Articles by Dr Jehan Perera

The participation of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and visiting British Minister Hugo Swire at the Thai Pongal celebration in Jaffna is an indication of the special attention that is being given to the northern polity by the government. The top leaders of the government have been making frequent visits to the north in a way that is unprecedented. During the years of the war it was dangerous for government leaders to visit the north as they were vulnerable to being attacked by the LTTE and other militant groups. But even prior to the war there was reluctance on the part of leaders of government to visit the north. Neville Jayaweera, in his memoirs of his time as a civil servant who dealt with the north five decades ago, writes about the petty manner in which the government leaders of those years turned down opportunities to visit the north. In contrast, President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe are frequent travelers to the north.

The government set the stage for the drafting of a new constitution when Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe presented a resolution to Parliament on January 9 that would convene it as a constitutional assembly. The timing was symbolically important as this was the date that marked the commencement of President Maithripala Sirisena’s second year in office. President Sirisena was also in Parliament to make a special address to Parliament. The president’s commitment to stripping himself of the extraordinary powers of the presidency from the very beginning of his first term is without parallel in modern history. Within five months of his presidential election victory he ensured the passage of the 19th Amendment which, as a first step, reduced the powers of the presidency which he would henceforth wield. Now with the convening of parliament as a constitutional assembly he is paving the way for the total abolition of the office he holds.

The government has been responsive to public pressure in multifold ways. It amended the budget in 16 different areas due to protests by trade unions and affected groups even though the budget deficit grew by more billions. It is investigating a case of abduction by one of its members. It has been responsive to concerns expressed by civil society about the absence of participation in both the constitutional reform and transitional justice processes. Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe has appointed a 24-member committee from political and civil society to obtain views on constitutional reforms from the public. This Committee will seek oral and written submissions from the public and a report will handed to a Cabinet Sub Committee on Constitutional Reforms. In addition Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera has appointed an 11 member committee to discuss and provide input on issues pertaining to the Geneva process.