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FeaturesNews“I have the genuine fear, if the national question is not resolved …” Sampanthan’s speech on constitutional reform

“I have the genuine fear, if the national question is not resolved …” Sampanthan’s speech on constitutional reform

by

Rajavarothiam Sampanthan – Leader of the Opposition.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We are debating the Interim Report submitted to the Constitutional Assembly by the Steering Committee appointed by the Constitutional Assembly in regard to the framing of a new Constitution for our country. This is a very important debate, Sir, a historic debate.

Our first Constitution was the Soulbury Constitution enacted by the British under which we obtained independence. The second Constitution was the 1972 Constitution, the first republican Constitution. The third Constitution was the 1978 Constitution, the second republican Constitution. These latter two Constitutions were enacted by the party and the Government in power and not on the basis of a consensus. The current process is based on a Resolution of Parliament; Parliament has been converted into a Constitutional Assembly; there is a Committee of the whole Parliament; there is a Steering Committee comprising of Members of Parliament of all political parties; there have been six multi-party subcommittees appointed which have submitted their reports; a team of experts have assisted the process. There have been public consultations and public representations have been received. All these have taken place. There is a marked difference between the procedures being adopted now and the procedures which prevailed when the 1972 and 1978 Constitutions were enacted. All this take place almost 40 years after the enactment of the second Republican Constitution. All these steps, I submit Sir, add to the credibility and the legitimacy of the process. After wide consultation and consensus, the Constitution will have to be enacted and adopted by two-thirds majority of Parliament and approved by the people at a Referendum. It will reflect the exercise of the sovereignty of the people, by the people to the fullest degree. The supreme law of the land would have been made by the people and would command the respect and recognition of all the people; its credibility and legitimacy shall be unassailable.

All others, whether it be the President, the Prime Minister, the Parliament, the Judiciary, the Provincial Councils and the Local Government institutions, are only organs of Government – custodians for the time being of the power of the people exercising power on behalf of the people, in terms of the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land enacted by the people.

Sovereignty of the people would have been exercised so comprehensively that no question can be asked pertaining to the impairment of the sovereignty of the people.

All the people would be involved. It is for the first time in the history of the country that such an exercise is being undertaken, the totality of the people being involved. The Constitution, the supreme law of the country, will be framed so as to ensure and guarantee an undivided and indivisible Sri Lanka, belonging to all the people of Sri Lanka. This Constitution is being made to ensure that the country remains undivided and indivisible for all time and that the country proceeds on a path of development and progress. The objective of the Constitution is to create a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka, so as to achieve its fullest potential for the benefit of all the people in the country.

The reasons for this occurrence are the lessons that we have learnt in the past 70 years. We have seen the devastation and destruction the country has gone through during the war that lasted 30 years. Government’s resources were extensively expended in fighting the war. The country was starved of resources for economic development. Consequently, the people were unable to be the beneficiaries of their true entitlements.

The country has realized that for it to survive and progress and maintain its status in the world, it needs to unite and come together on the basis of equality and justice. Anyone attempting to disturb the process would do great harm to the country. Such people would be acting not in the national interest, but to advance their own personal political future on sectarian and narrow grounds.

Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic and multilingual plural society. The proposals envisage that Democracy and the Franchise co-exist in harmony without distortion and that pluralism receives meaningful respect and recognition. Democracy and pluralism, Mr. Chairman, are inextricably interlinked and must be so structured as to strengthen each other so as to ensure justice and equality. This strengthens and consolidates an undivided and indivisible Sri Lanka. That is the foundation of the whole exercise.

This is a prerequisite to sustainable peace, development and progress. Under the scheme of power sharing, there will be power exercised at three levels:

(i) the National Level,

(ii) the Provincial Level and

(iii) the Local Level.

The subjects and functions assigned to the three levels would be unambiguously and clearly defined on a rational basis; legislative and executive power shall be exercised in their respective spheres of competence at the different levels.

