COLOMBO: In a move which may disappoint the minority Tamils, Sri Lanka’s new government has categorically ruled out adoption of a federal constitution for the country.
In his maiden speech in Parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe disregarded the Tamil National Alliance’s long-standing demand for a federal constitution and made it clear that Lanka will remain a unitary state in which power will be devolved to the provinces without disturbing the country’s unitary constitutional framework.
Wickremesinghe said that the (India-inspired) 13th Amendment of the constitution, which devolves a modicum of powers to the country’s nine provinces, will be implemented within the framework of the existing unitary constitution. Thus, the government of President Maithripala Sirisena has allayed one of the entrenched fears among the country’s Sinhalese-Buddhist majority that a pro-Western and pro-Indian government in Colombo may succumb to pressure from the internationally-backed Tamil minority to make Lanka a “federation”, with the provinces enjoying a lot of autonomy - a kind of autonomy which could lead to secession. However, Wickremesinghe said a political settlement with the Tamils is necessary and asked for all-round cooperation.
“It is our responsibility and duty. We should show the country that we can sit together and iron out differences to find a solution. The Tamil National Alliance has expressed its willingness to negotiate a political settlement,” he said.
Wickremesinghe asked MP Wimal Weerawansa, a Mahinda Rajapaksa ally and leader of the Sinhalese majoritarian party, the National Freedom Front, not to rake up communalism in the country when it is marching towards ethnic reconciliation and an inclusive society.
“You are responsible for the defeat of Rajapaksa,” Wickremesinghe told Weerawansa, referring to Rajapaksa’s bid to turn the January 8 Presidential election campaign into a Sinhalese versus minorities issue.