Foremost place to Buddhism guaranteed -SL govt
[TamilNet, Wednesday, 19 July 2000, 20:48 GMT]
The Sri Lankan Government Wednesday said that there is no truth in newspaper reports that Buddhism has no place in its proposed new constitution. Mr.Ratnasiri Wickremanayaka MP, Minister of Public Administration and Home Affairs said that the government's proposals for constitutional change do not alter the "foremost place" given to Buddhism in Sri Lanka's constitution. Tamil political parties say that Article 9 of Sri Lanka's constitution that guarantees Buddhism the foremost place is a major obstacle in drawing up even a "minimally acceptable" scheme for regional autonomy.
The Minister reiterated that the contents of the second chapter of Sri Lanka's present constitution guaranteeing Buddhism the foremost place have been included in the proposed new constitution without any alteration. The accusation has been levelled against the government by persons who are not aware of the nature of its proposals for constitutional change Mr.Wickremanayaka said.
The suspicions and fears about Buddhism not being given the foremost place would be dispelled when the government's proposals for a new constitution are placed before the public, the minister claimed.
Both the government and the opposition have assured the Sinhala Buddhists of the island this week they will not tamper with the foremost place given to Buddhism in the Sri Lankan constitution.
"The strategy was to alienate the Sinhala Buddhist vote bank from one's opponent by accusing him/her of denying Buddhism the foremost place. But the anxiousness of both the government and the United National Party to reassure their Sinhala voters on this score will certainly scuttle the possibility of discussing any further with the Tamil parties the changes to the constitution that they (govt.and UNP) have agreed upon " said a political analyst in Colombo.
"With the elections round the corner, the game of impressing Sinhala voters that one is more Sinhala than other and that the other is undermining Sinhala national interests either by not giving Buddhism primacy or by holding secret talks with the Liberation Tigers in Singapor is inevitable" the analyst said. (The government controlled media accused the UNP leader this week of holding secret talks with the LTTE in Singapore.The UNP sources said that this is a malicious campaign to portray it as an anti-Sinhala party)
Article 9 (chapter II) of the current Sri Lankan constitution promulgated in 1978 says "The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana.."
Tamils say that this Article constitutes a particular obstacle in negotiating any degree of regional autonomy with the government and the opposition because it is an 'entrenched' section of the constitution. Article 9 can be amended or repealed only with the support of two thirds of all the members of the Sri Lankan Parliament and only if such amendment or repeal is thereafter approved by the people in a nationwide referendum. Tamil parties point out that Article 9 is completely entrenched because a national referendum on amending or repealing it will certainly not succeed because the majority of Sri Lanka's voters are Sinhala Buddhists.
Meanwhile United National Party's Parliamentary group resolved today to call on the government to forthwith submit its proposals for constitutional reforms to the Buddhist clergy for perusal and comment.
The Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, the state run radio station quoted General Secretary of the United National Party Mr.Gamini Atukorale MP in its evening news as saying that attention was not focussed on the clauses dealing with the preservation of Buddhism during his party's discussions with the government on the proposed constitutional reforms and that the government and his party did not come to any agreement regarding the revision of such clauses.