This arrangement will prevail throughout the country. Constitutional provisions will ensure that the devolved power is not undermined or taken back. If for any reason such a step becomes necessary, it can only be for very special reasons and in terms of specific constitutional provisions in that regard. This will ensure that the sharing of power is durable and also genuine. Such arrangements will be applicable throughout the country.

This is to ensure, Sir, that governance is in keeping with the tenets of Democracy that there is recognition of diversity in unity, that there will be easy access to governance, that governance will be transparent, that there will be ready accountability in governance, that there will be greater people’s participation in governance, that governance is consequently more effective and expeditious and that governance is also consequently less corrupt. There would be contentment and satisfaction amongst all people in all areas. This would contribute to unity in diversity and national cohesion and integration.

The Thirteenth Amendment, Sir, was the first step in power sharing through constitutional provision. The genesis of the Thirteenth Amendment were extensive discussions between the Government of Sri Lanka headed by President J.R. Jayewardene and the Tamil United Liberation Front led by Mr. A. Amirthalingam in July and August, 1986. Our Prime Minister was a member of the Government Delegation; it was my privilege to be a member of the Tamil Delegation. In fact, there are only two Members of Parliament who are alive from the Government side: Hon. Prime Minister and Mr. Ronnie De Mel and there are only two Members alive from the Tamil side: Mr. V. Anandasangaree and myself. President J.R. Jayewardene tabled in Parliament the proposals of the Government based on those discussions in February, 1987. There is a belief in this country that the Thirteenth Amendment was imposed on Sri Lanka after the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement was signed in July, 1987. I want to specifically state that President Jayewardene tabled the proposals outlining the Thirteenth Amendment in Parliament in February, 1987 and those proposals were based on discussions that took place between the Government and the TULF in July and August, 1986.

The Thirteenth Amendment was a significant beginning but inadequate. This was recognized by all subsequent Governments and subsequent Presidents: President R. Premadasa who succeeded President J.R. Jayewardene, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga who assumed Office after President Premadasa and President Mahinda Rajapaksa who succeeded President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.

During President Premadasa’s time, there was the Mangala Moonesinghe Select Committee Proposals, during President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s time, there was the 2000 August Constitutional Bill tabled in Parliament with Cabinet approval without any dissent whatever – which Cabinet also included former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and present President Maithripala Sirisena.

During President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s term, there was the remarkable and meaningful speech made by President Rajapaksa on 11th of July 2006 at the inaugural meeting of the APRC – All Party Representatives Committee – and the Multi-Ethnic Experts Committee appointed by him, the majority report of the said Multi Ethnic Experts Committee and the report of the APRC headed by Professor Tissa Vitarana; all of which under all three Presidents and Governments contained proposals for sharing power that went far beyond the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution and all of which were based on a substantial consensus between representatives of different political parties. They were all domestic and home-grown processes based upon a wealth of experience of local conditions. There were no slogans but there was substance. It would perhaps be pertinent to clarify what exactly the position of President Rajapaksa was during these periods.

I would like to quote, Sir, from the speech made by President Rajapaksa when he addressed the APRC and the Multi-Ethnic Experts Committee on the 11of July 2006. He addressed that Committee under three subparagraphs. The first was “Unity, Territorial Integrity and Sovereignty” and this is what President Rajapaksa said in the course of his address.

The unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty of our country must be preserved. This cannot be open to bargain. Our approach has been widely endorsed by the international community, notably India and the Co-chairs have clearly stated and have clearly ruled out any form of division of this country. Our objective must be to develop a just settlement within an undivided Sri Lanka.”

Those were the words of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the President at that time. He further said,

Our objective must be to develop a just settlement within an undivided Sri Lanka. Each party represented here has its own solutions to the national question. We will discuss and synthesize these different approaches and develop our own Sri Lankan model. We must explore past attempts from the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact onwards. We must draw appropriate lessons from the experience of other countries.”

