Danger: From a Republic, back to a Colony ?


Tissa Vitarana

Sri Lanka ceased to be a colony and gained complete independence by becoming a Republic in 1972. Can we become a colony once again? Seems impossible, but with current trends in Sri Lanka it is a real danger. Global trends strengthen these moves. If we do not awaken to the danger and act swiftly it may be too late to save Sri Lanka so that it can continue to remain an independent, sovereign republic with a national economy serving and controlled by our people.

Globally there are over 200 Republics. Most of them are proud of the fact and celebrate Republic Day in style. India gives even more weight to Republic Day than to Independence Day. But why is it that Sri Lanka no longer celebrates Republic Day, the day on which we became a truly independent and sovereign state? After so-called Independence on February 4, 1948 we only received Dominion status. The British Monarch continued as our head of state, British military bases remained in our motherland, and the legal framework rested on the Soulbury Constitution, drawn up by the British, and the final Court of Appeal in our Judiciary was the British Privy Council. But it is this sham "Independence" that both the UNP and SLFP led Governments celebrates, now as a National Day, and not May 22, 1972, the true day of independence, Republic Day. The SLFP/LSSP/CP Coalition Government celebrated Republic Day after 1972, but this stopped with the UNP Government after the J.R. Jayewardene Constitution was passed in 1978.

In contrast with India which hastened to draft its own Constitution (under the direction of Dr. Ambedkar) becoming a Republic within three years after Independence in 1947, it took 24 years for Sri Lanka to become a Republic. The reason for this was the fact that India had a self- confident national capitalist class, both industrial and commercial, capable of running the state, without the presence and domination of the British capitalist class. The Indian capitalist class played a leading role in the "Quit India" movement. It got rid of British rule and achieved total independence, led by the Indian National Congress under Nehru and Gandhi. The weak Sri Lankan capitalist class was content to play a comprador role and be a junior partner of the British capitalist class, assisting it to rule and control the economy, benefitting in the process. The tragedy of Sri Lankan politics is that the UNP, then and now, is prepared to play second fiddle and act as the agent of Imperialism, then British and now American.

It was on May 22, 1972 that the Republican Constitution was drafted, by a Constituent Assembly of all Parliamentarians that met for two years outside Parliament at the Navarangahala, to emphasize that it is an indigenous product based on a mandate given by our people, thereby effectively severing our links to the British Crown and its Soulbury Constitution. The Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) since its inception in 1935 fought for complete independence from the British. The LSSP was banned and its leaders like Dr.N.M. Perera, Dr. Colvin R de Silva, and Philip Gunawardena were jailed. Leslie Goonewardena led the underground Party. When the LSSP leaders escaped from jail, and joined the quit India struggle, it is noteworthy that Dr. Colvin R de Silva, the main author of our Republican Constitution as Minister of Constitutional Affairs after 1970, played a leading role in the anti-British struggle in India too. The fact that Colvin introduced Chapter 6, "Directive Principles of State Policy and Fundamental Duties", which though not legally binding, laid down guidelines for a welfare state in a socialist democracy, though JR had retained it, may have also been a factor in the attitude of the UNP.

When the 1972 Constitution only required limited changes, like those related to the electoral system, to overcome the problems that had arisen, J.R. Jayewardene introduced major changes like the Executive Presidency. Dr. N.M. Perera, an internationally renowned expert on Constitutional matters predicted that it would lead to serious confrontations between the President and the Parliament, headed by the Cabinet and Prime Minister, which would have severe adverse effects on stable Government in the country. N.M. pointed out that if the Executive President and the Prime Minister were from different political parties with different policies the whole process of Governance could collapse. We are witnessing such a situation in Sri Lanka today.

The 1978 Constitution which had artificially introduced an all powerful Executive Presidency paved the way for the emergence of a Civil or Military dictator. This has happen in most countries that followed the American or French model of Executive Presidency especially in Latin America, but also in Africa and countries like Philippines. Although the Nineteenth amendment to the 1978 Constitution has trimmed some of these powers the door to dictatorship remains open.

Though the British, French and similar smaller empires are no more, they have been replaced today by one giant American empire which has absorbed the smaller ones. In the context of the deepening crisis of Global Capitalism the impact has been greatest, especially since 2007, in the West. In fact the balance of power both economically and politically is now shifting to the East. The process of Neo-liberal Globalization which was initiated by Prof. Milton Friedman in Chicago was the basis of the Washington Consensus between the US Government, the IMF and the World Bank in the 1970’s. This is being aggressively introduced into both developed and developing countries worldwide. This enables the American empire and the Multinational Corporations that dominate the world’s economy to directly exploit our resources and repatriate their profits, the bulk of which are of a speculative nature. To implement this program, puppet regimes are installed as part of a global plan of regime change. Where this can be done democratically like in Sri Lanka it is opted for, but where this is not possible the route of military dictatorship e.g. Thailand and Egypt, are resorted to.

The IMF loan trap, which increases our debt and the pressure to observe its conditionalities, force our countries into a situation of neo-colonial dependence, is been executed very systematically by groups of foreign experts within key Ministries in Sri Lanka, notwithstanding the general political and administrative chaos prevailing in the country. Despite warnings from eminent economists, like the former head of the World Bank Prof. Joseph Stiglitz, Greece took the IMF Loan path and is now almost bankrupt. In Sri Lanka today the unfair tax policies which place the burden on the people, especially the lower and middle classes, while giving tax relief to the rich, the dismantling of the welfare state and the selling of national assets without limits to multinational corporations, with the freedom to repatriate profits legally, is all a part of the neo-liberal program. Besides foreign control our economy, the facilities given to the American Navy to make use of Trincomalee as a military base and co-opting our armed forces in the US global military network. e.g. patrolling the Indian Ocean from the Maldives to Singapore, have compromised Sri Lanka’s Independence and Sovereignty.

This set of policies of the UNP/SLFP Government was totally rejected by the voters on February 10, using the Local Government Election as a referendum. The clear massage was to have a General Election so that the voters could get rid of this Government and elect the Government of their choice. The People of the country must not allow the UNP to repeat what was done from 1977-1983 ‘Black July’, whipping up racial hatred which led to nearly 30 years of war. We must unite as one Sri Lankan nation, without racial, religious, caste and gender based discrimination to fight the emerging colonial transformation. The USA produces 60% of global armaments and EU 20%. Local wars are the best way to boost their failing economies.

We must go back to the 1972 Constitution drafted by Dr. Colvin R de Silva, make suitable changes (a mixed electoral system etc.) to update it to meet our present needs. The Executive Presidency must be eliminated and the parliamentary model that had emerged over time since the grant of universal adult franchise in 1931 should be strengthened. I invite you to join us on Tuesday May 22, 2018 at the Dr. N.M. Perera Centre to celebrate Republic Day and help us find a way out of the dangerous situation that confronts the country. Among the speakers will be Dinesh Gunawardena, Mohan Samaranayake and myself.

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