Sri Lanka says Buddhism's foremost place will be preserved in new Constitution

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe Friday tabled in Parliament a report of experts

[File] Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe | AFP [File] Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe | AFP

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe Friday tabled in Parliament a report of experts on drafting a new Constitution in which the foremost place would be given to Buddhism, rejecting allegations by the Opposition that the majority religion will be diluted.

Parliament met as the Constitutional Assembly as Wickremesinghe presented the report prepared by the Panel of Experts for the Steering Committee, which is based on the Interim report, six sub-committee reports and representations made by political parties on drafting a new Constitution.

"This report consists of proposals made by all parties including the chief ministers of provinces," he said, adding that it was up to Parliament to take the process forward.

Wickremesinghe debunked theories put forward by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa-led Sinhala majority nationalists that the Constitution-making exercise will give into the demands of Tamil minority separatists.

They have condemned the new Constitution as the one which will grant a federal states to the north, eventually leading to the separation of the island.

Wickremesinghe said: "There is no federal proposal in this. All have accepted the unitary character, although they may have different views on its terminology".

The Rajapaksa camp has also accused the new Constitution of diluting the Buddhism's foremost position over other religions.

The prime minister emphasised that the foremost place given to the majority religion Buddhism has been preserved.

Leader of the Opposition Rajapaksa said Parliament has no political moral right to bring in a new Constitution as the ruling party of Wickremesinghe was defeated in local council elections last year.

"We demand that a general election be held so that people will be given the opportunity to decide on the new Constitution. We will come up with our own proposals," Rajapaksa said.

The Marxist JVP, while blaming Rajapaksa for carrying out misinformation on the new Constitution, said the Constitutional Assembly had not been able to come up with a common draft let alone making a Constitution.

"This is now only a time wasting exercise," JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake said, adding that it has failed to make a draft Constitution over the last four years.

Rajapaksa loyalist and senior Parliamentarian Dinesh Gunawardena was more vocal in calling for abandoning the Constitutional Assembly.

The main Tamil party leader R Sampanthan recalled the history of failed Constitution making attempts to redress the Tamil community and urged Rajapaksa to stop playing politics.

Wickremesinghe stressed that all parties must take the process forward with a debate on the report. No date was fixed for the debate.

According to some analysts, the process of formulating a new Constitution faces the danger of being abandoned if Friday's proceedings in the Constitutional Assembly was an indicator.