Those were the words of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and that is precisely what we are trying to do now. He went on to say, I quote:

I will not impose a solution on the country. But, you will through your developments, through your deliberations provide a solution to the national question.”

His speech next dealt with the point relating to “Devolution for the People by the People” and this is what President Mahinda Rajapaksa said on that very important subject of “Devolution for the people by the People”.

He said, I quote:

People in their own localities must take charge of their destiny and control their politico-economic environment. Central decision-making that allocates disproportionate resources has been an issue for a considerable time. In addition, it is axiomatic that devolution also needs to address issues relating to identity as well as security and socio-economic advancement without over-reliance on the Centre. In this regard, it is also important to address the question of regional minorities.”

So, he wanted the issues of identity, security, socio-economic development to be addressed and for people to determine their destiny in the areas in which they lived so that people would be in control of their own affairs and this, Sir, is precisely what we are presently engaged in doing.

Then, finally, under the heading “Some Concluding Thoughts” this is what President Mahinda Rajapaksa said on that date. I quote:

“Any solution must be seen as one that stretches to the maximum possible devolution –

He wanted maximum possible devolution granted.

-without sacrificing the sovereignty of the country”.

He further said, I quote:

“…given the background to the conflict, it therefore behoves on particularly the majority community to be proactive in striving for peace and there must be a demonstration of a well-stretched hand of accommodation.”

He wanted the majority community to be proactive in striving for peace and there must be a demonstration of a well-stretched hand of accommodation. Any solution must be seen as one that stretches to the maximum possible devolution. Those were President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s words. Are we doing anything different now?

He further went on to say, I quote:

Any solution must therefore address these expectations as well. The role of the All Party Representative Committee, as well as the Panel of Experts is to fashion creative options and satisfy the minimum expectations that I had enumerated earlier as well as provide a comprehensive approach to the resolution of the national question”.

So, Sir, it is unfortunate that President Rajapaksa and Members politically affiliated to him are today taking up a position which is diametrically opposite to what President Rajapaksa in his capacity as President told the APRC and the Experts Committee on 11th July, 2006, shortly after he assumed the Office of President.

While I am on the question of President Rajapaksa, it may also be relevant for me, at this stage, to quote what Professor G.L. Peiris in his capacity as the Foreign Minister of this country had to say in Oslo when he attended the Oslo Conference and to also refer to the Oslo Communique to which he was a party.

“Responding to a proposal by the leadership of the LTTE, the parties agreed to explore a solution founded on the principle of internal self-determination in areas of historical habitation of the Tamil-speaking people, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka. The parties acknowledged that the solution had to be acceptable to all communities…. Guided by this objective, the parties agreed to initiate discussions on substantive political issues such as, but not limited to: Power-sharing between the centre and the region, as well as within the centre; Geographical region; Human Rights Protection; Political and administrative mechanisms; Public finance; Law and order.”

That was the Oslo Communique to which Professor G.L. Peiris in his capacity as the Foreign Minister was a party where he agreed to address a solution based upon the principle of internal self-determination under a federal arrangement within a united country acceptable to all the communities in the country.That is precisely what we are engaged in.

Prof. Peiris went on to address the press conference at the end of that Oslo Meeting. The Meeting was on the 02nd to 05th of December, 2002. This is what Prof. Peiris said. I quote:

“The LTTE is no longer insisting on a separate State but …. is looking at a different concept in earnest and that is internal self-determination.

And he went on to explain what he meant. This was power sharing, extensive power sharing within the framework of one country. No question of secession, no question of separation but power sharing within the framework of one country.”

These are the words of Prof. G. L. Peiris himself in his capacity as the Foreign Minister of this country. He stated that his Government was prepared to find a solution on this basis. So, I am a little surprised, Sir, that these gentlemen are taking up different positions. But, I state these facts, because I think it is necessary for the country to know what President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his spokesman, the Foreign Minister did while they were in power. The inability of leaders to stand by what they accept and keep their commitments after they cease to hold power has been a major setback in our country.

