The Steering Committee, tasked with drafting a new constitution has raised the hackles of some of its members by proposing that the term, ‘unitary state’ be done away with.
The Steering Committee interim report submitted by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to the Constitutional Assembly yesterday states that people in the south are scared of the term, ‘federal’ while the people in the North fear the word, ‘unitary.’
The report says: “The classical definition of the English term ‘unitary state’ has undergone change. In the United Kingdom, it is now possible for Northern Ireland and Scotland to move away from the union. Therefore the English term ‘unitary state’ will not be appropriate for Sri Lanka. The Sinhala term ‘aekiya raajyaya’ best describes an undivided and indivisible country. The Tamil language equivalent of this is ‘orumiththa nadu.’ In these circumstances, the following formulation may be considered: Sri Lanka [Ceylon] is a free, sovereign and independent republic which is an aekeiya rajyaya/orumiththa nadu means a state which is undivided and indivisible, and in which the power to amend the constitution, or to repeal and replace the constitution, shall remain within the parliament and people of Sri Lanka as provided in this constitution.”
The Joint Opposition, however, has objected to the proposal to abolish unitary status of Sri Lanka and demanded that the Article 2 of the 1978 Constitution which states ‘the Republic of Sri Lanka is a Unitary State’ should be kept as it is.
“We object to the proposed English and Tamil terms. The meaning of ‘Orumiththa nadu’ in Tamil is entirely different from the Sinhala term for ‘unitary state’. The meaning of ‘Orumiththa nadu’ carries the meaning ‘the country that is formed by amalgamation.’
“This is ample proof that this interim report has been drafted according to a separatist agenda, aimed at doing away with the unitary character of the state,” says the JO proposal signed by its parliamentary group and MEP leader Dinesh Gunwardena and MP Prasanna Ranatunga.
The SLFP proposal signed by Ministers Nimal Siripala de Silva, Susil Premajayantha and Dilan Perera, too, has opposed the proposal to abolish the unitary state. It says, “Articles I and II of the constitution shall be maintained unchanged in their present form, i. e 01. Sri Lanka is a free, sovereign, independent and democratic socialist republic and shall be known as the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, 02. The Republic of Sri Lanka is a unitary state. In the Tamil language and the English language the word ‘unitary’ shall be used and shall carry the interpretation of the word of the Sinhala language.”
The JVP’s proposal signed by its leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake and MP Bimal Ratnayake has not included any suggestion pertaining to the unitary status of the country.
The TNA proposal signed by MPs R Sampanthan and MA Sumanthiran demands that Sri Lanka should be a union of provinces/states.
It says: “Sri Lanka shall be a federal state within the framework of a united/undivided and indivisible country. The Centre and Provinces/states shall exercise exclusive power in their areas of competence in accordance with the provisions of the constitution. Sri Lanka shall be a secular state…. The northern and eastern provinces shall constitute one province/state.”
The Jathika Hela Urumaya proposal, signed by its general secretary Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka, too, has demanded that Articles 1 and 2 of the present constitution guaranteeing the unitary status of the country remain unchanged.
The proposal submitted by the All Ceylon Makkal Congress’ leader Minister Rishad Bathiudeen has objected to the merging of provinces. The constitution shall not recognize the north and east as a single province. The ACMC demands that unitary status should remain unchanged.
A joint proposal signed by the SLMC leader Minister Rauff Hakim, Tamil Progressive Alliance leader Minister Mano Ganesan, EPDP leader Douglas Devananda demands that Sri Lanka should be known as United Republic of Sri Lanka. It shall be Sri Lanka Eksath Janarajaya in Sinhala language and Aikkiya Ilangi Kudiyarasau in Tamil.