne said the parliament will not reverse the process begun in April last year to draft the Constitution. "The government got 6.2 million votes to change the constitution," Senaratne had said.

"The monks can have their views, but the people's mandate at two elections in 2015 was to change the Constitution. We will not work against the people's will just because Buddhist monks want us to do so," he had said.

President Maithripala Sirisena last week met the senior monks and assured that they would be informed on the final draft of the constitutional reform. Sri Lankan parliament had converted itself into a constitutional assembly to draft a new Constitution to replace the existing 1978 Constitution. Suddhaththa said about 70 per cent of MPs in the 225- member parliament are a "asleep" when important issues are discussed. He accused them of being "uneducated".

Nearly 70 per cent of the island's population is Buddhist. The latest move by the Buddhist community is a new challenge to the government of Sirisena who himself is a Buddhist and is committed to ethnic unity. The hardline stance of monks is being seen as the history repeating itself whenever successive Sri Lankan governments attempted reforms to grant political autonomy to the Tamil minority in its bid to end ethnic strife in the island.

All such attempts since 1958 have been scuttled by Buddhist monks who took the ant-reform platform driving the Sinhala majority to oppose the blue prints for power sharing. This led to a bloody armed conflict waged by the LTTE to carve out a separate Tamil state in the north and east provinces.

The LTTE was militarily defeated in 2009, yet the root causes of the conflict remain to be addressed. Tamils, who live predominantly in the north and east of Sri Lanka, form the largest minority group in the country constituting for 11.1 per cent of the population. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ran a nearly three-decade separatist campaign leading to a bloody war with the Sri Lankan security forces. According to the UN figures, up to 40,000 civilians were killed by the security forces during former president Mahinda Rajapaksa's regime that brought an end to the brutal conflict with the defeat of the LTTE in 2009. 

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