The present process in Constitution making under President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is in a true sense a continuation of the process commenced by President Premadasa continued during President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s term and also continued during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s term – for a period of more than 25 years – but not finally concluded in view of a lack of consensus between the two major political parties which unfortunately were unable to work together on a national issue and also on account of the fact that a very fierce war was in progress and was an impediment to resolution. These two impediments have now been overcome and we now face the issue in a very different and much more conducive environment. It is more than eight years since the war came to an end but the causes for the commencement of the war have not yet been addressed.

It would be a tragedy for the country if the conclusion of the war is not utilized to bring about genuine and permanent peace. All the above proposals during the tenure of the three Governments and the three Presidents that I have referred to, were put forward when the war was being fiercely fought. It would be a tragedy not to realize that the war commenced due to a non-resolution of the national question and that the national question yet remains unsolved.

This is an opportunity to frame a Constitution on the basis of a national consensus between the different political parties and also amongst all the people of the country irrespective of their ethnic or religious differences and it would be to the country’s extreme detriment if this opportunity was missed.

Having referred Sir, to the statements of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris to demonstrate how much their former statements while in office are fully supportive of the present Constitution making process and also demonstrate how diametrically different and contradictory their current statements are, I want to refer to the actions of three outstanding leaders who held the highest office in this country. The first was Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike; the second was Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake and the third was President J.R. Jayewardene.

Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike signed a Pact with the Tamil leader, Mr. S.J.V. Chelvanayakam in 1957.

This is what the Pact states. I quote:

‘(A) Regional areas to be defined in the Bill itself by embodying them in the Schedule thereto.

‘(B) That the Northern Province is to form one regional area whilst the Eastern Province is to be divided into one or more regional areas.

‘(C) Provision is to be made in the Bill to enable two or more regions to amalgamate even beyond provincial limit; and for one region to divide itself subject to ratification by Parliament. Further provision is to be made in the Bill for two or more regions to collaborate for specific purposes of common interests.”

The next point in the Agreement Sir, was in regard to colonization. The pact states, I quote;

” ‘(F) It was agreed that in the matter of colonization schemes the powers of the Regional Councils shall include the power to select allottees to whom lands within their area of authority shall be alienated and also power to select personnel to be employed for work on such schemes.”

That was the Agreement between Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and the Tamil leader, Mr. S.J.V. Chelvanayakam.

Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake signed a Pact with the Tamil leader, Mr. S.J.V. Chelvanayakam in 1965 which largely dealt with the question of colonization – State lands. This is what it said under that Agreement. In the case of colonization, District Councils would see that landless people in the District get priority over others. The second preference would be, Tamil-speaking people in the Northern and the Eastern Provinces, in regard to the land alienation in the North and the East. Finally, even in considering deserving cases from outside of the North and the East, Tamils should get priority over others. There were three demarcations of priority: the first being the landless persons in the District, the second being the Tamil-speaking people in the North and the East and the third being the Tamil people outside the North and the East.

The third Agreement was, Sir, signed by the President J.R. Jayewardene with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1987. By that time our issue had become internationalized as a result of our not resolving it by ourselves.

This is what that Agreement signed between President J.R. Jayewardene and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi states. I quote:

1.1 desiring to preserve the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka:

That was sacrosanct; that was the first point in the Agreement.

