Sri Lanka's new government, which is taking steps to draw up a new constitution, is likely to cheat Tamils out of a political system that reflects their aspirations.
Restrictions imposed by the government on the constitution-making process even before it has begun signal that Tamils will remain under-privileged citizens unless they mount a concerted challenge to the regime’s moves forthwith.
Presidential and parliamentary elections in 2015 resulted in the two loci of power – the presidency and parliament – pass to the two main political rivals, the United National Party (UNP) and United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA). Today, Maithripala Sirisena of the UPFA is the country’s directly-elected executive president, while Ranil Wickremesinghe, head of the UNP, is prime minister controlling the country’s legislature. Wickremesinghe’s majority in parliament is strengthened by UPFA’s support for a limited time to push through important changes, including a new constitution.
The coming together of the two main parties to form a national unity government also brought the largest Tamil party – the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) – to parliament and its head, Rajavarothyam Sampanthan, to be the leader of the opposition. Sampanthan viewed his new role as one that would combine “the resolution of the national question through a new constitution” as well as “relating to the wellbeing of the whole country and its future”.
The main reason articulated by both the President and the Prime Minister for a new constitution is shortcomings in the current document – the Second Republican Constitution created in 1978 – which concentrates power in the all-powerful presidency. Critics of the present constitution argue that this has not only led to an elected tyranny in Sri Lanka, but is instrumental in exacerbating relations between Sinhalese and Tamils that led to the 30-year civil war where an estimated hundred thousand people died.