1.2 acknowledging that Sri Lanka is a ‘multi-ethnic and a multilingual plural society’ consisting, inter alia, of Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims (Moors) and Burghers;

1.3 recognizing that each ethnic group has a distinct cultural and linguistic identity which has to be carefully nurtured;

1.4 also recognizing that the Northern and the Eastern Provinces have been areas of historical habitation of Sri Lankan Tamil-speaking peoples, who have at all times hitherto lived together in this territory with other ethnic groups;

1.5 conscious of the necessity of strengthening the forces contributing to the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, and preserving its character as a multi-ethnic, multilingual and multi-religious plural society in which all citizens can live in equality, safety and harmony, and prosper and fulfil their aspirations; ”

Sir, it further went on to state, I quote:

“2.2 During the period, which shall be considered an interim period (i.e. from the date of the elections to the Provincial Council, as specified in para 2.8, to the date of the referendum as specified in para 2.3), the Northern and Eastern Provinces as now constituted, will form one administrative unit, having one elected Provincial Council. Such a unit will have one Governor, one Chief Minister and one Board of Ministers.”

This amalgamation of the North and the East, Sir, lasted for 18 years. There was a budgetary provision made each year over a period of 18 years for a combined, united North-Eastern Provincial Council. Very unfortunately, there was the rather questionable Judgment of the Supreme Court delivered in 2006, which stated that there was a procedural flaw, not anything substantial, but a procedural flaw, in regard to the manner of the merger and the merger was done away with.

These three national leaders I have referred to, Sir – Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, Mr. Dudley Senanayake and Mr. J.R. Jayewardene – were men of great stature, political giants. They were prepared to deal with issues that needed to be dealt with. They had the knowledge and the capacity in the country’s interest to do what was required.

The contents of these Agreements need to be examined when we frame our Constitution because they deal with vital issues such as land, the relevance of a Tamil linguistic identity in the North-East and the need for reasonable arrangements relating to these issues without harm being inflicted on others within an undivided and indivisible Sri Lanka.

It is well known, Sir, that our national question has become internationalized because of the blunders we have committed and because we have not been able to amicably resolve it ourselves. The country needs to know the extent to which this issue has been internationalized and the urgent need for it to be resolved. The process of making a new Constitution that we are currently engaged in provides the way to achieve that objective. I propose to refer to some of the concerns that have been expressed internationally. But, I will confine myself to a very restricted cross-section of these concerns because I do not have the time to refer to all the concerns expressed by all people.

Our neighbouring country, India – our large neighbour can well be called our mother country, for all of us came from there – has been involved and concerned for a long period of time. This is what the former Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh had to say in regard to our problem in Sri Lanka. Sir, I quote his statement:

You have a situation in Sri Lanka. The decimation of the LTTE was something which is good. But the Tamil problem does not disappear, with the defeat of the LTTE. The Tamil population has legitimate grievances. They feel they are reduced to second-class citizens. And our emphasis has been to persuade the Sri Lankan Government that we must move towards a new system of institutional reforms, where the Tamil people will have a feeling that they are equal citizens of Sri Lanka, and they can lead a life of dignity and self-respect.”

So, that is what the former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh had to say in regard to our situation in Sri Lanka.

I would also like to refer, Sir, to what the present Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi said when he addressed this Parliament in March, 2015. He said that we all have to decide how our nation is going to be constituted and went on to say, I quote:

When we accommodate the aspirations of all sections of our society, the nation gets the strength of every individual. And, when we empower states, districts and villages, we make our country stronger and stronger.”

“Today, my top priority is to make the States in India stronger. I am a firm believer in cooperative federalism. So, we are devolving more power and more resources to the States and we are making them formal partners in national decision-making processes.

Sri Lanka has lived through decades of tragic violence and conflict. You have successfully defeated terrorism and brought the conflict to an end. You now stand at a moment of historic opportunity to win the hearts and heal the wounds across all sections of society. Recent elections in Sri Lanka have reflected the collective voice of the nation: the hope for change, reconciliation and unity. The steps that you have taken in recent times are bold and admirable. They represent a new beginning.”

That is what the Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi had to say.

Sir, I would also like to refer to what the Co-chairs of Sri Lanka comprising of the USA, the European Union, Norway and Japan had to say. I quote:

It (Sri Lanka) must show that it is ready to make the dramatic political changes to bring about a new system of governance which will enhance the rights of all Sri Lankans, including the Muslims. The international community will support such steps: failure to take such steps will diminish international support.”

They went on to say, I quote:

The Tamil and Muslim peoples of Sri Lanka have justified and substantial grievances that have not yet been adequately addressed.”

I would also like to refer, Sir, to what the US Assistant Secretary of State, Mr. Richard A. Boucher had to say when he came to Sri Lanka some time ago in 2006. He said, I quote:

We also think the Government should provide a positive vision to Tamils and Muslims of a future Sri Lanka where their legitimate grievances are addressed and their security assured. President Rajapaksa has spoken of “maximum devolution”. Previous negotiations have agreed on “internal self-determination” within a federal framework. However, the idea is expressed, it could offer hope to many in the North and the East that they will have control over their own lives and destinies within a single nation of Sri Lanka.”

He went on to say, I quote:

Although we reject the methods that the Tamil Tigers have used, there are legitimate issues that are raised by the Tamil community and they have a very legitimate desire, as anybody would, to be able to control their own lives, to rule their own destinies and to govern themselves in their homeland, in the areas they’ve traditionally inhabited.”

So, the reason why I have quoted some of those important statements made by world leaders and very important countries is that we should realize that we are being watched by the whole world on account of certain things that are happening in this country.

My mind goes to South Africa at one point of time, Sir, and Myanmar also a little later. The apartheid Government in South Africa and the military Government in Myanmar thought that they could do what they liked and get away with it, and that they were not answerable to anyone. They soon realized that they were under such international pressure, particularly under such international financial pressure that they had to cave in and they had to accept the supremacy of democracy.

What we ask is that democracy be regarded as supreme and that institutions be structured in such a way that the democratic wishes of all the people in this country will prevail and will give them self-respect and dignity. We are prepared to help you in that regard. We have been co-operating with the present Government in that regard because we want international pressure to come to an end, we want the problem to be resolved domestically. But, please remember that if you do not resolve the problem domestically, international pressure will only get worse and become more and more difficult in time to come.

These statements made by the different important international personalities at different times emphasize the imperative need for us to resolve our issue domestically. If we are able to enact a new Constitution that has a broad acceptable national consensus, we would bring this to an end.

Our endeavour, Sir, is to frame a new Constitution on the basis of the maximum possible consensus. The ascertainment of the public view through the Public Representations Committee, the public representations received otherwise, the functioning of the Steering Committee and the six Subcommittees on a multi-party basis and the assistance of the Experts have contributed to the emergence of a measure of consensus. A greater understanding and consensus is yet needed in respect of some other issues. This Debate in the Constitutional Assembly is meant to promote that. The views of different Members of the Steering Committee of different political parties have been set forth in the annexures to the main Report of the Steering Committee.

We, of the Tamil National Alliance, substantially represent the views of one of the main parties to the Conflict, the Tamil people of the North East who were the worst affected by the Conflict. The Tamil people of the North East have been absolutely clear in regard to the manner and mode of power sharing, particularly in the North East, during more than the past 60 years, quite definitely, since 1956. They have advocated a federal arrangement within a united undivided country in a united Tamil-speaking North Eastern Region, comprising of the Northern and Eastern Provinces, both of which are predominantly Tamil-speaking, and all districts therein, in both the North and the East, all of which are also predominantly Tamil-speaking. When a demand for separation was first raised, the Federal Party opposed it.

I want to refer to the Election Manifesto of the Federal Party in 1970, which very categorically stated the following on the question of separation.

In our written Election Manifesto we stated this:

“The division of the country in any form would be beneficial neither to the country nor to the Tamil Speaking people.

Hence we appeal to the Tamil speaking people, not to heed, not to lend their support to any political movement that advocates the bifurcation of the country.”

This is what the Federal Party said. “Separation is not good for the country, it is not good for the Tamil people and we want the Tamil people of this country to oppose any candidate who espouses separatism. “

Prof. Sundaralingam lost his deposit. Mr. Navaratnam also lost his deposit.

So, we were never demanding separation. When proceedings commenced after the General Elections in 1970 for the enactment of the 1972 Constitution, the Federal Party participated in the said proceedings and endeavoured to evolve an acceptable solution within a united undivided Sri Lanka. The failure to elicit a reasonable and balanced response from the Government was the cause for the situation getting worse. All that happened after 1972 could have been averted if there was a reasonable and balanced response in 1972 to the proposals of the Federal Party. History has destined that the country and all of us are in the same position, more than four and almost five decades later, to be quite exact 45 years later. The Tamil National Alliance as a democratic party representing the Tamil people of the North East is committed to the democratic verdicts of the people delivered over the past sixty years. As a democratic party we are also committed to the evolution of substantial reasonable national consensus in regard to the evolution of a Constitution – the Supreme Law of the country. This, we think, is necessary in the national interest, and all its people, Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and all others.

In that spirit, Sir, we are willing to work towards a reasonable and acceptable consensus on all issues. We appeal to all irrespective of party or other affiliations to join in this national endeavour.

Before I conclude, Sir, I consider it necessary to refer to the spectre of violence, which regrettably has had an impact on political developments in the country after Independence. Violence was first unleashed against the Tamil people in 1956 and intermittently thereafter in 1958, 1961, 1977, 1983 and continuously since then. Violence was unleashed against the Tamil people whenever they made legitimate political demands. Violence was unleashed against the Tamil people long before the emergence of the LTTE. Over one million five hundred thousand – 1,500,000 – Tamils have fled this country and live in different parts of the world away form their own country with their families divided. This country has lost valuable talent in consequence.

Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, the late Prime Minister, was compelled to tear up the Bandaranaike – Chelvanayakam Pact in 1957. He did so much against his will. He was assassinated in 1959. A member of the clergy was convicted of that crime and yet another senior member of the clergy was convicted of conspiracy to commit that crime. Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike was a visionary leader; the Bandaranaike – Chelvanayakam Pact was a genuine beginning by him to resolve the national question. He was not allowed to do so; he was not allowed to do what he wished. The country’s future would have been very different if he was able to implement what he wished.

I have the genuine fear, as indeed many others have, that if the national question is not amicably resolved early, there will be developments that will lead to further violence being unleashed against the Tamil people. More Tamil people would flee this country and the Tamil people’s political voice would be silenced. I want to pose the question to my Friends who oppose the new constitution-making process whether this is your agenda that you oppose a political solution only for this reason.

It cannot be disputed that the emergence of the LTTE was long after violence began to be unleashed against the Tamil people. Such violence and the failure of successive Governments to keep their commitments were the primary causes for the emergence of the LTTE.

You were able to win the support of all the important countries in the world to defeat the LTTE. You had India’s support, the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, the European Union and every country in the world supported you. The LTTE was banned in all those Countries. You made out to the world that the LTTE was an impediment to political resolution. You assured the world that there would be an acceptable resolution of the national question after the defeat of the LTTE. You have to ask yourselves whether you can abandon the said assurances and commitments that you made to the world. I can specifically refer to all those commitments, but I do not have the time, Sir. Sri Lanka knows very well that all the problems Sri Lanka has faced in the international arena, particularly since 2012, have been on account of your failure to meaningfully address the national question.

Things can only get worse; they cannot get any better if the same situation continues.

As a Sri Lankan, I have the right to ask everyone to be truthful to the country and to all our people. It would be a mistake to think that everyone can be deceived all the time. No one wants anything done behind the backs of the Sri Lankan people. Let us enact a constitution addressing the critical issues and seek the approval of the people at a Referendum. It is they who must make the final decision in the exercise of their sovereignty.

Thank you, Sir.

(Full transcript of the speech made by Hon Sampanthan in Parliament on 02 November on the interim report of the Steering Committee)

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